On December 9, International Human Rights Day, the Human Rights House Tbilisi held an event to review the challenges, needs, and situation of 2021, as well as name the first winners of the Lekso Prize, which honors the work of media professionals working on human rights.
In her welcoming speech at the event, the Public Defender of Georgia, Nino Lomjaria, spoke about the role of human rights defenders, the challenges they face and the activities of the Public Defender’s Office.
“If the activities of human rights defenders are not provided in a free environment, if they face problems, it will inevitably affect the legal status of the general public. Last year, a human rights handbook aimed at clarifying the concept of human rights and addressing the difficulties associated with interpreting the concept, as well as highlighting the government’s commitment to protecting and promoting the work of human rights defenders was published. In addition, we had a number of campaigns and published an informational brochure about the activities of human rights defenders. Our monitoring has revealed that over the years, human rights defenders have been attacked many times – be it verbal attacks or attempts to discredit high-ranking government officials, as well as particularly serious events during the Tbilisi Pride Day, when we witnessed numerous incidents of physical violence. Nevertheless, the organizers of the attack have not been brought to justice yet,” – said Nino Lomjaria.
The challenges faced by human rights defenders are also confirmed by the research presented at the event. A research by the organization Sapari – The Survey of Human Rights Defenders’ Needs aimed to study the dangers and risks that exist in the period of the pandemic in terms of studying the “safety management” culture of human rights defenders, the work environment of Georgian human defenders, the identification of mental health challenges in Georgian human rights defenders, etc.
Quantitative research was conducted in the period up to July 5, so it does not fully reflect the situation in 2021. However, the results show that: Out of 81 human rights defenders surveyed, 57% consider their activities to be dangerous, while 43% consider their activities to be moderately dangerous, however, only 29% of human rights activists ‘activities are fully remunerated and 30%’ s activities are fully voluntary.
Another alarming aspect of the survey is the feelings that the ruling party (70%) and religious leaders (69%) hold hostile attitudes toward the defenders. In addition,
82% of respondents believe that Georgian human rights defenders face a negative attitude from the public;
78% believe they are in physical danger;
78% expect neglect from the state;
And 69% expect financial neglect;
67% think they are at risk of deteriorating physical health.
The mental health challenges reflected in the study stem from the financial problems, hostile attitudes and risks brought about by the pandemic. The majority of respondents face occupational burnout, anxiety, and other mental health risks, with 55% of respondents reporting that they already have signs of occupational burnout.
Another report presented on the International Day of Human Rights Defenders dealt with the statistics of legal aid provided to human rights defenders in the last 5 months. According to the report, legal aid has been provided to 117 people in recent months – 62 cases related to administrative violations, and 40 cases are those of people arrested during the October-November rallies. In addition to questions about the grounds and legality of the arrest, it is alarming that often only the testimony of a police officer is used as evidence, which calls into question the right to a fair trial, so 9 applications have been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights. A report is being prepared on the Tbilisi Pride case, which deals with inhuman treatment and non-fulfillment of positive obligations of the state.
The event also featured a presentation of the Human Rights Defenders’ Safety Guide, which will provide Georgian human rights defenders with detailed information about the levers at their disposal, as well as consolidate information on state obligations and gather information on challenges.
Another achievement is the new website prepared by the Tbilisi Human Rights House – Defenders.ge, which aims to increase awareness of the activities of human rights defenders, as well as increase the availability of resources and opportunities that will help human rights defenders in their professional activities. The site will record cases of attacks on human rights defenders and it will be possible to calculate annual statistics.
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