The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined ninth to tenth periodic report of Georgia, with Committee Experts commending the State on its achievements in increasing the prosecution of discrimination crimes, and asking questions on minority groups’ access to education and human rights violations in the occupied territories.
A Committee Expert welcomed that the prosecution of discrimination and hate crimes had increased in recent years. What measures had encouraged this? How did the State cooperate with civil society to increase the examination of hate crimes?
Ibrahima Guisse, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that there was a lack of appropriately trained teachers, as well as language and cost barriers preventing minority groups from accessing higher education. Among the ethnic Azerbaijani minority children, the preschool enrolment rate for children aged three to five years was reportedly 28.8 per cent, compared to 82 per cent for the population. What measures were in place to support minorities’ access to quality education at all levels and reduce the large gap in education outcomes?
Michal Balcerzak, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that there were grim reports concerning violations of human rights and the Convention in the occupied territories. Were there any problems regarding discrimination due to national or ethnic origin in these territories? What actions had the State party taken to implement the Convention in matters concerning the occupied territories?
Introducing the report, Khatuna Totladze, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and head of the delegation, said that, as a result of systematic policy implemented by the Prosecution Service of Georgia, the number of prosecutions for hate crimes had considerably increased. The delegation added that racial discrimination was considered as an aggravating factor for all crimes.
On minorities’ access to education, the delegation said that ethnic minorities had access to preschools, including preschools that used languages other than Georgian. The Government was working to construct kindergartens in regions densely populated by ethnic minorities. Enrolment in higher education had increased five times in recent years, thanks to a programme supporting ethnic minorities’ access to tertiary education. The Government had allocated more that 500 million Georgian lari to supporting education in areas densely populated by ethnic minorities. In coming years, the Government intended to build 80 new schools in these areas, and renovate over 500 schools.
On the occupied territories, the delegation said that the situation was deteriorating. Ethnic cleansing of Georgians was occurring and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons were being prevented from returning home. Georgians were deprived of their rights to property, work, and freedom of movement. The Georgian Government was implementing all available measures to address human rights abuses, Ms. Totladze said. It was participating in the Geneva International Discussions, implementing programmes aimed at improving the humanitarian and socio-economic conditions of people in the occupied territories, and addressing long-term housing needs for internally displaced persons.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Balcerzak said that the Committee noted the progress of the State on criminal law, training and awareness raising, and would deliberate on recommendations that would best serve Georgia. There was always room for improvement, and the Committee welcomed efforts to address areas that needed improvement, such as regarding media regulation. Mr. Balcerzak expressed hope that the State party would implement the Committee’s concluding observations, and congratulated the State party on its election to the Human Rights Council.
Ms. Totladze, in her concluding remarks, said that the State party would give due consideration to the recommendations of the Committee. Georgia was now in the process of assessing its new national action plan, and the Committee’s advice would inform this process. Georgia was committed to human rights protection and fully supported the United Nations treaty bodies.
The delegation of Georgia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Advisor to the Prime Minister of Georgia on Human Rights Issues; Human Rights Secretariat; Special Investigation Service; LEPL Legal Aid Service; Communication Commission; High Council of Justice; Office of the Prosecutor General; State Agency for Religious Issues; Ministry of Internal Affairs; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Education and Science; Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Georgia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Georgia after the conclusion of its one hundred and eighth session on 2 December. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and eighth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee has before it the combined ninth to tenth periodic report of Georgia (CERD/C/GEO/9-10).
Presentation of Report
KHATUNA TOTLADZE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and head of the delegation, reiterated Georgia’s commitment to human rights protection and cooperation with the human rights monitoring mechanisms of the United Nations. Treaty body recommendations were translated into human rights’ national action plans for effective implementation. An inclusive national reporting process on follow-up to recommendations had been developed, and all State reports were now subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. Georgia was actively engaged in the work of the Human Rights Council and would further strengthen this engagement as a member of the Council starting from January 2023. Georgia had extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedure mandate holders and had already hosted several visits. The next visit from the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities was scheduled for the second part of 2023.
Following Committee recommendations, Georgia had acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2016. It had ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2017 and harmonised Georgian legislation with the standards of this Convention. In 2021, the State had acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In September 2022, the Government had approved the second National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights in Georgia 2022-2030. As a priority area, the strategy envisaged continuous improvement of equality and anti-discrimination legislation, consideration of the needs of minority groups, promotion of teaching of the State language, and improvement of a victim-oriented response to crimes committed on grounds of discrimination. Georgia was now working on a national action plan to ensure the implementation of the strategy. Further, in 2022, the Government adopted national action plans on women, peace and security and on the elimination of violence against women and domestic violence. The Government cooperated with civil society representatives in developing State programmes and policies. It took measures to raise awareness among civil servants, law enforcement officials, judges and the public at large on human rights, including on anti-discrimination standards.
In 2019, the Office of the Public Defender of Georgia was granted the power to seek the enforcement of the recommendations addressed to private law entities through courts. Furthermore, the approved budget of the Office was considerably increased. In September 2022, Parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to allow covert investigative activities to increase the effectiveness of the investigation of racial discrimination cases.
The Human Rights Protection and Quality Monitoring Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs monitored the quality of investigation of hate crimes. Importance was placed on the training of law enforcement officials on the investigation of such crimes. As a result of systematic policy implemented by the Prosecution Service of Georgia, the number of prosecutions for hate crimes had considerably increased. In 2022, an independent State agency, the Special Investigation Service, was established for the independent and effective investigation of crimes, including crimes of persecution based on religion that were committed by officials on and off duty. In September 2020, a memorandum of cooperation on the collection of data on crimes committed on grounds of intolerance was signed between the Prosecution Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Supreme Court and the National Statistics Office of Georgia. Two joint reports on hate crime data were published in 2020 and 2021. Systematic reforms had been undertaken to create institutional safeguards for the independence, transparency and accessibility of the judiciary.
A Labour Inspection Service had been established with an authority to monitor the enforcement of labour legislation. The Service conducted announced and unannounced supervision to identify and respond to forced labour and labour exploitation, including direct and indirect discrimination.
The Government had approved a new Unified Strategy of Education and Science 2022-2030. This strategy strived to ensure equal access to inclusive, equitable and quality education, as well as to improve opportunities for lifelong learning for all.
In 2021, the State Strategy for Civic Equality and Integration for 2021-2030 and the respective action plan for 2021-2022 were approved; it aimed to ensure equal opportunities for all citizens in all spheres of public life and further encourage cultural diversity. The Central Election Commission ensured the equal and full participation of ethnic minorities in elections by increasing citizen awareness about the election process in regions densely populated by ethnic minorities, training election administration officials, and translating election-related documents into minority languages.
The legal aid system was being reformed to ensure access to effective and quality free legal aid for ethnic minorities, internally displaced persons, refugees and stateless persons. Georgia had undertaken legislative and institutional reforms to reinforce the legal protection of asylum seekers, refugees and humanitarian status holders. The Georgian asylum system guaranteed fair and effective asylum procedures, and asylum seekers and international protection holders were provided with healthcare, education, labour and other services.
The human rights situation in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia, which were occupied by the Russian Federation, had severely deteriorated. Violations of the right to life, torture and ill-treatment, kidnappings and arbitrary detentions, restriction of freedom of movement, infringement of property rights, prohibition of education in native language, and blatant forms of ethnic discrimination had become part of everyday life for the conflict-affected people. Brutal killings of ethnic Georgians Davit Basharuli, Giga Otkhozoria and Archil Tatunashvili, as well as the death of Irakli Kvaratskhelia in illegal detention at the Russian military base in Abkhazia region, were vivid examples of ethnically driven violence. International human rights organizations were constantly denied the access to the occupied regions and subjected to pressure from the occupying regime.
The Georgian Government was implementing all available measures to address human rights abuses in the occupied regions. It was participating in peace negotiations, the Geneva International Discussions. Furthermore, it was implementing programmes aimed at improving the humanitarian and socio-economic conditions of people in the occupied territories, and addressing long-term housing needs and improving socio-economic conditions for internally displaced persons.
Questions by Committee Experts
MICHAL BALCERZAK, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked whether the State party had informed its citizens that the Committee could receive individual communications. Had non-governmental organizations been consulted regarding the State report? It was noteworthy that Georgia had introduced a general law against all forms of discrimination in 2014, which contained a definition of discrimination that was in line with the Convention. What were the contents of the amendment to the 2014 law introduced in 2020? Two other developments were the 2017 and 2018 amendments to the Criminal Code of Georgia, which added racial discrimination as an aggravating factor and increased the prison term of a sentence for racially motived crimes by one year. How many completed cases involving crimes committed with racial motives had ended up in convictions? How many cases were brought before the Supreme Court, including cases concerning the interpretation of legislation?
Georgia’s Public Defender had extensive competencies, and its mandate was expanded in 2019. The new competencies allowed the Public Defender to appear at a court of law as a plaintiff “if a legal person or other organizational entity did not respond to or adopt the Public Defender’s recommendations”. How many times and in which types of cases had the recommendations of the Public Defender been judicially enforced in recent years? Did the State party intend to expand the mandate of the Public Defender to allow it to require the submission of information from private individuals, and respond to its recommendation to amend the Code of Administrative Offences to add an aggravated administrative penalty for offenses committed with a discriminatory motive?
There were grim reports concerning violations of human rights and the Convention in the occupied territories. Was the Convention observed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali regions? Were there any problems regarding discrimination due to national or ethnic origin in these territories? Georgia had taken pioneering but unsuccessful action against the Russian Federation in the International Criminal Court in 2011. What follow-up to this case had been made? What actions had the State party taken to implement the Convention in matters concerning the occupied territories?
Were judges trained in matters concerning racial discrimination? What parts of the national action plan dealt specifically with issues related to the Convention? Which civil society organizations had been consulted regarding the plan? Were criminal prosecutions or awareness campaigns more effective at tackling societal issues? One political candidate had recorded a video in a recent election wearing blackface and verbally attacking an opponent candidate from Nigeria. Such acts contributed to harmful stereotypes. Had the State reacted to this behaviour in any way?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked whether there were any training programmes concerning the prevention and prohibition of hate speech offered to members of the judiciary. What had been the impact of training programmes undertaken?
A 2018 study by the Caucasus Research Resource Centre found that 36 per cent of Georgian nationals considered ethnic diversity to be negative and 46 per cent considered religious diversity to be negative. What measures had the State party undertaken to address discriminatory attitudes of this kind, and how successful had they been? Were new approaches needed?
The Georgian Criminal Code did not include any specific articles on hate crimes or hate speech. There had been positive changes in Georgian criminal law (article 531 for instance), but the phenomena of hate speech and hate violence could require appropriate responses in the criminal law system. Were there plans to amend the Criminal Code to provide a specific legal basis for prosecuting hate speech and hate crimes? Were there other legal instruments that addressed hate speech or incitement to hatred by high-level officials, such as parliamentarians? Were there any public campaigns aimed specifically at addressing racial hatred and racial hate speech on the Internet? Had the impact of any such measures been assessed?
The Human Rights Protection and Investigation Quality Monitoring Department had been established in 2019. Its primary function was to monitor the quality of investigation of cases of violence against women, crimes committed based on discrimination and hate crimes, as well as crimes committed by and against minors. How did the State party assess the impact of the work undertaken by the Department? Did it intend to provide this entity with an investigative function?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-Up Rapporteur, said that in the Committee’s last concluding observations on Georgia, two issues were raised. The first was the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation. The Committee expected the State party to develop targeted measures to address discrimination and a comprehensive policy on training police officers, and to engage with the Public Defender. The second issue concerned stateless persons. The State party was asked to take effective measures to protect stateless persons and support their access to identity documents and basic services. No information had been provided in the State report on stateless Roma. Had Georgia followed through with promises to address this issue with legislative and policy measures?
A Committee Expert welcomed that the prosecution of discrimination and hate crimes had increased in recent years. What measures had encouraged this? How did the State cooperate with civil society to increase the examination of hate crimes?
Another Committee Expert asked how the Public Defender was appointed. Was the selection process transparent? Was it correct that criminal law did not include provisions on hate crime and hate speech? Certain groups affiliated with the Georgian Orthodox Church had formed political parties and allegedly disseminated hate speech in the run-up to the recent elections. Had these allegations been investigated?
One Committee Expert asked about the outcome of the 2014-2020 national strategy, and about new plans incorporated in the latest plan. What measures were in place to protect human rights defenders from harassment? Was there a law protecting human rights defenders in Georgia?
A Committee Expert asked about the basis of the legal system in Georgia. How were judges and magistrates recruited, and what was the hierarchy? What were the possibilities for remedies and appeals within the legal system?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the new National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights in Georgia 2022-2030 had been approved by the Government and was being considered in Parliament. The strategy had been prepared solely by independent experts from international organizations and the Public Defender. The new strategy included indicators to measure the progress achieved. Up to 100 civil society organizations had been consulted regarding the strategy document. The strategy aimed to strengthen minority rights, including for ethnic and religious minorities; anti-discrimination legislation; and the rights of persons with disabilities. A national action plan to implement this strategy was now being developed by independent experts, and this plan would also be consulted on with non-governmental organizations.
The Government had approved two action plans on women, peace and security, and on gender-based violence and violence against women. These action plans had their own reporting mechanisms and budgets.
The national action plan 2014-2020 had led to the creation of the Human Rights Protection and Quality Monitoring Department in 2019 and training for the police and prosecutors on hate crimes and crimes based on discrimination. A mechanism for collecting data on crimes based on discrimination had also been developed under the plan. Further, Georgia had held “Equality Week” to raise awareness about the rights of ethnic minorities and encourage the integration of these groups.
The Prosecutor’s Office was focusing on the continued specialisation of prosecutors investigating hate crimes and improving data collection and analysis. All prosecutors were required to request stricter penalties for racially motivated crimes; 90 Office staff had been specialised to work on hate crime cases. Disaggregated statistics on hate crimes were published online annually; 175 staff of the Office had been trained on anti-discrimination measures in 2021.
There was no specific article dealing with hate crimes in the Georgian Criminal Code. However, there was legislation criminalising discrimination and public incitement of violence. Racial discrimination was considered as an aggravating factor for all crimes. In 2021, 834 persons were prosecuted for discriminatory crimes, a sharp improvement from around 200 in 2020. These included 11 crimes based on grounds of racial discrimination. In 2022, 798 persons had thus far been prosecuted, including seven for crimes based on racial discrimination, and around 200 court convictions had been issued on these cases.
The Special Investigations Service had been investigating ill-treatment by public officials since 2021. The jurisdiction of the Service had been increased to investigate crimes against journalists, restrictions of freedom of expression, and crimes related to elections. A team of specialised investigators for hate and discrimination crimes and awareness campaigns on such crimes were being developed. The Service was also planning to contribute to the unified data system on discrimination crimes.
In 2019, private legal entities became subject to legislation and investigation related to discrimination by the Public Defender. The Public Defender had a mandate to supervise the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation. The Public Defender had referred a complaint concerning discrimination regarding access to water facilities in an Islamic mosque to State courts in 2019. The court upheld the request of the Public Defender to allow the mosque access to water facilities and redress.
In 2020, the Government had modified disability legislation to ensure that persons with disabilities had access to redress regarding discrimination. One communication concerning discrimination had been submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Six cases of labour discrimination had been confirmed thus far by courts in 2022, an increase on 2021 and previous years. State agencies had an obligation to report to Parliament on progress in implementing the Public Defender’s recommendations. The budget of the Public Defender had been increased from six to eight million dollars between 2021 and 2022. One of the main mandates of the Public Defender was raising awareness on anti-discrimination legislation.
Awareness campaigns on human rights and various other issues had been conducted in areas densely populated by ethnic minorities. Training sessions on disinformation and anti-Western propaganda had been held for educators in all regions of the State.
Judges were bound to impose a minimum of one year imprisonment for crimes committed on the basis of discrimination. In 2021, there were 12 cases of crimes based on racial discrimination heard at courts of first instance, of which four convictions were handed down. Six cases of religious intolerance were heard in 2021, of which convictions were handed down to two persons. Judges and court staff were provided training on discrimination through a dedicated training module. Eight such training sessions had been held last year.
Parliament was working on a new Code of Administrative Procedures that would contain aggravating circumstances for crimes based on discrimination.
Georgia was using all relevant formats available to it to address the grave human rights violations occurring in the occupied territories. The situation in these territories was deteriorating. Ethnic cleansing of Georgians was occurring and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons were being prevented from returning home. Villages and Georgian houses had been destroyed by the occupying forces, including the destruction of 300 houses to build a landfill. Georgians were deprived of their rights to property, work, and freedom of movement. There were almost 40,000 Georgians living in the Abkhazia district, around half of whom had not been allowed to register as foreigners to access services or cross occupation lines. Many Georgian students were unable to travel to Georgian-controlled territory to obtain education in their native languages.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said that Georgia had not respected the spirit of the Convention, as the Criminal Code did not specifically target discrimination. The State needed to pass a law that criminalised discrimination. Georgia had created barriers to access to justice. How would the State party address this?
Another Committee Expert asked whether plaintiffs had to wait for reports to be lodged to find out how their complaints of discrimination would be addressed.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that all forms of discrimination were independently included in the Criminal Code.
Questions by Committee Experts
MICHAL BALCERZAK, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked whether criminal law provisions on discrimination were assessed by supreme judicial authorities. Were recommendations of the Supreme Court always followed? Were lawyers and plaintiffs aware of the Committee’s communications mechanism?
How many non-citizens, including migrants, refugees and stateless persons, were living in Georgia? What measures were in place to ensure non-citizens’ access to COVID-19 health measures, as well as social and economic support; prevent stigmatisation of non-citizens in the context of the pandemic; and ensure that persons in need of international protection had access to a fair, transparent and efficient asylum procedure? What security threats did Syrian refugees pose that warranted the denial of their international protection? Did asylum seekers have access to free legal representation? What progress had been made in reforming the legal aid system? What steps had been taken to support stateless persons to acquire Georgian citizenship and to identify stateless children born in the State party?
What measures had the State party taken to speed up the repatriation of persons forcibly resettled from Georgia by the Soviet Union, notably the Meskhetian Turks? What information and awareness-raising measures were in place to facilitate their access to citizenship, education, employment and health care? What was the situation of Ukrainians who had fled to Georgia? How had the State responded to the influx of refugees? Although Georgian law allowed for changes of surnames, a person needed documented proof of their ancestral surnames to change them. The Government had refused requests by certain persons with Russian surnames to change their surnames to Georgian surnames. Why was this?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that ethnic minorities made up 13.2 per cent of the population, and minority populations tended to be concentrated in certain geographical areas. The State Strategy for Civic Equality and Integration aimed to strengthen the participation of ethnic minorities in political life and ensure equal socio-economic conditions and opportunities. However, this strategy seemingly did not contain legislative, institutional and policy changes that would contribute to a more equal and equitable political, economic and social environment for non-dominant ethnic groups.
What was the representation of ethnic minorities in the executive branch, parliament, political parties and other public bodies, as well as at municipal levels? What measures were in place to increase the political participation of ethnic minorities? Only 86 per cent of the population had access to modernised sanitation facilities, and nearly 25 per cent of the rural population did not have access to such facilities. What measures were in place to ensure access to quality health care for ethnic minorities, including in rural areas? The Committee welcomed public vocational training and retraining programmes targeting vulnerable groups. How many persons from ethnic minorities had benefited from these programmes, and how many had found employment? What measures were in place to support the income of minorities during the pandemic?
There was a lack of appropriately trained teachers, as well as language and cost barriers for access to higher education. Among the ethnic Azerbaijani minority children, the pre-school enrolment rate for children aged three to five years was reportedly 28.8 per cent, compared to 82 per cent for the population. The rate for ethnic Armenian children was 68.8 per cent. What measures were in place to support the access of minorities to quality education at all levels and reduce the large gap in education outcomes?
The Committee commended the State party for the measures taken in the field of education for Roma children, including through the social inclusion support programme, which promoted the integration of Roma children into the formal education system. As a result of this programme, the number of Roma children receiving formal education had increased from 88 in 2015 to 289 in 2017. An educational module had been developed to raise awareness of Roma among students, and conferences, seminars and working meetings on Roma issues had been organised. However, very few members of the Roma population were able to access identity documents. What measures had been taken to increase the access of the Roma population to identity documents and support the schooling of Roma children; and prevent forced and child marriages among minority groups, including Roma? Why were there still cases of child marriages in almost all the major ethnic groups, despite legislation criminalising the practice?
Another Committee Expert said that the Government had done much to support access to education and public infrastructure for minority groups in the southern part of Georgia, but these people did not have access to political representation. The Government had supported children in the region to learn Georgian language, but these students still had weak Georgian language skills, which hindered their access to higher education and employment. What further support could be provided?
A Committee Expert asked how many measures had been implemented from the 10-point plan to protect stateless persons? Had the State party managed to prevent the withdrawal of nationality for discriminatory reasons? What measures were in place to deliver birth registration papers to those who had a right to them and to ratify the international conventions on statelessness?
One Committee Expert asked whether children were taught about the history of Georgia, in particular the period when the State was a member of the Soviet Union. Young people needed to be aware of what had happened in their region. How was Georgia’s past linked to modern day discrimination?
Responses by the Delegation
KHATUNA TOTLADZE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and head of the delegation, said that the State party was working on updating Georgia’s common core document and preparing overdue reports for various Committees. The Ministry of Justice was conducting an information campaign on the communications mechanisms of treaty bodies, holding information sessions on these mechanisms and providing information on the mechanisms on the Ministry’s website.
Having experienced similar military aggression from the Russian Federation, Georgia sympathised with the Ukrainian people and had established a fund for supporting Ukrainian refugees. Seven million United States dollars had been invested in supporting refugees in Georgia and a further investment of seven million dollars was planned for 2023. Ukrainian children were enrolled in Georgian schools in a simplified manner; 1,500 Ukrainian students had been enrolled in Georgian schools and were receiving education in Ukrainian. Non-governmental organizations were offering food, accommodation and other support to Ukrainian citizens.
The delegation said that complaints concerning hate speech were currently self-regulated in traditional media and not regulated at all online. Complaints could only be lodged with the broadcasters themselves. However, the Government had submitted a new media regulation law to Parliament that would allow the Government to tackle hate speech both in traditional media and online. It was hoped that this legislation would be adopted by the end of the year. The legislation would help to reduce polarisation within the media and society.
There was only one 2018 case where the Public Defender had entered the litigation process. This was due to the cost and other barriers to the Public Defender participating in court processes. The Government was in the process of electing a new Public Defender, following the Paris Principles and other international norms. The process was transparent and involved civil society and both sides of Parliament. Candidates were nominated by the opposition party in Parliament.
The Human Rights Protection and Quality Monitoring Department monitored the quality of investigations of crimes based on intolerance, and issued recommendations to law enforcement. In 2021, the department monitored around 1,100 cases, an increase from previous years. Expert investigators were sourced from various departments to increase the quality and efficiency of investigations.
Georgia had implemented judicial reforms to increase the independence and transparency of the judiciary. Judges were now given lifetime appointments. First and second instance court judges were selected by the High Judicial Council, as were Supreme Court judges. Supreme Court judges went through public hearing processes and were assessed on a variety of points, including integrity. There had been no need for the Supreme Court to provide interpretations regarding crimes committed based on racial discrimination.
Georgia had strengthened its international protection framework in recent years. International protection had been requested by around 1,100 persons in 2022, a large increase from past years. Georgia had received 12,000 asylum seekers since 2012. Requests for asylum could be submitted to any State agencies, and were assessed within six months in most cases. Assessments considered potential persecution of the asylum seeker on return to their country of origin. Asylum seekers were provided with interpretation throughout the application process. The Government informed applicants regarding asylum decisions, and decisions could be appealed in courts. The Public Defender’s Office had full access to State information on grounds for rejecting asylum claims.
According to State legislation, Russian citizens could stay in Georgia for one year. Around 780,000 Russian citizens had entered Georgia this year and around 720,000 had subsequently left, while around 200,000 Ukrainians had entered Georgia and around 100,000 had subsequently left.
The Ministry of Justice issued identification documents under a general rule, and did not discriminate based on ethnic origin; 55 Roma persons had so far been assisted in solving issues related to their documentation. Georgia was a party to United Nations conventions on statelessness. A working group on statelessness had been established, and a national action plan on ending statelessness had been developed. The number of stateless persons had been reduced from over 1,500 in 2011 to around 500 in 2022. Fees for documentation services for stateless persons had been abolished. Public awareness campaigns on statelessness had been carried out in public health services, leading to the documentation of 26 persons. A door-to-door campaign, “I Belong,” was also being carried out. As part of this campaign, brochures were developed in various languages. To facilitate the naturalisation of stateless persons, the required stay to obtain citizenship had been reduced from 10 to five years. A draft law that would provide free legal aid to stateless persons was also being developed.
A new census was planned for 2024. For this census, the Government would work with the Statistics Service to increase data collection on ethnic minorities. Data on ethnicity depended on persons’ self-identification, and many ethnic minorities chose to hide their ethnicity.
The new State Strategy for Civic Equality and Integration maintained the priority of the previous strategy to support the integration of ethnic minorities. The new strategy had been adopted in 2021. Civil society and international experts had been consulted regarding the strategy. The strategy covered areas such as access to education, promotion of socio-economic standing, and support for women and girls. The State offered programmes for national language education as well as minority language education, and produced public information in minority languages under this strategy. Implementation of the goals of the strategy was monitored by the Government.
Ethnic minorities had access to preschools, including preschools that used languages other than Georgian. The Government was working to construct kindergartens in regions densely populated by ethnic minorities. Enrolment in higher education had increased five times in recent years, thanks to a programme supporting ethnic minorities’ access to tertiary education. There were almost 7,000 teachers employed in areas with high minority populations. Minority language newspapers and broadcast media were operating with State support. Government information had also been disseminated in various minority languages. Up to one million documents had been disseminated in minority languages in 2021. The Government had allocated more that 500 million Georgian lari to supporting education in areas densely populated by ethnic minorities. In coming years, the Government intended to build 80 new schools in these areas, and renovate over 500 schools. Public broadcasters were obliged to prepare programmes in minority languages. The national action plan for broadband Internet access aimed to provide broadband coverage for the entire country by 2025.
Representation of ethnic minorities in local and municipal Government bodies was proportional to the percentage of ethnic minority members in the region. Special internship programmes had been created for ethnic minorities to encourage their participation in political bodies.
According to the previous census, around 600 Roma lived in Georgia. The State aimed to enhance the participation of Roma in public life, addressing their specific needs. The committee of experts on Roma within the Council of Europe provided advice on support strategies for the Roma. Around 300 Roma children were enrolled in preschools or schools; 29 Roma students had suspended their studies, and social workers were working with them to bring them back to school. Thirty-seven Roma persons were members of a programme supporting homeless persons. Identification documents were not required for accessing health services.
Georgia had adopted a law establishing “repatriate” status in 2007; 2,000 persons had applied for this status. Temporary citizenship was granted to all who applied for it. Persons who obtained temporary citizenship could choose to acquire permanent citizenship if they revoked their citizenship of other countries.
Forced marriage was prohibited in State legislation, and children could not marry below the age of 18. Awareness campaigns discouraging child marriage had been conducted for the past three years. The campaigns aimed to increase referrals regarding child and forced marriage. A child referral protection procedure had been developed in 2016, under which State agencies coordinated work and exchanged information on forced and child marriage.
Georgia had a national labour and employment strategy. This strategy had a special section on providing labour and employment for vulnerable groups. The services of the State Employment Agency were accessible by vulnerable groups. Over 1,000 ethnic minorities had been employed in local works in a region with a high population of minorities. Workplaces were inspected to detect cases of workplace discrimination.
The Government had developed a health protection programme which had contributed to increasing access to health services for vulnerable groups. The Government was also implementing mobile health services in rural areas. The Government had taken measures to support minorities to access health care and COVID-19 vaccinations during the pandemic.
There was one Roma student enrolled in higher education. This person was fully funded by the State. There were measures to provide human rights education in schools and protect students from violence. Civil education and the “My Georgia” education programme were provided in both Georgian and minority languages in primary school. There were also awareness raising campaigns on early marriage and bullying conducted in schools developed in cooperation with international organizations and the Public Defender.
There was political will to address the issue of name changes. However, a petition on this issue submitted to the Government covered only problems faced by Azerbaijani persons, and there were gaps in information on who had signed the petition. A new draft law that addressed name changes had been developed and would be assessed next year.
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that there was a difference in the dropout rates of ethnic minorities and others. The graduation rate for minorities was at 30 per cent. Did support need to be increased?
It seemed that ethnic minorities were not represented in some autonomous Government authorities. In one area with a 90 per cent minority population, there was reportedly only 30 per cent representation. Was this accurate?
Another Committee Expert asked about the status given to Russian nationals in Georgia. Could they only stay in the State for one year?
The delegation said that Russian nationals could stay in Georgia for one year without a visa, and after that could obtain a visa.
The school dropout rate was also high for ethnic Georgians, due to the issue of seasonal work. The Government was working to address this issue, using social workers to convince parents to encourage their children to attend school.
Statistics on ethnic representation in regional Government bodies were changing with every election. Councils for ethnic minorities had been created within Government offices in regions with low representation of ethnic minorities. These Councils worked with the administration and participated in the decision-making process.
Georgian citizens, stateless persons and foreign citizens who met certain criteria could access legal aid. Legal assistance was provided to victims of violence, minors, persons with disabilities and refugees. The range of persons covered by legal aid was being increased each year. A draft law on free legal aid for asylum seekers was being assessed in Parliament. The legal aid service had opened 21 bureaus across the State, and planned to increase coverage in areas with a high percentage of minorities. Awareness campaigns on legal aid services were conducted.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked why the number of minorities enrolled in higher education had increased five times.
Another Committee Expert said that violence against women remained a serious concern. What measures were in place to provide health care to ethnic minority women and girls? On the issue of name change legislation, what were the Government’s grounds for not responding to the petition submitted to Parliament?
One Committee Expert welcomed the measures implemented to address statelessness, including the bilingual awareness campaign. Did the temporary citizenship measure not include a risk of statelessness for those who withdrew from the programme?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that citizens could apply to Parliament to discuss issues. A petition with 25,000 signatures was required to propose new legislation. On the issue of name changes, the Government had decided to address concerns from multiple ethnic groups with one piece of legislation.
MICHAL BALCERZAK, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the dialogue had been very constructive. The Committee duly noted the progress of the State, and would deliberate on recommendations that would best serve Georgia. The 2014 law on discrimination was very good, and this law needed to be duly implemented. The Committee also noted progress on criminal law, training and awareness raising. There was always room for improvement, and the Committee welcomed efforts to address areas that needed improvement, such as regarding media regulation. Mr. Balcerzak expressed hope that the State party would implement the Committee’s concluding observations, and congratulated the State party on its election to the Human Rights Council.
KHATUNA TOTLADZE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue. The State party would give due consideration to the recommendations of the Committee. The State party was now in the process of assessing its new national action plan, and the Committee’s advice would inform this process. The Government would continue to involve civil society in the process. Georgia was committed to human rights protection and fully supported the United Nations treaty bodies.