Our litigation in Georgia began in 2006 in partnership with the Georgian Young Lawyers Association. We are currently litigating cases addressing violence against women, LGBTI+ rights, religious discrimination, politically-motivated proceedings, and conflict or interstate tensions with Russia.
Across the world, women’s rights have been propelled into the headlines, in the wake of high-profile campaigns aiming to empower women to tackle harassment and discrimination in everyday situations. In our target region, we are focusing our efforts on the scourge of violence against women, particularly domestic violence. In 2017, we lodged two femicide cases – i.e. where the woman was murdered – before the European Court and CEDAW Committee. Each time the police and prosecutors failed to take protective or punitive measures, treating the violence as a ‘private matter’.
We have been engaged in joint efforts with Georgian civil society to pressurise the Government to implement the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations in our domestic and sexual violence case, X and Y v Georgia (taken with the NGO Article 42 of the Constitution). EHRAC attended consultations with civil society organised by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women in Tbilisi in February 2016, and in April, EHRAC and three Georgian NGOs made a joint written submission to the Special Rapporteur containing recommendations for the Georgian Government. This case is the first CEDAW decision on Georgia and was nominated for a Gender Justice Uncovered award by Women’s Link Worldwide, in light of its potential impact on addressing gender inequality.
A spate of brutally violent attacks on the LGBTI+ community in our region over the last two years once again highlighted that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity remains rife. EHRAC and our partners are at the forefront of trying to bring about long-term change to legislation, policy and practice on LGBTI+ rights. In Georgia, we represent two trans men, who have been prevented from changing the gender markers in their legal documents, as a result of which they face harassment and discrimination on a daily basis.
The International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHO) is an annual celebration of diversity across the globe, but sadly LGBTI activists in the region are routinely targeted by the authorities. With EMC and GYLA, we are litigating two Georgian cases concerning homophobic violence and attacks on demonstrators at the 2013 and 2016 IDAHO marches. In 2013, the Women’s Initiative Support Group (WISG) organised a silent twenty-minute flash mob in Tbilisi, for which they received serious threats. On the day, counter-demonstrators – separated from the activists only by a thin police cordon – shouted homophobic insults and violent threats at them. We argue that the State should have taken steps to protect them, given that the IDAHO event had been met with similar hostility the previous year. In November 2016, we lodged an application on behalf of seven LGBTI activists who were detained and convicted of a misdemeanour for a graffiti protest after the usual IDAHO 2016 event was not authorised.
The Muslim minority in Georgia has been subject to discrimination by local Orthodox Christian groups. In a case concerning a planned Muslim boarding school in Kobuleti, which we lodged in September 2017, abuse and harassment of local Muslims culminated with Christian protesters nailing a pig’s head – dripping with blood – to the door of the school. In the end, the school was unable to open. This is our second case about hate crime against Muslims in Georgia. In the first, Muslims peacefully protesting against the conversion of an ancient mosque into a public building were arrested, beaten, detained and subjected to hate speech on the basis of their religion by the police.
In 2016, the European Court ruled that the Georgian authorities misused former Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili’s extended pre-trial detention to exert pressure on him to gather information on opposition politicians. Later, the European Court acceded to the Government’s request that the case be referred to its Grand Chamber for fresh examination. In March 2017, EHRAC lawyers represented Mr Merabishvili at the Grand Chamber hearing, and in November, the Court gave judgment. It re-iterated its previous findings, crucially determining that the Georgian authorities version of events was simply not credible. The Court accepted that Mr Merabishvili had indeed been covertly removed from his cell and been taken before the Chief Public Prosecutor and the head of the Prison Service. Mr Merabishvili is just one of many people across the former Soviet space subjected to politically-motivated detention. Such practices are fundamentally undemocratic and a serious misuse of power: the judgment showed that governments will be held to account for their actions. In January 2018, EHRAC wrote to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers – the body charged with monitoring states’ compliance with European Court judgments – setting out the next steps that we argue should be taken in Mr Merabishvili’s case, following the Court’s judgments. We are also taking the case of the former Mayor of Tbilisi, Giorgi Ugalava.
A large group of EHRAC and GYLA cases concerning the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia is currently pending at the European Court. Together we are also taking the case of Mekarishvili and others v Russia, in which 19 applicants from the small town of Dvani (on the administrative boundary line between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia) argue that they have lost access to their farmland and property, because of the barbed wire fences erected to mark the de facto border of South Ossetia. Given our reputation in the field of conflict-related human rights in the Caucasus, we were approached to litigate a series of seven cases against Russia and Georgia in late 2016 relating to events in Abkhazia from 1992 onwards, including enforced disappearances, torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, property rights, and discrimination. These cases, in which we lodged submissions in 2017, are likely to set a precedent on how the Court addresses jurisdictional issues relating to human rights abuses in Abkhazia.
In May 2016, Giga Otkhozoria was driving with two acquaintances from Zugdidi in Georgia to Abkhazia to deliver food for a family funeral. An argument between Giga and Abkhaz ‘border guards’ on the ‘administrative boundary line’ between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia quickly escalated. One of the ‘border guards’ shot Giga four times: the last and fatal shot was to his head. In January 2018, his parents, wife and two children – represented by EHRAC and GYLA – appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that Russia is responsible for Giga’s death.
EHRAC has worked with GYLA since 2006 on various cases, including multiple cases arising from the 2008 South Ossetian conflict. GYLA is the original and largest professional union of lawyers in Georgia. It is committed to establishing standards of professional ethics, providing legal and civic education, and raising awareness among and providing legal aid to vulnerable members of the Georgian population. Currently, GYLA brings together more than 800 lawyers and law students from all over the country, working through its head office in Tbilisi and eight regional branches.
EMC is a human rights NGO, which aims to promote the protection of the rights of marginalised groups facing discrimination, including workers, homeless individuals, people with disabilities, religious minorities and LGBTQI persons, through research, advocacy and strategic litigation. EMC also monitors the ongoing institutional reforms in Georgia and supports the improvement of legal protective mechanisms and the strengthening of the legislative framework.
WISG is a feminist organisation founded by eight women in 2000 in Georgia. They aim to achieve a harmonious society by empowering women and ensuring their full involvement and equal participation in social, political, cultural and economic life. WISG carries out advocacy and lobbying work relating, in particular, to lesbian and bisexual women, transgender persons, women representing ethnic and religious minorities, people living in rural areas, people with disabilities and people representing other vulnerable and marginalised groups.
Union Sapari was established in 2011, as a rehabilitation centre for victims of domestic violence. The following year they opened their first shelter for victims of violence. In 2013, their work expanded to legislative, advocacy and lobbying activities in relation to domestic violence, violence and discrimination against women, and women’s political participation. They aim to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, including women, children, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community by lobbying for their interests and through cooperation with state institutions.