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Georgian Watchdogs Call for Triggering Response Procedure in Open Government Partnership

A number of authoritative Georgian civil society organizations addressed the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee with a letter underlying the necessity to safeguard Georgian democracy, civic space, and free media and urging the Steering Committee to start the Response Policy Procedures, effectively re-evaluating the government’s commitments to the principles of open governance.

The Response Policy is used when an OGP-participating country takes actions that undermine the values and principles of OGP, as articulated in the Open Government Declaration, in a way that demonstrates an egregious and blatant disregard for those values and has the potential to be sufficiently damaging to OGP’s reputation. The Response Policy applies in exceptional circumstances only. The aim of the actions OGP takes will be to: Assist in overcoming difficulties and help re-establish an environment more conducive to government and civil society collaboration; and to Safeguard the Open Government Declaration and mitigate reputational risks to OGP.

“Blatant disregard for values and principles of OGP”

In a letter, the CSOs express their deep concern “that the Government of Georgia over the years continues to blatantly disregard values and principles expressed in the Open Government Declaration and Articles of Governance” and stress that the Georgian Government openly neglected the OGP’s fundamental documents “by reducing space for civil society organizations, human rights activists, and critical media, infringing on fundamental freedoms, notably freedom of association and expression, and the right to privacy, restricting access to information, undermining the independence judiciary, and stalling the national OGP process and hindering open governance reforms at the central government level…”

The 14-page letter discusses in detail the steps taken by the Government of Georgia, which the CSOs say “are of the highest concern for the Georgian civil society organizations and beyond, as they are against democratic principles and would certainly represent a reputational risk to OGP.” The letter further notes that: “the latest and flagrant violations of the OGP values and principles articulated in the Open Government Declaration and Articles of Governance are as follows: the government openly attacking civil society, attempting to silence critical media, and limiting fundamental freedoms, notably freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and association.”

The signatories emphasize that “all these key challenges repeatedly emphasized to the government by local and international organizations” are part of the EU’s 12 priorities to achieve the EU candidate status.

The CSOs recall the recent decision by the U.S. State Department to publicly designate four Georgian judges under visa restriction authorities “due to their involvement in significant corruption,” saying that “it confirms the severe problems that persist within the country’s judicial system”.

Georgian human rights watchdogs further note that “the initiation and adoption in the first reading of the Russian-inspired “Foreign Agent’s” draft law was the culmination of a series of undemocratic steps taken by the government in recent years.” They also note that despite three-day protests and harsh international reactions, the ruling party has made it clear that it will not abandon its efforts to introduce regulations that would restrict the activities of critical voices, namely CSOs and media outlets.

The CSOs emphasize that, “questions regarding the independence of Georgia’s judicial and prosecutorial systems, politically motivated cases, allegations of large-scale illegal wiretapping of diplomats, journalists, civil activists, and representatives of non-governmental organizations and others by the security service, as well as disclosed voter mobilization unlawful schemes in favor of the ruling party by the former deputy head of the State Security Service, problems with high-level corruption and state capture further indicate the country’s democratic decline.”

They also stress that the Government does not have a valid OGP National Action Plan since December 2019 and thus did not implement a single commitment at the central government level for more than three years.

The CSOs note that “the Government made it evident that there is no genuine political will to undertake commitments, as part of the new Action Plan, that are ambitious and go beyond the government’s current practice, as it is prescribed in the OGP Articles of Governance.”

CSO Demands

CSOs discuss in great detail the reforms stalled by the Georgian government, urging the Steering Committee to enact the Response Policy (Policy on Upholding the Values and Principles of OGP, as articulated in the Open Government Declaration) and to call on the Georgian government to:

  • Halt the public attacks and smear campaigns on civil society organizations; cease attacks on media representatives, including cases of the instrumentalizing judiciary against critical media outlets (media managers, owners, and/or their family members);
  • Ensure that press freedom and the right to receive and impart information is fully realized; Thoroughly investigate and prosecute the organizers of the July 2021 mass violence;
  • Remove barriers to accessing public data to the degree that this fundamental right can be enjoyed and advances civil society in fulfilling its watchdog role;
  • Restore the OGP co-creation process wherein a meaningful dialogue between state institutions and CSOs is secured, and commitments in action plans are ambitious in nature and beyond a government’s general practice;
  • Uphold OGP values and principles expressed in the Open Government Declaration and Articles of Governance.

The letter is signed by the Open Government Interagency Coordination Council of Georgia (and Forum) member civil society organizations:

Civil Society Institute (CSI), Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI), Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), Green Alternative, Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), Partnership for Road Safety, Social Justice Center (SJC), and Transparency International – Georgia.

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