PM’s human rights adviser: new national strategy goals will be “tangible” for citizens

  • The interview discussed not only the importance and essence of the national strategy and action plans, but also touched upon challenges such as femicide and domestic violence and mechanisms of combating them.

By Salome Tsereteli

Political editor

Agenda.ge, 3 Nov 2022, Tbilisi,Georgia

Last week the Georgian government approved the 2022-2024 national action plan for combating domestic violence and violence against women and ensuring protection of survivors, as well as the action plan on the implementation of the United Nations resolution on women, peace and security over the same period.

At a government session held in September and led by prime minister Irakli Garibashvili, the 2022-2030 national strategy for the protection of human rights was approved, with the PM saying the document had been discussed with “all actors”, the international community and non-governmental organisations, and sent to the parliament for final adoption in a "perfect form". The strategy is seen as a unifying and coordinating document for all branches of government in the field of human rights protection.

The national strategy for human rights protection consists of four parts. The first part covers civil and political rights, as well as the importance of justice, institutional democracy and the main principles used in democratic governance. The second concerns economic and social rights, with the emphasis on making the protection of socio-economic rights a priority for all agencies and giving it a “systemic character”. The third covers the direction of equality, where vulnerable groups and ways of ensuring their rights in practice are included in addition to agencies responsible for the objective. The fourth involves the rights of people living in the occupied territories and those residing adjacent to the occupation line, as well as the rights of internally displaced persons and refugees.

On its part, the national action plan for combating domestic violence and violence against women and ensuring protection of survivors covers four priority areas: prevention of violence against women and domestic violence, ways of combating the issue, measures necessary for the protection and support of victims, and a related integrated policy and data collection.

The national action plan for the implementation of the UN resolution includes three priority areas: women’s participation in peace and security processes, measures for prevention of and combating violence, and ways of women’s empowerment and protection.

The human rights council at the government administration was actively supervising the process of elaboration of all three documents: the national strategy and two action plans.

Niko Tatulashvili, the PM’s human rights adviser, spoke to agenda.ge about the importance of these new documents, emphasising that the strategy and action plans would “not remain only on paper”, as “effective mechanisms” had been created to monitor the implementation of the tasks. He said relevant agencies would “certainly” carry out the steps outlined for them in the documents. "This is already an obligation that has been agreed upon in advance, so it will not be a surprise, or an unplanned innovation", he said.

The interview discussed not only the importance and essence of the national strategy and action plans, but also touched upon challenges such as femicide and domestic violence and mechanisms of combating them.

"From the very beginning of our work on the national strategy in 2021, on the instructions of the prime minister, we contacted the United Nations Development Programme and the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Georgia and asked to support the process. They hired an expert for us, who prepared the first draft and took into account all recommendations that were issued in relation to Georgia from international human rights mechanisms, non-governmental organisations and the public defender’s office. The very first draft of the strategy document was first reviewed by the UN agencies”, Tatulashvili said.

After receiving the first draft we started working with specific state agencies, and our main task was to ensure that the priorities proposed by the UN and its expert were not changed. We have four main priorities, which are then broken down into rights, and we did not want to lose any of the rights - on the contrary, we even extended some of them. The agencies only changed some formulations - taking into account the specifics of their work - but did not touch the priorities”, he also pointed out.

“In the end, we got a document that we shared with everyone, including the diplomatic corps, and we received comments from them, which we took into account to some extent. It must be said that most of the recommendations sent to us by our international partners and various organisations were mainly related to wording and arrangement of proposals, and there were almost no issues that we had not mentioned, which makes us believe that this document is more or less acceptable to everyone and responds to the challenges in the country”, he noted.

Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

The final draft was shared with the domestic non-governmental international organisations - they had two weeks to make comments and send them [back] to us. We collected these comments in writing as well as during in person meetings, processed them and presented the document to the government meeting on September 5, where it was approved by the members of the government. Also, we sent to the parliament all the notes and recommendations we had from international organisations, non-governmental organisations, and now the discussions will continue in the parliament. Accordingly, we will have a new national strategy in the near future", the official told us.

Due to the fact that the strategy covers and includes all three branches of the government, it was decided that the parliament, instead of the government, should approve it.

The human rights adviser also said working on the strategy had been “quite a difficult process” involving “many actors” with “different visions, tasks and goals” and making it difficult to agree on certain issues and reach a consensus. "We tried as much as possible to ensure that the state agencies responsible for the implementation of this strategy were fully involved and that their opinions were shared. At the same time, the priorities that we developed together with the United Nations should remain in the strategy. Some wordings in the document have been changed, some shifts have taken place, but the priorities defined from the beginning have not changed for the most part", he said.

Tatulashvili said the recommendations by international partners meant an emphasis should be placed on the protection of the rights at local levels, instead of the process remaining centralised. "We included this factor in the new strategy, and also took into account the opinions of such international organisations as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the European Union”, he pointed out, explaining Georgia’s membership in the institutions made implementing their recommendations at the national level mandatory.

That's why we have accepted their recommendations, which were issued over the years - for example, regarding [the issues of] women, persons with disabilities, political rights and freedom of expression - and we tried to take into account the recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review. We also used the recommendations issued by the Georgian public defender. Of course, not everything is conveyed in our document, but we tried our best to reflect these recommendations. We should emphasise that we always listen to the requests of the non-governmental sector and try to reflect the issues that interest them and are important in their opinion in our everyday work", he added.

Why is it important to have such a strategy?

Tatulashvili said the presence of an overall binding document with an action plan will make the working process of different agencies “more consistent, systematised and coordinated”.

“When there is a unified action plan, when a representative of an agency comes to a meeting, they will show us the result of what their agency has done, followed by a discussion on how satisfactory it is. The non-governmental sector and the public defender are often invited to the sessions of the inter-agency commissions at the government administration. They are quite critical, but we will not avoid this criticism, it is a part of the process”, the official noted.

Sometimes we share these criticisms, sometimes we do not, but it is all work in progress. It is not a document that is put in a drawer - it is the beginning of a work process, and we are there to keep this process constantly on the surface. This process is also good for helping agencies to look more closely at their work, correct shortcomings, bring out positive moments and publicise their work, and they also enter into a healthy competition with each other”, he told us.

Tatulashvili noted that before the approval of the new strategy the state had used an old document for the protection of human rights, which covered the years 2014-2020 but had “exhausted itself”, so we wondered how different and progressive the new document is.

Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

He said a report on the previous strategy was prepared in 2019 by Maggie Nicholson, a UN expert invited by the Georgian government. According to the monitoring assessment, the first document had mainly focused on the improvement of the legal framework, which he said was “certainly important” but only the “first step”. The second step is the implementation of the legal framework in practice, which he said “already characterises” the new strategy.

A good law means nothing if it is not working in practice. In relation to the new strategy, we were guided by this principle and shifted the emphasis not on changing the law, but on specific activities - what should be done to implement the laws on human rights in practice. This is the main difference with the previous strategy”, the PM advisor said while also noting the significance of localisation of the strategy. “We have 64 municipalities in the country that have mayors [and] councillors, and these people work daily with the people living in those regions. It is very important that our strategy, goals and objectives are also transferred to the municipalities and the same governors, mayors, councils are guided by the principles that we agree are important for the country”, he explained.

“This localisation process will ultimately give us the result that these goals and objectives will become tangible for each citizen, and will not remain on paper. We are trying to create certain instruments, create a basis for certain cooperation. [In May] we signed a memorandum of cooperation with the national association of local authorities, which unites all municipalities. With the memorandum, we agreed that when the strategic documents come into force, we will introduce them to municipalities with the help of the association, where this idea has already been very well received. This mechanism should be built so that the strategy does not remain in Tbilisi and covers the whole country. This was one of the recommendations that emerged during the evaluation of the previous strategy”, Tatulashvili told the interview.

“Also, one of the main differences with the previous document is that the new strategy is more detailed, it states more specifically what the state is responsible for, and, most importantly, it specifically states how results are measured by indicators. Such indicators did not exist in the previous strategy, it was drier and more like a declaration. The current strategy is more saturated with working elements, which allows us to not just declare it, but to see exactly how this or that task will be performed”, he pointed out.

How exactly will authorities monitor the agencies working on the issues outlined in the strategy and action plans?

“All agencies will have the obligation to prepare an annual report on what they have done during the current year. For our part, we are also required to submit this report to the parliament and show what we have done within the framework of the action plans. It is a reporting and monitoring mechanism. On the one hand, we monitor the agencies - on the other, [the government] and the executive power are monitored by the parliament”, the human rights official explained.

He also noted the work of the human rights council in the government administration, headed by the prime minister and involving ministers as members. Explaining the work of two commissions on gender equality, another on child's rights and one committee on the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities under the council, Tatulashvili said the creation of the committee had been a requirement accepted by the United Nations, with the mechanism formed last year.

Members of the committee and commissions are deputy ministers, and this is another leverage in our hands, as we often hold meetings to check progress. At meetings, deputy ministers are required to present a report on how their agencies are working on this or that issue. These are the tools we will use to achieve the goals and objectives that the strategy has”, he said.

We also touched on the two action plans approved at the government meeting and related to women's rights.

He told us the issue was a “priority”, adding both documents would cover the period of three years after having been developed with the help of UN Women and featuring the involvement of their experts “at all stages”.

“When the first drafts were made, we shared them with the non-governmental sector, the public defender, international organisations - we have a very long list of those we shared it with, despite the fact that we were not required to do so, and only had to send it to those with the status of an observer invited to the human rights council”, the PM advisor highlighted, adding the step had been taken “to avoid question marks and misunderstandings”.

We were also genuinely interested in the opinions of people who work in this field, so we shared it as much as possible, and we also uploaded it publicly and received comments that we tried to take into account to the extent possible”, he noted, adding the document with the resulting revisions had been the ultimate version presented to the government meeting.

Tatulashvili said the newly approved action plans are unique in a sense that for the first time they are accompanied by budget calculations. He said the move meant activities like trainings for women living in villages near the occupation line involved responsible parties and funds expected to be expended. The amount of contributions planned by donor organisations is also included. "These are not simply activities written on paper, they are backed by specific funds and responsible agencies, which is considered a great achievement - international organisations have set this requirement for all countries, but there are only a handful of European countries that take this into account, and we are among them", the official stressed.

Does the PM adviser think combating femicide is a challenge that requires an intensification of efforts?

"When we talk about femicide, we have to distinguish two important directions, namely prevention and reaction. If someone commits a femicide, of course they will be held accountable and that is an adequate response, but what needs to be done more is preventing this crime from happening in the first place”, Tatulashvili explained.

This is a complex issue that involves not only the interior ministry, the prosecutor's office or any other single agency, but one that will need to involve efforts from everyone - the general public – as it relates to mentality, customs, gender roles in the family and more. Of course, we do not have the ambition that once the plans are approved, femicide will not happen again - there is no such direct connection - but for prevention, the same coordination and joint work should be done, including from different branches of the government”, he said.

The action plan includes a separate chapter for prevention, which outlines requirements from each agency and their involvement in the process. “At the same time, even though we cannot assign obligations to independent actors or institutions, the work of state institutions alone is not enough - all layers of society must be involved in this, because this is a different phenomenon”, the adviser told us.

Why was it important to separate the part in the national strategy that refers to the Russian-occupied territories of Georgia?

"This puts an emphasis on the fact that we are not forgetting these people, that ensuring care for them is the obligation of the Georgian government”, the official said, noting “[t]here are many issues here, including [for] the internally displaced persons who live in the territories controlled by the Georgian government or those who have emigrated and may want to return - they have different needs”.

“People living in the areas adjacent to the administrative boundary line have specific needs, and they can become victims of assault or abduction [by occupation forces] at any time. The needs of people who live in the occupied territories are different - for example, they do not have the opportunity to receive education in their mother tongue”, he explained. “The national strategy is a way to see these problems [as issues relevant] for all agencies or public officials who have the obligation to work on these problems. [...] [F]or example, we want to strengthen the vision in terms of education and health services in case these people move to the territory controlled by [the Georgian government]", the human rights adviser added.

Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

In the interview, Tatulashvili also said human rights “often becomes a subject of politicisation”, which he said damages the process of protecting these rights. "There are groups or individuals who often try to translate specific problems into politics, which leads to negative outcomes for the people we [want to] protect”, he said. “We try to free our work process from such an approach as much as possible - we receive criticism, often exaggerated, but despite this we try to reach the people who really need our support", he stressed.

The official also noted “better results” would be achieved if there is a "full consolidation" around these goals, with the non-governmental sector, international organisations and all branches of the government uniting around the national strategy.

"These are issues where some of us have more responsibility and others less - and naturally the government has the biggest responsibility - but the government also needs support from other actors. The more people are imbued with the idea that it is better to work together, the easier it will be and the more tangible the results will be", Tatulashvili concluded.

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