Civil society organizations demand an effective investigation into the natural disasters that occurred in Shovi and Guria

3 Oct, 2023

We, civil society organizations would like to address the events related to the natural disasters that occurred in Racha in August 2023 and Guria in September 2023, and we demand that an effective investigation be carried out. About 40 people lost their lives as a result of two large-scale and destructive natural calamities in Racha and Guria over the past two months.  Frequent natural disasters and the country’s ineffective system for dealing with them threaten human health, life, and development. Therefore, we would like to ask the relevant government authorities for answers to such key issues as what are the causes of the tragedies of Racha and Guria, why the state was unable to ensure the safety of people, whether human casualties could have been avoided, who should be held responsible, what gaps exist in the legislation and policy documents in force in the field of security, and what should be done in order to avoid similar threats in the future.

1. Deficiencies of environmental policy in the country

First of all, it should be determined why the country does not have an early warning system. which is necessary to protect the safety of people from natural disasters. The establishment and introduction of these systems were determined as one of the goals defined within the framework of disaster risk reduction strategy and as an obligation defined by the Law of Georgia “On Civil Security”.[1] The early warning system consists of different components,[2] including the components responsible for identifying risks, regular monitoring of the environment, timely informing the population about threats, and timely response to them. It is necessary to determine the extent to which risks are identified and monitored by the National Environment Agency, and why the country does not have early warning systems in risk zones of the country when, according to the 2021 Geological Bulletin of the National Environment Agency, the infrastructure in Shovi  is located in particularly tense areas that abound in natural geological processes,[3] and the degree of readiness of the Emergency Management Service for effective and timely response.


In addition, it is necessary to evaluate whether the natural disaster risk management system operating in the country responds to modern challenges, whether it reflects the principles, approaches, and goals defined by the UN 2015-2030 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, whether the Law of Georgia On Civil Security provides guarantees for the protection of the security of people, whether the National Civil Security Plan has been properly drawn up and to what extent the relevant state agencies fulfill the obligations defined by the legislation.

According to the Law of Georgia On Civil Security, at all stages of natural disaster risk management – prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery – the main responsible authority is the Emergency Management Service, a state subordinate institution under the governance of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia.[4] The Government of Georgia, various ministries and municipalities also have a number of obligations.[5]

In 2017-2020, Georgia had a strategy and action plan to reduce the risk of natural disasters. It was based on the Georgia Threat Assessment Document for 2015-2018. The purpose of the strategy was to identify the risks of natural disasters in Georgia and ensure their proper management. It should be noted that updated versions of these documents do not exist currently, which means that they rely on outdated information about the risks and hazards of natural calamities. Due to climate change, these risks and threats tend to increase every day and natural disasters become more intense. It is therefore necessary that specific strategies and action plans be based on updated information.  Therefore, it is necessary to determine why the state has not updated these documents, and at the same time assess to what extent the goals defined in the strategy have been achieved.


The purpose of the Law of Georgia On Civil Security is to protect the safety and lives of people. The events that took place in Shovi and Guria claimed the lives of 40 people. Therefore, it is necessary to determine the specific reason that caused such a number of casualties and whether it could have been avoided subject to the correct, legal, coordinated, and prompt response of government agencies. To do this,, it should be determined whether there are emergency management plans defined by the Law of Georgia On Civil Security,[6]whether municipalities have security passports, and how they respond to modern challenges.[7]

It is necessary to evaluate how fast and effective the response measures taken by the Emergency Management Service were and whether they complied with the conditions and rules defined by the Law of Georgia on Civil Security and the National Security Plan. In addition, it should be determined why the country does not have the necessary logistical resources[8] to carry out rescue operations and why the Georgian government did not turn to neighboring countries for help.[9]


  • We, civil society organizations call on the Government of Georgia, the Emergency Management Service, the National Environment Agency, and the authorities of Oni, Ozurgeti, and Lanchkhuti municipalities, to provide us with answers, supported by relevant documents regarding all key issues, so that the circumstances can be properly examined, the responsibility of specific individuals can be determined, and casualties caused by natural disasters can be avoided in the future.

2. Deficiencies identified during the investigation process

The Ministry of Internal Affairs began an investigation into the events and deaths of people in Shovi in connection with crimes under Articles 116 and 240 of the Criminal Code, of the negligent deprivation of human lives and the violation of safety rules during mining, construction, or other work.[10]

Similar events that took place in the past have demonstrated that there are a number of systemic problems in the country with respect to the lack of an early notification system for natural disasters, their management, and their response to them.  In addition, it is problematic to carry out a comprehensive, complete, and objective investigation on cases of this type, which quite objectively causes mistrust on the part of victims and the public.[11]

At the beginning of the investigation, government officials explicitly stated that there was no crime, which raises questions with regard to the outcomes of the investigation. Moreover, government officials did not shy away from “attacking” the victims of the incident and doubting their accounts.[12]

First of all, it is worth noting that it is still unknown whether the investigative authorities were interested in studying the work of those agencies which, under the applicable legislation, are obliged to predict, prevent, and inform the public about such events Also, according to publicly disseminated information, the investigative authorities did not study the effectiveness of rescue measures, whereas the purpose of the investigation should be to study the extent to which the disaster could have been predicted and its severe consequences prevented. Also, the investigative authorities should be interested in how the Emergency Management Agency of the Ministry of Internal Affairs planned and conducted the rescue activities, and how timely and effectively the state agencies acted to save the lives of people caught in the disaster.


Until now, the information disseminated in social networks and the media about the tragedy in Shovi, which may contain signs of crimes under Articles 128 (abandonment in need) and 342 (official indifference) of the Criminal Code, has remained outside the attention of the investigative authorities. Of these, the cases provided for by Article 342, according to the order of the Prosecutor General of Georgia on determining the investigative and territorial investigative sub-jurisdiction of criminal cases, fall under the investigative jurisdiction of the Prosecutor’s Office.[13] Therefore, in case of starting the investigation, it is important that investigative activities are not carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and not by the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia according to the territorial sub-jurisdiction.

In addition, even if the investigation is within the competence of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, according to Order N 3 of August 23, 2019, the General Prosecutor has the right to entrust the investigation to another investigative authority.[14] Given the suspicion that the crimes could have been committed by employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the investigation by the same agency calls into question the independence of the investigation itself. According to the practice of the European Court, the requirement independence of investigative involves, among other things, both institutional and hierarchical independence, as well as practical independence.[15]


According to the currently available data, the investigation carried out by the investigative authorities is inconsistent with the current legislation. In particular, despite the fact that 1.5 months have passed since the beginning of the investigation, the family of one of the deceased persons, which already enjoys the status of successor of the victim, was not given copies of the case materials. Instead, the investigative authority invited the family and its lawyer to review the materials in its office, which, in accordance with Articles 56 and 57 of the Criminal Procedure Code, could be considered as a violation of the rights of the successor of the victim and a circumvention of the standard prescribed by the Constitutional Court.[16] Due to the volume and complexity of the case materials, it is impossible to effectively exercise the right to defense only by reviewing the materials. It should be emphasized here that the participation of the victim in the criminal trial is one of the important components of an effective investigation, which is also confirmed by the explanations provided by the European Court of Human Rights. The above, among other things, implies public supervision and transparency of the investigation and its results, which, in turn, ensures the practical accountability of the state.[17]


From the investigative activities carried out, it is clear that the investigative authority does not have the protocols and standards necessary for investigating this type of case, and therefore, in many cases, the questions asked by investigators to witnesses are not proper from a legal point of view.

In particular, the investigative authority, instead of interviewing all the people who were present in the area of the disaster, and obtaining from the witnesses complete information regarding the facts, some of the questions asked are of evaluative nature, and the answers are equally obvious. Doubts arise over the fact that the state is trying to exclude the responsibility of the employees of the relevant agency.
The lack of coordination of actions when corpses were discovered during operational search activities does not stand up to criticism. In particular, employees of the investigative authority were not properly involved in the process; there was no documentation of the fact, photo or video recording. As a result, in most cases the exact time and place of finding the dead is unknown. Moreover, in many cases, only the examinations necessary to identify the deceased were carried out, rather than the medical examination directly related to the cause and time of death, which should be one of the most important issues of the investigation in order to exclude the connection between the death of a person and delayed rescue measures. Most of the families of the deceased had no information about the significance of conducting such type of examination for the case.


  • We, civil society organizations call upon the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia, the National Agency for the Environment, and the Parliament of Georgia, respectively


  1. to conduct the investigation under relevant provisions of the legislation and that shall be carried out by the General Prosecutor’s Office;
  2. Victims should be recognized as successors in rights and they shall be given the opportunity to duly exercise their rights, including allowing lawyers to have proper access to the case materials;
  3. Investigative actions should be carried out in a timely manner and the public should be periodically informed about the results of the investigation;

We call on the government to use the parliamentary oversight mechanism to investigate the matter;


3. Access of interested persons to public information

Several media organizations have already applied to the relevant agencies in order to request public information concerning the events that took place in Shovi. The refusal of government agencies to provide public information is problematic, raising even more questions in society about whether the government is properly fulfilling its obligations.[18]

In terms of access to information, it is also worth noting that media activities were limited for a certain period of time, and the volunteers present at the site were also limited in the right to take photographs and videos. Reports of insults and negative attitudes towards the journalist involved in covering the incident also circulated in the media. The described facts limit the right of access to information, reduce the possibility of obtaining evidence that may contribute to the increase of distrust in the public towards the investigation into the natural disaster.

In the context of the examination of issues related to natural disasters, key importance shall be attached to the right of access to information, which is guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention. The aforementioned right has a constitutional rank. Paragraph 1 of Article 29 of the Constitution clearly states “[…]everyone has the right to receive in a timely manner complete information about the state of the environment.[…]”. An expression of this right is also paragraph “a” of Article 42 of the General Administrative Code of Georgia, according to which information about the environment is included in the list of information that cannot be kept secret. According to the norm, “Everyone has the right to know: Information about the environment, as well as data about the danger that threatens their life or health”. Therefore, the state should be especially attentive to the provision of such information.

Access to information is one of the procedural rights enshrined  in the Aarhus Convention.[19] Despite the fact that the above right is enshrined in a number of legislative acts, information is disseminated on social networks and the media, according to which administrative bodies fail to provide the media with requested public information. .

According to the European Court of Human Rights, the environmental information must be provided to the requesting entity in full, while the provision of inaccurate and irrelevant information is tantamount to interference with this right.[20] In addition, the Court attaches special importance to the awareness of civil society[21] and journalists[22] on issues of public importance.

We, civil society organizations call on the government

  1. to stop attacking and discrediting representatives of the media and experts in the field;
  2. to provide the requested public information in full to the media within the time frames prescribed by law;
  3. the applicable legislative framework of the country related to the management of natural disasters should be studied and systematic work should be undertaken in order to establish early disaster notification systems.


Signatory organizations:

  • Georgian Young Laywers Association (GYLA)
  • Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF)
  • Partnership for Human Rights (PHR)
  • Human Rights Center (HRC)
  • Sapari
  • Social Justice Center (SJC)


[1]Law of Georgia On Civil Security, Article 5, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph “f”.
[2]WMO, “Overview of the Early Warnings for All: Executive Action Plan 2023–2027”, available at, last viewed: 14.09.2023.
[3]Green Alternative, “Statement of Green Alternative on the document published on the threat of natural geological processes in Shovi” ( August 6, 2023), available at:, last viewed: 15.09.2023.
[4]Law of Georgia On Civil Security, Article 4.
[6]Law of Georgia On Civil Security, Article 5.
[7]Law of Georgia On Civil Security, Article 10, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph “e”.
[8]“Has the state abandoned the citizens in need?” – Under which articles should the investigation be carried out?”, Radio Liberty (16.08.2023), available at:, last viewed: 18.09.2023.
[9]“We took all measures” – why didn’t the state ask neighboring countries for help?”, (10.08.2023), available at:, last viewed: 18.09.2023.
[10]Law of Georgia On Civil Security, Article 4.
[12]Mdinaradze: “Jeladze moved from the place where the height of the mud would have given him the minimum opportunity to do so”:, last viewed: 14.09.2023. “There are speculations as if one of the kids fought against the flood for three hours – Kobakhidze”, last viewed: 14.09.2023.
[13]Law of Georgia On Civil Security, Article 5, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph “f”.
[14] WMO, “Overview of the Early Warnings for All: Executive Action Plan 2023–2027”, available at, last viewed: 14.09.2023.
[15]Green Alternative, “Statement of Green Alternative on the document published on the threat of natural geological processes in Shovi” (August 6, 2023), available at:, last viewed: 15.09.2023.
[16]Law of Georgia On Civil Security, Article 5.
[17]Law of Georgia On Civil Security, Article 10, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph “e”.
[19] See Article 4 of the Convention concerning “access to environmental information, public participation in the decision-making process and access to justice issues in this area”.
[20] Association Burestop 55 and Others v. France, N 56176/18, 2021.07.01, § 85.
[21] Cangı v. Turkey, no. 24973/15, 2019.01.29.
[22] Rovshan Hajiyev v. Azerbaijan, nos. 19925/12 and 47532/13, 2021.12.09, §§ 65-67.