EMC responds to recent events in Adigeni

emc_into_postIn a response to the February 29 and March 1 events in the village of Adigeni (Adigeni municipality), Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) calls on the Georgian government to restore the rights of the local Muslim community by strictly adhering to principles of secularism, equality, and the rule of law.In order to directly examine the situation, EMC representatives and lawyers visited Adigeni and interviewed the local authorities as well as the population.In May 2015, the Muslim community of Adigeni collected signatures and requested the local government administration allocate a piece of land for a separate cemetery.

On February 25, 2016, the State Agency for Religious Issues issued a positive recommendation on granting the community the above request. On February 29, local Muslim and Christian communities held two gatherings to discuss the cemetery. After the first meeting ended in a verbal confrontation, the governor of Adigeni municipality called both parties to another gathering later in the day. About 20 minutes into the second meeting a group of locals, identifying themselves as (Orthodox) Christians, joined the gathering. The group used islamophobic language to verbally abuse the Muslim community by calling them ‘Tatars’ and demanding they leave the Georgian village. The group of Christians attempted to physically assault one local Muslim, who was actively involved in the discussions during the first meeting earlier in the day. The attempt was altogether prevented by other Muslims, however, the man still had to be hospitalized due to heart complications caused by the stressful incident. The man had undergone heart surgery five months prior. Eye witnesses report two Muslims being physically injured, one receiving a head injury, and the other a hematoma around the eye. The physical assault lasted about 15 minutes. The governor, who was present during the incident, did not respond in any way. According to local Muslims, they were the ones who contacted the police as well as the ambulance.

According to official information released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, investigation of the February 29 incident was launched under Article 156 (persecution) of the Criminal Code. The witnesses and victims of the incident are currently being questioned. According to one of EMC’s lawyers, who is involved in the questioning process together with a lawyer from the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI), some of the Christian citizens, who, according to other witnesses, allegedly participated in a violent assault on Muslim citizens, are being questions as witnesses. The investigation has yet to examine the affected persons and grant them the status of a victim.

The day following the incident, the police separated the parties and ensured no further escalation. The governor of the village also made an appearance, stating that the cemetery problem should be solved through mutual agreement, and that the state would facilitate this process. The governor specified neither the format of negotiations nor the identity of those officials who would act as mediators. A meeting was also held between the Christian and Muslim clergy towards the end of the day, with both parties expressing their readiness and willingness to find a solution through negotiations.

The incident in the village of Adigeni is the seventh instance of islamophobic violence over the past two years. Previous incidents occurred in the villages of Nigvziani, Tsintskaro, Samtatskaro, Chela, Kobuleti, and Mokhe. This cycle of violence points to the systemic nature of the problem, and the need to fundamentally revise the existing state policy.

In all of the above mentioned cases, the dominant local religious group acted upon an ideology of ethno-nationalism, which aims to privatize all public space and rule out public representation of all other religious minority groups.

EMC believes that this chain of religious violence is largely a result of an ineffective, discriminatory and nonsecular state policy that fosters total religious intolerance and violence. Such acts of violence undermine public peace and further marginalize the Muslim community in Georgia.

The reports prepared by local and international human rights organizations indicate that the government has not conducted effective investigations of previous cases of violence, and has not held any offenders responsible.

In the most recent cases of religious violence, the state has altogether ignored and refused to uphold the rights of the Muslim community, and has instead opted for conflict conservation (e.g. Samtatskaro, Kobuleti, and Mokhe cases).

In all seven cases of religious violence, the state had delegated the function of resolving disputes to the involved parties and the clergy, instead of acting within its competence and the legal framework. State representatives often alluded to political conspiracy theories in their statements in order to cover up the reality. Taking the process outside the legal framework contributes to its politicization, and makes it almost impossible for the Muslim community to exercise its rights on equal terms. Resolving disputes through such unmediated negotiations between involved parties prolongs the process and leads to its conservation. This was most clearly demonstrated by the ineffectiveness of a special commission set up to resolve the Mokhe dispute. The existing hierarchical relationship between the involved parties places the dominant Christian community in a politically and socially privileged position, while subjecting the Muslim community to a continuous, systemic oppression and marginalization. Considering this reality, the decision to fully entrust the involved parties with resolving their own disputes is fundamentally unfair.

In a post-conflict situation, the state can employ various ways of mediation in order to restore confidence between parties. However, in doing so, relevant state authorities must not neglect their obligations, and unduly restrict minority rights. The process of negotiation and confidence building must not ignore the necessity to protect human rights and the rule of law.

EMC urges the following state institutions to:

Prosecutor’s Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs

Ensure a timely and effective investigation of the incident, as well as to identify and hold all offenders responsible.

Ministry of Internal Affairs

Take adequate measures to prevent possible violence and deescalate the situation in the village of Adigeni. In addition, the police must strictly observe the principles of religious neutrality, objectivity and equality while performing their duties.

Local Municipality Administration

Provide the local Muslim community with an isolated land plot, in accordance with the Local Government Code, for the purpose of setting up a Muslim cemetery in the village. In addition, the local administration must not delegate its functions to the involved parties, and must strictly follow the principles of a secular and legal state during its decision-making process.

The Georgian Government

Provide a high level of political mediation between parties, in case they decide to resolve the dispute through negotiations, and ensure fairness and transparency of the process through the involvement of the Public Defender and the State Office of Human Rights.

The Georgian Parliament

Provide a proper assessment of the Adigeni incident, and ensure effective parliamentary oversight of relevant state agencies.