Letter to Latvia on language of instruction in schools by 3 Special Rapporteurs (excerpts), 2018

We have the honour to address you in our capacities as Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Special Rapporteur on minority issues, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 26/17, 34/18 and 34/6.

In this connection, we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning the proposed amendments by the Government to the Law on Education with regard to the medium of instruction in basic and secondary education, as well as the recent judgment by the Constitutional Court that accepted the constitutionality of the “loyalty” clause for teachers and schools administrators introduced in the Law on Education in 2015 and 2016.

According to the information received:

  • (..)
  • The proposed amendments to Sections 9 and 41 of the Law on Education provide for education only in the official language in both the public and private educational institutions, of general and professional education, covering the grades from 10 to 12 of the secondary educational level. In addition, and contrary to the current provisions of the Law with regard to the possibility of having
    another language as medium of instruction in private educational institutions, as well as in state and local government educational institutions in which educational programmes for ethnic minorities are implemented, the newly proposed amendments provide that education in “another language” may be acquired only in:
  • a) educational institutions offering educational programmes in accordance with bilateral or multilateral international treaties of the Republic of Latvia;
  • b) pre-school and basic education levels in educational institutions implementing educational programmes for ethnic minorities, with the exception of grades 7 to 9 of basic education, in which at least 80% of the teaching is to be done in the official Latvian language. The currently implemented Cabinet Regulation No. 468 of 12 August 2014 on the standards and models of state basic education provides for more advantageous framework for the teaching in minority languages for grades 7 to 9 of basic education. Teaching in minority language may constitute up to 40% of the total teaching load in the academic year (article 10.2);
  • c) educational institutions offering lessons in official languages of the European Union, thus excluding minority languages that are not EU official languages.
  • (..)
  • On 5 December, the Ministerial Cabinet approved the report by Mr. Šadurskis and on 7 December the draft amendments to the Law on Education were submitted to the Cabinet for consideration and adoption before transmission to the Parliament.
  • On 23 January 2018, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted the amendments. To date, there has been allegedly no consultation with the minorities in Latvia on the proposed amendments to the Law on Education.
  • At the same time, on 21 December 2017 the Constitutional Court issued a judgment on the constitutionality of the amendments to the Law on Education, which were adopted in 2015 and in 2016 by the Parliament and which introduced the notion of “loyalty to the Republic of Latvia and its Constitution” as a requirement for a person to work as a teacher or school administrator under Sections 30, 48 and 50 of the Law on Education.
  • The Court found that “loyalty” clause did not contravene articles 100 and 106 of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia (Satversme) on freedom of expression and on the person’s freedom to choose their employment and workplace. The Court also argued that the general reference to “loyalty” offers the appropriate flexibility to this notion, which is acceptable as it renders the notion more adaptable to “changing societal conditions”. In paragraph 16.2 of the judgment the Court quoted also the position of the Parliament, which considers the recognition of the Latvian language being the only state language as an example of loyalty. According to information received, the Constitutional Court’s ruling is final and not subject to appeal.

While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of the information made available to us, we would like to express our serious concerns at the above-mentioned proposed amendments to the Latvian Law on Education, which if approved by the Parliament, will have a negative impact on the protection and promotion of the rights of minorities in Latvia, and particularly on the right to education without discrimination of minority students in relation to the use of their mother tongue, and their right to take part in cultural life. We are concerned that the proposed amendments intend to remove the teaching in minority languages at the general and professional secondary level education in both public and private educational institutions, whereas at the same time they reduce the portion of minority language education in the last three grades of basic education (grade 7 to 9) in those educational institutions that implement minority educational programmes. Furthermore, we note with concern that these proposed amendments have been put forward without prior consultation with the minorities in Latvia, and that there are additional plans for the exclusive use of the official state language in the state, centralized and other national examinations as per the amendments to the Cabinet of Ministers Regulations No. 335 and 1510, adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers in August 2017. We express additional concern that the restrictions against the use of minority languages in education likewise represent unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions to the right to freedom of expression as access to language is a necessary component for the ability to receive and impart information.

Finally, we express serious concerns at the recent validation by the Constitutional Court of Latvia of the legality of the “loyalty” clause introduced in the Law on Education in 2015, and which is to be applied as a requirement for all those working as school teachers and school administrators. Such a clause, coupled with the specific reference, in Section 51 of the Law on Education, to the responsibilities of the teachers to, among other things, educate “respectable, honest, responsible people, who are patriots of Latvia, and to strengthen their attachment with the Republic of Latvia”, may lead to discriminatory practices against minorities in the area of education, including with regard to their right to freedom of opinion and expression and their right to take part in cultural life within the educational system. It may also lead to discriminatory or arbitrary actions against minority teachers and other educational personnel, and to their exclusion from employment or participation in the educational system altogether. Finally, it raises serious matters in relation to the use of their language between members of a linguistic minority.

In connection with the above alleged facts and concerns, please refer to the Annex on Reference to international human rights law attached to this letter which cites international human rights instruments and standards relevant to these allegations.

As it is our responsibility, under the mandates provided to us by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention, we would therefore be grateful for your observations on the following matters:
1. Please provide any additional information and/or comment(s) you may have on the above-mentioned allegations.
2. Please provide information on the next steps with regard to the legislative process and reform of the national education system in case these amendments are adopted and implemented.
3. Please indicate how the recent amendments to the Law on Education proposed by the Ministry of Education and Science and those adopted by the Parliament in 2015 and in 2016, which include the “loyalty” clause for teachers and school administrators, conform with Latvia’s international and regional commitments with regard to the protection and promotion of the rights minorities, including their cultural and linguistic rights. In particular please indicate whether these amendments are in line with the relevant provisions of the United Nations treaties, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe, and key documents on minority rights such as The Oslo Recommendations regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities, The Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities, and the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the CSCE  Conference on the Human Dimension.
4. Please provide information on the current state of affairs with regard to the use of minority languages in state, national, centralized and noncentralized examinations of the basic and secondary educational levels and indicate relevant legal provisions and implemented policies and initiatives.
5. Please provide detailed information on the measures undertaken by the Government of the Republic of Latvia to ensure promotion and protection of minority linguistic rights and access to quality education by minorities, including to education with minority language as medium of instruction at all levels.
6. Please indicate the steps undertaken to ensure that minority language teachers and other educational personnel are not discriminated against and intimidated or harrassed on the presumption of their “disloyalty” to the Republic of Latvia or their methods of work and teaching which are not deemed “conforming” with the purpose of educating “respectable, honest, responsible people, who are patriots of Latvia”.
7. Please indicate the steps undertaken to impartially, promptly and thoroughly investigate cases of re-assignment, dismissal, harrassment or intimidation of any school teacher, school administrator or other educational personnel on the basis of the “loyalty” clause of the Law on Education and harassment or intimidation in school of students who are members of minorities, and provide information of the outcome of these investigations. If no such inquiry has taken place, please explain the reasons why.
8. Please provide information on concrete policies and initiatives understaken by the Government, including in collaboration with civil society organizations, which aim to protect and promote cultural diversity in educational institutions in pre-school, basic, secondary and tertiary, general and professional, education levels.
9. Please provide data on the number and location of schools affected or likely to be affected by the requirements on the increase of use of the official state language as medium of instruction, and the minority language affected, as well as the actual or potential numbers of students affected.
10. Please also provide data on number and location of schools which will not be affected by the requirements on the increase of use of the official language as medium of instruction in the case of the use of a European Union language or because of a bilateral or multilateral treaty, the language of instruction in these schools, and the number of students involved who can still benefit from an instruction in a language other than the Latvian.


Document data: OL LVA 1/2018, 26.01.2018. Link: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=23588 Answer by Latvia’s foreign ministry: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=33981

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