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Mariam Uberi

Research Fellow

Mariam has worked as a researcher with Democracy Reporting International on polarisation and populism in Georgia. Prior to this she researched issues related to ill treatment and discrimination in prisons and health care settings taking cases before regional human rights courts. During her work as a strategic litigation lawyer in Georgia, she reviewed cases related to violations occurring during and after the Georgian-Russian armed conflict. Mariam holds an LLM in international Human Rights Law from University of Essex and an MA in Political Science from Central European University.

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4615 [post_author] => 47 [post_date] => 2020-04-07 11:49:19 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-04-07 11:49:19 [post_content] => Health is a public good and a fundamental requirement necessary to enjoy a number of other rights including right to freedom of religion. The right to health has been codified in many international human rights treaties[1]. It encompasses the ‘the right to highest attainable standard of health’ and implies a clear set of legal obligations on states to ensure appropriate conditions for the enjoyment of health, including access to health-related education and information.[2]International law allows the right to manifest one’s religion to be restricted to further common goals, including public health. In fact, when faced with a choice between a policy grounded in religion and the one on health intervention, basing policy on science to promote health is consistent with international law.[3] It is also believed that the right to religion that undermines positive public health outcomes can negatively affect other rights guaranteed under the human rights conventions.   A Presidential Decree ‘should not be understood ‘verbatim’ Amidst efforts to protect ‘public health and reduce the looming threat’ related to the virus Covid- 19,  on 21 March the Georgian President declared a nationwide emergency limiting the right to freedom of association. Prior to its enforcement, the Prime Minister commented that the ban on public gatherings of ten people would be enforced universally and would include the churchgoers. Alarmed by the limitation, the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) sought for explanations and called the PM.  The Press secretary for the Patriarchate later suggested that ten people should not be taken ‘verbatim’ and the Presidential Decree did not contain numbers as such.[4] The number of worshipers allowed into a Church rather would depend on its size – with the essential criteria being to keep the required distance from others as per State recommendation. The Speaker of the Parliament also confirmed that the Decree did not limit the right to religious services and participating in religious rites was an inalienable right of the faithful.[5]   On 23 March however, Government Ordinance spelled out that in fact the Presidential Decree was limiting freedom of assembly to ten people ‘both indoors and in any place outdoors.[6] In a bid to respond to an increasing public criticism, the Patriarchate showed its bewilderment at how government pressurised church goers to attend less frequently due to the virus. It said that the thousand year old tradition of a holy sacrament was being attacked by those who lack faith, concluding that those ‘who refuse communion from the same cup is refusing the Savior.[7]The church did tell worshippers not to spend long periods of time in churches, keep a two meter distance from each other and not to come if they were ill but rejected calls to abandon the reusing and sharing of sacramental spoons, claiming that it is not possible to get infected during the holy communion. On 30 March the Georgian government declared a curfew and further limited the maximum size of a group of people able to meet in public to three[8]. On 1 April the Patriarchate issued seven rules detailing how to behave while in a church. Nevertheless, the number of parishioners who attended the Sunday liturgy at each church was far more than three[9].  It is important to mention that other religious denominations have suspended their religious services in Georgia to avoid public health risk. Some healthcare professionals who were put in charge of the briefing on patients' conditions admitted that as a member of the orthodox church parish, they will attend a liturgy for Easter night and do as was the Patriarch's blessing.[10]Other health professionals emphasised that religious rituals can pose a risk of virus transmission and deterred churchgoers from attending the liturgies. The GOC’s insistence not to alter the rules of the holy sacrament was widely seen as undermining the government’s efforts to contain the highly-contagious coronavirus.   The Church’s position versus the right to religious worship Georgia is a secular country. State and the GOC  separation is guaranteed by a constitutional agreement according to which the GOC is a legal  entity under public law and is governed by its canonical laws, Georgian national laws and the Constitution[11]. The Georgian Constitution makes clear that domestic normative acts should comply with international treaties and the norms of international law (Article 4) and that the constitutional agreement with the GOC must be in full compliance with universally recognised principles and norms of international law in the area of human rights and freedoms (Article 8).’[13] Hierarchically speaking the Constitution ranks higher over the Presidential Decree where religious freedoms can be restricted based on health.[14]On another note, the Governmental Ordinance limits the number of people to three notwithstanding the location, and strictly speaking is directly applicable to the number of people inside the Church too.   The right to religion has been defined as protection of ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ as it encompasses the adoption of a religion or belief as well as the public and private practice of the religion. This right distinguishes between two aspects of religious freedoms where the internal dimension of the right to freedom of religion, also called the forum internum, is inviolable in the sense that it cannot be subject to limitations. However, as freedom to manifest one’s religion can interfere with the rights of others or pose a danger to society, it can be restricted based on health, providing the respect of legal prescription, pursuance of a legitimate aim and necessity in a democratic society.[15] That said, the external dimension of the freedom of religion is not absolute[16].   Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) says that right to manifest one’s religions must be established by law i.e. that prevents discrimination against minority religions and safeguards democratic process. It should be directly related and proportional to the goal of public health and States can only restrict manifestation of religion when it is custom made to the end goal. Finally, public health cannot be used in a discriminatory way.[17] By using these guidelines States should constrain the impact of religion on public health policy where necessary.   The GOC however has long been an institution that enjoyed unfettered trust from the public and has received financial privileges, donations and great support from every Georgian government. Since the GOC holds an important role in national discourse, few elected public officials can contravene to its indications. The religion and the GOC became bearers of significant symbolic capital, led by the revered Georgian Patriarch Ilia II and its clergy. During their 2003 visit the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief recognised the special power of the Church and rightly observed that politicians tend to use Orthodox religion as a form of tool and few had taken an overtly critical attitude towards the Orthodox Church. On the other hand, it was also highlighted that Orthodox Church appeared to make regular use of its unchallenged influence and had bent government policy in certain directions.[18]   Applying international human rights standards to the right to health Under International law, public health is recognised as an allowable basis to limit the right to religion. The Right to the highest attainable standard of health requires governments to create and maintain conditions that are conducive to the achievement of good health. The state obligation under this right is threefold: obligations to respect, protect and fulfil. The latter contains obligations to adopt appropriate legislative, administrative [..] and other measures towards the full realisation of the right to health.[19]   Government officials in charge of health policy are faced to make a difficult decision when the religious practices conflict with public health concerns.[20]This involves protecting the right to health by constraining religious practices and taking positive measures that enable communities to enjoy the right to health. In fact, use of the common spoon during the pandemic when the spread of the virus occurs person to person requires State intervention. By basing health policy on science, the government fulfills its obligation before the right to health without violating the right to religion.[21]   A number of human rights documents, including the Siracusa Principles, state that health professionals acting on behalf of the state, must restrict human rights and civil liberties to protect the health of the community, particularly during health emergencies.[22]Importantly because of their role in the investigation of health needs and implementation of policy—health professionals play a unique role in generating health-related human rights responses.[23] An understanding of the relationship between health and human rights and the use of a human rights based approach among health professionals prevents otherwise harmful practices in public health.[24] It can increase awareness among staff of their ethical duties and the potential for their public health practice to impact the human rights of the populations they serve[25]. In fact the World Conference on Human Rights included ‘Education in Human Rights’ as a priority area in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action calling for governments to train health professionals as a special group for participation in human rights education.[26]   Public officials have a legal obligation to foster recognition of factors favouring positive health results including the dissemination of information[27] and education campaigns even if this undermines the practice of religion during the public health crisis. The Government has a ‘core obligation’ to provide education and access to information concerning ‘the main health problems in the community, including methods of preventing and controlling them’[28] That said providing adequate information about the risks of using a common spoon is important, otherwise by failing to largely publicise its effects the State will deny the public knowledge necessary for safeguarding their health.   The COVID-19 infection underscores the indivisibility of health and a range of human rights. It also underlines the importance of human rights based approaches where duty bearers must assert human rights standards to protect public health. Similarly, health professionals should put behind their religious convictions where it conflicts with the science and guide the public using evidence based policy. Whilst some health practitioners and public officials have been adamant that religious rituals entail public health risks, it was not enough to curtail them all together; The Pandemic further exposed inequalities between the religious imperative and public health. Government responses to the Church have laid bare a secularism that is deeply flawed at its roots. At the moment it appears that the GOC stands above law, showing startling indifference to growing public health vulnerabilities.   [1]The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) , the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the  Declaration of Alma-Ata International Conference on Primary Health Care, Alma-Ata, USSR, 6-12 September 1978  are some of the central human rights instruments for the protection of the right to health. [2]ICESCR General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health (Art. 12). See also WHO: Human Rights and Health: [3]L. Stone et al, When the right to health and the right to religion conflict: a Human Rights analysis. 12 Mich. st.j. Int’ L 247. 2003-2004.p.24 [4]News Jagmaidze: We would not understand the restriction verbatim; 21 March 2020. [5]Ibid. [6]State  Ordinance  204. 23 March 2020. [7]Jama news. Georgian Orhodox News:Refusing communion from a shared cup is refusing the Savior. 25 March, 2020 ; [8]Radio Free Liberty.Announcement of the Patriarche the II. [9]The government imposed a ban social gatherings and allowed groups of no more than three persons as per the Ordinance [10]News On.Ge. I as a practitioner will probably do as would be the blessing from the Patriarch. 2 April 2020. . [11]Article 1. Resolution of the Ceorgian Government Constitutional agreement between the Orthodox Autocephalous Church and the Georgian Government. [12]Article 8 – Relationship between the State and the Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia Constitution of Georgia, [13]Article 4, Legal State of the Constitution of Georgia; [14]Article 16 of the Constitution. Right to Religious Manifestation. [15]Article 18 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience or Religion) of ICCPR. It is listed to be a non derogable right, however similar provision on religious rights Article 9  can be derogated from during the emergencies. [16]Human Rights Committee, General Comment 22, Article 18 (Forty-eighth session, 1993). Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1 at 35 (1994). [17]L. Stone et al, When the right to health and the right to religion conflict: a Human Rights analysis. 12 Mich. st.j. Int’ L 247. 2003-2004. [18] The UN Special Rapproteur on Freedom of Religion or Believe, country visit: Georgia. E/CN.4/2004/63/Add.1 1( 2003), para 41. [19]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health (Art. 12), para 33. [20]L.stone et al. [21]Ibid. [22]J. Mann, “Health and human rights: If not now, when?,” Health and Human Rights (1997) in . r. hall-clifford, d. g. addiss, r. cook-deegan, and j. v. lavery / editorial, Global Health Fieldwork Ethics and human rights. pp, 1-5. [23]Siracusa principles on the limitation and derogation provisions in the international covenant on civil and political rights, E/CN.4/1985/4 (1985). Available at https://www. [24]Article 12. WHO, International health regulations (2005). [25]S. Glowa-Kollisch, J. Graves, N. Dickey et al., “Data-driven human rights: Using dual loyalty training to promote the care of vulnerable patients in jail,” Health Human Rights 17/1 (2015), E124-E35. [26] Vienna declaration and programme of action, A/ CONF. 157/23 (1993). [27]General Comment No. 14, para 37 (i). [28] Ibid.para 44 (d). [post_title] => Balancing the conflict between the rights to health and religion in Georgia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => balancing-the-conflict-between-the-rights-to-health-and-religion-in-georgia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-04-09 11:57:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-04-09 11:57:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4388 [post_author] => 47 [post_date] => 2019-12-09 11:35:45 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-09 11:35:45 [post_content] =>

Protests play an important part in the civil and political life of democratic societies. Georgia’s civil society has long been a good example of an engaged and informed citizenry, with the protests in June 2019 having largely secured a promise from the government that it would seek a change in Georgia's election system from a mixed system to a fully proportional one.[1] The dropping of those proposed constitutional amendments in November 2019, however, triggered the biggest anti-government protest in years.[2] As suggested by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), that Georgia has ratified, the right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental principle in a democratic society and, like the right to freedom of expression, is one of the foundations of such a society and cannot be interpreted restrictively.[3] Authorities' attempts to shut down dissenting voices appear to be in violation of these rights. Disappointment expressed by the European Union (EU) on the failed constitutional reforms also hints to Georgia backtracking on some important reforms in the rule of law area.[4]

On November 17th, all 44 members of the parliament’s opposition parties supported the constitutional changes on introducing a proportional system for 2020. The three lawmakers from Georgia’s Dream party however voted against the amendment while 37 abstained, making the constitutional amendment fall short of the 113 votes required, three quarters of the 150 sitting lawmakers.[5]

This prompted waves of protests where in the events leading to the arrests of demonstrators, members of the opposition political parties vowed to block Parliament to ‘restore its legitimacy’ and use the lawful means available to them within Georgian legislation.[6] The protesters brought in sand bags and barricades and attempted to stop Members of Parliament (MPs) from entering Parliament.[7] In a bid to secure free passage to Parliament on November 18th, after a half an hour warning, the Interior Ministry’s riot police dispersed the protest rally. Many tried to resist and sat down in the street to block their movement. Following a brief confrontation, police used water cannons to remove protesters from the street and arrested 37 civil activists, including a political leader, on charges of petty hooliganism and disobedience to the police. [8]

Some protesters, who had been ill treated by police during their arrests, required medical interventions after being badly hurt.[9] The peaceful protesters gathered again on November 25th with an intent to stop the ruling MPs attending the Parliament session the next day. The riot police used water cannons again in the early hours of November 26th, in sub-zero conditions to clear the entrance from behind the parliament building and arrested 28 individuals and injuring others.[10] Before the dispersal protesters were stopped from bringing wood to use for heating and bags were searched profusely. On November 28th, however, the protesters who wanted to gather around Parliament faced iron gates that blocked the streets leading to Parliament and were met with a police cordon across the barriers. 

Events of November

Georgian law expressly prohibits blocking administrative buildings, however, in retrospect the excessive number of anti-riot police deployed and the use of water cannons against passively resisting protesters were disproportionate and deemed unlawful by civil society.[11]The State under international law is responsible to protect peaceful protesters and ensure a safe and enabling environment for people to exercise their freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly. The use of force must be minimum even when ‘roadblocks’ are used as a means of protest and which may warrant state intervention to disperse the protesters.[12] It is also stated that the State must resort to only the minimum use of force and only after less intrusive and discriminatory means of managing the situation have failed.[13] Generally, the States should be mindful that in some circumstances where a protest occurs in violation of applicable laws, use of force is not always justified and non-intervention might be the best approach.[14]

On November 18th, the riot police after little warning rolled in with water cannons amid the absence of any communication with the leaders of the protest, which is an essential part of the authorities’ positive obligations to ensure the peaceful conduct of an assembly, to prevent disorder and to secure the safety of all involved.[15] The Venice Commission’s Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) refers to, recommends negotiation or mediated dialogue if a stand-off or other dispute arises during the course of an assembly as a way of avoiding the escalation of conflict.[16]

The United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials calls on the authorities to ‘‘exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved.’’[17] These principles are echoed in the national legislation regulating assemblies and demonstrations where among other requirements, the benefit protected by the restriction should exceed the damage caused by the restriction and should be necessary in a democratic society.[18] The notion of ‘necessary’ in a democratic society among others implies that the interference must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. On November 26th authorities maintained that after seeing the blocked passages to Parliament they had to use the means provided by the law.[19] In reality the benefit does not seem to outweigh the measures or appear proportionate, whereas 28 people were arrested on administrative charges and four sustained injuries.[20] Among those arrested was a member of a political party, who in the words of his defence lawyer, his only fault was that he had ‘‘thrown beans in the air’’ during the rally. He was sentenced to eight days of administrative detention.[21]

On both occasions the authorities showed no attempt to use less intrusive ways to deescalate the tension and conduct a dialogue with the protesters. It is also followed that subjecting the demonstrators to high-pressure water cannons requires specific justification.[22] The UN Principles further scrutinises the use of water cannons, not allowing the use of targeted jet water at an individual or group of individuals at short range with a view to avoid injury or blindness.[23] The water cannon can only be used when there is a ‘serious significant likelihood of loss of life’ or when property is being destroyed.[24] It should not be used in cold weather to avoid cold water shock.[25] In the absence of these conditions the use of water cannons does not appear legitimate especially considering that more people got injured then it was officially declared.[26] During these events, one protester suffered a broken hand after being forced down by a jet of water, another received an eye injury whilst a third got hypothermia. In response to the criticism that the cold water cannons should not be used in cold weather conditions, the Minister of Interior maintained that they will warm the water next time before using it against demonstrators.[27]

The ECHR requires States to show a certain ‘degree of tolerance’ towards peaceful gatherings, even unlawful ones.[28] The State is also called to use its powers to protect its institutions and citizens from associations that might jeopardise them rather sparingly.[29] It is further claimed that the exceptions to the right of freedom of association has to be construed strictly and only convincing and compelling reasons can justify restrictions on that freedom.[30] Surprisingly, even the occupation of public buildings is generally regarded as peaceful conduct, despite its unlawfulness and the disruptions it may cause.[31] The authorities should not have dispersed the rally unless law enforcement officials had taken all reasonable measures to facilitate and protect the assembly from harm[32] and unless there was an imminent threat of violence.[33] Amidst the absence of previous violent clashes and the lack of imminent threat as protesters had no special equipment, breaking up the protest in such a manner does not have a compelling reason.[34]

Finally, erecting iron gates later on November 28th to safeguard the normal functioning of the Parliament does not seem to be within the powers set-out in the Georgian law on policing.[35] The blocking of the street with iron barricades is not ‘proportionate to the expected threat’ and cannot be used against peaceful demonstrators unless there is a particular risk of a crime or disorder.[36] The Civil society further maintained that the general public were not duly informed on these restrictive measures either.[37]

The trial of 37 people charged under administrative offences on November 18th attempted to normalise the restriction on freedom of expression through its conflation with resisting the police and hooliganism under the punitive Code of Administrative Offences.[38] The trial has been largely marred by procedural violations, at the time of writing this, 14 people have been tried and the cases of 23 are still under deliberation.

Selective and unlawful arrests

The Government should not have the power to ban a demonstration because of the ‘wrong message’ it sends against the government, especially when the main target of criticism is the very same authority which has the power to authorise or deny the public gathering.[39] Defence lawyers suggest that police have selectively targeted activists whereas some in their interviews given to the media said that they have been ill-treated during the arrest.[40] As suggested, police arbitrarily arrested those expressing criticism of the government and state officials, which does not make sufficient grounds to make an arrest. In light of many procedural violations, it was revealed that the police did not discharge their responsibilities duly. Arrest protocols were not drawn up on the spot as required. Police completed it with a significant delay and without interrogating the accused.[41] Many have not seen their arrest protocols whilst those who did do not agree with what it said.[42]

Marred due process and a Telephone Justice

The Code of Administrative Offences mandates a tight timeframe within which the case had to be deliberated. The distribution of the cases has somehow put one judge in charge of all 37 cases, which significantly curtails the procedural rights of the accused. A defence lawyer for the accused argues that the police had to set the activists free after filling out the detention protocols.[43] Nevertheless, they were kept handcuffed well beyond the prescribed time limit. The judge went well over time too, keeping them in detention over the 12 hour time limit prescribed by law.[44] To respond to the growing criticism on the flawed timeframes, Tbilisi City Court later made a formal announcement referring to the Constitutional guarantees on the inviolability of the judge and that the cases had been automatically distributed in line with the national law.[45] The process also undermined the right of the defence lawyers left with inadequate time to prepare for the defence, some given only two minutes. As suggested by the statement issued by the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association present at the hearing, the judge often stepped out during to allegedly receive instructions.[46]

Flawed Evidence and Lack of reasoning

The evidence submitted by the police include arrest protocols, offence protocols and in rare cases video footage. In the case of the video footage, however, almost all police officers had difficulties identifying the arrested and could not recall the details leading to the arrest. This further questioned the validity of the requests the police had in relation to the accused and with the grounds they had made arrests. Contrary to the law, none of the police body cameras were working, whilst on one occasion a police officer confessed that he did not have time to examine the evidence that he had submitted.[47] Nonetheless, the judge gave weight to the evidence against the accused and did not require the police to justify interference with the accused right to freedom of assembly. Nor did he question the reliability and quality of the evidence.

The accused were cleared of hooliganism charges, but ten were charged with police disobedience and sentenced to between three and 13 days administrative detention, three received warnings and one was fined.[48] There was no reasoning behind how the length of the sentence was calculated. It appears that the sentences were high for those who were especially active during the court proceedings and during the organisation of the protest rally in general.[49] The absence or lack of reasoning on how sanctions were determined are largely incompatible with the principle of non-arbitrariness when it comes to human rights standards. The ECtHR emphasised the need for courts to take seriously suggestions that real evidence introduced by police may have been planted[50] or fabricated[51]. Moreover, in cases where the only witness is the police who had a major role in the contested events, it is indispensable for the court to check their incriminating statements.[52] In the absence of these safeguards the hearings conducted appear to be in violation of the right to a fair trial.[53]

The Repressive Law

The commentators agree that the present Code of Administrative Offences is often used as an instrument for repression, with every government in power using it to punish dissenting voices rather than scrap it. The Code lacks judicial safeguards otherwise guaranteed by the national laws, as well as constitutional and international standards. The Code, which was adopted by the Resolution of the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR in 1984, has seen some changes since its adoption. It does not entail a criminal record but allows sentencing of an individual for a maximum of 15 days without offering robust guarantees for a fair trial, or a standard beyond that of reasonable doubt otherwise required in the Criminal justice. It circumvents guarantees such as access to legal representation, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence, the right to examine witnesses and introduce evidence. Eight provisions from the Code, including the provisions on hooliganism and police disobedience, were sent for appeal to the Constitutional Court of Georgia a year ago and have been pending before the court since.[54] The cases on excessive use of force perpetrated by police on November 19th have been picked up by the independent investigative mechanism that is tasked to take up cases of ill treatment and torture perpetrated by public agents. The mechanism that started functioning on November 1st of this year does not have prosecutorial functions and can only investigate the cases. It has nevertheless been a welcome initiative and will serve as a litmus test for the authorities in investigating the offences without bias.


The ECHR, the Venice Commission and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association have repeatedly stressed that there is a presumption in favour of holding peaceful assemblies; where an assembly should be presumed lawful and deemed as not constituting a threat to public order, until the Government put forward compelling evidence that rebuts that presumption. The authorities have not yet produced compelling evidence in this case. Moreover the use of repressive laws against activists and opposing political party leaders aimed to punish criticism against the Government, and to have a discouraging effect for others to participate in protest rallies and from engaging actively in opposition parties, has chilling effects. Furthermore, the effects of these sanctions are further amplified by inadequate administrative code procedures. On a political level, the backtracking on promised constitutional change is largely seen as fear by the ruling party of losing power. The authorities’ response to that fear seems to be the flagrant ignorance of the rule of law and the safeguards on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly as they attempt to flatten the increased mistrust and heightened tensions between the ruling party, opposition and civil society.

Photo by George Melashvili. No modifications to photo. Creative commons licence,

[1] BBC News, Georgiaprotests: Thousands storm parliament over Russian MP’s speech, June 2019,

[2], Two Rallies Demand Snap Elections in Tbilisi; Parliament Blocked by Protesters, November 2019,

[3] Djavit An v. Turkey, § 56; Kudrevičius and Others v. Lithuania § 91.

[4] EU Neighbours, EU reacts to on-going events in Georgia, November 2019,

[5], Ex-U.S. Amb: There’s Concern in U.S. about Georgian Democracy, November 2019,

[6] Ibid. 2

[7], Georgian Opposition, Activists Keep Blocking Parliament Entrances, November 2019,

[8], Riot Police Remove Barricades from Parliament Area, November 2019,

[9] Radio Free Liberty, Activist detained near parliament found fractured bones, November 2019,

[10] Ibid. 7

[11] Amnesty International Public Statement, Georgia: Authorities Must Guarantee Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, Amnesty International, November 2019,

[12] OHCHR, Lebanon: UN Experts decry incidents of excessive force in Lebanon. November 2019,

[13] Ibid.

[14] Article 19, The Right to Protest: Principles on the protection of human rights in protests, 2016,

[15] Frumkin v. Russia, § 128-129.

[16] Ibid. referring to guideline 5.4, cited in Frumkin v. Russia § 80. See also Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines, July 2019,

[17] Facing Finance, UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement officials, Adopted by the eight UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of offenders. 27 August- 7 September 1990.

[18] Article 2 (3). The Law of Georgia on Assemblies and Demonstrations. The restriction of the rights recognised and protected by this Law shall: a) be addressed to achieve the benefits protected by Article 24(4) of the Constitution of Georgia; b) be considered under the law; c) be necessary for a democratic society; d) be non-discriminatory; e) be proportionally restrictive; f) be such that the benefit protected by the restriction exceeds the damage caused by the restriction,

[19] The statement of the Ministry of Interior (MIA) of Georgia, November 2019,

[20] Democracy Research Institute (DRI), Authorities Again Use Disproportionate Force During Dispersal of Peaceful Rally., November 2019,; See also an announcement by MIA on 26 November 2019.supra 20.

[21] Formula News, Lasha Chkartishvili was sentenced to administrative detention, November 2019,

[22] Eğitim ve Bilim Emekçileri Sendikası v. Turkey, § 108.   

[23] The United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement,

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Radio Free Liberty, Protester says that his hand was broken during a protest rally, November 2019,

[27], Vakhtang Gomelauri - They criticise us for using cold water in cold weather, we will now try to warm the water before using it, December 2019,

[28] Navalnyy and Yashin v. Russia, § 63.

[29] Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház v Hungary, § 79.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Cisse v. France, §§ 39-40.

[32] Including, for example, quieting hostile onlookers who threaten violence.

[33] The Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly adopted by the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR used in Furumkin v Russia §166.

[34] Primov v Russia, § 144-148.

[35] Democracy Research Institute, Democracy Research Institute Responds to the Blockage of Parliament Area by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, November 2019,

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Administrative Code of Offences in Georgia,

[39] Navalnyy v. Russia, § 134.

[40] Email correspondence with defence lawyer and the Deputy Director of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Nona kurdovanidze. See also Radio Free Liberty, Activists versus  the Soviet Code, November 2019,

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Trial conducted with serious violations, November 2019,

[46] Ibid.

[47] Radio Free Liberty, Activists versus the Soviet Code, supra 38.

[48] Correspondence with Nona Kurdovanidze, December 2019.

[49] Defence Lawyer, Giorgi Mshvenieradze, at Radio Free Liberty, supra 38.

[50] Sakit Zahidov v. Azerbaijan, §52.

[51] Sand Gradinar v. Moldova, § 111.

[52] Kasparov and Others, § 64.

[53] Navalnyy v Russia § 74.

[54] Interview with Nona Kurdovanidze. See also: The Public Defender even filed an amicus curiae brief with the Constitutional Court of Georgia in June 2019 regarding the constitutional lawsuit "Citizen of Georgia Zurab Japaridze v. Parliament of Georgia". In the amicus curiae brief, the Public Defender referred to Articles 166  (petty hooliganism) and 173 (Disobedience to the Legal Orders or Instructions of Law Enforcement or Military Officers)  of the Administrative Offences on Misdemeanour and indicated that the judicial practice in that direction could not meet the constitutional standards, Public Defenders’ Office Georgia, November 2019.

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Existing conflict: overview[1]

Eleven years since Russia's invasion of Georgia, Russia still seeks to erode Georgia’s sovereignty and has a detrimental impact on its human rights record. In a process of creeping ‘borderisation’[2] Russia and de facto Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities have encroached upon 40 Georgian villages adjacent to the administrative boundary lines (ABLs) in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, negatively affecting all communities across the ABLs.[3]

Long before the run up to the ‘five day war’ Georgia lost control over South Ossetian territories in 1992 and in Abkhazia in 1994 amidst an armed conflict that broke out with Georgia and separatist forces.[4] In 1994 Georgia entered the Commonwealth of Independent states (CIS) agreement which mandated the presence of the Russian CIS peacekeepers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia to establish a truce and secure peace in the region. Since then the Russian Federation provided direct financial assistance to the separatist regimes by funding public salaries, infrastructure and budgetary expenses for the de facto authorities. Russia has also carried out a so called ‘passportisation’ policy that includes granting Russian citizenship en masse to persons living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.[5] Russia was quick in signing an Alliance and Integrationtreaty with Abkhazia and South Ossetia to create common foreign policy and economic space[6] and later an agreement to formally merge the region’s militia into the Russian armed forces.[7]

The borders and illegal process of ‘borderisation’ has been largely contested by the parties to the conflict. Russia and the de facto authorities claim to have followed the military map of the Soviet Union whilst drawing up the ABLs.[8] The de facto authorities consider that erecting fences mitigates risks of violating borders and simplifies the life of local residents.[9] The Georgian authorities refused to take part in a demarcation commission, as such an action would be seen as equal to Georgia recognising the independence of its breakaway regions.[10] Restriction of the right to freedom of movement has been a significant challenge for the local residents living near the ABLs. The number of people who cross over from South Ossetia to access several services in Georgia has been increasing over the years. Some of them are being detained by the Russian troops whilst some still manage to enter the capital of Georgia to access different services.[11] Ethnic Georgians living near the ABLs are faced with arbitrary arrests, ill treatment and unlawful killing by the de facto authorities and the Russian Security Service guards. 


This ‘borderisation’ occurred in waves, the first taking place two months after the end of armed hostilities in 2008, the second in 2011 and then there was an increase in intensity of such activity in 2013.[12] The trend of ‘borderisation’, and the reason why it occurred in such waves, has not been thoroughly studied by the Georgian authorities. Demarcation in South Ossetia included 60 km of security fences and surveillance towers,[13] as well as ploughed lines.[14] In the Abkhaz theatre, physical borders include over 30 km of fences, surveillance towers with an ABL coverage of 25 km.[15] These lines of demarcation have had a detrimental effect on communities on both sides of the ABL by cutting off access to local villagers' livelihoods and leaving them feeling ‘suffocated'.[16]

Since 2009, the Public Defender of Georgia has stated that 840 ethnic Georgians have been detained for ‘illegally crossing’ the self-declared boundaries, the highest number to date was in 2016.[17] However, getting accurate statistics is difficult given the challenging nature of the conflict. Although the Georgian authorities have information about detentions of ethnic Georgians who are handed back to the Georgian side, it is suggested that some Georgian detainees are released after a ransom demand was met and therefore do not make it into the Georgian records.[18]

There has been an increase in the number of military exercises, with shootings in proximity of military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia around the ABLs. This, coupled with trespassing by Russian border guards further into the Georgian controlled territories on local residents' property and arbitrarily arresting locals in their orchards, village roads and graveyards has exacerbated local residents' fear of further armed conflict.[19] 2016 marked not only a higher incidence of Georgian detainees along the ABLs but was followed by the killing of Giorgi Otkhozoria,[20] Archil Taunashvili[21] and David Basharuli.[22] 

Khurcha is the only village under the control of the Georgian authorities on the other side of the Enguri River and a Georgian police post has been located at the end of the village since 2013. Georgian police regularly patrol around the villages.[23] However local communities face Russian and de facto Abkhaz guards when crossing the Enguri Bridge. The killing of Giorgi Otkhozoria at the Russian-Abkhaz checkpoint in Khurcha highlighted the deep vulnerabilities of Georgian civilians living along the ABLs.[24]

Between January and April 2019 some 32 Georgian civilians were arrested, a figure relatively high compared to the 19 Georgian civilians arrested for the same period in 2018. Recent incidents demonstrate that Russian border guards violate border signposts and walk some two hundred to five hundred meters away from the barbed wire[25] into Georgian controlled territory to intimidate or arrest locals.[26] In 2018, in separate incidents, a man and a woman were snatched from the back of a garden located even further away from the ABL, within Georgian controlled territory.[27] There has been several incidents of houses being cut in half by the fence of the ABL in the village of Gugutiantkari[28] and Pakhulani.[29] In a similar case a person living in a house split by the fence was detained several times after crossing his yard and coming to Georgia.[30]

‘Borderisation’ has been marked as one of the main security threats by the Georgian security service.[31]

According to the Georgian authorities, the decision on introducing extra police posts, patrols or other additional measures are subject to a closer scrutiny. Decision making is based on the existing security situation, threats posed to the local population and actions perpetrated by the occupying forces.[32] The Minister of Interior whilst visiting the police station in Shida kartli municipality near the ABL highlighted the importance of ensuring the ‘‘protection of the local population’’ and a ‘‘rational response’’ to the outside security threats.[33] Soon after the end of the armed hostilities in 2008, mine explosions along the ABLs claimed the lives of 12 police officers.[34] This was followed by an injury of three and a death of one police officer after the Russian FSB soldiers fired at the Georgian patrolling officers.[35] In an obvious absence of any option for military intervention, Georgia has been extremely cautious in responding to the upsurge of borderisation. This has been eagerly exploited by the Russian Federation in eroding on Georgia’s sovereignty.

The Human Rights Centre (HRIDC), a Georgian NGO, highlighted incidents of arbitrary arrests due to inadequate marking by the Georgian authorities and those affected feel that there is a need for Georgia to reinforce patrolling against the Russian border guards. There are incidents of Georgian civilians inadvertently violating the border amidst the absence of tables or markers in the woods marking the ABLs. As one of the local residents put it, in the absence of any barbed wires one must be lucky not to be caught.[36]

Locals argue that the presence of the Georgian patrols would deter the Russian border guards from illegally abducting Georgians in the area. In 2015, in two villages of Tsalenjika Municipality, the local population requested the introduction of a police post but the Ministry of Interior determined that patrolling was sufficient.[37] In 2018, the residents in the village of Korbali complained that Georgian police did not patrol frequently enough.[38] In a recent incident in Gugutiantkari, Gori municipality local residents have expressed their fear of being left to their own devices in the face of the Russian FSB and requested a Georgian Police post next to the newly erected fences.[39] Prior to this locals also requested the creation of police stations in Jariasheni and Bershueti.[40] After such incidents, patrols are intensified for a few days but then revert to their previous levels.[41] After another incident police officers refused to help a former detainee arrested by Russian border guards who had ambushed and ill-treated him on a Georgian controlled territory for fear of retribution.[42]

In the wake of this precarious situation there is an apparent lack of interagency cooperation and crisis management amongst state actors on ‘borderisation’. This was demonstrated by the incident in Khurvaleti village in March 2019 where residents produced ‘photographic evidence’, albeit old, of Russian border guards trespassing into their gardens. The Mayor of Gori confirmed that three masked Russian army officers trespassed into Georgian territory, but the State Security Agency denied the Mayor’s statement and claimed that there was no such incident until it was later verified by the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) hotline, a facility explained later in this essay.[43] The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) later confirmed that the incident did not take place.[44] In a recent incident in Gugutiantkari in August 2019, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had announced that the ‘borderisation’ process had been stopped after using pressure from all existing international mechanisms.[45] Despite this the Russian FSB border guards continued erecting fences the next day, soon after the announcement, forcing two families to dismantle their own houses damaged during the war and cutting their access to orchids.[46] An apparent lack of official comment from the side of the Prime Minister and the President of Georgia has been swiftly picked up by the media.[47] A lack of communication to engage and inform the public has produced much speculation on an issue that had exacerbated an already tense situation. This incident corroborated accusations of a lack of coordinated response and cooperation among political actors regarding ‘borderisation’.

Economic and social vulnerabilities 

The Georgian state interim commission, created especially to address socio-economic vulnerabilities alongside the ABLs, had been a useful initiative improving previously dire conditions.[48] However, research shows that local civilians still do not have an adequate support system that meets their needs. Harsh security conditions across the ABLs are further aggravated by the lack of access to clean water and gas, the taxing electricity cost which appears high for economically impoverished communities with no constant financial income. Locals faced with the risk of being arrested for ‘illegal border crossing’ while out collecting wood. The main gas pipe only reaches around 20 thousand users.[49]

During 2017 and 2018 the government allocated a wood area for the locals in villages in a number of municipalities adjacent to the ABLs of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and extended single payments of 200 GEL to households for winterisation.[50] However, disbursement of vouchers to collect the wood are often delayed, making it harder for households to access the woods and a single payment is usually not sufficient during the winter months.[51]

In 2017 an interim state commission marked the beginning of well construction in a number of villages in the Gori, Kareli and Kaspi municipalities, including the village of Bershueti where he particularly highlighted the lack of drinking water and where residents must obtain it from the neighbouring village.[52] According to the authorities, irrigation water has been provided in the village of Zardiaantkari since 2017 in spite of the HRIDC stating that there is a significant problem due to the irrigation pipe not reaching the agricultural land in the village.[53] In the absence of water for irrigation, people cannot engage in agriculture and pastures are not accessible.[54]

The border village of Zardiaantari has been described as a microcosm of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict with mixed Georgian and Ossetian families, and where the Georgian government regained control only in 2012.[55] In this area only minor works have been carried out since the 2008 war.[56] Even though the cost for sustained damage had already been calculated, locals are still waiting for compensation[57] as they live in derelict houses and face the risk of becoming homeless.[58]

Existing conflict resolution mechanisms 

All parties have adopted the Geneva International Discussions (GID) format to exchange information and resolve certain ad hoc issues related to the conflict.[59] However, the GID is exclusively elite driven and civil society is excluded from participation. The breakaway regions follow a scripted plot that many Georgians see as being suggested by Russia, which makes compromise on the status quo impossible. Some commentators believe that the attitude of the de facto authorities are often rigid during negotiations but more willing to be more flexible on the ground, for example when the de facto authorities allowed ethnic Georgians to visit the graves of their loved situated beyond the Georgian controlled territory.[60] Abkhaz and South Ossetian participants frequently walk out due to divergence on their position.[61] For example, Georgia asserts that Russia is violating the ceasefire agreement by not withdrawing its forces to the positions held before the war and maintains that the conflict between Russia and Georgia is ongoing. Russia on the other hand is adamant that it had met all points of the plan and that it withdrew its military forces from Georgian territory. Russia argues that their troops are legally stationed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the basis of international agreements between independent states. Georgia maintains that the conflict between Georgia and Russia is ongoing whilst Moscow does not identify itself as a party to the conflict and it points to two separate conflicts between Georgia and its breakaway regions.[62] Thus far the GID have failed to produce agreements on the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) or on improving the human rights situation in those conflict regions and there has been no agreement on international security arrangements.

Nevertheless, the GID is a deterrence to renewed conflict between Georgia and Russia where the EU's role is somewhat weak.[63] The GID has achieved success on some non-political issues.[64] One tangible outcome is the creation of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) which is hosted by the EUMM. This platform provides a hotline to verify the accuracy of information in the aftermath of incidents.[65] It serves to establish the whereabouts of disappeared persons and usually de-escalates tension.[66] It is also a platform for mitigating future incidents where the EUMM plays a role of mediator. However, the IPRM has begun to resemble a tribunal where parties voice security concerns on establishing the whereabouts of disappeared individuals and voice their accusations to one another.[67] It does not always reduce the incidence of arbitrary arrests or killings, however it has been successful in freeing arrested individuals post factum.[68]  

According to the former Swiss Ambassador who used to attend the Geneva Talks, Georgia needs to shape its format into a favourable direction and adopt more pragmatic approaches whilst opening additional channels of communications.[69] Some of the additional channels of communication, that were previously open, had been extremely effective. For example meetings between the de facto authorities, the Georgian Public Defender’s office and civil society representatives under the aegis of the Council of Europe had lasted for three years and generated much wanted trust and confidence between the communities. The meetings started with a year delay in 2014 as the Georgian authorities were slow in giving a green light to the initiative. During this time however, the then Public Defender was not allowed to attend Geneva talks as an observer on a pretence that the Georgian side did not want a change of status quo with the de facto authorities. Despite this an exchange of Abkhaz, South Ossetian and Georgians prisoners initiated by the former Public Defender achieved another positive outcome where a person missing for years had been located in the prison in a breakaway region. The results of these endeavours have never been made public except to the families involved and were largely based on local contacts between the Georgian and the de facto Public Defender office and civil society.[70] The IPRM also has a history of frequent walkouts, marked by the de facto Abkhaz authorities refusing to meet with the head of the EUMM following a controversy.[71] In June 2018, the IPRM meeting in Gali collapsed when the Georgian government placed an investigation into the murder of Otkhozoria at the top of its agenda and the process has remained suspended ever since.[72]

To date civilians living near the ABLs do not have adequate information about what to do when a family member is detained, what kind of help they can get or what information to give.[73] An apparent lack of cooperation has hampered the establishment of the whereabouts of the perpetrators of a disappeared Georgian man last seen near the ABL along Gori back in 2016 and the issue has since been removed from the agenda.[74] 

Legal and Political responses to the ‘borderisation’

Russia has an ‘effective control’ on the territory of the breakaway regions substantiated by its financial and military presence.[75] According to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)  effective control can be exercised outside its national territories where a state has an obligation to secure human rights through a control exercised either ‘directly, through its armed forces and through a subordinate local administration.’ Moreover, a state can also be held responsible even if its agent acted against its instructions or for the acts of self-proclaimed authorities which are not recognised by the international community.[76] Whilst Russia is responsible for the human rights violations committed by its agents near and around the ABLs, Georgia has a positive obligation to attempt with ‘legal and diplomatic means available’ through foreign states and international organisations to ensure human rights.[77] Finally, under international law, the de facto Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities despite not being members of the human rights treaties have an obligation not to violate human rights.[78]

In March 2018 the Georgian Parliament adopted a bipartisan Georgian resolution condemning human rights violations in Russian occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the Georgian government was tasked with providing a list of perpetrators. Soon afterwards the government unveiled the Otkhozoria and Tatunashvili list, a list of 33 persons of Abkhaz and South Ossetian origin who were either convicted of crimes, are under investigation or covered up alleged killings and torture in the Georgian territories beyond its control. The decree also authorised relevant Ministries to work with foreign partners to impose financial penalties and visa bans on individuals on the list.[79] However, the list was not entirely accurate and included a number of deceased persons where current personal information and their whereabouts had been mistakenly identified.[80] It was also criticised for not containing alleged Russian perpetrators.

Although the Otkhozoria and Tatunashvili list is a non-binding resolution, it was welcomed by the European Parliament[81] and incorporated in the Council of Europe Resolution ─ Sergei Magnitsky and beyond – fighting impunity by targeted sanctions[82]that called on member states to impose sanctions, later endorsed by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the United States, Canada and the UK.[83]

In March 2019 the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs adopted a state approved strategy which covered a range of issues on occupation and highlighted the importance of peaceful resolution to the conflict, de-occupation and confidence building. It also focused on effective cooperation with international courts and strengthening the Georgian position through substantiating Russia’s illegal actions and Georgia’s peaceful efforts. This important document contains no mention of the Otkhozoria and Tatunashvili list, which as a leading instrument will evolve as other perpetrators become known and whilst authorities are instructed to submit periodic updates.[84]

Some commentators suggest that Georgia has been somewhat cautious in joining sanctions imposed by the international community on Russia for annexation of Crimea. It also fuels the speculation that occupation has not been discussed internationally to the same extent and at the same level as the debate about the occupation of Crimea. In 2016 there was an apparent lack of public support to Ukraine over the Council of Europe Resolutions on legal remedies of human rights violation in Ukraine beyond its control and on the Political consequences of the conflict.[85] 

Until now Georgia has done little domestically to remedy the plight of victims of the 2008 armed conflict. As a member of the Rome Statute since 2003 Georgia, according to the principle of complementarity, bears a primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes perpetrated during and aftermath of the armed conflict.[86] Yet in 2008 Georgian prosecutors launched two internal preliminary investigations into alleged crimes but the investigation stalled due to the inability to access the territory of South Ossetia amid the lack of cooperation from the Russian Federation and the de-facto authorities.[87] Georgia also articulated its fear that internal prosecutions could aggravate the occupying forces against witnesses.[88] In 2016, after five years of deliberation, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both parties of the conflict in August 2008.[89] The Office of the Prosecution (OPT) decided that ‘’obstacles and delays’’ hampered investigations in both countries and that an ICC investigation was necessary after Georgia has suspended its internal investigation.[90]

Amid calls from civil society, in 2018 Georgia finally launched inter-state complaint in the ECtHR to challenge Russia for its routine administrative practice of harassment, torture and killing of individuals attempting to cross, or living alongside, the ABLs of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[91] The complaints claimed Russia’s responsibility for Tatunashvili’s killing and alleged that Russia failed to conduct an investigation into the unlawful arrests and murders of Davit Basharuli, Giga Otkhozoria and Archil Tatunashvili.[92] Russia also faces an individual complaint for the unlawful killings of Otkhozoria[93]and Tatunashvili.[94] In its communication, Russia denied responsibility and argued that it does not hold effective control over the territory.[95] Nevertheless, it promises to be an unprecedented case as the ECtHR must deliberate on whether Russia had effective control of Abkhazia and whether actions of the de facto Abkhaz authorities are attributable to Russia.


There are some things that Georgia can do to mitigate the effects of ‘borderisation’. The first of these is to keep the ‘borderisation’ issue and the refusal by Russia and the de facto authorities, to allow EUMM access to South Ossetia on the international agenda. Georgia should ensure these issues are grouped with the Russian intervention in Ukraine wherever possible, to highlight how Russia is intimidating its neighbours in violation of international law. On a national level, it is important that ‘borderisation’ is studied in a systematic and coordinated manner so that there is a unified state strategy served to mitigate the effects of ‘borderisation’. Georgia has to restart internal investigations if it is to meet its pledge to the ICC and fulfil the State obligation to substantiate Russia’s illegal actions over the armed conflict. It also has to open other non-conventional communications’ corridors alongside the existing formats to boost communication on human rights issues. 

Furthermore, local municipalities should inform locals on existing dangers from the occupying forces, introduce police posts where population feels especially vulnerable, and inform locals on how to avoid arbitrary detention and what to do in case of an arrest. Finally, Georgian authorities should develop economic projects to generate income for poverty stricken communities across the ABLs and should improve an infrastructure including housing, water and irrigation issues on a legislative and practical basis.

Photo by Jelger Groenwveld. No modifications were made. Creative commons licence,

[1] The author would like to thank Ucha Nanuashvili, the former Public Defender and now a Director of a project at the Human Rights Centre ( for their advice and support in the development of this essay.

[2] Borderisation includes the establishment of physical infrastructure to force commuters use special ‘controlled crossing points’; surveillance and patrolling by either Russian border guards or security actors from the breakaway republics to oversee compliance with the  established ‘rules’ (3) a crossing regime requiring commuters to have specific documents and only use ‘official’ crossing points. EUMM Bulletin, Issue no 7, December, 2018.

[3] Human Rights Centre (HRIDC). Zone of Barbered Wires. Human Rights Violations along the dividing lines of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (2019).

[4] Independent International fact- finding mission of the Conflict in Georgia. Official journal of the European Union. 3/12/2008.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Agreement was signed with the de facto South Ossetia in 2014 and with de facto Abkhazia in 2015.The agreement covered four main priorities: establishing a coordinated foreign policy and “common defense and security space” (including a “Combined Group of Forces”); creating a common social and economic space; enhanced Abkhaz participation in Russian-led regional integration initiatives (including an Abkhaz commitment to harmonize its de facto customs regime with the Eurasian Economic Union). K. Kakachia et al. 2017. Mitigating Russia’s borderisation of Georgia: A strategy to contain and engage. Georgia: Georgian Institute of Politics.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Interview with the EUMM staff in June 2019.

[9] See e.g. M. Joiev, The representative of the President of the South Ossetia de facto authorities on post conflict issue. Radio Tavisufleba. ‘’Why are fences  erected- is it a ‘state border’ or a barrier for local residents.’’, August 2019,რისთვის-შენდება-ღობეები---სახელმწიფო-საზღვარი-თუ-ბარიერები-მოქალაქეებისთვის-/30125635.html

[10] Radio Tavisufleba, ‘’Why are fences  erected- is it a ‘state border’ or a barrier for local residents.’’, August 2019,რისთვის-შენდება-ღობეები---სახელმწიფო-საზღვარი-თუ-ბარიერები-მოქალაქეებისთვის-/30125635.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] K. Kakachia et al. 2017. Mitigating Russia’s borderisation of Georgia: A strategy to contain and engage. Georgia: Georgian Institute of Politics.

[13] EUMM website,, 2018

[14] Ibid.

[15] The EUMM Monitor, Issue No 7, October 2018,

[16] As described by one of the villagers affected by the ‘borderisation’ in Human Rights Centre report. 2019

[17] Special Report of the Public Defender of Georgia (PDO) on the Rights of Conflict Affected Population,, 2017.

[18] Congress of Local and Regional Authority - Georgia, Council of Europe,

[19] Special Report of the Public Defender of Georgia on the Rights of the Conflict Affected Population. 2015. In 2015 Russian border guards barred two Georgian residents from cultivating their land.

[20] Special Report of the Public Defender of Georgia on Human Rights of Conflict Affected Communities Human Rights Situation of Residents of Villages along the Dividing Line in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti. 2016. Otkozoria was refused to cross over the bridge and was later shot by an Abkhaz border guard who caught up with him on a Georgian controlled territory.

[21] Archil Tatunashvili, native of Akhalgori Municipality in Tskhinvali Region, was arrested with local authorities accusing him of ‘genocide against South Ossetians’, ties with the Georgian security agencies, and ‘preparing new acts of sabotage on the territory of the republic shortly before the election of the President of Russia.’ He was severely tortured and killed in custody.

[22] He was taken in custody and found dead after being missing for six months in occupied Akhalgori in 2015.

[23] Special Report of the PDO. 2016.

[24] Referred as Khurcha-Nabakaevi blog post at Zugdidi municipality.

[25] Ibid.

[26] He was forced to lay on the ground for eight hours and later to walk barefoot HRIDC.

[27]  T. Otinashvili was snatched from the back of her garden by the Russian border guards

[28] FIDH and HRIDC. 2017. Living on the edge: victims’ quest for accountability.The ongoing impact of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31]Georgian Security Service. ‘Occupied Territories’. and State Security Services, Occupied territories, 2019,

[32] Email correspondence with the staff of the Interior Minister and the Security Service in Georgia, May 2019.

[33]The Minister of Interior of Georgia. The Minister met with the residents and staff at the occupation line near Shida Kartli Municipality. 2019;

[34]Ministry of Interior of Georgia:Police officers died after a mine explosion near the administrative border line.  March 2009. Halo trust had de-mined the territories along the ABLs in 2009-2010;

[35]After these incidents patrolling cars are now armoured. Interview with the civil servants at the Ministry of Interior of Georgia.

[36] HRIDC Georgia, 2018,

[37] Interview with the representative of the Public Defender, March 2019.

[38] Ibid.

[39]Radio Tavisufleba, Residents of Gugutiantkari is to have a Police post. August 2019,

[40] Ucha Nanuashvili, Head of a project at the Human Rights Centre and the former Public Defender of Georgia; FB post when commenting on events in Gugutiantkari, 19 August 2019.

[41] Interview with the former member of the Public Defender’s office, January 2019.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Dato Kokoshvili, According to the Mayor of Gori there are three armed masked men in Khurvaleti, Netgazeti, March 2019,

[44] TV Pirveli,No incident is observed in Khurvaleti Region, March 2019,

[45] On 7 August the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have made a first announcement denouncing erecting illegal fences in Gugutiantkari village of Gori Municipality. On 16 August the MFA issued an announcement detailing all actions it had taken against the illegal process of borderisation.

[46] Russian FSB guards started erecting  illegal fences on 7 August 2019, it was suspended for a few days after it was contested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was renewed on 14 August

[47] Netgazeti Batumelebi. Silence of the Prime Minister and the President on Russia advancing the occupation line, 16 August 2019

[48] The Report on Human Rights and Protection of Freedom in Georgia, 2018,

[49] 2013-2018 Report of the Interim Government Commission on the necessities of the population living along the occupation line affected by the conflict.

[50] HRIDC. 2019. In 2017 a local resident living alongside the ABL in Abkhazia said that her husband was arrested when he was collecting woods as electricity is expensive.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Report of the Interim State Commission. 2013-2018.

[54] FIDH and HRIDC. 2017.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] PDO. 2016. As a response to respective recommendations by the PDO, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development and the State Ministry of Reconciliation and State Equality notified the Office of the Public Defender that they have already started seeking financial assistance from potential donors. This particularly affects individuals residing in Zardiaantkari, Gori municipality and village of Khurcha.


[59] The Geneva International Discussions were launched in Geneva in October 2008 to tackle the consequences of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war and Russia’s subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

[60] Interview with the EUMM staff. June 2019.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Woscap. 2017.

[63] Ibid.

[64]  Mutual cooperation helped to resolve bug problems in Abkhazia and facilitated exchange of archives between Georgia and the de fact Abkhaz authorities.

[65] The  Hotline operates 24/7, 365 days a year, supporting timely communication on different conflict related issues, such as detentions, medical crossings, access to agricultural land, installation of fences, barbed wire and ‘border’ signs along the Administrative Boundary Lines with Abkhazia and South Ossetia . IPRM meetings are co-facilitated by OSCE/UN and EUMM and are held in Ergneti and Gali, near the ABL.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Radio Free Liberty, A long meeting in Ergneti ended with accusations, May 2019,

[68] Radio Free Liberty, Meetings in Ergneti-  a tribune for protests, June 2019,

[69]  Geneva Process and Peaceful transformation to conflict, New Political reality, 2013,

[70] Email correspondence with the former Public Defender of Georgia, Ucha Nanuashvili. August 2019.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] The circumstances in which a State may be held responsible for acts in breach of the Convention occurring outside its territory were addressed and defined in the Court’s judgments such as Loizidou v Turkey, Cyprus v Turkey and  Bankovic v Belgium. It maintained that state responsibility becomes relevant where a state exercises effective overall control of a territory. Its responsibility cannot be confined to the acts of its own soldiers or officials – whether or not those acts are authorised by the high authorities of the state – “but must also be engaged by virtue of the acts of the local administration which survives by virtue of [the] military and other support.”

[76] Ilascu v. Moldova and Russia (App.48787/99), Judgment of 8 July 2004(2005) 40 EHRR 1030. paras 312-319.

[77] Ibid. para 331.

[78] General Comment No. 26: General Comment on Issues Relating to the Continuity of Obligations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, U.N. GAOR, Human Rights Comm., 61st Sess., addendum P 4, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.8/Rev.1 (Dec. 8, 1997).

[79] When discussing atrocities committed in the Bosnian war, a member of the Human Rights Committee argued that the Bosnian Serb authority that had control of a territory was bound by human rights law. This finding is supported by general Human Rights Committee jurisprudence where human rights treaties are so-called “localised treaties.” Their protection evolves with the territory of the state party and continues to protect the people living therein, “notwithstanding change in Government of the State party, including dismemberment in more than one State or State succession.” Arno Hessbruegge, Human Rights Violations arising from the conduct of non-state actors.Jan Arno Hessbruegge. Buffalo. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 21 2005.

[80] American Voice, Why did dead souls end up in Tatunashvili  Otkhozoria list?,June 2018,

[81] European Parliament, MEPs call for EU Magnitsky act to impose sanctions on human rights abusers, March 2019,

[82] PACE Resolution 2252 (2019) Sergey Magnitsy and beyond- fighting impunity by targeted sanctions.

[83] PACE Resolution 2252 (20129) Several member and observer States (including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States) have adopted legislative and other instruments to enable their governments to impose targeted sanctions on perpetrators and beneficiaries of serious human rights violations.

[84]  The Minister of Foreign Affairs responded to the criticism during the discussion off the action plan at the Georgian parliament that Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili list is made part of the Action plan which is an internal document. Q&A between Zakaliani and Bokeria at the Parliament. March 2019.

[85] See e.g. Legal remedies for human rights violations on the Ukrainian territories outside the control of the Ukrainian authorities (Doc 14139) and Political consequences of the conflict in Ukraine (DOc 14130) - both adopted in 2016.

[86] Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. Article 1, see also ‘On 27 January 2016, Pre-Trial Chamber I granted the Prosecutor's request to open an investigation proprio motu in the situation in Georgia, in relation to crimes against humanity and war crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court in the context of an international armed conflict between 1 July and 10 October 2008.

[87] The Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia (OCPG) in the course of its inquiry is reported to have interviewed over 7000 witnesses, carried out on-site investigations in over 30 affected areas as well as conducted various forensic expertise. FIDH and HRIDC. 2017.

[88] There is a difference between the Georgian (original letter) and an English translation. The Georgian authorities in their official letter said that they have temporarily suspended the investigation. Interview with the head of Article 42, Natia katsitadze, May 2019.

[89] On 27 January 2016, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to open an investigation into the 2008 conflict in Georgia, following an application made by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in October 2015.

[90] Human Rights Georgia, Ten years after the August war. Victims of the situation in Georgia, August 2019,

[91] NGOs demand lodging of an inter-state application before the ECtHR over the case of Tatunashvili, February 2018,

[92] ECtHR, Press release: New inter-state application brought by Georgia against Russia, August 2018,

[93] ECtHR, Matkava v Russia. (13255/07) Communicated, January 2018,{%22itemid%22:[%22001-189019%22]}

[94] Agenda.Ge., Georgia drafts lawsuit for Tatunashvili’s case in European Court, May 2019,

[95] In its communicated case, the ECtHR requested Russia to provide answers on unlawful killing of Otkhozoria and on effective investigation into his killing and demanded to submit case file related to the investigation.

[post_title] => Georgia’s responses to ‘borderisation’ [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => georgias-responses-to-borderisation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-16 14:32:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-16 14:32:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2699 [post_author] => 47 [post_date] => 2018-07-18 00:09:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-18 00:09:01 [post_content] => Aggression and violence towards liberal groups have risen significantly in Georgia since 2017. The rise of Neo-Nazi groups has been partly consolidated as a protest in response to the government’s migration policies and as a need to protect national identity from emerging ‘threats’. Noting the emergence of some of these groups and their likely backing from the Russian Federation, local politicians and business people are possible in some instances. However the identification of many of these group is not easy as they often belong to informal entities, which makes it equally difficult to trace their source of funding. The Georgian authorities have officially identified Russian propaganda as a threat and committed to tackle it through number of ways. The Orthodox church has officially asserted their support to Georgia’s aspiration to join the EU-Atlantic family, however, there are number of cases, when  preaching of some radical clergymen support the aggressive narrative against ‘foreign settlers’[1] or seek to justify Russian aggression.[2] Research lists a number of the most prominent ultra-right groups, their objectives, whether they have tacit backing from the Church, or whether state authorities are effective in counteracting Russian soft power, threats and identify possible ways out. Georgian March Georgian March is an informal union that comprises several ultra- right groups. The organisation came into public view in 2017 under the name of Georgian March as they galvanised a protest against the incident related to an Iranian national. Whilst a foreign national faced criminal charges, their demands were grossly political, demanding to curb immigration, expel illegal immigrants and implement a more restrictive immigration law, as well as introducing a ban on foreign funding of civil society organisations.[3] Under the aegis of Georgian March, its members launched number of offensive rallies and protests, ranging from burning down the LGBTI flag, ambushing a TV journalist for insulting religious sentiments to making rape comments and organising rallies in front of the offices of the Open Society Foundation Georgia.[4] In their bid to identify unlawful activity by foreigners, Georgian March announced completion of citizen patrols alongside with the units of the Ministry of Interior. The purpose of the patrol was to create an alternative citizen unit, an idea that did not come to fruition as it was ignored by the authorities.[5]After the incident with the TV journalist for insulting religious feelings of followers of the Orthodox Church and refusing to apologize, some members of the Georgian March ambushed his car but were later arrested. However, the current members of the Georgian Parliament, from the pro- Russian Party Alliance of Patriots acted as bail guarantors. Prominent members of the Georgian March include members of the government office and the parliament, with the most recognisable members being Sandro Bregadze, a former Deputy Minister of Diaspora Affairs known for his homophobic statements and Dimitri Lortkipanidze, a former MP and former Head of the Human Rights Committee at the Georgian Parliament. It also includes members of another pro- Russian political party, Nino Burjanaze’s Democratic Movement,[6]Guram Palavandishvili[7] a host of the ‘With Palavandishvili’ show on Palitra TV News and Zviad Tomaradze an author of controversial draft laws proposing punishment for insulting religious feelings, the prohibition of activities of civil society organisations and banning abortion.[8] A number of NGOs launched a complaint against this particular host with a demand to investigate the violation of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters on hate speech and discrimination.[9]Some members of ultra-right groups are also heads of other NGOs, created with the purpose of safeguarding national religious institutes, demographic society, national values and other related issues. These organisations that are chaired by Z. Tomaradze include the National Religious Institute, Georgia’s Demographic Society 21 and Nation and State. The chairperson of the board is Tamar Chiburadnize-Lomtadze, who at the same time is the chairperson of the board of ‘Georgian Demographic Revival Fund’. This fund, in turn, is under the patronage of businessman Levan Vasadze, a close associate of the Patriarch and critic of liberal European values. According to the report by Transparency International supporters of the Georgian Demographic State are Shio Mujiri (Patriarch’s co-regent), businessmen Lasha Papashvili, Mamuka Khazaradze, Badri Japaridze, Zaza Nishniadze, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream party Dimitri Khundadze, alongside former chairman of the Parliament’s Healthcare and Social Issues Committee and one of the founders of Palitra Media Goga Tevdorashvili. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former Prime-Minister, is believed to have provided support to the Fund.[10] Other movements linked to the Georgian March There are other movements that are either founded by the leaders of the Georgian March or are united under more or less similar values of protecting Georgian traditions, nationalism and religion. A ‘Civil Solidarity Movement’ is registered at the home address of one of the leaders of the Georgian March. Its board members include a businessman and a former prosecutor, freed from prison as a political prisoner. The purpose of the movement is to restore ‘justice’ and monitor whether promises made by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s team had been met. Its members are largely businessmen and political prisoners who suffered damages during the United National Movement rule. Another socio-political movement known as Georgian Mission called for the respect to citizens of all ethnic backgrounds and called upon everyone to work together towards united and strong state. One of the individuals who showed up and gave speech at a Georgian Mission rally in 2016 is a current member of the board of the Public Broadcaster.[11] The ‘’Georgian Idea’’ is another unit, who actively participated in promoting a protest of organised by Georgian March in July 2017. In 2015 it was registered as a political party that organised a press conference in international press centre of Russian news agency RIA Novosti in Tbilisi. The political party ran for the 2016 Parliamentary elections. The party list submitted to the Central Electoral Committee listed Sandro (Aleksandre) Bregadze as a candidate for the majoritarian election. The Georgian National Unity Georgian National Unity was established in 2016 with a view to carry out ‘peaceful and united policy, and protect Georgian mentality and its values’.[12] According to the Public Registry, they have a Chairman and a Royal Chancellor. Georgian National Unity vowed to protect Georgian traditions and respect foreign nationals, as long as, they do not insult the Georgian worldview. He does not explain what the Georgian worldview means but it is mainly related to Georgian traditional values and conservatism.  It also falls short of the European liberal views. The leader of National Unity in an interview with the press spoke with pride about being called a ‘Nazi’, organisation members wear arm bands similar to the Nazi swastika, and they greet each other with Nazi salutes. The organisation rules its members have to adhere to, including tough physical test and a ban on marrying anyone non-white. The leader also claimed that its members have a license to carry weapons. He admitted that during protests, they rely on the help of their ‘striker squads’ to ensure order during protests.[13]The leader of the party studied towards his master degree in International relations in Belarus and was later refused an internship at the Ministry of Foreign affairs.[14] It has to be noted that a similar Russia-based organisation called the Russian National Unity had been an active supporter of the Russian government and took part in armed conflict in Chechnya in 1994 and then in Donetsk in Ukraine.[15] May 2018 On 11-13 May of 2018 Georgian special forces and law enforcement agents raided Tbilisi night clubs on the stated grounds of tackling drug dealing, resorting to excessive use of force. This sparked protests of clubbers and other young people, adding a demand for a more humane drug policy in Georgia. At least two ultra-right groups, Georgian National Unity and Georgian Idea, staged a counter demonstration with a demand to stop ‘LGBTI propaganda’ and a protest against ‘drug dealers’.[16]The Georgian National Unity members marched towards the protesters some wearing masks and arm bands in burgundy similar to the Nazi swastika. Its leader also threatened that they will be very “brutal” against any mistakes protesters can make-as they held church candles and announced the creation of a "national guard army to protect [the] motherland."[17]In another bid to avoid confrontation between the protesters, the police prevented these groups from approaching the Parliament building and arrested another leader who threatened the demonstrators and attempted to breach the cordon. Some cases of violence and assault have been reported as members of the groups called for breaking up the rally, while some counter-protesters managed to break through and physically assault the pro-night club protesters. According to the Public Defender's’ office the police cordon between the protesters and the neo-Nazi groups had significantly decreased the risk of escalation. Nevertheless the Minister of Interior told the peaceful protesters to disperse, since they could not guarantee their safety. In another attempt to gear up against LGBT propaganda and a so-called ‘drug dealers’, Georgian March created the ‘Agreement of National Powers’ that called for the protest rallies on 14 and 17 May. These rallies were later postponed.[18] Funding The existence of links between Russia and the funding of ultra-right groups are highly possible. One of the leaders of Georgian March, Dimitri Lortkipanidze had left the party, only to be appointed as the head of the Y.M.Primakov Georgian Russian Public Center two months later. The Center was founded in 2013 by the International Relations Institute and Gorchakov Diplomacy Support Fund in Russia. The Fund, which was established in 2012 by the order of the then President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev is believed to be one of the ways Russia is able to channel its soft power.[19]The Primakov Centre finances-free Russian language courses in Georgia and supports the development of economic, charitable, social and cultural ties. Under the aegis of Gorchakov Fund, Russian business people and journalists met with Georgian wine makers,[20]organised sports tournaments with the participation of Russian and Georgian tennis players and hosted Russian art academy students in Georgia. It also aims to create a favourable public opinion on Russia abroad. In its recent statements, the spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned that the Georgian-Russian relationship has increased significantly, air-plane flights have been resumed and restrictions on visas had been removed. The spokesperson also mentioned improved contact in the sphere of public, cultural and scientific ties. Moreover the appointment of one of the leaders of the Georgian March as a head of the Primakov Fund suggested that the increase of Neo-Nazi activities may fall within the interests of Russia.[21] Role of the Orthodox Church Georgian Orthodox church enjoyed great trust from public and has unequivocal support from the Georgian state authorities too. It has a constitutional recognition of the “Special role of the Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia in the history of Georgia”[22]and its relationship with the state is governed by the 2002 Concordat marking a separation between the Church and the State. According to the 2017 survey of the Public Opinion, the church enjoys 84% of approval from the population.[23] However, as suggested by the Kremlin Influence index 2017[24] that measures Russia’s influence of the information on the state, propaganda is often channelled through Georgian Orthodox Church and is evident in cases of anti-western propaganda.[25]The Patriarch of Orthodox Church Ilia II repeatedly confirmed its support for Georgia’s integration into the European Union and NATO. The Church however, leads isolationist policies towards the Western Christian organisations where in separate cases, its anti-Western statements of its clergy suggested indirect influence of the Russian Church.[26]In addition, the ‘traditionalism, conservatism, national values and the idea of unity’ greatly valued by the ultra-right groups are largely propagated by the Church.[27]In the most recent move, the Georgian Orthodox Church decided to dispatch a priest from the Russian church with a view to serve the Russian parish in Georgia. This information had been agreed by the Russian synod with the Georgian Church. In an apparent bid to step up the response against anti-western propaganda, the EU and NATO information centre organised a high level meeting of the Orthodox Church representatives in Brussels in 2017.[28]The EU Global Strategy document marked the event to be successful and thought it to be a good example that helped a shift towards more positive public attitudes about the EU and its values.[29] On the ground, however, it did not necessarily stop other clergymen from delivering messages in support of the aggressive Russian narratives. On 13 May 2018, in an ill formed attempt to de-escalate tense confrontation between two groups of protesters, the Patriarchate claimed that youth protesters had brought a “negative vibe” which had in turn provided the grounds for the counter-protest.[30]Through this statement, the Patriarchate had chosen to take sides and justify the violence perpetrated by right wing groups. Recognition of Russian soft power and its responses. In 2016 Georgia had reaffirmed its aspiration towards joining the Euro-Atlantic family through a unanimously adopted resolution by the Georgian Parliament. It further stated that it will continue a rational and principled policy towards Russia, to mitigate the foreign policy threat with a view to maintain ‘stability in the region’.[31]The Georgian authorities first mentioned Russian propaganda in political documents in the beginning of 2017. As a result of long lobbying on the part of civil society, the Georgian government approved a document naming the propaganda as a threat to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and the strengthening pro-Russian and anti-Western forces.[32]It also mentioned that ‘soft power’ aimed at weakening state institutions including the Ministry of Defence. In relation to EU and NATO integration policy, the document aimed at adopting messages after a detailed review of opinion polls analysis of target groups, principle misperceptions and information gaps in society. Its annual report on activities produced to address these objectives. However, it was criticised by the coalition for Euro- Atlantic Partnership on issues of strategic communication around Georgia’s aspirations for membership of the EU and NATO. The coalition found the action plan failed to respond to ‘hybrid challenges, including the information warfare’ and found it be incoherent. It also dubbed the activities conducted ranging from ‘waste management training’ to ‘tree planting events’ and ‘hour of garden birds’ to be missing the main target. It then offered its readiness to cooperate with the authorities and highlighted the need to establish mechanisms for strategic communication and enhancing the political will to make it work.[33] The National Cyber Security Strategy of Georgia for 2017-2018 named cyberattacks and cyber-crimes organised by the Russian Federation as a major threat. The documents also stated that Russia’s actions aimed to hinder Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structure and identified a need for further legislative changes and enhanced international cooperation to tackle Russian cyber-attacks.[34] Yet, another report from the State Security services, for the first time, cited threats stemming from the foreign intelligence services-as they attempted to stir up anti-Western sentiment in the Georgian society, damaging Georgia’s image as a reliable partner.[35]Alongside this document, in 2014 Georgia supported the Council of Europe Resolution on counteracting neo-Nazism and right wing extremism. It recognised a sophisticated nature of the past symbols and structures ‘including party logos reminiscent of swastika’ and highlighted a need of an early intervention including manifestation of neo- Nazism, disrespectful of their violent or nonviolent nature.[36] Prior to this Georgia adopted a Freedom Charter law banning totalitarian and Nazi symbols and propaganda. The law, however, does not specifically define these symbols, lacks an effective enforcement mechanism, and has an inefficient commission responsible for identifying these symbols, making it cumbersome. Nevertheless, the authorities have not been prompt in mitigating threats by the Neo-Nazi march using hate speech in central Tbilisi. The Prime Minister later mentioned that the law is not effective in fighting against neo-Nazi groups but according to the Minister of Interior, it did not hinder authorities to react on the breaches perpetrated by the members of the counter rally.[37]The National Ombudsman identified number of alleged criminal law violations committed by the counter protestors and urged the authorities to conduct an effective investigation into these violations. The members of the counter-protest were charged under the Code of Administrative Offences on hooliganism and disobedience to the police and were subsequently fined.[38]There has been no information on criminal charges, except for one charge officially stated on the site of the Ministry of Interior.[39] The Ministry of Interior stated that that there were criminal investigations underway on members of the counter-rally. Finally, the removal by bus of peaceful protesters to protect them from the counter rally by the Georgian authorities was met with some discontent. A leader of the civil society organisation[40] and a political party-agreed on the opinion that the authorities gave similar responses to both groups. This was previously echoed by the European Court of Human Rights in its 2015 decision against Georgia, where it stated that the right to counter-demonstrate cannot ‘‘extend to inhibiting the exercise of the right to demonstrate.’’ The whole situation has echoes of a similar incident of 2012, where Georgian authorities removed the members of the flash mob on the International Day against Homophobia to protect them against the threats from the counter rally. On this occasion, the ECtHR held that members had a right to hold a demonstration without having to ‘‘fear that they will be subjected to physical violence by their opponents’’ or facing repercussions for holding opinions on ‘highly controversial issues affecting the community’.[41] Finally, Georgia in 2014 signed a European Association Agreement with the European Union and took a commitment to enhance rule of law and good governance. A 2017 joint communique initiated by Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova on rethinking Eastern Partnership highlighted a need to increase efforts for stronger resilience towards Russian hybrid challenges and threats. The joint Communique then thought to hold special hearing in EU Parliament on hybrid challenges and acts of aggression by Russia and increase individual resilience through more robust democratic reforms and vibrant societies and credible state institutions.[42] Ways forward This essay shows that Georgia has been effective in identifying threats posed by the Russian propaganda. Its responses, however, have not been effective or proficient. Georgia needs to make the communication strategy and its activities under its action plan more consistent and well-coordinated between cross sectoral agencies. It also showed that some strategies contained a more detailed vision on how to address these challenges including improved legislative framework and a better international co-operation. Further analysis showed that Russian meddling can be seen within some ultra-right groups, whilst there is no direct link with others. To this end, it is important for the State to identify these organisations, inform the general public about its threats and tackle the myths on ‘threats to identity and a statehood’ through clearly communicated counter narratives. As shown, civil society in Georgia has been active in advising a government on strategic communication. Establishment of a Coalition for Euro-Atlantic Georgia by leading NGOs is thought to be a good example. The Georgian authorities, however, need to show more openness towards cooperation, making its interaction more substantial and consistent. This essay further identified a need to amend the law for it to tackle the challenges of neo Nazi groups. On a more general level, Georgia needs to follow its obligations under the PACE resolution on raising awareness through education at an early age. It needs to provide cross- sectoral strategies to prevent and combat neo-Nazi ideology with a view to reduce breeding grounds for its ideology. About the author: Mariam has worked as a researcher with Democracy Reporting International on polarization and populism in Georgia. Prior to this she researched issues related to ill treatment and discrimination in prisons and health care settings taking cases before regional human rights courts. During her work as a strategic litigation lawyer in Georgia, she reviewed cases related to violations occurring during and after the Georgian-Russian armed conflict. Mariam holds an LLM in international Human Rights Law from University of Essex and an MA in Political Science from Central European University. She was greatly assisted by Mamuka Andguladze from Transparency International Georgia. [1]Father Teodore explaining why it is not ‘good’ to have foreign settlers in Georgia. [2]As an example, The Kremlin influence index 2017 cited a newspaper article in one of church editions in which Ruis Urbnisi metropolitan, episcope Iobi assessed Russian bombs during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war as punishment sent from heaven. Experts noted that “separate religious servant are distinguished for their aggressive obedience to narratives of the Russian Orthodox Church.” [3] Imedi News, Who are members of the protest and what are their demands?. July 2017. See also, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. International Religious Freedom Report for 2017,’/religiousfreedom/index.htm?year=]=]2017&dlid=280908#wrapper [4] Transparency International, Anatomy of Georgian Neo-Nazism, May 2018., May2018. [5] Ibid. [6] A former member of the Party: Burjanadze-Democrats. [7] His narratives contained included homophobic and xenophobic expressions. Non-governmental organizations addressed self-regulation body of the Palitra News with a complaint. The Georgian National Communications Commission ruled that there was a violation of the independence principle, use of hate speech and discrimination. [8] Transparency International (2018) [9] No to Phobia. [10] Transparency International (2018) [11]Transparency International (2018) [12]Tbiliselebi. How females are accepted as members in the fascist organizations and who they are allowed to fall in love with, June 2018, [13] Ibid. [14]Studio ‘Obiseqtivi’. Announcement of the leader of the Georgian National Unity, Zaza Chelidze, 2017, [15]Anticor„Священной войны за Новороссию  (Holy war for New Russia), August 2017, [16]Radio Free Liberty, Tbilisi rally continues after protestors dismantle camps, May 2018, [17]Ibid. [18]Transparency International (2018) [19]Transparency International (2018). [20]Russian Journalists and Businessmen are meeting Georgian Wine Makers. [21]Transparency International (2018) [22]Article 9. Constitution of Georgia. [23]Georgia Today: IRI Survey: Dissatisfaction with National Institutions Increases in Georgia, May 2018, [24]Via Tabula, Kremlin Influence index-measures the ability of the Russian government to influence the information of other countries, 2017, [25]Ibid. [26]Ibid [27]Ibid. [28]The visit of the representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Brussels. 2017. [29] EU Global strategy Report: A year of action to address ‘predictable unpredictability’, (p.16) [30]The Statement of the Patriarchate of Georgia, May 2018, [31]Resolution of the Parliament of Georgia on the Foreign Policy of Georgia Georgian Parliament.  Para 7. , 2016, [32]Office of the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. Communication Strategy on Georgia’s Membership to the EU and NATO for 2017-2020, April 2017, [33]Coalition for Euro-Atlantic Georgia offers partnership to government on issues of strategic communication about Georgia’s membership to the EU and NATO, 2018, [34] Government of Georgia, National Cyber Security Strategy of Georgia for 2017-2018, January 2017, [35]The Security Service of Georgia. 2018. The Report of the State Security Service of Georgia., 2017, [36] Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Counteraction to manifestations of neo-Nazism and right-wing extremism. The European Convention on Human Rights in Vrona versus Hungary, it stated that participants of the political party that worn armbands quite similar to those of offers of the Arrow cross (responsible for the reign of terror in Hungary in 1944/45). It took the view that marches with participants that were dressed in this way were objectively capable of wounding “historical sensitivities” and also the according to the court, the verbal and visual demonstration  of power alone amounted to an infringement of then Hungarian law, in the light of historical experience. [37]Netgazeti: GakhaL The law to fight against neo-Nazi groups are not at all effective, May 2018, http://netgazeti.gnews/278310/, [38]Netgazeti: Members of the counter rally were fined by 400 to 500 lari, May 2018, [39]The Ministry of Interior started an investigation into the alleged threat charges made by a member of the Georgian National Unity, May 2018, [40] Interview with Giorgi Mshvenieradze, Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI) and Tamar Kordzaia, former MP and a Political Secretary of the Republican Party July 2018. [41] Identoba and Others v. Georgia (application no. 73235/12), [42]Joint Communiqué Strategic Rethinking of the Eastern Partnership, 2017, [post_title] => Rise of the illiberal civil society in Georgia and its organisation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => rise-of-the-illiberal-civil-society-in-georgia-and-its-organisation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 15:40:54 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 15:40:54 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )

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