OHCHR Summary of stakeholders’ information for UPR 1st round on Latvia, 2011

The present report is a summary of 6 stakeholders’ submissions1 to the universal periodic review. It follows the structure of the general guidelines adopted by the Human Rights Council. It does not contain any opinions, views or suggestions on the part of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), nor any judgement or determination in relation to specific claims.

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I. Background and framework

A. Scope of international obligations

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2. The Latvian Human Rights Committee (LHRC) (..) and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (CoE ECRI) further recommended that Latvia recognize the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to receive and consider communications from individuals.5

B. Constitutional and legislative framework

3. While noting that anti-discrimination provisions were added to a number of laws, LHRC indicated that the anti-discrimination amendments to the Civil Law had been pending before the Parliament since 2004. This implied that the prohibition of discrimination did not apply to transactions between private individuals who were not engaged in business activities and in such cases, only the general  discrimination prohibition set in the Constitution could be used. LHRC recommended that legislation should prohibit discrimination in all spheres.Furthermore, CoE ECRI encouraged Latvia to adopt a comprehensive body of civil and administrative legislation prohibiting racial discrimination in all fields of life.7

C. Institutional and human rights infrastructure

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5. CoE ECRI indicated that the Ombudsman was competent for all issues related to equal treatment and violation of the principle of non-discrimination, in cases between individual and public authorities or between two parties. While noting the statutory competence and leadership role of the Ombudsman in combating racial discrimination, CoE ECRI noted that the anti-discrimination unit of the institution should be given the necessary means to continue its work.11

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D. Policy measures

8. CoE ECRI reported on the Society Integration Policy Basic Principles 2008-2018, a state policy planning framework document in the area of societal integration, which was drafted in consultation with NGOs.15 CoE ECRI recommended that Latvia maintain and reinforce all its efforts in favor of the integration of society, on a long-term basis. It suggested that particular emphasis could be put on promoting inter-ethnic relations and on reception of immigrants, including newcomers, as well as asylum-seekers and refugees.16

9. Referring to the National Programme for the Promotion of Tolerance in Latvia (2005–2009), CoE ECRI recommended that Latvia continue and reinforce its efforts to promote diversity in school education.17

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II. Promotion and protection of human rights on the ground
Implementation of international human rights obligations

1. Equality and non-discrimination

11. While noting the increase in the general level of awareness of the problem of racial discrimination in recent years, CoE ECRI found it 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. It also encouraged Latvia to ensure that the issues of mutual respect, racism and racial discrimination were properly addressed in school curricula, noting that textbooks should not contain any racist prejudice or stereotypes concerning any minority groups.19

12. LHRC noted that Criminal Law sanctioned activities which were deliberately aimed at the incitement of national, ethnic or racial hatred. It underlined however, that due to the high standards of evidence required, there were a limited number of cases before the courts.20 LHRC recommended that law enforcement bodies should be trained in order to effectively tackle the issue of hate speech and hate crime.21 CoE ECRI also recommended that police and judicial authorities fully investigate and prosecute racially motivated offences by acknowledging and taking into account the racist motivation of an offence.22

13. CoE ECRI mentioned reports of anti-Semitic acts against property belonging to Jewish communities, including several cases of vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and deliberate destruction of a religious monument.23

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15. CoE ECRI was pleased that the Labour Code was amended in 2004 to introduce a clear prohibition of discrimination.26 (..)

16. JS1 and CoE-ECRI reported that racial motivation was introduced into the list of aggravating circumstance in the Criminal Code in 2006.30 JS1 recommended that Latvia recognize homophobic and transphobic motivation as an aggravating circumstance in the criminal law.31

2. Right to life, liberty and security of the person

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18. LHRC reported that incidents of violence against minorities (Africans, Roma) had increased in recent years.35 CoE ECRI echoed these concerns and stated that there seemed to be cases of police harassment of members of minorities who had come to police stations to bring a complaint. It noted the denial of the problem of racist violence both on the part of the public and the authorities.36 CoE ECRI recommended that Latvia monitor the situation as regards the presence and activities of right wing extremist and skinhead groups and urged Latvia to make further efforts to adopt a more comprehensive approach to the phenomenon of racist violence, that does not focus exclusively on the promotion of tolerance and which includes the implementation of criminal law provisions aimed at combating racist violence.37

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24. LCHR reported that the prison population included a high percentage of Russian speakers. As stipulated by the State Language Law, the state and municipal bodies accepted and considered documents submitted in the state (Latvian) language only, except for emergencies and a few other specific cases.52 The prisoners can submit complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office in Latvian and Russian. However, Latvian Prison administration and the Ministry of Justice had, on occasions, allegedly refused to respond to prisoners’ complaints submitted in Russian on the basis of the State Language Law. LCHR reported that Latvian language training remained limited and no translation services were provided in prisons which had resulted in prisoners being denied effective protection of their rights owing to their lack of Latvian language proficiency.53

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5. Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and right to participate in public and political life

34. CoE ECRI reported on racist speech geared towards immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, certain ethnic groups such as Roma and religious minorities including Jews and Muslims, as well as that? related to the interethnic relations between Latvians and the Russian-speaking population. CoE ECRI reports that some politicians and the media expressed stereotypes and prejudices and, in some cases, outright hate speech, towards these minority groups, trying to stir up interethnic tensions, mainly to attract voters and / or readers. While noting with interest the measures taken to promote tolerance, CoE ECRI recommended steps to counter the use of racist discourse in politics and in the media.67 CoE ECRI also recommended that Latvia review and finetune criminal law provisions aimed at combating racism, notably by introducing provisions on racist speech, as the law currently addressed only incitement to racial hatred.68

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36. CoE ECRI expressed concerns at the considerable separation existing between Latvian-language and Russian-language media, as this run counter to efforts to favour the mutual integration of all groups constituting Latvian society.71

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38. CoE Commissioner highlighted that the overwhelming majority of non-citizens belonged to minorities, but that this status debarred them from participating in the political life of their country. CoE Commissioner also hoped that Parliament will soon adopt a law improving the participation of non-citizens in political and social life.75 Similarly, CoE ECRI recommended that Latvia ensure the participation of ethnic minorities in the political process, in political elected bodies and in public service.76

6. Right to work and to just and favourable conditions of work 

39. CoE ECRI reported that all studies on discrimination in employment showed that language was the main factor of discrimination in the workplace.77

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8. Right to education

47. LHRC reported that, although public primary and secondary schools may implement education programmes in minority languages, at least 60 percent of the curricula in secondary must be in Latvian and all state examinations shall be passed in Latvian.94 CoE Commissioner indicated that the education reform that began in 2004 was geared to making Latvian the main teaching language in secondary schools. It also noted that the reform encountered a number of problems, especially the lack of textbook in some subjects, the quality of the materials, and the lack of training for non-Latvian teachers in Latvian language.95 CoE ECRI recommended that adequate room be left in minority schools for teaching minority languages and cultures, while maintaining efforts to improve education in Latvian for children of ethnic minorities, particularly Russian-speaking children, in order to guarantee equal access to higher education and employment.96

48. CoE Commissioner welcomed the setting up of the Agency for the Quality of Education, but reported that it checked the textbooks in Latvian, which were all standardised, but not those in minority languages, most of which were published outside Latvia. CoE Commissioner invited it to reconsider its strategy and to devote the same attention to all schools and all textbooks which it was mandated to supervise.97

49. CoE ECRI reported that the school drop-out rate among Roma children was very high. While regretting de facto segregation of Roma children in schools, it noted that initiatives had been taken to encourage mainstream school attendance by Roma children. CoE ECRI recommended Latvia to encourage regular school attendance by Roma children and to tackle the problem of the high school drop-out rate.98

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9. Minorities

51. LHRC reported that, as of 1 January 2010, 40.6 per cent of the population were belonging to ethnic minorities. According to the 2000 census, 39.6 per cent said their native language was Russian, while 2.2 per cent mentioned another language as their first language. The current State Language Law stipulated that all other languages, except the Latvian language, were defined as foreign languages with no exceptions for minority languages.100

52. CoE ECRI noted that the Russian-speaking population remained separate from the Latvian-speaking population for linguistic and other reasons. While some initiatives had been taken by the authorities and private parties to foster dialogue and mutual understanding between the two populations, many more measures were required to achieve a fully integrated society.101

53. LHRC reported that employees of state and municipal institutions and enterprises must know and use the state language to the extent necessary for the performance of their professional duties, while, in the private sector, employers set their own requirements. However, the Government set requirements in respect of those employees, whose activities affect the legitimate interests of the society.102

54. LHRC described how national legislation requires the use of the State language for personal names, place names, street names and other topographical indications. It does not guarantee the right to use minority languages for communication with the authorities and expressly prohibits the use of other languages in written communications with official bodies across the country. LHRC notes that the State Language Centre supervised how the law was implemented carried out checks and imposed fines.103 In this regard, CoE Commissioner referred to the declarations accompanying the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia that appeared to confirm a position that Latvian was the only language that could be used for official documents.104

55. LHRC recommended that the status of minority languages be explicitly recognised in the legislation, providing the opportunity to use personal names, place names, street names and other topographical indications in minority languages, as well as the right to contact the authorities in minority language on the territories where a significant part of population belongs to minorities. LHRC recommended that sanctions for violations of the language legislation and professional state language proficiency requirements be reviewed, taking into account the principle of proportionality. It also recommended that the right to qualitative education in the language of minorities should be guaranteed, and that the administration of educational institutions should have the right to choose independently the proportion of different languages in their educational programmes.105

56. CoE ECRI recommended that Latvia take all necessary measures to ensure a balanced implementation of the State Language Law by the State language inspectors, give priority to constructive and non-obligatory measures, and take care to preserve and encourage the use of minority languages without infringing on the status and teaching of the official language.106 CoE Commissioner also recommended that Latvia facilitate the use of minority languages in the administration, particularly in written correspondence between persons belonging to the national minorities and administrative staff.107

57. LHRC noted that the citizenship policy was based on the concept of state continuity, with only those persons who had been citizens of independent Latvia in 1940 and their descendants having their citizenship restored. LHRC reported that the 1995 Law on the Status of Former USSR Citizens who do not have the Citizenship of Latvia or that of any Other State introduced a special legal status of non-citizens. LHCR reported that noncitizens constituted about 15 percent of the population and that almost all of them were persons belonging to ethnic minorities.108 CoE Commissioner reported that about 30 percent of non-citizens were over the age of 60 years, while over 13,000 children were still noncitizens and, children were still being born as non-citizens.109

58. LHCR indicated that non-citizens had the right to reside in Latvia without visas or residence permits. However, LHRC reported that non-citizens were not entitled to some political, social and economic rights.110 CoE ECRI made similar observations and noted that access to various professions within the civil service and in the private sector linked to judiciary remained closed to non-citizens.111

59. LHRC reported that, in recent years, the naturalisation had declined and more applicants could not pass naturalisation tests.112 CoE ECRI stated that the naturalisation process had been facilitated on several occasions, either by reducing the fee for some social groups or by affiliating the exam procedure for some people. However, it referred to complaints by non-citizens that the procedure remained cumbersome and time-consuming and noted that many people did not apply for naturalisation for various reasons. CoE ECRI indicated that the naturalisation process was slow.113

60. LHRC recommended that Latvia ensure effective naturalisation through free training courses for the naturalisation examinations and exempt from these examinations people who reached the age of retirement, persons with disabilities and people having studied in Latvia. LHRC further recommended that children born in Latvia after 21 August 1991 should receive citizenship together with their birth registration.114 CoE ECRI made similar recommendations.115

61. While referring to the three-year National Action Plan on Roma (2007–2009), CoE ECRI reported that the Roma communities continued to suffer from racism and discrimination, notably in the labour market.116 CoE Commissioner made similar observations.117 CoE ECRI noted allegations that the police discriminated against Roma, particularly in stops and controls of identity and in the field of combating drug-related criminality.118 CoE ECRI recommended, among others, that Latvia consider adopting an all-encompassing long-term national strategy to combat the social exclusion of Roma.119


Document data: A/HRC/WG.6/11/LVA/3, 02.02.2011 Link: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/LVIndex.aspx (also available in Russian)

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