Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Opinion

Defending human rights in Georgia

  • Bidzina Ivanishvili (l) with EU council president Herman Van Rompuy (Photo: President of the European Council)

The world was watching Tbilisi on 17 May when a small gathering by LGBTI activists was met with a 20,000-strong protest march, forcing the authorities to evacuate the activists.

While the clashes highlighted resistance within certain sectors of Georgian society to change, they also demonstrated that change is under way in Georgia. The path ahead may not always be smooth, but the government of Georgia will not waver in its commitment to ensuring respect for the rights of all Georgian citizens.

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As Prime Minister of Georgia, I was shocked by what happened. It was a disgrace unworthy of Georgia’s national and Christian traditions of tolerance.

The acts of violence committed by some participants of the demonstrations, including against police and journalists, can never be justified; arrests have been made and investigations are on-going to ensure all perpetrators are brought to justice. Being a clergyman is no alibi. Whoever committed a crime, overstepped the law, incited or participated in violence, will be punished.

In this task, we are grateful of the support of our European friends, including EU special adviser Thomas Hammarberg, who is in Georgia to monitor the human rights situation and advise the new government in its reform efforts.

For my part, I will continue to exercise strong leadership and do everything in my power to implement the necessary reforms in line with EU and international democratic standards.

Indeed, last week’s events are a sign of the changes taking place in Georgia, causing upheaval but also signalling a new Georgia to come. Ahead of the international day against homophobia, I said that I was aware of the opposition coming from some quarters to my government’s explicit support for the equal rights of all minority groups, including sexual minorities. I also said however that society would, in time, accept this new equality. Rather than a setback for our country, these are the growing pains of Georgia’s modern democracy after decades of political repression.

The government of Georgia will not – cannot – yield to requests of curtailment of rights to freedom of peaceful assembly or freedom of expression on the basis of sexual orientation. The Constitution of Georgia grants these rights to all Georgian citizens without discrimination, and the government is committed to upholding equality, democracy and the rule of law.

The government will continue to give its full backing to a legislative bill being put together to tackle discrimination, and, if adopted, do its utmost to ensure its rapid and effective implementation.

Furthermore, last week’s demonstrations were evidence of a young Georgian democracy, of a nation that, since last October’s election, is no longer ruled as a police state but allows free expression and free assembly.

NGOs and international observers have confirmed how the new government’s support for civil society and for the voice of opposition within Parliament and government channels is stronger than ever. We must, however, continue to strengthen these channels and better defend the voices of all minorities.

In addition, the role of the police in protecting the fundamental rights of the people of Georgia is of critical importance, and Georgia can be proud of their bravery, competence and sound judgement in the face of the adversity they were confronted with last week. Far outnumbered as they encountered thousands of violent protesters, the evacuation of the small gathering by LGBTI supporters was deemed a wise action to avoid further injuries.

Democracy in Georgia is not just window-dressing.

The people of Georgia elected our government because they want real democracy. In order to achieve this, many reforms are needed and they will not all be easy, or necessarily popular. We know however that we can count on the support of our European friends and advisers throughout these times of change and, most importantly, I have full faith in the people of Georgia and their commitment to European values and integration.

The writer is Prime Minister of Georgia

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