In 2013, the human rights situation in the Republic of Latvia did not dramatically change and remained rather unfavorable. The ruling nationalist coalition pursued the policy aimed at ignoring the appeals of international specialized organizations and human rights organizations to change the situation and to stop the discriminatory policy against national minorities. The Latvian authorities expressed unwillingness to understand the needs of the national minorities and to fully ensure their rights and freedoms.
Mass non-citizenship remains one of the principal problems in the sphere of human rights in Latvia. “Non-citizens” are deprived of such fundamental rights as the right to vote and to hold state and municipal office, to hold office at military and civil service, to serve as judges, prosecutors, to establish political parties. “Non-citizens” are allowed to make a deal concerning purchase of land or real estate only with the consent of municipal authorities. According to the human rights organizations of Latvia, there are 79 differences in the rights of citizens and “non-citizens”.
Latvia ratified the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) on May 26, 2005, with two reservations that cancelled the provisions of the Convention, under which national minorities in places of their compact residence are given the opportunity to communicate in their native language with authorities, as well as to use their native language in topographical names. Furthermore, the additional declaration adopted by the Latvian Parliament upon ratification clarifies that the said Convention does not apply to “non-citizens”, whereas more than 50 percent of the population living in the largest cities of Latvia (Riga, Daugavpils, and Liepaja) is Russian-speaking in terms of its ethnic composition.
According to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs of Latvia (OCMA) data of January 1, 2013, 297,883 “non-citizens” or about 14 percent of the population resided in Latvia. The low rate of naturalization aggravates the situation (2,213 persons in 2012 and 2,467 persons in 2011 in comparison with 19,169 persons in 2005). However, the official Latvian doctrine hypocritically calls for “facilitating naturalization and increasing the number of Latvian citizens rather than freezing the number of «non-citizens»”.
The amendments to the Citizenship Law in the Republic of Latvia that entered into force on October 1, 2013 interpreted by the MFI of Latvia as “an important governmental step” to ensure the process of integration and social “cohesion” in reality promote aggravation of the legal situation of “non-citizens” and further discrimination of minorities. In reality, these amendments are cosmetic (they facilitate registration of children of “non-citizens” and slightly simplify the test on fluency in the Latvian language required for naturalization 1). In general, the situation concerning acquiring citizenship is aggravating. Many provisions of the updated law contradict the norms of the universal international documents concerning human rights.
1 According to the Naturalization Board of the Republic of Latvia only 52 per cent of applicants passed the language examination.
The introduction of the concept “governmental nation” (that comprises only Latvians and Livs) contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
It equally concerns the amendments related to double citizenship. It is only guaranteed to the Latvians who have citizenship of Western countries (members of the EU, the EFTA, NATO as well as Australia, New Zealand and Brazil). Citizens of Russia, Israel and the CIS countries of Latvian origin do not enter in the list if they do not have an agreement on double citizenship with Latvia.
The amendments also introduced an anti-democratic provision according to which the cabinet of ministers rather than the court can prohibit naturalization on the basis of a very vague formulation: “if his or her behaviour causes threats to the security of the State of Latvia and the society”. At the same time the persons to whom naturalization is denied on the basis of the information of special services will be deprived of the possibility to appeal such decisions at court as in the case of the loss of citizenship. Such measure contradicts the OSCE recommendations according to which “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality”.
The amendments establish restrictions on the access to naturalization for the former workers of the political nomenklatura of the Latvian SSR and for the members of the organizations of war and labor veterans that violates the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
In its turn, the requirement for “non-citizens” to prove the fact of their residence in Latvia for the last five years until the moment of naturalization contradicts the provisions of the resolution of the European Parliament on the situation of fundamental human rights in the European Union.
Latvia has not implemented the recommendations of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) not to apply the national legislation in a discriminatory way that provokes social inequality and has negative influence on the integration of national minorities.
As a result, the amendments to the Citizenship Law turned out to be reactionary. They are aimed at strengthening the legal protection of one nation and mislead the world community about the true ambitions of the Latvian ruling elite.
These conclusions were proved by the publication in April 2013 of the Latvian Report on the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to the document, the “non-citizens” situation in Latvia “has improved”. In particular, it is said that 20,226 minors became Latvian citizens from 2004 till 2011. However, nothing is said about approximately 15,000 children that are still “non-citizens” 2. This is done despite the recommendations of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek that call for lifting all restrictions on granting citizenship to the children of “non-citizens” born after August 21, 1991.
2 According to the OCMA data of 31.08.2011.
According to the Latvian authorities, “due” to the policy of the Latvian government in the sphere of citizenship the number of citizens since 2004 grew from 77.8 percent to 83.2 percent while the number of “non-citizens” dropped off from 20.8 percent to 13.8 percent. Naturally, there is no information proving that these results were achieved not by facilitating the naturalization process but due to emigration or death of the older generation of “non-citizens”.
The main governmental human rights defender Ombudsman Juris Jansons completely ignores the issues of mass non-citizenship in Latvia as well as the status of the second popular language in the country – the Russian language. In his statement in the Latvian Seima on June 13, 2013, and in the following address to the European Parliament he underlined his critical point of view regarding the economic situation in the Latvian Republic, poverty and social inequality. When speaking about the discrimination of national minorities Juris Jansons mentioned only the violation of rights of the Gypsies. However, the Ombudsman overlooked such important for “non-citizens” issues as unequal remuneration conditions, overstated linguistic requirements for employment and other restrictions. He did not mention either social segregation or marginalization of non-Latvians. For example, the proportion of the unemployed working population among the national minorities (about 15 percent) is consistently higher than among Latvians (about 10 percent) that provokes a deeper social and economic gap between them.
The Latvian authorities pursue regular discrimination policy regarding the Russian language; enquiry is largely practiced in this sphere: more that 10,000 denunciations concerning the non-use of the Latvian language have been made at the State Language Center since 2000; about 9,500 people were arrested. The majority of the instructions of the Center contradict the recommendations of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerning the requirements to the knowledge of language and its usage at work.
The confrontational approach of the Latvian authorities towards the national minorities residing in Latvia (37.9 percent of the total population of the country 3) and in particular to their most discriminated category – “non-citizens” – provoked the foundation of the public organization “Congress of «non-citizens»” in March 2013. Its aim is to unite the efforts of the human rights defenders and non-governmental resources in a unique representative body that could lead dialogue with the Latvian authorities and the international human rights community on behalf of the “non-citizens”. The appearance of such initiative was to a great extent caused by the fact that the Latvian Central Election Commission prohibited de facto in November 2012 holding referendum allowing to grant automatically Latvian citizenship to all “non-citizens”. This measure of the Latvian authorities deprived Latvian citizens as well of the right to express their will (at the first stage of the procedure more than 10,000 signatures for a referendum were collected). The local legal society characterized it as deviation from the fundamental democratic norms.
3 According to the population census of 2011.
Another example of pure violation of human rights in Latvia was the adoption by the Latvian Seima at the end of 2012 of a new procedure of initiating the referendums that significantly reduced the possibility to use this key democratic instrument 4. The aim of these amendments is the desire of the Latvian authorities to escape submitting to the referendum such sensitive issues as citizenship, language, introduction of euro etc. After the entry into force of the new legal provisions the procedure of initiating a referendum became hard to implement.
4 The threshold necessary for initiating a referendum during the first stage was raised from 10,000 to 30,000 notarized signatures. Starting from 2015, the signatures of one tenth of the Latvian electors, i.e. about 154,000 signatures must be collected for initiating a referendum on any issue.
Latvian legislation still discriminates the veterans of the Great Patriotic War. The “national guerillas” – former members of the armed gangs “Forest Brothers” many of whom were former legionaries of Waffen SS during the war get supplementary pension and social benefits. As for the veterans of the Great Patriotic War, they are deprived of any material assistance from the State.
In this context, Latvia continues its efforts aimed at glorification and immortalization of former legionaries of Waffen SS and their accessories.
Annual mars [sic!] of the former legionaries of Waffen SS are held in Riga with the connivance of the authorities. In 2013, several members of the parliament from the ruling coalition participated in honoring the members of this criminal organization convicted by the Nurnberg Tribunal.
On July 4, 2013, in memory of the victims of Holocaust the right radical party “Everything for Latvia!” that is a member of the ruling coalition organized a rally “in memory” of the Latvian collaborationists in Limbaži who died there in 1941.
In October 2013, the Latvian Minister of Justice Janis Bordans supported the cynical initiative to demolish the Soviet Liberators Memorial in Riga and to build a stadium there.
On July 3, 2013, Latvian president Andris Berzins met the representatives of the organization “The Hawks of Daugava” uniting the former legionaries of Waffen SS and their successors. According to the mass media, he “fully understood” the request of the former legionaries to adopt the law on the status of the persons that “had been illegally mobilized” during the Second World War as soon as possible that should constitute the legal basis for the financial support of the former legionaries.
This bill that is interpreted by the Latvian authorities as a step to “reconciliation” of the participants of the Second World War who were enemies during the War is considered to be provocative by the Latvian veteran and the Russian speaking organizations. It is aimed de facto at legalizing the status of the legionaries. It does not envisage providing support to the majority of Soviet veterans. On the contrary, it is aimed at dividing the veteran movement on the ground of national origin. In particular, some veterans of the 130th Latvian infantry corps fall within the jurisdiction of the bill as “soldiers recruited to the Red Army by force”.
The amendments to the Law on Security during public, recreational activities and holidays adopted by the Seima on June 20, 2013, prohibit using Soviet symbols together with the Nazi symbols. It is dangerous because this law has not been applied in practice that allows its free interpretation by the ruling nationalist coalition.
The national radical deputies of the group “Everything for Latvia!” – “For Native Land and Freedom”/Movement for the national independence of Latvia tried again to rush a proposal to use the official language of Latvia in the free pre-school education since September 1, 2015. They consider that this bill will contribute to “consolidating” the society. The adoption of such bill may only aggravate interethnic confrontation in the Latvian Republic.
The attempts of the Latvian opposition to prevent strengthening the discriminative tendencies concerning national minorities in Latvia antagonize the ruling coalition. For example, the Seima decided to impose sanctions for “violating the deputy ethics” against the deputy of the Russian association “Compliance Center” I. Tsvetkova because she mentioned the majority of the above mentioned examples of human rights violation in Latvia at the international conference in Washington on June 4, 2013.
Document data: 15.01.2014, foreign ministry of Russia. Link: https://web.archive.org/web/20140819015414/http://mid.ru/bdomp/ns-dgpch.nsf/03c344d01162d351442579510044415b/44257b100055de8444257c60004a6491/$FILE/ENG_%D0%94%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4%20%D0%95%D0%A12013.doc (achieveable via web.archive.org ). Also available in Russian ( http://www.mid.ru/bdomp/ns-dgpch.nsf/03c344d01162d351442579510044415b/44257b100055de8444257c60004a6491!OpenDocument , achieveable via web.archive.org)