CoE Report Calls Out Georgia for Discrimination against Religious Minorities and LGBT

Discrimination against religious minorities and the LGBT community is on the rise, as is a law enforcement deficient in Georgia, says the Council of Europe’s Anti-racism Commission.

On 1st of March, 2016, The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published its fourth report on Georgia, analysing recent developments and outstanding issues, and providing recommendations to the authorities. The Georgian Government’s observations on these issues were published together with the report.

The report says the situation with religious minorities and the LGBT community has worsened over recent years and the authorities have not done nearly as much as they should have to solve the issue.

“Despite certain progress achieved by Georgia on anti-discrimination policies and legislation, hate speech and violence against some ethnic and religious minorities, as well as LGBT persons, has increased over the past years, and the authorities’ response has not been sufficient,” says Christian Ahlund, ECRI’s Chair.

Hate speech and physical attacks against minorities, such as Muslims, are on the rise, the report claims; and there is a general homo- and transphobic climate in Georgian society.

The sentiment was shared by Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. “Intolerance and discrimination against LGBT persons must be stopped in Georgia, and across Europe. The judiciary and law enforcement agencies have a key role to play. When violent crimes are being investigated, homophobic motivations must be considered from the outset,” Jagland said.

On the positive side, the report welcomed a number of positive developments, such as amendments to the Criminal Code making racist motivation an aggravating circumstance; enacting in 2014 the Law on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination; the adoption of the National Human Rights Strategy with a focus on freedom of religion and protection of minorities; as well as the implementation of other national policies promoting tolerance and civic integration.

However, not all manifestations of and support for racism are criminalized in Georgia, and there is no legislation to suppress the public financing of, or banning or dissolving of racist political parties or organizations as is the case in most countries of Europe. It is also not possible to initiate court cases concerning racial discrimination without referring to a specific victim.

The authorities’ response has not been adequate, the report says, and there is no effective system for monitoring hate speech. Intolerant comments, in particular of a Islamophobic and homophobic nature, are increasingly present in the media as well as in political discourse, the ECRI noted. Since its previous report, no hate speech case has been prosecuted as no legal basis existed. Investigations have only been launched when a specific threat of violence was involved.

In several cases of attacks due to religious intolerance, the police did not properly safeguard the rights of the minorities. Similarly, the right of LGBT organizations to hold peaceful public events was not sufficiently defended. This goes back to the infamous 17th May 2013 anti-homophobia march in Tbilisi which was violently dissolved by members of the local population, encouraged by a number of representatives of the Orthodox Church.

Stronger emphasis on education is also needed in order to improve the situation in terms of integration, the report says. So far, positive measures to improve the quality of minority education and reduce the socio-economic exclusion of historical ethnic minorities have not been sufficient: textbooks need to be improved and teachers better trained.

ECRI has made several key recommendations to the authorities. The following two require prompt implementation and will be reviewed by ECRI in two years’ time:

• Set up a specialized unit within the police to deal specifically with racist and homo/transphobic hate crime;

• Scale up support for the Council of Religions, in particular by the State Agency for Religious Issues which should utilize the Council’s expertise in order to tackle the problem of religious intolerance.

The report, including Government observations, was prepared following ECRI’s visit to Georgia in March 2015 [Press release] and takes account of developments up to 17 June 2015.

ECRI is a human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts, which monitors problems of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination on grounds such as “race”, national/ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion and language (racial discrimination); it prepares reports and issues recommendations to member states.

by Vazha Tavberidze
Source – Georgia Today