ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on hate crime/speech), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

1. Legislation against racism1 and racial discrimination2

1 According to ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation (GPR) No.7, “racism” shall mean the belief that a ground such as “race”, colour, language, religion, nationality or national or ethnic origin justifies contempt for a person or a group of persons, or the notion of superiority of a person or a group of persons.
2 According to GPR No. 7 “racial discrimination” shall mean any differential treatment based on a ground such as “race”, colour, language, religion, nationality or national or ethnic origin, which has no objective and reasonable justification.

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Existence of criminal, civil and administrative law provisions as per General Policy Recommendation No. 7
Criminal law provisions

3. The provisions of Latvia’s Criminal Law reflect many of ECRI’s recommendations concerning criminal law contained in its General Policy Recommendation (GPR) No. 7. However, some provisions are not fully in line with this GPR and various gaps remain. The following analysis focuses on the lacunae. In addition, the absence of sexual orientation and gender identity as enumerated grounds in Articles 48 on aggravating circumstances and 150 (1) on inciting hatred or enmity against a social group is discussed in section II.3 below (policies to combat discrimination against LGBT persons).

4. Article 78 of the Criminal Law prohibits inciting national, ethnic and racial hatred.3 There are, however, no specific provisions punishing the public dissemination or public distribution, or the production or storage aimed at public dissemination or public distribution, with a racist aim, of written, pictorial or other racist material, as recommended in ECRI’s GPR No. 7, § 18 (f).4

3 The authorities informed ECRI that language is also considered to be included in the list of grounds, as confirmed by the case law of the Supreme Court. (See: Supreme Court of the Republic of Latvia, Jurisprudence in criminal cases concerning the instigation of national, ethnic and racial hate (2012): 6)
4 In its last report, ECRI noted that the authorities had stated that Article 78 of the Criminal Law encompasses all activities which aim to instigate hate, including the distribution, production, acquisition, transportation and storage of items and that spelling out the prohibited activities in detail would limit the scope of application of this Article. ECRI found, however, that in practice the distribution and storage of material with a racist aim was not prosecuted (ECRI (2012): § 11) and pointed to the need for these acts to be mentioned explicitly in the Law (Ibid. § 13). During ECRI’s 2017 visit to Latvia, the authorities explained that their views on this matter remained unchanged. ECRI reiterated its position, advocating for specific provisions.

5. In its last report5 , ECRI noted that there were no criminal law provisions
prohibiting public insults, defamation or threats on grounds such as “race” and ethnic origin, or explicitly prohibiting the public expression, with a racist aim, of an ideology which claims the superiority of, or which depreciates or denigrates, a grouping of persons on the grounds of their “race”, colour, language, religion, nationality, or national or ethnic origin, as recommended in ECRI’s GPR No. 7, § 18 (d). While ECRI has been informed that Article 78 (3) of the Criminal Law penalises racist threats and Article 157 covers slander and libel6 , the other aspects mentioned (public insults, public expression of a supremacist racist ideology and acts of defamation that are not categorised as slander or libel) are still not expressly prohibited.

5 ECRI (2012): § 10, footnote 5

6 Defamation includes slander and libel, but should not be limited to these (see: ECRI GPR No. 7, Explanatory Memorandum, § 40).

6. The creation or the leadership of a group which promotes racism; support for such a group; and participation in its activities as per GPR 7, § 18 (g) is also not expressly prohibited. In its fourth report on Latvia,7 ECRI considered that a specific provision targeting racist organisations should be included in the criminal law. While the Criminal Law contains provisions covering the formation and leadership of organised criminal groups, these are either of a general nature (Article 21) or refer specifically to serious crimes against the State, crimes against humanity or peace, war crimes and genocide (Article 89).

7 ECRI (2012): § 12

7. ECRI recommends that the authorities bring the Latvian criminal law into line with its General Policy Recommendation No. 7 as indicated in the preceding paragraphs; in particular they should (i) criminalise the public dissemination or public distribution, or the production or storage aimed at public dissemination or public distribution, with a racist aim, of written, pictorial or other racist material; (ii) criminalise public insults and all forms of defamation on grounds such as “race” and ethnic origin; (iii) criminalise the public expression, with a racist aim, of an ideology which claims the superiority of, or which depreciates or denigrates, a grouping of persons on the grounds of their “race”, colour, language, religion, nationality, or national or ethnic origin; and (iv) criminalise the creation or the leadership of a group which promotes racism, support for such a group, and participation in its activities.

2. Hate Speech17

17 According to ECRI’s GPR No. 15 on combating hate speech, “hate speech” shall mean the advocacy, promotion or incitement, in any form, of the denigration, hatred or vilification of a person or group of persons, as well as any harassment, insult, negative stereotyping, stigmatization or threat in respect of such a person or group of persons and the justification of all the preceding types of expression, on the ground of “race”, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, language, religion or belief, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics or status

Data

19. Latvia regularly reports hate crime data to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The data, however, combines cases of hate speech and violence, which are discussed in different sections in this report (I.2 and I.3). It is therefore difficult to arrive at a comprehensive statistical overview for each category separately. In 2016 and 2015, there were 11 hate crime incidents per year reported by the Latvian authorities to ODIHR. In previous years, the number of reported incidents was higher: 13 in 2014, 22 in 2013 and 18 in 2012 (for the number of prosecutions and sentences, see § 35 below).18

18 OSCE / ODIHR (2018).

20. While the authorities compile statistics of incidents registered as hate crimes, additional cases in which hate motivations are recognised by the courts as aggravating circumstances would be recorded separately by the courts’ administration database. However, ECRI has not received any information that Article 48 on aggravating circumstances has ever been applied so far. ECRI was informed by the authorities about current plans to reform this database so as to take the need for an overall comprehensive statistical overview into consideration, which would give a more accurate and complete picture of the situation.

21. In addition to data provided by the authorities, several NGOs also report hate speech incidents against different minority groups in Latvia. In 2016, the Latvian Centre for Human Rights (LCHR) held interviews with representatives of 11 NGOs and migrants and conducted an anonymous online survey of foreign students studying in Latvia about their experiences of different manifestations of intolerance. Almost 68% had been either victims (33 %) or witnesses of hate speech, hate crime or discrimination, or had heard about such incidents from others. The most common form of intolerance was verbal insults/harassment (62%).19

19 Latvian Centre for Human Rights (LCHR) (2016a): 1-2.

22. However, NGOs and minority representatives, as well as the Ombudsman, also indicated to ECRI that victims of hate speech do not often report incidents to the police due to lack of trust in the willingness or ability of the law enforcement agencies to investigate these cases effectively.

23. ECRI recommends that the authorities establish a comprehensive data collection system for hate crime incidents.

Hate Speech in public life

24. In the 2016 LCHR survey, migrant representatives and foreign students indicated that hate speech is mostly encountered in public places, such as streets, public transport, cafes and bars, but also in higher educational establishments.20 For example, the Riga Technical University took disciplinary action against a professor who had allegedly called a Black student a “monkey”.21

20 Ibid.: 3.
21 European network against racism (ENAR) (2016): 27.

25. Civil society representatives also informed ECRI that racist insults against Black persons still occur frequently in day-to-day life, especially on public transport. Members of the Roma community are also regularly subjected to discriminatory comments in public. The LCHR carried out a study on the coverage of Roma in Latvian Media in 2013-14 and highlighted cases of stereotyping. The study found that although some media also discussed matters of daily life and social issues concerning Roma, there was nevertheless a common practice of portraying Roma as offenders, which in turn reinforced the widespread negative stereotypes about Roma in Latvia.22 ECRI also received information about antisemitic threats that were made to the Jewish community school in 2015.

22 LCHR (2015): 2.

26. With the recent arrival of a larger number of persons seeking international protection, incidents of racist hate speech and even threats against asylumseekers and refugees have been observed, including in close proximity to their reception centre.23 While ECRI did not receive any information indicating that this is a widespread pattern or a regular occurrence in Latvia, it strongly encourages the authorities to remain vigilant in this respect and to take the pre-existing vulnerabilities of this group into consideration

23 OSCE / ODIHR (2018) – On 2 October 2017, for example, members of a radical nationalist group made a provocative visit to a reception centre.

Hate speech in political and other public discourse

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29. In May 2017, a Member of Parliament from the National Alliance published an article in which, quoting a pre-war Latvian Minister, he wrote that “Once you let Russian lice into your fur, it will be hard to get them out”; and further “Indeed, we see that the Soviet-era Russian-speaking immigrants, although constantly badmouthing Latvia, are not leaving”.26

26 Baltic News Service (2 June 2017).

30. Following the terrorist attacks in France (2015) and Belgium (2016), an increase in Islamophobic rhetoric and hate speech was also noted in Latvia.27 In 2015, an Islamic cultural centre was targeted with graffiti.28 In the context of discussions about Latvia accepting EU quota refugees, further Islamophobic comments were observed, also equating refugees to terrorist threats and targeting migrants in general.29

27 ENAR (2017): 10.
28 OSCE / ODIHR (2018).
29 International Federation for Human Rights / Latvian Human Rights Committee (2016).

Hate speech on the Internet

31. As in many countries, a considerable part of hate speech in Latvia is now found on-line: on websites, in comments sections and in social media. This is also acknowledged by the government.30 In a study carried out in 2016, the Ombudsman identified online hate speech in the form of anonymous comments as a key problem31 and approached the Prosecutor General’s Office with a request to initiate criminal proceedings against the author of an anonymous comment calling for violence against immigrants.

32. Extreme examples include the case of a Latvian entrepreneur who used the Internet for inciting racial hatred against dark-skinned persons and stating that he was prepared to shoot them. In another case, comments were posted calling for the burning of persons who have converted to Islam.32 The Jewish community also informed ECRI about a number of antisemitic Internet postings.

32 LCHR (30 June 2016).


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Response by the authorities

35. According to the 2012-16 hate crime data reported to ODIHR (see § 19 above), 17 hate crime prosecutions took place and 16 sentences for hate crime offences were handed down by courts during this period.36 On 6 June 2014, for example, the Riga City Latgale District Court sentenced a person to four months imprisonment for inciting national, ethnic and racial hatred as per Article 78(2) of the Criminal Law. 37 Examples of judicial follow-up also include a case of Islamophobic hate speech which was referred to court and in which a punishment of 140 hours of community service was imposed on the offender. In another case, a young man who had posted a call on Facebook for people to beat up immigrants in the town of Tukums was sentenced to 160 hours of community service. 38 The case of the local Councillor tweeting anti-LGBT hate speech (see § 34 above) was reported to the State Police but later dismissed by the Tukums Regional Prosecutor’s Office with the explanation that it lacked a basis for criminal proceedings. While investigations concerning Article 78 of the Criminal Law are under the jurisdiction of the Security Police, the State Police is in charge of investigations under Articles 149.1 and 150. 39

36 OSCE / ODIHR (2018).
37 UN-CERD (12 October 2017): § 32.
38 Tukums District Court, Case Nr. 11390001416, K 37-0083/17.
39 Cf. ECRI’s recommendation in its last report (2012: § 90).

36. In 2016, the Ombudsman conducted a study entitled “Problematic aspects of the investigation of hate crime and hate speech in the Republic of Latvia”, which identifies difficulties encountered in the investigation of hate speech and hate crime and proposes solutions. The Ombudsman analysed, inter alia, criminal statistics, the effectiveness of criminal investigations and the mechanism for the protection of victim’s rights, the contents and accessibility of training for investigators, as well as the spread of hate speech in anonymous comments on the Internet.40 The study noted that there is no common understanding and practice among police departments in the area of hate speech and hate crime.41 It also indicated that hate speech and hate crimes might not be investigated in a timely and effective manner and that police lacked expertise in identifying these crimes.42 The Ombudsman recommended that guidelines be drawn up for the recognition, identification and investigation of such offences. Furthermore, police officers should receive training on the identification and investigation of hate speech and hate crime. The Ombudsman also recommended a single system of records to make it possible to analyse hate crime trends (see § 23). In addition, such offences seem to be under-reported by victims because they lack confidence in the police (see also § 22).43

40 Information provided to ECRI by the Ombudsman (2017).
41 See also: OSCE/ODIHR (2018).
42 Information provided to ECRI by the Ombudsman (2017).

43 Ibid.

37. ECRI is pleased to note that the State Police, jointly with the State Police College and the Security Police and after consultation with the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Ombudsman’s Office and the Latvian Centre for Human Rights, issued guidelines for the investigation of hate speech and hate crime in August 2017. The authorities informed ECRI that these guidelines have been widely distributed and are now being used, but that it is too early to assess their impact.

38. ECRI recommends that the authorities monitor the use and impact of the guidelines of the State Police for the investigation of hate speech and hate crime.

39. In its last report on Latvia (§ 30), ECRI recommended that the authorities step up their efforts to train judges, prosecutors and police officers on the legal provisions against racism and that training be conceived as a periodic recurrence rather than a “one-off” event. ECRI is pleased to note that since then the State Police College significantly intensified its training activities in the area of identification and investigation of hate crimes. Participants included police officers, but also members of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Supreme Court. In 2014, the State Police signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the OSCE and has been working with its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in the framework of the Training against Hate Crimes for Law Enforcement (TAHCLE). In this context, it is particularly noteworthy that these
trainings also include substantial involvement of and contributions from NGOs, including those directly linked to vulnerable groups, such as Mozaika. ECRI is pleased to note that NGOs have reported a very positive working relationship in this respect with the State Police College. This points to the effectiveness of close cooperation with, and outreach to, the communities most affected by hate crime in Latvia. In order to overcome the problem of under-reporting of hate crime caused by insufficient trust in the law enforcement authorities, such cooperation should become institutionalised within the police.

40. 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.

41. The Parliamentary Commission on Ethics considered the case of the anti-Russian article published by an MP (see § 29 above) in June 2017 and issued an oral warning. ECRI has not received any information about condemnation of hate speech or examples of counter-speech by high-level representatives of the government.

42. ECRI recommends that the authorities encourage and promote counter-speech among high-level political representatives and other public figures in response to racist and homo-/transphobic hate speech.

3. Racist and homo-/transphobic violence

Data

43. As pointed out in section I.2 above, the Latvian authorities do not report incidents of racist and homo-/transphobic violence separately from hate speech. The authorities pointed out to ECRI that the number of registered incidents of racist violence in Latvia is very low, and that according to their knowledge only one case of racially motivated violence was officially recorded in the period 2013-2016.44 However, as pointed out already for hate speech cases above, victims might often not report cases to the police.45 According to the LCHR 2016 survey of migrants and foreign students (see also § 21),46 13% of respondents had been victims of an attack or an attempted attack or had heard that others were victims of such attacks. In at least two cases, attacks took place on the ground of sexual orientation. According to the respondents, hate crime incidents allegedly occurred due to victim’s skin colour/“race” (36%), ethnic origin/xenophobia (25%), language (22%), religion (6%) and sexual orientation (5%). The 2016 survey noted that 50% of those who had been victims of violence had not reported the incidents to the police.47 It is unknown how the reported incidents were processed by the police (see also ECRI’s recommendation in § 38 above.)

44 In 2013, the authorities reported one case of homicide to ODIHR, but no further information as to the details of the case or the outcome of any judicial follow-up could be obtained.
45 ENAR (2017): 45.
46 LCHR (2016a): 3-4.
47 Ibid.: 4-5

44. NGOs have reported several incidents of racist violence, including an assault (pushing) on refugee children on their way to school on public transport in January 2016. In the same month, a refugee was threatened by a group with a firearm. In December 2016, an African woman travelling with her son on public transport was spat at.48

48 OSCE/ODIHR (2018).

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The authorities’ response

47. Information on the prosecution of hate crime cases, the training of police officers, the development of guidelines for the investigation of hate speech and hate crime and the need to establish an outreach unit within the police is provided in section I.2 above.

48. In § 81 of its last report, ECRI reiterated its recommendation that the authorities monitor the situation as regards the presence and activities of right wing extremist and skinhead groups in Latvia and address this problem. ECRI is pleased to note that it received information from various civil society groups confirming that the presence of such groups in public places and the resulting threats of violence to persons of concern to ECRI is no longer a problem. ECRI would like to commend the authorities for having taken strong measures in this respect.


Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f

Publisher’s note: excerpts on Anti-Semitism are given separately

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