Natural Justice has been engaged by ICCA-GSI as the global technical partner to provide legal, policy and other technical support for the recognition and conservation of protected and conserved areas, which may fall under any of four main governance assessment types. These include governance by (i.) government, (ii.) various rights-holders and stakeholders (i.e. shared governance), (iii.) private individuals or organizations, usually landowners, and (iv.) indigenous peoples and/or local communities. Natural Justice works with 20 of the ICCA-GSI participating countries on four core areas: (i.) national legal analysis, (ii.) international review; (iii.) policy briefs, and (iv.) capacity building and legal reform.
In Georgia, the first draft of the national legal analysis was completed in April 2018. The report provides an assessment of how national policies, laws and institutional frameworks impact local communities, natural resources, environment, culture and the governance of protected areas (PAs), community-conserved areas (CCAs) and sacred natural sites.
For example, the Constitution of Georgia, as revised and amended in 2017, enshrines the right of Georgian citizens for participation in local governance. According to Article 74 (1), “Citizens of Georgia regulate the issues of local importance via representative and executive organs of self-government”. Previously, the Constitution of Georgia adopted in 1995 devoted only one passage to self-government issue, reading: “The citizens of Georgia shall regulate the matters of local importance through local self-government without the prejudice to the state sovereignty…”. The omission of ‘state sovereignty’ in the amended version means that the new approach does not perceive local self-government as a threat. The latest revision is mainly based on the amendments introduced into the Constitution in 2010 which added a chapter that recognized the power of a self-governing unit to exercise its powers independently and by its own responsibility in the manner prescribed by legislation of Georgia.
However, there are still factors impeding people’s participation in local self-government. One factor is, during the 2005 reform, the local self-government and regional branches of central authorities were drastically changed from a three-tiered system to a one-tiered system. As lowest tier of local self-government bodies, more than 1,000 communities were eliminated and consolidated into 65 districts (currently renamed into “municipalities”). This led to the limitation of self-governance right at local community level. From CCAs support and recognition perspective, this is a definite legal and administrative obstacle --- if local self-governing communities do not exist, therefore, CCAs cannot be legally owned, managed and administered by them. Another factor is the Georgian laws that state citizens/communities registered in a concrete municipality have the right to participate in local self-government in connection with issues of local importance. However, the range of issues with local importance is extremely small because there are almost no forests, lands, pastures, watercourses and other natural resources of local significance in Georgia. Such law impedes broad public participation in self-government in any substantive environmental management and governance issues.
To recognize and respect local communities’ rights to protect the integrity of existing CCAs, the legal analysis report provides recommendations that could be made to central government, local municipal authorities and other governmental and non-governmental actors. To name a few, recommendations for national level legal and institutional reform include (i.) local self-government reform to re-introduce a local community as lower level of self-government; (ii.) Protected Areas legislation reform to introduce a PA category at local level in order to allow local authorities to formally establish CCA as local PA category; and (iii.) reform environmental and natural resource laws to enhance rights and remove direct threats to existing CCAs. Recommendations for supportive measures include (i.) policy and law reform to effectively protect and promote traditional knowledge, cultural heritage and customary practices; (ii.) ensure protected areas comply with international rights, principles and standards; (iii.) create an enabling environment for self-designation and self-definition of CCAs; (iv.) provide relevant administrative and programmatic recognition and support through national and sub-national policies, strategies and action plans, incentive schemes, programmes, and research and funding policies related to the environment, development, and social welfare with view of local communities and CCAs.
The report will be published upon its finalization.