OSCE/ODIHR Prepares Opinion following Public Defender's Request

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) prepared an urgent opinion on proposed amendments to the Law of Georgia on Assemblies and Demonstrations following the request of the Public Defender and assessed them quite critically.

The opinion was published today and it clearly states that the adoption of the amendments should not be pursued. As is known to the public, the President of Georgia vetoed the mentioned draft amendments and returned it to the Parliament with motivated remarks, therefore, their consideration in the legislative body has not yet been completed.

It should be noted that OSCE/ODIHR consulted with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights toFreedom of Peaceful Assemblyand ofAssociation during the preparation of the opinion. As OSCE/ODIHR points out, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly protects a broad range of gatherings and assemblies, including long-term demonstrations, extended sit-ins and “occupy”-style manifestations and also encompasses the freedom to choose the modalities and manner of an assembly.

As mentioned in the document, in some cases, the particular manner and form of a protest, for instance a temporary campsite, may acquire symbolic significance inseparable from its message. Any restriction in the manner of assembly should not render the effective communication of the message of the assembly difficult or even impossible and should not cause a chilling effect on the exercise of the right.

Restrictions on the modalities and manner of an assembly should comply with the requirements of legality, legitimacy, necessity, proportionality and nondiscrimination provided by international human rights law.

The opinion reviews the inconsistency of the draft law with international standards in detail. OSCE/ODIHR indicates that the range of grounds included to justify the proposed new prohibition are wide and not clearly defined, which may potentially lead to arbitrary or discriminatory application of the Law by the public authorities. The organization also says that the amendments do not recognize that a certain level of disruption to ordinary life caused by assemblies, including temporary disruption of traffic, annoyance and even harm to commercial activities, should be accommodated and tolerated, unless they impose unnecessary and disproportionate burdens on others.

OSCE/ODIHR points out that the prohibition against erection of temporary constructions when they are deemed unnecessary or unrelated to the assembly or demonstration do not seem to pursue any of the legitimate aims exhaustively listed in the European Convention on Human Rights or the UN conventions, and hence appears unjustified on this basis alone.

According to OSCE/ODIHR, it is also unclear why the existing legal framework which already contains some provisions regarding the “artificial” blocking of the roadway by assemblies and police powers to deal with suspected explosive devices are deemed insufficient. The possibility to impose the most serious administrative sanction provided in the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia (15 days of administrative detention combined with a fine and confiscation), for simply erecting temporary constructions that are prohibited, also appears disproportionate and may have a chilling effect on the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

According to the opinion, the proposed amendments would indirectly discriminate against those expressing political dissent or opposition. The document also negatively assesses the accelerated procedure under which the draft amendments were passed.

We hope that the Parliament of Georgia will take into account the OSCE/ODIHR opinion and refuse to finally adopt the draft law.

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