CoE identifies issues concerning minorities in Georgia
By Levan Abramishvili
Friday, September 6
Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) has published a new Opinion on Georgia, together with the Georgian Government’s comments.
The Opinion assesses positive steps taken towards promoting more diversity and identifies key issues that still require attention. These include the lack of effective data collection, which is deemed necessary, the efforts to promote the use of minority languages in education and relations with the administration are below the required standards and minority issues are politicized in Georgian society.
Georgia, due to its location, has always been diverse and tolerant, however, the linguistic and minority issues are still politicized “and regarded from a security perspective, which results in the lack of trust in certain minorities,” says the CoE Opinion.
The Opinion gives specific instructions on how to further improve the situation in the country. The CoE body has praised the strengthening of the legislative framework in promoting minority rights through the adoption of the Law on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination in 2014. The Advisory Committee suggests launching a national awareness campaign to inform the general public about the legal remedies available under the anti-discrimination legislation.
The report also recommends for the mandate of the Public Defender to be reinforced. Particularly, “the submission of information following the Defender’s requests should be made obligatory and the time for the Defender to apply to a court on discrimination cases should be extended from three months to one year, and he/she should be able to deal with complaints related to administrative proceedings.”
The Committee identifies the issue of the lack of data available on ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in Georgia. The Opinion states that developing mechanisms for more effective collection of disaggregated data should be a primary step in further developing inclusive policies, as it would “allow the authorities to more thoroughly identify the situation of persons belonging to national minorities, in every domain of public life, and should constitute a primary step in further developing inclusive policies towards minorities, consolidating their growing sense of belonging to Georgian society.” The next population census is planned for 2023 and would offer a clear opportunity to collect disaggregated data.
The Opinion states that Religious minorities are confronted with structural discrimination in access to funding and places of worship. “Restitution procedures and construction permit procedures in relation to places of worship are not sufficiently transparent and are not based on clear and objective legal criteria, exposing the procedures to arbitrariness,” it states.
The Committee recommends ensuring that persons belonging to national minorities can freely establish religious organizations and associations; and that such persons have adequate access to places of worship. The process of restitution of property to religious communities should be carried out effectively, and decisions on building and allocation of new places of worship taken in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner.
The Advisory Committee has also touched upon the situation in the Georgian schools and urged the relevant Governmental agencies to take appropriate steps to prevent concerning cases of “proselytism (inducing children to convert to another faith) and religious intolerance in public schools, including physical retaliation against students, the selling of religious items by teachers within the school premises and forced collective prayers. A more dedicated disciplinary policy is necessary on the part of the Ministry of Education to ensure that the provisions of the Law on General Education in Georgia on neutrality and non-discrimination are effectively implemented.”
Regarding education, there are several recommendations by the Committee. According to the report, “immediate action should be taken to adapt the content of teaching materials, so they help create a climate of tolerance; to address the lack of textbooks which remains a significant obstacle in minority languages teaching, and to ensure high-level professional development of teachers.”
The Council of Europe’s Committee calls on the authorities to step up their efforts to more efficiently prosecute and hate speech, particularly online, which has been on the rise in Georgia.
The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 10 November 1994 and entered into force on 1 February 1998. It is one of the most comprehensive treaties designed to protect the rights of persons belonging to national minorities.
The full document, as well as the comments of the Government of Georgia on the Opinion is available on the official website of the Council of Europe.