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Georgia's 'foreign agents' bill puts LGBTQ+ groups on alert

Demonstrators hold a rally to protest against a bill on 'foreign agents' in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 11, 2024. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Demonstrators hold a rally to protest against a bill on "foreign agents" in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 11, 2024. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

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Europe's top human rights watchdog says 'foreign agents' laws like Georgia's bill are an urgent issue for LGBTQ+ advocacy groups

BRUSSELS - Legislation on "foreign agents" including a divisive bill passed by Georgia's parliament this week is an urgent issue for LGBTQ+ groups, who fear they will be among the first to be targeted, Europe's top human rights watchdog has warned.

The bill approved by lawmakers on Tuesday would require organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence, imposing onerous disclosure requirements and fines for violations.

"The LGBTQ community are telling us that they are going to be the first victims of foreign funding laws," Michael O'Flaherty, the new human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, told Context, adding that such bills present a "very imminent and urgent issue" for LGBTQ+ groups.

Opponents of the Georgian bill see it as a test of whether the country stays on a path towards integration with Europe or pivots back towards Russia - which has introduced a series of anti-LGBTQ+ measures in recent years.

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Backers of the legislation - which follows a similar draft law adopted in Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic last year - have already said they will use the law against LGBTQ+ rights organisations, and the ruling party has also proposed a new law targeting the community.

Mariam Kvaratskhelia, co-director of Tbilisi Pride, which organises an annual LGBTQ+ event in Georgia's capital, said she feared her organisation would be among the first targeted if the draft law takes effect, as is expected.

"Things are moving so fast, it's like a war of nerves and emotions," she said by phone from Tbilisi, where weeks of street protests over the bill took place ahead of Tuesday's vote.

'Rampant discrimination'

O'Flaherty, who spoke ahead of Friday's International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), also voiced concern about increasing violence and discrimination against people from sexual and gender minorities elsewhere in the Caucasus region, and in the Balkans.

"There are the basic issues of violence and intimidation, people getting beaten up, getting bullied with impunity," he said in an interview.

"(There is) rampant discrimination (on) access to housing, healthcare, and the job market and it goes on. These are very big concerns," he added.

Anti-LGBTQ protesters make a bonfire in area designated for the Tbilisi Pride Fest, in Tbilisi, Georgia July 8, 2023. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Anti-LGBTQ protesters make a bonfire in area designated for the Tbilisi Pride Fest, in Tbilisi, Georgia July 8, 2023. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Anti-LGBTQ protesters make a bonfire in area designated for the Tbilisi Pride Fest, in Tbilisi, Georgia July 8, 2023. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Earlier this week, a survey from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed reports of violence and harassment against LGBTQ+ people had risen to a record high, with 14% of 100,000 respondents across Europe saying they had been targeted between 2018 and 2023.

The picture painted by the survey is particularly bleak for intersex and trans people, who suffer more violence and harassment than other minorities, O'Flaherty said.

Some LGBTQ+ advocates have said far-right candidates are seeking to whip up transphobic sentiment in a big election year in Europe, something O'Flaherty warned against.

"These are human beings, these are not ideas," he said, adding that the persistent exclusion of trans people leads to "killing, suicide and misery".

But he said "extraordinary progress" towards LGBTQ+ equality had been made in many places, including his homeland.

"The Irish know better than anybody how much progress can be made from criminalisation in a few short years to marriage equality," he said, adding that more needed to be done to tackle lingering discrimination across the continent. 

(Reporting by Joanna Gill; Editing by Helen Popper.)


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