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New laws protecting minorities a must in Georgia – MRG briefing

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Ethnic tension could rise in Georgia unless the government, in line with international standards, puts in place robust domestic laws to protect minority rights, Minority Rights Group International says in a new briefing.

The briefing also warns that the situation in Georgia could significantly deteriorate, due to rising waves of unrest and tension with neighbouring Russia, over the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"Following the recent tension with Russia it is now ever more apparent how urgently Georgia needs to put in place laws to strengthen democracy and pluralism in the country," says Neil Clarke, MRG's Head of Europe.

A little over 16 percent of Georgia's population are minorities, such as Abkhazs, Armenians, Assyrians, Azeris, Greeks, Jews, Kurds, Roma and Russians.

The report explains how minorities in Georgia have been historically ostracised and are still considered as guests in the country and not full citizens.

"Minorities continue to face barriers. They are expected to adapt to the majority views and have little space to be critical of the state," Clarke adds.

The recent war over South Ossetia has intensified inter-ethnic tension and hate-motivated violence while the media has helped to spread fear between communities by often referring to minorities as separatists, the report says.
Non-Russian minorities are also regularly portrayed in a negative light in the Georgian media. Yezidis for instance, are presented as potential criminals.

Minorities also face language barriers and are excluded from politics. No multilingual public services are officially provided and there is no guarantee that non-Georgian speakers can access those services in their mother tongue. In 2008 only five members of parliament were from minority communities – two Armenians and three Azeris.

The report acknowledges that Georgia has taken some positive steps towards minority protection, such as the ratification of the European Framework Convention for the Protection of the Rights of National Minorities in 2005, and the adoption of a National Concept and Action Plan for Tolerance and Civil Integration in 2009.

"The steps taken so far by Georgia to protect minority rights are insufficient. Georgia needs to recognise the danger in delaying putting in place laws that protect minorities, which could lead to a worsening of the current situation, and open up the possibility of new conflicts," Clarke adds.

>>> Download briefing

Notes to the Editor

  • The briefing titled ‘Breaking the cycle of Exclusion: Minority rights in Georgia today' is available on www.minorityrights.org from 22 December 2009.
  • Interview opportunities are available with:
    Neil Clarke, MRG's Head of Europe.
    M: + 447970679820
    Arnold Stepanian, Public Movement Multinational Georgia – an umbrella organisation of 18 ethnic minority representatives.
    M: +995 95 95 95 65 or +995 77 44 35 64
    T: +995 32 91 05 57
  • To arrange interviews or an embargoed copy of the report, please contact MRG's press office:
    T: +44 207 422 4205
    M: +44 7870 596863
    E: press@minorityrights.org
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

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