Mikheil Saakashvili - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:06 am on 13th January 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 11:06 am, 13th January 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they are making to the government of Georgia about the continued imprisonment of Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of that country.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we are closely following events connected to the detention of former President Saakashvili. The former Minister for Europe, Wendy Morton, raised Mr Saakashvili’s detention with the Georgian Ambassador on 15 December, highlighting concerns about his health and treatment. Our ambassador and other officials have raised Mr Saakashvili’s case at senior levels in Tbilisi, including with the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Speaker of Georgia’s parliament. We will continue to monitor developments regarding this case.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

I thank the Minister for his reply. Under Mr Saakashvili’s presidency, Georgia flourished economically. He took significant steps to eliminate corruption and when he lost power in 2013, he transferred power peacefully, the first ever peaceful transition of power in Georgia. Since then he has been stripped of his citizenship and put in prison on trumped-up charges in what Amnesty International describes as apparent political revenge. I pass all this on to the Minister, but my question focuses simply on his imprisonment. Yesterday I received a letter from him, smuggled out of prison, in which he talks about being denied private communication with his lawyers and being repeatedly assaulted by prison officials. Will Her Majesty’s Government protest most strongly to the Georgian Government about this and ask that our own ambassador might visit him in prison?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for providing that additional information. I will of course take that forward and pass it to both our team here in London and our ambassador on the ground in Tbilisi. On the issue of Mr Saakashvili’s continued detention, we are urging the Georgian Government to ensure the fair treatment of the former president. We welcome recent steps to facilitate medical care for Mr Saakashvili and to accord him the right to due process in legal proceedings. I share the noble and right reverend Lord’s view of Mr Saakashvili’s tenure. Of course, when he returned in October he did so willingly and was at that time taken into custody. I will certainly take forward, as the noble and right reverend Lord suggests, any further action on the additional information that he provides.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, while I recognise that it is not for this House or any Member of it to judge former President Saakashvili’s innocence or guilt, is the point being made to the Georgian Government that if, as I think we would much desire, there is to be an ever-closer relationship between this country and Georgia, it is going to count in that matter whether Georgia applies the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in full and in a correct manner?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of the request by the European Court of Human Rights to the Government of Georgia that they ensure the safety of Mr Saakashvili and inform the court about the applicant’s current state of health. We will continue to make that case and, as I said earlier, to ensure that he is given both the right to legal representation and medical care.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the former president’s detention is symptomatic of the greater problem of the deterioration of human rights in Georgia, particularly labour rights. According to the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation, just last year 22 workers died in one month alone. Can the Minister tell us, like he did yesterday, what he is doing to raise human rights and to work with the ILO to ensure that Georgia meets the obligations of that organisation, to which Georgia is also committed?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The noble Lord is quite right to draw attention to the issue of human rights and, if I could term it thus, the democratic backsliding that at times we have seen on rights generally across Georgia. I assure him that we are engaging directly. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned the importance of promoting democratic values, which is central to our foreign policy. On 1 December, during discussions with the Georgian Government in Tbilisi, our regional director for eastern Europe and central Asia raised important issues around various elements of human rights and, beyond that, the politicisation of appointments. There has also been a decline in LGBT rights; the noble Lord will be aware of the attack on the Pride march. All of this forms part of our engagement directly with Georgia.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I was in Tbilisi in 2017 shortly after the former president had his citizenship revoked while he was the governor of Odessa, in Ukraine. He subsequently also had his citizenship revoked by Ukraine. This situation is open to significant influence from Russia, in addition to the concern about the individual case. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has indicated, Amnesty International has raised concerns that this treatment is political revenge. Will Britain indicate to the Georgian Government that operating under the premise of due judicial process and respecting human rights are core elements of Georgia’s membership of the Council of Europe, and that working in this way is the best security against external influence from Russia?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I can certainly assure the noble Lord that that is exactly our approach. We will continue to raise this directly and with key partners, including in international fora such as the Council of Europe.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, following on from that question, is the Minister aware that monitors from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe visited Georgia last month? They have returned and said that is absolutely vital that the two main parties overcome the extremely polarised political climate. They are Georgian Dream and the United National Movement, which is Mikheil’s own party.

Will the Minister make particular use the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and specifically ask our ambassador to the CoE to raise this issue at the Council of Ministers meeting, so that multilateral action can be taken? As I said during another Question earlier in the week, this kind of multilateral approach is much better than a government-to-government approach, which is sometimes misunderstood.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord and as I have said to him previously, I look forward to working with him directly on this agenda and I pay tribute to his valuable work within the Council of Europe. I am looking specifically at the work of the Council of Europe and will take forward what the noble Lord suggests. Whatever we do in the multilateral fora, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, it is also important that we complement, consolidate and strengthen it through our bilateral representations.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, in light of current events, would it be worth advising the current Administration of Georgia that admission to NATO requires a respect for human rights?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I assure the noble Lord that we remind Georgia in our bilateral discussions of its international obligations. Let us not forget that Georgia itself, in the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, faces direct challenges of the very nature the noble Lord alludes to.