Venice Commission publishes opinion on Transparency of Foreign Influence Law

2024/05/5678-1716366735.jpg
Read: 528     11:00     22 Май 2024    

The Venice Commission has published an opinion on the Law of Georgia on Transparency of Foreign Influence.

According to the document, “The Venice Commission strongly recommends repealing the Law in its current form, as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination”.

“The Venice Commission regrets at the outset that this Law, which is human-rights sensitive but is also highly controversial in Georgian society, as is demonstrated by the massive reactions in the country, was adopted in a procedure which left no space for genuine discussion and meaningful consultation, in open disregard for the concerns of large parts of the Georgian people. This is all the more unfortunate as the reactions to a similar draft law in 2023 had shown the polarization regarding its adoption and there was thus an obvious and demonstrable need to carry out meaningful consultations with the stakeholders affected by the Law, notably civil society organisations, online media outlets and broadcasters. This manner of proceeding does not meet the European requirements of democratic law-making.

The Venice Commission has analysed the compatibility of the Law with the applicable international and European standards, based on principles developed in its numerous previous opinions on a similar matter. It concludes that the restrictions set by the Law to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and privacy are incompatible with the strict test set out in Articles 8(2), 10(2), and 11(2) of the ECHR and Article 17(2), 19(2) and 22(2) of the ICCPR as they do not meet the requirements of legality, legitimacy, necessity in a democratic society and proportionality, as well as with the principle of non-discrimination set out in Article 14 of the ECHR.

Being designated as an entity pursuing the interests of a foreign power under the Law has serious implications as it undermines both the financial stability and credibility of the organisations targeted as well as their operations. The combined impact of burdensome registration and reporting requirements (including disclosure of financial information), which limit access to funding options for stigmatised associations, along with severe administrative fines they may incur, constant surveillance, will with no doubt complicate and threaten the effective operation and existence of the organisations concerned. The persistent and stigmatising obstacles concentrated in the hands of the state create a chilling effect.

The Law, under the alleged aim of ensuring transparency, has the objective effect of risking the stigmatising, silencing and eventually elimination of associations and media which receive even a low part of their funds from abroad. A strong risk is created that the associations and media which come to be affected will be those who are critical of the government, so that their removal would adversely affect open, informed public debate, pluralism and democracy.

The Venice Commission strongly recommends that the Georgian authorities abandon the special regime of registration, reporting and public disclosure requirements for civil society organisations, online media and broadcasters receiving foreign support, including the administrative sanctions. While the existing Georgian legislation already contains provisions requiring organisations concerned by the Law to register and report, including on their sources of funding, no convincing explanation has been given on why the existing obligations would be insufficient for the purpose of ensuring transparency. In case the existing provisions proved insufficient, the Georgian authorities should consider amending the existing laws in compliance with European and international standards. In particular, genuine representation (lobbying) activities on behalf of foreign countries could be regulated in line with European standards, should the current legislation not be adequate.

In conclusion, the Venice Commission strongly recommends repealing the Law in its current form, as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination. Ultimately, this will affect open, informed public debate, pluralism and democracy.

The Venice Commission remains at the disposal of the Georgian authorities and of the Parliamentary Assembly for further assistance in this regard,” the Venice Commission states.

On May 14, the Parliament passed the law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” in its third reading. President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed it on May 19.





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Venice Commission publishes opinion on Transparency of Foreign Influence Law

2024/05/5678-1716366735.jpg
Read: 529     11:00     22 Май 2024    

The Venice Commission has published an opinion on the Law of Georgia on Transparency of Foreign Influence.

According to the document, “The Venice Commission strongly recommends repealing the Law in its current form, as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination”.

“The Venice Commission regrets at the outset that this Law, which is human-rights sensitive but is also highly controversial in Georgian society, as is demonstrated by the massive reactions in the country, was adopted in a procedure which left no space for genuine discussion and meaningful consultation, in open disregard for the concerns of large parts of the Georgian people. This is all the more unfortunate as the reactions to a similar draft law in 2023 had shown the polarization regarding its adoption and there was thus an obvious and demonstrable need to carry out meaningful consultations with the stakeholders affected by the Law, notably civil society organisations, online media outlets and broadcasters. This manner of proceeding does not meet the European requirements of democratic law-making.

The Venice Commission has analysed the compatibility of the Law with the applicable international and European standards, based on principles developed in its numerous previous opinions on a similar matter. It concludes that the restrictions set by the Law to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and privacy are incompatible with the strict test set out in Articles 8(2), 10(2), and 11(2) of the ECHR and Article 17(2), 19(2) and 22(2) of the ICCPR as they do not meet the requirements of legality, legitimacy, necessity in a democratic society and proportionality, as well as with the principle of non-discrimination set out in Article 14 of the ECHR.

Being designated as an entity pursuing the interests of a foreign power under the Law has serious implications as it undermines both the financial stability and credibility of the organisations targeted as well as their operations. The combined impact of burdensome registration and reporting requirements (including disclosure of financial information), which limit access to funding options for stigmatised associations, along with severe administrative fines they may incur, constant surveillance, will with no doubt complicate and threaten the effective operation and existence of the organisations concerned. The persistent and stigmatising obstacles concentrated in the hands of the state create a chilling effect.

The Law, under the alleged aim of ensuring transparency, has the objective effect of risking the stigmatising, silencing and eventually elimination of associations and media which receive even a low part of their funds from abroad. A strong risk is created that the associations and media which come to be affected will be those who are critical of the government, so that their removal would adversely affect open, informed public debate, pluralism and democracy.

The Venice Commission strongly recommends that the Georgian authorities abandon the special regime of registration, reporting and public disclosure requirements for civil society organisations, online media and broadcasters receiving foreign support, including the administrative sanctions. While the existing Georgian legislation already contains provisions requiring organisations concerned by the Law to register and report, including on their sources of funding, no convincing explanation has been given on why the existing obligations would be insufficient for the purpose of ensuring transparency. In case the existing provisions proved insufficient, the Georgian authorities should consider amending the existing laws in compliance with European and international standards. In particular, genuine representation (lobbying) activities on behalf of foreign countries could be regulated in line with European standards, should the current legislation not be adequate.

In conclusion, the Venice Commission strongly recommends repealing the Law in its current form, as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination. Ultimately, this will affect open, informed public debate, pluralism and democracy.

The Venice Commission remains at the disposal of the Georgian authorities and of the Parliamentary Assembly for further assistance in this regard,” the Venice Commission states.

On May 14, the Parliament passed the law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” in its third reading. President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed it on May 19.





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