ODIHR and Venice Commission strongly recommend Georgian authorities  reconsider legislation impacting civil society, international human rights

ODIHR and Venice Commission strongly recommend Georgian authorities  reconsider legislation impacting civil society, international human rights

During a visit to Georgia today, Matteo Mecacci, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), highlighted his deep concern about the draft law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” and stressed ODIHR’s readiness to support Georgia in providing legislative assistance and expertise.

“The work of civil society is a cornerstone of any democracy, and the right to freedom of association underpins a vast range of other human rights,” he said. “Any new requirements on civil society organizations, including independent citizen election observers, must be justifiable from a human rights perspective. Blanket legislation that labels all civil society organisations receiving financial support from abroad as representing the interests of foreign powers undermines the right to freedom of association.”

During his visit, Director Mecacci held meetings with President Salome Zourabichvili, Parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, and Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili, as well as parliamentarians from the ruling party and the opposition. He also met representatives of civil society, who expressed their grave concern about the proposed law and the overall environment in which they are working. He repeated ODIHR’s readiness to work with the authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that freedom of association is respected and the work of civil society is neither limited nor stigmatized. Additionally, he mentioned that ODIHR is currently working on a legal analysis of the draft law at the request of two parliamentary committee deputy heads, and offered further discussion at expert level once it is published.

In all his meetings, Director Mecacci also emphasized the importance of upholding the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and expressed his concern about the excessive use of force by police against peaceful demonstrators recently as well as reports of intimidation.

All 57 states of the OSCE have committed to ensuring that everyone is able to exercise the right to association, including the right to form, join and participate effectively in non-governmental organizations that seek the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In turn the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in an urgent opinion published on 21 May strongly recommends repealing the Law of Georgia on Transparency of Foreign Influence in its current form, as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination.

Following a request of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, the Venice Commission has assessed the law through its urgent procedure. It regrets that the Georgian parliament did not wait for its opinion before adopting the law, despite calls by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly and by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

The opinion analyses the law’s compatibility with applicable international and European standards. It concludes that the restrictions set by the law to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and privacy are incompatible with the strict test set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as they do not meet the requirements of legality, legitimacy, necessity in a democratic society and proportionality, as well as with the principle of non-discrimination.

The Law, under the alleged aim of ensuring transparency, has the objective effect of risking the stigmatizing, silencing and eventually elimination of associations and media which receive even a low part of their funds from abroad. A strong risk is created that the associations and media which come to be affected will be those who are critical of the government, so that their removal would adversely affect open, informed public debate, pluralism, and democracy.

The Venice Commission strongly recommends that the Georgian authorities abandon the special regime of registration, reporting and public disclosure requirements for civil society organisations, online media and broadcasters receiving foreign support, including administrative sanctions. While existing Georgian legislation already contains provisions requiring organisations concerned by the law to register and report, including on their sources of funding, no convincing explanation has been given on why the existing obligations would be insufficient for the purpose of ensuring transparency.

In case the existing provisions proved insufficient, the Georgian authorities should consider amending the existing laws in compliance with European and international standards. In particular, genuine representation (lobbying) activities on behalf of foreign countries could be regulated in line with European standards, should the current legislation prove inadequate.

The Venice Commission moreover regrets that this Law, which is human-rights sensitive but is also highly controversial in Georgian society, as is demonstrated by the massive reactions in the country, was adopted in a procedure which left no space for genuine discussion and meaningful consultation, in open disregard for the concerns of large parts of the Georgian people. This manner of proceeding does not meet the European requirements of democratic law-making, the Venice Commission concludes.


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