Q-n about the event
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: It is a real honor to be here today to join with this community in recognizing World Refugee Day. The United States is the largest single provider of humanitarian assistance in the world to refugees, displaced persons, persons affected by conflict and related categories. Just here in Georgia, just last year, the United States contributed $3 million to help displaced persons and conflict-affected persons improve their situation in response to Covid, and other programs we’ve done over the years have helped with better housing, better healthcare, better living conditions, clean water to displaced persons here in Georgia. So, this is a really important event today to acknowledge that this problem exists around the world and to be sure to help this population that so desperately needs our support. Thank you.
Q-n about the Venice Commission assessment of the electoral reform and appointing judges despite international partners’ constant call for holding on the process
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: The Venice Commission is a highly respected organization that takes its work very seriously. It is important that the parliament sent the draft legislation to the Venice Commission for review and it’s also important now that parliament incorporate the recommendations that were provided yesterday. The recommendations indicated that key aspects were not included in the draft and need to be incorporated. I sincerely hope that parliament will use the remaining few days of this session to incorporate those key recommendations that the Venice Commission has identified as well as other Venice Commission recommendations that are outstanding and ODIHR recommendations that are outstanding regarding important electoral reform. This is what Georgians need to see when they go to the polls in October that their electoral system has been meaningfully improved so that they can have full confidence in the outcome of the election results.
Regarding judicial reform, of course, we were extremely disappointed to see the High Council of Justice push through nominations, certainly, that is not in the spirit of the April 19th agreement, and while the judiciary is a separate branch of government it is hard to understand why they would not want to take this opportunity to improve and strengthen Georgia’s judiciary. We have worked together on judicial reform with Georgia for 25 years. It’s a process and there is more work to be done. This was a perfect opportunity to allow for an inclusive, transparent process. Now, it is up to the parliament, which must approve the nominations that the High Council has put forward, and again, I sincerely hope—and we are all watching to see whether parliament, the ruling party and the opposition parties are truly committed to fulfilling the obligations they negotiated and agreed to in the April 19th agreement—that includes substantive judicial reform and that includes pausing the nomination process, the appointment process of these judges, and if these go through again, I think, it will raise questions about the commitment to fulfilling the April 19th Agreement.
Claims that these appointments must go through, or the judicial system will collapse are unfounded. Recent assessments by international experts determined that there are enough judges in place to handle the workload. Certainly, there are enough judges in place to allow for a pause in these appointment processes that would allow for an inclusive, transparent, substantive debate on what kinds of judicial reforms are needed. That is what the parties committed to, including the ruling party, in the April 19th Agreement, both in the letter and the spirit during the negotiations. These negotiations were six months of discussions by all of the parties, and in the end, the parties agreed to provisions that are in the April 19th Agreement, including an assessment of the recent waves of judicial reform in order to establish the kinds of reforms that are now needed to go forward. By pushing forward these appointments before that discussion has happened, before a reform package has been developed by the full parliament with input from civil society and professional organizations, it is undermining both the letter and the spirit of the April 19th Agreement, and perhaps more importantly, it is missing an opportunity to improve Georgia’s judicial system in important ways. So, I sincerely hope that parliament will take its responsibilities next week very seriously, do what it committed to do in the April 19th Agreement, which is to pause the appointments process until a full and inclusive debate on judicial reform can take place. Thank you.
Q-n about UNM not signing the April 19th Agreement
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: We still hope that UNM will decide to sign the agreement. That would be a very important step on the part of the largest opposition party. It was important that they entered the parliament, it’s important that they are part of the reforms that are envisioned in the April 19th Agreement and that they show that they are putting Georgia’s interests first. Next week, again, in final days of this parliamentary session there are some very important initiatives that need to be taken in order to fulfill the obligations under the April 19th Agreement, including initiating the constitutional amendments that are envisioned in the Agreement. These are vital to making meaningful reforms in the electoral system as well as the judicial system. If these constitutional amendments are not initiated next week, again, it will be another indication that there is a lack of political will to fulfill the obligations that the ruling party and other parties agreed to by signing that April 19th Agreement. This is an agreement that the political leaders of this country negotiated and agreed to—this is not something imposed on them—this is what they agreed to, including important constitutional amendments that need to be initiated before the local elections in October. So, again, I think it would be very important for UNM to sign this agreement and begin work in parliament with the other parties on these important reforms that will make Georgia’s democracies stronger. Thank you.