Public Defender Appeals to Venice Commission concerning Draft Constitutional Amendments of Georgia

Ucha Nanuashvili, Public Defender of Georgia, has addressed the Venice Commission with a request to consider the fundamental issues, which had not been taken into account within the framework of the State Constitutional Commission, during evaluating the draft constitutional amendments of Georgia. In addition, in the letter to the Venice Commission, the Public Defender focuses on the amendments aimed at weakening the standards of development, protection and implementation of fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in the current edition of the Constitution.

In the letter, the Public Defender underlines that the draft constitutional amendments do not provide for sufficient basic safeguards against violation of social rights. In addition to the fact that unlike the constitutions of most of the European countries, the passage of social rights in the current Constitution is incomplete and weak, the list of these rights is very scarce in the country’s main law. This is especially important given the acute socio-economic inequality in the country. Seriousness of the situation is described in the Public Defender's parliamentary reports every year.

The Public Defender also emphasizes the issue of establishment of an effective state supervision mechanism for the protection of labour rights, which has not been reflected in the draft constitutional amendments. He also focuses on the necessity of reflecting various components of labour rights.

The proposed draft law somehow worsens the existing constitutional human rights standards. In particular, the passage of Article 32 of the second chapter of the current Constitution, according to which, conditions for ensuring minimum standard of living shall be determined by law and the state shall help the unemployed find a job, has been moved to the general provisions, which made it of a declarative nature and limited the opportunities for realization of these rights. Likewise, Article 39 has also been moved from the second chapter to the general provisions. The aim of this Article is to ensure protection of rights and freedoms if they are not directly indicated in the Constitution but stem inherently from the principles of the Constitution and international obligations undertaken by the State in the field of human rights. In the letter to the Venice Commission, the Public Defender emphasizes that it is important the abovementioned passages to remain in the Constitution of Georgia in order to ensure high standards of human rights.

The proposed draft law on constitutional amendments, compared to the current edition of the Constitution, weakens the human rights standard in relation to a number of other rights, which is discussed in detail by the Public Defender in the letter. The issues of freedom of religion and secularism are particularly important. The amendments to Articles 9 and 19 contribute to weakening of the principles of freedom of belief and confession, and secularism.

The Public Defender disapproves the constitutional regulation of the notion of marriage as a union of a man and a woman, since it encourages homophobic and negative attitudes towards LGBT persons.

The Public Defender also focuses on the fact that the draft constitutional amendments do not provide for important mechanisms for the protection of human rights and freedoms, such as establishment of an independent mechanism for investigating the cases of torture and ill-treatment committed by law enforcement agencies and expansion of the authority of the Constitutional Court.

The Public Defender considers that granting the High Council of Justice the authority to submit Supreme Court judicial candidates to the Parliament contains dangers. In light of the substantiated criticism towards the activities of the Council of Justice, the proposed amendments may have negative impact on the independence of the judicial system and the public trust in it.

In the end, the Public Defender terms the amendments to the Article regulating the Public Defender’s activities as an attempt of weakening the mandate of the institution instead of strengthening it.

The Public Defender hopes that consideration of the abovementioned opinions on the constitutional amendments of Georgia will facilitate improvement of the proposed draft law and provision of solid constitutional guarantees for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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