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OTHER / Report

The Social Justice Center Assesses the Human Rights Situation in 2023

Introduction

The year 2023 proved crucial for the country's path toward European Integration. By the year's end, the European Commission's recommendation to grant the country the candidacy deserves a positive assessment. However, behind this decision, it is significant to note that democratic and legal standards have deteriorated. The increased pressure on the civil sector and the media complicates unrestricted work. Notably, the accountability of state agencies and democratic control over them are further weakened. In this context, the expectations for the Institute of the Public Defender of Georgia to have precise positions on human rights issues and actively advocate for protecting the rights of vulnerable groups are growing.

At the institutional level, the politicization of state agencies, especially justice and law enforcement agencies, and their instrumentalization for party goals remain acute challenges. Simultaneously, in 2023, the practice of the past years was maintained, indicating the low transparency of state agencies and lack of accountability. The insufficient involvement of civil or professional groups in the law-making process in the Parliament of Georgia is problematic. The Parliament of Georgia continues to be a place where personal offense and aggressive rhetoric towards opponents instead of political and ideological confrontation occurs, further deepening political polarization in the country. In the legislature, the severe practices of bullying, violence, and abuse against women politicians were already standardized by leaders of the ruling party.

In 2023, people residing near the borderline encountered numerous challenges. The tragic case of Tamaz Ginturi, brutally killed by Russian soldiers near the Lomisi church at the occupation line, deeply shook our society. In Abkhazia, individuals such as Irakli Bebua, Kristine Talakandze, and Asmat Tavadze remain imprisoned, with their release yet to be determined. Despite ongoing military and political transformations in the region, including the wars in Ukraine and Karabakh and subsequent escalations, Abkhazian society is concerned with uncertainty about its future, coupled with dissatisfaction regarding Russia's forced annexation and economic policies. Yet, effective government measures for conflict transformation and a peace-oriented approach are absent.

This year, a noticeable conservative shift in human rights policy and government rhetoric has been witnessed. In this context, the difficulty of political recognition of LGBT(Q)I rights and homophobia, which complicates the protection of the rights of LGBT(Q)I people, is becoming increasingly acute. It should be emphasized that the 2022-2030 National Human Rights Protection Strategy adopted by the government in late March 2023 does not include the issues of protecting the rights of LGBT(Q)I people. The same approach is taken in the 2024-2026 national action plan for the protection of human rights initiated by the government, contradicting the principles of human rights and the recommendations of the European Commission. As in previous years, the event organized by Tbilisi Pride in a closed territory became the subject of raids and violence by extremist movements. The leaders of the mentioned movement remain unpunished, which is a clear indicator of the government's political loyalty towards them.

Although policies to combat violence against women have been strengthened, effective response to cases of forced marriage remains a challenge. The investigation is usually terminated, and plea agreements are signed with the accused. Coordination between the police, social security, and education systems is weak. Most fragile are social services, which have a shortage of human resources.

This year, the tragic case of Aitaj, a 14-year-old victim of the so-called "Case" murder by her husband due to forced marriage, exposed the failure of the system, community, and family in protecting the child. Beyond the inadequate prevention of this specific crime, it underscores broader challenges in preventing violence against children, revealing systemic issues in state agencies operating in regions densely populated by ethnic minorities.

In the context of an increasingly conservative government rhetoric and approach, a concerning practice towards religious inequality is emerging. This bias persisted from discriminatory provisions in the Forest Code, favoring the Orthodox Church in transferring forest massifs, and continued in the Defense Code adopted this year. The proposed human rights action plan foresees potential risks of a significant deterioration in legislation related to freedom of religion. This concerning practice merits heightened attention from society. Regrettably, an evident decline in standards towards freedom and equality of faith is noticeable in court decisions, exemplified by cases like the Batumi mosque and the discriminatory budget financing of religion groups in Marneuli.

Mass bilingual education programs were initiated this year in the direction of the protection of ethnic minorities. However, because the Ministry of Education and Science has not developed a strategy and action plan for the reform, measuring its resources and capabilities is complicated. A study conducted this year by the Social Justice Center and other partner organizations shows the severe extent of social exclusion of ethnic minorities, which, unfortunately, is not addressed by the current social policy of the state, related to both geographical and linguistic accessibility of state services.

Alongside equality concerns, issues related to social inequality and the associated human rights were prevalent. In 2023, the number of people receiving the social allowance was at a historic high of 676,641 in March. In addition, according to the data of May 2023, in 32 out of 64 municipalities of the country, the percentage of social allowance exceeded 25% of the population, and in 5 municipalities of Georgia (Kedi, Oni, Tsageri, Lentekhi, and Mestia), the allowance recipients exceeded half of the population. It should also be taken into account that people who are homeless and vulnerable cannot receive an allowance from the state.

Throughout the year, numerous labor rights violations were reported, encompassing neglect of fair, safe, and healthy working conditions, inadequate wages for a decent living, excessive working hours, and unpaid overtime. Workplace fatalities and injuries continue to be a persistent issue. The lack of awareness and willingness among employers to adhere to basic labor standards, coupled with weak state supervision and a dearth of effective mechanisms to enforce labor rights, contribute to critical systemic failures that the state neglects to address. The fact is evident in mass protests organized by workers in various sectors, including mining, heavy industries, the medical sector, education, and delivery services. Another concerning practice in 2023, consistent with previous years, was the persecution and dismissal of employees expressing dissenting and critical views.

The right to proper housing and the fight against homelessness were not priorities for the Georgian government and local authorities. One of the most pressing issues was the current situation in social housing. The government failed to comprehensively study the extent, forms, and causes of homelessness and neglected to include the minimum obligations regarding the right to adequate housing in the national strategy for protecting human rights. The rights of people with disabilities and their challenges were also disregarded. To date, the state has not developed a rights-based system that would consider the individual needs of people with disabilities and ensure the protection of the dignity, autonomy, and freedom of choice of community members.

The year 2023 proved to be particularly difficult for Georgia due to disasters caused by climate change. About 40 people lost their lives due to landslides in Shovi and Guria. Many questions remain unanswered about the role and responsibility of the state in this process, including why early warning systems were not implemented in the landslide-prone area, how adequate the state's response was, especially in the first hours of the disaster, and whether such a large number of victims could have been avoided. In 2023, the government continued to make environmental decisions without considering the participation and interests of the population, disregarding the local community by transferring the Baldi Canyon natural monument to a private investor for 40 years, which was met with protest by the residents of the Martvili municipality. Another example of an undemocratic and illegal decision was the transfer of the Racha forests to a Russian-linked oligarch for 49 years, sparking continuous protests by the Racha population and the "Rioni Valley Defenders."

Human_Rights_Situation_in_2023_1702934528.pdf

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