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Image: Georgia passes antidiscrimination law

Georgia passes antidiscrimination law

After fierce debate with the Orthodox Church, on May 2 the law on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and related sub-bills was passed with 115 votes to one. As it moves towards signing an association agreement with the European Union this June, Georgia is trying to make its legal environment more EU-compatible. According to the agreement between EU-Georgia the adaptation of the anti-discrimination law will help in moving ahead with visa liberalization.

Tuesday, 06 May 2014

From the Orthodox Church’s and Patriarch’s Ilia II point of view there is a strong opposition to the anti-discrimination bill. On 28 April, the Patriarchate called on the Parliament to postpone adoption of the anti-discrimination law in the present form.  Together with radical orthodox groups they insist on removing “sexual orientation” from non-exhaustive list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. After passing the law, the Patriarchate of Georgia has declared that he cannot agree with "the new version of anti-discrimination draft law" either. According to the Patriarchate's statement, negative elements of the draft law initially submitted to parliament were obvious; now the situation has changed and it requires more serious study and a conclusion of specialists.

"An incorrect opinion has been spread that after changes had been made to the anti-discrimination draft law, it became acceptable for the Church. The Patriarchate of Georgia cannot agree with the new version of anti-discrimination draft law because we have not had a possibility to analyze it. It will not be correct for the Church to make hasty assessments based on talks and statements of separate clerics. Negative sides of the draft law initially submitted to parliament were obvious; the situation has changed now and it requires more serious study and a conclusion of specialists (lawyers, psychologists, experts of international law). We are grateful to Prime Minister of Georgia for treating the cautious position of the Church with understanding, but would also like to add that in this case the Church defended and defends interests and rights of that segment of Georgian population (regardless of their religious faith) who deem the protection of moral norm as essential necessity," - the statement of the Patriarchate released on 2 May reads.

During this ongoing process, Prime Minister of Georgia and the opposition group under Davit Usupashvili have been agreeing on the major importance of adoption of the bill and its actual meaning for relation between Georgia and Europe. After the protests by orthodox groups in front of the Tbilisi and Kutaisi Parliaments, MPs aimed at explaining to the Orthodox priests with this meeting that contrary to their claims, the bill was not about “propaganda of homosexuality.”

As the President commented “I hope that the society will be better informed and better shown that it will not be affected by the adoption of this law, but on the contrary, we become a better society, because the oppression of others will be prohibited and so it has been so far by the constitution of Georgia, but this law will help us unite. During the past twenty years, we were accustomed to dividing each other into some groups according to some signs thus making ourselves a group too, instead of trying to form a whole society. This is what should be moved into a peaceful regime to move forward.”

However, Human Rights Organizations have raised criticism about the proposed bill as it lacks effective mechanism of enforcement. According to the non-governmental sector the anti-discrimination bill has been accessed as "ineffective", as they believed the new law did not say anything about the creation of a special inspector’s institute, which could impose fines on citizens. Given the above mentioned circumstances the NGO sector is requesting for a bill that would not only outlaw discrimination on paper, but would also enforce prohibition of all forms of discrimination in practice.

“The law is of paramount importance for the development and well-being of Georgian society. Although the current version of it gives victims of discrimination the right to claim compensation, it can be very hard for them to prove the extent of harm caused by discrimination”- says Lika Jalagania, the human right defender from Article 42 of the Constitution.

New changes introduced in Article 2 include the term of ‘’public moral’’ whose definition is rather problematic compared to the past legal definitions of this term. Further suggestions on including people with disabilities in affirmative defenses as well as specifying the importance and necessity of annual reports of Public Defenders were meant to be approved. Discussions also touched upon the issue of the budget of Public Defender and the actual sources it comes from. Parliamentarians were very strong on their request about making the mechanisms of Public Defender stronger so there is power of sending the case to the court.

The Ombudsman of Georgia assesses the adoption of the law on elimination of all forms of discrimination as a positive step towards the establishment of higher standards for human rights and equality in Georgian society. However, the Public Defender of Georgia states that his comments and recommendations towards the law has not been accepted by the Georgian parliament which, according to him, is crucial for effective implementation of the law. Ucha Nanuashvili considers that because of not taking those recommendations into account, it might hinder the process of establishment of the effective mechanisms for fighting against discrimination.

On May 2, after fierce debate, the Georgian parliament finally passed the bill. The law was passed with 115 votes to one. It bansall forms of discrimination, including that based on language, religion, and sexual orientation, is a precondition for Georgia being granted relaxed visa procedures with European Union.

Ioanna Sakellaraki

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