GEO

The campaign “Protect Our Activists”

This case study was developed by CAT alumni and lawyer Tamriko Natchkebia for the Centre for Training and Consultancy (CTC).

Introduction and Overview 

The campaign  “Protect our activists ‘” represents a pivotal moment in the recent history of civic activism within the Eastern Partnership region. Conducted in December 2021 with the support of the International Human Rights House Foundation, it was a direct response to events that unfolded on June 20,  2020 and July 5, 2021 in Georgia. This campaign was organized in conjunction with the “International Human Rights School for Activists,” bringing together dedicated activists, human rights defenders, and passionate advocates.

Key Figures

Key figures in this campaign included passionate activists, resilient individuals, and voices of conscience who tirelessly championed their cause. Among them I had opportunity to be the campaign coordinator from Georgia and have correspondences with other participants from Ukraine, Serbia, Armenia, and Belarus, who played a pivotal role in the campaign’s events. Their dedication and leadership were instrumental in amplifying the voices of victims and activists. The Campaign also included stage of writing “Declaration of young human rights defenders and activists for protecting fundamental human rights on national and international levels”, which was introduced to different stakeholders and state representatives.

Dates The campaign, a collaborative effort initiated in summer 2021, extended its influence into 2022 and 2023. During this time, it witnessed significant milestones, including moments of peaceful protest, encounters with adversity, and efforts to hold those responsible accountable.

Objectives At its core, the campaign aimed to address critical objectives: 

  • Defend and uphold freedom of expression, a fundamental pillar of democracy;
  • To seek justice and accountability for events that occurred during the campaign;
  • Ensure that the state fulfills its responsibilities and prosecutes perpetrators of human rights violations against civilians and activists, especially during peaceful demonstrations;
  • Shed light on existing cases and push for further investigation into these violations. Advocate for the protection of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. particularly instances of violence and harm inflicted on peaceful protestors and activists;
  • To spotlight the importance of civic engagement and activism in shaping a just and inclusive society;
  • Draw attention to the role of state institutions in safeguarding the rights and safety of citizens and activists during protests and demonstrations.

Results

The campaign, conceived as part of the “International Human Rights School for Activists,” achieved both tangible and intangible outcomes. It served as a catalyst for dialogue, raising awareness about the importance of civic movements in fostering positive change within the Eastern Partnership region. While some immediate results included testimonies and accounts of participants, the broader impact resonated in the form of heightened awareness, increased discourse on human rights, and calls for accountability in the face of adversity. 

Significantly, the campaign included the stage of writing the “Declaration of young human rights defenders and activists for protecting fundamental human rights on national and international levels.” This declaration was introduced to different stakeholders and state representatives.  The declaration served as a powerful tool for articulating the demands and aspirations of young human rights defenders and activists in the region. It underscored the importance of protecting fundamental human rights both at the national and international levels. By presenting this declaration to stakeholders and state representatives, the campaign sought to garner support and commitment to upholding the principles of democracy, freedom, and human rights. 

The efforts of the campaign, including the interviews conducted and the declaration introduced, reflect a collective commitment to advancing the cause of justice and accountability, while also amplifying the voices of those who have experienced human rights violations in Georgia. The advocacy campaign aimed to ensure that the state fulfills its responsibilities and prosecutes perpetrators of human rights violations against civilians and activists, especially during peaceful demonstrations. It shed light on existing cases and pushes for further investigation. To achieve this, three activists and one journalist from Georgia whose rights of freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration were violated in the actions on June 20, 2019, and July 5, 2021, were interviewed. Therefore, Special thanks to the individuals who participated in the video, who are victims and participants of these events, including Mako Gomuri-June 20 protest victim status owner; Gvantsa Pertia- Activist taking participation in both demonstration; Ana Subeliani – Co-Director of Tbilisi Pride and Miranda Bagaturia- Journalist.

Challenges in Conducting Interviews 

Throughout the campaign’s journey, the process of finding individuals willing to share their stories presented its own set of formidable obstacles. Perhaps the most daunting of these challenges was convincing potential interviewees to agree to participate. Their hesitance and trepidation stemmed from legitimate concerns that the interviews could have repercussions on their ongoing legal proceedings. In some cases, individuals feared that their involvement might adversely affect cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).  One of the complicating factors was that the individuals selected for interviews were not directly contacted by the campaign organizers. Instead, intermediaries in the form of legal aid organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) played a crucial role in reaching out to these potential interviewees. This indirect approach was necessary to ensure that participants felt protected and had the support of these organizations in navigating the sensitive terrain of human rights violations and legal proceedings.  The campaign organizers recognized the delicate balance they had to strike between shedding light on human rights violations and ensuring the safety and well-being of those involved. It was a testament to the courage and resilience of the interviewees that they ultimately agreed to share their stories, even in the face of legitimate concerns about potential consequences.  This aspect of the campaign highlights the complex interplay between advocacy, legal proceedings, and the preservation of individual rights. It underscores the critical role played by intermediary organizations in providing support and guidance to individuals who have experienced human rights violations. The willingness of these individuals to come forward and share their experiences serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring commitment to justice and accountability that defined the campaign.    

Flow of the Campaign 

The campaign emerged as a response to the events of June 20, 2019, and July 5, 2021, in Georgia, where peaceful protests and a Pride event were met with violence and repression. It was initiated in program which took place in December 2021 with the support of the International Human Rights House Foundation and as part of the “International Human Rights School for Young Activists. Practical Training and Advocacy Component.”

Emergence and Initiation

August 2021: in collaboration with the “International Human Rights School for Young Activists” in Chernihiv, Ukraine started working on the declaration to represent the state bodies and different entities the problems activist face during the demonstration. AS participants were from Armenia, Serbia, Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Russia the main challenges included quite severe issues and broad scope of problems.

September 2021: Participants drafted a declaration letter to protect activists. “Declaration of young human rights defenders and activists for protecting fundamental human rights on national and international levels” stands as a testament to the collective voice of young activists from across the Eastern Europe and Asia region, united in their pursuit of democracy, human rights, and equality. It represents a call to action for governments and authorities to uphold the principles of freedom, justice, and fundamental human rights for all citizens.

December 2021: The campaign was conceived as part of a broader effort to address human rights violations occurring during peaceful demonstrations. Video was taken in Georgia, regarding the events on June 20, 2020 and July 5, 2021.

Supporting Organizations: Legal aid organizations and NGOs played a crucial role in reaching out to potential interviewees who had experienced human rights violations during these events.

Interviewee Hesitance: The campaign faced challenges in convincing interviewees to participate due to concerns about ongoing legal proceedings, including cases brought before the ECtHR.

Key Events and Developments

June 20, 2020: Peaceful protests took place, which were met with violence.

July 5, 2021: A Pride event faced targeted attacks on journalists and activists.

Advocacy Campaign Launch: The campaign was officially launched to seek justice, accountability, and the protection of fundamental rights.

Interviews Conducted: Interviews with activists, victims, and journalists who had experienced human rights violations during these events were conducted in December 2021.

Strategy Development and Adaptation Objective Refinement: The initial goal was to document human rights violations during the events. As interviews progressed, the campaign evolved to emphasize justice and accountability.

Methods of Communication: The campaign used various communication methods, including interviews, to collect firsthand accounts. Legal aid organizations provided support and guidance to interviewees, ensuring their safety and well-being.

Achievements

Interviews Successfully Conducted: Despite formidable challenges, the campaign achieved a significant milestone by successfully conducting interviews with activists and individuals who had directly experienced human rights violations. These interviews served as vital documentation, preserving the voices and stories of those affected.

Empowering Activists: Beyond mere documentation, the campaign had a profound and transformative impact on project participants. Meeting and listening to the stories of activists and interviewees ignited a sense of empowerment and purpose, inspiring them to redouble their commitment to the cause of justice and human rights. 

Motivational Activism: Perhaps one of the most remarkable achievements of the project was its role as a catalyst for motivational activism. It acted as a stepping stone, motivating a new generation of activists to passionately champion human rights and democracy. This evolution within the campaign, from a documentation effort to a broader advocacy initiative, exemplifies its capacity to inspire change and mobilize individuals toward the shared goals of justice, accountability, and the protection of fundamental rights. 

This narrative of the campaign encapsulates its remarkable resilience and unwavering commitment, even in the face of ongoing legal concerns and the extraordinary challenges posed by a wartime context. Furthermore, it underscores the pivotal role played by the declaration letter, collaboratively drafted with the “International Human Rights School for Young Activists” in Chernihiv, Ukraine. This letter emerged as a vital tool in the endeavour to protect activists and uphold their rights in the midst of adversity. It serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of those working tirelessly to defend human rights and democracy in the Eastern Partnership region.

Failures: War and Challenges 

The project encountered significant challenges and setbacks, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine in 2021 standing out as a pivotal and deeply impactful failure. This geopolitical upheaval brought obstacles that profoundly affected the project’s implementation and results, adding an unprecedented layer of complexity and uncertainty. 

One of the most significant challenges resulting from the war was the inability to disseminate the campaign video on online platforms as originally intended. The reason for this was the dire and urgent situation in Ukraine, particularly in Chernihiv, where the Human Rights House, intended to serve as a platform for sharing the video, was tragically impacted by the conflict. The facility, a symbol of advocacy and activism, fell victim to the devastation of war.  In such dire circumstances, the primary concern shifted from sharing the video to addressing the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs brought about by the war. The project’s original objectives, while essential, had to take a back seat to the immediate and life-threatening consequences of armed conflict. 

The failure to share the video on online platforms underlines the gravity of the situation in Ukraine and the Eastern Partnership region. It underscores the tragic reality that, at times, the pursuit of activism and advocacy must yield to the exigencies of war and humanitarian crises. 

In retrospect, this failure serves as a stark reminder of the unpredictability and volatility of the geopolitical landscape and the tremendous challenges that activists and human rights defenders face in their mission to advance justice and fundamental human rights, even amidst the most formidable circumstances. It emphasizes the need for resilience, adaptability, and unwavering commitment in the face of adversity.

Team and Organization 

The campaign was orchestrated by a dedicated team of activists, legal aid organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Armenia, Serbia, Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. These entities formed a collective force to advocate for justice, accountability, and the protection of fundamental human rights in the Eastern Partnership region. 

Leadership Forces

Youth Activists: The backbone of the campaign was a group of young activists who brought their passion, commitment, and determination to the forefront. Their leadership roles were instrumental in driving the campaign’s objectives forward.

Legal Aid Organizations: These organizations played a pivotal role in reaching out to potential interviewees, providing legal support, and ensuring the safety and well-being of individuals who had experienced human rights violations.

Human Rights Houses (HRHs): HRHs in the participating countries served as organizing hubs and provided vital support and infrastructure for the campaign’s activities.

NGOs: Various non-governmental organizations with a shared commitment to human rights and democracy lent their expertise, resources, and networks to bolster the campaign’s impact.

Conflicts and partnerships

Ongoing Legal Concerns: A significant conflict stemmed from the hesitance of potential interviewees due to concerns about ongoing legal proceedings. Interviewees feared that their participation could have repercussions on their cases, including those brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Balancing the need for transparency and accountability with the protection of interviewees’ rights was a central conflict.

Sponsorship: The campaign received crucial support from the International Human Rights House Foundation, which served as a central partner in coordinating and facilitating the project’s implementation.

The role of International six countries involved in the project—Armenia, Serbia, Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia—was a testament to international cooperation in the pursuit of justice and human rights. Despite the conflicts and challenges encountered along the way, the campaign’s strength lay in its ability to unite diverse entities under a common cause. This collaborative effort, led by passionate youth activists and supported by legal aid organizations, NGOs, and HRHs, served as a powerful force in advocating for justice and accountability.