MANDELA | Human Rights Column – The Georgian Case. The fear of being free

Silvia Camisasca

There is a great need to restore centrality to the “rights” question. There is a great need to become passionate about that patient, daily battle for the affirmation of principles that have only apparently been acquired: a change of paradigm is needed, which passes from the recognition of diversity as a resource social, cultural and economic value to that of it being understood as a powerful engine of innovation. The spring, at the basis of this necessary conceptual inversion, is triggered by replacing the distortion – which leads to the maturing of the idea of a ​​law as a “concession” to a minority by a majority – with that of the law as a constitutive element of every living being, sine qua non for peaceful and equal coexistence within each community. Once awareness of the nature of rights is achieved, sharing them, and not granting them, and fighting for everyone to enjoy them, will be experienced as a need that is ours exactly as much as it is a need for those who are deprived of these rights. And this is valid starting with the inalienable right of every human being to be able to be themselves and to support their own nature, obviously while respecting that of others.

To understand how important the value of the law is, dissolved from every historical, socio-cultural, geographical context in which it may be located, it can be helpful to broaden the perspective of one’s own garden, opening oneself up to unrecognised horizons: there is nothing but an embarrassment of choice. Just close your eyes and let yourself be transported to a well-identified point on the globe and enter the dimension of a place, a country, a society, following the story of a Virgil or a Beatrice, who will guide us on the journey. With Marilisa Lorusso, an expert in Democracy and Human Rights, in particular regarding the countries of origin of asylum seekers for the Rights in Exile Program (UK) and for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (US), this trip takes us to Georgia, the most pro-Western of the Caucasian countries which, having obtained independence in 1991, started a process of acquiring the principles of human rights in national codes, in an attempt to become accredited as a possible member of NATO and the EU. In this climate, homosexuality was decriminalised in 2000 to meet the standards established by the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. Since then, in the legal field, the management has been theoretically unequivocal: in 2006 the labour code prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, in 2012 the criminal code provided for the aggravating circumstance of homophobia in crimes against the person and on May 2, 2014, Parliament approved a law against all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Finally, in July 2017, the Georgia Constitutional Court lifted the ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood, declaring it unconstitutional. The recognition of same-sex marriage, joint adoption by gay couples and surrogacy for male couples continue to be prohibited by law. In Georgia (where military service is compulsory), LGBT people are also not allowed to serve openly in the military. “As in Hungary, there is a counter-trend on the legal level of LGTB rights, which found its peak in the introduction of an amendment aimed at specifying that marriage must be between a man and a woman,” explains Marilisa Lorusso. “The amendment, the flagship of a campaign to ‘resist the moral colonisation of the West’ by the ruling party, the Georgian Dream, legally changes nothing, since the civil code already defines marriage as a voluntary union between a woman and a man for the purposes of the creation of a family, and gay marriages were not allowed even before the constitutional amendment.” The inclusion of this provision, however, is a clear sign of the willingness to perpetrate the traditional family model, which is rooted, in part, in the strong homophobia that pervades Georgian society: a national brand that goes hand in hand with the strong attachment to cultural traditions and Orthodox religion. “Verbal, physical and psychological violence against LGBT people are recurrent and widespread throughout the national territory, even though the capital, Tbilisi, is considered more tolerant,” Lorusso emphasises, “as are young people, especially between 18 and 24.

That said, the attitudes of intolerance towards homosexuals have significantly increased and this is because the political elite deems it unpopular to engage in enforcing anti-discrimination legislation and, on the contrary, rides the wave of the deep homophobia of public opinion, helping to feed it, rather than to stem it.” Violence against transgender people is endemic and systematic: 32% of members of the LGBT community report having experienced physical violence at least once, 90% have suffered psychological violence and 73% report not having reported it, fearing homophobic retaliation from the police. Of these political episodes, as many as 60% took place in public places: after all, 72% of Georgians believe that psychological violence against LGBT people is so customary that it cannot be classified as a human rights violation.

“As a gender focal point, during an EU mission, I was tasked with assessing the impact of the 2008 Georgian-Russian war on the LGBT community,” recalls Marilisa Lorusso. Although my contact had guaranteed total anonymity to community members, and guaranteed that the choice of meeting place and access to information would be limited to mission chain of command, the community felt threatened to such an extent by retaliation, if they revealed their sexual orientation, that it was impossible to meet them.” Returning to the beginning – can the “theoretically” sanctioned right be enough?