The FoRB Roundtable Brussels-EU expresses concerns about a law threatening conscientious objection and thus freedom of religion or belief.
by FoRB Roundtable Brussels EU
To: Mr. Irakli Gharibashvili
Prime Minister of Georgia
Mr. Shalva Papuashvili
Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia
Copies to: Prof. Nazila Ghanea
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Mr. Frans van Daele
The UE Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief
Mr. Rashad Hussain
The Ambassador at Large, the U.S. Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom
Dr. Kishan Manocha
The OSCE/ODIHR Head of the Department on Tolerance and Non- Discrimination
Dr. Susan Kerr
The OSCE/ODIHR Senior Adviser on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Brussels, the 24 March 2022
Joint Letter on Georgia’s New Defense Code
Dear Prime Minister,
Dear Chairman of the Parliament,
We write as a group of organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious and secular leaders, human rights advocates and practitioners concerned with the draft law of Georgia’s
Defense Code submitted by the Government of Georgia to the Parliament of Georgia, in December 2022. In fact, the adoption of the draft law will annul the possibility for Ministers of Minority Religions, but the Georgian Orthodox Church, to beneficiate from the exemption for Compulsory Military Service.
The signatories of this letter welcome all efforts of Georgian authorities to strengthen the National Security and Defensive Capacity of Georgia. Especially, in response to the military aggressions committed by the Russian Federation against Georgia throughout the last decades and the current war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine. According to the National Security Concept of Georgia, the country’s security along with the right to the military defense of the territorial integrity of Georgia is based on such essential values as ensuring the protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, as well as Democracy and the Rule of Law. We sincerely believe that Georgia’s new Defense Code serves these worthy ideals. However, the submitted Draft Law poses a serious challenge to the Fundamental Right to Equality and Non- Discrimination based on religion and belief.
We support following basic principles and judgements in this respect:
- The Ministerial Exception (deferment of conscription into Compulsory Military Service), as opposed to an exemption from the Compulsory Military Service based on conscientious objection, is not a Right protected by the Freedom of Religion or Belief, but a Privilege granted to the ministers of religion considering the public importance of their status and by the political will of the State.
- Nevertheless, since the State itself grants any special Privilege or Status to the ministers of religion, above and beyond its obligations under the Freedom of Religion or Belief, it cannot deny this advantage to specified religious group in a discriminatory manner contrary to the Fundamental Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination based on religion and belief. Thus, when Georgian State grants special deferment of conscription into Compulsory Military Service to the ministers of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, all other religious groups which so wish, must have a fair opportunity to apply for the same Privilege in a non-discriminatory manner.
- We understand well, that the submitted Draft Law intends to eliminate the legislative gap that allows “unscrupulous” and “false” religious organizations to help individuals avoid Compulsory Military Service. Still, according to the modern principles of Democracy and the Freedom of Religion the State should not relieve any of its burden at the expense of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of individuals or groups. In this regard, the State has a responsibility to eliminate solely the abusing practice and not the Right to Equality and Non- Discrimination based on religion and belief, entirely.
- We further find a risk of discrimination in amendments to the Law on Georgia on Non- military, Alternative Labor Service. In particular, according to the draft amendment the ground for releasing a citizen from compulsory military service and performance of non-military, alternative labor service, along with conscientious objection, will also be the status of a Minister. According to the Georgian Authorities, this Privilege will replace the withdrawn Ministerial Exception, as this new legal regulation will apply equally to the Ministers of all religions, including the Orthodox Church of Georgia. However, this interpretation is not valid, as the Constitutional Agreement of Georgia explicitly prohibits State from conscripting Ministers of the Orthodox Church of Georgia into Compulsory Military Service. Thus, as a result, if the submitted draft is adopted, the Orthodox Ministers will be unconditionally exempted from compulsory military service, while the Ministers of all other religions will be subject to non-military, alternative labor service.
- We also comprehend well, that existing legislative system – legal nature of the Constitutional Agreement of Georgia – does not give the State the power to unilaterally decide the issue regarding the Ministers of the Orthodox Church of Georgia without the bilateral agreement with the Orthodox Church of Georgia of the Church, which in itself heightens the arising risk of Discrimination even more.
Therefore, taking into account that the Right to Equality Before the Law is guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia, and Georgia is also a contracting party of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, we respectfully request this Draft Law be revoked or amended in accordance with the principle of Equality Before the Law guaranteed above mentioned national and international acts.
We would be more than happy to meet with and assist with appropriate representatives in charge of Georgia if they would feel this appropriate.
Institute for Religious Freedom of the University of Georgia (Georgia)
Asian Children’s Education Fellowship (USA)
Bitter Winter, a daily magazine on religious liberty and human rights (Italy)
CESNUR, Center for Studies on New Religions (Italy)
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office Washington, DC (USA)
Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (France)
European Evangelical Alliance (Switzerland)
European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (France – Belgium)
Fundacion para la Mejora de la Vida, la Cultura y la Sociedad – NGO with Special Consultative Status to the UN ECOSOC (Spain)
Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief (The Netherlands)
International Society for Peace & Justice (USA)
ORLIR, International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees (Italy)
The Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion Belief and Conscience (LIREC) (Italy)
Professor Dr Eileen Barker, FAcSS, FBA, OBE
Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics
Prof. Dr Jelle Creemers
Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen
Executive Director, Parity
Prof. Dr. Dimitry Gegenava
Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani University
Universal Peace Federation International
Rehan Khan MD MS
International Society for Peace & Justice
Prof. Dr. Archil Metreveli
Head of the Institute for Religious Freedom The University of Georgia
Red Eagle Enterprises
Co-Chair Africa Working Group IRF Roundtable Washington, DC
Asian Children’s Education Fellowship
Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief
Bitter Winter, A Magazine on Religious Liberty and Human Rights.
European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom