ECRI 3rd report on Latvia (excerpts on Roma&Anti-Semitism), 2007

I. FOLLOW-UP TO ECRI’S SECOND REPORT ON LATVIA

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Civil and administrative law provisions

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34. ECRI notes with interest that in a case concerning a Roma woman who was discriminated against in access to work on ethnic grounds, on 25 May 2006 the Jelgava City Court sentenced the employer to pay compensation for mental pain and anguish of approximately 1 000 lats (1 400 euro) to the victim. The then Latvian National Human Rights Office (now the Ombudsman) 11 represented the victim before the Court in accordance with the new legal provisions on combating discrimination in the field of work. This case is all the more significant since it was the first case ever where a court recognised the existence of racial discrimination and sanctioned the perpetrator accordingly. Furthermore, this case is generally quoted as a positive precedent by human rights NGOs. In fact, it seems that it has played a role in changing the mentality of victims of racial discrimination who are now more ready to seek legal advice with NGOs or the Ombudsman and to use the legal remedies available to them than they were previously.

Footnote 11 See below, Specialised bodies and other institutions

35. As a result of the Jelgava City Court case and a number of initiatives by both governmental and non-governmental agencies, such as the organisation of seminars for judges on the legal provisions prohibiting discrimination, including by the Latvian Judicial Training Centre and the Human Rights Institute of the University of Latvia, it is possible to say that the general level of awareness of the problem of racial discrimination, particularly in the field of work, has been raised in recent years. However, human rights NGOs and experts in anti-discrimination issues consider that these positive developments should only be deemed as a first step and that it is necessary to further inform the legal community as well as the general public of the existence of legal provisions prohibiting racial and other forms of discrimination in all fields of life. Indeed, ECRI notes that the Jelgava case remains isolated. In view of the numerous allegations according to which members of visible minorities – and particularly Roma12 – suffer from discrimination in employment and other fields such as housing, there are still improvements to be made in the adoption and implementation of civil and administrative law provisions prohibiting racial discrimination

Footnote 12 Concerning the situation of Roma in Latvia, see also below, The Roma communities.

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Vulnerable groups

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The Roma communities

68. In its second report, ECRI recommended that the Latvian authorities adopt several measures to improve the situation of Roma/Gypsies (hereafter: Roma) in Latvia in different areas, including employment, education and combating racist stereotypes against Roma24. ECRI is concerned that the situation of Roma in Latvia has not improved overall since the publication of its previous report. Officially, there are 8 500 Roma in Latvia, even though according to some estimates, there could be as many as between 13 000 and 15 000. It is difficult to assess the exact figures as an undetermined number of Latvian Roma have left for other European Union countries. The majority of Roma have to contend with numerous difficulties, resulting in the marginalisation of Roma communities in
Latvia. Human rights NGOs, representatives of Roma communities and the
Latvian authorities agree that these communities continue to suffer from racism and discrimination in Latvia. Several studies, surveys and polls substantiate these claims.

Footnote 24 Concerning the last point, see below, Section II Specific issues – The need to fight racism and intolerance in Latvia – Racist violence and Use of racist expressions in the public discourse.

69. ECRI deplores the fact that a large number of Roma still live in difficult, if not very difficult conditions. It seems that for several reasons but particularly because of the racist prejudices that persist among certain employers, Roma suffer racial discrimination in recruitment. On a positive note, as already mentioned above25 , in a case concerning a Roma woman who was discriminated against in access to work on ethnic grounds, a court sentenced the employer to pay compensation for mental pain and anguish to the victim26 . Furthermore, ECRI notes allegations that some Roma are prevented, because of their ethnic origin, from accessing public services such as social housing as well as public places in some cases, also mainly due to racist prejudice against them.

Footnote 25 See Civil and administrative law provisions

Footnote 26 For more detail about this case, see above, Civil and administrative law provisions.

70.As regards access to education for Roma children, ECRI is very concerned to learn that the school drop-out rate among them is very high. There are very few Roma children who pursue their studies beyond the primary school level. ECRI is especially concerned to learn that Roma children are occasionally faced with hostile reactions from some teachers, and some non-Roma pupils and parents. ECRI also notes that, according to NGOs and Roma representatives, Roma culture and the Romani language are not yet sufficiently taught and promoted, especially in schools attended by Roma27.

Footnote 27 See also above, Education and awareness-raising.

71. From 2000 onwards, some schools have opened special classes with the first laudable intention to give additional support to children in difficulty in order to allow them to reintegrate mainstream classes a soon as possible. However, the situation has rapidly deteriorated into a de facto ethnic segregation as these remedial classes have been attended solely by ethnic Roma, sometimes all gathered in the same class irrespective of their age and actual level of knowledge. Parents of Roma children have sometimes approved such a solution, finding that it is too difficult for their children to endure the hostility of non-Roma in mainstream classes. However, ECRI is pleased to note that some initiatives have been taken to encourage mainstream school attendance by Roma children. One example is the pilot education project of “Roma children at school: You are welcome”, funded by the European Union and the State through the Society Integration Foundation, which included the establishment of four Romani parents
support centres. Other initiatives supported by State funds include a project on Roma teaching assistants, and the organisation of seminars to discuss the integration of Roma children in schools. While many of these controversial Roma classes have been closed, ECRI regrets that some of them apparently still exist.

72.There seem to be generally tense relations between members of the Roma communities and the police. ECRI notes that there are allegations that the police discriminate against Roma, particularly in stops and controls of identity and in the field of combating drug-related criminality. Some studies show that Latvian police tend to resort to practices of racial profiling28. ECRI notes that in June 2003, four police officers were tried for the murder of a Roma man. However, the Court of first instance declared the police officers not guilty for lack of evidence. The judge was given a reprimand for violation of the principle of accessibility of the courts, as the widow of the Roma man, the translator and journalists had been refused access to the audience. The prosecutor has brought an appeal against the acquittal of the police officers and the decision is still pending. In this field, ECRI draws the authorities’ attention to the recommendations made below, in the section on the conduct of law enforcement officials.

Footnote 28. See also below, Conduct of law enforcement officials

73. ECRI welcomes the efforts of the national authorities which have taken initiatives relating specifically to Roma. The three-year National Action Plan on Roma in Latvia (2007-2009) contains specific measures for the inclusion of Roma. The Action Plan aims at tackling unemployment and problems in access to education for Roma and at combating racism and racial discrimination against Roma. The Action Plan is at an early stage and it is too soon to say whether it will be successful. ECRI notes that the Action Plan was adopted in consultation with Roma representatives and that three Roma NGOs take part in the Programme Council supervising its implementation. The Action Plan is generally welcomed as a first positive step in the right direction. Of course a lot will depend on the means that the State will provide for its implementation with regard to genuine political
will as well as human and financial resources. It seems that for the first year (2007) the Action Plan was allocated 53 755 lats, which seems insufficient in view of the ambitious objectives of the document.

Recommendations:

74. ECRI strongly encourages the Latvian authorities to continue to take all necessary measures to assist members of Roma communities in obtaining employment. It is imperative that such a policy to facilitate employment for Roma be accompanied by measures to prohibit any discriminatory conduct by employers who refuse to take on Roma on the grounds of their ethnic origin.

75. ECRI strongly recommends that the Latvian authorities take steps to combat racial discrimination against Roma with regard to access to public places and access to goods and services, ensuring in particular that any discriminatory act in these areas is duly remedied. The authorities should take measures to sanction racial profiling and any other form of racial discrimination by the police against Roma.

76. ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to reinforce their efforts, in conjunction with Roma communities, to encourage regular school attendance by Roma children and to tackle the problem of the high school drop-out rate. In particular, ECRI recommends that the Latvian authorities take steps to close any remaining special classes for Roma and to find solutions to integrate Roma students in mainstream classes. In this respect, ECRI recommends that the Latvian authorities pursue and step up their efforts to promote Roma culture and the Romani language among teachers and pupils.

77. ECRI strongly recommends that the Latvian authorities duly implement and reinforce where necessary the National Action Plan on Roma in Latvia (2007- 2009). The authorities should provide all necessary human and financial resources to this end. They should consider adopting an all-encompassing longterm national strategy to combat the social exclusion of Roma.

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Conduct of law enforcement officials

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80. Even though ECRI understands that there are complaints of misconduct against the police, the authorities have indicated that they have received no complaints of racial discrimination or racially-motivated misconduct on the part of the police. However, as mentioned in several other parts of this report, there seem to be communication problems between the police and members of some minority groups29. Allegedly, members of the Roma communities are victims of racial profiling on the part of the police30. For instance, they are reportedly disproportionately stopped by police officers in the streets. Another problem seems to be the lack of trust among the visible minorities towards the police, due in some cases to previous negative experience, which means that they tend to report neither cases of racist attacks against them on the part of private individuals nor racially-motivated misconduct on the part of police officers31 . ECRI notes that it is possible to bring a complaint of police misconduct before several authorities including the newly established Security Bureau within the
security police, prosecutors and the Ombudsman.

Footnote 30 See also above, The Roma communities.

81. ECRI notes that courses in human rights are provided for law enforcement officers. Training on diversity and policing as well as on how to combat hate crimes has also been organised in the framework of several projects32. It is generally recognised that the representation of minority groups, including the Russian-speaking population, within the police, for instance in the city of Riga, is more or less satisfactory and considered by the authorities as an asset which should be sustained. The same cannot be said for Roma representation within the police.

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II. SPECIFIC ISSUES

The need to fight racism and intolerance in Latvia

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Racist violence

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91. ECRI has received worrying information from many different sources according to which the number of racially-motivated attacks has been on the rise since its last report. These attacks often take the form of verbal abuse accompanied by physical assault, sometimes resulting in a person being seriously injured. According to NGOs, there are a number of persons, particularly among the Roma community, who do not report such attacks to the police36, which makes it difficult to ascertain the real extent of this problem. There are also reports of antisemitic acts against property belonging to Jewish communities, including several cases of vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and the deliberate destruction of a religious monument.

Footnote 36 See above, Criminal law provisions, and Vulnerable group – The Roma communities.

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93.The most vulnerable groups to such racist violence are visible minorities such as Africans, persons of African descent, Central and other Asians, and Roma, as well as Jews. For instance, a Rabbi experienced such a perilous situation in 2005, whereby he managed to escape a group of youngsters who were pursuing him and shouting antisemitic slogans at him. During the same year, similar events allegedly occurred to an Indian, an American of African descent and an Egyptian. Even more worrying are reports according to which the police do not always behave in an appropriate manner when victims come to complain to them about these racist attacks. In fact, there seem to be cases of police harassment of members of visible minorities who have come to police stations to bring a complaint. The publicly known case of a group of Somalis who went to the police in January 2007 to report that they had been beaten up is a regrettable example. According to several sources, they were sent from one police station to another before they could bring their complaint38.

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Use of racist expressions in the public discourse

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100. The first type of racist speech is geared towards immigrants, particularly newcomers, asylum seekers and refugees, and certain ethnic groups such as Roma. Religious minorities including Jews and Muslims are also a target of this discourse. Some politicians and the media express stereotypes and prejudice, and in some cases outright hate speech, towards these minority groups. As concerns Muslims, the main problem seems to lie in cases of sweeping statements associating Muslims with terrorism and in the existence of otherwise islamophobic speech, which are reflected in the media. All this has lead for instance, to initially negative reactions in the neighbourhood of a Muslim place of worship when it was opened. Antisemitic discourse is apparently increasing in Latvia, particularly on the Internet, for instance in the context of commemorations of the second world war events and the debate around the issue of a draft law on
compensations for confiscated properties belonging to members of the Jewish communities before the second world war.

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Recommendations:

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108. ECRI encourages the Latvian authorities to impress on the media, without encroaching on their editorial independence, the need to ensure that reporting does not contribute to creating an atmosphere of hostility and rejection towards members of any minority groups, including members of the Russian-speaking population, as well as immigrants – particularly newcomers – asylum seekers and refugees, certain ethnic groups such as Roma, and religious minorities such as Muslims or Jews. ECRI recommends that the Latvian authorities engage in a debate with the media and members of other relevant civil society groups on how this could best be achieved

Document data: CRI(2008)2 adopted 29.06.2007, published 12.02.2008 Link: https://rm.coe.int/third-report-on-latvia/16808b58b3

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