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Anti-Discrimination Bill Adopted
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 2 May.'14 / 18:12

(UPDATE: initial voting result was revised as electronic voting system malfunctioned, showing wrongly that one MP was against; initial result also failed to record several votes in favor; revised result showed that the bill was passed unanimously)

Parliament adopted with 115 votes to 0 with its third and final reading anti-discrimination bill on May 2.

According to legislation on “Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination” it 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, expression, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, and “other grounds”.

The bill will go into force after it is signed by President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who has also voiced his support to the legislation.

Human rights organization were criticizing the bill for being a significantly watered down version of the draft originally developed by the Ministry of Justice as it no longer envisaged efficient implementation mechanisms, including financial penalties for perpetrators.

The major opposition came from the Georgian Orthodox Church, which was insisting on removing of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the bill; Church’s opposition culminated in heated debates at human rights committee session in the Parliament on April 29 during which Orthodox clerics warned GD lawmakers of political consequences for not heeding Patriarchate’s calls.

Street rallies were also held outside the Parliament in Kutaisi, as well as in Tbilisi, by Orthodox groups led by priests. Scale of those protests were much smaller compared to huge rallies, which the Georgian Orthodox Church staged in 2011, when it was strongly opposing adoption of the law on legal status of religious minority groups – the legislation was adopted at the time despite the protest.

There were few dissenting voices within the Church; one of them, archpriest from Zugdidi, Ilarion Shengelia, wrote on his Facebook on April 30 that he had read the bill “but could not find anything tragic or anti-Christian” in it. “The Church has always been against violence, injustice and discrimination,” he wrote.

While rejected calls for removing “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the bill, in an attempt to soothe Church’s concerns GD parliamentary majority made number of changes in the legislation when it was discussed with the second hearing, including by introducing wording “public moral” in the bill. 

In the political spectrum, a coalition of several non-parliamentary opposition parties, led by former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze, was the most vocal in criticizing the bill. Criticism of the bill from politicians of this coalition, among them of Tbilisi mayoral candidate in the June 15 local elections Dimitri Lortkipanidze, was mainly echoing those voiced by the Georgian Orthodox Church.

UNM parliamentary minority group voted for the bill, but echoing concerns of human rights organizations, UNM lawmakers also expressed regret that the bill was not providing enough mechanisms to make it an efficient tool in fight against discrimination.

According to the legislation Public Defender’s Office (PDO) will be in charge of overseeing anti-discrimination measures. Complaints about alleged cases of discrimination should be filed to PDO. The latter will also have the right to look into reported cases on its own initiative without waiting for a formal complaint to be filed.

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, PDO can then take the case to court.

A victim of discrimination, according to the legislation, will have the right to seek remedies in court that, among others, may also include pecuniary and non-pecuniary compensation.

But human rights and legal advocacy organizations say 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 damages, as the practice shows, is too complicated. Human rights groups were insisting on introduction of financial penalties for violators of this law, but the proposal was rejected by the government and GD parliamentary majority group.

Adoption of the anti-discrimination law was one of those requirements, which Georgia has undertaken under its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan in order to be granted short-term visa-free regime by the EU.

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