As part of the ongoing dialogue between the Government and Saeima of Latvia and the office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities, please allow me to address two issues that, in my opinion, are of importance.
I took note of the initiative in the Saeima to consider amending the Election Campaigning Law which envisages that election campaign materials must be in the State language only. Although promoting the State language, including through its use during the elections, is key to the successful integration of society, it is equally important to ensure that it is not achieved at the expense of minorities’ linguistic rights, which need to be protected in line with Latvia’s international obligations and as part of a coherent and comprehensive integration policy.
International standards provide for the right of national minorities to conduct election campaigns in their mother tongues. Notably, paragraphs 32.1 and 32,5 of the Copenhagen Document commit participating States to grant national minorities the right “to use freely their mother tongue in private as well as in public” and “to disseminate, have access to and exchange information in their mother tongue.” In line with the OSCE HCNM Ljubljana Guidelines on Integration of Diverse Societies, “the overall framework for political participation should be designed to facilitate the inclusion of minority issues in the public debate as well as to promote the political participation of persons belonging to minorities. This should include displaying electoral information and advertising in minority languages, providing opportunities for the use of minority languages in the media and producing electoral material in minority languages.” (Guideline 27). I would thus respectfully encourage the Saeima not to adopt any amendments that pose restrictions on campaigning in any language other than the State language.
I am also aware of the decision of the Constitutional Court of Latvia regarding the use of languages in private higher education institutions. I noted that the regulator has been given one year to review existing language restrictions. In connection with this, and as expressed in the letter dated 8 July 2020 from HCNM Zannier, I would like to reiterate the need for the Latvian authorities and the Saeima to consider exempting private higher educational institutions from strict language requirements and foresee a possibility for private institutions to be able to exercise academic freedom in determining the languages of instruction, including minority languages.
It is my intention, as Director and Officer-in-Charge of the office of the HCNM, to continue our open dialogue and co-operation with the Government and Saeima of Latvia. To this end, the office of the High Commissioner stands ready to provide expert support on the abovementioned issues and beyond.
Please accept, excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Director and Officer-in-Charge
Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities
Document data: 08.09.2020 (also sent to the foreign minister) Link: https://titania.saeima.lv/LIVS13/saeimalivs13.nsf/0/38CBD809ACA764E3C2258602002B29ED?OpenDocument