Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination meets with non-governmental organizations

Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

15 August 2011

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning heard statements from a series of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the situation of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance in Georgia and Ukraine.

In advance of the Committee’s review of the periodic reports of 9 countries during its seventy-ninth session, the Committee holds meetings with non-governmental organizations to discuss the implementation of the Convention in the countries under review. Today is the second of three meetings to be held with non-governmental organizations; the last will be on Monday, 22 August. Today’s meeting focused on the situation in Georgia and Ukraine. The periodic report of Georgia will be presented starting tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. while the periodic report of Ukraine will be considered starting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 August.

Regarding the situation in Georgia, speakers welcomed the latest amendments to the civil code of Georgia concerning the status of religious denominations. According to the amendments, religious denominations were able to register as private not-for-profit legal entities or as public law legal entities. Speakers underlined the issues of access to education, knowledge of the state language, access to information and media, and social, economic and regional integration. Measures to improve knowledge of the state language and access to education had positively affected the number of the persons who knew the Georgian language. More students were enrolled in higher education institutions and approximately 10 per cent more national minorities spoke Georgian. However, 80 per cent of participants in a recent survey still agreed there was a need for language courses, especially in rural areas. Lack of knowledge of the Georgian language posed serious impediments for the integration process of national minorities. It hindered participation in social and political life, employment possibilities, opportunities to be elected and appointed to public positions and the understanding of information concerning the ongoing situation in Georgia. Non-Georgian populations of Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli received information in different languages and thus received different information. Despite the fact that the public broadcaster had contracted regional television programs specially designed for national minorities, problems remained. The public broadcaster did not cover the entire Georgian territory and news was not viewed broadly, because it was not aired during prime time. The social and economic policy of the State could stimulate the integration process of minorities.

Speakers said the Constitution of Georgia protected ethnic minorities and prohibited discrimination. Nevertheless, minorities had encountered problems in Georgia since it became a state. The main problem faced by authorities was ensuring the linguistic rights of national minorities; current efforts were inadequate. Participation of minorities in many spheres of life was limited and led to significant tensions. Repatriation applicants faced strict documentation and other requirements. The biggest national minority in Georgia, Azerbaijanis, faced significant discrimination. The Georgian authorities delayed decisions to fund Azerbaijani districts, which were reflected in the poor economic and social indicators of the population. There was a high rate of Armenian out-migration, due to the difficult situation and high level of unemployment faced by Armenians in Georgia. Armenian districts suffered under a disastrous economic situation. The Georgian law on property restitution was not being implemented in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, following the bloody massacre that took place in that region. Populations in these areas faced severe discrimination; many schools had been closed by the Government of Georgia. Schools conducted in Russian were converted into Georgian-language schools. This diminished access to education for children who did not speak the Georgian language. Speakers said the Georgian parliament had adopted international conventions regarding minorities and anti-discrimination only with the reservation that it was impossible to guarantee the full implementation of international conventions until the full integrity of the Georgian territory was restored. The Parliament had acknowledged the need to promote the knowledge of Georgian languages to minorities, but did not support the continued use of minority languages.

In the interactive dialogue that followed the presentation by non-governmental organizations on the situation in Georgia, Committee Members asked about the Azerbaijani villages’ names that had been changed. Were the names changed only on the map or did the local population continue to use the original names? Further information was required, for example what was the language of the population? Further, there was the question of bilingual signs, which were present elsewhere and could be a good solution. Committee Members said that Georgia had been required to teach the Georgian language to minorities which had meant changes in the curriculum. Only the territory controlled by the Georgian state should be considered. Committee Members asked for further information about racial discrimination, particularly as it related to the Roma. Concern was expressed about discrimination faced by women minorities in Georgia. Xenophobia had been underlined, which was present even in some textbooks.

Responding to the questions raised by Committee Members, non-governmental organization representatives said that the villagers still used the Azerbaijani names although the Georgian leadership used different names. About 40 names had been changed, although only about 18 village names had been changed officially. If the re-naming took place, it should be done in agreement with the local population. With respect to schools, reforms had been carried out by the Ministry of Education and books had been distributed in minority languages. Generally, in Georgia, the number of schools was being reduced. The main problem was that the Government had few qualified teachers. There were about 33,000 Ossetians in Georgia but they continued to leave. It was not as massive an exodus as in 2008 but nonetheless, many young Ossetians were leaving Georgia because they did not want to be part of an army that might attack South Ossetia. The Ministry of Education had to set up a new strategy as to how native languages were taught and textbooks used. Currently, signs were put up in Georgian and in English, and minority languages were not used. There were about 1,000 Roma in Georgia. The main issue was that Roma did not have identification. About half had been registered and efforts would continue dedicated to registering all of them. Without resolving the issue of registration, integration alone would not solve the problem. Regarding xenophobia, this was a problem, but not an emerging trend. While there were sometimes xenophobic comments, but the Ombudsman and other authorities reacted strongly and legislation was in place to punish those who made such comments.

Regarding the situation of racial discrimination in Ukraine, representatives of non-governmental organizations said Crimean Tatars were an indigenous people of Crimea and for over 500 years, had been part of the European state-political system. In 1954, when all deported Crimean Tatars were kept under surveillance in special settlements some thousand kilometers from their homeland, Crimean territory was transferred from Russia to Ukraine. The Ukrainian State had not adopted any legal act to restore to the rights of the Crimean Tatar people. It was estimated that private property seized from Crimean Tatars constituted over 6 billion dollars. All lands, property and houses owned by Crimean Tatars were used by Ukraine. In addition, courts arbitrarily refused to consider claims to restitute property. Ukrainian courts had refused to even consider applications of Crimean Tatars to claim their property. The inequality of the citizens and ethnic groups was not extended only to Crimean Tatars, but also to another small indigenous people known as Crimean Karay. About 60 per cent of Crimean Tatars were unemployed and had no permanent source of income. Crimean Tatars were not proportionally represented in the Government. Although Ukrainian authorities boasted of opening Crimean Tatar schools, these had not been opened. Only 6 schools had legal status establishing Crimean Tatar mother tongue language instruction. From the beginning of Russian presence in Crimea, there was systematic activity aimed at the annihilation of the cultural heritage of Crimean Tatar people. The Ukrainian State supported the policy of ethnocide and cultural-linguistic assimilation started by Russia. Not one law regarding indigenous people had been adopted during the Ukrainian state in the 15 years after the adoption of its most recent constitution. The Ukraine state prevented the restoration of the rights of Crimean Tatars.

Committee Members said the constitution of Ukraine required the enhancement of the religious, cultural and linguistic identity and minorities of Ukraine. Regarding the restitution of property, there was no need for a special law because there were provisions in the civil code that could be applied, although in practices, this was not occurring. The exodus of Crimean Tatars was a great tragedy in the Second World War. In the 1940s and 1950s, Greeks, Armenians and Bulgarians were also forced to leave. In addressing the question of restitution and compensation for Crimean Tatars, these other groups needed to be considered as well.

Representatives of the Civil Development Agency and the International Association of Ossetian Communities “Renaissance” took the floor to discuss the situation in Georgia. Representatives of the Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous Peoples of Crimea took the floor in the discussion on Ukraine.

The next meeting of the Committee will be this afternoon at 3 p.m. when it will consider the initial through fourth periodic reports of Kenya. The report regarding Kenya will be considered for the next two meetings, concluding on Tuesday, 14 August at 1 p.m.

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For use of the information media; not an official record