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ECHR Says Georgia Complicit in 2013 Mob Attack on LGBT Activists

The European Court of Human Rights on December 16 ruled against Georgia in a case of a mob attack on LGBT demonstrators on May 17, 2013 – the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) – in Tbilisi, arguing that the “unprecedented violence” against LGBT activists occurred with the state connivance.

The Strasbourg-based court said that authorities had failed to protect the peaceful demonstrators from homophobic and transphobic aggression, calling the ensuing investigation into the matter “inadequate.”

The ECHR ruling found violations of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 11 (freedom of association), both in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, ordering Georgia to pay the applicants amount totaling EUR 193,500.  

The application was lodged by 35 Georgian nationals and two non-governmental organizations – Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group and Identoba on 15 and 16 November 2013. The Court considered complaints of 27 applicants directly affected by the mob. The other eight, according to the application, managed to escape.

The Court argued that the Georgian authorities were aware of the risks associated with the event and that video evidence by independent journalists showed official connivance in the acts of violence and underlying prejudice. 

According to the ruling, “despite this exacting obligation and the full knowledge of the risks, the authorities’ response to the gravity of the situation was merely to deploy unarmed and unprotected police patrol officers who were supposed to contain the tens of thousands of aggressive people by forming thin human cordons.”

The Court noted that in addition to the Government’s cited dispersal (evacuation) plan resulting “in highly chaotic and disorganized actions when put into practice,” “the dispersal of the LGBT demonstrators without giving them an opportunity to hold their public rally cannot be counted… as fulfillment by the State of their positive substantive obligation to provide adequate protection against hate-motivated attacks.” 

The ruling found it “established beyond reasonable doubt that the police in some places opened up the cordon for the counter‑demonstrators and in others remained passive when the counter‑demonstrators started to break the cordon.”

Importantly, the Court considered that “the protraction of the investigation exposed the domestic authorities’ long-standing inability – which can also be read as unwillingness – to examine the homophobic and/or transphobic motives behind the violence and degrading treatment committed against the relevant twenty-seven individual applicants.”

2013 IDAHO events in Tbilisi took place few months after the Georgian Dream, the party currently in power, came to the government in October 2012. Current Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, known for his anti-gay remarks, served as the Minister of Interior that time. Previous, May 2012 IDAHO events occurred during the administration of the United National Movement party. 

The ruling added that the failure to investigate the prejudice-based motives underlying the private individuals’ acts, “points out that this procedural failure contributes to official acquiescence or connivance in hate crimes.”

The Court also said it cannot exclude the possibility that the “unprecedented scale of violence” against the participants during IDAHO on May 17, 2013 “was conditioned, at least in part, by the domestic authorities’ failure to secure a timely and objective criminal investigation and punishment of the perpetrators of comparatively less violent attacks on the LGBT community” a year earlier on IDAHO.

On May 17, 2013, a group of queer activists, trying to mark IDAHO adjacent to Freedom Square in downtown Tbilisi, were attacked by thousands of counter-demonstrators, led by Orthodox priests. At least 28 people were injured in the violence that day.

In 2015, ECHR similarly ruled that the police “failed to provide adequate protection” to a small group of gay rights activists against attacks when they were marking IDAHO on May 17, 2012.

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