Assessment of the Initiative on Depriving Non-Orthodox Clerics of the Right to be Exempt from Compulsory Military Service

12 Mar, 2019

The Coalition for Equality expressed strong criticism against a legislative proposal submitted by MP Irakli Sesiashvili, chair of the Parliament’s Defense and Security Committee [1], which will obviously aggravate legislation on freedom of religion and deprive non-Orthodox clerics of the right to be exempt from compulsory military service.

The Coalition notes that the right to conscientious objection, envisaging the guarantees to protect a person from any actions against freedom of thought, conscience, or religion, is an integral part of freedom of religion as well as the right recognized and protected by national and international courts. [2] The initiative on depriving concrete groups of the right, especially when this right is maintained for the clerics representing a dominant religion, cannot be legally justified and represents clear discrimination on religious grounds. According to the Constitutional Court of Georgia, “recognition of the special role of the church is related to its historical contribution and does not serve the purpose to create privileged legal conditions for the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) at present time. The historical role should not be considered as the source of privileged legitimacy. Differentiation and creation of a legally predominant condition are not and should not be the goal of the constitution […] Granting certain rights to the GOC does not imply the creation of obstacles for other religious organizations to enjoy the same rights “. [3]

The Coalition expresses concern over the explanation of the author, who cited the need to close the legal loophole as the reason behind the initiative and who added that the Orthodox clerics would continue to benefit from the exemption since this right is protected by the Constitutional Agreement between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Georgian state.

The Coalition noted that regulation of legislative or practical shortcomings at the expense of restricting the rights of any group contradicts the human rights idea. Regrettably, instead of responding to the discontent of broad public groups towards compulsory military service and transforming the system, the government tries to destruct the means of defending oneself against this system at the expense of gross violation of the rights of other social groups. In addition, the fact that the issue of exempting Orthodox clerics from compulsory military service is regulated by constitutional agreement cannot justify putting other groups in discriminatory conditions.

It is regrettable that the committee chair developed the initiative without holding relevant consultations with broad public groups.

In our reality, the legislation on freedom of religion is already asymmetrical and discriminatory. The attempt to abolish the rights and recognition gained by religious minorities over the years is yet another attempt to further aggravate the legislation. In the situation when religious minorities suffer from deeper and systemic discrimination and alienation in practice, legalization of inequality further deepens a feeling of alienation, second-rate citizenship, and inequality. Instead of trying to consolidate public groups, with such initiatives it promotes fragmentation and hierarchization of social groups through ethnic and religious markers.

It is worth noting that this initiative represents a continuation of the chain of strongly regressive and unequal initiatives proposed by the government in the sphere of religious freedom (among them an attempt to involve ‘national security’ in the constitutional principles on restriction of freedom of religion, an initiative on adopting the law on religion, a series of initiatives on considering insult of religious feelings to be a wrongdoing) and highlights the political problem of recognition and disrespect of equality ideas.

Based on the above mentioned, the Coalition for Equality calls on the Georgian lawmakers:

  • To critically assess and do not support the legislative proposal developed by Mr. Irakli Sesiashvili as well as to observe and respect the standards of equality and religious freedom;
  • To realize social discontent towards compulsory military service and think over its revision based on the right to self-development and the principles of social justice;
  • To realize that any initiatives promoting inequality hamper the opportunities for developing democratic, fair and pluralistic society and leave a deep trace of alienation among religious and ethnic minority groups.

The Coalition for Equality

The Coalition for Equality is an informal alliance established in 2014 with the support of Open Society Georgia Foundation. It unites nine nongovernmental organizations. The Coalition members are: Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF); Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC); Article 42 of the Constitution; Union Sapari; Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA); Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG); Partnership for Human Rights (PHR); Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI) and Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI).


[2] ECtHR, Bayatyan v. Greece N23459/03, 07.07.2011

[3] Decision №1/1/811 of the Constitutional Court of Georgia dated July 3, 2018