FCNM Advisory Committee 3rd opinion on Latvia (excerpt on Roma), 2018

I. MAIN FINDINGS

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14. The Office of the Ombudsman continues to receive a substantial number of complaints alleging discrimination on the grounds of “race”, ethnicity, skin colour and ethnic affiliation. No complaints from Roma have been lodged with the ombudsperson in recent years, which could indicate their insufficient knowledge of and confidence in the Office of the Ombudsman to provide effective remedy in cases of alleged discrimination. In fact, the competence of the ombudsperson is limited to issuing non-binding recommendations.

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16. Roma continue to face serious and entrenched difficulties and discrimination, in particular as regards access to housing, employment, health-services and education, which further perpetuate existing discrimination and inequality. Alarmingly, one third of all Roma children are enrolled in special education, which severely impedes their access to higher education and employment. Although the employment situation of Roma has improved in the last decade, Roma still remain largely excluded from the labour market.

II. ARTICLE-BY-ARTICLE FINDINGS

Article 4 of the Framework Convention

Protection against discrimination

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Present situation

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49. The Office of the Ombudsman continues to receive a substantial and growing number of complaints every year: 248 in 2013, 263 in 2014, 284 in 2015, and 387 in 2016.28 A significant proportion of complaints alleged discrimination on the grounds of “race”, ethnicity, skin colour and national origin (in 2016, 117 of 387 or 30.2%) and on the ground of multiple discrimination (63 out of 387 or 16.3%). The Advisory Committee regrets that, according to the information provided by the ombudsperson, no complaints from Roma have been lodged in recent years. This could indicate their insufficient knowledge of and confidence in the Office of the Ombudsman to provide an effective remedy in cases of alleged discrimination. The Advisory Committee notes also in this context that the competence of the ombudsperson is limited to issuing non-binding recommendations. On the positive side, the Advisory Committee notes that the ombudsperson’s annual reports are discussed in the Saeima, and are subject to public scrutiny.

Footnote 28 Written submission from the Ombudsman’s Office “Discrimination complaints (2017)”.

Recommendations

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52. The Advisory Committee strongly recommends that the authorities raise awareness amongst relevant officials as well as in broader society, especially among Roma, of applicable anti-discrimination standards, including with regard to multiple forms of discrimination, in close co-ordination with relevant civil society organisations. Efforts must target in particular persons belonging to those communities that are known to be most exposed to discrimination.

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Collection of data and promotion of effective equality

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Present situation

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55. Other state agencies have also engaged in data collection in their fields of competence. For example, the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs published, inter alia, a survey on the “Distribution of Latvian population as to ethnicity and citizenship” (2015). The Society Integration Foundation collected data on areas such as employment, education, health care and the social inclusion of third-country nationals (see Article 15). The socio-economic situation of Roma (particularly regarding employment, education, health care and housing) has also been the subject of specific research. A survey conducted in 2015 entitled “Roma in Latvia” aimed to identify the current situation and circumstances that hinder Roma in their access to education, employment, health care, housing services, and to develop recommendations in order to address the identified shortcomings.31

Footnote 31 Research report “Roma in Latvia”, 2015, available at http://oldweb.km.lv/lv/doc/nozaru/integracija/Romi/romi_latvija_petijums_ENG.pdf.

56. The Advisory Committee notes that a series of national Roma integration policy measures developed, in particular, at a local level, have been included in the National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy Guidelines 2012–2018. These measures have been developed in accordance with the EU Common Basic Principles on Roma Inclusion, 32 and the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020. 33 The guidelines define the policy goals in the areas of education, employment, support for Roma identities and culture, as well as issues of discrimination and tolerance.

Footnote 32 See Council document 10394/09 for the Common Basic Principles on Roma Inclusion, available at
http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/09/st10/st10394.en09.pdf

Footnote 33 Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions, An EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, available at http://ec.europa.eu/justice/policies/discrimination/docs/com_2011_173_en.pdf

57. The Advisory Committee notes, however, that Roma still continue to face serious and entrenched difficulties and discrimination, in particular as regards access to employment, health-services, education and housing. Over half of the surveyed Roma were denied employment due to their ethnicity (overall 82.3% of Roma reported that they personally, or someone within their family experienced such discrimination within the three years preceding the survey). 34 Although the employment situation of Roma has improved in the last decade (whereas less than 10% of Roma were employed in 2003, the “Roma in Latvia” survey for 2015 showed that 32.4% of Roma identified themselves as economically active), Roma still remain largely excluded from the labour market. It has to be noted that the State Employment Agency is not fully aware of the situation as its own data indicates only a marginal difference in the number of registered unemployed (8.5% for the general population and 8.7% for Roma35). This is a clear discrepancy with the self-reported figures collected in the above-mentioned survey. Consequently, no policies have been elaborated and no funding earmarked to increase employment of Roma. Unsurprisingly, widespread unemployment has a knock-on effect on the living conditions of the Roma and their ability to access health and social services (see Article 15).

Footnote 34 See Research report “Roma in Latvia”, 2015, p. 61.

Footnote 35 Ibid., p. 66

58. The Advisory Committee is pleased to note the activities undertaken since 2015 by the Latvian Centre for Human Rights in co-operation with the Ministry of Culture, within the framework of the campaign of the European Council DOSTA! “Stop! Step over prejudices, get acquainted with Roma!” with the aim of raising public understanding of the culture, history and discrimination affecting Roma in Latvia.

Recommendation

59. The Advisory Committee urges the authorities to exert more efforts to prevent and combat, in close consultation with the relevant community representatives, the inequality and discrimination suffered by Roma. The authorities must step up their efforts to improve the living conditions of the Roma and to promote effective equality, paying particular attention to the gender dimension. Concerted efforts in this regard must be made to ensure adequate access to education, employment, healthcare and social services.

Article 5 of the Framework Convention

Support for the preservation and development of the culture and identity of persons belonging to national minorities

Present situation

63. Numerous national minority cultural centres, for example Belarusian, Polish and Ukrainian in Daugavpils, receive support from the Ministry of Culture and co-operate with the Latvian authorities and cultural institutions. Support is also provided to the Roma History and Art Museum and the “Roma Cultural Centre” association. The Advisory Committee regrets to note, however, that most of the projects tend to concentrate on traditional expressions of song, music, dance, handcraft and culinary exploits. These initiatives, although praiseworthy in themselves, risk presenting a solely folkloristic picture of national minorities. The Advisory Committee considers it important that support is extended, in addition to traditional cultural expressions, to also include contemporary displays of culture.

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Article 6 of the Framework Convention

Protection against discrimination, hostility or violence on ethnic grounds

Present situation

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74. Freedom of speech contained in Article 100 of the Constitution and in international human rights treaties is a fundamental right protected by law in Latvia. Freedom of speech does not encompass however “hate speech”, i.e. public verbal or written incitement to racial, national or ethnic hatred or enmity against any individual or group within society. The Advisory Committee notes that Latvia’s courts adjudicated a number of cases falling under Article 78 of the Criminal Code. These cases involved persons who had expressed hateful comments on various websites, news portals, social networks etc. Such comments are directed mostly against Latvians,43 Jews,44 Russians45 and Roma.46 Existence of the crime as provided for by Article 78 of the Criminal Law has also been assessed with respect to such acts as sending letters to public officials inciting enmity47 and committing unlawful acts in a cemetery.48

Footnote 46 Judgement of the Valmiera District Court of 7 May 2015 in the case No. 11840003614, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv

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Integration and promotion of tolerance

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Present situation

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88. To achieve the goals set in the Guidelines, a number of awareness-raising initiatives have been implemented since 2012; training workshops have been organised for employees of the state administration and local government authorities, employers, journalists, and various other professionals. The authorities also conducted a significant number of educational activities addressed to different groups within society about the inclusion of persons belonging to national minorities, including Roma, and third-country nationals.

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94. The authorities continue to raise awareness about Roma and their role in Latvian society and history. Regular support was thus offered to projects implemented by Roma NGOs (two projects in 2013 and four projects in 2014). Projects implemented by Roma NGOs include an exhibition “Roma-Gypsy Holocaust in Latvia (1941-1945),” organisation of an International Roma Cultural Festival and a project entitled “Learn more about Latvian Roma – break the stereotypes and open for a joint dialogue.” Such projects aimed to facilitate the education of the broader public, including in particular young people, about Roma culture, life and history in Latvia so as to reduce preconceptions and negative stereotypes against persons belonging to the Roma community.61

Footnote 61 See State report, pp. 15-16.

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Article 12 of the Framework Convention

Equal access to education and intercultural content

Recommendations from the two previous cycles of monitoring

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133. In addition, the Advisory Committee called on the authorities to change the practice of segregating Roma children from other children and to ensure that adequate support and funding is made available for measures aimed at improving their performance at school, including through the employment of teaching assistants.

Present situation

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136. In accordance with the “Plan for Implementation of the Education Development Guidelines 2014–2020 for 2015–2017”92 the Ministry of Education and Science has taken steps to gather data on the quality of the education of Roma students during the 2016/2017 school year. Information was collected on the number of Roma students attending primary and secondary schools and support measures provided by educational institutions.

Footnote 92 Adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers on 29 June 2015.

137. According to the data in the 2016/2017 school year there were 900 Roma students (0.4% of the total number of students) enrolled in 144 schools. The number of Roma children in schools has been dropping in recent years due to a general negative demographic trend and emigration.93 In this context, it is noted that 21.5% of Roma students were provided with additional teaching measures, such as free textbooks and other teaching and learning materials, free transportation and free school meals in the 2016/2017 school year (down from 26.4% in the 2013/2014 school year).

Footnote 93 See the State report, p. 56.

138. Notwithstanding these efforts, the Advisory Committee regrets to note that more than a third of all Roma students (308 children) attended special schools.94 Moreover, the dropout rate among Roma children remains high (15.9% of Roma students drop out, for the most part in grades seven to nine). The Advisory Committee was particularly struck by the fact that in Jurmala, which the delegation visited, not a single Roma child was enrolled in a showcase Art School (attended by the majority and minority children), whilst most of the Roma children from the Sloka neighbourhood in Jurmala attended a special school with very basic facilities provided. The Advisory Committee considers that the high proportion of Roma children enrolled in special education cannot be explained by any medical reason and points rather to socio-economic factors such as the inadequacy of the pre-school education opportunities for Roma children, who as a result enter primary school with little or no knowledge of the Latvian language, the deficiencies in the testing methods and the prejudice against Roma among members of the testing commissions.95 The Advisory Committee is alarmed that the reasons leading to the disproportionate enrolment in special schools have not been fully identified by the authorities and appropriately addressed.

Footnote 94 See “Monitoring the learning outcomes of Roma students in the 2016/2017 academic year for the period from the academic year 2013/2014” (Romu tautības skolēnu mācību sasniegumu monitorings 2016./2017.mācību gadā par laika periodu no 2013./2014.mācību gada), unpublished.

Footnote 95 See Research report “Roma in Latvia”, 2015, p. 54, available at http://oldweb.km.lv/lv/doc/nozaru/integracija/Romi/romi_latvija_petijums_ENG.pdf

139. In addition, the continuing absence of any opportunities to learn the Romani language at school not only weakens the Roma children’s linguistic and cultural identity but also increases the perception of the lesser worth of the Roma culture, language and traditions in the majority and Roma populations alike. The Advisory Committee considers that this may be an important factor which contributes to the high drop-out rate, low attainment level and the small number of Roma children continuing education beyond primary level, in spite of the fact that most Roma children in Latvia are tri-lingual (Latvian, Romani and Russian). The Advisory Committee also notes positive examples of an inclusive approach to education, such as that practised in the Jāņa Raiņa High School in Daugavpils, which tries to work closely with their Roma graduates and employs one of them as a teaching assistant, thus giving a positive example to Roma children studying there.

Recommendations

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141. The authorities must redouble their efforts to identify and remedy the shortcomings faced by Roma children in the field of education, ensure that Roma children have equal opportunities for access to all levels of quality education. Measures should be taken to prevent children from being wrongfully placed in special schools. Placement in regular schools should be the rule. Special schooling should be reserved for exceptional cases only following diagnostic examinations based on appropriate testing methods that have been introduced with a view to securing objectivity and non-discrimination.

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Article 15 of the Framework Convention

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Institutional framework for participation of persons belonging to national minorities in decision-making

171. The Advisory Committee is pleased to note the continued existence of a number of ministerial level advisory groups, such as the Advisory Council on National Minority Education Affairs, the Ministry of Culture Advisory Committee of National Minority Organisation Representatives, and the Advisory Council for the Implementation of the Roma Integration Policy. In addition, the President’s Minorities Advisory Council, composed of representatives of 18 national minority NGOs, has continued to function within the President’s Chancellery, promoting dialogue on issues related to ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of national minorities, as well as supporting national minorities towards socio-political participation.

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176. Notwithstanding the existence of the Roma Council, many Roma representatives voiced concerns about Roma being left out of consultation processes, especially at a local level. Roma interlocutors consider the authorities’ approach paternalistic and showing a lack of sensitivity to Roma concerns.

Recommendation

177. The Advisory Committee reiterates its call on the authorities to take further measures to facilitate the effective participation of minority representatives in all decision-making on issues of concern to them. Authorities are advised to modify the manner in which members of various advisory committees are selected and appointed. Persons belonging to national minorities should be able to elect their representatives in these bodies. More attention should also be paid to involving Roma in consultations and the decision making process at the local level.

Participation in social and economic life

Recommendations from the two previous cycles of monitoring

178. The Advisory Committee observed that Roma continued to face specific challenges and discrimination in the socio-economic sphere, in some cases preventing their access to public services, and called on the authorities to address this situation without further delay.

Present situation

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180. The situation of the Roma minority remains a matter of serious concern and the Roma remain the most vulnerable group. They continue to face difficulties and discrimination, in particular as regards access to employment, health services, main-stream and higher education and housing. According to the Research report on Roma in Latvia published in 2015, the unemployment rate among the Roma is seven times higher than the average in Latvia, and Roma are particularly affected by long-term unemployment and discrimination in the labour market. 130 The education gap between the Roma and the rest of the population remains significant and is one of the causes of unemployment. According to the same research report, only 34% of Roma have completed elementary education and 17.2% have obtained education higher than elementary education. According to the State Employment Agency data, education level of 67.4% of all the registered unemployed Roma was lower than the compulsory elementary education and 20% of them do not have reading or writing skills. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that there are no training programmes for Roma who have a low educational level.131 Negative stereotypes and mistrust towards Roma workers were also considered to be key barriers to their access to employment. The report of the Expert Group for Social Cohesion notes further that 82.3% of Roma alleged that they or their relatives had been refused work due to their ethnic affiliation.

Footnote 130 Research report “Roma in Latvia”, 2015, available at http://oldweb.km.lv/lv/doc/nozaru/integracija/Romi/romi_latvija_petijums_ENG.pdf.

Footnote 131 See Report of the Expert Group for Social Cohesion, available (in Latvian) at https://www.president.lv/images/modules/items/PDF/Sab_saliedetiba_Zinojums_nov2016.pdf.

181. Many Roma live in small communities on the outskirts of villages and towns, often facing difficult substandard living conditions. No significant progress has been achieved in providing improved housing and the availability of social housing is very limited and is primarily a municipal responsibility.132 The Advisory Committee regrets that there are no concerted efforts to remedy shortcomings in housing policies.

Footnote 132 Research report “Roma in Latvia”, 2015, p. 104, available at : http://oldweb.km.lv/lv/doc/nozaru/integracija/Romi/romi_latvija_petijums_ENG.pdf.

182. The Advisory Committee notes a report published by the “Papardes Zieds” association that examined the health-risk factors, such as abuse of dependence-causing substances (tobacco, alcohol and others), and that identified obstacles faced by Roma in accessing public healthcare services. 133 In this context, the Advisory Committee welcomes the efforts of the Health and Social Care Centre “Sloka” located in Jūrmala municipality, aimed at developing and putting into practice a social rehabilitation programme for the Roma living in Jūrmala. The centre provides opportunities for Roma to develop their social skills and assists with their inclusion in the labour market. Reportedly, similar efforts have been undertaken by the Jelgava Social Affairs Authority and the Daugavpils City Social Affairs Authority. The Advisory Committee further notes that new health-care legislation is currently being considered. Concerns have been conveyed to the Advisory Committee about a danger that the long-term unemployed might lose health insurance coverage. This would have a disproportionate effect on the Roma.


Footnote 133 “The needs assessment report of the ethnic minority (Roma) teenagers and young adults.”

Recommendations

183. The Advisory Committee strongly recommends that the authorities, in close consultation with Roma representatives and community members, intensify their efforts to address problems confronting them in fields relevant to their participation in economic and social life. Programmes should include a gender dimension.

184. The authorities should aim to increase employment rates by using more targeted training programmes and by considering affirmative action, should promote awareness programmes among members of Roma communities about equal access to health care system and should design more targeted social housing policies.

III CONCLUSIONS

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Issues of concern following three cycles of monitoring

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199. Roma children suffer multifaceted discrimination at school. The continuing absence of any opportunities to learn the Romani language at school not only weakens the Roma children’s linguistic and cultural identities, but also increases the perception of the lesser worth of the Roma culture, language and traditions in the majority and Roma populations alike. The dropout rate among Roma children remains high. The high proportion of Roma children enrolled in special education cannot be explained by any medical reason and points, rather, to socio-economic factors such as inadequacy of the pre-school education opportunities for Roma children, deficiencies in the testing methods and prejudice against Roma among members of the testing commissions. These reasons have not been fully identified by the authorities and appropriately addressed.

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Recommendations

201. In addition to the measures to be taken to implement the detailed recommendations contained in Sections I and II of the Advisory Committee’s Opinion, the authorities are invited to take the following measures to further improve the implementation of the Framework Convention:

Issues for immediate action

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step up efforts to identify and remedy the shortcomings faced by Roma children in the field of education with a view to ensuring that they have equal opportunities for access to all levels of quality education; take measures to prevent Roma children from being wrongfully placed in special schools.

Further recommendations

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enhance efforts to prevent and combat inequality and discrimination suffered by the Roma; improve the living conditions of the Roma by increasing employment opportunities and promote integration within society


Document data: ACFC/OP/III(2018)001; adopted 23.02.2018, published 15.10.2018 Link: https://rm.coe.int/revised-version-of-the-english-language-version-of-the-opinion/1680901e79 Also available in Latvian: https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-latvian/16808d91ab

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