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Georgian court orders government to provide assistant to person with disabilities

14 October 2022
Ana Goguadze. Courtesy photo.

Tbilisi City Court has ruled that the Georgian government must provide a woman with disabilities with a personal assistant, pushing the state to deliver on a commitment previously scheduled for 2025. 

On 12 October, Judge Valeriane Pilishvili ordered the Agency for State Care under the Georgian Health Ministry to provide Ana Goguadze with a personal assistant within three days. 

While the ruling was an interim measure before her case is heard by the court, activists have said it marks a significant shift in the government’s obligations to people with disabilities. 

Goguadze, a 35-year-old photographer, owner of the Mziuri cafe, and a wheelchair user, said she took her case to court in spring after her mother and grandmother, who had previously assisted her, developed health problems. 

‘I have always needed assistance, but lately my condition has worsened to such an extent that I realised I had to look ahead and deal with the issue’, Goguadze told OC Media. Goguadze has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that causes muscle weakness and wasting. 

In recent months, Goguadze has faced additional challenges after she broke her femur in August while working on a photo project in Belgium. 

‘I can’t use public transport and have to pay a driver because of my needs; so if for others it costs ₾200 ($72) to get around, for me it’s ₾800 ($290)… There was no chance that I could make enough money on my own to hire a personal assistant. That’s why I decided to take my case to court’.

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Goguadze said that before appealing to court, the Ministry of Health and Tbilisi City Hall told her that government financing for such a service would be available only in 2025. 

Hope for an underserved community

The pre-trial ruling fast-tracks changes that might normally take years to implement, and in doing so, has given hope to other activists and members of the community. 

‘Waiting for verdicts very often takes 3–5 years, which is an unreasonably long time to wait for justice’, said Ana Arganashvili, Executive Director of the local advocacy group Partnership for Human Rights (PHR) that represents Goguadze, speaking to OC Media.

Georgia adopted a Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2020, which expanded the rights of people with disabilities in the country. 

Prior to that, amendments to the Georgian Constitution in 2017 recognised the state’s obligation to ‘create special conditions required for persons with disabilities to exercise their rights and interests’. 

Nevertheless, subsequent legislative amendments, including those adopted during 2019–2020 against various forms of discrimination, only promised the provision of personal assistance to those with special needs from 2025. 

‘This is where “temporary measures” come in — they ensure that one’s rights are not violated before there is a ruling on a case,’ said Arganashvili. 

Judge Pilishvili ruled that a personal assistant should be available to Goguadze for 18 hours a day. 

Goguadze told OC Media that the judge’s ruling gave ‘big hopes’ to a community whose needs are still often not met by the state.  

‘I understand that this problem won’t be solved in a couple of days, but the process should start now, absolutely not in 2025. That is absurd. They should have started dealing with this issue four or five years ago’.

PHR’s Arganashvili pointed out that in specifying 18 hours in his latest ruling, the judge had followed the example set by another case submitted by PHR earlier this year.

In January, Tbilisi Court ordered that a personal assistant continue to be provided to a person with a disability who was about to become an adult, and thus lose access. 

Arganashvili argued that the latest ruling, even if it was a temporary pre-trial measure, has set an important precedent. 

In previous cases, PHR has argued for the provision of a personal assistant to people with intellectual disabilities based on the need to protect their life and health, including preventing self-injury. 

Goguadze’s case, however, according to Arganashvili, ‘raised standards’ of disability rights nationally.

Arganashvili underlined that with the latest decision, the Georgian court recognised that personal assistance was needed to ensure that the plaintiff could fully realise her civil and political rights. 

‘While this is just a temporary measure, the government’s obligation to implement the measure has forced it to revisit existing sub-legislative normative acts that until now had guaranteed personal assistant services only to those with intellectual disabilities’.

Ana Goguadze has previously advocated for the rights of people with disabilities in Georgia, as well as supporting other campaigns for civil rights in the country. 

She has been an organiser of the annual children’s rights ‘Sun Festival’ since 2005. 

In June of this year, Goguadze refused to remove a rainbow flag from Mziuri cafe despite homophobic backlash, including an ultra-conservative group protesting for days outside the premises. 

Ana Goguadze during an anti-government demonstration in Tbilisi. June 2019.

During the anti-government protests of the summer of 2019, Goguadze’s ‘Gakharia, don’t make me stand up!’ poster was widely shared on social media. The poster addressed Giorgi Gakharia, then Interior Minister, who had been accused of heavy-handed policing of street demonstrations.