T’bilisi Meeting Sets Stage for WJA Congress on Developing Democracies

Vol. 37 No. 2

By

Benjamin E. Griffith is a partner in the Cleveland, Mississippi, firm of Griffith & Griffith, a Section Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, and the chair of the Section’s International Committee.

A U.S. delegation of World Jurist Association, IMLA, and ABA leaders recently traveled to T’bilisi, Georgia, for meetings held November 21–22, 2013, preliminary to the scheduling of a possible WJA Congress in that city.

The delegation consisted of WJA President-Elect Kim Quarles, senior vice-president of Willis Americas Administration in New York City; former WJA National President for the USA Ben Griffith, partner in Griffith & Griffith of Mississippi, chair of the International Committees of IMLA and the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law, and past chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law; and WJA member and international election law expert John Hardin Young, partner in Sandler Rieff Young of Washington, D.C., former member of the ABA Board of Governors, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law, and past chair of the ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice.

Both Griffith and Young had traveled to Georgia in 2012 and had experience in gathering relevant information before the October 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia on international election principles, and Griffith had organized and moderated a day-long panel discussion in September 2012 at the Georgian American University School of Law on international election principles, one week before the Parliamentary Elections.

The Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II, noted in recent CNN reports to be “the most trusted man in Georgia,” greeted the delegation in his residential compound located adjacent to his church facing the Mtkvari River in old town T’bilisi. The meeting took place shortly after noon on November 21. The Patriarch gave his blessing and voiced strong support for the WJA World Congress to be held in the capital of the Republic of Georgia. The Patriarch is the equivalent to the position of Pope and Ilia II has led one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, the Georgian Orthodox Church, since he was crowned in 1977 as “His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II Cathlicos Patriarch of all Georgia.”

WJA President-Elect Kim Quarles and other members of the delegation gave brief remarks expressing deep appreciation for the Patriarch’s outreach and stabilizing influence on this nation during recent years and his enduring influence on the deeply religious foundation that undergirds all Georgians. WJA members emphasized that the foundation principle for the WJA was peace through the rule of law and that His Holiness had consistently advanced the cause of peace through the rule of law in his work, through his religious teachings, and by his example.

Following the presentation to the Patriarch of the WJA Supreme Order of Justice Award, the delegation enjoyed a beautiful and moving rendition of Ave Maria composed by the Patriarch (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UZRsJkx_Kk and www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YDnBFScDSI), heard the Georgian Patriarch’s all-male choir sing harmonic chants and religious music a cappella, toured His Holiness’s winter garden filled with exotic plants reminiscent of an exquisite Japanese garden, were led to the Patriarch’s wine cellar for a very personal sit-down visit with His Holiness and other church officials, and were presented gifts of silver bracelets each inscribed with his blessing, a book of reflections and homilies on all of the Holy Days, and Georgian red wine from his cellar.

On the afternoon of November 21, the WJA delegation met with the former prosecutor general of Georgia, Archil Kbilashvili, who only days before had stepped down from his position as Prosecutor General and had returned to private practice as a partner in MKD Law Firm, a leading law firm in Georgia. Archil gave us a detailed overview of the efforts made during his tenure as Prosecutor General to conduct reforms at the Prosecutor’s office, restore prosecutorial discretion to prosecutors, enhance judicial independence and fundamental fairness in the justice system, and promote transparency of the legal system and governmental process for all citizens.

Archil’s move to the private sector coincided with the resignation of Georgia’s Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili following the October 2013 election of the new President of Georgia, Giorgio Margvelashvili. The newly elected President of Georgia recently participated in the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he met with the President of the European Economic and Social Committee to initial an Association Agreement for engagement of civil society in the European integration process and a framework agreement involving Georgia’s participation in the EU crisis management operations, efforts hopefully leading to Georgia’s eventual accession to the EU. The delegation through its Ukrainian spokesperson awarded Archil Kbilashvili a WJA award of justice for his service to Georgia.

On the morning of November 22, the delegation was accompanied to a meeting with former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili by Deputy Chief of Mission Bridget Brink from the U.S. Embassy, WJA First Vice-President Paata Tsnobiladze, WJA National President for Georgia Natia Kintsurashvili, and former WJA President Valery Evdokimov from Kiev, Ukraine. The delegation had a very productive meeting with the former Prime Minister, founder of the Georgian Dream Coalition, who voiced his support for the WJA’s efforts to plan and hold its World Congress in T’bilisi.

Kim Quarles and other members of the delegation expressed appreciation for Mr. Ivanishvili’s efforts to curb government abuses of power that had a devastating effect on thousands of citizens under the previous administration. They also commended Mr. Ivanishvili for his work in promoting government transparency and putting in place realistic civil society measures that will assure individual and civic freedom in all areas of society, unhindered access to the political process and the unfettered right to participate in all aspects of the electoral process, and meaningful justice reforms for the people of this nation of 3.5 million nestled in the heart of the Caucasus mountains south of Russia.

The delegation also commended Mr. Ivanishvili for his successful efforts last year when he helped bring to the West’s attention the horrific abuses of power, government-sponsored oppression of opposition candidates and their supporters, and autocratic manipulation of government agency power to chill opposing political viewpoints, all of which led to the defeat of the Mikheil Saakashvili administration and its preferred candidates in the October 2012 parliamentary elections.

The delegation also praised Mr. Ivanishvili for his efforts and those of the Georgian Dream Coalition that led to the recent election of the new President, Giorgio Margvelashvili, and a host of Georgian Dream Coalition national candidates in the October 2013 Presidential Election. Mr. Ivanishvili was deprived of his Georgian citizenship shortly after he announced his intention in 2010 to form a political party to challenge then-President Saakashvili. Bidzina was granted French citizenship in October 2011, enabling him to run for the highest office in Georgia as a citizen of an EU nation. The former PM was a gracious host and met with us shortly before his appointed successor, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, paid a visit at Bidzina’s mountaintop glass fortress. The Georgian media covered the WJA’s presentation to the former PM of the Supreme Order of Justice Award, given once a year to a person and a cleric for their work for peace and justice. See www.georgianews.ge/society/25396-after-pope-and-queen-elizabeth-bidzina-ivanishvili-receives-justice-order-from-world-association-of-lawyers.html and http://dfwatch.net/Ivanishvili-awarded-the-supreme-order-of-justice-79426. Previous recipients of the award include Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth.

The hosts for the U.S. delegation throughout its time in T’bilisi, Georgia, Paata and Natia, were extraordinary in their generosity, their unlimited hospitality and their sincere efforts to make all of the delegates feel as comfortable and among friends as one could imagine 6,500 miles from the USA. Paata and Natia through their Georgian support group provided all of the meals, furnished lodging at the T’bilisi Marriot, provided for all transportation needs, and introduced the delegates to a host of public officials, church leaders, and outstanding citizens during their all-too-brief visit.

On the night of November 22, the final night before their return flight to the USA, Kim Quarles, Ben Griffith, and Jack Young were featured panelists on a live TV program moderated by Paata Tsnobiladze with interviews translated by Natia Kintsurashvili, touching on all aspects of the delegation’s meetings with the former Prime Minister, the former Prosecutor General, and the Patriarch. Each member of the delegation made favorable comments about the quality, depth, and positive consequences of these very timely meetings, and expressed optimism for the continued growth and development of democracy in the Republic of Georgia, grounded on democratic ideals of transparency, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law. The director of the TV station, it turns out, was the source for publication and dissemination of the videos of atrocities that took place within the Georgian penal system under the watch of former President Saakashvili and that played a significant role in his dramatic decline in popularity during the last few days before the October 2012 Parliamentary Election.

There is a tremendous opportunity for the ABA and members of the legal profession with an interest in international law and developing democracies. That opportunity is awaiting in the Republic of Georgia, and ABA/WJA collaboration should be encouraged with such organizations as the International Municipal Lawyers Association, with whom many State and Local Government Law Section members have worked under the mentorship of leaders like former Section Chair Dan Curtin and the founder of the WJA, former ABA President Charlie Ryhne. The American Bar Association through its Sections on State and Local Government Law, International Law, and Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice, and IMLA through its International Committee, can play a substantive role in the planning, development, and presentation of collaborative programs for the WJA’s World Congress that will hopefully be held in T’bilisi, Georgia, in the coming year. New members of the International Committee have already begun offering very helpful suggestions on timely topics that may be explored for inclusion in the WJA program.

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