Georgia: The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), including office location and source of funding; relationship with the government, including treatment of its members by the police and other authorities (2010-June 2014) [GEO104904.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Background

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA), an organization that was founded in 1994 to "promote the rule of law and democratic reforms" in Georgia, indicated that the EMC was created in 2012 by several former members of GYLA, along with other young people (GYLA 17 June 2014). According to the GYLA representative, prior to 2012, people involved with EMC may have also been participants in the GYLA project "Platform for Young People," a special project created to "identify and support young active people interested in democracy" that involved organizing discussions, lectures, and events to promote "democratic ideas" (GYLA 17 June 2014). According to the GYLA representative, four employees left to participate in the creation of EMC (ibid.).

Similarly, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of EMC described the background of the organization as follows:

[the] organization was founded by the participants of a Civic Discussion Platform organizing itself during the Spring of 2012 at the office of Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) in Tbilisi. The Platform was conducting public lectures; its participants would write reflection blogs and plan civic campaigns/activities. 18 people pertaining to the group were young (20-35) professionals of different backgrounds. Its first joint civic activity took place on 26th of May [2012] when the youth organized a peaceful art performance in the city center, parallel to a military pride taking place [a] few blocks away in Tbilisi. Following the completion of the above-described project organized under GYLA the initiative group registered an independent non-governmental organization on November 28, 2012. Its first project started on 1st of May of the following year [2013]. (EMC 20 June 2014)

According to the EMC website, the EMC is a membership-based organization of human rights activists of different backgrounds (n.d.c.). The EMC "team" listed on the website is made up of 21 people, 5 of whom also worked at GYLA between 2008 and 2013 ( n.d.a). According to the EMC website, two members of the five-person advisory board of EMC are the Executive Director of Transparency International (TI) Georgia, and the Chairperson of GYLA (n.d.b.). Similarly, the GYLA representative indicated that the GYLA Chairperson is on the EMC board, however, according to the representative, GYLA does not maintain connections with EMC beyond joint projects (GYLA 17 June 2014).

According to the representative of EMC, the overall mission of the group is to "ensure the protection of human rights and to engage civil society through teaching, documenting, and advocating for human rights," through programs aimed at "promoting civic education and activism," "protecting citizens from human rights violations," researching the effectiveness of institutional systems, and providing recommendations for reform (20 June 2014).

2. Office Location and Funding

According to sources, there is one EMC office, which is located in Tbilisi (EMC 20 June 2014; GYLA 17 June 2014).

According to the representative of EMC,

EMC does not receive any funding from the Georgian government or from private donors. It receives its funding from both international and local donor organizations as well as from foreign governments, on the basis of projects. ... There has not been one source of funding that has been continuous since the establishment of EMC, although EMC has received funding from some sources multiple times for different projects .... (EMC 20 June 2014)

According to the representative of GYLA, funding for EMC comes from international agencies and foreign governments, such as the Embassy of Netherlands, Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), USAID, and the European Union (17 June 2014). According to the EMC representative, the following organizations have provided funding to the EMC:

  • Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF), 19/07/2013-19/04/2014; 12/12/2013-12/06/2014
  • Eurasia Partnership Foundation, 15/11/2013-15/05/2014
  • The East-West Management Institute's (EWMI) Policy, Advocacy, and Civil Society Development in Georgia (G-PAC), 01/05/2013-30/11/2013; 15/11/2013-15/05/2014
  • U.S. Embassy, 01/08/2013-31/07/2014; 07/15/2014 - 06/30/15
  • National Democratic Institute (NDI), 15/07/2013-15/10/2013
  • U.K. Embassy, 01/08/2013-30/01/2014
  • Human Dynamics, 15/07/2013-15/09/2013
  • Council of Europe, 10/09/2013-27/10/2013
  • Embassy of the Netherlands, 01/06/2014-30/05/2016
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), 15/05/2014-31/12/2014. (EMC 20 June 2014)

Further information on sources of EMC funding could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Relationship with the Government 2010-2012

Parliamentary elections in October 2012 brought the Georgian Dream coalition into office, united by Bidzina Ivanishvili, ending the period of "dominance" by President Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) (AI 2013; Freedom House 2014, 230), from 2004 to 2012 (ibid.). In November 2013, Giorgi Margvelashvili was elected President of Georgia, replacing the decade-long presidency of Saakashvili (BBC 5 May 2014).

According to the EMC representative, EMC "did not exist" during the Saakashvili administration [prior to November 2012] (EMC 20 June 2014). The EMC website indicates that three EMC staff members worked in Georgian government ministries, including the Ministry of Justice (2006-2009), the Public Defender's Office (2008-2010), and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (2009-2012) (EMC n.d.a).

Further information on the relationship of EMC to the government prior to 2012 could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. However, the following information may be useful.

In 2004, following the Rose Revolution, some leaders of NGOs, such as GYLA, took high level positions in the Saakashvili administration (Research Scholar 8 July 2014; Grodsky 2012, 151). The Rose Revolution was a "campaign of street protests" following flawed elections in 2003 that forced President Shevardnadze from power, and allowed Saakashvili and the United National Movement (UNM) party to take office (Freedom House 2014). Some senior members of GYLA took positions in the Justice Ministry, Prosecutor's Office, Supreme Court, and Constitutional Court (Grodsky 2012, 151). A 2012 book by Brian Grodsky [1], which is published by Stanford University Press, titled Social Movements and the New State: The Fate of Pro-Democracy Organizations When Democracy is Won, examines social movements such as the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and indicates that following the Revolution, NGOs "were expected to be 'constructive' rather than critical" of the government (Grodsky 2012, 147). However, the same source notes that the "pro-democracy NGO community had been split by the decision to engage more directly in politics" (ibid., 143). Sources report that funding for NGOs dried up or was diverted to the state after some NGO leadership was absorbed by the government (Research Scholar 8 July 2014; Freedom House 2014).

According to a research scholar at Columbia University who specializes in Georgian politics, NGOs such as GYLA retained their role as "critics" of the Saakashvili government, and by 2006-2008, GYLA and TI Georgia were "re-invigorated," and became outspoken critics of the increasingly "autocratic" Saakashvili government (Research Scholar 8 July 2014). The Research Scholar indicated that some NGO members that did not join the Saakashvili administration became active in the opposition (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources report that GYLA was among a group of 13 NGOs that raised concerns about a "smear campaign" by the government against human rights defenders in December 2009 (US 8 Apr. 2011, 64; Humanrights.ge 15 Jan. 2010). According to the GYLA representative, prior to November 2012, the government [of Saakashvili] had a "closed attitude" to NGOs and civil society, and such groups found it "difficult" to communicate and provide recommendations to the government, which was not receptive to input by NGOs "in most cases" (GYLA 17 June 2014).

4. Activities and Relationship with the Government After the November 2012 Elections

Information about the relationship of EMC to the government was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. According to the EMC representative, EMC is a "regular watchdog organization not aligning itself to any government or political party" and "has never partnered with Georgian government agencies" (EMC 20 June 2014). The same source further indicated that EMC has "involved itself in the process of initiating and monitoring current Georgian institutional reforms" (ibid.). Similarly, the GYLA representative indicated that the EMC was created to "conduct work on legal reform," among other activities (17 June 2014).

According to the GYLA representative, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary was launched in 2011 by more than 20 NGOs, including GYLA and TI Georgia; EMC later joined and is on the steering committee; this coalition has reportedly worked with the Ministry of Justice on judiciary reform and provides recommendations to the Ministry, members of Parliament, and the High Council of Justice (GYLA 17 June 2014). Other EMC activities include:

  • In November 2013, EMC was awarded a "Supporter of Tolerance" award by the Public Defender's office (Georgia 15 Nov. 2013).
  • EMC produced a report critical of the government's handling of religious conflicts since November 2012 (Democracy & Freedom Watch 23 Dec. 2013). According to a news report published by Policy, Advocacy, and Civil Society Development in Georgia (G-PAC) [2], EMC presented its findings to representatives of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, the Ombudsman, the Georgian Patriarchate, the Georgian Muslim community, and government ministries of Internal Affairs, Justice, Reintegration, Education, and Regional Development (G-PAC 21 Aug. 2013).
  • A member of the EMC [EMC n.d.a] was reportedly chosen be part of the Public Defender's group of experts who monitor the rights of individuals in penitentiaries and "closed institutions," as indicated by the website of the Ombudsman (Georgia 4 July 2013).
  • Sources report that EMC, in joint statements with NGOs such as GYLA, has been critical of the police response to an anti-homophobia rally in May 2013 (Civil.ge 17 May 2013; Agenda.ge 17 May 2014), lacking coordination to protect the rally from Orthodox activists and counter-demonstrators (Civil.ge 17 May 2013).
  • EMC issued a joint public statement with other NGOs calling on the authorities to investigate an attack against a UNM lawmaker known as a "fierce critic" of the government (Civil.ge 31 Mar. 2014).
  • EMC produced a report on discrimination against religious minorities in public schools and sent recommendations to the Ministry of Education (Democracy & Freedom Watch 6 Apr. 2014).
  • EMC issued a joint statement with 7 other NGOs calling on the government not to detain three opposition UNM members ahead of local elections (Tabula 17 Feb. 2014).
  • EMC, TI Georgia, GYLA, and Georgian Democratic Initiative contributed to a report on an assessment of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) performance in 2013 (TIGeorgia et al. 26 Apr. 2014; Georgian News TV 1 May 2014). Georgian News TV reports that the group highlighted "systemic problems" regarding freedom of religion, surveillance, and "abuse of power" by MOI staff, and called for "wide-ranging reform of the MOI"; governing coalition members responded that "NGO statements are not 'unique dogmas'" and that the "Ministry is free from political pressure" under the new government (Georgian News TV 1 May 2014).
  • EMC was one of the NGOs involved in the drafting of an anti-discrimination bill in 2014 (GYLA 17 June 2014; IWPR 2 May 2014). According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), the bill was passed after "fierce debate" on 2 May 2014, however EMC still had concerns about the restricted mandate of the ombudsman to enforce it; the passage of the bill reportedly angered "a conservative lobby of Orthodox Christians" (IWPR 2 May 2014).

Sources report that as of 2014, EMC is part of a coalition working on the issue of secret surveillance by law enforcement and is lobbying for legislative regulations to limit this practice by the government (GYLA 17 June 2014; Civil.ge 6 Mar. 2014; OSGF [2014]), which met with the President in March 2014 to discuss the campaign's progress (ibid.). According to Civil.ge, a Georgian online news service [3], the campaign, called "It Affects You Too" unites "dozens of non-governmental organizations;" representatives of the campaign have stated that after the 2012 elections, the ruling coalition has "not carried out any systemic change" regarding the practices of the previous government in carrying out surveillance of Georgians, including civil society representatives (Civil.ge 6 Mar. 2014). According to the GYLA representative, members of NGOs such as GYLA have sometimes been "verbally harassed" by representatives of the government who "became defensive" when NGOs provided recommendations about the issue of surveillance to Parliament; the Prime Minister reportedly stated that civil society and NGO recommendations were "undermining" (17 June 2014). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Georgian media source Rustavi2 reports that the Prime Minister of Georgia was critical of GYLA over statements it made about government "pressure on ministry officials" and that he stated "I remind the society - don't take GYLA as a state office" (Rustavi2 14 May 2013).

Further information about the relations between EMC and the government after the 2012 elections could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response, however the following information may be useful.

The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the years 2011, 2012, and 2013 state that in most cases domestic and international NGOs were able to operate "without government restriction," however "some NGOs enjoyed close cooperation with the government, and officials were cooperative and responsive to their views, while others complained they had insufficient access to government officials and their views were ignored" (US 27 Feb 2014, 43-44; US 19 Apr. 2013, 43; US 24 May 2012, 38).

According to Georgian news source Civil.ge, in December 2012, the deputy chief of G-PAC, who was also the former executive director of TI Georgia, was appointed as a deputy defence minister "in charge of human resources and education issues" (Civil.ge 10 Dec. 2012).

According to the representative of GYLA, since the new government was elected "the government is more open and receptive to civil society and cooperation between the government and NGOs" (GYLA 17 June 2014). The Research Scholar expressed the opinion that the Georgian Dream government has been "essentially disappointed" that GYLA and western funded NGOs continue to be critical of the government on certain issues, such as government surveillance (Research Scholar 8 July 2014). He expressed the view that the government has been "willing to engage with these NGOs," but "not willing to engage" with NGOs created by former UNM members (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5. Treatment by Police and Other Authorities (2010-2014)

According to the representative of EMC, between 2010 and 2014, there has been "no mistreatment of the staff members of EMC by the government, police, or other authorities" and "no EMC staff member has been arrested or mistreated by authorities on the basis of their involvement with or in the performance of their work with the EMC" (EMC 20 June 2014). However, the EMC representative also indicated that

EMC has wide network of beneficiaries and supporters who have received legal aid from our organization (on the infringement of their right to freedom of beliefs), have participated in our social campaigns or advocacy projects throughout the given period. Such persons may claim affiliation to our organization but we can give out no information on [their treatment] as they are not our staff members and often unidentifiable people. (ibid.)

Further information on the treatment of EMC members by police and other authorities could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] Brian Grodsky is an associate professor of comparative politics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Stanford University Press n.d.). The book Social Movements and the New State draws on media analyses and interviews (Grodsky 2012).

[2] G-PAC is a five-year project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) with the aim of strengthening "civil society's role in advocating for effective public policy reforms in Georgia" (G-PAC n.d.).

[3] Civil.ge was founded in 2001 by a Georgian NGO, the UN Association of Georgia; it is supported by the Confidence Building Early Response Mechanism (COBERM), a project managed by the UD Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by the EU (Civil.ge n.d.).

References

Agenda.ge. 17 May 2014. "Hundreds Celebrate Orthodox-led Family Value Day." [Accessed 26 June 2014]

Amnesty International (AI). 2013. "Georgia." Amnesty International Report 2013: The State of the World's Human Rights. [Accessed 16 June 2014]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 5 May 2014. "Georgia Profile." [Accessed 16 June 2014]

Civil.ge. 31 March 2014. "Authorities Called to Promptly Investigate Attack on UNM MP." [Accessed 9 July 2014]

_____. 6 March 2014. "Campaign to Rein in 'Unrestricted Govt Surveillance'." [Accessed 9 July 2014]

_____. 17 May 2013. "Police Criticized for Failure to Prevent Violence." [Accessed 9 July 2014]

_____. 10 December 2012. "Two New Deputies of Defense Minister Appointed." [Accessed 9 July 2014]

_____. N.d. "About Civil.ge." [Accessed 16 July 2014]

Democracy & Freedom Watch. 6 April 2014. "Bullying in Schools Is a Persistent Problem in Georgia."

_____. 23 December 2013. Londa Beria. "Group Criticizes Georgia for Handling of Religious Conflicts." [Accessed 8 July 2014]

EMC, Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center. 20 June 2014. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

_____. N.d.a. "EMC Team." [Accessed 7 July 2014]

_____. N.d.b. "Adviser Board." [Accessed 7 July 2014]

_____. N.d.c. "About." [Accessed 7 July 2014]

Freedom House. 2014. Paul Rimple. "Georgia." Nations in Transit 2014. [Accessed 5 July 2014]

Georgia. 4 July 2013. Public Defender of Georgia. "List of Experts of National Preventive Mechanism." [Accessed 26 June 2014]

_____. 15 November 2013. Public Defender of Georgia. "International Day for Tolerance in Georgia." [Accessed 10 June 2014]

Georgian News TV. 1 May 2014. Gvantsa Gabekhadze. "NGOs Speak About Interior Ministry Problems." [Accessed 10 June 2014]

Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA). 17 June 2014. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

G-PAC, Policy, Advocacy, and Civil Society Development in Georgia. 21 August 2013. "EMC Recommends Solutions to Religious Conflicts in Georgia." [Accessed 26 June 2014]

_____. N.d. "About G-PAC." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2014]

Grodsky, Brian K. 2012. Social Movements and the New State: The Fate of Pro-Democracy Organizations When Democracy is Won. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Sent to the Research Directorate by the author.

Humanrights.ge. 15 January 2010. "NGOs in Georgia Strongly Condemn the Smear Campaign Against Human Rights Defenders in the Country." [Accessed 7 July 2014]

Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). 2 May 2014. Nino Jomarjidze. "Despite Protests, Georgia Passes Anti-Discrimination Law." [Accessed 26 June 2014]

Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF). [2014]. "'It Affects You Too - Surveillance Continues' Campaigners Meet with President Giorgi Margvelashvili." [Accessed 26 June 2014]

Research Scholar, Columbia University. 8 July 2014. Telephone interview.

Rustavi2. 14 May 2013. "Prime Minister Slams GYLA NGO." [Accessed 26 June 2014]

Stanford University Press. N.d. "Social Movements and the New State." [Accessed 17 July 2014]

Tabula. 17 February 2014. "NGOs: Detention of UNM Members Ahead of Elections Triggers Questions." [Accessed 26 June 2014]

Transparency International (TI) Georgia, Georgian Democratic Initiative, Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), and Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA). 26 April 2014. "Assessment of the Performance of the Ministry of Interior after November 2012." [Accessed 26 June 2014]

United States (US). 27 February 2014. Department of State. "Georgia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013. [Accessed 7 July 2014]

_____. 19 April 2013. Department of State. "Georgia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. [Accessed 7 July 2014]

_____. 24 May 2012. Department of State. "Georgia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011. [Accessed 7 July 2014]

_____. 8 April 2011. Department of State. "Georgia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010. [Accessed 26 June 2014]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact the following organizations and individuals were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response: Georgian Democratic Initiative; Human Rights Center (Georgia); Open Society Georgia Foundation; Professor of Russian studies, Mount Holyoke College; Research Fellow, Institute of International Relations, Prague; Transparency International Georgia; two members of EMC; USAID.

Internet sites, including: Council of Europe; ecoi.net; Eurasia.net; Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme; Frontline Defenders; Georgia – Public Defender; Georgian News TV; Interpress News; National Endowment for Democracy; Open Society Georgia Foundation; Political Handbook of the World; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; UN – Integrated Regional Information Networks, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Refworld, ReliefWeb.