I MAIN FINDINGS
Combating discrimination and promoting tolerance
17. The number of hate crimes recorded by police in Latvia is low. Data on the prevalence of racially motivated crimes and on the number of cases relating to hate crime and incitement to racial hatred is systematically collected and reported. Furthermore, Latvia actively participates in the Hate Crime Working Group established by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Legal provisions on hate crime contained in the Criminal Code were strengthened in 2014. Numerous training programmes and awareness-raising activities among the public and law enforcement agencies on the need for more sustained efforts to prevent and sanction hate speech and combat hate crime have been undertaken.
18. Public figures, including political leaders, have occasionally made pronouncements exacerbating ethnic divisions within the country, particularly before elections, with a view to mustering support. On a number of occasions, such divisive and discriminatory public statements by politicians inciting ethnic hatred or discord have been brought before courts in Latvia.
II. ARTICLE-BY-ARTICLE FINDINGS
Article 6 of the Framework Convention
Protection against discrimination, hostility or violence on ethnic grounds
Recommendations from the two previous cycles of monitoring
69. The Advisory Committee urged the authorities to amend legislative provisions and reinforce existing remedies to address hate speech against minorities, particularly on the Internet. The Advisory Committee further called on the authorities to step up their efforts to publically condemn and appropriately sanction all expressions of intolerance towards minorities.
70. The Advisory Committee recalls that committing a criminal offence with a racist, national, ethnic or religious motive is considered an aggravating circumstance under Article 48, paragraph 14 of the Criminal Code of Latvia. It further notes that the Criminal Code was amended on 15 May 2014 and 29 October 2014, introducing significant changes in the legal framework applicable to hate crime (Articles 48, 78, 149 and 150 of the Criminal Code).
71. In line with these amendments, Article 78 of the Criminal Code stipulates criminal liability for incitement to national, ethnic, racial or religious hatred or enmity. Article 74 of the Criminal Code was amended to provide for criminal liability for “public glorification of genocide, crime against humanity, crime against peace or war crime, or for the glorification, denial, acquittal or gross trivialisation of genocide, crime against humanity, crime against peace or war crime, including genocide, crime against humanity, crime against peace or war crime committed by the U.S.S.R. or Nazi Germany against the Republic of Latvia and its inhabitants.” 39 Article 149 of the Criminal Code40 provides for criminal liability for discrimination “due to racial, national, ethnic or religious belonging or for the violation of the prohibition of any other type of discrimination, if substantial harm is caused thereby.” 41 Article 150 of the Criminal Code in turn stipulates criminal liability for an act aimed at inciting hatred or enmity depending on the gender, age, disability of a person or any other characteristics (including sexual orientation of the person), if substantial harm has been caused thereby. More severe punishment is possible if the above crimes have been committed by a public official or a responsible employee of an company, or a group of persons, or if it is committed by using an automated data processing system.
Footnote 39 See State report, pp. 16-17
Footnote 40 Section149.¹ of the Criminal Code reads:
“(1) For a person who commits discrimination due to racial, national, ethnic or religious belonging or for the violation of the prohibition of any other type of discrimination, if substantial harm is caused thereby, – the applicable punishment is deprivation of liberty for a term up to one year or temporary deprivation of liberty, or community service, or a fine.
(2) For the criminal offence provided for in Paragraph one of this Section, if it has been committed by a public official, or a responsible employee of an undertaking (company) or organisation, or a group of persons, or if it is committed using an automated data processing system, – the applicable punishment is deprivation of liberty for a term up to three years or temporary deprivation of liberty, or community service, or a fine.”
Footnote 41 The grounds of “national” and “religious belonging” were added by the amendment, which entered into force on 29 October 2014.
72. The Advisory Committee notes that when examining whether the accused has committed a criminal offence provided in Article 78 of the Criminal Code due to racist motives, the courts of Latvia are guided by the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Latvia, which defines “racism” as “a conviction that such factors as “race”, skin colour, language, religion, national or ethnic belonging may serve as grounds for contempt for an individual or group of individuals, or an opinion that an individual or a group of individuals is superior over another individual or group.” 42
Footnote 42 See Decision of the Chamber of Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Latvia of 4 April 2007 in the criminal case No. 11511001005 (not published).
73. Furthermore, the Law on Electronic Mass Media Means was amended on 22 May 2013, stipulating that commercial notifications must not incite hatred or invite discrimination against any person or group of persons due to gender, age, religious, political or other opinions, sexual orientation, disability, “race” or ethnic belonging, citizenship or other circumstances. In addition, the Law On Meetings, Processions, and Pickets (Article 10, para. 2) provides that it is prohibited to act against the independence of Latvia, to incite to violent overthrow of the political system of Latvia, to call for disobedience of laws, propagate violence, national and racial hatred, Nazism, fascism or communist ideology, to propagate war or to glorify or incite to committing crimes and other offences. In accordance with amendments to this law, adopted on 14 November 2013, local authorities can adopt a decision prohibiting an event if it is established that holding it will endanger the rights of others, the democratic state system, public security, welfare or morals, and if the above-mentioned threats cannot be eliminated through placing restrictions on the course of the event.
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 43 See for example, judgement of the Riga City Latgale District Court of 21 September 2015 in the case No. 11840000915, judgement of the Riga City Kurzeme District Court of 17 December 2014 in the case No. 11840001414, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv, judgement of Riga City Latgale District Court of 11 December 2014 in the case No. 11840001513, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv.
Footnote 44 For example, judgement of Riga City Zemgale District Court of 18 September 2014 in the case No. 11840003713, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv, judgement of the Cesis District Court of 29 July 2014 in the case No. 11840002510, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv.
Footnote 45 Judgement of the Riga City Kurzeme District Court of 22 January 2014 in the case No. 11840004913, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv
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.
Footnote 47 Decision of the Supreme Court of 24 April 2014 in the case No. 11840000811, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv.
Footnote 48 Judgement of the Riga Regional Court of 26 January 2015 in the case No. 11094119210, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv (part of the judgment has not entered into force).
75. Recent convictions have included: a person who wrote comments on a news portal, which incited national, ethnic and racial hatred and enmity between various ethnicities, expressing contempt for them and using vulgar designations and comparisons; 49 sentencing another person to deprivation of liberty for four months for publishing comments on a website that expressed a negative, offensive and contemptuous attitude towards a certain ethnicity and promoted negative and hateful opinion in public about a certain ethnicity, thus causing enmity in public, inciting conflicts and promoting national hatred. 50 In another ruling, republishing of hateful comments expressed by another person has also been deemed to constitute a criminal offence to the same extent as when creating the text itself. 51 The Advisory Committee notes in particular that Riga City Ziemelu District Court emphasised, in a judgment, that expression of an opinion which divides persons according to any grounds, antagonises one part of society or which may cause antagonism or even hatred in relation to the respective groups of persons, conflicts with Article 14 and 17 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Article 91 of the Constitution.52
Footnote 49 Judgement of the Riga City Kurzeme District Court of 22 January 2014 in the case No. 11840004913, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv/eTiesasMvc/lv/nolemumi.
Footnote 50 Judgement of Riga City Latgale District Court of 6 June 2014 in the case No. 11840001013, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv/eTiesasMvc/lv/nolemumi.
Footnote 51 Judgement of the Riga City Zemgale District Court of 18 September 2014 in the case No. 11840003713, available (in Latvian) at https://manas.tiesas.lv
Footnote 52 Judgement of the Riga City Ziemelu District Court of 17 March 2016 in the case No. 11840000313.
76. The Advisory Committee notes a number of prominent cases where inflammatory statements by public figures have not led to the authorities taking any action, thereby creating an impression of impunity and ambivalence. Such statements included an interview given by a writer and published in a daily newspaper53 and an opinion piece published in a daily newspaper “Latvijas Avize”, calling for the removal of 750 000 “Russian colonists” from Latvia as a precondition for accepting refugees.54
Footnote 53 See “Rancans is not right about Russians, but it’s not a crime”. LETA, 2 October 2014, available at http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/latvia/pb-rancans-ne-prav-naschet-russkih-no-eto-ne- prestuplenie.d?id=45046450
Footnote 54 Media report “Русских Латвии предложили срочно депортировать”
77. The Advisory Committee notes with concern that a prominent film director and politician, a member of the Saeima, who in May 2017 published an article entitled “The aim: a Latvian Latvia,” 55 was sanctioned by the Parliamentary Commission on Ethics with the mildest possible punishment – an oral warning. 56 The Advisory Committee considers that such leniency sends the wrong signal to society, emboldening politicians and other public figures to make inflammatory and divisive statements. The use of such discriminatory and offensive language by politicians and other public figures has a detrimental effect on inter-ethnic relations and on the integration of Latvian society. It ultimately weakens the state and its institutions. The Advisory Committee considers that politicians should strive to promote cohesion, tolerance and coexistence based on mutual respect and understanding.
Footnote 55 The article, which referred to Russians in an offensive way, was published in the “Nacionālās ziņas” and reproduced on the author’s Twitter account, available at https://twitter.com/EdvinsSnore/status/865495364370972672/photo/1.
Footnote 56 Freecity.lv “Šnore got off with an oral warning for the statement about “Russian lice” (Шноре за высказывание о “русских вшах” отделался устным предупреждением (in Russian), published on 14 June 2017, available at http://www.freecity.lv/politika/43283/
78. Data on the prevalence of racially motivated crimes and on the number of cases relating to hate crimes and incitement to racial hatred is systematically collected by the Ministry of the Interior, law enforcement agencies, the Department of Analysis and Management of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Courts Administration unit of the Ministry of Justice and the Security Police of the Republic of Latvia and communicated to the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).57 Furthermore, Latvia actively participates in the Hate Crime Working Group established by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The number of hate crimes recorded by the police is low. Within the last five years, the highest number of such crimes was recorded in 2013 (22) and the lowest in 2015 and 2016 (11 in each of these years).
Footnote 57 OSCE ODIHR Hate Crime Reporting, available at http://hatecrime.osce.org/latvia.
79. Since 2014, training against hate crime has been included in the training programmes of law enforcement institutions. In addition, a number of specific awareness-raising activities aiming at capacity building among police officers have been organised. These included three seminars organised by the State Police College in 2013–2016 on “Identification and Prevention of Hate Crime.” The seminars brought together participants from the State Police, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Supreme Court, the Prosecution Office, the Ministry of the Interior, the State Inspectorate for the Protection of Children’s Rights, the National Centre for Education, and non-governmental organisations. Handbooks in the Latvian language on hate crime have been written and distributed to all participants in these events.58
Footnote 58 See State report, p. 24.
80. Civil society in Latvia has also stepped up its efforts to increase awareness among the public and law enforcement agencies on the need for more sustained efforts to prevent and sanction hate speech. Between 1 July and 31 October 2014, the Latvian Centre for Human Rights implemented the project “Strengthening of NGO Capacity to Limit Incitement to Hate on the Internet.” During that period, its experts monitored the content and comments published on internet news portals, online versions of newspapers and magazines as well as social networks with the aim of identifying hateful content and to test the effectiveness of the different reporting methods.
81. The Advisory Committee welcomes these undertakings. It notes also that in 2016, the ombudsperson published a study on the “Issues of Investigating Hate Crimes and Hate Speech in the Republic of Latvia” in which it recommended a more strategic approach to addressing hate crimes, strengthening the implementation of criminal law and conducting prevention activities. The study further noted that law enforcement agencies lack a uniform understanding of the concept of hate crime and recommended the development of a methodology for recognising, identifying and investigating hate crimes.
82. The Advisory Committee urges the authorities to ensure that more vigorous, rapid and effective action be taken to prevent, investigate and prosecute offences committed with racial or xenophobic motives, and to provide for constant monitoring of these offences within society.
83. The Advisory Committee urges the authorities to combat stereotypes and prejudice in political discourse and to promote tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue throughout society as a whole. In particular, it is essential that specific targeted measures such as awareness-raising campaigns involving, among others, the media, be implemented without delay to counteract manifestations of xenophobia in society.
84. The Advisory Committee reiterates its call on the authorities to appropriately sanction all expressions of intolerance and publically condemn disrespect towards minorities.
combat stereotypes and prejudices in political discourse and promote tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue throughout society as a whole; take specific targeted measures to counteract manifestations of xenophobia in 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