OHCHR Summary of stakeholders’ information for UPR 2nd round on Latvia (excerpts), 2015

The present report is a summary of 7 stakeholders’ submissions1 to the universal periodic review. It follows the general guidelines adopted by the Human Rights Council in its decision 17/119. 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.


A. Background and framework

1. Scope of international obligations 30

11. The Latvian Human Rights Committee (LHRC) (..) called upon Latvia to recognize the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to receive and consider communications from individuals.33

12. LHRC noted that despite repeated recommendations from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (CoE-ECRI), Latvia had not joined Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the European Convention on Nationality and the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level.34


2. Institutional and human rights infrastructure and policy measures

14. (..) CoE highlighted the recommendation of CoE-ECRI that the Ombudsman be provided  with sufficient resources and that its accessibility in different languages and in the different regions of Latvia be improved.39

15. LCHR (..) It stated that the Ombudsman’s stance towards certain minority groups had been perceived as controversial, this included its calls to transfer instruction in state-fund schools into the Latvian language only, which had generated a lack of trust towards the Ombudsman.41

16. LCHR considered that the Ombudsman’s capacity to investigate and act on allegations of discrimination remained limited.42 It also stated that the Ombudsman had not brought any discrimination cases before the courts since 2006 and that the Roma Council which was established under its auspices was considered to have made only a limited contribution to the equality of Roma.43 It recommended strengthening the Ombudsman’s capacity to address non-discrimination issues and raising public awareness of its mandate concerning non-discrimination and the available remedies, particularly among vulnerable groups.44

B. Implementation of international human rights obligations, taking into account applicable international humanitarian law

1. Equality and non-discrimination

17. LHRC observed that while there were anti-discrimination provisions in a number of laws, there was no all-encompassing law on discrimination, except the general prohibition of discrimination in the Constitution.45 It also noted that the Law on Residential Tenancy lacked anti-discrimination provisions.46 It recommended the adoption of a comprehensive act explicitly prohibiting discrimination in all spheres and providing for assistance in procedural issues to those seeking redress.47

18. The 2012 findings of CoE-ECRI noted positive developments, including training of the police in non-discrimination and combatting hate crime.48 Among CoE-ECRI´s concerns was that incitement to hatred was being interpreted narrowly.49 Among its priority recommendations for follow-up was that the country ensures a focus on the Policy Guidelines for the Integration of Society in Latvia and provide sufficient and timely financial resources and ensure coordination for their implementation.50

19. LCHR and EU-FRA noted amendments to the Criminal Law in 2014 which added “racist” motivation as an aggravating factor.51 LCHR observed that hate crimes and hate speech were now criminalised on “the grounds of a person’s gender, age, disability or any other feature”, but required that a substantial harm was caused by such act.52 (..)

20. LCHR stated that reporting of hate crimes remained limited, predominantly due to a lack of trust in law enforcement authorities. It considered that data official and unofficial collection remained inadequate.56 The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE-ODIHR) cited figures provided by Latvia on hate crimes and reported that in 2013, 22 hate crimes were recorded by the police; zero hate crime prosecutions and 892 sentenced cases were also recorded.57 LCHR noted that in 2014, the Latvian State Police signed a co-operation agreement with OSCE-ODIHR on training police officers on hate crimes which it considered as recognition on the part of authorities that Latvia needed to address hate crimes, although it believed that such crimes were not high on the police list of priorities.58 LCHR recommended that Latvia organise training on hate crime for law enforcement officers and the judiciary and raise public awareness on hate crimes to encourage reporting.59 CoE highlighted the recommendations adopted by the Committee of Ministers (CoE-CoM) in 2014 that Latvia strengthen legal provisions and response capacity within law enforcement to promptly and effectively respond to hate crime; and promote awareness among persons belonging to national minorities and the population at large of the available legal remedies against discrimination and ethnically based hostility and encourage their use.60 It also recommended that Latvia condemn and sanction all expressions of intolerance and disrespect towards national minorities, particularly by public officials.61

21. CoE-ECRI expressed concern regarding the authorisation of certain public events including a gathering held every year in March in the Centre of Riga commemorating soldiers who fought in a Latvian unit of the Waffen SS. It recommended that the Latvian authorities condemn all attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen SS and collaborated with the Nazis and that the authorities ban any gathering or march legitimising in any way Nazism.62


5. Freedom of religion or belief, expression, association, and right to participate in public and political life

34. ADF International (ADF) considered that the Law on Religious Organizations gave the Government an undue level of control over religious life in Latvia.89 It observed that religious groups were not required to register, but registration offered significant privileges.90 It noted that registration could be burdensome for new religious groups and associations, particularly during the first-ten years, and that the law could have the effect of discouraging or preventing new religious organisations and associations from forming or, at the very least, growing. 91 ADF recommended that Latvia simplify and streamline the process of registration as a religious group or association.92

35. ADF noted that non-registered religious organizations were not allowed to set up their own schools for training clergy.93 It further observed that the Law on Religious Organizations placed strong restrictions on foreign missionaries. Such missionaries could only hold public meetings and evangelize it they were invited by a registered religious organization.94 It called for restrictions on work by foreign missionaries to be reduced.95

36. ADF referred to other problematic aspects of the registration requirements stating that the Latvian government did not permit the registration of multiple religious organisations of a single denomination or faith.96 It stated that only the Latvian Orthodox Church was allowed to register with the word “orthodox” in its name and that splinter groups could not register.97 ADF stated that it was not clear whether governments had the theological authority or insight to make such determinations and that in Latvia these determinations were being made by default by preventing the registration of newer groups that were part of denominations which were already registered.98 It recommended that multiple groups of the same denomination or faith be allowed to register.99

37. ADF was concerned that the law in Latvia placed illegitimate and troublesome restrictions on freedom of speech.100 It stated that sections of the Criminal Law detailed how some forms of speech were criminally punishable and these forms did not simply include incitement to violence.101 It reported that Section 78.1 of the Criminal Law stated that people can be imprisoned or fined for speech that incited not violence but merely “enmity” and was concerned that while violence could be easily defined and identified, “enmity” was abstract.102 It considered that the law elided the distinction between speech and action and gave the government the right to determine what could and could not be said.103


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

41. In 2012 CoE-ECSR found in relation to Latvia (..) that the restrictions on access to employment for non-European Union citizens went beyond those permitted by the European Social Charter.110


10. Minorities

46. LHRC mentioned that 59.8 per cent of the population were ethnic Latvians and in many municipalities ethnic Latvians were in the minority while 37.2 per cent responded in the 2011 as speaking mainly Russian at home.117 It noted that schools may implement education programmes in minority languages, but a 2014 government regulation provided for most municipal minority schools to introduce teaching mostly in Latvian in grades 7 to 9, from 2015.118 Noting the recommendations accepted in the first UPR, LHRC was concerned at the gradual abolition of the network of schools and minority classes in schools which also offered education programmes in Latvian with bilingual Latvian/Russian instruction. It reported that the number dropped from 240 in 2006/7 to 176 in 2010/11 and 160 in 2014/15.119

47. LHRC also stated that since 2012, Latvian language exams had been uniform for those graduating from Latvian-only and minority high schools and it was not surprising that the average results of minority school graduates were lower; minority pupils’ chances to obtain a state-paid place at a university were also lower.120 It recommended that the requirements should be differentiated between graduates of minority schools and those of schools teaching in the Latvian-language only.121
48. LHRC noted that as of January 2015, 12 per cent of the population were so-called “non-citizens” residing in Latvia and that these were without any citizenship, who were not considered by the Constitutional Court to be either Latvian nationals or stateless persons, and that almost all of them belonged to ethnic minorities.122 It reported that in recent years the naturalisation rate had declined to one lower than before the previous UPR in 2009.123 CoE-ECRI was concerned that no measures had been taken to simplify the naturalization process for children born to “non-citizen” parents after 1991.124 LHRC, LCHR and CoE-FCNM mentioned amendments to the Citizenship Law which were adopted in 2013.125 LHRC commended the new possibility for only one parent to apply for a child rather than two as previously and LCHR noted that this provision applied retroactively and the proportion of new-born non-citizen children registered as citizens increased in 2014.126 LHRC regretted that the amendments included restrictive provisions allowing the Government to refuse naturalization on vague “security/constitutional order” grounds which were not subject to judicial review and had concerns that the choice of states for which dual citizenship was possible may allow discrimination.127 CoE-FCNM was deeply concerned by aspects of the amended Citizenship Law which favoured Latvians and Livs in their access to dual citizenship and at the introduction of the notion of “constituent nation” within the integration guidelines.128 LCHR called on the authorities to resolve the child statelessness issued by 2018, including by pro-actively facilitating their registration.129 LHRC recommended other measures to ensure effective naturalization; simplifying the procedures for new-born children and allowing all refusals of naturalization to be subject to judicial review.130

49. LHRC reported that “non-citizens” had rights akin to citizens, but some rights were reserved only for citizens, including the right to participate in elections, establish political parties, property rights in some territories, access to some professions and some pension rights.131 It noted that some of these rights were also guaranteed to European Union citizens if they reside in Latvia, but they were not granted to “non-citizens”. It recommended that disproportionate restrictions on “non-citizens” be cancelled, such as the ban for “noncitizens” to work as lawyers and that non-citizens be granted the right to participate at least in local elections.132 It also called on the Government to ensure that old-age pension for work periods accrued during the Soviet period outside Latvia was paid to “non-citizens” in the same manner as to citizens in compliance with a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.133

50. LHRC mentioned that the Official Language Law stipulated that all languages, except the Latvian language and the nearly-extinct Liv language, were defined as foreign languages. Employees of state and municipal institutions and enterprises were required to know and use the state language to the extent necessary for the performance of their professional duties.134 It noted that the Administrative Violations Code included insufficient knowledge of Latvian in performing one’s duties as a violation, and that this was applicable to the public sector and also many professions in the private sector.135 It recommended that sanctions for the professional state language proficiency requirements should be reviewed, taking into account the principle of proportionality.136

51. LHRC observed that the legislation demanded that all personal names, place names, street names and other topographical indications be spelled in the state language only, but upon request personal names may supplemented by the original form.137 It observed that, despite a 2010 view issued by the Human Rights Committee asking for the narrowing of the restrictions on the use of minority names, the legislation had not been changed.138 LHRC stated that the legislation did not guarantee the right to use languages other than the state language for communication with the authorities and directly prohibited the use of other languages in written communications with official bodies. The rule was also applied in regions where the share of the non-Latvian population was significant or even dominant.139 It recommended that Latvia ensure that the legislation provide 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 a minority language on the territories where a significant part of population belongs to minorities.140

52. CoE-ECRI observed that the Roma remained one of the most discriminated groups in Latvian society and EU-FRA repeated CoE-ECRI’s finding that schools with separate classes for Roma remained and a large proportion of Roma children found themselves in special needs schools.141 CoE-CoM recommended that Latvia enhance support for activities aimed at the preservation and promotion of national minority identities, cultures and traditions and closely involve representatives of minority organisations in relevant procedures.142

Document data: A/HRC/WG.6/24/LVA/3, 06.11.2015 Link: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/LVIndex.aspx (also available in Russian)

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