Tolerance and Diversity Institute

Platform “No to Phobia!” about discriminatory legislative initiatives

We would like to express our opinion with regard to several initiatives submitted to the Parliament of Georgia and the comments of the MPs over the draft laws. It is alarming that not only the initiatives are discriminative, but their authors are the chairpersons of the parliamentary committees. 

The Organic Law of Georgia about the Ownership of the Agricultural Plots offers the new regulation for the property right on agricultural lands. The draft law is based on the provision in the new edition of the Constitution of Georgia, which states that foreign citizens may own the agricultural plots only in exceptional cases, which shall be regulated by the organic law. It is noteworthy that the bill includes discriminative provisions, which are based on xenophobic motives. Namely, the draft-law determines very narrow circle of aliens who may own the land (in case of physical persons, they may only inherit the land, while in case of legal entities, they may own the land only if the majority of the owners are not foreign citizens), alongside with concrete obligations how to use the land. If the obligations are not enforced, respective sanctions will be imposed and the owner will lose the property. Similar obligations and responsibilities are envisaged only for foreign owners, although the threats of irrational use of the land may be observed regardless the nationality of the land owner. The Platform member organizations will present their remarks and opinions about the bill to the Parliament of Georgia in near future. 

The author of the bill made discriminative statement with regard to the draft law. Otar Danelia, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agricultural Issues further narrowed the cases when foreign individual may inherit the land in Georgia and stated that it may happen only in case of ethnic Georgian people, who are citizens of foreign country. The statement of the committee chairperson has ethno-nationalist motives and contradicts the principles of modern democratic and the rule-of-law state, which does not differentiate foreigners and its citizens. Regardless the amendments in the new edition of the Constitution of Georgia, it is important to acknowledge that the states are entitled to ensure universally guaranteed rights and freedoms for foreign citizens and its citizens equally within its territory (except some cases, which are mostly related with political and social rights). The Article 4 Paragraph 2 of the Constitution of Georgia clearly determines the obligation of the state to acknowledge and defend everybody’s rights regardless citizenship: “The State acknowledges and protects universally recognized human rights and freedoms as eternal and supreme human values.” “The Constitution of Georgia does not only acknowledge the rights of its citizens but protects the rights of any individual,” the Constitutional Court of Georgia stated. 
It is particularly alarming that the committee chairman connects the fact of the Georgian citizenship with concrete ethnicity – Georgian, and in fact reinforces the stereotype, according to which only ethnic Georgian people are plenipotentiary citizens of this country. 

We are alarmed with regard to another initiative submitted to the Parliament of Georgia, which was submitted by the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee of Defense and Security Irakli Sesiashvili. He offers to annul the norm of the Law of Georgia on Military Obligations and Military Service, which allows clergies to postpone the compulsory military service. However, it shall not affect the clergies of the Orthodox Church, who enjoy this right under the Constitutional Agreement. 

On the one hand, this initiative restricts freedom of religion, and at the same time, it contradicts the principle of equality of any individual in front of the law, which prohibits unequal treatment of persons regardless any grounds. This initiative can be particularly criticized because cases of restriction of religious freedom and discrimination on religious grounds have been one of the key challenges in our society. 
The miscarriages of the practices, which were mentioned by the committee chairperson, cannot become the ground to restrict this right and justify rude interference in the constitutional rights particularly when it is necessary to determine the presence/reality of these challenges as well as its scopes. 

As for the fact that clergies of the dominant religious group – Orthodox Church enjoy this right in accordance to the Constitutional Agreement, it cannot justify the decision to seize the same right from the priests of other confessions and place them in discriminative situation. In its 2018 judgments, the Constitutional Court of Georgia stated: “Acknowledgement of the particular role of the Church is connected with its historical merit to the state and does not aim to create privileged situation for the Orthodox Christian Religion. The historical merit cannot become the source of the legitimate privileges. Differentiation and creation of lawfully advantageous conditions for the Church is not and cannot be the constitutional purpose […]. Granting some rights to the Church does not mean to deprive the same rights from other religious organizations,” the Constitutional Court ruled. 
We call on the initiators of the draft laws and the Parliament of Georgia to respect the constitutional principles and avoid adoption of the laws, which may restrict the rights of the groups of concrete individuals while there are no grounds to justify it.

At the same time, it is important that instead the discriminative initiatives, the Parliament of Georgia considered and timely eradicated inequality between the religious groups in the national legislation. 

Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Human Rights Center (HRC)
Media Development Fund (MDF)
Georgian Reform Association (GRASS)
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)