Coalition for Equality Calls on Government for Steadfast Protection of Freedom of Assembly and Security on May 17

The Coalition for Equality expresses solidarity with the gathering dedicated to the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) and calls on the Government to ensure that the LGBTQ community, activists, and supporters are allowed to fully exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and expression, as well as to protect their security, safety, and dignity.

In Georgia, LGBTQ people and activists are actually deprived of their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. Since the violent dispersal of the IDAHO gatherings by clerical and radical groups in 2012 and 2013, LGBTQ people and activists have been deprived of their ability to gather and exercise their right to assembly and manifestation. Following the mass and violent counterdemonstration in 2013, which was not restrained by the authorities due to their weak and inefficient security plan, it became impossible for the LGBTQ community to hold public gatherings in the central parts of Tbilisi. On every May 17 since the events of 2012 and 2013, politically important areas are now occupied by clerical groups, where they mark the Day of Family Purity artificially introduced on this day several years ago to counter the International Day Against Homophobia.

Under conditions of structural oppression of the community members, the inability to exercise the right to freedom of assembly and to enjoy public self-presentation deprives the LGBTQ community of the opportunity to express protest over their needs and challenges and exert influence on public policy. In addition, the marginalization of specific groups from public areas undermines the process of the development of a democratic, pluralistic political environment and fair society. Regretfully, the state frequently does not appropriately respond to actions of violence against LGBTQ people or the regular violation of their rights that further aggravates the transformation of the existing homophobic political and social environment. Moreover, the state indirectly encourages violence and discrimination through clearly inefficient policy[1].

In 2017, LGBTQ community members, activists, and their supporters have again been deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to the freedom of assembly and expression on Rustaveli Avenue, although LGBTQ activists were the first to apply to the Tbilisi Mayer’s Office for a permit to hold a gathering outside the Parliament. The government cited high security risks as the reason behind its refusal. In this situation, LGBTQ activists were forced to hold their gathering at another location – outside a different government building, under conditions of strict control over the content and form of their event. The short-term action (1 hour) was held in a closed format under heavy police presence.

The communication between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and LGBTQ activists and organizations this year has revealed that there is no political will in the country to protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the LGBTQ community. Ensuring equality does not seem to be the country’s priority and its interest seems to actually be only to emphasize a pseudo-protection of LGBTQ people.

In this respect, the assessment released by the European Court of Human Rights on the case Identoba and Others v Georgia[2] concerning the violation of the right to peaceful assembly during the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17, 2012, is very important. The European Court emphasized that “pluralism and democracy are built on genuine recognition of, and respect for, diversity. The harmonious interaction of persons and groups with varied identities is essential for achieving social cohesion.”

Democracy does not simply mean that the views of a majority must always prevail: a balance must be achieved which ensures the fair and proper treatment of minorities and avoids any abuse of a dominant position[3]. The European Court emphasizes that a demonstration may annoy or give offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims that it is seeking to promote. The participants must, however, be able to hold the demonstration without having to fear that they will be subjected to physical violence by their opponents; such a fear would be liable to deter associations or other groups supporting common ideas or interests from openly expressing their opinions on highly controversial issues affecting the community.

In a democracy, the right to counterdemonstration cannot extend to inhibiting the exercise of the right to demonstrate[4]. The state has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations and to use the means at its disposal to carry out a serious investigation of violations committed within its jurisdiction, to identify those responsible, to impose the appropriate punishment, and to ensure the victim receives adequate compensation[5]. It should be noted that the mentioned decision has yet to be enforced and the Government of Georgia will have to report to the Council of Europe how it manages to implement all reasonable and adequate measures to fully protect the freedom of assembly and security of LGBTQ people.

Based on the above mentioned, the organizations united in the Coalition for Equality call on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ensure:

  • Full exercise of the right to assembly and expression by LGBTQ activists, community organizations, and their supporters and use an efficient security plan for this purpose;
  • Proper assessment of the risks of possible escalation of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic crimes during and after the gathering as well as effective prevention of said crimes.

                                                                

The Government of Georgia to ensure:

  • Dissemination of public statements in support of equality and human rights, condemning violence against LGBTQ groups and thus promoting prevention of potential crimes as well as eradication of the environment of impunity.

 The members of the Georgian Parliament to:

  • Refrain from using homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic language and condemn the practices of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The Coalition for Equality conducts monitoring over the IDAHO gatherings and the facts of possible violations of human rights through its special monitoring group. The coalition will unveil its assessments over future developments.

In addition, the coalition offers participants of the May 17 IDAHO gathering to share information on possible crimes committed on homophobic and transphobic grounds through its hotline 599 04 37 37.

 

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)

Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)

Partnership for Human Rights (PHR)

Union Sapari

Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG)

Identoba

Article 42 of the Constitution 

[1] UN Doc. E/CN.4/1996/53, para. 32.

[2] ECHR, Identoba and Others v. Georgia, complaint №73235/12, May 12, 2015

[3] ECtHR, Young, James and Webster v. the United Kingdom, August 13, 1981, p.25, § 63; Sørensen and Rasmussen v. Denmark [GC], № 52562/99 and 52620/99, para. 58, and Fáber v. Hungary, № 40721/08, para. 37-41, July 24, 2012

[4] Plattform “Ärzte für das Leben“, para. 32

[5] Velasquez-Rodriguez, (ser. C) No. 4, Judgment of 29 July 1988, para. 174