Our litigation in Georgia began in 2006 in partnership with the Georgian Young Lawyers Association. We are currently litigating cases addressing violence against women, LGBT rights, religious discrimination, politically-motivated proceedings, protest and conflict or interstate tensions with Russia.
Violence against women
EHRAC and GYLA jointly lodged an application in September in the case of Salome Jorbenadze, a 20-year-old woman shot and killed by her police officer husband in 2014. Despite Salome and her family’s repeated reports of domestic violence to the police, none of the preventive and protective measures required by law were taken. Given that Salome’s husband used his service weapon to kill her, we argue that the State was responsible for her murder and failed to respond with due diligence to the threats against her. This case will be crucial in developing the Court’s case law on State responsibility in preventing and responding to violence against women as it is among the first cases lodged against Georgia on this issue.
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. 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.
Respect for LGBT Rights
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 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.
We lodged our first case with our new partner EMC concerning hate crimes against the Muslim community in Mokhe village, Georgia. During demonstrations against Government plans to convert a former Mosque into a cultural centre, some of the Muslim protesters were arrested, beaten, detained and subjected to hate speech by the police on the basis of their religion. The case was progressed by the Court less than six weeks after it was lodged, underscoring the gravity of the authorities’ actions. Although anti-discrimination legislation exists in Georgia, it is not effectively implemented and prosecutions against State officials, such as the police, are rare.
EHRAC won a case on behalf of former Georgian Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili who was arrested in May 2013 on charges of misspending public money. He remained in pre-trial detention for just under nine months and was convicted in February 2014. The European Court found that his pre-trial detention was used in part to obtain leverage over an unrelated investigation into the death of the former Prime Minister. This is a ground-breaking finding as Mr Merabishvili is only the third political figure in relation to whom the Court has found such a violation. We are also taking the case of the former Mayor of Tbilisi, Giorgi Ugalava.
Citizens’ rights to protest peacefully are frequently under threat in the region, with disproportionate use of force by police sometimes resulting in deaths, arrests, detention, ill-treatment and other sanctions often aimed at deterring demonstrators. In July 2015, several hundred protesters gathered near Tbilisi City Council to oppose plans backed by former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to redevelop the Old Town. The police arrested Giorgi Makarashvili for holding an “obscene” sign directed towards the developers of Panorama Tbilisi. Following this, nine other protesters who copied his sign in solidarity were also arrested. We are representing a number of those arrested before the European Court, complaining of breaches of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Conflict and interstate tensions
Following a serious breakdown in diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia in 2006, Georgian nationals residing in Russia were subjected to identity checks, arrested, detained and expelled. In December 2016, we won two cases on behalf of 12 individuals arrested and detained in appalling conditions prior to their deportation. In one case, the applicant’s husband, Tengiz Togonidze, died on arrival at a Moscow airport. The Court found that the investigation into his death was inefficient and ineffective. The Court also found that the authorities’ failure to provide Mr. Togonidze with appropriate medical treatment, the general conditions of his detention, and the unventilated transportation to the airport were “particularly inhuman and degrading”.
We are jointly litigating 32 cases (representing 135 Georgian applicants) challenging human rights violations arising from the 2008 South Ossetian conflict. In 2014, we lodged an application on behalf of 19 villagers from Dvani, near the Ossetian border, who have lost access to their farmland and property as a result of the installation of barbed wire fences purporting to mark the de facto border of South Ossetia. In 2016, we were approached to litigate a group of seven cases in partnership with individual lawyers relating to events in Abkhazia, including enforced disappearances, torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, property rights, and discrimination.
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.