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Unity in Diversity

Laws that Bind: Making Policy Reflect Commitments

Georgia’s legal system includes a robust framework designed to facilitate minority integration and combat discrimination. On paper, these laws promise an inclusive society where diversity is celebrated. Yet, the reality reveals a disconnect between legal ideals and lived experiences.


This is the fifth in a series of articles that explore the underlying incentives and disincentives driving minority integration in Georgia. Also in this series:


Legal Framework – Healthy Foundation

Georgia’s legal framework is widely considered to support minority participation in political decision-making and broader societal and economic activities. The country’s Constitution emphasizes equality before the law, granting all citizens the right to preserve their culture and use their native language without discrimination. Georgia’s commitment to human rights is reflected in its membership in major international protection mechanisms. In 2005, the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) spurred early efforts to establish a comprehensive legislative framework for safeguarding minority rights, setting the stage for long-term policymaking tailored to the needs of these communities.

Georgia’s commitment to minority integration is further outlined in the Strategy and Action Plan for Civic Equality and Integration (2021-2030), overseen by the Office of the State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality. This strategic framework prioritizes initiatives such as supporting the state language for integration, ensuring access to quality education, promoting civic and political participation, facilitating social and economic integration, and fostering intercultural dialogue.

Georgia’s legal framework for anti-discrimination has also seen positive developments, notably with the enactment of a comprehensive law in 2014. This law prohibits discrimination based on various factors, including race, language, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. In recent years, the government has further strengthened the institutional infrastructure to address discrimination, establishing the Human Rights Protection and Investigation Quality Monitoring Department (2018) and the Witness and Victim Coordinator system (2019) under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA).

Anti-Discrimination – Implementation Realities

While Georgia’s 2014 anti-discrimination law has increased public awareness about discrimination, it faces significant challenges in effective implementation. Shortcomings within state bodies have hindered the enforcement of this legislation. Despite the creation of the MIA’s Department on Human Rights in 2018, its mandate is limited to monitoring investigations and providing recommendations, lacking investigative functions. International bodies have called for the establishment of specialized units within the police to investigate hate crimes and address gaps in the ability of the Public Defender’s Office to combat discrimination.

Concerns have been raised about the uneven enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, with the government criticized for focusing efforts on isolated cases rather than addressing systemic inequality practices. Evidence suggests that even as the failures to identify hate motives in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes have been partially addressed, with the help of international bodies like the Council of Europe, the indictments either don’t lead to convictions or needlessly drag out the procedures, as the Courts still need to catch up with utilization of the laws. A very explicit example of this is the pending investigations of the infamous anti-LGBT+ violence on July 5-6, 2022. According to the Georgian Youth Lawyers Association, despite several arrests and convictions related to the July 5 violence, law enforcement agencies have not taken action to press charges against the organizers of violence.

Furthermore, minority groups often hesitate to report discriminatory incidents to authorities, feeling uncomfortable approaching the police. Survey data highlights that minorities lack confidence in law enforcement responses and perceive their effectiveness as a matter of luck. Additionally, there is a general lack of awareness about available redress mechanisms, hampering their willingness to utilize these avenues when aware of them.

Hate Speech – Legal Framework and Realities

The regulation of hate speech in Georgia has been a contentious issue. Until recently, Georgian media has primarily relied on self-regulation to combat hate speech, with licensed broadcasters mandated to establish internal self-regulatory groups alongside the Charter of Journalistic Ethics, a union overseeing ethical violations. Internal regulatory processes address complaints and disputes before escalating to the Charter or courts. Civil society groups have also played a prominent role in monitoring and countering hate speech, employing tactics like “naming and shaming” propagators of hate speech and collaborating with platforms like Facebook to label false content related to minorities. Despite some drawbacks, Georgian civil society and independent media communities have largely supported this self-regulation system, fearing that the alternative of government regulation could open the door for retribution against critical media outlets.

However, the self-regulatory framework underwent significant changes in December 2022. New legislation granted the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) the authority to rule on alleged hate speech in broadcasting and issue fines for violations. Various local and international actors criticized this shift, including the Media Advocacy Coalition and the Council of Europe. Right-wing groups, including members of the Conservative Movement, also opposed the legislation. Civil society raised concerns about the GNCC’s impartiality, alleging that its members are loyal to the ruling party and have previously targeted media groups critical of the government.

What Does Progress Look Like?

A central challenge in defining policy in minority integration is defining measures of success and ensuring decision-makers are equipped with accurate data. Although the topics related to ethnic and religious minority rights and their integration have been on the agenda for almost 30 years, there is very little disaggregated data about the minority communities, their way of life, and their needs. At times, even the elementary data on the municipal level is missing from the state databases, as it has never been collected or disaggregated. The implication is that most of the policy is shaped by the dominant discourse of a few powerful actors or institutions.

Moving forward, an important recommendation is to improve the quality of data. One option could be to assist the official statistical agency GeoStat in generating more representative, targeted data and publishing it in a disaggregated manner. Even more promising could be assisting the municipalities themselves in collecting the localized data, ranging from emigration to lived experiences of discrimination.

Collecting the data will create a solid foundation to position the ladder of progress. The next step would be to agree on what policy success looks like and to decide how to measure it. Data collection is thus not a stand-alone exercise, nor is it only a matter of skills transfer – it must serve to evaluate the validity of the key assumptions of the integration policy.

Takeaways

Georgia’s legal landscape offers a solid foundation for minority integration. The laws designed to safeguard minority rights and curb discrimination are commendable and provide a valuable starting point. The anti-discrimination legal framework, in particular, is a testament to the nation’s dedication to equality, irrespective of race, religion, language, or sexual orientation. More than this – the legal framework is a valuable tool that can be leveraged to champion meaningful change.

At the same time, it is challenging to implement these laws. The biggest hurdles lie not in the legal texts but in the willingness of key actors and institutions to follow, enforce, and utilize these laws. The debate surrounding hate speech regulation mirrors the broader challenges of implementation. Law enforcement agencies, institutions, and minorities themselves must exhibit the necessary political leadership and the will to compromise if the legal provisions are to be translated into tangible actions. Their continued failure to do this requires a frank examination of the underlying incentives and disincentives of the duty-bearer institutions and stakeholders.

Informed policymaking and execution also demand comprehensive, disaggregated data that captures the experience, perspective, and needs of minority communities. The current lack of nuanced data impedes progress, leaving policies shaped by dominant discourses and a few powerful actors rather than the diverse realities and perspectives on the ground. Improving data quality is not just a matter of collecting information; it necessitates defining measurable indicators for success. Improved data collection and measurement toward Georgia’s “end goal” for minority integration is essential to moving policy-making and execution from a subjective activity dominated by powerful actors to one that is truly objective, evidence-based, and reflective of Georgia’s rich diversity.


This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Unity for Diversity Program. The contents are the author’s responsibility and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government, or the Unity for Diversity Program.

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