Letter to Latvia on language of instruction in pre-schools by 4 Special Rapporteurs (excerpt), 2019

We have the honour to address you in our capacities as Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Special Rapporteur on minority issues and Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 26/17, 34/18, 34/6 and 34/35.

In this connection, we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning the adoption by the Cabinet of Ministers of the regulation on pre-school education No. 716, which appears to impose restrictions on the use of minority languages in pre-school educational institutions.

According to the information received:

On 21 November 2018, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a new regulation No. 716 on pre-school education, stipulating that the official Latvian language will be the only medium of instruction and learning in pre-schools classes for children between five and seven years old. The regulation came into force on 1 September 2019.

In Latvia, pre-school education is available for children between the ages of 1.5 and 7 years. Pre-school enrolment is, however, mandatory at the age of 5 and play-lessons constitute the main form of learning at this educational level.

Annex 2 of the regulation No. 716 presents a model programme for minority pre-school educational institutions. In paragraph 9, the annex states that, for children from the age of 5, the only medium of communication and instruction in play-lesson in minority pre-school educational institutions shall be the Latvian language, except for activities organised with the aim of learning a minority language and culture.

Adoption of the regulation No. 716 coincided with the repeal of regulation No. 533 of 31 July 2012. The repealed regulation No. 533 had put forward a different educational approach, one reportedly more sensitive to minority childtren’s mother tongue and to their educational needs. In its proposed model programme for minority pre-schools, regulation No. 533 had adopted a “bilingual approach” in play-lessons for the whole length of pre-school education covering children aged 1.5 to 7 years and had encouraged the creation of a “supportive environment for the acquisition of the official language”. By contrast, regulation No. 716 mandates an “official state language approach” for education of pre-school children aged 5 and above.

In addition, we have received reports indicating that the consultations for the text of new regulation No. 716 started in April 2018. These reports state that input was sought from only a limited number of stakeholders, including local civil society organizations, without direct engagement with minority communities and their representatives, or with organizations working on human rights and in particular on the human rights of persons belonging to minorities.

Without prejudging the accuracy of the information we have received, we express our concern over the Cabinet of Ministers’ adoption of the regulation No. 716 on pre-school education, mandating exclusive use of the Latvian official language in minority pre-school classes for children aged 5 and above. Regulation No. 716 replaced the relatively more inclusive regulation No. 533, which, before its repeal, provided for a bilingual approach for the entire pre-school period through age 7. We fear that regulation no. 716 regulation – in force as of 1 September 2019 – will harm minority children’s equal enjoyment of their human right to education in Latvia. The exclusion of their mother tongue from pre-school learning activities may hinder these minority children’s learning.

We also express our concern regulation No. 716 may violate the right of members of linguistic minorities to use their own language in community with other members of this group. We also fear that regulation No. 716 could lead to undue interference with the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of the language used.

Lastly, we express our concern over the reported lack of a wide consultation on the text of the new regulation, and find particularly troubling the reported absence of consultation with minority communities and their representatives, or with organizations working and advocating for the rights of persons belonging to minorities in Latvia. We want to emphasize that achieving a truly inclusive and just society requires the effective participation of persons belonging to minorities in the formulation, adoption, implementation and monitoring, at the international. national and local levels, of laws and policies affecting them.

In connection with the above alleged facts and concerns, please refer to the Annex on Reference to international human rights law attached to this letter, which cites international human rights instruments and standards relevant to these allegations.

As it is our responsibility, under the mandates provided to us by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention, we would be grateful for your observations on the following matters:

  1. Please provide any additional information and/or comment(s) you may have on the above-mentioned allegations.
  2. Please provide all relevant information regarding implementation of regulation No. 716 and, in particular, the measures put in place to ensure that pre-school minority children learn in their mother tongue.
  3. Please provide disaggregated data on the number of children, classes and schools affected by regulation No. 716.
  4. Please provide detailed information on the consultation process of the regulation No. 716 and the measures undertaken to ensure wide participation of all relevant stakeholders, including representatives from minorities and their organizations, in decisions affecting them, in particular with regard to their linguistic rights.
  5. Please provide information about measures taken by your Excellency’s Government to protect and promote the right of persons belonging to minorities, in community with the other members of their group, to use their own language.

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Document data: 24.09.2019 ; OL LVA 1/2019 Link: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=24863

Publisher’s note: the annex, not reproduced here, refers to Article 26(2) of the UDHR, Article 13 of the ICESCR, Articles 2, 19, 26 and 27 of the ICCPR, Articles 13 , 29(c) and 30 of the CRC, Articles 1, 2 and 4.1 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, Articles 1, 2(c) and 5 of the ICERD, to the reports of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues A/HRC/22/49 (paras. 39, 41 and 83) and HRC/NONE/2017/12 (pages 16 and 21).

One should also note one inaccuracy in the letter. It speaks about Latvian being introduced as “the only medium of communication and instruction”, while in fact, the relevant document imposes it as the “main” (galvenais) medium.

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