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CoE Report Analyzes NGO Stigmatization in Georgia

The Council of Europe’s Expert Council on NGO Law published a study on the stigmatization of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Europe on March 22, reporting a “widespread and concerning pattern” of NGO stigmatization. The study was based on 55 responses to a questionnaire from civil society organizations operating in 31 Council of Europe member states, plus Russia, and two international NGOs.

The analysis is structured similarly to the questionnaires sent to each country representative NGOs, with chapters on: negative attitudes towards certain NGO objectives and activities; the main sources of stigmatization of NGOs and the underlying justifications for such practices; policies and practices that have contributed to or facilitated stigmatization of NGOs; the extent and duration of stigmatization of NGOs; NGO efforts to combat stigmatization; and possible further strategies proposed by NGOs to combat stigmatization.

The study found that NGOs working on human and minority rights, as watchdogs (anti-corruption and investigative journalism) and for the environment were particularly vulnerable to stigmatization. has taken a look at the assessment of Georgian NGOs of the stigmatization of non-governmental organizations in Georgia.

Negative attitudes to certain objectives and activities of NGOs

Georgian NGOs have reported stigmatization within the country against those working on the rights of religious minorities, women’s rights, and watchdog NGOs focused on anti-corruption and investigative journalism. Notably, these NGOs pursuing legitimate objectives have asserted that their ability to operate freely and advocate for their goals is safeguarded by both the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of expression inscribed in the Georgian Constitution.

Major sources of stigmatization of NGOs

Georgian NGOs have indicated that significant sources of stigmatization include public authorities or high-ranking politicians from ruling parties, followed by pro-government media outlets or those promoting populist and xenophobic views, traditional churches, religious organizations, far-right extremist groups, and certain segments of the public, including those opposing LGBTIQ+ rights.

It is notable that in Georgia, public authorities were identified as a major source of stigmatization, both through their actions and their failure to protect the legitimate rights of NGOs. Justifications provided for stigmatization in Georgia often include the protection of traditional family and religious values, moral concerns, national security, public order, and guarding against foreign interference.

Policies and practices that contributed to, or facilitated stigmatization of NGOs

Regarding policies and practices contributing to or facilitating stigmatization of NGOs, initiatives to replicate the Russian Foreign Agents’ law in some form were reported in several countries, including Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia. However, it was noted that the draft-law on “Foreign Agents” was dropped in Georgia.

Exclusion from the decision-making process was also highlighted in the report. Despite successful advocacy preventing the passage of the draft Law on Foreign Agents in Parliament, a respondent from Georgia noted: “…it can be argued that there are no noticeable changes in policy. The government’s uncooperative stance is typically conveyed through verbal attacks, the spread of accusations, and the denial of opportunities to engage in decision-making or ongoing political, social, and legal discussions. This denial includes exclusion from legislative discussions, working groups, working sessions, and similar processes.”

Abuse of power by police and supervising authorities was noted in Georgia, with reports of “unfavorable” treatment of NGOs advocating for women’s rights before investigative and judicial bodies. In regards to media smear campaigns, Georgian NGOs reported that the campaigns have particularly targeted women human rights defenders and NGOs advocating for women’s rights.

According to the study, physical attacks against NGOs and activists in Europe as a whole, and in Georgia in particular, were often linked to a lack of effective investigation or police protection. In particular, an international NGO working on transgender rights noted that physical attacks on their activities were rare overall, but occurred with some frequency in the Russian Federation, Georgia, the United Kingdom, Norway and Armenia.

The extent and duration of stigmatization of NGOs

Respondents from Georgia noted that prominent watchdogs such as GYLA and Transparency International (Georgia branch) are typically the first targets of attacks due to their active criticism of ongoing trends.

Providing more detail on the timeframe of stigmatization, a respondent from Georgia highlighted the events following the country’s initially rejected application for candidate status for EU membership in 2022. The respondent noted that large-scale rallies with the slogan “Going Home, to Europe” were followed by social and political activities demonstrating a hardening of the Georgian government’s attitude towards NGOs.

The respondent reported that accusations, verbal attacks, and deliberate dissemination of disinformation against NGOs increased during this period. Civil society’s response to Georgia’s EU accession process seemed to trigger rhetorical attacks by government leaders and pro-government media.

The respondent NGO notes that during this period, that the Georgian government became more reluctant to engage in policy discussions with critical watchdog groups, and in some cases publicly rejected the involvement of certain organizations. However, it remained open to working with NGOs on less politically sensitive initiatives.

Efforts of NGOs to combat stigmatization

The study notes that several advocacy efforts to combat stigma were reported from the countries surveyed, including Georgia, with initiatives targeting both domestic stakeholders, such as policymakers and the public, as well as international donors.

In addition, NGOs in several countries, including Romania, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Poland, the Russian Federation and Turkey, were reported to have filed applications with the European Court of Human Rights. While many of these cases are still pending, “positive outcomes” were reported in cases against the Russian Federation, Turkey and Georgia.

Potential further strategies proposed by NGOs to combat stigmatization

Respondents from Georgia recommended several measures to combat stigmatization, including promoting public engagement with the government on policy issues. However, they also cautioned that calls for legislative changes with seemingly “good intentions” may be abused in practice to further the “government’s hidden agenda”.

While the proposed measures were specific to the country’s situation, the need for robust and ongoing engagement of European (CoE and the EU) and United Nations institutions with local stakeholders was widely acknowledged as critical in the concerted efforts to combat stigmatization in Georgia.

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


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