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Georgia: Veneer of openness masks systematic efforts to undermine human rights defenders, UN expert warns

07 November 2023

TBILISI (7 November 2023) – The Georgian authorities must radically improve their attitude towards human rights defenders, from public statements to policies and legislative frameworks, to create a supportive environment for their legitimate work and dispel fears of increased polarisation and insecurity, a UN expert said today.

“Georgia has an extremely strong, vibrant, determined and diverse civil society that has grown over time and should be considered as part of the country’s pride,” said Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in a statement at the end of a nine-day visit.

“It is extremely important that the authorities publicly recognise the legitimate role of human rights defenders and their important contribution to a just and harmonious society,” she said.

Lawlor stressed that human rights defenders will not feel safe and protected as long as members of the Government and Parliament continue to make disparaging comments about civil society or condone such rhetoric by others, including smear campaigns on social media. “The Government should not merely ‘tolerate’ civil society, but actively promote its role and activities, including by protecting the rights to freedom of assembly, privacy and expression,” she said.

“I am very concerned about what appears to be systemic impunity for attacks and harassment against human rights defenders, including women and LGBTQI defenders, as well as unjustified surveillance,” the expert said. She noted that ensuring prompt and transparent investigations into allegations of violence against defenders was key to accountability and instrumental in preventing further attacks.

“The Georgian Government should fully live up to its international human rights obligations and commitments, and treat human rights defenders as allies, not enemies,” Lawlor said.

The Special Rapporteur will present a full report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in March 2025.

Ms. Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently Associate Professor of Business and Human Rights at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) at Trinity College Dublin Business School. In 2001 she founded Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders to focus on human rights defenders at risk. As Executive Director between 2001 and 2016, Ms. Lawlor represented Front Line Defenders and played a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors in 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Georgia

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