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21-09-2005

GEORGIA PREPARING FOR RATIFICATION OF FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON MINORITIES

The European Centre for Minority Issues on 19 September organised a major conference on the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities at Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi. Georgia’s parliament is expected to ratify this international convention next month, honouring the obligations made when Georgia joined the Council of Europe in 1999. Ratification will mark an important milestone in the country’s declared commitment towards protecting the rights of all of its citizens. Georgia remains one of the few member states of the Council of Europe that has yet to ratify this important convention.

The Council of Europe’s Ambassador to Georgia and Special Representative to the Secretary General, Mr. Igor Gaon, said in his opening speech that he welcomed the ratification and that he hoped the ratification would finally take place in October after 6 years of delay. Mr. Gaon also emphasised that Georgia should ratify the minority convention without declarations as was done by Latvia, when this country earlier in the year ratified the Convention.

The Regional Representative in the Caucasus for the European Centre for Minority Issues, Mr. Tom Trier, said at the conference that the ratification of the Minority Convention would be a milestone in enhancing the standards for Georgia’s policies on national minority issues. He also emphasised that “protection of minority rights and the provision of European standards for governance on minority issues are high priorities of European institutions, and state practices on national minorities play an important role in the process of integration of neighboring countries into European structures”.

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is the first legally binding multilateral instrument devoted to the protection of national minorities in general. The Convention aims to specify the legal principles which states undertake to respect in order to ensure the protection of national minorities.

The conference, which was attended by 140 participants, marked the end of a series of events organized by the European Centre for Minority Issues in Georgia that were designed to raise awareness over the contents of the Minority Framework Convention. A workshop was held on 15-16 September in Tbilisi for the leading non government organisations that are concerned with minority rights issues and leaders of many of the minority communities in Georgia.

On 17-18 September a working retreat took place in the Gudauri mountain resort for members of parliament and government representatives. This occasion brought to light a series of concerns regarding the Framework Convention, although by the end of the weekend it appeared that many of the concerns had been allayed.
ECMI was fortunate to engage the services of one of Europe’s leading experts on the Framework Convention, Mr. Alan Phillips from the United Kingdom, who is former Vice-President of the Advisory Council on the Convention, the body that monitors the implementation of the Framework Convention. Mr. Phillips addressed all three occasions and explained in length the purpose, nature and spirit of the Convention.

The events were all marked by lively debate over the issue of the Framework Convention and the broader issue of minority rights in Georgia. It became apparent that while the Georgian parliament and government is committed to seeking ratification of the Framework Convention it does not wish for this to be a mere paper signing exercise. Several parliamentarians and government officials noted that ratification will presage a series of policy initiatives and reforms that will lead to the further integration of minorities into Georgian society while also respecting and protecting diversity. Hence, the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights and Civic Integration is currently preparing a “Concept on Integration and Protection of National Minorities”, which is expected to be passed by parliament shortly after the ratification of the Framework Convention.

The outcome of the seminars and the conference is that there is a groundswell of opinion that the Georgian Parliament should as a matter of urgency ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as this would send a clear signal of intent both domestically and internationally that Georgia is committed to promoting genuine harmony and inclusiveness to all members of society irrespective of their ethnic background.

For further information, please contact Mr. Tom Trier, ECMI Regional Representative for the Caucasus at tel. +995 99 27 66 80.

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