Ombudsman Report 2023: Violent Attack on Pride “Could Not Be Prevented”

The Public Defender’s 2023 Equality Report exonerates the police from the failure to defend the Tbilisi Pride Festival from the violent mob on July 8, 2023. The report reads that since the number of far-right supporters on the spot grew quickly and the festival site was large, “it was not possible to stop them.”

“The Public Defender states that the events of July 8 clearly prove that the protection of the LGBT+ community, and the prevention of violence and discrimination on this scale, cannot be managed solely by police forces and is often insufficient,” the report reads, adding in a rather vague manner that “in order to address this challenge, it is necessary to take timely measures planned in various directions, with the involvement of various agencies and the public.”

On July 8, 2023, the ultra-conservative groups gathered in the morning on Vazha Pshavela Avenue and made public threats to block the planned festival site, which was kilometers away from their original meeting place. After several hours, when they reached Lisi Lake, where police had been mobilized to ensure the peaceful conduct of the Pride celebration, they finally reneged on their promise to provide security. The police escorted the marchers into the camp instead of setting up the roadblock and were deployed in weak cordons that were easily overpowered and broken. The organizers of the festival, Tbilisi Pride, accused the MIA of orchestrating the violent mobs to the festival site. The Human Rights Center also noted in its report that the police presence during the festival was inadequate and condemned the state for failing in its duty to protect festival participants.

The Public Defender’s report, while discussing the police’s inaction on that day, cites a letter it received from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) stating that “in the given territory and under the conditions of the given movement of the participants in the rally, the use of water jet, [tear]gas, and other special equipment would be ineffective and would not stop the participants in the rally for a long time.” The MIA letter cited in the report also adds that “there was a high probability that the participants in the counter-rally would receive life-threatening injuries since many elderly and children participated in it,” and that “the question of the proportionality of the force used would also be disputed.”

More broadly, regarding the protection of the rights of LGBT+ people in Georgia, the report says that they “still face violence, discrimination, and harassment,” which the report adds is caused by “homophobic attitudes, hate crimes and other discriminatory attitudes in society.” It stresses that “persons with far-right ideology, by their actions and statements, contribute to the spread of homophobic sentiments, incite discrimination and, at the same time, commit actions that are often manifested in serious violations of the rights of LGBT+ people.”

The report highlights that in terms of government policy, “no significant steps were taken to improve the rights situation of LGBT+ persons,” referring in particular to the exclusion of LGBT+ rights from the National Human Rights Strategy 2024-2026.

Other Topics

The Public Defender’s report entitled “Combating and Preventing Discrimination and the Situation of Equality,” released on April 22, in addition to the controversial assessment discussed above, also addresses the challenges faced by other vulnerable groups, including women, persons with disabilities, religious and ethnic minorities, and others. The report also provides information on the activities and decisions taken by the Public Defender to protect the right to equality.

Equality of Women

While the report states that “significant” steps have been taken to strengthen women’s rights, it emphasizes that eliminating discrimination against women and achieving equality remained a “serious” challenge. The report highlights sexual harassment cases received by the Public Defender in 2023.

Among others, there were the cases of sexual harassment in the workplace committed by the head of one of the media, the alleged sexual harassment in the field of education, the harassment of foreign women by taxi drivers, etc.

In addition, the report highlights a case of sexual harassment that allegedly took place in the Ministry of Interior. It also mentions another case of the MIA’s inaction, which took place in a public space.

The report also highlights sexist language against women in politics and public roles, as well as the “continued use of explicitly derogatory language” based on gender, as remaining issues of concern.

A specific sub-chapter deals with the issue of equality for female athletes, as the report recalls the cases of financing the treatment of injuries suffered by female professionals during training/games, noting that this was not properly regulated, “which further aggravated the initial unequal situation of women involved in sports.”

Rights of persons with disabilities

According to the report, people with disabilities’ rights have not seen “significant improvement” in 2023. The challenges they face include access to the physical environment and information, communication, banking and other services, and inclusive education in schools and universities.

Importantly, the report emphasizes: “Until now, no national accessibility plan has been approved, which significantly complicates the timely provision of accessibility of building and infrastructure for persons with disabilities.”

The special subchapter deals with the challenges faced by persons with low vision or a complete loss of sight, as one of the major challenges in the year under review was related to their right to freedom of movement. In particular, in the capital, the City Hall decided to turn off the sound of the traffic lights from 11:30 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., which “excluded the possibility of the people with low vision to move independently and safely at night.” The report notes that the inaccessible physical environment not only violates the rights of people with low vision or a complete loss of sight but also creates a barrier to their social inclusion.

Systemic challenges faced by teachers of non-Georgian schools

The report highlights the challenges faced by non-Georgian schools. One of them is seen as the difficulty for practicing teachers to obtain the status of senior, leading, and mentor teachers [higher status of teachers is linked to the increase in salary supplement].

The report highlights the reasons for this situation, including the low level of knowledge of the official language, the lack of methods and stimulating activities tailored to individual needs, the lower motivation to learn Georgian among people of the older generation, and the insufficient geographical coverage of official language programs.

Discrimination in labor relations

According to the report, cases of alleged discrimination in labor relations were among the most frequent disputes citizens reported to the Public Defender. The cases included the use of disciplinary measures, removal from work-related activities, victimization, dismissal, etc.

Discriminatory treatment in the field of services

In 2023, among the cases studied by the Public Defender, disparity in service provision was particularly evident in discriminatory treatment in the medical and education sectors.

Incitement to discrimination

This section focuses on incitement to discrimination against the LGBT+ community through homophobic/transphobic statements and hate speech seen in the media.

The report stresses: “Attitudes containing stigma and stereotypes towards women, persons with disabilities and members of the LGBT+ community are firmly entrenched in society.” It adds: “Consequently, public expressions inciting sexist, homo/transphobic or other kind of discrimination further reinforces negative attitudes towards vulnerable groups, the fight against which is the responsibility of each member of society.”

Investigation of hate crimes

The report discusses the challenges of investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated hate crimes allegedly committed on the basis of intolerance. The report identifies two reasons for this: first is the inadequate performance of positive duties by law enforcement officials to protect the equality of vulnerable groups, and second is the ineffective response to criminal acts committed by far-right violent groups and their leaders.

The report refers to several cases involving ethnic minorities, transgender women, and religious minorities (Jahovah’s Witnesses) in which these persons were not granted victim status or in which no charges were brought against specific perpetrators.

The report also includes two cases of violence: the first against the co-founder of the critical channel Formula TV, Mikheil Mshvildadze, and the second against the opposition politician Zurab Japaridze. In both cases, the report stresses, there was no proper classification. “Identification of the motive of intolerance by the investigation appears to be one of the challenges in the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed on the motive of intolerance.”

In the reporting period, the Public Defender studies 122 cases of alleged discrimination, the most of which – 17% concerned alleged discrimination on the grounds of sex/gender, 16% – dissent opinion, 8% – nationality/citizenship, 7% – disability, 6% – political opinion, and 5% – religion. According to the report, 4% of the applicants indicated discrimination on the grounds of age, sexual orientation and gender identity, and in 2% of cases indicated trade union membership as a reason. Unspecified “other” grounds made up the most – 31% of the applications.

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


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