Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Georgian activists discuss issuing an appeal to the state minister for reintegration. (Photo: IWPR)
Representatives of international organisations and diplomatic missions listen to the Georgian activists’ concerns. (Photo: IWPR)
Round-table participants. (Photo: IWPR)
Tamar Khidasheli, from the Georgian Young Lawyer's Association, and George Khutsishvili, from ICCN, deliver presentations. (Photo: IWPR)
The Georgian authorities have said they will consider an IWPR round table’s critique of new rules aimed at controlling the work of NGOs working in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The November 30 round table was staged by the IWPR Tbilisi office in cooperation with the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and the Human Rights House Tbilisi, bringing together representatives of over 20 local and international non-governmental organisations and diplomats.
According to the new government rules, all projects proposed for Abkhazia and South Ossetia need to be approved by the ministry for reintegration, before they can be implemented. The ministry is entitled to dismiss a project or demand that it be revised according to its recommendations. The rules also require that twice a year, NGOs, both local and international, should provide the ministry with a progress report on their work.
The new regulations have alarmed the NGO community, where many see them as unwarranted interference in their affairs. Some say the rules have already damaged relations with Abkhaz and Ossetian NGOs, since they undermine what has hitherto been the main pillar of cooperation – the neutrality of the civil society sector.
The idea for the round table stemmed from an IWPR article - Georgia to Control NGO Work in Abkhazia, South Ossetia - which gave prominence to civil society concerns about the new regulations.
The round-table participants considered the new ordinance’s compliance with Georgian laws as well as the risks it appears to pose to the effective performance of civil society groups and to efforts aimed at restoring trust between the breakaway regions and Tbilisi.
Representatives of a number of embassies, including the United States, Switzerland, Latvia, the Czech Republic and France attended the discussion, alongside delegates from the European Union’s Special Representative’s Office, USAID and UNDP amongst others.
“I think the main problem that can be caused by the regulations is the deterioration of cooperation with Abkhaz and Ossetian colleagues. It took years to build partner relationships and build trust and now as a result of these regulations they may refuse to participate in the projects agreed with the government of Georgia,” said Giorgi Kupatadze, editor of the Caucasus Reporting Service, based in Tbilisi, Georgia.
“The desire of the government to control developments in the occupied territories is understandable, but it is already possible using existing legislation without intervening in the affairs of donor and civil society organisations.”
Tamar Khidasheli, from the Young Lawyers Association of Georgia, said, “The new regulations mainly target local and international organisations, however the government pushed them through without consulting them. Civil society representatives did not have the opportunity to cooperate with the government on this issue, to take their recommendations into consideration as well. The ordinance went into force as soon as it was published and the process of adoption contradicts a very important principle of a democratic state, which is transparency.”
A critique of the new regulations based on comments made by round-table participants has been submitted to the ministry of reintegration, which is expected to respond to the submission in late January.
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