Two years after Georgia’s previous human rights strategy expired, the government has finally prepared a new document. But the long-awaited update wasn’t well-received everywhere, particularly because it removed mention of protecting queer people’s rights.
As the government of the Georgian Dream, then a coalition that passed the country first Human rights strategy for 2014-2020 included a commitment to “combating discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity”. But since then the government has taken a conservative turn renewed strategy for 2023-2030, as late as it is, after this has been removed as a key government task.
The new strategy was adopted by the government and forwarded to Parliament for final approval.
An ignored community
The document has already met with disapproval from queer community groups.
On December 10, 2022, the ruling party discussed the draft strategy with several local monitoring groups, including queer rights advocates. But the activists OC media spoke to said the government had failed to properly involve community leaders in the drafting process – and still ignored their feedback.
“Community groups together approached the government with recommendations and we have had them during the [10 December] meet, but they disregarded them,” said Ana Subeliani, co-director of Tbilisi Pride OC media.
According to Subeliani, the ruling party said it was dropping references to queer rights protection to ensure it garnered enough support from its own MPs.
“Their position is that we are right, but that this is a political decision,” Subeliani said.
Ana Subeliani addresses a crowd on July 17, 2021 at a protest against homophobic violence that took place weeks earlier. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.
She added that the government has promised to include steps to combat intolerance and discrimination against queer people in its “plan of action”.
But among activists there is little trust in the government.
Ana Aptsiauri, a legal secretary for the Georgian queer advocacy group Equality Movement, confirmed Subeliani’s account of the government’s position and dismissed her statement.
“It’s a lie, to say the least. LGBTQI issues were included in the previous strategy document,” Aptsiauri said OC media.
“Deliberate removal of various issues from the political agenda is evident,” she said, adding that the government did not respond to her feedback after the organization received a draft indirectly through its partners.
She described the document as “generic and sterile,” without any reference to queer groups, but also lacking the “government’s vision on how to effectively combat hate crime and far-right/violent groups.”
A step backwards in terms of queer rights
While the Georgian government is consistent failed to protect theirs obligations To protect queer people since they came to power in 2012, the absence of even a token commitment in the new human rights strategy was viewed by many as another step backwards.
“While for years we have criticized the state’s contradictory or superficial vision in this area,” said Ana Aptsiauri of the equality movement, “that vision has now completely disappeared – a vision of how to ensure equality, fight hate speech and hate crimes, Ensuring social justice and political participation”.
She added that the government’s willingness to engage with civil society groups has also “changed radically in the past two years.”
Natia Mezvrishvili was the Head of Government Administration leading the initial work for the second human rights strategy in 2020.
Mezvrishvili told OC media that references to queer people were deliberately removed after Irakli Gharibashvili replaced Giorgi Gakharia as Prime Minister in 2021.
Natia Mezvrisvhili is now deputy leader of the For Georgia party. Photo: Tata Shoshiashvili/OC Media.
“The original version had a separate section dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBT groups,” Mezvrishvili claimed, adding that “the LGBT group has been completely removed from political priorities.”
Mezvrisvhili left her position along with Gakharia in late 2020 to serve as deputy leader of his newly formed For Georgia party.
A broader conservative turn
According to Mezvrishvili, the new strategy was weakened in several other ways, including disregarding one of the keys priorities The EU set a precondition for Georgia to reconsider its accession candidacy – “in particular to consolidate efforts to improve gender equality and combat violence against women”.
“One of the indicators of its implementation is the alignment of the definition of sexual violence, and more specifically rape, with international standards. There is no word on it,” Mezvrishvili noted.
Activists call for reform of Georgia’s rape law during the women’s march in Tbilisi on November 25, 2022. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.
[Read more on OC Media: Consent not required: how Georgian legislation allows rapists to walk free]
Mezvrishvili said this was part of a broader shift in government priorities, citing the removal of the term “gender equality” from the title of the prime minister’s human rights adviser in August 2021 as one of the first red flags of that change of course.
She also listed those lack of punishment for the organizers of July 2021 homophobic riots in Tbilisi. “We listened to the government Testify that supports [the organisers]’, She said.
Extremists attack journalists in downtown Tbilisi during the Anti-Pride March, July 5, 2021. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.
The Mtsvaneebi (“Greens”), the first openly pro-queer political party in Georgia, did likewise sentenced the new strategy. The party also saw this as part of a broader effort to “remove queer people from institutional human rights politics.”
They cited the removal of references to “gender identity” and “gender non-conforming persons” from a first draft of the new state concept on gender equality, reverting the definition of “gender equality” to an accepted version 17 years ago.
A makeshift memorial to Georgian transgender victims of hate crimes in Tbilisi on Transgender Remembrance Day, November 22, 2022. Image via: Queer.ge.
“The adopted documents reflect a step backwards in the field of human rights and create a risk that the state will become more homophobic and transphobic,” the Mtsvaneebi warned on December 23.
Little hope for change
Although the Georgian government has pledged to protect the rights of minorities, including in its bid for the EU candidacy, international reaction to the apparent flaws in the new human rights strategy has been muted.
In a January 18 report, Tbilisi-based think tank Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS) identified the protection of vulnerable groups as one of the unaddressed priorities identified by the EU for Georgia.
When asked what she thought of this omission, the EU delegation in Georgia said she had ‘raised the need for a comprehensive new national human rights strategy and follow-up action plan that encompasses the rights of all social groups, including vulnerable and marginalized communities’.
The UN Development Programme, which supported working with the government to draft the new strategy, was a little more explicit, specifically emphasizing the importance of protecting the rights of queer people, but without openly criticizing the government’s approach.
“Human rights are universal and therefore apply to all of us,” said Nick Beresford, UNDP representative in Georgia OC media. ‘The UN will always pay particular attention to those most at risk of being denied their rights. This includes national, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQI communities and people with disabilities.
Beresford said he “welcomes” the new strategy, adding that UNDP is “committed to assisting in the development of an action plan and the work ahead”.
Nick Beresford speaks at a conference marking the International Day Against Homophobia 2022 in Tbilisi. Photo Credit: Shota Kincha/OC Media.
The French Embassy in Georgia express written down “the mention of LGBTIQ people” among the “important” parts missing from the document.
“We hope that these points will be discussed in the action plan in order to protect the rights of the entire population of Georgia,” the embassy said.
But there is little sign that the government intends to change course.
Mikheil Sarjveladze, chairman of the parliamentary committee on human rights and civil integration, said OC media that the legislature is still familiarizing itself with the new human rights strategy.
Mikheil Sarjveladze (right) discusses Georgia’s human rights reform agenda with EU Ambassador Pawel Herczynski on January 16. Photo: Parliament of Georgia.
He declined to say whether the committee saw the omission of queer people as problematic, only adding that the issue was discussed at the December 10 meeting with civil society groups.
When asked about the omission of queer people in its human rights strategy, the prime minister’s office declined to comment after much back and forth.