A statement of NGOs in connection with the events of May 17

We, the NGOs that have signed this statement, responding once again to the events that took place on Freedom Square and the adjacent territory on May 17, 2013, would like to turn the public’s attention to the importance of the protection of the principle of constitutional equality, the causes of such unfortunate events, and the attendant negative consequences.

First of all, as noted in the initial assessments of observer organizations, the strategy developed and measures taken by the police to ensure that the rally dedicated to the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia was held in a safe environment were inadequate. It remains a fact that the actions taken by the radically disposed group exceeded the limits of a “peaceful protest” and assumed an unlawful and violent character, which posed a danger both to public order and the lives, health, and safety of concrete persons. We believe that the state agencies should have assessed the corresponding risks adequately from the very beginning and ensured the protection of the rights of the rally participants as much as possible. The response to the violence demonstrated by the participants of the counter demonstration was also ineffective, which caused uncontrolled violence by different aggressive groups in the streets of Tbilisi, creating a fear of vulnerability in the society.

We think that it is important to ensure effective investigation into the facts of massive violence that took place on May 17 and to identify and impose appropriate punishment on all violators of law, especially the organizers. Finding four persons guilty of administrative offences and bringing charges against two members of the clergy and two citizens means that the state is taking certain steps in terms of holding the offenders responsible, though we believe that, in order to conduct an effective and complete investigation, it is important that this process continue and the public be informed about its results in a timely manner. In this respect, we welcome the statements of the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Parliament, and several politicians that the state must respond adequately to the aforementioned events.

Punishment of the offenders by the state, first of all, serves to prevent facts of violence that are common in the society, while leaving the events that took place without a response creates a danger that such massive violent behavior may assume an increasing and continuous character and be manifested in extremely severe forms. The cases of violence and assault on representatives of the LGBT community and persons with different-looking clothes prove that the aforementioned dangers are real. The rights of other minorities may also be subjected to a danger. For this very reason, it is necessary to take complex preventive measures in this direction. In the first place, the law enforcement bodies must conduct a timely and detailed investigation of the case, identify all the offenders, and hold them accountable. At the same time, with the aim of ensuring people’s safety, it is crucial that the police develop and implement a policy of responding effectively to risks of violence against LGBT persons and ensuring their safety in a timely manner.

First of all, we would like to stress that, according to the Constitution of Georgia, Georgia is a secular state in which the state government and the church are separate from and independent of each other. The state must take effective steps to ensure practical implementation of the aforementioned principle and bring the legislation and the behavior of officials in full conformity with the constitutional standards. It must make every effort to ensure that the state agencies are free from religious influences. In a secular state, the constitutional order and safeguards stand above the moral opinions of any religious group. The state must protect any person from discrimination and consider him/her as equal to others. In this context, it is worth paying attention to the assessments of those politicians who have made public statements that it is religious dogmas rather than the Georgian legislation that they consider paramount. Moreover, the homophobic statements of a number of public officials and politicians are disturbing. We believe that the latter should be held politically responsible in a corresponding manner.

It is unfortunate that a part of the media outlets themselves used hate speech when covering the aforementioned events, while a part of them served as conduits of hate speech, which contradicts the standards of media ethics. The events of May 17 have once again made us see that the civil society and the media must be more oriented to strengthening public discussion with the aim of encouraging a tolerant environment in the country.

We, the organizations that have signed this statement, share the difficulties and challenges that the state faces at this stage and express our readiness, considering our resources and mandate, to contribute to the development of a pluralist, tolerant, and human rights oriented environment in the country.

At the same time, it is necessary that the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Church take effective preventive measures to avoid violent actions by its parishioners and clergy in the future and intensify its efforts to establish values based on peace and solidarity in the society. With this statement, we call upon all the relevant state agencies to pay particular attention to ensuring the constitutional rights of participants of the demonstration under the slogan “No to Theocracy” which is planned for May 24.