On February 20, the party “Power of the People” initiated a law on agents of foreign influence in the Parliament of Georgia. The party itself is linked to the ruling “Georgian Dream” party, which has already declared its willingness to support the law during voting .
What is proposed in the law?
If the law is passed, non-governmental organizations and media outlets that receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources will have to register as “agents of foreign influence”. If such registration is denied, organizations will face a fine of $9,400 USD, and a review by the Ministry of Justice for non-compliance with the requirements.
Twice a year, the Ministry of Justice will have the right to review the documents of organizations that, in its opinion, are agents of foreign influence. The Ministry will be able to launch investigations without seeking any prior approval, and will have unrestricted access to personal data. These checks will include access to the personal data of people who receive support from NGOs, which violates each person's right to privacy and puts communities at risk given the prevailing stigma and discrimination in the country.
What does Russia have to do with this?
Around 300 non-governmental organizations in Georgia issued a joint statement against this initiative. Their main reason for this is the similarity of the draft with the Russian law on foreign agents. There are serious fears that, if adopted, the law will lead to the repression of civil society and the media, similar to what is happening in the Russian Federation.
As a result of the adoption of a similar law in the Russian Federation, the number of programs aimed at protecting human rights and health has decreased. Some NGOs were liquidated by the court for violating the requirements for "foreign agents", while others were forced to shut themselves down due to restrictions on their activities and fines. Those that continued to operate fell victim to increased controls, persecution and repression.
How will the bill affect key populations and LGBT+ people?
First of all, the bill initiated in Georgia is a threat to marginalized groups of the population, including LGBT communities, people living with HIV, and sex workers. The passage of the law could result in a reduction in the number of health programs, and HIV care and support services, which will significantly worsen the situation of communities.
In addition, the adoption of the bill will certainly cause serious damage to the process of Georgia's integration into the European Union, as no EU country has a similar law . A similar law in Hungary was held to be discriminatory, illegal and contradictory by the European Court of Justice in 2017, as a result of which Hungary was forced to repeal it .
What international and national norms are violated?
The draft law on foreign agents is contrary to international standards, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Georgia is a party. The law threatens the right to privacy, as government agencies will be able to carry out unscheduled inspections and request the personal data of those receiving services.
The Office of the Ombudsman of Georgia stated that the draft does not comply with international and domestic human rights standards, and is incompatible with the basic principles of a democratic state.
The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association stated that “the right to freedom of association includes the right to seek, receive and use resources from domestic, foreign and international sources”, and the label of “foreign agent” hinders the right to seek, receive and use such financial assistance1.
The draft also violates the OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association.
In 2022, the European Court of Human Rights held that a similar Russian law violated the right to freedom of assembly and association (Article 11, European Convention on Human Rights).
In addition, after the adoption of such a law, Georgia’s safety rating for tourism and its attractiveness for foreign investment may decrease significantly, which may negatively affect the country's economy and the well-being of its citizens.
ECOM condemns the initiation of the draft law “On the transparency of foreign influence” in the Parliament of Georgia and calls upon:
- International bodies to call upon the Parliament of Georgia to refrain from adopting a law that is contrary to international standards;
- The Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to condemn the initiative;
- Committees of the Parliament of Georgia to conduct a high-quality, impartial review of the draft bill and publish the results.
1. See A/HRC/23/39, second report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, paragraphs 8, 20 and 82.
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