Georgian Government admits violations of right to life in two cases
On 17 December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights struck out two cases from Georgia, following unilateral declarations from the Government admitting that violations of the right to life had taken place at the hands of State agents. Both cases raised questions about systemic human rights violations: in Egiazaryan v Georgia, the applicant was severely injured when a landmine exploded in Adjaria as mine clearance had not been conducted thoroughly and effectively by the State; Tedliashvili and others v Georgia concerns the treatment of Kakhaber Tedliashvili in prison, and the circumstances surrounding his alleged suicide. The applicants in both cases were represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, based at Middlesex University, and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), Tbilisi.
After a change of power in November 2003, political tensions escalated between the central Georgian Government and the local government in the Ajarian Autonomous Republic, which led to mines being planted by the latter along the border between the Republic and the rest of the country. In 2004, the situation stabilised, and the area was reportedly cleared of mines by the Ministry of the Interior, according to media sources. In August 2004, the applicant, Vartazar Egiazaryan, was on holiday in Chakvi, a seaside resort in the region. Whilst driving on the beach, his car was blown up. Mr Egiazaryan and one of his friends received life-threatening injuries, and he had both legs amputated below the knee. The Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs covered the cost of the surgery, post-surgery treatment and prostheses. Mr Egiazaryan sued the Ministry of the Interior, claiming that it had been their responsibility to conduct timely mine clearance with the requisite thoroughness, and that he should be compensated for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. The Tbilisi City Court dismissed the claim, stating that negligence on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior could not be established, nor could any State agency have known that mines had been planted at the beach in question. Mr Egiazaryan’s appeals were rejected.
Mr Egiazaryan complained that the Georgian State had failed to conduct mine clearance in Chakvi effectively, as a result of which negligence he had received serious, life threatening injuries and had both legs amputated below the knee. This, he argued, constituted a violation of the Government’s positive obligation to protect his right to life, under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Negotiations between the parties failed to reach a friendly settlement. The Government proposed to make a unilateral declaration in which it acknowledged a violation of the right to life, admitting that the State authorities had failed to comply with their positive obligation to take all measures to prevent the life-threatening incident. They undertook to pay Mr Egiazaryan €8000 in damages, reiterating that they had already provided him with the requisite medical treatment and prosthesis, and that he could apply to State social security for renewal of the prostheses.
However, Mr Egiazaryan objected to the unilateral declaration, as he believed the amount of compensation to be too low. He also raised concerns that State social security would offer prostheses of mediocre quality, and therefore wanted to be provided with the same prostheses as that with which he had originally been supplied in 2004. The Court nevertheless felt that it was no longer justified to continue the case: the Government had explicitly acknowledged a violation of Article 2 (which opened up the possibility for Mr Egiazaryan to seek to reopen domestic proceedings) and had proposed adequate compensation. It therefore struck the case out of its list.
In August 2008, Mr Tedliashvili began serving a prison sentence in Rustavi Prison No. 6 for firearms and drugs offences. According to Mr Tedliashvili’s family, the applicants in this case, his relationship with several prison security officers had deteriorated by 2010, as he had refused to become an “informant” for the prison authorities; after that, it is alleged that the prison officers began to threaten him with use of force, and by denouncing him as an informant to other prisoners. By January 2011, he was regularly reporting to his family that his life was in danger. In April 2011, he was placed in solitary confinement, where he began to write letters to Government bodies complaining about the threats to his life and seeking urgent protection. On 30 April 2011 he was found hanged in the solitary confinement cell, with a medical bandage around his neck. The Ministry of Custodial Institutions opened a criminal investigation into charges of “instigation to commit suicide”. Mr Tedliashvili’s family raised serious doubts over whether he had indeed killed himself. They repeatedly called for an effective investigation into Mr Tedliashvili’s suspicious death and sought, and were refused, access to the case materials, including the forensic report.
In their application to the European Court, the applicants argued substantive and procedural violations of the right to life (Article 2 ECHR), namely that the State failed to provide Mr Tedliashvili with adequate protection, even though the authorities were aware of the risk to his life, and failed to effectively investigate the circumstances of his death. They also claim that his placement in solitary confinement was inadequate in light of his relationship with the prison authorities, as he remained under the control of the same personnel who were bullying him. They further argued violations of the right to an effective remedy (Article 13 ECHR) as, at the time of their application, the domestic investigation of the case was still pending.
The Government proposed a unilateral declaration in which they acknowledged a violation of the procedural limb of Article 2 ECHR, “on account of the deficiencies identified in the course of the investigation” into Mr Tedliashvili’s death. The Government therefore undertook to ensure the effectiveness of the ongoing investigation “to ascertain … whether the relevant authorities took all necessary measures and in good time aimed at securing Mr Kakhaber Tedliashvili’s life and well-being in prison”. Although welcoming the acknowledgement of the procedural violation, the applicants expressed their disappointment that the Government did not admit a violation of the substantive limb of the right to life.
However, the European Court held that the applicants’ arguments were not valid objections outweighing the significance of the Government’s unilateral declaration, stating that “the claim that the prison officers had been linked to the taking of Mr Tedliashvili’s life is, at this stage, nothing but a supposition which calls for close scrutiny at the hands of competent and objective investigators at the domestic level.” It was therefore satisfied with the Government’s undertaking to ensure an effective investigation, noting that the application could be restored to the list if the Government failed to comply with its undertaking. The applicants were awarded a total of €10,000 to cover all damages.
The Georgian Government’s admission in both of these cases that the State had breached the right to life is significant. These decisions create obligations at the domestic level: the onus is now on the State authorities to ensure that there is an effective investigation into Mr Tedliashvili’s death.
 In a case before the European Court of Human Rights, where a friendly settlement procedure has been unsuccessful, the respondent Government may make a declaration acknowledging the violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and undertaking to provide the applicant with redress. For more information, please see the European Court’s 2012 document on unilateral declarations, and the Rules of Court.
 He also complained about the length of the civil proceedings under Article 6§1 ECHR , and reiterated his complaint about the inability to obtain damages from the Ministry of the Interior, citing the right to an effective remedy (Article 13 ECHR) and the protection of property (Article 1, Protocol 1 ECHR). These were not addressed in the Government’s unilateral declaration.