Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
In his report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, voiced alarm at the increasing climate of fear and intimidation against opposition parties, labour unions and members of non-governmental organizations.
Thursday, 21 June 2012, by HRH Tbilisi
The Special Rapporteur recognises the reforms in Georgia since the “Rose Revolution”, but warns that the climate of fear and intimidation prevalent amongst political parties and civil society could impede further progress, especially in the light of the 2012 parliamentary elections and the 2013 presidential elections.
Maina Kiai undertook a country visit to Georgia in February 2012, visiting the cities of Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi, to evaluate the country’s compliance with international standards on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In making his assessment Maina Kiai met with government officials, NGOs, trade unions, political party officials and representatives of the international community based in Tbilisi. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and associationOn June 20th Kiai released his report with the critical findings, which indicate that a number of restrictive legislative amendments adopted in late December 2011 by the Parliament of Georgia restrict the right to freedom of association.
Kiai’s report reveals that laws requiring notification of peaceful assemblies five days prior to an event, as well as other laws that restrict locations for peaceful assemblies in the interest of protecting the functioning of public transport and businesses, repress the possibility of spontaneous demonstrations, and greatly limit the scope and potential positive impacts of peaceful protests.
The report expresses particular concern regarding the restriction of the right to organization of peaceful assembly by ‘citizens of other countries’, and minors. Kiai specifies that such restrictions fail to recognise the rights of immigrants and minors.
The Special Rapporteur also draws particular attention to the demonstrations calling for the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, held on 26 May 2011, during which four demonstrators and one policeman were killed. Reports of excessive use of violence by police indicate that freedom of assembly is not guaranteed in practice, and raise suspicion that the strong reaction of police did not reflect an attempt to disperse protestors, but rather, an attempt to punish protestors and to establish a climate of fear. Kiai noted that this climate of fear represses civil society and civil and political activism in Georgia.
Repression of the right to freedom of association, particularly in regards to political parties, is also highlighted in the Special Rapporteur’s report. Laws that restrict funding hinder the development of a truly democratic political system, and are often also applied to organisations, thereby shrinking the space for civil society.
The report recommends that the Georgian government amend the legal framework to pull back restrictions to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and that it bring national laws into line with regional and international human rights law. The report calls for the government to ensure equal access to resources for all political parties, and to introduce preventive measures against the use of force to disperse lawful and peaceful assemblies, or alternative measures in the case of unlawful or non-peaceful assemblies. The Special Rapporteur suggests the institutionalisation of the participation of civil society, and encourages a stronger and more active role for civil society in monitoring peaceful assemblies.
The Human Rights House Foundation, B.a.B.e – Be active, Be emancipated, and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights submitted a joint written statement to the 20th Session of the Human Rights Council in regards to the situation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia. The statement expresses concern regarding the restrictive measures in place that violate the right to freedom of assembly, and draws attention to the violent response to a peaceful demonstration that took place in Tbilisi on 17 May 2012. This peaceful assembly, in support for LGBT rights, was met with violence from civilians despite organisers having previously notified the police of potential threats to the security and safety of participants.
The joint written statement concludes that despite progress made by the Georgian government in relation to the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, restrictive laws and violent crackdowns on peaceful protests indicate ongoing repression of these rights and those who exercise them. The statement calls upon Georgia to make the necessary amendments to national law in order to meet its international human rights obligations, to ensure that the use of force adheres to principles of necessity and proportionality, and to guarantee an investigation into the events of 26 May 2011.
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