Q-n about the event
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: This is a milestone event, and I am very pleased to be here to celebrate with so many others who have worked so hard on the passage and entry into force of Georgia’s Code of the Rights of Children. This has taken a lot of work by many people in Parliament, by the Chairwoman of the Committee on Human Rights and Civil Integration, and the United States is very, very proud to have supported the work that has led to the adoption of this code. Through USAID or the Department of Justice, or the Resident Legal Advisor, we have been supporting these efforts; training justices, training social workers, helping to train municipalities to better understand what the code means and how to apply it. What is really important about this code is that it puts the best interest of children, of Georgia’s children first, and it does that in the framework of the UN Convention on Children and it does that in the framework of families, and the importance of families in any society, especially here in Georgia. So, I am very pleased to be here as part of this initiative. Thank you.
Q-n about the upcoming elections and recommendations for all political parties
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: It is clear the election campaign has already started. We are already beginning to see extreme and, I would say in some cases, irresponsible rhetoric. I imagine from what I have heard that we will see more of that, but I would encourage all the parties and all the political leaders to help the public better understand what their platforms are regarding the issues that are important to Georgia’s voters – education, healthcare, and the economic recovery after the COVID pandemic. These are the ways that voters are going to be able to go to cast their ballot fully informed and ready to make good choices for Georgia’s future. I would also strongly encourage the recent electoral reforms to be vigorously enforced. This is the purpose of having adopted those election reforms based on the ODHIR recommendations. This is, again, is the way the voters are going to be able to go the ballot and cast their ballots free of intimidation, free of vote buying, and truly have free and fair elections here in Georgia in October.
Q-n about the monitoring missions of NDI and IRI, whether they will arrive to observe the elections in October and also about the Speaker Talakvadze’s recent initiative to toughen the penalty for voter intimidation and other kinds of violations
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: Well, I saw the very good news that OSCE/ODHIR plans to send a robust monitoring mission, both long term observers and short term observers, which is obviously going to be very important as a way to supplement that. We, the Embassy, other embassies, as we have every election, plan to send out teams of election observers on the day. Obviously, we are not the professionals, we are going to supplement that and the domestic observers here, who are professionals, are very experienced and well-trained. NDI and IRI are going to remain very involved in monitoring the elections here. They have a long history of being a part of elections in Georgia and they would not want to miss this one either. So I am sure they are making their own calculations about the composition of their teams and how they are going to do it. We are waiting to coordinate with CEC to get more information about the precautions that need to be taken to make sure that all the monitoring missions, as well as all voters, can go to the polling stations safely in October. As for the second part of the question, as I said earlier, enforcement, rigorous enforcement of all of the election reforms is going to be very, very important and any effort to eradicate vote buying, voter intimidation, abuse of administrative resources, some of the problems that Georgia has seen repeatedly in its elections over the last thirty years, is a good step forward. The next important step is vigorous implementation. And again, all of this is to take measures that will help ensure that these are free, fair, transparent elections and a step forward for Georgia in terms of better elections than previous ones.
Q-n about Russia’s possible meddling into Georgia’s elections considering the recent information that Kremlin funds Alliance of Patriots and how can it be prevented
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: Georgia should expect that Russia is going to interfere in the elections. There is a long pattern of interference through disinformation campaigns and other efforts that have been fairly consistent, not just related to the election but in general, and this is something that the United States Embassy, as well as other international donors, have initiatives to try and raise awareness among Georgian public and to help Georgians be able to discern, to tell the difference between fake news and accurate reporting. Again, I think the political leaders getting out there with their campaigns that are designed to educate the voters about the issues that are important to them – education, economic recovery, healthcare – this is the way to ensure the voters go to the polls well informed and ready to cast their ballots, and the best way push back against disinformation from Russia or anywhere else. Thank you.