Avoiding the use of military force, the EU aims at transforming countries by peaceful means. Although the rule of law mission in Georgia falls under the broad heading of the EU defense and security policy, it describes itself as an exercise in civilian crisis management. It reflects the EU’s predominant concern with securing human and civil rights in crisis situations.
The mission to Georgia is the EU's most ambitious yet. For a year – from July 2004 to July 2005 – less than a dozen EU judges, prosecutors and legal experts have worked with various Georgian institutions.
Their aim has been to pave the way for widescale reform of the country’s criminal justice system according to EU standards.
Sylvie Pantz, a French judge with experience in the former Yugoslavia, heads the mission. She is in Brussels this week to meet top EU officials. She says her mission is mostly to advise.
“My mission there is to counsel and give advice and mentor at the highest levels, such as with Mr. [Konstantin] Kemularia, minister of justice, with the aim that after the passage of one year, [Georgia] is able to produce a comprehensive strategy for the reform of [its] criminal justice system,” says Pantz.
An EU diplomat told RFE/RL nine teams of Georgian officials are working to compile the strategy. Their work is likely to come to fruition in May. It will then need to be endorsed by the Georgian authorities. Officials indicate a quick approval by president Mikheil Saakashvili would be preferable to potentially lengthy and controversial debates in the parliament.
Once the reform strategy is in place, the EU will offer further assistance in the form of funds and experts to help oversee its implementation.
Georgian Justice Minister Kemularia, who was in Brussels with Pantz, said his country has already begun putting reforms into practice.
“We have already succeeded in the course of this very short period in elaborating and studying some fundamental questions. For example, judicial investigations, judicial process, detention, general detention, preventive detention, and alternative sentences – and we have already made some changes,” says Kemularia.
Kemularia said Georgian police forces are in the process of being turned from a repressive organization into one geared to interacting with civil society within the context of rule of law.
As further examples of reforms, he said pre-trial detention is now capped at a maximum of four months compared to the nine months previously. Also, testimony by police officials is now open to challenge in courts.
Kemularia said Georgia hopes for maximum possible EU support in the future. Pantz said discussions on further assistance have reached an advanced stage within EU institutions, adding that the single precondition for future EU involvement remains that the new Georgian strategy for penal reform comply with EU and international standards.
Pantz today underlined the intellectual debt her mission owes to similar reforms conducted in the past decade in the Baltic countries, particularly Lithuania.
“It is really a plus for this mission to have among my senior experts two coming from the Baltic States. My deputy comes from Lithuania and I have a judge coming from Latvia who is collocated at the court of appeal in Tbilisi. They’ve told me they lived the same kind of transition,” says Pantz.
Pantz said the reforms being undertaken by Georgia are less ambitious than those of Lithuania, as they only comprise the criminal justice system. Lithuania simultaneously reshaped the entire span of its judiciary.
However, Pantz said within the criminal justice sphere, the EU is being “pushy,” encouraging Georgia to emulate the most recent Lithuanian penal code adopted in 1998 -- roughly at the time the country was deemed ready for EU membership talks.