2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2019

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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E. DENIAL OF FAIR PUBLIC TRIAL

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PROPERTY RESTITUTION

No Jewish communal property or restitution law is in effect, and Jewish communal property restitution dating from the Holocaust era remained incomplete. While the Jewish community estimated that approximately 270 properties still required restitution, government ministries maintained the number was much lower. Although a government working group exists and restitution mechanisms were discussed, little progress was achieved. Government officials were unwilling to reconcile the proposed list of properties with the Jewish community and officials from the World Jewish Restitution Organization. Some government officials asserted that the issue of restitution had been resolved by the return of five properties seized during World War II under legislation approved in 2016. The unrestituted properties identified by the Jewish community included cemeteries, synagogues, schools, hospitals, and community centers.

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Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

A. FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND PRESS

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. There were legal restrictions on racial and ethnic incitement and denial or glorification of crimes against humanity and certain war crimes.

Freedom of Expression: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and the spreading of false information about the financial system are crimes. The law forbids glorifying or denying genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the country perpetrated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Violation of these provisions can lead to a sentence of five years in prison, community service, or a fine. There are also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to the country’s national security. The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.”

Authorities charged several individuals with inciting national, ethnic, or racial hatred.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The law requires that 65 percent of all television broadcast time in national and regional electronic media be in Latvian or be dubbed or subtitled. Extensive Russian-language programming was also available. The restrictions on speech that incites racial hatred, spreads false information about the financial system, or glorifies or denies genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes against the country by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany also apply to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

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D. FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT, INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS, PROTECTION OF REFUGEES, AND STATELESS PERSONS

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STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, 233,571 stateless persons were in the country at the end of 2017. As of the beginning of the year, the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) listed 214,206 persons as “noncitizen residents,” and the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs listed 176 persons as stateless. Noncitizen residents accounted for approximately 11 percent of the population. Although UNHCR included most of the country’s noncitizen population in the stateless category, the government preferred to designate this population as noncitizen residents, since they were eligible to naturalize under the law. The government recognized as stateless only those persons with no claim to foreign citizenship or noncitizen resident status.

Persons categorized by authorities as stateless may pursue citizenship through naturalization after obtaining a permanent residence permit and lawfully residing in the country for five years. According to the law, a child born to noncitizen residents in the country is automatically granted citizenship if requested by at least one parent.

Noncitizen residents, mostly persons of Slavic origin who moved to the country during the Soviet occupation and their descendants, did not automatically become citizens when the country regained independence in 1991. They have permanent residence status, equal protection in the country and consular protection abroad, the right to leave and return to the country, and the right to all government social benefits. They also have employment rights, except in some government and private-sector positions related to the legal system, law enforcement, and national security. Noncitizens may not vote in local or national elections and may not organize a political party without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens.

The law also establishes conditions whereby members of the noncitizen resident population can obtain citizenship, although the rate of application for citizenship by noncitizen residents remained low. Through July, authorities received 589 naturalization applications. In public surveys of noncitizen residents, the majority of respondents who did not seek naturalization reported that, in addition to language barriers, their reasons for not doing so included political objections to the requirement and their understanding that Latvian citizenship was not necessary for them to travel to Russia and EU-member states.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights assessed the October 6 parliamentary elections as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens may organize political parties without restriction. The law prohibits the country’s noncitizen residents from organizing political parties without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens. The election law prohibits persons who remained active in the Communist Party or other pro-Soviet organizations after 1991 or who worked for such institutions as the Soviet KGB from holding office.

On August 21, the Central Election Commission removed Tatjana Zdanoka, a member of the European Parliament and the leader of the Latvian Russian Union political party, from the party’s ticket for the 2018 parliamentary election. The decision was based on a court ruling from 1999 that found Zdanoka was an active member of the Communist Party after January 1991, which under the law made her ineligible to run in the parliamentary elections. Zdanoka unsuccessfully appealed the ban to the Administrative District Court.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Approximately 31 percent of the ethnic minority population were noncitizen residents who could not participate in elections and had no representation in government.

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Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

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Anti-Semitism

The CSB reported that there were 4,721 Jewish residents in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic attacks against individuals, although there were some anti-Semitic incidents and public references to stereotypes on the internet by some fringe groups.

On March 16, five members of parliament from the National Alliance party attended the annual march to commemorate Latvians who fought in German Waffen SS units against the Soviet Army in World War II. No Nazi symbols or insignia were seen at the march. Police arrested a man on the margins of the march for displaying a poster of soldiers killing Jews. Domestically, the march was generally viewed as a commemoration of national identity and remembrance of those who fought for independence, rather than as a glorification of Nazism.

On July 4, Jewish community representatives, government officials, and foreign diplomats attended the Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Riga.

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National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

NGOs representing minority groups claimed that discrimination and harassment of national minorities was underreported to authorities. Through July the ombudsman did not receive any written complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination.

In the first six months of the year, police initiated two criminal cases for incitement of social hatred and enmity; both remained under investigation.

The Romani community continued to face widespread societal discrimination and high levels of unemployment and illiteracy. According to the CSB, there were 5,082 Roma in the country.

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Section 7. Worker Rights

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D. DISCRIMINATION WITH RESPECT TO EMPLOYMENT AND OCCUPATION

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination, but employment discrimination on the basis of citizenship is not prohibited. Following Soviet-era russification and relocation programs and the creation of a sizeable Russian-speaking minority, the government requires the use of Latvian as the officially recognized language where employment activities “affect the lawful interests of the public.” Citing the continuing political and economic threat posed by Russia to Latvia, the government restricted some sensitive civil service positions for candidates who previously worked for the former Soviet intelligence apparatus.

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Document data: US Department of State, 13.03.2019. Link: https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/latvia/ Also available in Latvian: https://lv.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/58/LATVIA-2018-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT_LV.pdf

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