Visas: Council adopts regulation on visa liberalisation for Georgians
Georgia: Leading MEPs react to the refusal of the political parties to reach an agreement
In a joint statement, MEPs deplore that Georgia’s political leaders did not agree to EU mediator Christian Danielsson’s proposal and announce consequences in terms of EU-Georgia relations.
Following a meeting on 1 April with Christian Danielsson, personal envoy of European Council President Charles Michel for the EU-mediated political dialogue in Georgia, leading MEPs issued the following joint statement:
“We are deeply disappointed with the political leaders in Georgia for their inability to reach an agreement last Tuesday despite the best efforts deployed by the European Union to help put an end to the current political crisis. Both the ruling and the main opposition parties taking part in the discussions are to be blamed for this outcome and a special responsibility lies with the party in government.
We reiterate our strong support to Christian Danielsson’s tireless work and welcome the publication of the proposal he made to the political parties, which further increased the transparency of the mediation process. It is essential to rebuild confidence between political party actors. The content of this proposal is indeed the right way ahead for Georgia: ambitious electoral and judicial reforms, meaningful sharing of responsibilities in the Georgian Parliament and, most importantly, a solution on future elections and on two cases of politicised justice. This solution is politically balanced and respects both the rule of law and the international assessment of the 2020 elections. We also welcome the idea of a Jean-Monnet Dialogue process supported by the European Parliament, when the political situation allows.
Following the refusal from the political parties to compromise, Georgia’s leaders should not expect a return to business as usual from the European Union. The European Parliament in particular will call for consequences in terms of EU financial assistance, including both a suspension of further disbursements of and an increase in conditionality linked to EU Macro Financial Assistance and budget support programmes.
In the meantime, the adoption of ongoing electoral and judicial reforms in the Georgian Parliament requires broad political support and the need to fully implement the recommendations of OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. These reforms are key to rebuild trust. We call on the ruling party to ensure a genuinely inclusive process to avoid the further undermining of both future elections and the judiciary, as well as unnecessarily closing the door to a possible agreement in the future.
We call on Georgia’s leaders to take action immediately. The future of EU-Georgia relations is at stake.”
The increasing frictions between political parties in Georgia following the November 2020 parliamentary elections and the arrest of the opposition leader in mid-February have sparked a major political crisis in Georgia. The EU is actively engaged to help overcome the tensions among Georgia's political parties. Christian Danielsson, European Council President Charles Michel's personal envoy, conducted in Tbilisi two rounds of mediation among the parties and presented a proposal for a way ahead for Georgia. The European Parliament strongly supports his efforts.
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (The Greens/EFA, Germany), lead member of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group for Georgia;
Sven Mikser (S&D, Estonia), European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Georgia;
Michael Gahler (EPP, Germany), European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Ukraine;
Petras Auštrevičius (Renew Europe, Lithuania), European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Belarus.
The UN Human Rights Council adopted the Resolution on Cooperation with Georgia
On 24 March 2020, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the Resolution on Cooperation with Georgia.
The Resolution was presented by the Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Lasha Darsalia, who spoke about the severe human rights situation in occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) regions.
Notwithstanding the repeated calls by the Human Rights Council and efforts of the High Commissioner, the Russian Federation -continues to prevent the international human rights monitoring mechanisms from entering both Russian-occupied regions of Georgia.
The Deputy Minister referred to the High Commissioner’s reports vividly depicting the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation on the ground, as well as the suffering of the conflict-affected people in both Georgian regions, the flagrant violations of the fundamental rights and the various forms of discrimination based on ethnic grounds, particularly affecting ethnic Georgians in both Georgian regions. The Deputy Minister underscored the negative impact of the closures of crossing points – in some cases imposed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and noted that dozens died since the closure of the occupation line in September 2019 due to the refusing and delaying emergency evacuation.
According to the Deputy Minister, the report emphasizes that no one has been held accountable for the cases of arbitrary deprivation of life of ethnic Georgians that occurred between 2014 and 2019 and the lack of accountability therefore continued to contribute to climate of impunity, which could lead to further tensions and violence in both Georgian regions.
Speaking before the Council, Lasha Darsalia emphasized that the recent decision of the power exercising effective control in Tskhinvali region to prolong the illegal detention of Zaza Gakheladze for more than 12 years is yet another alarming example of manipulation with people’s fates.
Alarmingly, the Russian Federation continues to use the humanitarian and human rights issues for its far-reaching goal to put political pressure on the government of Georgia and further destabilize the situation on the ground.
The above-mentioned once again clearly demonstrates the urgent need of access for the OHCHR and other international human rights monitoring mechanisms to both Georgian regions.
The delegations of the EU, UK, Poland and the Czech Republic made statements in support for Georgia calling on the Council members to vote for the Resolution initiated by Georgia.
In the Resolution adopted on 24 March, the UN Human Rights Council reaffirms its commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders. The UN Human Rights Council recognizes with appreciation the efforts of the Government of Georgia to strengthen democracy, the rule of law and the promotion and protection of human rights.
The UN Human Rights Council welcomes the cooperation of the Government of Georgia with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as with the special procedures of the Human Rights Council.
The Resolution expresses serious concern over the human rights and humanitarian situation in the occupied regions of Georgia with special emphasis on reported kidnappings, arbitrary detention, interference with property rights, restrictions on access to education in one’s native language, free movement and residence, as well as continued discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin in both regions.
The Resolution expresses serious concern at the continuous process of installation and advancement of barbed wire fences and different artificial barriers along the occupation line in Abkhazia, Georgia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia and adjacent areas, including during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Resolution expresses serious concern that despite the Secretary-General’s appeal for an immediate global ceasefire, the situation of human rights has further deteriorated in both Georgian regions, particularly owing to growing violations and restrictions on humanitarian access,
The Resolution expresses serious concern also at the negative consequences of the prolonged closure of the so-called crossing points and the increasing restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly the denial of medical evacuations by the authorities exercising effective control in both regions, which has contributed to a number of deaths and the further isolation of the regions, thereby aggravating the humanitarian and socioeconomic situation on the ground which has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Resolution expresses serious concern further at the lack of accountability for unlawful killings of ethnic Georgians committed in the period from 2014 to 2019, which continues to contribute to impunity in both Abkhazia, Georgia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia.
The Resolution recognizes the importance of the Geneva International Discussions established on the basis of the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008 as an instrument for addressing security, stability, human rights and humanitarian issues on the ground.
It needs to be highlighted that the Resolution takes note of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which holds Russia accountable for the violation of international law norms and fundamental human rights during the August 2008 war, as well as for the occupation of and effective control over the Georgian territories.
The Resolution expresses concern that internally displaced persons and refugees continue to be deprived of the right to return to their homes in a safe and dignified manner.
The document expresses serious concern at the repeated denial of access to international and regional monitors, including the United Nations human rights mechanisms, to both Georgian regions and calls on the authorities exercising effective control in those regions to grant them unimpeded access.
The Resolution requests the High Commissioner to present to the Human Rights Council an oral update and a written report on the follow-up to the present resolution.
MFA of Georgia
Joint press release following the 6th Association council meeting between the European Union and Georgia
The European Union and Georgia held the 6th meeting of the Association council on 16 March 2021. The Association council took note of the 2021 Association Implementation Report on Georgia and assessed the state of EU-Georgia relations since the last Association council in March 2019.
The Association council welcomed Georgia's progress on its European path, including in the challenging COVID-19 context, and recognised the efforts of the Georgian Government to contain the virus as well as to ensure targeted social assistance to those in need. Both sides acknowledged the crucial importance of the EU rapid assistance to Georgia in the fight against COVID as a vivid sign of solidarity.
Both sides reaffirmed their continued commitment to bringing tangible benefits to the lives of Georgian citizens across key areas of cooperation: economic development and market opportunities; strengthening institutions and good governance; connectivity, energy efficiency, environment and climate change; enhancing mobility and people-to-people contacts.
The Association council noted that the elections of 31 October and 21 November 2020 were competitive and that, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected. The Association council agreed on the importance of addressing all recommendations related to the shortcomings identified by international observers, including OSCE/ODIHR, through ambitious and inclusive electoral reform in order to strengthen the electoral environment and render it more favourable for the democratic conduct of elections.
The Association council strongly regretted the deepening political polarisation in Georgia. The EU called for a swift resolution to the ongoing political situation, for all parties to step up efforts to de-escalate the situation and come together to identify and agree on common ground. The Association council agreed that it was vital for all actors to continue working, in the EU-supported mediation, to find an early resolution to Georgia's political crisis.
The Association council reiterated its call on all political actors to work together and to maintain open dialogue in Georgia, including with civil society, in order to further strengthen democratic institutions, consolidate pluralistic democracy and advance reforms. Both sides stressed the need to continue the successful cooperation between the EU and Georgia on strategic communication and countering disinformation.
The Association council recalled that a great number of Georgian citizens have benefited from short term visa free travel to Schengen countries in recent years. It welcomed the continuous efforts of Georgia to address violations of the visa-free travel requirements, including the latest legislative amendments to the Law of Georgia on ‘Rules for Georgian citizens on Leaving and Entering Georgia' and underlined the importance of its effective implementation. The Association council underlined the critical importance of sustained efforts by Georgia to continue to fulfil the visa liberalisation benchmarks, in particular in order to strengthen and maintain the recent decrease in the number of unfounded asylum applications lodged by Georgian nationals in the Schengen + area. The EU encouraged Georgia to further enhance cooperation with EU Member States to counter irregular migration and organised crime. Both sides welcomed a renewed working arrangement signed between Georgia and Frontex, as well as Georgia's acquisition of observer status in the European Migration Network.
The Association council welcomed progress made in the implementation of Georgia's Human Rights Strategy and its Action Plan, as well as the important work of the Human Rights Protection Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The EU recognised Georgia's efforts in this area and encouraged Georgia to continue efforts to effectively implement the anti-discrimination law and to ensure protection for all persons belonging to minorities, and to ensure gender equality. The Council recalled the commitment to the universality of human rights for all, regardless of religion or belief, race, ethnic origin, sex, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or other. The Association council welcomed substantial progress made by Georgia to create an effective labour inspection system, in order to further improve working conditions and address the challenges in this area in line with international and European labour standards. It also discussed the importance of continuing efforts in this direction.
Both sides welcomed the progress made by Georgia in the implementation of the Association Agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). The EU continued to be the most important trading partner of Georgia. The EU and Georgia agreed to identify further products with export potential to the EU, for which EU can provide assistance. Both sides welcomed successful implementation of structural reforms and underlined the importance of ongoing reforms related to the improvement of the investment climate in Georgia. The Association council welcomed the ongoing work to draft a new SME Development Strategy 2021-2025 and the EU side confirmed its readiness to support its implementation.
The Association council welcomed the disbursements of Macro-Financial Assistance to Georgia in November 2020 and urged Georgia to continue the implementation of outstanding agreed policy measures in order to enable the disbursement of the second instalment of COVID Macro-Financial Assistance to Georgia (of which 75 million EUR was disbursed in 2020). The EU encouraged Georgia to ensure the sustainability of already implemented reforms and maintain macro-economic stability.
The Association council reiterated Georgia's strategic role in the field of energy, transport and connectivity and increasingly as a transportation and logistics hub in the region. The EU committed to continue engaging closely with Georgia on the connectivity agenda, including through the gradual completion of the indicative core Trans-European networks of Transport (TEN-T), as a step towards enhancing connectivity and international trade between Europe and Asia. The sides also highlighted the importance of Black Sea connectivity. The EU took note of Georgia's request for support in the elaboration and implementation of a plan for better Black Sea connectivity.
The Association council reiterated Georgia's key role as a partner for European energy security and stressed the country's transit role for Caspian hydrocarbon resources to reach European markets, notably via the Southern Gas Corridor and through the Black Sea, with a view to strengthening EU-Georgia interconnections. The EU stressed its continued commitment to further supporting the roll-out of energy efficiency standards in public buildings, based on legislative reforms in key areas. The EU reiterated its continuous support to reinvigorating Georgia's agriculture and rural sector to improve living conditions in rural areas. The Association council noted the importance of enhanced cooperation in the area of civil protection.
The EU recognised Georgia as a key partner in the region and acknowledged the importance of EU-Georgia cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy. The Association council recalled the issues discussed during the third EU-Georgia Strategic Security Dialogue in October 2019 and looked forward to the next meeting in this format. The EU expressed appreciation for Georgia's continued contribution to EU-led crisis management operations and missions in the Central African Republic and the Republic of Mali, as well as openness to supporting the strengthening of Georgia's capacities and resilience.
The EU reiterated its firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders. The EU reiterated its firm commitment to peaceful conflict resolution in Georgia by using all instruments at its disposal including the policy of non-recognition and engagement. The work of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia and of the EU Monitoring Mission demonstrate this strong commitment.
The Association council took note of the judgement of 21 January 2021 of the European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber in the inter-State case concerning the armed conflict between Georgia and the Russian Federation in August 2008 and its consequences which concluded that after the 12 August 2008 the Russian Federation, "exercising effective control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia", violated several provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The Association council stressed the critical importance of the Geneva International Discussions for addressing and resolving the challenges stemming from the conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. It also reiterated that full and effective Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms (IPRMs) are essential for addressing the safety and humanitarian needs of conflict-affected population on the ground. In this regard, the Council welcomed the resumption of Ergneti IPRM meetings and emphasised the crucial importance of resuming the Gali IPRM.
The Council expressed concern about signing a so-called programme on the creation of a common socio-economic space between Russia and Georgian region of Abkhazia as well as other steps further undermining Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, deterioration of the security and human rights situation in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia, especially with regard to intensified military build-up, installation of barbed wire fences and other artificial barriers along the dividing lines, long-term closure of "crossing points". Concerns also include the situation with ethnic discrimination of Georgians, restriction of freedom of movement, including for health care and access to other social services, arbitrary detentions, violation of property rights and education in mother tongue, the persistent obstacles to the safe and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their places of origin, and deprivation of life of Archil Tatunashvili and Giga Otkhozoria. In this regard, the Association council reiterated that justice should be applied.
The Association council reiterated the obligation for the Russian Federation to fulfil its international obligations including under the EU-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, notably to withdraw its military forces from the territory of Georgia and remove all impediments for establishment of international security mechanisms therein. The Association council further urged the Russian Federation to provide EUMM access to the whole territory of Georgia, in line with its mandate. The Association council also called for access for international humanitarian and human rights mechanisms of relevant international organisations.
The Association council stressed the importance of ongoing support to people-to-people contacts and confidence building measures across the divides. In this respect, the Association council recalled its support for the Georgian peace initiative « A Step to a Better Future».
The EU commended Georgia's active participation in the multilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership and underlined that continued reform efforts in the partner countries are key to the success of the Eastern Partnership and to the EaP Summit scheduled for later this year.
The Association council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Josep Borrell. The Prime Minister of Georgia, Mr. Irakli Garibashvili led the Georgian delegation.
Press Service of the Government Administration
Georgia: progress made in fighting human trafficking, but improved victim identification and strengthened criminal justice response required
Strasbourg, 16.03.2021 – In its third report on Georgia’s implementation of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Council of Europe’s anti-human trafficking monitoring body, GRETA, focuses on trafficking victims’ access to justice and effective remedies. The report acknowledges progress in implementing the Convention but calls on the authorities to step up their efforts to investigate cases of human trafficking and bring the perpetrators to justice, making sure that victims receive compensation and support towards their rehabilitation.
Since the previous evaluation by GRETA, the Criminal Code of Georgia has been amended to ensure proper qualification of human trafficking offences. Further, the number of special mobile groups set up to carry out the preliminary identification of victims of trafficking was increased from three to four. The number of labour inspectors was also increased, and they received training on detecting cases of human trafficking and forced labour.
Victims of trafficking are entitled to free legal aid during criminal proceedings, which is provided by specifically trained lawyers. GRETA welcomes the existence of a specific legal provision on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking for offences they were compelled to commit, as well as the expansion of the victim and witness co-ordinator services.
However, GRETA considers that additional steps should be taken to ensure that victims and witnesses of human trafficking are provided with effective and appropriate protection from potential retaliation or intimidation. The authorities should further ensure that access to legal aid is guaranteed as soon as there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person is a victim of trafficking, before the persons concerned have to decide whether or not they want to co-operate with the authorities.
Only three victims of human trafficking have received compensation from perpetrators through civil proceedings, and there has been only one judgement in human trafficking cases resulting in the confiscation of assets, the report says. GRETA urges the authorities to take vigorous measures to facilitate and guarantee access to compensation for victims of trafficking, including by introducing a procedure through which victims are entitled to obtain a decision on compensation from the offender as part of the criminal trial, and making full use of the legislation on the freezing and forfeiture of offenders’ assets to secure compensation to victims of trafficking.
In the period 2015-2018, a total of 80 investigations were conducted into human trafficking cases, and there were 15 convictions. GRETA notes with concern that there have been no convictions for trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation and urges the Georgian authorities to ensure that human trafficking cases are not re-qualified as other offences which carry lighter penalties.
GRETA is concerned by the decrease in the number of victims identified and the high threshold required to grant the status of victim of human trafficking. GRETA urges the authorities to take further steps to proactively identify victims of trafficking, including amongst foreign workers, asylum seekers and persons placed in immigration detention centres.
The Georgian authorities should also strengthen their efforts in the areas of prevention of child trafficking, paying increased attention to the link between trafficking in children and the use of information and communications technology.
Georgia is primarily a country of origin and, to a lesser extent, a country of destination and transit of victims of trafficking in human beings, according to the report. The total number of victims identified in the period 2015-2019 was 66. Until 2018, the majority of the identified victims were women trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but in 2019 all identified victims were Georgian children, trafficked for the purpose of production of child sexual abuse images (23 girls aged from 8 to 18 years) or exploitation of begging (two boys and four girls).
The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) is an independent body which monitors the way countries implement the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. So far, forty-six of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe are bound by the Convention, as well as Belarus, a non-member state.
Press release: Visa Announces 2021 Edition of Visa Everywhere Initiative
Fintech companies from all over the world are invited to compete for a combined $125,000 in total prize money and a spotlight on the world stage
Tbilisi – February 10, 2021 – Visa announced the 2021 edition of the Everywhere Initiative – a global innovation program and competition for fintechs. This year, the focus is on expansion and accessibility, with Visa offering a one-stop experience to register and learn about upcoming opportunities and competitions – via the global website.
Fintechs started by everyone, everywhere will pitch their ideas in regional competitions to a panel of expert judges from across the payments industry. All applicants from Georgia are invited to compete first on a CEMEA stage to win a combined $25,000 in total prize and then on a global stage for a combined $100,000 in total prize money and to tell their companies’ stories.
“Supporting companies across the globe who are building solutions that power seamless money movement everywhere is a top priority for Visa. We recognize fintechs as a force for innovation that is core to our business and encourage everyone to apply to Visa Everywhere Initiative. I am looking forward to seeing the many brilliant ideas from Georgia and across CISSEE this year,” noted Vira Platonova, Senior Vice President and Group Country Manager for Visa CISSEE.
Participants are invited submit applications in English to the CEMEA regional pitch before May 7, with the regional CEMEA finals scheduled for June 8 and global finals – for September 14, 2021.
Visa and TechCrunch will promote and host live-streamed and virtual events in North America, CEMEA and Latin America.
Participants can register and submit applications following the link: https://visaeverywhere.typeform.com/to/VxWIYB
About Visa Everywhere Initiative
The Visa Everywhere Initiative is a global, open innovation program that tasks start-ups and fintechs to solve payment and commerce challenges of tomorrow, further enhance their own product propositions and provide visionary solutions for Visa’s vast network of partners.
The program first launched in the U.S. in 2015 and quickly expanded into a global program with more than 7,000 participating startups. To date, startups have collectively raised over $2.5 billion in funding, and the program has been activated on six continents—touching more than 100 countries.
Six monetary prizes will be awarded during the global finals event:
Winner: $15,000 USD
Audience Favorite: $10,000 USD
The CEMEA winner will participate in the Global Competition
Overall Winner: $50,000 USD
Audience Favorite: $25,000 USD
2nd Place: $15,000 USD
3rd Place: $10,000 USD
Visa does not ask for any equity from Visa Everywhere Initiative competitors as part of this competition.
Who should apply for the Visa Everywhere Initiative?
Visa is looking for creative minds who are solving the payments and commerce challenges faced by businesses of all sizes and sectors, including but not limited to:
Enabler of Digital Services and Digital Issuers
- Blockchain & Cryptocurrency
- Banking as a Services
- BIN Sponsors
- Issuer / Processors
- Program Managers
- Blockchain & Cryptocurrency
- Alternative Lending
- Personal Financial Management
- Money Transfer & Remittance
- Digital Banking (aka Neo Banks)
- Digital Wallets, P2P &Transfers
- Employee Benefits
- Corporate Cards (aka expense management)
Value-Add for Merchants and/or Consumers when it comes to Finance
- Data & Analytics
- ID, Authentication & Security
- Merchant Services & Tools
- Process & Pay Infrastructure
- Retail Technology
Small/Medium -Sized Business Recovery
- Money Movement (disbursements, Intra-account, p2pvendor, payments)
- Acceptance (e-commerce, mobile acceptance)
- Risk Management (chargebacks, etc.)
- Brand Management (Community building, etc.)
For more details, please visit http://visa.com/everywhereinitiative
About Visa Inc.
Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) is the world’s leader in digital payments. Our mission is to connect the world through the most innovative, reliable and secure payment network - enabling individuals, businesses and economies to thrive. Our advanced global processing network, VisaNet, provides secure and reliable payments around the world, and is capable of handling more than 65,000 transaction messages a second. The company’s relentless focus on innovation is a catalyst for the rapid growth of connected commerce on any device, and a driving force behind the dream of a cashless future for everyone, everywhere. As the world moves from analog to digital, Visa is applying our brand, products, people, network and scale to reshape the future of commerce. For more information, visit usa.visa.com/about-visa, visa.com.ge, facebook.com/VisaGeorgiaGE