Joint Statement of Civil Society Organizations on the Initiative of the Organization “Identity”

State’s obligation to ensure individuals’ right to adequate housing is often violated in Georgia. State policy towards extreme form of poverty, homelessness is yet to be elaborated. Often homeless persons are unable to obtain the status of a socially vulnerable person as the law requires proof of permanent residence for the status. 

Over the past several years there have been a number of media reports about death of homeless persons from winter cold. As the state has failed to meet its obligations for the homeless, NGO “Identity” decided to set up a shelter with an intent of gaining experience in the field and sharing it with state authorities in future. Along with shelter, the organization also planned to offer meals, psychological, medical and legal assistance and employment to beneficiaries.  

Regrettably, high-level state officials refrained from supporting the initiative and made incompetent statements about it. As neither national nor international laws envisage any such restrictions, the statement of the head of Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, Eka Beselia about the state’s exclusive right to open the shelter, is incorrect (“Kronika” 12.11.13, at 20:35 mark). 

Her comments (“if anyone wants to make a kind deed, it should be done without violation of law” and “Excuse me but there is an order in the country”) in addition to being legally unfounded, also need to be evaluated in terms of why the initiative was criticized by a person with such a responsible status and why threats she made against “Identity” were never responded. 

To our regret, none of the government representatives have expressed their position about ideas voiced by clergymen, including establishment of the faction in the Parliament based on religion; nomination of a clergyman for the position of public defender; copyrighting good deeds by the church, etc. 

Statements of Minister of Health, Labor and Social Protection of Georgia David Sergeenko alleging that “Identity” violated two International Conventions lack any legal reasoning. Moreover, discussions on deinstitutionalization and street children were irrelevant since the initiative addressed the problem of homelessness. The minister has not yet explained the reasons for misleading public. 

The demand of the Orthodox Church demanding prohibition to prohibit Identity from participating in attempts to address the problem of homeless is also alarming.  “We will not mercy anyone” says the statement of the Patriarch’s secretary. The official statement of the Patriarchate also reiterates that “Identity” intends to set up a shelter for street children, even though it was never declared by the organization. Patriarchate has also failed to provide any reasonable and legal justification as to why the organization “Identity” should refrain from such the initiative. Deliberate act of religious organization to isolate the organization “Identity” and LGBT individuals from public, abuse them physically and threaten them with physical destruction, is especially disturbing. With such conduct, the Orthodox Church grossly violates universal human rights, while so far the state’s response is negligent silence.   

It is our firm conviction that such initiatives play pivotal role in uniting public and building peace in the society. We also condemn the aggressive campaign of political officials and representatives of Patriarchate against “Identity”.  In this light, we urge all relevant state authorities to adequately respond to the violence and threats made, notwithstanding the perpetrator.     
Moreover, we urge the state to fulfill its obligations by setting up shelters for the homeless within a reasonable timeframe. We welcome any initiative of individuals or organizations for establishing a shelter, appreciate the support of the public defender’s office and the Ministry of Justice, and declare that we will proceed with the initial initiative of building a shelter. Civil society organizations in partnership with “Identity” plan to submit an action plan for resolving the problem of homelessness. 
Undersigned organizations:

International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
Georgian Center for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation for the Victims of Torture (GCRT)
Article 42 of the Constitution 
Transparency –International Georgia (TI-Georgia)
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
National Democracy Institute of Kurds
Union “Safari”
“Multilingual Georgia”
LGBT Georgia 
ALPE foundation
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Media Development Fund (MDF)
Multimedia Group Reactor
Association of Social Workers of Georgia