UNHCR submission for UPR 2nd round on Latvia (excerpt), 2015

I. BACKGROUND INFORMATION

(..) Latvia has also acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (the 1961 Convention) in 1992 and to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (the 1954 Convention) in 1999.

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Stateless persons: According to the OCMA, as of 01 January 2015, there were some 262,622 “non-citizens” and 180 officially recognized stateless persons legally residing in Latvia.

The status of “non-citizens,” who are neither citizens of Latvia nor of any other State under the operation of its law, is regulated by the Law on the Status of those former USSR citizens who are not citizens of Latvia or any other state (the Non-Citizens Law), which was adopted in 1995. Latvian State institutions do not refer to “non-citizens” as being stateless, but as having a unique, temporary legal status3 which confers more rights and benefits than the status of a stateless person under the 1954 Convention. As a result of acceding to the 1954 Convention, Latvia adopted the Law on Stateless Persons in 2004. This law defines, inter alia, the status of officially recognized stateless persons in Latvia and stipulates a formal procedure for the determination of statelessness. In practice, the status of stateless persons is similar to the status of other foreigners who legally reside in the country. The level of rights is determined by the type of residence permit which a stateless person holds. OCMA data indicate that most officially recognized stateless persons reside in Latvia on permanent residence permits.

Footnote 3 According to Latvia’s response during its 1st cycle UPR (May 2011): “The status of Latvia’s non-citizen is a specific legal status with temporary character that has emerged under specific historical circumstances, when Latvia regained its independence after 50 years of Soviet occupation and shortly afterwards the USSR itself ceased to exist. Latvia’s non-citizens cannot be compared with any other legal status of a person as defined in international law. Latvian non-citizens cannot be regarded as stateless persons in the meaning of 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as protection offered to non-citizens is far broader than what is required by the Convention for stateless persons.” See: Addendum to the Report of the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review: Latvia, A/HRC/18/9/Add.1, 14 September 2011, re: recommendation no. 94.7, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/LVSession11.aspx.

II. ACHIEVEMENTS AND POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS

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In October 2011, the Government of Latvia adopted the Guidelines on National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy, which cover the period from 2012 to 2018. The Guidelines define integration as social inclusion of all people living in Latvia, regardless of their ethnic background and self-identification. The principal courses of action set out in this document include: development of civic society; strengthening various forms of civic participation; reducing discrimination against socially marginalized groups and promoting their inclusion; increasing the role of the media in social integration through support for diverse, modern and high quality journalism; and improving Latvian language proficiency among ethnic minorities, non-citizens, new immigrants and the Latvian diaspora. These efforts to improve the integration of minorities and newcomers are in line with the 1st cycle UPR recommendations from Ecuador4 and Canada,5 which enjoyed the support of Latvia. However, further efforts are needed (see Issue 4 below).

Foonote 4 “91.51. Step up efforts to improve the integration of ethnic and minority linguistic groups, including welcoming migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons (Ecuador);” Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Latvia, A/HRC/18/9, 11 July 2011, available at:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/LVSession11.aspx.
Footnote 5 “91.54. Build on existing efforts to facilitate integration of immigrants and refugees, including by fully implementing its multiyear program for the integration of third-country nationals (Canada),” Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Latvia, A/HRC/18/9, 11 July 2011, available at:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/LVSession11.aspx.

In 2013, the Saeima (Parliament) adopted amendments to the Citizenship Law that aimed, inter alia, to simplify the process of citizenship acquisition and naturalization in Latvia. In accordance with these amendments, the consent of only one of the newborn stateless child’s parents is required in order to register the child as a Latvian citizen. In cases where parents fail to register their stateless child as a Latvian citizen at the time of the birth registration, they will still be able to register the child as a Latvian citizen until he or she turns 15 years of age. Stateless children between 15 and 18 years of age have been granted a possibility to independently apply for registration as Latvian citizens. The amendments also provide that students who have completed more than half of the basic educational programme in the Latvian language are exempt from all naturalization examinations and are to be registered as citizens upon submitting a naturalization application in accordance with the standard procedures. The amendments moreover simplify requirements regarding permanent residence for applicants for naturalization, by removing the requirement of uninterrupted residence in Latvia. A specific paragraph of the amendments deals with the Latvian language test and exemptions therefrom. Namely, the requirements relating to the Latvian language naturalization test have been standardized and are in line with the requirements of the centralized language tests in educational institutions, be it in Latvian or in national minority educational institutions. Also, the amendments grant former USSR military personnel, who have remained in Latvia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the possibility of acquiring Latvian citizenship by completing the naturalization procedure.

According to the OCMA, since October 2013, when the aforementioned amendments to the Citizenship Law entered into force, 85 – 90 per cent of children born in Latvia to stateless parents have been registered as Latvian citizens. In 2015, the Latvian authorities are planning to undertake a number of awareness-raising activities, e.g. targeted counselling for stateless persons who come to renew their “non-citizens” passports and conducting information sessions in municipalities where a large percentage of “non-citizens” live.

The adoption of amendments to the Citizenship Law and the organization of awareness-raising campaigns among stateless population contributes to the implementation of a number of 1st cycle UPR recommendations, which enjoyed the support of Latvia, including recommendations No. 91.46 (“Continue its efforts to promote the full integration of ethnic minorities into Latvian society and facilitate the naturalization and acquisition of citizenship, especially in the case of children,” by Costa Rica); No. 91.47 (“Take measures to further facilitate the naturalization of non-citizens,” by the Netherlands); No. 91.48 (“Consider further facilitation of the acquisition of citizenship and increased efforts to promote the registration of newborns,” by Brazil); and No. 91.49 (“Do more to promote the value of citizenship among all groups, thereby encouraging naturalization of the remaining non-citizens,” by the United States of America).6 However, some gaps still remain in ensuring the prevention and reduction of statelessness (see Issue 5 below).

Footnote 6 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Latvia, A/HRC/18/9, 11 July 2011, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/LVSession11.aspx

III. KEY PROTECTION ISSUES, CHALLENGES AND RECOMMENDATIONS

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Issue 4: Integration

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The necessity of further strengthening measures to prevent and combat discrimination and hate crimes against ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups was also addressed during the 1st cycle UPR of Latvia.23

Footnote 23 “93.32. Further strengthen measures to prevent and combat discrimination and hate crimes against ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons (Brazil).” This recommendation enjoyed the support of Latvia (see Annex below for further information).

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Issue 5: Prevention and reduction of statelessness
While the more than 260,000 “non-citizens” in Latvia are generally entitled to rights that go beyond the minimum rights prescribed by the 1954 Convention, important differences in the treatment of this population compared to citizens of Latvia nonetheless remain. These differences relate to a variety of rights, including employment, property purchases, political rights and pensions. “Non-citizens” may obtain long-term residence permits, but cannot vote in any elections and cannot hold Government jobs. The Government of Latvia continues to pursue an integration policy aimed at uniting the country’s inhabitants in areas such as Latvian language learning, promotion of cultural identity and cultural interaction, with particular attention to “non-citizens.” Nevertheless, the pace of naturalization continues to slow down: in 2014, only 939 individuals acquired Latvian citizenship, out of whom 853 were stateless persons (852 “non-citizens” and one with the status of stateless person). The peak of naturalization was in the mid-2000s, with 19,169 individuals granted Latvian citizenship in 2005. The main factors contributing to the reduction of statelessness in Latvia are natural decrease of population and emigration.

Considering the decreasing naturalization rate, additional legal, policy and/or practical steps may be needed to further reduce statelessness in Latvia, by facilitating naturalization, ensuring adequate state funding for Latvian-language courses for adult “non-citizens”, and by implementing promotional campaigns aimed at raising the target group’s awareness about the naturalization procedure and encouraging them to become Latvian citizens. UNHCR stands ready to assist the Government of Latvia in such efforts, aimed at promoting the naturalization of “non-citizens”.

In May 2013, the Parliament of Latvia adopted several important amendments to the Citizenship Law, which have simplified the procedure for granting citizenship to children born in Latvia to “non-citizens” and other stateless persons, and introduced changes in the naturalization procedure. The Government of Latvia has thereby demonstrated a clear determination to prevent the creation of new stateless persons in the country. However, the recent amendments do not automatically grant Latvian citizenship to stateless children born in Latvia, as they require that one of the child’s parents formally submits a request at the time of birth registration. By placing a responsibility on one parent to submit an application for the registration of his or her child as a Latvian citizen, there is a risk that parents, who do not fully appreciate the importance of submitting such an application and the impact it will have on their child’s ability to be a full-fledged member and rights-holder of Latvian society, may unintentionally contribute to perpetuating their child’s statelessness. Available statistics indicate that approximately 10 to 15 percent of the children born in Latvia to “non-citizens” and other stateless persons remain stateless after birth. Also, the amendments do not prevent statelessness of children who are born in Latvia to parents who are not stateless, but who are nonetheless unable to transmit their citizenship to the child due to conflict of laws. Hence, while constituting a very important step towards preventing statelessness, these amendments do not fully ensure that every child born in Latvia acquires a nationality at birth or as soon as possible after birth, in line with Article 1 of the 1961 Convention read in conjunction with Articles 3 and 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.24 UNHCR therefore maintains its recommendation to introduce an automatic grant of citizenship to children born on the territory who would otherwise be stateless.

Footnote 24 UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guidelines on Statelessness No. 4: Ensuring Every Child’s Right to Acquire a Nationality through Articles 1-4 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 21 December 2012, HCR/GS/12/04, para. 11, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50d460c72.html.

The 1954 Convention provides that a Contracting State shall issue identity papers to any stateless person in its territory who does not possess a valid travel document (Article 27). This provision is not binding for Latvia, as, at the time of acceding to this Convention, Latvia made a reservation regarding the provision.25 Thus, at the moment, persons who seek to obtain a status of stateless person or “non-citizen,” can obtain identity papers only after they have been granted that status. If they are registered as asylum-seekers they are issued a personal identification document as per Article 7 of the Asylum Law. In practice, the proceedings to obtain the status of stateless person or “non-citizen” are frequently complicated due to high costs or the inability of some stateless individuals to provide a valid identification document. As a result, some stateless individuals find themselves in a legal limbo and, due to the lack of identity papers, cannot benefit from the other rights that are guaranteed by the 1954 Convention.

Footnote 25 The text of this reservation reads: “In accordance with article 38 of the [Convention] the Republic of Latvia reserves the right to apply the provisions of Article 27 subject to limitations provided for by the national legislation.” Available at: https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetailsII.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=V3&chapter=5&Temp=mtdsg2&lang=en#EndDec.

Recommendations:
UNHCR recommends that the Government of Latvia:

  • Take further legal, policy and/or practical steps to reduce statelessness, through facilitating naturalization or by other measures, and consider the readiness by UNHCR to assist in these efforts.
  • Consider amending the Citizenship Law to provide for the automatic acquisition of citizenship by children born on the territory of Latvia who would otherwise be stateless, including as a result of being born to “non-citizen” or stateless parents;
  • Facilitate the issuance of identification documents to stateless persons, by lifting the reservation to Article 27 in the 1954 Convention; and
  • Ensure that individuals awaiting a determination of statelessness are treated in accordance with the standards elaborated in the UNHCR Handbook on Protection of Stateless Persons.26

Footnote 26 UNHCR, Handbook on Protection of Stateless Persons, 30 June 2014, paras. 144–146, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/53b676aa4.html.


Document data: July 2015 Link: http://uprdoc.ohchr.org/uprweb/downloadfile.aspx?filename=2430&file=EnglishTranslation

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