Nationality: Italian. Professional background: lawyer. Passion: human rights. Since April 2011, Caterina Bolognese, 39, is the new head of office of the Council of Europe in Georgia. Energetic and determined, she shares her vision about the role of this institution in the Caucasus.
By Sophio Mgaloblishvili
How do you deal with your new role in Georgia?
I used to work for several years for the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, where I helped monitor the situation in prisons and detention conditions in many European countries. Today, I am directly facing political issues and it is sometimes tricky. I should practice more diplomacy!
Official representatives of the Council of Europe usually stay in a given country for about three years. I was warned from the beginning that it would take about a year to get to grips with the situation. You really need to have information from a broad range of sources to get things right.
What is the role of the Council of Europe in the South Caucasus Region?
The protection of human rights, the promotion of democracy and the implementation of the rule of law are our priorities. The people and local institutions look to the Council of Europe for guidance, as an inter-governmental structure promoting and encouraging the respect of European standards, through a variety of monitoring and cooperation activities.
We are quiet achievers and sometimes remain in the shadow of other prominent actors. So we regularly have to remind others – and ourselves – of the important role the Council of Europe plays. We are an Organisation that tries to rise above geopolitical concerns and various actors’ struggle for influence in the region.
Is it difficult for you to get objective information about human rights or freedom of speech in Georgia?
It is difficult for me to say whether all the information I receive is objective: I try to get it from different sources and it is not my job to expose people who spread false information. Unfortunately, my lack of Georgian means I have to rely on sources in other languages or on help to understand sources in Georgian.
My role is to promote deeper cooperation between Georgia and my Organisation. To do this I speak to people and groups from different sectors of society. That way I can also help my colleagues in Strasbourg better understand the progress Georgia is making in terms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
One of the problems I find is how popular rumours seem to be – as everyone knows, sensationalist rumours can spread like mushrooms. I have even been told that Georgians love rumours more than the truth! A professional media, bound by proper ethical standards, can go a long way to improve the level of reliable information available.
What about freedom of speech in the Caucasus Region? What can you say about the recent case in Georgia of the arrested photo-journalists?
I can’t really comment about this case, as it is not my role to pass judgment in such situations. There are various monitoring bodies of the Council of Europe which might have something to say. But generally speaking, looking also at the past case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the standard in this area is the following test: would the way the authorities handled the case mean that other journalists might, in future, feel less free to do their work?
I understand that the fact that the case was closed without a trial being held meant that people were left wondering about the case, and its implications on the freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is not only a challenge in the Caucasus – it’s hotly debated in many European countries, including my own!
Question Of The Day,
By Mariam Jachvadze
- A group of four Georgian photojournalists are arrested on 07.07. 2011 in Tbilisi, accused of spionage. Suspected of „providing sensitive information“ to foreign state’s intelligence service, amongst them Russia, they didn’t admit their guilt. While media representatives were asking for more transparency, the case ended with plea agreement.
- Internally Displaced People from Abkhazia, who have been living in Tbilisi nearly 20 years, are evicted by the Georgian government and sent back to different regions of the country. The process of eviction started in 2010 and before the end of August 2011, all of them were moved away from their living area. According to Georgian opposition, evicted refugees were offered too little compensation to buy a house and this actually turns them into homelessness.