Private Property vs. Development in Georgia

 

by Gia Gvilava, Transparency International Georgia

Few things are more important to people than the land that they, and their ancestors, have lived on for generations.

But in Georgia, citizens say, the government has unfairly thrown them off land with economic and tourism potential. And in the high mountain regions, where legal formalities are not always observed, people can find it very hard to lay legal claim to property that has been "theirs" for many decades.

In recent years, the Georgian government has launched a number of large-scale economic or tourism projects in less developed regions. In doing so, locals say the government has taken their land while paying them little or no money. They also claim they have been intimidated, denied information, and victimized by unfair court decisions.

Under Georgian law, to claim ownership of land or a house, citizens must register with the National Agency of the Public Registry. However, many have lived peacefully for years on lands inherited from ancestors, particularly in Georgia's mountains where, throughout history, people have followed traditional rules of inheritance and considered formal registration of property to be unnecessary.

Over the last several years, these people - disturbed by the government's increased activities in their territories - have decided to register their lands en masse. Yet, instead of a routine registration procedure, they say they have encountered artificial barriers created by the state.

Their complaints fell into three main categories:

Taking property: In 2010 in the mountainous city of Mestia, the government expanded the local airport and built a new skiing complex called Hatsvali. During the airportproject, 32 families lost their land without any compensation; in the case of the Hatsvali skiing complex, 15 more properties were confiscated.

Barriers to registration: As part of a plan to build 15 new hydro power plants across Georgia, investors were invited to build near the Ajaran  villages of Maradidi, Makho, Ajaristskali and Erge. When 60 local residents went to the public registry to register their titles, they  found this was not an easy task - it turned out to be quite costly and the government had created additional bureaucratic hurdles that hindered the process. Citizens also complained they could get little information on their rights, the planned project or its effect on them.

Government coercion: Residents of Sairme, a hot springs resort in Imereti, say they were pressured by officials to relinquish or "gift" their properties to the state. Over a 10-day span in December 2010, 22 parcels of land in Sairme-all within an area slated for tourism development--were relinquished to the state. The government registered title to the land, and then transferred it to Sairme Development LLC, a company owned by Temur Kokhodze, a former member of the Parliament from the then-ruling United National Movement party (current Parliamentary opposition).

In 2011, Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) and others took action with the support of the Foundation. The project "Promoting Property Rights Protection in the New Tourism Zones" was implemented by four local NGOs to ensure that property rights are respected during the development of new tourism zones.

TI Georgia and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) began to monitor cases and help those affected. The two organizations registered more than 1,000 cases of citizens, groups and organizations complaining about abuse of their property rights.

We provided free legal aid to victims, visited regions and provided consultations through ‘Mobile Clinics', educated people on their rights, advised them on how to register property, and gave out booklets and literature on the topic. In addition, we represented claimants in court, and attended trials to monitor the decision-making process.

Results: In some cases the Prosecutor's Office launched investigations into property violation claims submitted through our organizations, and the cases in Sairme are being investigated more quickly than usual.

In July, TI Georgia, GYLA, the Association of Regional Media, and Green Alternative (the other organisations participating) published an interim report highlighting the problems in Mestia. This helped create a public outcry which, in combination with advocacy from us, forced the government to register the land ownership rights of the families evicted without compensation during the construction.  After the registration, the government bought these plots from their owners; eventually every affected person received compensation.

TI Georgia also had significant success in the case of the Ajarian villages. Through intensive negotiations with central and local governments, despite the protest of the investor, we registered ownership titles for more than 45 local people at the Public Registry. With the support and participation of OSGF our lawyers visited those affected, provided consultations and helped them to register their properties. Currently we are working to collect necessary documents for the rest of the local residents in order to finalize their registrations as well.

Another major success of the project was its awareness-raising campaign. Through our activities in the regions, the NGOs involved have raised public awareness on issues related to property rights, resettlement, compensation and other basic rights of citizens.

As a result, in Grigoleti 25 local residents started a collective dispute in court. The significant number of victims has alarmed the local government, which began negotiations. Currently TI Georgia is representing locals in the negotiation process. Collective disputes have also started in two other regional cities (Anaklia and Sairme).

At the same time we are actively working with international organizations and local media. The OSGF coalition has prepared four reports on property rights violations in four different regions. These reports have been a reliable source for international community and media. For example, the U.S. Department of State report mentions problems related to the property rights violation and the information provided in the report is heavily based on our reports.

In 2012, TI Georgia launched a web page dedicated to property rights, where we detail all the major problems. We have developed a special map depicting the most problematic regions, and the specific problems local people faced. With the help of OSGF we are using this web page in our advocacy campaign. One more success of the project is a documentary movie that was produced by TI Georgia, which turned out to be a very successful advocacy tool, helping us to reach public officials and the general community.

Also in 2012, OSGF launched a new project related to property rights protection, with TI Georgia involvement. We are planning to study international best practices related to eminent domain, resettlement and the fair compensation of land deprivation.

We have identified the main systematic and legislative problems that need to be addressed as soon as possible. We are planning to launch a new campaign aimed at initiating new regulations for eminent domain, resettlement rules and the restoration of property rights for victims.

 


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011

 

 


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