I would like to address you on behalf of non-governmental organization Identoba, Georgia’s largest multi-issue LGBTI and Human Rights organization.
As you are well informed, the European Parliament noted in one of its statements that Georgia has made significant progress in reforms, and that like any other European state, if all the necessary conditions are met, it has EU membership prospects. On another hand, there still is a long way ahead, towards comprehensive, and full membership, which indeed requires the country to consolidate its reforms, effectively end all types of selective and political use of justice, and to start in-depth, and thorough work towards non-discrimination, solidarity and tolerance, pluralism and equality.
In the light of the above stated, we once again feel compelled to bring your attention to one of the main objectives of Identoba and Georgian LGBTI community, which is: strengthening broad-based civil society engagement in support of the human rights of LGBTI persons. Under this objective, we have constantly emphasized the need to combat impunity for hate crimes, namely, the lack of accountability for individual perpetrators, as well as, the lack of accountability for the Georgian Government, which constantly fails to investigate and prosecute individuals guilty of HCs. This practice has been steadily observed for several years. Georgia not only fails to investigate, but to also collect data about HCs. We feel that, the EU must hold the Georgian government accountable for its failure to investigate and prosecute HCs, require it to start collecting appropriate data and set appropriate preconditions in its negotiations and communication to the Georgian government.
Another main objective of Identoba, and of Georgian LGBTI movement, is Combating societal discrimination and negative social attitudes. We seek to increase protection from violence (including hate crimes) for the Georgian LGBTI community. By documenting rights violations, Identoba is trying to bring forward evidence needed to prove that HCs are widespread, and to argue that the Georgian government needs to take action and prevent LGBT rights violations, and, if necessary, to enforce the law through litigation and international advocacy. We are engaged in identifying risky locations, and using that information, to work with the police to increase security, explore information and develop other evidence-based solutions for lGBTI community members’ who must be, but are not, protected from violence.
Also, let us inform you on the recent alarming developments in the field of the LGBTI rights in Georgia:
- On October 23rd, 2015, Tbilisi City Court acquitted four people (who included clergy of the Georgian Orthodox Church) who were on trial for urging protesters who disrupted a peaceful rally to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17, 2013. Despite the fact that the evidence included videos which showed how priests and activists broke through the police cordon, and ran toward the gay rights demonstrators, shouting and chasing after a bus which evacuated around 30 organizers of the planned IDAHO event, the Tbilisi City Court said that there was lack of cumulative evidence to prove defendants’ guilt beyond the reasonable doubt. Prosecutor’s office did not respond on October 23 to questions whether it would appeal the verdict to higher court. We are aware that Georgian government makes lofty claims internationally, that justice will be restored, but let us assure you that that is never the case here. What is said at European forums, stays there. The government representatives have never ever made good on their promise, made abroad, to institute changes that would effectively protect LGBTI victims of violence. We have not seen HCs investigated, police reformed to include LGBTI friendly unit, or even a hotline opened.
- Exactly one year ago, young transgender woman Sabi Beriani was stabbed to death. Her flat was set on fire. Her murder suspect was again acquitted by Tbilisi City Court just several weeks ago. He was found not guilty in having murdered Beriani, but guilty of setting her rented apartment on fire. Hence, damaging property is more valuable to Georgian authorities, than destroying lives.
- Georgia was chosen as the site for the tenth World Congress of Families, which is going to be held in Tbilisi on 16-18th of May, 2016. Interestingly enough, this event coincides with the Day of Family Strength and Respect for Parents established by the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which, again extraordinarily coincides with May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Organizers of the event, both American and Georgian NGOs are well known for their ultra-radical approach towards LGBTI community, with their mission statement aiming to “affirm that the natural human family is established by the Creator”. By joining forces with ultra-radical millionaire Levan Vasadze, and the Orthodox Church of Georgia, we fear that next IDAHO day might not end well, again. These two actors joined forces in 2013 to bring and finance what the world saw on May 17th, in Tbilisi.
- The Prime Minister of Georgia, Mr. Irakli Garibashvili keeps publicly calling, and promising for amending the Georgian Constitution in a homophobic manner, so it defines a family as a union between a man and a woman.
- Teaching of the new subject “Me and society” at public schools of Georgia was planned for 2015-2016 year, however, was postponed to the next academic year. Ideally, “Me and society” should have included the following topics: arrangement of the society and the state, main human values, human rights and freedoms etc. The Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church summoned the Minister of Education of Georgia and ordered her to ban the subject as they believe the textbook will “distort and deface children’s mentality”. The Ministry of Education of Georgia admitted that they removed terms like “gender identity”, “liberalism” and “democratic values” from the textbook, following their meeting with the Church. The Patriarchate also believes the textbook diminishes the essence of the Orthodoxy as a dominant religion of the state. And we believe that this precedent marks the end of secular state in Georgia.
To sum up all stated above, we would like to, once again, stress out that these facts not only hinder existent democratic processes, but are dangerous and alarming in the light of protection of fundamental rights and freedoms envisaged by the UDHR and ECHR. It should also be noted that religious freedom, intolerance based on ethnic and LGBTI identities, hate speech and xenophobia have been remaining one of the major human rights problems in the country during the recent years. The level of coverage of problematic issues regarding minorities by media, and intolerance attitude towards different minority groups has not improved either. Response of the law enforcement bodies to the attacks, and facts of persecution on the grounds of gender identity or religious intolerance remain inadequate. Typically, the investigations are delayed without any reasonable basis or completed with no results.
We call upon you to keep these sad developments in mind, whenever dealing with issues related to Georgia.
Without equality, justice and human rights for minorities, Georgia is not a democracy.