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Georgia: Chief Of EU Judicial Mission Leaves With Mixed Feelings

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> The EU last week drew a line under its "rule-of-law" mission to Georgia. It was the first EU mission of its kind on the territory of the former Soviet Union. In seven months, a small team of EU legal experts assisted the Georgian government in putting together a blueprint for far-reaching reform of the criminal-justice system that -- if implemented -- should bring it up to international standards. The EU team was led by Sylvie Pantz, a veteran French judge who has worked in Kosovo, Bosnia, and at the former Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Brussels, 20 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The "rule-of-law" mission took just seven months instead of the envisaged 12 months to complete its task in Georgia.

Judge Sylvie Pantz praises the "close cooperation" the Georgian government gave her mission. However, she leaves little doubt that the overall situation in the country, which she repeatedly describes as "unstable," did not help matter. Nor did the demands of the "heavy" Brussels bureaucracy help Pantz in her task.

Pantz cautions that the 27-page reform blueprint she helped the Georgian government produce will not change the country overnight. She says she is "targeting the future," and does not expect any immediate results from the work of the mission, officially designated "EUJUST Themis."

Pantz appears concerned about the fact that the independence of Georgian judges is still contested by political authorities on a daily basis.

"It is not because EUJUST Themis was in Georgia that the independence of the judiciary all of a sudden has been ensured," Pantz says. "Let's give you that example that every day, we heard and we've been informed about judges being asked to resign. And we could not [do anything about that]. I can say that, [however], that our mere presence -- us [means] EUJUST Themis -- in Georgia slowed down any kind of this negative reaction that they had against judges."

The European Commission has a permanent office in Tbilisi, but officials say it seeks no role in such conflicts.

Pantz, however, leaves no doubt that she prefers a much more hands-on approach. She says on the one occasion she did get involved in the daily affairs of the Georgian judicial system, she achieved results.

"We were very anxious when we heard that three, four judges of the Supreme Court had been asked to resign," Pantz says. "So, what I initiated outside [my official] mission [was that] I put round the table the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the [European Commission] delegation, Americans -- USAID and the [U.S. Department of Justice -- and all together we went to see the president of the Supreme Court of Georgia in order, in order to [say] collectively that it was not the right way to proceed. Since then, no more judges have been asked to resign at the level of the Supreme Court."

Pantz says that judges must not be fired without a "transparent and open procedure." The sacking of judges in Georgia appears to be politically motivated -- punishment, in Pantz's words, "for not taking the right decisions."
Pantz says the Georgian government has already shown considerable political will by developing the reform strategy in the first place. But, she warns, there is still too much political instability in the country.

Pantz says she hopes that when she finally leaves Georgia in mid-September, the government there will know "what the proper reaction should be" in such situations.

She says that in a positive sign, the government has agreed to staff at least half of the highest judicial supervisory bodies with judges.

Pantz won't be drawn on the longer-term outlook for the Georgian criminal justice system. She says there is "no guarantee" that the government won't simply put the new reform strategy "in a drawer."

Pantz notes that implementation takes time and political will. She says the Georgian government has already shown considerable political will by developing the reform strategy in the first place. But, she warns, there is still too much political instability in the country.

"Georgia is in my point of view quite an unstable country still, with all these problems in South Ossetia, in Abkhazia," Pantz says. "So, that's why we deemed it very important and relevant that senior experts should stay to ensure the follow-up [of the outgoing mission] for at least six months."

Pantz says two of her experts will stay behind and work out of the office of the EU special representative for the South Caucasus, Heikki Talvitie. They will monitor the implementation of the reforms, assist Georgian authorities, and keep EU member states informed of developments on the ground.

The mandate of the follow-up mission will be reviewed in February. At the same time, the special representative's mandate, currently renewed every six months, should also be reviewed and extended to a year at a time. Pantz hints that another, smaller EU legal mission may then also be launched.

In conclusion, Pantz says she believes the EU "rule of law mission" is an excellent tool in helping other "post-crisis" countries, such as Moldova and Ukraine, reform their criminal-justice systems.