Constitutional Amendments Unjustifiably Restrict Freedom of Religion and Belief
Today, on September 26, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the amendments to the Constitution with the third (final) reading. TDI, alongside with other human rights organizations, Lawyers and considerable number of religious organizations, is particularly concerned about the amendments by which the state is restricting freedom of religion and belief by unforeseeable grounds, thus contradicting Georgia's legally binding international human rights obligations. In parallel, the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia Irakli Kobakhidze makes misleading comments about these amendments (see below).
The acting wording of the Constitution of Georgia allows restrictions of manifestations of freedom of conscience, religion and belief only if these manifestations violate the rights of others. Before the first reading of the constitutional amendments, in its 19 June official document the Venice Commission recommended to the state (para. 68) to add other legitimate aims of restriction of freedom of religion and belief, in accordance with Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as, in the Commission’s view, in order to achieve an adequate balance between the protection of the right and competitive interests, the scope of this right will be interpreted too narrowly or the restriction ground “violation of the rights of others” will be interpreted too broadly.
However, Georgian parliament, contrary to the Venice Commission’s opinion, added such criteria for intervention in FoRB - national security, prevention of crime, administration of justice - that are not allowed by ECHR, ICCPR and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
In its second opinion, sent to the Georgian Government on 22 September, the Venice Commission underlined, that national security, prevention of crime, administration of justice are not legitimate aims for the restriction of freedom of religion and belief (para. 39): “Following another recommendation on extending legitimate aims of restriction of freedom of belief and conscience to those provided for example in paragraph 2 of Article 9 ECHR, a number of new legitimate aims have been added to draft Article 16 (3),namely national security and public safety necessary for the existence of a democratic society, preventing crime, administering justice or protecting the rights of others. National security or administering justice are not legitimate aims in the sense of paragraph 2 of Article 9 ECHR, which is to be strictly interpreted, meaning that the legitimate aims in the second paragraph of Article 9 ECHR may not be extended by way of interpretation to other notions. Concerning specifically the national security issue, in its case of Nolan and K. v. Russia, the European Court of Human Rights considered that the State cannot use the need to protect national security as the sole basis for restricting the exercise of the right of a person or a group of persons to manifest their religion”.
Despite the critical opinion of the Venice Commission, human rights organizations and religious communities, on 25 September the Chairman of the Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze commented on these amendments stating, that the Parliament will still adopt draft Article 16 of the Constitution.
It is especially alarming that Kobakhidze is disseminating misleading information as if the parliament added new legitimate aims for the restriction of FoRB based on the Venice Commission’s recommendation. Chairman of the Parliament also responds to the critical opinion of the human rights organizations and lawyers: “we can have discussion with these organizations and if they can assure us to ignore state security and, in particular cases, to give privilege to freedom of belief, then we can make amendments in the constitution. However they have to prove it”.
TDI considers Irakli Kobakhidze’s statement is aimed at misleading the society and manipulating with the idea of “national security”.
We believe that by restricting the fundamental right – freedom of religion and belief – with vague and unjustified criteria, the State creates an obstacle to Georgia’s democratic development and significantly deteriorates human rights standard in the country.
On this topic see also:
25 September statement of civil society organizations and lawyers: http://tdi.ge/en/statement/statement-limitation-freedom-religion-constitution
2 August statement of civil society organizations and lawyers: http://tdi.ge/en/statement/address-civil-society-organizations-and-lawyers-limitation-freedom-religion-draft
Statement of the Council of Religions under the Ombudsman of Georgia: http://www.ombudsman.ge/en/news/council-of-religions-address-to-the-parliament-of-georgia.page
Forum 18’s article “GEORGIA: Constitutional changes to impose impermissible freedom restrictions?” http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2316
First opinion of the Venice Commission, paragraph 68: http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2017)013-e
Second opinion of the Venice Commission, paragraph 39: http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-PI(2017)006-e
Statement of the Chairman of Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze: http://1tv.ge/ge/news/view/180734.html