CAT Concluding observations on Latvia (excerpts), 2019

B. Positive aspects

3. The Committee welcomes the State party’s initiatives to revise its legislation in areas of relevance to the Convention, including the:

(a) Adoption of Citizenship Law that simplifies the naturalization procedures, in particular for children under 15, in 2013;

[..]

(j) Law adopted by Parliament on the “Discontinuation of the Non-Citizen’s
Status for Children” which will enter into force in January 1, 2020, in 2019;

[..]

C. Principal subjects of concern and recommendations

[..]

Situation of asylum seekers and non-citizens

30. While taking note of the adoption of the new Asylum Law in 2015, the Committee is concerned that asylum seekers continue to be detained, that they may not have access to information about the asylum procedure and do not enjoy adequate procedural safeguards, in particular at border crossings. It is also concerned that the absence of free legal aid to enable
asylum seekers to appeal refusal of entry or of registration as asylum seeker, which has to be lodged within 48 hours. In addition, the Committee is also concerned that all children of non-citizen parents are not automatically granted Latvian citizenship (arts. 2, 3, 11 and 16).

31. The State party should:

[..]

(e) Consider taking additional legal, policy and practical steps to facilitate naturalization and integration of non-citizens.


Document data: CAT/C/LVA/CO/6; adopted 04-05.12.2019 Link: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CAT%2fC%2fLVA%2fCO%2f6

Constitutional Court judgment on private minority schools (excerpts), 2019

15.2. [..] The rights of the persons belonging to national minorities, which follow from Article 114 of the Constitution, are oriented to maintain a balance in the society, creating a friendly environment for preservation of minority languages, ethnic and cultural identity, and in the same time ensuring appropriate respect for the constitutional values and social cohesion. This aim can be achieved when both persons belonging to national minorities and the society as a whole perceive the implementation of national minority rights as enrichment of the whole society. The implementation of national minority rights may not be aiming to social segregation and threaten the unity of the society. A movement of those belonging to different identities each to their own identity space threatens the democratic discourse and the possibility of commmon action in a unified society (see para. 23.2 of the judgment of the Constitutional Court of 23.04.2019 in the case No. 2018-12-01).

[..]

21. [..] Learning the state language as a subject cannot ensure as good an understanding of its practical use, and as wide a vocabulary as a pupils gets by using the state language as the medium of instruction in learning other subjects as well. One does not find any other alternative means allowing to achieve the same level of state language acquisition in the general education process as can be achieved by a pupils, using the state language as the medium of instruction [..]

[,..]

22.2. [..] private educational institutions are still permitted to implement national minority education programmes in the basic education phase, providing a significant part of the curriculum in a minority language and thus giving appropriate opportunities to use national minority language in learning process to the persons belonging to national minorities.

In turn, in secondary education programmes, the private educational institutions are permitted to include a specialised subject “Language and literature of a national minority” and to assign a notable part of the workload to subjects not mentioned in the secondary education standard, which are directed to preservation and development of national minority identity and to integrating persons belonging to minorities to the society [..]

The legal provisions need to be interpreted in the way that both specialised subject “Language and literature of a national minority” and to subjects not mentioned in the secondary education standard, which are related to national minority identity and culture, need to be learned using a minority language as the medium of instruction [..]

The issue of language use became relevant due to migration promoted by the occupation authorities. Although a part of Soviet-time migrants were not ethnic Russians, their only language of communication in Latvia was Russian. An all-encompassing Russification was implemented, allowing to use Russian without restrictions in everyday communication and imposing its use in public authorities. In education, Russification was implemented by dedicating special attention to learning the Russian language in schools with Latvian as the medium of instruction, and creating schools where Russian was the only medium of instruction, thus, in fact, creating a segregated education system. [..]

Ina Druviete, an invited person, points that sociolinguistically, the Latvian language still does not meet the state language status in some aspects. The main reason for such situation is the linguistic self-sufficiency of Russian language speakers, which impedes improvement of Latvian language skills among these persons. In turn, it follows from the information provided by the Ministry of Education and Science, evaluated in the process of adopting the contested provision, that 22 % of more than a fifth of national minority pupils evaluate their state language skills as low. [..]

Appropriate skills to use the state language allow the persons belonging to national minorities to continue education sucessfully, to freely compete in the labour market of the country, to fully participate in the democratic discourse of the society. It also protects the rights of other members of the society to use the state language in all spheres of life. The ability of all persons belonging to national minorities to communicate freely on every issue in the state language is indispensable in the context of preserving the democratic order and equally important botrh for the persons belonging to national minorities themselves and to the society as a whole, because it is this ability which would allow all members of the society to communicate freely among themselves and with the state” [..]

[..]

23.2. [..] Unlike the national minority education programmes, the opportunity to get education, as an exception, in a EU official language is provided in the Clause 2.1 of Paragraph 2 of Section 9 of the Education Law with an aim to promote deeper learning of a foreign language, not to develop the culture and language of a respective country [..]


Document data: 13.11.2019, published 14.11.2019. Case No. 2018-22-01. Link: http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018-22-01_Spriedums.pdf (in Latvian)

Publisher’s notes:

On para. 15.2.: Actually, Art. 114 of the Constitution speaks (since 1998) not just of the right to “preservation”, but also about the right to “development” of minority languages and identity. Unsurprisingly, the court ignores this, as consecutive amendments since 1998 impede the use of minority languages, to the contrary. Rights of minorities are being made dependent on the perception on the “society as a whole”. Freedom of choice gets interpreted as segregation, contrary both to ECRI definition ( see p. 15 ), CERD ( Thornberry P. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Oxford University Press, 2016. P. 238 ) etc. The point of “democratic discourse” might be arguable if applied to requiring some degree of bilingual education in two specific school subjects – in history and social sciences. However, it gets used to exclude all non-majority languages from all general subjects of the curriculum.

On para. 21: Even if learning the language as a subject weren’t efficient enough, there is the opportunity to have subjects taught bilingually, or to require some specific part of the curriculum (e.g. on social sciences or Latvia’s geography) to be taught in Latvian. The court does not consider these less intrusive measures. There is also no limit set to the level of Latvian skills which could be demanded without discrimination.

on Para. 22.2: The “significant part” and “notable part” are not more than 20 % in grades 7 to 9, and their number is not clear in grades 10 to 12 (secondary school). Integration is presented as a one-way process, just integrating minority as an object. The claim that “migrants” in the Latvian SSR did not use Latvian – Russian only – is not supported by any evidence. Freedom to use Russian in daily life is presented as Russification. Having Russian language as a well-taught subject in Latvian-language schools is presented as Russification. The measures of the current authorities, albeit much more intrusive, don’t receive their proper evaluation – as forced assimilation measures banned by  the Framework Convention. It would be good to have the same way of a “Latvianization” of Russian schools now, as Latvian schools were allegedly “Russified” in the Latvian SSR. Free choice gets interpreted as segregation, contrary both to ECRI definition, CERD etc. The Russian-language schools in the territory of current Latvia pre-independence and during the 1918-1940 independence are ignored – as if Russian schools were created by the Soviet authorities. Having an opportunity to get some services in Russian is presented as an obstacle to learning Latvian and as undermining of the state language. Even if the ministry’s data is correct, it shows that in overwhelming majority of cases, sufficient level of Latvian skills can be achieved without learning in Latvian only in high schools and mostly in Latvian since grade 1. So the restrictions on minority language use are not necessary for the alleged legitimate aim. Latvian skills get confused with having to learn in Latvian.

The OSCE- and UNESCO-recognised benefits of mother tongue education are ignored. This allows the court to misrepresent the issue of the best interests of the child as well.
The point of “democratic discourse” might be arguable if applied to requiring some degree of bilingual education in two specific school subjects – in history and social sciences. However, it gets used to exclude all non-majority languages from all general subjects of the curriculum.

On para. 23.2. Learning in such minority languages as German, Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian (also in English and French) is allowed without percentage limits – but not in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Hebrew or Yiddish. This approach was criticized by the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights in her Human Right Comment of October 29, 2019

Antisemitism – Overview of data available in the EU 2008–2018 (excerpt), 2019

Latvia

Official data

The Latvian government informed FRA that no antisemitic crimes were recorded in 2018 and 2017. In 2016, one case related to the desecration of Jewish graves was successfully prosecuted. No antisemitic crimes were recorded in 2015.

Unofficial data

No unofficial data were available at the time this report was compiled.


Document data: published 08.11.2019. Print ISBN 978-92-9474-752-5 PDF ISBN 978-92-9474-753-2 Link: https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/fra-2019-antisemitism-overview-2008-2018_en.pdf

UNHCR welcomes Latvia’s decision to grant automatic citizenship at birth to children of “non-citizens”, 2019

UNHCR welcomes the fact that Latvia’s Parliament has adopted legislative changes that will entitle children born after 1 January 2020 to parents who are considered “non-citizens” under the law to automatic Latvian citizenship at birth.

Access to nationality, in particular for children, is a fundamental human right recognized in international legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The bill adopted by the Latvian Parliament is an important step towards  ensuring that children are not born without a nationality. It is a welcome development towards achieving the goals of the UNHCR Global Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024 (“#IBelong Campaign”) and provides other countries a positive example.


Document data: two dates are give at the UNHCR website, October 2019 and 07.11.2019 The translation of the 1st paragraph is available in Russian (with mistaken UN instead of UNHCR) at http://novayagazeta.ee/articles/28439/ The translation of the remaining two paragraphs is available in Russian at https://lv.sputniknews.ru/Latvia/20191108/12727108/V-OON-pokhvalili-Latviyu-za-grazhdanstvo-dlya-novorozhdennykh-detey-negrazhdan.html

Commissioner’s statement on language policies (excerpts), 2019

Promoting social cohesion through balanced policies on languages

[..]

The Advisory Committee on the FCNM has consistently emphasised, in respect of a range of countries, including Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and the Russian Federation, that policies on the use of languages should aim to reconcile the needs of different groups of speakers, those of the state and those of society as a whole, rather than deepening gaps between different groups based on linguistic differences [..]

Tackling discrimination based on language

Laws and policies that promote the use of a specific language should not result in discriminatory treatment of some groups of the population. Therefore, before introducing new measures regulating the use of languages, the authorities should carefully assess the possible disproportionate impact of such measures, especially on persons belonging to national minorities. The Advisory Committee on the FCNM has indeed highlighted that strict language requirements can constitute a disproportionate obstacle for persons belonging to national minorities in a range of areas, such as access to employment, participation in political life, and access to health care and education. In the case of Latvia and Estonia for instance, it deplored insufficient access for persons belonging to minorities to public positions due to overly strict language requirements.

It is therefore crucial for countries to ensure that they have an effective anti-discrimination legal framework in place, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on ethnic or national origin as well as on language, and, importantly, which foresees effective remedies for persons alleging such discrimination.  [..]

Promoting plurilingual education

When teaching of or in minority languages is provided, it is equally important to uphold the quality of teaching, but also to ensure continuity throughout the education system. For example, limiting the teaching in minority languages only up to a certain grade can act as a clear disincentive for minority language education. In this regard, I am worried, for instance, that the 2018 education reform in Latvia which gradually reduces the share of teaching in Russian (to a ratio of 80% Latvian and 20% Russian) in secondary schools, runs the risk of transforming the existing bilingual education system in place since 2004 into a system which offers only some language and culture classes in the minority language. I am also concerned at media reports indicating that the Latvian government is considering making Latvian the only teaching language in public schools.

Moreover, I find it disturbing that some countries (such as Latvia and Ukraine) have taken steps to establish rules for the teaching in languages of the European Union which are different from those applying to other languages, thereby establishing unjustified differences of treatment between speakers of different national minority languages.

[..]


Document data: 29.10.2019. Link: https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/language-policies-should-accomodate-diversity-protect-minority-rights-and-defuse-tensions Also available in French and Russian

Publisher’s notes: in fact, the “ratio of 80% Latvian and 20% Russian” is now being applied to grades 7 to 9 (late basic school), and, to be more precise, the ratio is “at least 80 % Latvian”. To the secondary schools (grades 10-12), a different system is being applied by the same 2018 amendments to the Education Law. It can be summarised as “only some language and culture classes in the minority language”.