Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination
3 May 2016
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Georgia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Khatuna Totladze, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, said that in recent years, Georgia had made significant progress in the promotion and protection of human rights, such as establishing a State Agency for Religious Issues and adopting the comprehensive Human Rights Strategy 2014-2020. In 2014, a comprehensive anti-discrimination law had been adopted, with the purpose of eliminating all forms of discrimination and ensuring for every person equal enjoyment of rights prescribed by the law. The new Civic Equality and Integration Strategy and its Action Plan 2015-2020 aimed to contribute to the provision of equality, ensure the full participation of ethnic minorities in all spheres of public life, and preserve the culture and identity of national minorities. It paid special attention to Georgia’s Roma population, and their social and economic integration. Ms. Totladze drew attention to the situation in the two regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region - which were still under Russia’s foreign military occupation. The security and human rights situation had drastically deteriorated there since 2008, leading to a substantial reduction in the civilian population of ethnic Georgians.
A representative of the Public Defender of Georgia, an equality body designated by the 2014 law on the elimination of all forms of discrimination, said that the full engagement of ethnic minorities in the country’s civil and political life continued to pose a challenge. Minorities were still under-represented in central government, an effective system for informing national minorities about ongoing events in the country was still absent, and investigation and prosecution of violations and crimes on the grounds of religious intolerance by the State continued to be inadequate.
In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts acknowledged positive legislative and institutional measures Georgia had undertaken to combat direct and indirect discrimination and inquired about the content and definition of discrimination in the law, its application in the workplace, and the prohibition of discrimination in the media. They welcomed the 2013 reform of the Labour Code but also expressed concern that the labour inspectorate, which was of utmost importance for the fight against racial discrimination, had not been in place since 2006. The effective political inclusion and integration of ethnic minorities in decision-making was discussed, as were the bilingual language policy and language as a structural barrier to employment in the civil service. Experts noted with concern issues that continued to be a problem in Georgia, such as racism in political discourse and the media, hate speech against ethnic minorities, discrimination and hate crimes against Muslims, repatriation of Meshketian Turks, and refusal of asylum on the grounds of State security interests.
In concluding remarks, Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Georgia, said that the concerns of the Committee related to the implementation of the Convention, in terms of concrete plans, targets and strategies, and to the participation of minorities in issues that concerned them.
The delegation of Georgia included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees, Office of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Ministry of Education and Science, Chief Prosecutor’s Office, the Supreme Court, the Human Rights Secretariat of the Administration of the Government, the State Agency on Religious Issues, the State Commission on Migration Issues, and the Permanent Mission of Georgia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin its review of the combined seventh to ninth periodic report of Azerbaijan (CERD/C/AZE/7-9).
The country reviews can be watched via live webcast at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
The combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Georgia can be read via the following link: CERD/C/GEO/6-8.
Presentation of the Report
KHATUNA TOTLADZE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, introducing the report, said that Georgia had made significant progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. It had ratified most of the human rights instruments, was in the process of finalizing the National Action Plan for the Protection of Human Rights 2016-2017, and had issued a standing invitation to Special Procedure mandate holders. In 2014, Georgia had established the State Agency for Religious Issues and had adopted the comprehensive and long-term Human Rights Strategy 2014-2020 and a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, whose purpose was to eliminate all forms of discrimination and ensure for every person equal enjoyment of rights prescribed by the law. The Public Defender of Georgia was in charge of monitoring the implementation of this law, and for that purpose it had created an Equality Department, while the budget allocated to the Public Defender’s Office had been increased by 77 per cent compared to 2013. The Government spared no efforts to ensure decent living conditions for all internally displaced persons from Abkhazia, Georgia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia, including their voluntary, safe and dignified return; however, despite Georgia’s efforts, no progress on this issue had been achieved within the second working group of the Geneva International Discussions. In 2014, the new Law on Internally Displaced Persons had been adopted, and significant progress was being made in finding long-term solutions to promote the integration of internally displaced person and ensure the protection of their rights during displacement, including through the adoption of a new housing policy and the development of the Livelihood Strategy and its Action Plan 2016-2017 to facilitate employment and self-employment of displaced persons.
According to the 2014 census, 87 per cent of the population of Georgia, excluding the occupied regions, were Georgians, six per cent were Azerbaijanis, and four per cent were Armenians; the rest of the population was comprised of Russians, Ossetians, Yezids, Greeks, Kists, Ukrainians, Jews and others. A new Civic Equality and Integration Strategy and its Action Plan 2015-2020 had been adopted and aimed to contribute to the provision of equality, ensure the full participation of ethnic minorities in all spheres of public life, and preserve the culture and identity of national minorities. It paid special attention to Georgia’s Roma population, and the social and economic integration of all Roma persons. Currently, the territories of two regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region - were still under foreign military occupation by Russia. Since 2008, the security and human rights situation in those regions had drastically deteriorated and had led to unbearable living conditions for the local ethnic Georgian population following the ethnic cleansing in the 1990s. The unlawful actions carried out by the Russian forces and proxy regimes were well documented by international and non-governmental organizations, while recently the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court had requested authorization for investigation into crimes against ethnic Georgians, which were committed with particular cruelty and on discriminatory grounds. As a result of this campaign of violence, the civilian population of ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia had been substantially reduced, said Ms. Totladze, reiterating the commitment of Georgia to ensure the adequate protection of human rights and freedoms throughout its entire territory, including the occupied regions.
Questions by the Committee Experts
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Georgia, noted that Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which had suffered ethnic and political conflicts since the 1990s, were outside of the effective control of Georgia, which was therefore unable to ensure the effective implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination there. According to the 2014 census, the population of Georgia had dramatically decreased since the 1990s, and the Chairperson asked the delegation to provide data on the ethnic composition of the population, with particular attention to ethnic minorities, and data concerning the effective political inclusion and integration of ethnic minorities in major decision-making places. The Chairperson acknowledged positive legislative and institutional measures to combat discrimination, direct and indirect, and asked about the status of the Convention in Georgia’s legal system and some examples of its application by the courts.
Ms. Crickley welcomed the 2013 reform of the Labour Code but was concerned that the Labour Inspectorate, which was of utmost importance for the fight against racial discrimination, had not been in place since 2006. The delegation was asked about steps taken to put an end to discrimination against Muslims, which was of great concern to the Committee, about measures to address lacunae in the Roma strategy, children of stateless parents, disturbing reports about the situation of children in institutional care, and the situation of minority women. A key concern about asylum seekers was the ongoing refusal to grant asylum for the reason of State security, while the new draft asylum law would narrow down the basis for the granting of asylum on humanitarian grounds.
Other Committee Experts asked about the political representation of ethnic minorities and how they were represented in the State authorities. They noted a rather extensive list of situations in which the State of Georgia could restrict some fundamental freedoms and asked whether there had been complaints in this regard, and if so, by which ethnic minorities. There was indeed a dramatic decline of ethnic minorities in Georgia, but the number of ethnic Georgians had decreased as well, from 3.6 million in 2002 to 3.2 million in 2014.
With regard to the situation of Meskhetian Turks, a distinct ethnic group with its own culture and language, Experts noted that more than 120,000 had been forcefully deported during the Soviet era, and that 5,840 had applied for repatriation by the deadline in January 2010. Of those, only 1,300 had been accepted and four had been rejected; this represented a very small proportion of the forcefully deported population, and in addition the rate of processing of received applications was extremely slow. There were reports that Meskhetian Turks, in order to obtain Georgian nationality, were required to renounce their other nationality, which did not seem to be a requirement for other Georgian citizens who could hold double nationality.
One of the issues that continued to be a problem in Georgia was racism in political discourse and the media and hate speech against ethnic minorities. However, there was no evidence of firm measures being taken by the State party to stop this and apply the existing laws.
Experts echoed the Chairperson’s concerns about discrimination against Muslims, saying that in some instances the acts against Muslims could amount to hate crimes, and invited the delegation to carefully examine the Public Defender’s report, which frankly and honestly examined the situation of ethnic minorities in the country. There seemed to be impunity for crimes against Muslims and Experts asked about the prosecution of offenders and compensation for victims.
The delegation was asked to explain the term “civil integration”, which was frequently used in the report; about “indirect discrimination” and what it encompassed; to comment on the language policy and language as a structural barrier, and the exclusion of minorities from employment, particularly in civil service, on this basis; the content and definition of discrimination in the anti-discrimination law; and statistical data on complaints received, broken down by ethnic groups and on grounds of discrimination. Experts also requested the delegation to describe the body in charge of implementing the law prohibiting discrimination in the media and to inform how the body implementing the prohibition of discrimination in the workplace operated in practice.
Another Expert inquired about the process of selection and appointment of judges, asking about the length of the appointment, the possibility of its renewal and how the system of appointment and renewal affected the principle of independence of the judges. What data was available about the representation of minorities in the judiciary?
Replies by the Delegation
Concerning the ethnic composition of the population, the delegation said that the 2014 census data was available on the webpage of the National Statistics Office of Georgia.
According to the data, 13.2 per cent of the total population in Georgia - apart from Abkhasia and South Ossetia – were ethnic minorities. The largest groups were Azerbaijanis, followed by Armenians, who were concentrated in southern and eastern parts of Georgia. A delegate explained that the term “civic integration” meant the full-fledged participation of minorities in public life, and stressed that the new strategy document had put special attention on improving access of minorities to decision making, particularly through removing language barriers. It also called for the protection of cultural and linguistic characteristics of smaller ethnic groups.
With regard to the civic and political participation of minorities, the delegate stressed that the lack of knowledge of the State language hindered the process of integration of minorities and said that the national legislation introduced the requirement of free-of-charge translation of judicial proceedings, while regional and local authorities were discussing the establishment of public advisory councils. Both the police academy and the military academy were open to ethnic minorities, and both institutions had introduced accelerated courses in the State language. At the moment, seven ethnic minorities were members of Parliament, while the representation of minorities on the local level was proportionate to the size of the population. The new approach towards civic integration paid particular attention to small and vulnerable groups, such as Roma: between 2012 and 2015, more than 270 Roma had been registered and provided with documents.
Programmes on the social and educational integration of Roma were ongoing as well: 88 Roma children had attended public schools in 2014, while in 2015 this number had grown to 155.
In order to address the issue of children working and living in the streets, including those from Roma communities, a legislative package was being prepared, under which the children would be issued with identity documents free of charge. Mobile teams, shelters, social rehabilitation and day care centres were in place in some areas of the country, which aimed to support the children and facilitate their reintegration with their families.
Education was free of charge for all citizens and non-citizens, in the State language and the language of ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities received general education in their language, and were also taught the Georgian language, from grade 1 to 12. Curricula of languages of smaller ethnic groups had been prepared and introduced in the General National Curriculum in 2015. A curriculum of Chechen language would be introduced in 2016. A concept of bilingual education had been prepared. Parliament was discussing the first ever law on early and preschool care and education, which would consider preschool education as inclusive, meaning that every child, regardless of ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, etc., must have access to early care and preschool education.
A representative from the Office of the Public Defender of Georgia said that the effective protection of ethnic and religious minorities, the fight against any and all manifestations of discrimination and xenophobia, and promoting a culture of tolerance and equality were key priorities. The Office was designated an equality body by the law on the elimination of all forms of discrimination, adopted in May 2014. This law had an expanded scope and reached administrative organs, natural bodies and legal entities of private law; additionally it had introduced the concept of direct and indirect discrimination, prohibited the support or encouragement of discriminatory actions, and provided an open list of grounds of discrimination. Although Georgia had not made fundamental changes in the protection of national minorities and fostering civil integration in recent years, it had recently adopted the State Strategy of Civil Equality and Integration and the Action Plan for 2015-2020.
The full engagement of ethnic minorities in the country’s civil and political life still remained a challenge and they were still under-represented in central government. An effective system for informing national minorities about ongoing events in the country was still absent and the investigation and prosecution of violations and crimes on the grounds of religious intolerance by the State continued to be inadequate. The protection of the rights of Roma people, their integration, education, health care, and access to social security still represented an important challenge in the country. The Public Defender had made numerous recommendations in order to ensure the effective implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, including implementing awareness-raising campaigns to eliminate discrimination, developing a culture of religious tolerance especially among public officials and decision-makers, eliminating the unequal tax regime applicable to the Orthodox Church and other religious groups, strengthening State language learning programmes in minority areas, ensuring the representation of minorities in the central government, and others.
Replies by the Delegation
A delegate noted that the correct term for the people of Islamic faith who had been forcefully deported during the Soviet era was not Meshetian Turks, but Meshetian Muslims, as it had not been only Turks who had been sent in exile, but many other groups as well. The draft Action Plan for the repatriation of people forcefully departed would soon be presented to the Government of Georgia and it would encompass activities to support their return, repatriation and integration. Concerning delays in processing applications for return and repatriation, a delegate said that the only reason for the delay was due to flaws in application and that the State did not deliberately delay repatriation.
So far, 494 persons had applied for citizenship and it had been granted to all of them.
With regard to aliens residing in Georgia, a delegate said that the law adopted in 2014 ensured the full protection of their rights and freedom, with the exception of the right to participate in political associations. Non-discriminatory treatment of aliens and stateless persons was one of the core principles of the law, which had also introduced for the first time the principle of non-refoulement. A specialised working group on the integration of foreigners had been established within the State Commission on Migration Issues in 2016 to coordinate migratory policy in this direction. Georgia was working on developing an action plan to reduce statelessness in line with the country’s recently adopted legal framework, which would allow stateless persons to apply for citizenship in case s/he had resided in Georgia for the last five years and fulfilled other requirements, such as having basic knowledge of Georgian language, history and the legal system.
The Criminal Code of Georgia had been amended in 2015 to ensure the non-criminalization of illegal entry and presence of aliens seeking asylum in Georgia, thus effectively granting the right to asylum. Refugees, asylum seekers and humanitarian status holders had access to health services, education, special language studying courses, and free legal aid, and refugees had simplified procedures for citizenship requests. Asylum-seekers’ accommodation was guaranteed in two reception centres with the capacity of more than 100 persons, while those residing outside of the reception centres received a housing allowance. An amendment introduced in 2015, which gave the State the right to refuse refugee or humanitarian status, ensured a balance between the protection of the rights of asylum seekers and State security interests. The draft law on international protection was expected to be adopted in 2016 and it would set three kinds of statuses - refugee, humanitarian status and temporary protection.
In 2012, the Criminal Code had been amended to allow that all crimes committed on the grounds of any discriminatory ground were considered crimes with aggravated circumstance.
Explaining the approach to the ethnic and national minorities, a delegate said that there was no universally accepted and agreed definition of ethnic minority. The State considered that all people who lived in Georgia were citizens and contributed to the development of the country, were Georgians by nationality, but they belonged to different ethnic groups, each of which had its distinct culture, customs and language.
As of today, more than 269,000 persons had been registered as internally displaced from the occupied territories; of those, 30 per cent had been provided with housing, but the provision of durable housing solutions to internally displaced persons remained a priority for the Government.
Further Questions by the Committee Experts
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson and the Country Rapporteur for Georgia, asked if the Government took into consideration the recommendations made by the Public Defender and whether and when those would be adopted. The Roma protection still posed a challenge and the delegation was asked about concrete measures being undertaken. The Country Rapporteur reminded the delegation of the importance of everyone, including non-citizens such as residents and asylum seekers, participating in the local elections, and asked when the new repatriation was going to be adopted.
Further Responses by the Delegation
The media was one of the most important instruments for civic integration, said a delegate, adding that the Georgian public broadcaster was in the process of fulfilling its obligations to reflect ethnic and religious diversity in its programmes and to prepare programmes in the national minority languages and for ethnic minorities. As of 2015, all the territory, including those most remote and isolated, was covered by the public broadcaster, and several programmes in minority languages were being aired.
Georgia had a very traumatic experience with the labour inspection which during the Soviet era had been among the most corrupt institutions and had decided in 2006 to close the inspectorate. In 2015, a Labour Inspection Department had been set up at the Ministry of Labour, Health andSocial Affairs. In a very short period after the establishment of the department, the recruitment of labour monitors had been done, who were trained by the International Labour Organization and local experts on OSH field (25 main list monitors and 25 reserve list monitors). Voluntary based labour inspection on OSH field had a preventive mechanism to attract business companies in order to provide decent working conditions at work places. The recommendations presented by the labour inspectorate were of utmost benefit for employers. Since 2016, the labour inspection department had the power to supervise forced labour and labour exploitation. In response to the question on when the new repatriation was going to be adopted, the delegation said that this was the norm guaranteed by the Constitution and the equal practice was applied in a number of Western countries.
Other Committee Experts asked about barriers to bilingual education, noting that such language education would be instrumental in supporting greater inclusion and representation of minorities at the central level; who was not included in the definition of ethnic and national minorities and what were the consequences of not being included; different prosecution rates for hate crimes against Muslims were also requested.
Responding, the delegation said that all violations and crimes against Muslims and other religious minorities were being promptly investigated. As far as bilingual education was concerned, a delegate said that not all ethnical minorities needed bilingual education but only those who were settled compactly in two regions inhabited by Armenians and Azerbaijanis and that more State support was needed in this regard. The delegate stressed that the State, besides the education programmes in formal schooling, also ran programs for adults, civil servants and all interested populations to study the Georgian language. Zurab Zhvania School of Public Administration had language courses for civil servants and school administrators of ethnic minorities. Civil servants and school administrators also received training in other topics, like : “Project Management”, “English Language” and others. Since 2015 mobile groups had been created, with the main goal of teaching the Georgian language to every interested person of ethnic minority in abovementioned regions. Mobile groups worked village by village and carried out language courses. Up until today, around 3,000 persons had benefited from this programme.
In a series of follow up questions, the delegation was asked to inform the Committee about measures taken to address racism and racist discourse in political discourse and in the media, and whether the Government was really ready to move forward on the repatriation of forcefully deported persons. Answering those and other questions, delegates said that the Repatriation Plan would be adopted at the next sitting of the Government, and stressed that racism in political discourse, while it might happen, was not a part of the usual practice.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Georgia, in her concluding remarks, thanked Georgia for its support and engagement with the Convention and reminded the delegation that it also covered non-citizens such as migrants, migrant workers, asylum seekers and others. The Committee was concerned about the implementation of the Convention, concrete plans, targets and strategies, and how it would be evaluated and assessed. Another topic was the participation of minorities in issues that concerned them.
KHATUNA TOTLADZE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, was surprised that non-governmental organizations did not present their views to the Committee and hoped it would be done next time, as they were very involved in the implementation of the Convention in Georgia. Cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms was a priority for Georgia, and it would continue its engagement with the Committee, she concluded.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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