Government has submitted to the Parliament draft of anti-discrimination legislation.
Adoption of this legislation is one of those requirements, which Georgia has undertaken to meet under its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan in order to be granted short-term visa-free regime by the EU.
Draft “Law on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination” provides for protection against discrimination on the grounds of race, color, language, gender, age, citizenship, native identity, birth, place of residence, property, social status, religion, ethnic affiliation, profession, family status, health condition, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, political or other beliefs.
Tbilisi-based legal advocacy and watchdog Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said that the government-proposed bill is watered down version of an original document drafted by the Ministry of Justice with active involvement of broad range of civil society groups.
GYLA said that compared to initial draft the proposed one no longer envisages efficient implementation mechanisms, as well as financial penalties for those responsible for cases of discrimination.
According to the bill Public Defender’s Office (PDO) will be in charge of overseeing anti-discrimination measures.
Initial version envisaged setting up of a new institution – inspector for protection of equality, specifically for the purpose of overseeing implementation of anti-discrimination legislation.
GYLA said that this function will now fall under the competence of the Public Defender’s Office, but the proposal does not provide for empowering ombudsman’s office with relevant means to efficiently tackle the task.
According to an explanatory note accompanying the bill, adoption of this anti-discrimination legislation will not result into increase of state budget expenses. GYLA says that broadening of PDO’s authority to also cover anti-discrimination measures will require recruitment of additional staff, which automatically should result into additional expenses.
Complaints about alleged cases of discrimination should be filed to PDO, according to the bill. PDO will also have the right to look into reported cases on its own initiative without waiting for a formal complaint to be filed.
According to the bill, PDO should at first mediate between the parties involved in order to try to reach an out-of-court settlement; if the attempt yields no result, PDO will then send a “recommendation” to an entity or a person to address a problem related to discrimination; if this recommendation is left unheeded, according to the bill, PDO can then take the case to court.
A victim of discrimination, according to the proposed package of bills, will have the right to seek remedies in court that, among others, may also include pecuniary and non-pecuniary compensation.
But GYLA says that this measure is far from being efficient as in practice it actually means that “in most of the cases” perpetrators can get away without any financial penalty because on the one hand instance of discrimination usually incurs no financial damage and seeking for compensation for moral damage, as the practice shows, is too complicated.
Unlike the proposed draft, the initial one envisaged financial penalties for violators of the anti-discrimination law. Removing this provision from the proposed draft is of “special concern”, GYLA said, adding that although imposing fine should not be a goal in itself, but this measure represents an efficient preventive mechanism.
“Explanatory note says that purpose of adoption of this draft is inefficiency of existing anti-discrimination legislation. According to the bill proposed by the government, Public Defender will address a recommendation to an entity or an individual to restore rights of a victim of discrimination. Existing legislation already empowers Public Defender with almost identical authority. Hence, the proposed bill mostly replicates mechanisms, which already exist and which are deemed inefficient by the explanatory note of the bill,” GYLA said.
Government endorsed the bill for sending it to the Parliament for approval on March 28. On the same day, PM Irakli Garibashvili called on the state constitutional commission, which is now working on drafting broader constitutional amendments, to consider defining marriage in the constitution as a “union of man and woman.”
The PM said that such a provision in the constitution is needed in order to avoid “speculation” and “wrong interpretation” of the planned anti-discrimination legislation, which provides protection against discrimination on the ground of, among others, sexual orientation.
The Georgian constitution currently reads: “Marriage shall be based upon equality of rights and free will of spouses.” Same-sex marriage is already banned in Georgia’s civil code, which defines marriage as “voluntary union of man and woman.”