Statement on Limitation of Freedom of Religion in the Constitution
We urge the parliament of Georgia to consider the opinion of The Venice Commission, religious organizations, NGOs, academic institutions and lawyers not to allow restriction of freedom of religion on unjustified grounds by the third hearing of constitutional amendments.
The Parliament of Georgia added ambiguous criteria such as “state security”, “prevention of crime” and ”implementation of justice” with the second hearing on spring session of 2017. Despite the fact that The Venice Commission urged the Government with its first official opinion to state the legitimate reasons of intervention in freedom of religion according to the Human Rights International Standards, parliamentary majority still decided to interfere in rights on ambiguous and high-risk based grounds.
According to the Current Constitution of Georgia, freedom of belief, conscience and religion shall be restricted only if it violates the rights of others. Currently the draft amendments considers six justifications for interference in freedom of religion, the “state security”, “prevention of crime” and ”implementation of justice” out of which do not comply with international standards. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the majority of European Constitutions do not allow interference in freedom of religion based on such criteria.
Accordingly, the Venice Commission emphasized in its second opinion on draft constitution submitted to the Government of Georgia on September 22 that provided grounds do not represent the legitimate aims for interfering in freedom of religion and belief; legitimate aims for interfering in the sense of paragraph 2 of Article 9 ECHR require strict interpretation and may not be extended by way of interpretation to other notions. The Venice Commission referred to the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, according to which the State cannot restrict the freedom of religion on the grounds of state/national security .
Accordingly, we consider that the amendments made by the State to the draft constitution raises high risk of disproportionate interference in the freedom of belief, conscious and religion. This threat is also increased with context of state policy, as illegal restriction of freedom of religion and inadequate, ineffective response of the state to the violations are still frequent and systemic.
Signatories urge the Parliament of Georgia:
To consider recommendations of religious organizations, NGOs, academic institutions, lawyers and the Venice Commission and to amend the constitutional provision containing high risk of interfering in freedom of religion so that they comply with the legitimate aims of Article 9 of the European Convention for Human Rights.
Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Media Development Foundation (MDF)
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
Open Society - Georgia Foundation (OSGF)
UN Association of Georgia (UNAG)
Civil Development Agency (CiDA)
Partnership for Human Rights (PHR)
Georgia's Reforms Associates (GRASS)
Human Rights Center (HRIDC)
Judicial Empowerment and Legal Education Center of Ilia State University
Center for Constitutional Studies of School of Law at Ilia State University
Tbilisi Free University National Institute for Human Rights
Konstantine Kublashvili, Professor at Ilia State University, head of Judicial Empowerment and Legal Education Center at Ilia State University
David Zedelashvili, Constitutional law expert
Giorgi Meladze, Lawyer, Professor at Ilia State University
Tamar Gurchiani, Associate Professor of School of Law at Ilia State University
Levan Ramishvili, Professor of School of Law at Ilia State University
Giorgi Burjanadze, Constitutional law expert
Giorgi Chitidze, Lawyer
Mikheil Sharashidze, Lawyer
 Opinion of the Venice Commission on Draft constitution, paragraph 39, September 22, 2017 http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-PI(2017)006-e
 Statement of The Council of Religions under the Public Defender of Georgia on limitation of freedom of religion in the draft amendments to the Constitution http://www.ombudsman.ge/en/news/council-of-religions-address-to-the-parliament-of-georgia.page
 The NGOs, academic organizations and lawyers applied to the Parliament of Georgia, the President and respective International Organizations on August 2, 2017 http://tdi.ge/en/statement/address-civil-society-organizations-and-lawyers-limitation-freedom-religion-draft
 Nolan and K. v. Russia, application no. 2512/04