Right to peaceful assemblies and manifestations in Georgia
Georgian Constitution guarantees the freedom of assembly and manifestation, however, Georgian public witnessed unlawful intrusion of law enforcers in the right to peaceful assembly and manifestation several times throughout 2011. A significant number of legislative amendments were adopted that appear to affect the right to association and to peaceful assembly.
Thursday, 01 March 2012, by Monitoring freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia
There were cases when peaceful assemblies/manifestations were unlawfully dispersed by the police. Tens of peaceful demonstrators, journalists and monitors have been severely injured. Even more, the dispersal of the demonstration on May 26 resulted in several deaths as well. According to official information - 2 and to unofficial – 5 persons died because of the May 26 dispersal.
Disproportionate use of force by law enforcers was particularly problematic, which was clearly illustrated by the dispersal of the May 26 assembly, when the police used clearly excessive force resulting in hundreds of injured rally participants.
According to the Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi it is necessary that the state take all relevant positive measures with the aim of ensuring full exercise of the freedom of assembly and manifestations. In particular, he noted that Georgia is a state in which rallies and manifestations are held quite frequently and the state must refrain as much as possible from intervening in the aforementioned freedom rudely and unduly. “Our state, in accordance to both international and national law, is a guarantee of freedom of assembly and manifestation, as well as freedom of expression. These rights are guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia. 2011 was quite complicated year in the sense of freedom of assembly. The rights of peaceful demonstrators were breached several times”, – stated GiorgiTugushi.
The freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Article 25 of the Georgian Constitution and further regulated in detail by the law on Assembly and Manifestation adopted in 1997. The Georgian Law on Assembly and Manifestation, adopted in 1997 was amendedseveral times with the most significant changes introduced in 2009 as an answer to massprotests and the political crisis in the country. The Parliament voted for amendmentswithout waiting for the requested opinion from the Venice Commission, but made acommitment to make further changes in line with recommendations provided by thecommission.
In April 2011 the Constitutional Court of Georgia issued the decision on the joint constitutional appeal submitted by the Public Defender’s Office, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, the Georgian Conservative Party and young human rights activists– Jaba Jishkariani and Dachi Tsaguria. The Court satisfied the constitutional complaintpartially and deemed several clauses unconstitutional, most notably a ban onassembling within 20 meters from a large number of public administration buildingslisted in the law.
On June 13, 2011 ruling party MPs Pavle Kublashvili, Akaki Minashvili, Chiora Taktakishvili and Koka Anjaparidze initiated amendment to the law on assembly and manifestations. According to the explanatory note, the purpose of the amendments was to implement the recent decision of the Constitutional Court and to take into consideration the Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly prepared by the Venice Commission. However, this aim is only partially fulfilled.
The new law imposes some restrictions on public assemblies and manifestations. This time, however, the ban extends only to entrances of courts, prosecutor’s office, police stations, penitentiary institutions, railway stations, airports and seaports. No blocking of entrances, thoroughfares and railways is allowed. As regards general administrative institutions, each institution will be entitled to proscribe the distance from the respective building within which a rally will be allowed, provided that distance does not exceed a twenty-meter radius. Rallies are also prohibited within a hundred-meter radius from entrances to military facilities.
“We must remember that the Rose Revolution did not respect the requirement to have at least 20 metres from the entrance of public buildings to assemble; it obstructed the normal functioning of enterprises, institutions and organizations; and it blocked highways and transport movement. Whereas it can be argued that such situations are of an extraordinary nature and public order must be observed, minimum standards facilitating the free enjoyment of this right should also apply. I am concerned that these restrictions may have been put in place to prevent citizens from expressing their views through peaceful protest”, - said Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association during his press-conference on February 13.
The Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), the InternationalFederation for Human Rights (FIDH), the World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) condemned the excessive use of force by the police against peaceful antigovernment protest in Tbilisi on the night of 26 May 2011: “Amendments to the Georgian Law on Assembly and Manifestations introduced inJuly 2009 restrict the right to assemble in front of official buildings and set a moreburdensome procedure to receive an authorisation. Since then, several caseshave demonstrated a negative impact of the amendments on the right tofreedom of assembly”- says the concern letter of those organizations.
It is particularly alarming that authorities fail to adequately respond to such facts of violation and to impose adequate legal responsibility on perpetrators, which further escalates that impunity syndrome.
Monitoring freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia