The constitution provides for an executive branch that reports to the prime minister, a unicameral Parliament, and a separate judiciary. The government is accountable to the Parliament. The president is the head of state and commander in chief. Under a controversial new constitution that came into force after the December 16 presidential inauguration following the October-November presidential elections, future presidents will not be elected by popular vote. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers described the first round of the presidential elections in October as competitive and professionally administered, although they raised concerns including the lack of a level playing field, voter intimidation, and fear of retribution. OSCE observers repeated these concerns after the second round in November and assessed that the candidates “were able to campaign in a free environment; however, one side enjoyed an undue advantage and the negative character of the campaign on both sides undermined the process.”
While civilian authorities maintained effective control of the Ministry of Defense, there were indications that at times they did not maintain effective control of domestic security forces.
Human rights issues included an allegation of an unjustified killing by security forces; arbitrary detentions and deprivation of life by Russian and de facto authorities of the country’s citizens along the administrative boundary lines (ABLs) with the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; unlawful interference with privacy; allegations of high level corruption of government officials; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
The government took steps to investigate some allegations of human rights abuses, but shortcomings remained. Such shortcomings included lack of accountability for the May 2017 reported abduction from Georgia and rendition to Azerbaijan of Azerbaijani journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli.
De facto authorities in the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside central government control and were supported by several thousand Russian troops and border guards occupying the areas. A cease-fire remained in effect since 2008. Russian border guards restricted the movement of local populations. While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Ossetia due to limited access, allegations of abuse persisted.
De facto authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia restricted the rights, especially of ethnic Georgians, to vote or otherwise participate in the political process, own property, register businesses, and travel. Although de facto South Ossetian authorities refused to permit most ethnic Georgians driven out due to the 2008 conflict to return to South Ossetia, a special crossing arrangement existed for those from Akhalgori district. De facto authorities did not allow most international organizations regular access to South Ossetia to provide humanitarian assistance. Russian “borderization” of the ABLs continued, separating residents from their communities and livelihoods.
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. Through June, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated investigations in 14 rape cases, compared to seven in 2017. The government enforced the law effectively.
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. Such steps included designating specialized prosecutors to handle such offences and creating a risk assessment tool for police officers responding to such incidents. In May Parliament adopted amendments enabling courts to take away the right to carry firearms from persons convicted of domestic violence.
NGOs reported the Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs took significant steps to address domestic abuse and gender-based violence, including a new risk assessment tool announced by the ministry to aid police in protecting victims. The ministry developed the tool, which went into effect September 1, in tandem with NGOs and human rights organizations. Media reported, however, some instances of police ignoring or covering up cases of domestic violence, particularly if the accused were associated with the ministry.
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. In 2017 authorities prosecuted 1,986 domestic violence cases, as compared to 550 in 2014. In 2014 only 14 percent of defendants were placed in pretrial detention, while that figure reached 83 percent in 2017. NGOs 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 Public Defender’s Office stated that victims often reported receiving inadequate responses from law enforcement officers to restraining order violations. As of August, 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.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Kidnapping women for marriage occurred in remote areas and ethnic minority communities but was rare. The Public Defender’s Office reported some cases of kidnapping for marriage, forced marriage, and early marriage in its 2017 report. In October, the Georgian Women’s Movement, a group of human rights and gender equality activists, criticized police delays in teen bride kidnapping investigations, almost exclusively concentrated in ethnic minority regions.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem. The criminal code criminalizes harassment. In March the Ministry of Internal Affairs began investigating a sexual harassment case initiated by several women against the head of a prominent civil organization. The case sparked public debate about sexual harassment in the workplace. The Public Defender’s Office reported it received 14 allegations of sexual harassment during the year. The PDO referred two of these cases to the courts, but the majority were outside the statute of limitations, which stands at three months after the victim becomes aware of the discrimination against them. The government initiated a sexual harassment training course for all civil servants to raise awareness of the problem.
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. In April Parliament passed a gender equality action plan. On May 15, Parliament held the first National Conference on Gender Equality in Local Municipalities, which underlined the importance of women in leadership. The Public Defender’s Office monitored gender equality cases, in particular of domestic violence and workplace harassment.
Birth Registration: By law, citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory, and children born to stateless parents in the country are citizens. According to UNICEF, 99 percent of births were registered before the child reached the age of five.
Since 2015, UNHCR has reported a widening documentation gap in Abkhazia, noting that fewer residents of Gali District held valid documents due to the expiration and nonrenewal of documentation by de facto authorities there. The solution offered by de facto authorities, i.e., to issue permanent residence permits, did not provide the full scope of rights and was not welcomed by the majority of Gali District residents who did not wish to declare themselves foreigners living in their ancestral land. 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. The Public Defender’s Office reported that violence, negligence, and other forms of mistreatment were still acute in educational institutions. According to a UNICEF study released in July, the majority of street children did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.
Child Abuse: Various forms of child abuse, including trafficking, forced labor, or forced begging, were punishable by a spectrum of prison terms and fines. Domestic violence against minors was punishable by imprisonment for one to three years, and the trafficking of minors was punishable by imprisonment anywhere from eight to twenty years 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.
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 August, the Public Defender’s Office was reviewing 22 instances of alleged early marriage. During the year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into four cases. Reports of child marriages continued throughout the year, although there were no official statistics. 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. 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 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. As of July, the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into 17 cases of rape of a minor and 159 cases involving other sex-related crimes.
In July 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 Public Defender’s Office reported a lack of information about 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. According to the Social Service Agency, as of August, 340 children were housed in 47 small-group homes and 1,483 children were placed in different forms of foster care. 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.
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.html.
Observers estimated the Jewish community to be no more than 6,000 persons. There were no reliable reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
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. 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. Public and private transportation generally did not accommodate persons with disabilities, and sidewalk and street crossing access was poor.
The Public Defender’s Office stated that inclusive education remained a major challenge. 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 preschools among the 165 monitored by the PDO in Tbilisi in 2016 were accessible to children with disabilities. The PDO has not conducted specific monitoring of preschool institutions since then, but maintained that 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. It raised concerns about a high number of deaths of residents in regional facilities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into several deaths at state-run institutions, but the PDO reported its study of these investigations revealed the investigations were ineffective.
In April 2017, parents of children with disabilities protested the unequal distribution of government assistance for persons with disabilities and claimed that children in only some regions received government funding. The parents requested an increased budget for rehabilitation programs for children with disabilities then, but the budget for the year showed no change.
Out of 46,708 public sector employees, just 55 were persons with disabilities in 2017. Legislation that disqualifies a person with disabilities working the public sector from receiving state disability assistance may be a disincentive to such work.
The PDO and NGOs reported some instances of discrimination against minority communities. During the year, the PDO received nine claims of discrimination based on national/ethnic origin. In only one of these cases, in which a person with permanent residence was denied access to state health care programs, did the courts determine that a person had been discriminated against based on their nationality/ethnicity. Despite noting advancements in minority protection and civic integration during the year, the PDO reported efforts to address remaining gaps remained insufficient. NGOs found on minority rights that 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 November 1, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported five individuals were detained for committing a crime on the basis of nationality, race, or ethnicity.
In September minority rights activist Vitali Safarov 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 witnesses reported the altercation began because the activist was speaking Russian rather than Georgian. The NGOs advocated for the addition of xenophobic pretext to the murder charges, which would carry a heavier punishment. On October 31, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office added the charge of “premeditated murder due to racial, religious, national or ethnic intolerance due to his nationality and profession.” As of November, the investigation continued. The media reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups.
The media reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups.
Weak Georgian-language skills remained the main impediment to integration for members of the country’s ethnic minorities, in addition to political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles to integration. 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 Public Defender’s Office 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 a year prior to their university studies. According to 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 of the slots (about five percent of the total slots), while Ossetian and Abkhaz communities received 10 percent each (about one percent of the total slots).
The law permits the repatriation of Muslim Meskhetians deported in 1944. According to the former ministry of refugees and accommodation–whose functions were spread over the Ministries of Infrastructure, Internal Affairs, and Labor, Health, and Social Affairs–1,998 of more than 5,841 applications were approved by August. Of this number, 494 applicants received “conditional citizenship,” which, according to a presidential decree, grants them “full Georgian citizenship” upon renouncing their foreign citizenship within five years.
De facto Abkhaz authorities enacted policies that threaten the legal status of ethnic Georgians living in the Gali District of Abkhazia. They closed village schools and forced ethnic Georgians to study strictly in the Russian language. De facto authorities dismissed ethnic Georgian teachers in Abkhazia deemed to have insufficient knowledge of Russian. In 2015 de facto authorities shifted the language of instruction for students in first through fourth grades in Lower Gali to Russian. Russian was the only instructional language in the Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire zones, and the de facto authorities have prohibited Georgian language instruction since the 2008 conflict. The Public Defender’s Office 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 seeking to attend school in government administered territory faced difficulties at the start of the school year crossing the ABL to attend school. Secondary school graduates had to cross the administrative boundary to take university entrance examinations. In February the EUMM noted that fewer schoolchildren were 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 occupied territories. The public defender noted the case of Tamar Mearakishvili, an activist in South Ossetia who alleged persecution by the de facto authorities because of her Georgian ethnicity.
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, and law enforcement authorities lacked robust training on hate crimes. According to the LGBTI community, the law provides for legal gender recognition for transgender persons.
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. The authorities opened investigations into several of the cases, including one that resulted in the court instructing law enforcement officers to be more responsible when performing their duties. 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.
LGBTI activists reported that it was common for them to close their offices due to threats to their staff’s safety. On September 28, four individuals associated with Equality Movement, a prominent LGBTI rights NGO, allegedly came under attack in their office’s backyard. The attackers allegedly shouted homophobic slurs during the physical assault. Facing ongoing threats, Equality Movement moved its office to a temporary location under private guard protection. As of November, the investigation was pending.
There were no results in two separate government investigations into the August 2017 accusations by two LGBTI organizations’ leaders that Batumi police officers physically abused them after police officers failed to intervene in their physical assault by several persons.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
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.