The European Court of Human Rights Thursday held against Georgia in a case concerning an attack on LGBT protestors in the capital city Tbilisi.
Amidst threats of a counter-demonstration by ultra-conservative NGOs and clergymen, senior officials of the Ministry of the Interior had guaranteed the safety of the applicants, a group of 35 Georgian nationals and two LGBT rights advocacy groups, during a 20-minute silent flash mob on the International Day Against Homophobia.
On the day of the demonstration, May 17, 2013, the applicants were attacked at Pushkin Square by 35,000 to 40,000 counter-demonstrators wielding sticks, stones, and batons, and hurling homophobic slurs and death threats. Following an inquiry by the Ministry of the Interior, criminal proceedings resulted in the acquittal of four demonstrators, and imposition of a fine on four others. One proceeding is still pending.
The Court held unanimously that Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 11 (freedom of association) in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. They also found that the mental anguish suffered by the applicants in the face of homophobic threats of violence was sufficient to sustain charges under the Convention.
The Court found that the authorities had failed to take proper safety measures to protect the applicants’ right to freedom of association despite knowing the risks associated with the tension-fraught event. A prior announcement by the counter-demonstrators of their intentions and the State’s failure to manage the previous year’s LGBT rally discredited the State’s contention that it was not anticipating the escalation. The State’s response to the threat was “to deploy unarmed and unprotected police patrol officers who were supposed to contain the tens of thousands of aggressive people by forming thin human cordons.” These safety precautions were deemed to be wholly inadequate for the event especially considering the notice given by both groups. The Court also explained that whenever large-scale violence is foreseeable:
It is important for the domestic authorities to evaluate the resources necessary for neutralizing the threat of violent clashes by, amongst other things, equipping law-enforcement officers deployed to the scene with appropriate riot gear in order to be able to discharge their police functions.
The impartiality of the criminal proceedings was also questioned given that they were led by the same unit of the Ministry of the Interior which had guaranteed the safety of the protestors. The Court held that “no tangible results” had been achieved in these cases and that:
the protraction of the investigation exposed the domestic authorities’ long-standing inability – which can also be read as unwillingness – to examine the homophobic and/or transphobic motives behind the violence and degrading treatment committed against the relevant twenty-seven individual applicants.
The Court under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention found Georgia liable to pay the applicants a total of 193,500 euros in damages.