On November 10th, 2023, the International Conference – Business and Human Rights for Legal Practitioners took place in Tbilisi, Georgia. This event, organized by the European Association of Lawyers (AEA-EAL) in partnership with the Georgian Bar Association (GBA), received support from various entities, including the UN Global Compact Network Georgia, UN OHCHR, Council of Europe, USAID Rule of Law Program, and the Solidarity Center.
Mr. David Asatiani, the Chairman of the Georgian Bar Association, set the tone for the conference with his opening address. Amid welcoming the attendees, Mr. Asatiani notably emphasized the critical importance of understanding the intersection between business and human rights within the realm of legal practice. This focus underscored the evolving landscape of legal responsibilities and challenges faced by lawyers in the contemporary world. Mr. Asatiani highlighted the essential need for lawyers to comprehend the dynamics between business activities and human rights issues to provide effective legal counsel and contribute to the promotion of ethical business practices. His emphasis served as a call to action for legal professionals in attendance to deepen their understanding of the complexities inherent in this intersection.
The conference drew participation from more than 170 individuals, including lawyers, members of the Executive Board of the Georgian Bar Association, Ethics Commission representatives, and legal professionals from various countries, such as Austria, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Italy. Notably, delegations from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan specifically attended the conference in Georgia. The conference also had the honor of hosting Georgia’s Minister of Justice, who addressed the participants, underscoring the increasing significance of acknowledging the intersection between business and human rights as a crucial element of professional competence. The opening remarks by the representatives of the donor organizations were followed by welcoming speeches from the Bar Presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, respectively.
The conference featured sessions that delved into critical aspects of business and human rights. The first session, focusing on the International Legal Framework and Emerging Case-Law Regarding Business and Human Rights, featured distinguished panelists such as Salome Zurabishvili, Executive Director of Global Compact Network Georgia, Alix Frank-Thomasser, Member of the Managing Board of the Vienna Bar and Besarion Bokhashvili, Human Rights Officer at UN OHCHR. Mr. Giorgi Tsekhani, Executive Director of the Georgian Bar Association, moderated the session.
The second session concentrated on environmental law, with discussions centering on recent developments in environmental case law and legal challenges encountered in environmental litigation. Esteemed experts such as Jean Marc-Gollier, Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee of the CCBE; Tamar Alania, Judge at the Tbilisi Court of Appeal; and Ketevan Vardosanidze, Climate Law and Policy Researcher, led the discussions. Mr. Giorgi Chkheidze, Chief of Party of the USAID Rule of Law Program, moderated the session.
The third session explored labor rights concerning the intersection of business and human rights, providing a comprehensive review of international standards and the challenges faced by labor rights in this context. Speakers for this session included Lara Douvartzidis, Lawyer at the International Bar Association; Nato Natenadze, First Deputy Head of the Labour Inspection Office of Georgia; Tamar Gabisonia, Regional Coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at Solidarity Center, and Sharaf Mammadova, Lawyer of the Azerbaijani Bar Association.
The fourth session involved the presentation of theCouncil of Europe HELP Platform and an introduction to the HELP Business and Human Rights Course, led by Mr. Levan Meskhoradze -Senior Project Officer at the Council of Europe.
The Executive Director of the Georgian Bar Association concluded the conference by expressing thanks to the distinguished experts and participants, international donor organizations who supported the event as well as to the European Association of Lawyers (AEA-EAL) and its President – Maria Slazak under whose initiative the conference was organized in Tbilisi.
In conclusion, the conference served as a valuable platform for promotion the issue of business and human rights among legal professionals as well as knowledge exchange and the reinforcement of a network dedicated to advancing professional values, upholding the rule of law, and protecting human rights.
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