Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but criminal law does not specifically address spousal rape. A convicted first-time offender may be imprisoned for up to eight years. As of December the PGO prosecuted 39 individuals with rape charges, compared with 14 in 2018. The government enforced the law effectively.
The law criminalizes domestic violence. In cases that do not result in injury, penalties for conviction of domestic violence include 80 to 150 hours of community service or imprisonment for up to one year. Domestic and other violence against women remained a significant problem, which the government took several steps to combat.
On June 12, parliament approved amendments to the Law on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence that eliminated shortcomings in the law and promoted a prevention-oriented approach to better correct abusers’ behavior and reduce recidivism.
In February the Ministry of Internal Affairs established a Victims and Witness Advocate Program to provide victims and witnesses of crimes against women, domestic violence, hate crimes, sex crimes, and trafficking with psychological and emotional support during legal proceedings. The ministry trained six advocates to help reduce stress, raise awareness of state services and investigative procedures, and facilitate communication between citizens and law enforcement authorities. As of October the ministry was searching for more advocates.
NGOs and the government expanded the services provided to victims of domestic violence in recent years. NGOs claimed public awareness of legal remedies had grown, leading to the quadrupling of reported cases of domestic violence in recent years. As of December authorities had prosecuted 4,185 domestic violence cases, compared with 3,232 in 2018 and 1,986 in 2017. As of December, 51 percent of defendants were placed in pretrial detention in domestic violence cases during the year compared with 54 percent in 2018. In October the Ministry of Internal Affair’s Human Rights Department reported there had been a significant increase in reports of domestic violence, attributing this to increased awareness. The department reported that the rate of violation of restraining orders had decreased due to improved enforcement strategies, and NGOs, including GYLA, reported law enforcement officials and prosecutors in Tbilisi showed improved professionalism in handling domestic violence crimes.
Domestic violence laws mandate the provision of temporary protective measures, including shelter and restraining orders that prohibit an abuser from coming within 330 feet of the victim and from using common property, such as a residence or vehicle, for six months. The PDO stated that victims often reported receiving inadequate responses from law enforcement officers to restraining order violations. As of August 2018, violating a restraining order was considered a criminal offense on the first rather than the second occurrence.
Local NGOs and the government jointly operated a 24-hour hotline and shelters for abused women and their minor children, although space in the shelters was limited and only four of the country’s 10 regions had facilities.
According to the United Nations, domestic violence, early marriage, inadequate reproductive health services, and lack of self-development and economic opportunities were among the most acute problems that women faced in Abkhazia.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Kidnapping women for marriage occurred in remote areas and ethnic minority communities, but it was rare. The PDO reported some cases of kidnapping for marriage, forced marriage, and early marriage in its 2018 report. In October the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened an investigation into whether a teacher was coerced in the Azerbaijani-majority city of Gardabani after he was reportedly forced to apologize publicly for speaking out against the alleged kidnapping for marriage of one of his students. In response to the incident, youth from the region started a social campaign, “Salam,” against early marriage.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem. The criminal code criminalizes harassment. The PDO identified three cases of sexual harassment in 2018. In October an employee of the Tbilisi City Council accused councilmember Ilia Jishkariani of sexual harassment; as of October the case continued. In May parliament passed legislation strengthening protections against sexual harassment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Civil society organizations continued to report discrimination against women in the workplace. The PDO monitored gender equality cases, in particular those involving domestic violence and workplace harassment.
Birth Registration: By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory; children born to stateless parents in the country are citizens. According to UNICEF, 99 percent of children were registered before reaching age five.
While IDP returnees were in principle able to get their children’s births registered with de facto authorities, they preferred to have their births registered with Georgian authorities.
Education: Children of noncitizens often lacked the documentation to enroll in school. The level of school attendance was low for children belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as street children and children with disabilities or in foster care. According to UNICEF, the total enrollment of preschool children between ages four and six was 69.5 percent. Enrollment rates were lower for children of ethnic minorities (33 percent), the socially vulnerable (39.7 percent), and rural communities (46.8 percent). The PDO reported that 94.3 percent of foster children attended preschool and received a basic education. The PDO reported that violence, negligence, and other forms of mistreatment were still acute in educational institutions. According to a UNICEF study released in July 2018, the majority of street children did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.
Child Abuse: Conviction of various forms of child abuse, including trafficking, forced labor, or forced begging, is punishable by a spectrum of prison terms and fines. Conviction of domestic violence against minors is punishable by imprisonment for one to three years, and conviction of trafficking minors is punishable by eight to 20 years’ imprisonment depending on the specific circumstance.
Authorities referred children who suffered abuse to the relevant community and government services in coordination with stakeholders, including police, schools, and social service agencies.
On September 20, parliament passed the Code on the Rights of Children, which was developed in cooperation with UNICEF and is scheduled to enter into force on June 1, 2020. The code is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its protocols and recognizes child-specific needs and rights, including to dignity, life, survival, and development, and prohibits discrimination.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18. Conviction of forced marriage of an individual younger than 18 is punishable by two to four years’ imprisonment. As of December 12, the PDO was reviewing 43 instances of alleged early marriage, compared with 45 cases reviewed in 2018. The PDO noted continued concerns regarding coordination among law enforcement agencies, social services, and educational institutions. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into 180 cases of child marriage in 2018 and launched an information campaign against the practice. Reports of child marriages continued throughout the year. Child marriages reportedly occurred more frequently among certain ethnic and religious groups.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Convictions relating to commercial sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Authorities enforced the law. Street children and children living in orphanages were reportedly particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law classifies sexual intercourse with a juvenile as rape, provided the perpetrator is proven to be aware of the victim’s age. The penalty for conviction of rape is up to nine years’ imprisonment; the government generally enforced the law. Conviction of other sexual crimes carried increased levels of punishment if the victim was a juvenile.
In September authorities, in cooperation with Europol and foreign law enforcement bodies, dismantled a child-trafficking ring and arrested 11 persons, including two foreigners, on charges of child trafficking and producing or selling child pornography. On December 5, police arrested an additional 11 individuals suspected of being members of the network. As of December the cases continued.
In July 2018 UNICEF reported street children were particularly vulnerable to violence from caretakers and fellow street youth. According to testimonies from children living on the streets of Tbilisi, internal group dynamics among these children sometimes entailed sexual “reward” structures that exposed primarily girls to abuse at the hands of older group members.
Displaced Children: The PDO reported a lack of information regarding street children and noted the inadequacy of resources devoted to them. It was unclear how many were geographically displaced, and a significant portion belonged to families that migrated seasonally to Georgia from Azerbaijan.
Institutionalized Children: The government continued replacing large-scale orphanages with smaller foster-parenting arrangements. The government provided grants for higher education for institutionalized and foster-care children, including full coverage of tuition and a stipend, and provided emergency assistance to foster families.
UNICEF and a foreign development agency supported the government in developing small-scale facilities for children with severe and profound disabilities with the view to closing the Tbilisi infant home. While this was an improvement, the PDO reported in 2018 that violence among children was a regular occurrence in these facilities and the government lacked an adequate response to provide for the safety, and prevent repeated abuse, of child victims of sexual violence.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Observers estimated the Jewish community to be no more than 6,000 persons. In September 2018 human rights activist Vitali Safarov, who had Jewish and Yezidi roots, was killed outside a popular bar in central Tbilisi. Human rights NGOs alleged the two men responsible were members of a neo-Nazi group, and a key witness at the trial testified that Safarov was killed because he was Jewish. In October 2018 the PGO added the charge of “premeditated murder due to racial, religious, national, or ethnic intolerance due to his nationality and profession.” On June 27, the Tbilisi City Court convicted the two men of killing Safarov but dismissed qualifying the killing as a hate crime.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system and right to a fair trial, and the provision of other government or private sector services, the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The PDO reported that persons with disabilities continued to encounter barriers to participating fully in public life. Many families with children with disabilities considered themselves stigmatized and kept their children from public view. The PDO reported that violence, especially sexual violence, was a significant problem for persons with disabilities. Discrimination in employment was also a problem.
The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities and stipulates fines for noncompliance. Very few public facilities or buildings, however, were accessible, and the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Public and private transportation generally did not accommodate persons with disabilities, and sidewalk and street crossing access was poor.
The PDO continued to report that provision of inclusive education remained a major problem. Despite the introduction of inclusive education in professional and general educational institutions, preschool and higher education were not part of the system. Only a limited number of 165 preschools monitored by the PDO in Tbilisi in 2016 were accessible to children with disabilities. NGOs reported that many of these children were subject to discrimination. The PDO has not monitored preschools since 2016, but it maintained the situation has not changed.
The PDO reported that state-run institutions caring for persons with disabilities lacked the infrastructure, trained staff, psychosocial services, and contact with the outside world and families needed to provide for the delivery of services. The office noted some improvements in living standards at these institutions but criticized the government for lacking a strategy for deinstitutionalization.
In 2018 only 99 of the 6,073 persons with disabilities registered on the public employment portal (Worknet) were employed. Legislation that disqualifies a person with disabilities who is working in the public sector from receiving state disability assistance may be a disincentive to such work, although in January the government passed legislation that would maintain social benefits for one year in case a person finds employment. The PDO reported that, despite the existence of a number of government programs for persons with disabilities, the community continued to lack safeguards and practical support because enforcement of the law was weak.
The PDO and NGOs reported some instances of discrimination against minority communities. As of December 12, the PDO received 15 claims of discrimination based on nationality or ethnic origin. In two cases the PDO reported that commercial banks refused to provide services to individuals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. The courts had not yet determined whether any had suffered actual discrimination. Despite noting advancements in minority protection and civic integration during the year, the PDO continued to report that government efforts to address remaining gaps were insufficient. NGOs found that with respect to minority rights, victims rarely registered claims due to a lack of knowledge about their rights and criticized authorities for not raising greater awareness in minority communities.
As of October the Prosecutor General’s Office charged three individuals with committing a crime on the basis of nationality, race, or ethnicity.
Media reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups.
In addition to political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles, weak Georgian-language skills remained the main impediment to integration for members of the country’s ethnic minorities. Some minorities asserted that the law requiring “adequate command of the official language” to work as a civil servant excluded them from participating in government. The PDO reported that involving ethnic minorities in national decision-making processes remained a problem due to the small number of representatives of ethnic minorities in the central government.
The government continued its “1+4” program for ethnic minorities to study the Georgian language for one year prior to their university studies. Under a quota system, the government assigned 12 percent of all bachelor or higher certificate-level placements to students with ethnic minority backgrounds. Of these reserved slots, ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani communities each received 40 percent (5 percent of the total), while Ossetian and Abkhaz communities received 10 percent each (1 percent of the total).
The law permits the repatriation of Muslim Meskhetians deported in 1944. According to the official data, however, authorities had not, as of July, approved any of the approximately 3,843 applications for repatriation that were pending as of mid-2017.
De facto Abkhaz authorities enacted policies that threaten the legal status of ethnic minorities, including Georgians, Armenians, Greeks, Roma, and Syrians, living in the Gali District of Abkhazia. They closed village schools and did not provide ethnic Georgians opportunities for education in their native language. De facto authorities dismissed ethnic Georgian teachers in Abkhazia deemed to have insufficient knowledge of Russian. The language of instruction for students in first through fourth grades in Lower Gali was Russian. Russian was the only instructional language in the Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire zones, and the de facto authorities have prohibited Georgian language instruction. The PDO noted that in the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli Districts, ethnic Georgian students and teachers had poor command of Russian, and therefore Russian-only instruction had significantly affected the quality of their education. Local communities had to either pay for teachers, arrange for teachers to cross from undisputed government territory to teach, or send their children across the ABL for Georgian-language lessons. According to the EUMM, some Gali students faced difficulties in crossing the administrative boundary to take university entrance examinations. In autumn 2019 the EUMM noted that a small increase in the number of schoolchildren crossing the ABL, and there were more reports of barriers to studying in their mother tongue.
South Ossetian de facto authorities also required ethnic Georgians of all ages to study in Russian.
The government continued to report discrimination against ethnic Georgians in the Russian-occupied territories. The PDO noted the case of Tamar Mearakishvili, an activist in South Ossetia who alleged persecution by the de facto authorities because of her Georgian ethnicity. On July 10, the de facto authorities in Akhalgori cleared Mearakishvili of all charges and lifted all restrictions imposed on her, including the restriction on leaving South Ossetia. The prosecutor appealed the decision in September, but on October 17, the court dismissed all charges. The prosecutor then appealed this decision.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The criminal code makes acting on the basis of prejudice because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor for all crimes. According to NGOs, however, the government rarely enforced the law. The Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs trained officers on hate crimes.
The PDO reported that LGBTI individuals continued to experience systemic violence, oppression, abuse, intolerance, and discrimination. LGBTI rights organizations reported several instances of violence against LGBTI individuals during the year. Authorities opened investigations into several of the cases. The PDO reported violence against LGBTI individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem and that the government has been unable to respond to this challenge. LGBTI organizations, NGOs, and the PDO reported that the government’s ineffective antidiscrimination policy reduced the LGBTI community’s trust in state institutions, and they pointed to homophobic statements by politicians and public officials as furthering hatred and intolerance against the LGBTI community.
On June 12, the Ministry of Internal Affairs charged one person for making death threats on the basis of sexual orientation after he threatened an individual who made public statements against homophobia on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia.
LGBTI activists reported it was common for them to close their offices due to threats to their staff’s safety. In September 2018 four individuals associated with Equality Movement, a prominent LGBTI rights NGO, allegedly came under physical attack motivated by homophobia in their office’s backyard. Facing continuing threats, Equality Movement moved its office to a new location. Prosecutors charged both the attackers and the activists with violence, a decision the Equality Movement strongly criticized. In July the Prosecutor General’s Office released all involved of criminal responsibility.
As of December there were no results in two separate government investigations into the 2017 accusations by two LGBTI organizations’ leaders that Batumi police officers physically abused them after failing to intervene in their physical assault by several persons.
In February some LGBTI activists announced they would host Tbilisi’s first “pride week” in June to highlight the pervasive discrimination the LGBTI community faced in the country. Opponents of LGBTI rights held several rallies in Tbilisi where participants threatened violence against event organizers, the LGBTI community, and law enforcement officials. While the Ministry of Internal Affairs released a statement implying it could not protect individuals from attacks by anti-LGBTI protesters, it later clarified that it would attempt to prevent any violence. Meanwhile, prominent businessman Levan Vasadze threatened to create patrols to attack members of the LGBTI community, encouraged anti-LGBTI protesters to break through police lines if officers protected the march, and called on the government to repeal antidiscrimination legislation. Event organizers postponed a planned pride march several times due to the threats and concern the ministry would be unwilling to protect them. On July 8, as anti-LGBTI protesters faced off against an unrelated group of protesters in front of parliament, Tbilisi Pride organizers held a small march in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ building on the outskirts of Tbilisi. While anti-LGBTI protesters raced to the site once they realized the march was happening, the LGBTI activists marched without incident and left the scene before they arrived. Despite the fact that the ministry was not informed of the march in advance, some police deployed to protect the marchers.
Stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were major barriers to HIV/AIDS prevention and service utilization. NGOs reported that social stigma caused individuals to avoid testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Some health-care providers, particularly dentists, refused to provide services to HIV-positive persons. Individuals often concealed their HIV/AIDS status from employers due to fear of losing their jobs.