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CoE Human Rights Report Takes Critical View on Georgia

Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, published her report on July 15 following her visit to Georgia in February 2022 to assess the human rights situation and provide recommendations regarding the LGBTI community, religious minorities, and the areas of labor and the environment.

Regarding LGBTI Rights

While the Commissioner “welcomed” efforts to bring legal and institutional frameworks in line with international standards, she noted, “LGBTI people continue to be subjected to pervasive discrimination in the field of education, work, healthcare, and social services notably due to shortcomings in the implementation of the existing legal provisions.”

Along this line, she urged Georgian authorities to “urgently address their persisting failure to protect LGBTI people from hate crimes and speech.” She added that as a new Human Rights Action Plan is prepared, it must include concrete and time-bound indicators to address concerns and be drafted with the LGBTI community and organizations, as well as civil society.

The Commissioner called on the government to “develop and implement a zero-tolerance policy and practice towards all forms of discrimination and incitement to discrimination, both online and offline” and that they use all available means to combat such instances.

Commissioner Mijatović emphasized due to the scope and impact of violence and hate crimes authorities must “combat impunity for serious human rights violations” against the LGBTI community. “The authorities should ensure their protection, so that they can enjoy a full range of applicable human rights, including freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, in an environment free from violence, intimidation, harassment, or threats,” she added.

The Commissioner underscored that failure by police, prosecutors, and courts to apply the Criminal code of Georgia in instances of violence against the community directly encourages impunity. She denoted that “effective action against acts of violence” is key for increasing trust from the community in the police and judiciary.

Along this line, she said all instances of violence against LGBTI people “should be firmly condemned, adequately investigated, and sanctioned by the Georgian authorities.”

She recommended the government hold training in line with European standards to help law enforcement agencies work on hate crimes, which she considers a “priority.” For this purpose, Commissioner Mijatović identified a need for a specialized unit to be created within the police to investigate hate crimes and promote their reporting.

The Commissioner further stressed that “in the first place public officials should not engage in hate speech” but instead promote tolerance towards the community.

She also encouraged local media to practice ethical and responsible journalism when covering LGBTI people and related issues.

The report concluded that the issue must be recognized as a “systemic problem” that necessitates comprehensive measures including proactive education starting in schools to promote societal “understanding of and respect for the human rights of LGBTI people.”

Regarding Religious MinoritiesRights

The Commissioner approved of recent steps to develop law enforcement capacity to investigate and prosecute hate crimes on the basis of religion or belief albeit with concern that “religious minorities continue to face significant difficulties in practicing the religion of their choice in an environment free from violence and intimidation, and that they continue to be subjected to discriminatory treatment in relation to their access to places of worship.”

Commissioner Mijatović urged the government to work with religious organizations to develop measures to address such shortcomings and “remove discriminatory barriers in the exercise of religious freedoms.”

She noted this requires meaningful dialogue with all religious denominations in the effort to establish the practice of non-discriminatory and fair procedures regarding construction permits for places of worship as well as freedom of worship in penitentiary institutions.

The report encouraged authorities to carry out regular campaigns with the public to increase tolerance and to train authorities, including at the local level, “on how to fulfill their obligation to ensure equal treatment of all religious denominations.”

She urged the government to continue building its capacity to investigate and prosecute religious hate crimes and to condemn any acts of violence in this regard. Along this line, she said authorities must address perceptions related to law enforcement agencies and officers not responding appropriately to attacks on religious minorities and sometimes even siding with the attackers, particularly with the Muslim community and Jehova’s Witnesses.

She concluded that any evidence of a culture that “directly or indirectly impedes the effective investigation, prosecution, and proportionate sanctioning of hate crimes, incitement to violence, and similar manifestations of religious intolerance” in law enforcement must be identified and uprooted.

Regarding Labor Rights

The Commissioner positively noted labor reforms carried out by Georgia and urged authorities to close existing gaps by instituting a minimum wage compatible with international practices, making parental leave equally accessible, and establishing clear guidelines for overtime work.

It highlighted that the government needs to work on ensuring legislation is effectively implemented particularly by providing the Labor Inspectorate with the necessary resources to carry out adequate inspections on the standards of labor rights, safety, and anti-discrimination.

The Commissioner called on authorities to “remain vigilant and bolster efforts to further improve safety conditions in the workplace, notably in sectors such as manufacturing, mining, and construction,” including through sector-specific measures where needed.

Referencing non-discrimination, the Commissioner noted the extension of the anti-discrimination clause to pre-contractual relations and the introduction of sexual harassment as a form of discrimination. Along this line, she emphasized authorities must continue raising awareness of sexual harassment and the mechanism in place to deal with it through campaigns and training of relevant professionals.

The report noted efforts need to be made to “combat discriminatory gender stereotypes, which influence women’s choices, prospects, and opportunities in the field of employment.” Per the report, this includes monitoring and closing gender pay gaps.

When it comes to employees with disabilities, the Commissioner approved of measures taken and urged authorities to ensure equal access to employment which “requires improved access to education and vocational training and addressing other important barriers…”

Finally, the section highlighted the need to address child labor and combat child trafficking for labor exploitation purposes.

Regarding Environmental Rights

While the Commissioner welcomed Georgia’s legal framework on environmental protection and efforts to align the nation with international standards, she encouraged authorities “to guarantee meaningful and transparent public participation in the design, implementation, and monitoring of environmental policies at the national, regional, and local levels.”

In this regard, she pointed to European Court of Human Rights legislation which recognizes the significance of transparent involvement of stakeholders in all stages of decision-making processes when it comes to projects that will have an environmental impact.

She emphasized this requires “comprehensive and timely information” and is “particularly crucial when it comes to large-scale infrastructural projects, as the scale and risk of potential human rights violations are much greater.” Against this backdrop, Commissioner Mijatović said authorities must improve the quality of environmental impact assessments.

The Commissioner raised the need for public awareness and education on environmental matters to start from a young age. Overall, she encouraged authorities to promote “public knowledge, education, and awareness on issues related to environmental protection and human rights, including targeted training for specific professional groups such as judges.”

The report recommended that legal and practical steps be taken to track and improve air quality and pollution, as well as emissions. In line with the request, she invited the Georgian government to ratify the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the Aarhus Convention.

Commissioner Mijatović also raised the issues of ecomigrants while calling on the government to develop long-term strategies for prevention and adaptation to climate change.

Finally, she emphasized that authorities regularly engage with environmental human rights defenders to provide a safe environment for them so “they can operate efficiently and free from any form of intimidation or harassment, including online.”

Read the Georgian government’s full response to Commissioner Mijatović’s report.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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