ECRI 4th report on Latvia (excerpt on Roma), 2011

I. Existence and Implementation of Legal Provisions

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Criminal law provisions

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16. In ECRI’s view, the lack of consolidated case-law on Article 78 and the narrow interpretation given to incitement to hatred, contributes to hindering its application. Only two cases brought under this provision have reached the highest instance at the domestic level8. In one case, in the course of an antifascist meeting, a neo-Nazi9 had stated that Jews and Roma are not human beings and should be exterminated. He was initially sentenced to imprisonment for breach of Article 78, which, prior to 17 July 2007, prohibited incitement to hatred only on national and racial grounds. The Senate of the Supreme Court finding that the incriminated action constituted incitement to hatred on ethnic grounds acquitted the defendant. (..) Both judgements indicate that incitement to hatred is interpreted in a very narrow manner.  (..)

Footnote 8 The Senate of the Supreme Court.
Footnote 9 Case of A.J of 22 February 2007.

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III. Racist Violence

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78. According to NGOs, racist violent attacks are underreported, particularly when the victims are Roma, out of fear of the police. Since its third report, three racist violent attacks have been registered officially by the police and were directed against representatives of visible minorities, mostly Roma. In all three cases the defendants were identified as affiliated to a skinhead movement. Two incidents were committed by the same culprits and were joined and tried together by court. They concerned the attack of two Roma girls and of an Armenian couple, mistakenly perceived as of Roma origin. According to the authorities, the defendants were sentenced to suspended imprisonment because the leader of the group was a minor at the time, the defendants had no previous record and one of them had recently given birth. The third incident concerned the beating of a Roma man in Riga’s central bus station. (..)

V. Vulnerable/Target Groups

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Roma

100. According to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, as at July 2009, there were 8 582 Roma in Latvia. However, according to Roma representatives and other sources, the actual number is likely to total 15 000 to 20 000, as many persons of Roma origin do not identify themselves as such out of fear of discrimination. The Roma remain one of the most discriminated groups in Latvian society45, notably in the fields of employment, education and access to services. ECRI notes that in the course of 2007 and 2008 there was a surge in racist attacks against Roma or persons perceived to be Roma (see paragraph 78). Further, the frequent negative portrayal of this group by the media, led the Ombudsman to request that the latter abstain from racial stereotyping (see paragraph 43).

Footnote 45 Research shows very high levels of intolerance towards Roma. Notably, in Riga, 53%of respondents stated that they “definitely do not want to live next to” Roma

101. In its third report, ECRI strongly recommended that the Latvian authorities implement and reinforce the Plan on Roma (2007-2009) and endow it with the necessary human and financial resources to this end. It further recommended that they adopt a long-term national strategy to combat the social exclusion of Roma.

102. ECRI regrets that the information provided by the authorities and other sources runs counter to ECRI’s recommendation. Initially geared to address discrimination of Roma in education and employment and on promoting tolerance towards this group, in practice, the Plan on Roma only focused on education. Further, ECRI was informed that in 2008 only 36% of the planned financial resources were allocated; in 2009 around 17% of the funds were disbursed; finally, after 2009, the Plan on Roma was left to lapse without any attempt made to have it renewed. The authorities have reassured ECRI that, although there are no plans to continue the Plan on Roma, the integration of this group will be addressed in the context of the programme Integration of Society of Latvia (see paragraph 48). Further, certain activities are continuing, especially with the help of EU funds. ECRI, however, notes that the renewal of the programme Integration of Society of Latvia, including its Guidelines, has stalled. Consequently, since 2009, no long-term strategy capable of tackling in a decisive way the marginalisation of this group has been in place.

103. ECRI strongly recommends that the Latvian authorities renew the National Action Plan on Roma in Latvia and design it as a long-term national strategy to combat the social exclusion of Roma in multiple fields. ECRI further recommends that the Roma population and its representatives be associated to its drafting and implementation.

104. In its third report, ECRI urged Latvian authorities to encourage regular school attendance by Roma children and to tackle the problem of the high school dropout rate. ECRI further recommended to: (i) take steps to close any remaining special classes for Roma and integrate Roma pupils in mainstream classes; and (ii) step up efforts to promote Roma culture and the Romani language among teachers and pupils.

105. According to the authorities, as at 2011, 1 182 Roma pupils were enrolled in Latvian schools; however those attending would appear to be far lower. Although the authorities do not collect any statistics on drop-out rates of Roma pupils, they have indicated that 13.7% do not complete basic education46. For instance, ECRI’s delegation was informed that out of 45 Roma pupils enrolled in a school it visited, at least ten were not attending and that, in the past, only five had completed the entire course of study47. One reason invoked by the authorities for such poor attendance was the lack of attendance of compulsory pre-school by Roma children, as reading and writing skills are introduced at this level. In addition, the following reasons were invoked by the above mentioned school: seasonal migration of parents; early marriage age for girls; and lack of sufficient transportation arrangements48

Footnote 46 The education system in Latvia is divided in primary (grades 1-4), basic (grades 4-9) and secondary (grades 10-12) school.
Footnote 47 One of whom enrolled in higher education.
Footnote 48 Notably, many children lived at a 30 minute walking distance, which represented a very long distance for young children, especially at winter time.

106. ECRI strongly recommends that the Latvian authorities take steps to collect statistics on Roma pupils’ school drop-out rates. It further recommends that the authorities tackle this problem, inter alia, by: raising parents’ awareness of the importance of pre-school education; providing “success stories” through young Roma who have completed their education; and improving transportation services.

107. ECRI is pleased that efforts have been made in order to integrate Roma pupils in mainstream classes. According to civil society, the number of separate classes for Roma pupils has decreased in recent years and in 2008/2009 only few schools maintained separate classes for Roma49 . However, ECRI notes that one of these classes was held in the afternoon, thus contributing to Roma pupils’ segregation50. ECRI was informed that, in order to facilitate the inclusion of Roma pupils in mainstream classes, 20 Roma teachers’ assistants were trained under the Plan on Roma in order to assist the latter with learning. However, as at 2011, out of those trained, only eight remained in the education system, apparently due to lack of funds. ECRI was further informed by the authorities that 10.6% of Roma children attend special needs’ schools. According to other sources, however, this percentage is higher in certain municipalities.

Footnote 49 However, the authorities state that as at 2011 no such separate classes existed.
Footnote 50 The authorities, however, contest this fact

108. ECRI reiterates its recommendation to close any remaining special classes for Roma and integrate Roma students in mainstream classes. To facilitate this, ECRI recommends that the authorities reinstate the Roma assistant teachers trained under the Plan for Roma. Finally, ECRI recommends to the authorities to address the high representation of Roma children in special needs’ schools.

109. As concerns specific measures taken by the authorities to promote Romani culture and language among teachers and pupils, it appears that bilingual education in Latvian and Romani is provided. Further, ECRI’s delegation noted a satisfactory degree of integration of Roma pupils in the school it visited.

110. In its previous report ECRI strongly encouraged Latvian authorities to continue to assist Roma in obtaining employment and to take measures to prohibit any discriminatory conduct by employers.

111. ECRI was informed that in 2007, under the Plan on Roma, the authorities financed driver training courses and Latvian language training in certain cities; however, no measures were carried out in the field of employment since then. The authorities have informed ECRI that Roma may register with the State Employment Agency and benefit from the training offered by the latter. However, it would appear that participation in such training is not always possible in practice, due to educational requirements they do not meet. According to information provided by the authorities, in 2011, 977 Roma51 registered with the State Employment Agency as unemployed – several of whom participated in some kind of training activity. ECRI notes that, considering the very low level of employment in the Roma community52 and its size, this number should be higher. Further, given that eligibility for social assistance depends on such registration, ECRI is of the view that more efforts should be invested into sensitising Roma to the importance of registering with the State Employment Agency. On the other hand, ECRI was informed that those who are registered may receive up to 12 different social benefits and that this dissuades them from seeking employment. In this connection, it would appear that in certain cases, under Latvian law, it is possible to grant assistance against an obligation to work in the public service. ECRI deems this a very good practice susceptible to introduce Roma into the employment market. Furthermore, ECRI is of the opinion that, in addition to the services provided by the State Employment Agency, specific measures aimed at assisting Roma in obtaining employment should be adopted, given the specificity of their social condition. ECRI is not aware of any activity having been carried out in order to sensitise employers to preventing discriminatory conduct.

Footnote 51 This figure refers to persons who explicitly indicated their ethnicity as Roma.
Footnote 52 Estimated at around 5 to 10%.

112. ECRI recommends that the authorities encourage the Roma population to register with the State Employment Agency and explore ways in which employment will not be considered financially less attractive than welfare benefits.

113. In its third report, ECRI strongly recommended that the authorities combat racial discrimination against Roma with regard to access to public places and access to goods and services and that they sanction racial profiling and any other form of racial discrimination by the police against Roma.

114. ECRI has been informed that Roma continue to face discrimination in access to services. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ (FRA) Thematic Study on Housing Conditions of Roma, states that Latvian Roma have access to social housing; however, according to Roma effective access depends on the attitude of the mayor of the town or on whether Roma are present in the committee which takes these decisions. ECRI was informed that civil servants of the Riga City Council and of Government agencies have received some training on making their services more easily available to Roma and minorities; however, more needs to be done. As concerns relations with the police, a study commissioned by the Ombudsman shows that 58% of Roma respondents considered such relations to be negative. Further, ECRI has been informed that many Roma fear the police and would deem useful having an independent institution to address complaints to, free of charge. Finally, it would appear that informal racial profiling by police is still frequent. ECRI commends the training provided to police officers by the Ombudsman in 2008 and 2009 on human rights, covering also racism and the treatment of Roma and considers that these efforts should continue.


Document data: CRI(2012)3 adopted 09.12.2011 published 21.02.2012 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fourth-report-on-latvia/16808b58b6 Also available in Latvian at https://rm.coe.int/fourt-report-on-latvia-latvian-translation-/16808b58b8

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