September 2020
Improving Access to Justice for Marginalized Groups in Georgia

Religious minorities living in the mountainous Adjara region of Georgia had the opportunity to seek legal advice on matters of violence and discrimination based on gender and religion thanks to a mobile legal clinic organized by the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC). The two-day clinic was held on August 24-25 in the towns of Khulo and Ghorjomi and included a workshop for women in Khulo focused on women’s rights and domestic violence issues.

Religious and ethnic minorities in Georgia often face legal hurdles that limit their access to justice. With support from EWMI’s USAID-funded Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia Activity (PROLoG), EMC is working to strengthen the rights of religious and ethnic minorities in the Adjara region by addressing the discriminatory practices of state institutions. These discriminatory practices include the restriction of freedom of religion for minority religious groups, discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds in relations with the state and private persons, unequal treatment with regard to the recognition of property ownership and during the construction process, and the discriminatory indifference of police towards religious-based hate crimes.

EMC organized the mobile legal clinic to provide free legal aid and identify the key social and legal problems faced by the residents. The clinic was led by a group of lawyers from Tbilisi along with a locally-based lawyer who will be permanently stationed in the region to provide on-going legal consultations and litigation assistance. During the clinic meetings, residents of Khulo and Ghorjomi sought legal advice on matters of violence and discrimination based on gender and religion, as well as issues related to the registration of agricultural lands. In particular, the women who attended the meeting were interested in family law issues, such as the management of funds between spouses when they both are involved in agricultural activities and how alimony is determined in cases of divorce.

As part of the mobile legal clinic, 15 women in Khulo had the opportunity to participate in a workshop focused on women’s rights. They learned about the rights of domestic violence victims and existing protection mechanisms, and an EMC representative explained the importance of reporting violence to the police and provided information about shelters for situations in which  victims might not have a safe place to go.

The discussions held during the two-day clinic highlighted existing challenges in the region, including the lack of access to resources and services. The residents of high mountainous Adjara often have to travel two or three hours to the city of Batumi to access necessary public services which is both a logistical and financial burden for the local population.

Access to justice requires a justice system that is responsive to the needs and rights of all citizens, as well as a citizenry that is informed and able to seek the protection of their rights under the law. EMC’s work will help to ensure that the religious minorities of Adjara are not forgotten and strengthen their ability to seek justice should they face violence or discrimination based on their gender or religion.