The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Georgia is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Georgia is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Georgia is a State Party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
On 21 March 2020, the President of Georgia declared a state of emergency throughout Georgia, a decision that was approved by the Georgian Parliament the same day. The current epidemic situation in Georgia, the authorities informed the Council of Europe, “has reached the point of public emergency threatening the life of the nation under Article 15(1) of the Convention necessitating further and now exceptional measures to ensure safety and protection of public health”. Presidential Decree N1 of 21 March 2020 restricted certain fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of Georgia leading to, among others, “restrictions of assembly, manifestation and gathering”. Accordingly, Georgia derogated from the rights of liberty and security, to family life, and the right of peaceful assembly under the ECHR. It later prolonged its derogation, most recently on 1 January 2021 until 1 July 2021.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 25 of the 1995 Constitution of Georgia (as amended) provides that:
1. Everyone, except members of the armed forces and Ministry of Internal Affairs, has the right to public assembly without arms either indoors or outdoors without prior permission.
2. The necessity of prior notification of the authorities may be established by law in the case where a public assembly or manifestation is held on a public thoroughfare.
3. Only the authorities shall have the right to break up a public assembly or manifestation in case it assumes an illegal character.
The primary legislation governing assemblies in Georgia is the 2011 Law on Assembly and Demonstrations. The law requires notification five days in advance. According to its Article 2(1):
This Law regulates the exercise of the right of persons recognised by the Constitution of Georgia to gather publicly, unarmed, both indoors and outdoors without prior permission.
Paragraph 2 of the article stipulates that this right "shall not apply to employees of the armed forces, armed law enforcement bodies, or special and paramilitary forces".
For the purpose of the Law, Article 3 defines an assembly as "an indoor or outdoor gathering of a group of citizens, a meeting in public places to express solidarity or protest"; and a demonstration as "an assembly of citizens, mass public march, and street demonstration to express solidarity or protest, or march using posters, slogans, banners and other visible means".
The 2011 Law prohibits the holding of an assembly or a demonstration
inside the building of the Parliament of Georgia, the residency of the President of Georgia, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Georgia, on the premises of courts, prosecutor’s offices or of police, penitentiary or military units and sites, [in] railway stations, airports, hospitals or diplomatic missions ([or] within a 20-metre radius thereof), on the premises of governmental institutions [or] local self-government bodies, [or] in the buildings of companies, institutions and organisations [that operate under] special labour security rules or are under armed guard. It is prohibited to fully block the entrance to those sites.
Also prohibited is the holding of spontaneous assemblies. In its 2015 National report for its Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council, Georgia stated that:
The Constitution of Georgia, international conventions and the Law of Georgia on Assemblies and Manifestations guarantee the right to freedom and peaceful assembly. In 2011, some substantial changes to the Law were introduced, including the following: introduction of the principle of proportionality for the restriction of the right to assembly and demonstrate, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights; the repeal of blanket restrictions regarding places where assemblies and demonstrations can be held, specifically with respect to political institutions; blanket restrictions on blocking streets also were lifted; additional provision to strengthen guarantees and protections for media covering assemblies and demonstrations. Further amendments were made to the law in 2011 and 2012 as a result of the judicial review by the Constitutional Court of Georgia, removing further restrictions on the rights of freedom of assembly .
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Under Article 9 of the 2013 Law on the Police, the police are responsible for dispersing unlawful assemblies. Any police measure "shall be fit, necessary, and proportional".
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Article 34 of the Police Law governs the right to use firearms. Under paragraph 5, a police officer may use a firearm as a last resort:
a) to defend a person and him/herself from a threat to their lives and/or health
b) to release a person who has been unlawfully deprived of liberty
c) based on prior information, to prevent the escape of a person who has been detained for having committed a violent act or extremely grievous crime
d) to prevent a violent crime if a person resists a police officer
e) to repel an attack on a protected facility, state body and/or civic organisation....
This is more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2014 Concluding Observations on Georgia, the Human Rights Committee expressed concern at violations of the right to freedom of assembly of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.
Tuskia and others v. Georgia (2018)
This case concerned an assembly at Tbilisi State University on 3 July 2006. The assembly had been authorised but the participants made an unauthorised entry to the Rector’s office and demanded his resignation. Violence ensued. But while the events "happened in a situation of tension", the European Court of Human Rights found that the applicants’ conduct "was not established to have been of a violent nature." The Court thus did "not consider that the applicants’ protest on 3 July 2006, viewed as a whole, was of such a nature and degree as to exclude them from the scope of protection under Article 11 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 10." The Court, hence, concluded that the applicants "were entitled in the course of their protest at the University to invoke the guarantees of Article 11 of the Convention" and that "their removal and administrative responsibility constituted an interference with their right to freedom of assembly".
The Government claimed that the applicants’ removal with the involvement of the police had had a legal basis in the Law on the Police and the Law on Assembly and Demonstrations, and had been aimed at preventing further disruption to public order, as well as the protection of the rights of certain persons. The Court accepted that the impugned interference "had a basis in domestic law". It noted that the police acted at the request of the acting Rector of the University. The removal was preceded by administrative staff members, and then the police, explicitly and repeatedly asked the applicants to leave the acting Rector’s office. It therefore found that the requirement of lawfulness was satisfied.
The Court recalled that no physical force was used by the police against the applicants. Instead, as established in the course of the domestic proceedings, police officers negotiated with the applicants for more than an hour for their peaceful removal from the office. "Moreover, after their removal from the office of the acting Rector, they were allowed to stay on the premises of the University and continue with their protest." Given the margin of appreciation applicable in such cases, the Court considered that the removal of the applicants from the acting Rector’s office in order to achieve the legitimate aims pursued was not disproportionate.
Views of Civil Society
Freedom House has reported that in November 2020, the police used water cannons to disperse largely peaceful demonstrators protesting apparent electoral violations outside the CEC building in Tbilisi. The public defender’s office and other watchdogs called the use of water cannons excessive and illegal
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Georgia:
Freedom of assembly is generally respected, but police sometimes respond to demonstrations with excessive force. In 2017, a protest in Batumi against exorbitant fines for traffic violations became violent; police employed tear gas and rubber bullets, and a number of injuries were reported. Protests during 2018 proceeded more peacefully. They included demonstrations in May in response to aggressive raids on two popular nightclubs where police said illegal drugs were being sold, and counterdemonstrations mounted by far-right organizations—part of an ongoing debate over drug laws and their enforcement in the country. Separate protests erupted in June after the partial acquittal of a defendant in the Khorava Street murders, a 2017 incident in which two teenagers were killed in a street brawl; at least 19 protest leaders and participants were arrested, including Parliament member Nika Melia and Tbilisi City Council member Irakli Nadiradze, both of the UNM.