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Address of the Human Rights House Tbilisi to the Government of Georgia over the murder case of the human rights defender Vitali Safarov

April 17, 2019
The Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member organizations echo the ongoing criminal proceedings into the murder case of the human rights defender Vitali Safarov and call on the Government of Georgia to ensure comprehensive and effective investigation. It is particularly alarming that the murder was committed based on hate motives by the members of the ultranationalist, neo-Nazi group.  

On September 30, 2018, human rights defender Vitali Safarov, 25, was killed in Tbilisi. As witness statements demonstrate, the conflict started in a café in the downtown Tbilisi and then continued in the street – the reason of the violence against Vitali Safarov from the side of the members of the neo-Nazi/ultranationalist groups was his human rights activism, ethnicity and liberalism and the fact that he was not speaking Georgian with his foreign guests of the café. According to the expert statement, Vitali Safarov had 9 wounds, 4 of them were incompatible with life. Currently, two persons are defendants – they are the members of the so-called neo-Nazi group. 

Vitali Safarov worked for the Center for Participation and Development (CPD); he was also the team member of the project Tbilisi Shelter City. He was actively engaged in organizing youth camps and different projects on tolerance and against racism, xenophobia and discrimination. It is alarming that the human rights defender became a victim of the representatives of the group, which instill racism and xenophobia in the society. 

In the past years, violent actions and demonstrations of various ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi/fascist groups have become one of the acute challenges for the State of Georgia. They are aggressive and intolerant towards liberal people. Recently, many hate-motivated incidents happened against migrants or other groups on racial and ethnic grounds. The murder of Vitali Safarov is particularly noteworthy as it refers to the hate-motivated murder of an individual based on racial intolerance. At the same time, the interviews with the witnesses of Vitali Safarov’s murder reveal that during the past two years “Emergency and Operative Response Centre - 112“and criminal police had received multiple calls about the violent acts committed by the defendants. The witnesses noted that police never reacted to their phone calls. It once again demonstrated the threat of increasing number of hate-motivated crimes in the Georgian society and the state institutions are obliged to ensure the elaboration of effective preventive measures to combat them.
As the threat of hate-motivated crimes has significantly increased recently, the effective litigation of those cases is still a key challenge. Regardless positive legislative amendments, in particular - the implementation of the Article 531 in the Criminal Code of Georgia – definition of the aggravating circumstance for the crime committed on discriminatory grounds or intolerance, in practice, it is still a problem for the representatives of the investigative bodies and prosecutor’s office to define the real motive of the crimes in such cases.

 It can be proved by the low statistics of the use of the norm at the stage of investigation and also in the later stage, when the court examines the case. Consequently, this norm is not properly implemented in practice that indicates the lack of qualification of investigative officers and of the state’s will to fulfill its international obligations. Among them, the State’s obligation to “undertake all appropriate means” and to “implement the policy for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.”  

It is worth to mention that the Prosecutor’s office determined the hate motive in the murder case of Vitali Safarov only after the Human Rights Center, the organization which defends interests of Vitali Safarov’s family, recommended several times that the investigation changes the qualification of the criminal case and determines the hate motive in it together with the group murder. We positively assess that the Georgian Prosecutor’s office fulfilled the recommendations, namely, the investigation added aggravating circumstances to the charge: intentional murder due to racial, religious, national or ethnic intolerance and changed the qualification of the crime into group murder. 

The under-signatory organizations believe that effective litigation into Vitali Safarov’s murder case is particularly important because it refers to the murder committed with the hate motive. Similar crimes create threat and scare those groups or individuals who share the human rights values, are tolerant, have liberal approaches and raise voice in the defense of others’ rights and against discrimination. 

Considering the abovementioned, the Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member organizations call on the Government of Georgia: 
  1. To ensure effective and comprehensive criminal proceedings into Vitali Safarov’s murder case; 
  2. To study the activities of the neo-Nazi and similar radical groups in Georgia, to take adequate measures and preventive mechanisms to eradicate violent actions and threats of violence from the side of various radical groups;
  3. To promptly react to hate-motivated crimes and ensure effective proceedings into the case; 
  4. To ensure improvement of legislative regulations with regard to hate-motivated crimes and their respective implementation, among them to train the representatives of law enforcement bodies and judges. 

Human Rights House Tbilisi on behalf of member organizations:
  • Human Rights Center
  • Article 42 of the Constitution
  • Media Institute
  • Sapari
  • Georgian Center for the Psycho-Social and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims