Georgia, the JWs & human rights: Help the police – beat yourself up

The lamentable record of ill-treatment of religious minorities in Georgia has been in the news again…

The complaint

In Begheluri & Ors v Georgia [2014] ECHR 1032, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses complained of thirty cases of alleged religiously-motivated violence and assault. At least four were allegedly carried out with the direct participation of the police and other representatives of the authorities, while twelve were carried out by a group of Orthodox believers run by one Basil Mkalavishvili (aka “Father Basil”, a priest defrocked by the Georgian Orthodox Church). In passing, Mkalavishvili has previous for this: see Gldani Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses & Ors v Georgia [2007] ECHR 1160. Moreover:

“Although in all the cases the applicants complained to the investigation authorities,in only a few of the cases did they receive a written response. In at least fifteen of the cases, when the applicants challenged the inactivity and ignorance of the law enforcement authorities, the courts refused to hear their complaints” [6]

The applicants alleged violation of Article 3 (inhuman or degrading treatment) ECHR and Article 9 (thought, conscience and religion), both of them taken separately and in conjunction with Article 14 (discrimination). They produced numerous statements in support of their allegations [6ff]; moreover, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [73], the UN Human Rights Committee on Georgia [74], the UN Committee against Torture [75], the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance [76], the Parliamentary Committee on Cooperation between the European Union and Georgia [77], Human Rights Watch [78], Amnesty International [79] and others [80 & 81] had all expressed serious concerns at Georgia’s persistent infringement of freedom of religion and persecution of religious minorities.

The judgment

The Court observed that Article 3 ECHR was

“… one of the most fundamental provisions of the Convention and as enshrining core values of the democratic societies making up the Council of Europe. In contrast to the other provisions in the Convention, it is cast in absolute terms, without exception or proviso, or the possibility of derogation…” [96].

It further observed that where an individual raised an arguable claim of treatment infringing Article 3 at the hands of agents of the respondent state or as a result of acts performed by private persons with the atate’s acquiescence or connivance, Article 3 required by implication that there should be an effective official investigation capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible [98]. Moreover, the authorities were obliged to take action as soon as an official complaint was lodged:

“Even in the absence of an express complaint, an investigation should be undertaken if there are other sufficiently clear indications that torture or ill-treatment might have occurred. A requirement of promptness and reasonable expedition is implicit in this context. A prompt response by the authorities in investigating allegations of ill-treatment may generally be regarded as essential in maintaining public confidence in their maintenance of the rule of law and in preventing any appearance of collusion in or tolerance of unlawful acts…”[99].

On the facts, the Court declared that some of the complaints were inadmissible but held that in the remainder there had been violations of Article 3 and Article 9, both taken separately and in conjunction with Article 14. No separate question arose under Article 13 (effective remedy).

Comment

 At para 145 the Court observed that

“The Georgian authorities created a climate of impunity, which ultimately encouraged other attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country”

– which is quite disgraceful. Moreover, the application was lodged in 22 July 2002: over twelve years ago.

The fact that the case has taken so long to resolve says a lot about the ECtHR backlog and the difficulty of reducing it. Moreover, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website claims that though the situation has greatly improved since 2004,

“the Witnesses in Georgia nevertheless continue to experience sporadic attacks and harassment. In 2013, there were 53 reported incidents of violence against the Witnesses”.

To which there is nothing one can usefully add.

1 thought on “Georgia, the JWs & human rights: Help the police – beat yourself up

  1. Pingback: Georgia, the JWs & human rights again: Tsartsidze & Ors | Law & Religion UK

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