FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
I Common topics
55. According to the CSB January 2017 data, there were 222 847 so-called “noncitizens” residing in Latvia, accounting for 11.4% of the country’s population.60 The majority of them are ethnic Russians. They are a special category of persons, citizens of the former USSR who were residents in Latvia on 1 July 1991 and who do not possess citizenship of any other country.61 The term “non-citizens” does not cover foreign nationals. Although they do not have the same rights as citizens, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) points out that the “Non-citizens” enjoy the right to reside in Latvia ex lege and a set of rights and obligations generally beyond the rights prescribed by the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, including protection from removal, and as such the “Non-citizens” may currently be considered persons to whom the Convention does not apply in accordance with its Article 1.2(ii). 62
60 Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2017): 31.
61 However, the Latvian authorities point out that they do not know if any, and if so how many, “non-citizens” might indeed also hold Russian citizenship without having informed the Latvian authorities.
62 UNHCR (2016): 65, note 26.
56. Since ECRI’s last report, the number of “non-citizens” has further declined (326 735 persons in 2011, who then made up 14.6% of the population).63 This is partially due to demographic factors and mortality, as around 40% of “non-citizens” are 60 years or older. At the same time, the number of naturalisations has also declined but now stabilised at approximately 1 000 per year. According to the authorities, 98% of “non-citizen” applicants pass the necessary naturalisation exams, although not all of them on their first attempt. According to a 2016 survey carried out by the Office for Citizenship and Migration Affairs, among “non-citizens”, the personal reasons why respondents did not want to apply for naturalisation have changed. In previous years, the Latvian language requirement and the fees had been mentioned as obstacles. These no longer feature strongly among the reasons given. Instead, the advantages of visa-free travel to the Russian Federation and eligibility for a then more advantageous Russian pension are highlighted by many respondents. In addition, many “non-citizens” refuse to apply for naturalisation out of principle, as they believe they should be granted Latvian citizenship automatically. These reasons and sentiments were also confirmed to ECRI by various representatives of “noncitizen” organisations.
57. The Latvian authorities underlined that instead of making the “non-citizen” status more equal to that of citizens,64 it is their stated aim to eventually abolish this category by promoting and facilitating naturalisations.65 To this end, they simplified citizenship registration at birth for children born to “non-citizens”. The request for Latvian citizenship for a new-born child now only needs to be made by one parent instead of both parents which was the case previously and which often caused practical difficulties. A legislative initiative launched in 2017 by the
President of Latvia for the automatic recognition of Latvian citizenship at birth for children born to “non-citizens” did, however, not succeed due to a lack of sufficient political support. Although the registration process at birth has been simplified, and subsequently the number of new-born “non-citizens” dropped to only 52 cases in 2016 and 23 in 2017,66 the question of automatic recognition remains of important symbolic value to “non-citizens”.67 A positive decision in this respect would stop children being born as “non-citizens” and also be a very helpful step towards better integration, as it would effectively signal the abolition of this population category in the long-term, as envisaged by the authorities.
64 Cf. ECRI’s recommendations in its 2012 report: §§ 123-128.
65 See also Ministry of Culture (2012): 19.
66 In these cases, no applications for Latvian citizenship were made.
67 Cf. ECRI (2012): § 122.
58. ECRI recommends, as a matter of priority, that the authorities provide for the automatic recognition of Latvian citizenship for children born to “non-citizens”.
59. Further steps taken by the authorities to promote the naturalisations of “noncitizens” include information-days organised in municipalities with a high proportion of “non-citizens” among the residents, during which details of the naturalisation process are explained. The authorities, through the Society Integration Fund, also provide free Latvian language classes for “non-citizens” in preparation for their naturalisation exams,68 as recommended by ECRI in its last report.69 While ECRI commends the authorities for this measure, it also received information that these language classes, at times, fill up very quickly, resulting in insufficient capacity for all “non-citizens” who wish to enrol. This problem might grow, if the authorities’ efforts to promote naturalisation are successful.
68 The required level is B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
69 ECRI (2012): § 122.
60. ECRI recommends that the authorities ensure that sufficient places are available for “non-citizens” wishing to enrol in Latvian language courses free of charge in preparation for their naturalisation exams
INTERIM FOLLOW-UP RECOMMENDATIONS
The two specific recommendations for which ECRI requests priority implementation from the authorities of Latvia are the following:
• ECRI recommends, as a matter of priority, that the authorities establish a unit within the State Police tasked with reaching out to vulnerable groups in order to increase trust in the police and address the problem of under-reporting of racist and homo-/transphobic hate crimes.
• ECRI recommends, as a matter of priority, that the authorities provide for the automatic recognition of Latvian citizenship for children born to “non-citizens”.
A process of interim follow-up for these two recommendations will be conducted by ECRI no later than two years following the publication of this report.
Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f