ECRI 2nd report on Latvia (excerpts on language), 2001

SECTION I: OVERVIEW OF THE SITUATION

A. International Legal Instruments

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2. In its first report, ECRI recommended that Latvia ratify the Framework
Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The authorities have stated that one of the obstacles to the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is the possible non-conformity of specific domestic legislation with the provisions contained in this convention, especially in the field of the use of languages. ECRI strongly urges the Latvian authorities to introduce the necessary changes in domestic legislation which would allow ratification by Latvia of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and to promptly ratify this instrument. ECRI furthermore reiterates its call for ratification by Latvia of the European Charter for Regional or Minority
Languages.

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B. Constitutional provisions and other basic provisions

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Language law

14. The new Latvian State Language Law (adopted in December 1999) entered into force on 1 September 2000. According to its Article 1, the purpose of the law is to ensure: the preservation, protection and development of the Latvian language; the preservation of the cultural and historical heritage of the Latvian nation; the right to use the Latvian language freely in any spheres of life on the whole territory of Latvia; the integration of national minorities in the society while observing their right to use their mother tongue or any other language; and the increase of the influence of the Latvian language in the cultural environment of Latvia by promoting a faster integration of society. Article 5 of the Law, stipulates that any languages used in Latvia other than Latvian, with the exception of the Liv language5 , shall be considered as “other” languages. ECRI regrets that this provision appears to contribute to the creation of an atmosphere of antagonism in language policy with regard to the use of all other languages on the territory of Latvia which might qualify as regional or minority languages.

Footnote 5 The Liv language is the language spoken by the Livs, an ethnic long-established group on the territory of Latvia.

15. The State Language Law contains provisions regulating the use of language in different areas, including employment, contacts with public institutions, public events, names of places and personal names. In addition, further legislation regulates the use of language in other areas, such as elections to the Parliament and City Councils, electronic mass media and education. ECRI will address these areas in other Sections of this report6.

Footnote 6 See Constitutional provisions and other basic provisions – Laws on election to Parliament and City Councils; Access to public services – Access to education; and Media

16.It is a general principle of the State Language Law (Article 2) that the use of language in private institutions, organisations and companies is regulated only where there is a legitimate public interest (public safety, health, morals, health care, consumer and labour rights protection, safety at work and public administrative supervision). ECRI strongly urges the Latvian authorities to ensure that implementation of the Law is strictly in accordance with this principle. As will be mentioned below, employment is an area that ECRI considers of particular importance in this context7.

Footnote 7 See Employment below

17. The State Language Law explicitly prohibits state, municipal and judicial institutions from accepting documents from individuals in any language other than Latvian, except for some special situations (e.g. personal statements submitted to the police and medical institutions, rescue services and other institutions when urgent medical assistance is summoned, when a crime or other violation of the law has been committed or when emergency assistance is requested in case of fire, traffic, accident or any other accident). Documents submitted in other languages are accepted only if accompanied by a notary-certified translation into Latvian. Although translators have reportedly been hired in some municipalities, these provisions adversely affect the possibility for the members of the non-ethnic Latvian community to access public institutions. Many of these persons do not master the Latvian language sufficiently to submit documents to public institutions in Latvian, and, for some, the costs of
translation and notary certification are particularly burdensome. Some of the most vulnerable groups amongst Russian-speakers, such as prisoners and persons under investigation, are reported to be particularly negatively affected by these provisions, which have resulted in their petitions, complaints and other documents submitted in Russian not being accepted. ECRI strongly urges the Latvian authorities to keep the Law under review and to ensure that provisions regulating the use of language in contacts with public institutions do not result in reduced access to such institutions, particularly by people with poor command of Latvian and limited resources8.

Footnote 8 See below, Problems relating to the integration of the Russian-speaking population into the Latvian society

18. The Law stipulates that personal names and surnames in identification
documents must be reproduced according to the Latvian language tradition and spelling, although it is possible for the individual to add the original name in Latin transliteration on request. ECRI urges the authorities to ensure that the public is made aware of this possibility and that the right to use the original name in concrete situations is thoroughly respected.

19. The Administrative Violations Code contains fines for different violations related to language policy. ECRI strongly urges the Latvian authorities to ensure that, in cases involving the private sector, sanctions are limited to cases where there exists a “legitimate public interest” and to ensure that this principle is strictly abided by in the implementation of the Code. ECRI notes that the formulation of certain violations, such as the one establishing a fine for “disrespect towards the state language”, lend themselves to a potentially arbitrary application. ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to carefully monitor the implementation of these provisions. Furthermore, noting that the fines established for violations related to language policy can be as high as 250 Lats (450 Euros), ECRI urges the authorities to keep the amount of the fines under review. More generally, ECRI doubts whether fines are the most appropriate tools to ensure implementation of language legislation in Latvia and stresses in this respect that more positive measures to ensure implementation ought to be made widely available and applied.

20. The State Language Centre is the institution responsible for implementing language policy, including controlling compliance with normative acts, such as the State Language Law. Although they may act on their own initiative, the inspectors of the Centre work mainly on the basis of complaints. The Centre is reported to have been active in ensuring compliance with language provisions. The Latvian authorities have reported that, since July 2001, 26 administrative cases have been initiated. ECRI notes that the Centre is collaborating with the OSCE for the preparation of manuals containing guidelines for inspections.

Laws on election to Parliament and City Councils

21. Latvian laws on election to Parliament and City Councils establish Latvian language proficiency requirements which must be met by citizens to qualify as candidates for elections. On the basis of these provisions, some candidates for election to Parliament or City Councils who have been found by the electoral commissions not to fulfil such requirements, have been removed by the lists of candidates. These cases involved persons with Latvian language certificates, whose knowledge of Latvian was re-tested by the State Language Centre. ECRI notes that an individual communication and a complaint have been filed before the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights. Noting that the political representation of non-ethnic Latvians is rather low, however, ECRI expresses its concern that the linguistic requirements for elected representatives may prove an additional barrier to the participation of such groups in public life in Latvia.

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N. Media

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61. As concerns public electronic media, the Law on Radio and Televison provides that one of the two public TV channels must broadcast only in Latvian, while the second may allocate up to 20% of time for programmes in other languages. In consideration of the large proportion of non-Latvian mother tongue speakers in Latvia, ECRI considers that instead of a limit not to be exceeded for programmes in languages other than Latvian, 20% of time could be considered as a share to be compulsorily allocated to such programmes. ECRI notes the work of the National Council on Radio and Television — the body responsible for enforcement of the Law, in this respect. As regards the private electronic media, the Law stipulates that no more than 25% of airtime can be allocated to programmes in languages other than Latvian. ECRI notes that the National Council on Radio and Television has frequently intervened to ensure compliance of broadcasters with these provisions; sanctions which the Council imposes on broadcasters for exceeding the permitted 25% ceiling include cautions, fines and temporary closure. The Council may also file a case against a broadcaster demanding withdrawal of their license in case of repeated violations. ECRI notes that the constitutionality of the provision limiting the time available for broadcasting in languages other than Latvian to 25% of the total time has been questioned, although the Constitutional Court has dismissed the
application on procedural grounds. ECRI is concerned that, in practice, this
provision contributes to perpetuating the situation of separate access to media and information described above, as members of non-Latvian speaking groups, and notably members of the Russian-speaking population, tend to turn to Russian-language channels originating from other countries.

SECTION II: ISSUES OF PARTICULAR CONCERN

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P. Problems relating to the integration of the Russian-speaking population into the Latvian society

66. As highlighted in different sections of this report, the members of the Russian-speaking population27 of Latvia experience difficulties in various areas of life. ECRI has illustrated some of these difficulties, especially those originating from laws, regulations and practice concerning the use of languages and education in languages other than Latvian. In addressing these issues ECRI recognises the pressing historical and political factors underlying the policies of the Latvian Government in seeking to protect the Latvian language. ECRI also recognises the importance of such an objective in safeguarding the identity and cohesion of the country. ECRI’s concern is that such policies should not, in the way they are implemented and in the way they impact on other areas of policy, work in a way that is counter productive to this end.

Footnote 27 As mentioned above, ECRI uses the term “Russian-speaking population” to refer to those minority groups which generally use Russian as their first language of communication within Latvian society for reasons of political history and in some cases lack of take-up of Latvian language learning opportunities. Such groups include groups of a mother tongue other than Russian. These include approximately 158,000 Belarussians, Ukrainians and members of other smaller groups. Approximately 122,000 are non-citizens.

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68. In proportion to their numerical size, members of the Russian-speaking
population are seriously under-represented at various levels in Latvian society, such as its political life and its administrative structures, including the civil service, the judiciary and State enterprises. ECRI notes that representation of the Russian-speaking population appears to be well below even the share of Russian-speaking population within the citizenry of Latvia (approximately 23%). For example, out of 100 Members of Parliament, only 16 are non-ethnic Latvians. In Riga, where non-ethnic Latvians constitute the majority of the population, the City Council counts, amongst its 60-strong membership, 12 persons belonging to the Russian-speaking population, with three high-rank executive positions entrusted to Russian speakers — an improvement from the situation prior to the last municipal election of March 2001. ECRI notes that this situation seriously impacts on the possibility for this part of the population to influence the decision-making processes leading to legislative and policy developments. Language regulations governing political representation, difficult access to public employment, lack of citizenship as well as lack of proficiency in the Latvian language are amongst the factors explaining the current limited participation of members of the Russian-speaking population in public life in Latvia.

69. In addition, it has been reported that social problems, such as unemployment, have tended to impact disproportionately upon the Russian-speaking population, although, as mentioned above30, official figures do not necessarily reflect this situation. Once again, language skills appear to play an important role in determining this situation. For instance, a survey recently carried out under the auspices of the Latvian Naturalisation Board, indicates that, of those whose native language was not Latvian, 38% of all non-citizens and 22% of all citizens felt they could not work in a job requiring Latvian language knowledge and 28% and 30% respectively felt they could work but with problems.

Footnote 30 Employment

70. A sociological survey commissioned by the NHRO in January 2000 also
indicates that 24% of all respondents to the survey (i.e. 18% of all Latvians and 31% of all non-ethnic Latvians) felt they had experienced discrimination in the last three years, especially in the field of employment and access to social services. Ethnicity and language were the two main grounds of discrimination mentioned by all respondents, especially by non-ethnic Latvians and noncitizens (respectively 40% and 43% of all those who claimed discrimination).

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76. As mentioned above, ECRI believes knowledge of Latvian language to be of particular importance to ensure successful mutual integration of all members of the population of Latvia. In this respect, ECRI welcomes the work done by the National Programme for Latvian Language Training (NPLLT), a Programme designed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) at the request of the Latvian Government. Running for a ten year period (1996-2006), the Programme focuses mainly on: training of teachers in Latvian as a second language and in bilingual teaching; adults’ language training; and development of teaching material. The authorities have stated that more than 42,000 persons have benefited from the Programme between 1996 and 2000. ECRI notes that, in 2001, the Latvian Government has started co-financing and co-ordinating the NPLLT, which was previously financed solely by international donors and coordinated by UNDP. ECRI strongly urges the Latvian authorities to provide all possible support, including adequate human and financial resources, to the NPLLT and to ensure, in this respect, that an adequate portion of the State budget allocated for the implementation of the National Programme for Integration of the Society is devoted to the NPLLT.


Document data: CRI (2002) 21; adopted on 14.12.2001, published on 23.07.2002 Link: https://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia/16808b58b0 Also available in Latvian at http://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia-latvian-translation-/16808b58b2

Publisher’s note: for other language-relevant issues, please see excerpts on education and employment.

ECRI 2nd report on Latvia (excerpts on citizenship), 2001

SECTION I: OVERVIEW OF THE SITUATION

A. International Legal Instruments

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4. In line with the recommendation formulated below2 to confer eligibility and voting rights to resident non-citizens in local elections, ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to ratify the Convention for the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level.

Footnote 2 Reception and status of non-citizens – “Non citizens”

5. ECRI welcomes the signature by Latvia of the European Convention on
Nationality in May 2001. ECRI understands that ratification of this convention has now been submitted to the Parliament and hopes for a successful outcome of this process.

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B. Constitutional provisions and other basic provisions

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Citizenship legislation

11. When Latvia regained its independence, only those persons who enjoyed citizenship prior to 1940 and their descendants were automatically considered citizens. All other (approximately 740,000) persons, including mostly persons who settled in Latvia after that date, could only obtain Latvian citizenship through naturalisation. The 1994 Citizenship law set out the timetable and criteria for naturalisation. Since the process of naturalisation started in Februar 1995, the number of non-citizens residing in Latvia has decreased from approximately 740,000 to approximately 535,000 3. However, naturalisation accounts for only a part (about 46,000 persons) of such decrease in the number of non-citizens, while other reasons include death, emigration, acquisition of citizenship of another country and acquisition of Latvian citizenship through registration.

Footnote 3 This figure refers to persons having acquired the official “non-citizen” status (see below, Reception and status of non-citizens – “Non citizens”). However, residents of Latvia without Latvian citizenship reportedly include also an uncertain number of persons who have not yet exchanged their Soviet passports for Latvian non-citizen passports.

12. As already noted in the first report, in November 1998 Latvia adopted
amendments to the Citizenship Law aimed at facilitating acquisition of
citizenship. Such amendments abolished the so-called “window system” —
which provided that non-citizens had to apply for naturalisation according to a specific time frame — thereby allowing all non-citizens to apply for naturalisation at any time. Furthermore, these amendments granted Latvian citizenship to children born in Latvia after the re-establishment of independence on 21 August 1991. In June 2001, further liberalizing amendments were adopted. These included : the reduction by a third of the standard naturalisation fee ; the further reduction of this fee for specific categories of people (including the unemployed, disabled people and school children) ; and the simplification of the language testing provisions, whereby graduates who have successfully passed the centralized Latvian language graduation exam are exempted from taking the Latvian language proficiency exam normally required for naturalisation.

13. ECRI welcomes these developments. However, it also expresses concern at the still slow pace of naturalisations. While, on the one hand, almost 94% of naturalisation applicants are successful, on the other, the numbers of those applying are still low. For example, 15,183 applications were received in 1999 and 10,692 in 2000. ECRI considers that measures are urgently needed to enlarge the take-up of Latvian citizenship through the naturalisation process. Provision of inexpensive Latvian language courses for non-citizens appears particularly important in this respect. ECRI therefore welcomes the recently adopted programme, financed by international donors, which will enable 2,000 non-citizens to receive Latvian language courses free of charge. ECRI notes, however, that further considerable efforts in this field are necessary to meet the non-citizen community’s demand for inexpensive Latvian language training. ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to ensure that Latvian language training constitute a priority area for projects to be undertaken in the framework of the National Program “Integration of Society in Latvia”4. Other measures to facilitate
naturalisation could include the removal of any remaining unnecessary
difficulties in the testing procedure. Moreover, ECRI stresses the importance of initiatives which would provide information on the content of the naturalisation exam, reduce apprehension about its content and, more generally, increase awareness among non-citizens of the importance of acquiring Latvian citizenship in order to participate fully in the life of the country and be an integral part of its society. In this respect, ECRI notes with interest the advertising campaign which is being undertaken by the Naturalisation Board in collaboration with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and encourages the Latvian authorities to extend such initiatives.

Footnote 4 See Section II below

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G. Reception and status of non-citizens

“Non-citizens”

33. As mentioned above14, in 1995 there were approximately 740,000 persons living in Latvia who did not hold Latvian citizenship. The law “on the Status of Former Soviet Union Citizens who are not citizens of Latvia or any other State” provided that this group of persons could exchange their former USSR passports or other personal documents containing the personal code of resident of Latvia, for Latvian “non-citizen passports”. The Law therefore created a special legal status, that of “non-citizen”, and defined the basic rights and obligations attached to such status, which include many fundamental social and economic rights, the right of exit and entry and the right to family reunification. As mentioned above, the number of “non citizens” is currently approximately 536,000 or 23% of the total registered population.

Footnote 14 Citizenship legislation

34. “Non-citizens” do not enjoy eligibility and voting rights in neither national nor local elections. Noting that most non-citizens have resided in the country for most or all of their lives, ECRI recommends to the Latvian government to confer eligibility and voting rights to resident non-citizens in local elections. In its first report, ECRI noted that legal provisions exclude non-citizens from certain property rights, the right to work in a number of professions in the state and private sector and the right to receive certain social benefits. Following the results of a study carried out by the NHRO indicating that ten such restrictions were contrary to international standards, some of these restrictions were removed. ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to remove all other unjustified restrictions.

35. In its first report, ECRI noted cases of improper behaviour by the then
Department of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, responsible, inter alia, for state recognition of residents. Since then, the situation appears to have considerably improved, as reflected in the decreasing number of complaints filed with the courts and the NHRO in this domain15. ECRI notes, however, some remaining reports of unjustified refusals to issue residence permits or non-citizens passports and threats of deportation and encourages the Latvian authorities to continue their efforts to improve the work of the Citizenship and Migration Issues Board (which has replaced the Department of Citizenship and Migration Affairs).

Footnote 15 See above, Specialised bodies and other institutions

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H. Access to public services

Access to social services such as health care, welfare and housing

40. As mentioned above, “non-citizens” are excluded from some rights in the economic and social sphere. For instance, ECRI notes a case where the time spent by a “non-citizen” working for a Soviet enterprise in Latvia was not included into her length of service record for the purposes of calculating her pension, whereas such time is taken into account for Latvian citizens17. The Latvian authorities have stated that the Law on State Pensions includes the time spent by a “non-citizen” working for a Soviet enterprise in Latvia into his/her length of service record. ECRI reiterates, in the context of access to services, its call for the elimination of all unjustified restrictions of the rights of “non-citizens”18.

Footnote 17 See «Monitoring the EU Accession Process: Minority Protection in Latvia», Open Society Institute, 2001, Appendix B

Footnote 18 Reception and status of non-citizens – “Non-citizens”

SECTION II: ISSUES OF PARTICULAR CONCERN

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P. Problems relating to the integration of the Russian-speaking population into the Latvian society

67. Although a number of the members of the Russian-speaking population are Latvian citizens28, the non-citizen population of Latvia is composed almost exclusively by members of the Russian-speaking population. As a result, many of them are excluded from the exercise of rights which, according to Latvian legislation, are attached to citizenship. As mentioned above29, apart from eligibility and voting rights at the national and local level, these include, inter alia, the possibility to occupy certain State and public positions, the possibility to exercise certain professions in the private sector, and the exercise of certain property as well as social and economic rights.

Footnote 28 Official statistics indicate that 43% of ethnic Russians are Latvian citizens.

Footnote 29 Reception and status of non-citizens – “Non-citizens”


Document data: CRI (2002) 21; adopted on 14.12.2001, published on 23.07.2002 Link: https://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia/16808b58b0 Also available in Latvian at http://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia-latvian-translation-/16808b58b2

ECRI 2nd report on Latvia (excerpts on education), 2001

SECTION I: OVERVIEW OF THE SITUATION

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F. Education and training/awareness-raising

School education to combat racism and intolerance

31. Compulsory teaching of subjects directly touching upon questions of interest to ECRI include a programme called “Society and I” which was incorporated into national standards for elementary schools in 1998, ethics (in grade 7), economics (in grade 8) and civics (in grade 9). In secondary schools (from grade 9 to 11), social sciences is not a compulsory subject. ECRI encourages the Latvian authorities to consider the introduction of compulsory courses providing education in respect for diversity and human rights in secondary education. While these standards apply to all schools, irrespective of language of instruction, adequate textbooks are reportedly not always available, especially for Russian-speaking students and teachers. ECRI encourages the Latvian authorities to address this problem. At the same time as they ensure availability of teaching material, ECRI encourages the Latvian authorities to concentrate on providing incentives for teachers to use such material effectively through teacher-training.

32. As regards history teaching, compulsory until grade 12, ECRI encourages the Latvian authorities in their efforts to provide balanced textbooks in all schools in Latvia, irrespective of main language of instruction. ECRI notes the progress made in teaching about the Holocaust, and encourages the Latvian authorities to continue their efforts in this field.

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H. Access to public services

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Access to education

41. In the years after the restoration of independence, Latvia developed a system of public education in minority languages, which maintained the Soviet-era schools with education in Russian and supported the creation of schools in other minority languages. In 1999, however, the process towards the establishment of bilingual education in public primary schools (grades 1 to 9) started. This process implies that minority-language schools must gradually introduce subjects taught in two languages and a greater proportion of Latvian-Language education in their curricula . As regards the time frame for this transition, bilingual education is being introduced in primary schools at the pace of one grade per year. According to this timetable, the process should therefore be completed by 2007/2008.

42. As concerns public upper secondary education (grades 10 to 12), the 1998 Education Law establishes the transition to Latvian-only education. While implementation of this process will be phased in over a certain number of years, some class levels will have to switch to Latvian-only instruction in 2004. Languages other than Latvian will be allowed as the language of instruction in private schools (which are currently attended by a very limited number of pupils in Latvia) or in schools working with “minority education programmes”19. It is, however, for the Ministry of Education and Science to determine the range of subjects which are to be studied in Latvian in the schools working with minority education programmes, although the selection of the precise subjects to be covered within that range is left to the individual schools. The Ministry of
Education and Science has elaborated four different models for schools working with minority education programmes, which differ according to the proportion of classes to be held in Latvian.

Footnote 19 A separate Law on General Education stipulates, in its Article 42(2), that general secondary education programmes may be combined with minority education programmes, including teaching minority languages and subjects related to the identity of the minority and the integration of the society of Latvia.

43. ECRI strongly urges the Latvian authorities to ensure that the introduction of Latvian as the language of instruction in all public secondary schools is carried out in such a way as to leave adequate scope for teaching in minority languages in the curricula of these schools.

44. Furthermore, the Latvian authorities should ensure that this process is
underpinned by sufficient resources and methodological preparation so that the quality of teaching will not suffer. In this respect, ECRI welcomes the work carried out by National Programme for Latvian Language Training in the field of training minority-language teachers to teach their subjects in Latvian and in the field of training Latvian teachers to teach Latvian to non-Latvian mother tongue children20. However, ECRI notes reports that the number of Latvian language teachers for minority school pupils is decreasing. The Latvian authorities do not have data which would confirm this. ECRI strongly encourages the Latvian authorities to ensure that there is an adequate number of Latvian language teachers for minority school pupils.

Footnote 20 See Section II below

45. In any event, to avoid putting excessive strain on this very delicate and complex transition process and help reducing tensions, ECRI believes that the timetable for the introduction of a system with Latvian as the language of instruction in upper secondary schools should be reviewed. A postponement of the date will also be in line with the completion of the transition process to bilingual education in primary schools, which, as mentioned above, is scheduled for 2008.

46. The Law on Education imposes on municipalities the duty to provide children with the possibility to acquire pre-school, primary and secondary education. However, the Law does not require municipalities to establish or maintain minority schools or classes when this corresponds to the wishes of the parents. ECRI notes that a number of Russian-language schools have been closed. Although this phenomenon is partly linked to demographic changes (a number of Latvian-language schools have been closed as well) and to the increased propensity of minority parents to send their children to Latvian-language schools, ECRI notes reports that some of these schools have been closed despite their viability and the desire of the parents to maintain them. ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to consider requiring local authorities to open or maintain minority schools and classes when there is an adequate demand.

47. ECRI notes that, according to the Education Law, state and municipal
authorities are allowed to participate in the financing of private educational institutions only on condition that the institutions concerned implement their education programmes in Latvian. While ECRI recognises that Latvia has no obligation to provide funds for private minority schools, it believes that excluding by law this possibility is not in line with existing international standards.


Document data: CRI (2002) 21; adopted on 14.12.2001, published on 23.07.2002 Link: https://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia/16808b58b0 Also available in Latvian at http://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia-latvian-translation-/16808b58b2

ECRI 2nd report on Latvia (excerpts on employment), 2001

SECTION I: OVERVIEW OF THE SITUATION

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G. Reception and status of non-citizens

“Non-citizens”

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34. “Non-citizens” do not enjoy eligibility and voting rights in neither national nor local elections. Noting that most non-citizens have resided in the country for most or all of their lives, ECRI recommends to the Latvian government to confer eligibility and voting rights to resident non-citizens in local elections. In its first report, ECRI noted that legal provisions exclude non-citizens from certain property rights, the right to work in a number of professions in the state and private sector and the right to receive certain social benefits. Following the results of a study carried out by the NHRO indicating that ten such restrictions were contrary to international standards, some of these restrictions were removed. ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to remove all other unjustified restrictions.

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I. Employment

48. Article 6 of the State Language Law requires all employees in the public sector to have a command in the State language which corresponds to their duties. According to the general principle mentioned above21, employees in the private sector are subject to the same requirement to the extent that there exists a “legitimate public interest”. ECRI strongly urges the Latvian authorities to ensure that such principle is strictly abided by and that only professions where an interest of this type is clearly present be subject to language regulations. There have been complaints, for instance, that this is not the case for some of the professions included by government regulations in the list of professions in the private sector to be subject to language regulation. Monitoring of the strict application of the “legitimate public interest” principle is also important in consideration of the fact that this principle is contained in many of the administrative violations related to language policy contained in the Administrative Violations Code, for which considerable fines are established22.

Footnote 21 See Constitutional provisions and other basic provisions – State Language Law

Footnote 22 See Constitutional provisions and other basic provisions – State Language Law, above

49. In general, ECRI is concerned that the implementation of the language
provisions in the employment sector may lead to a situation where individuals face labour discrimination. For example, employers may tend to offer employment to Latvian mother-tongue speakers or dismiss employees with a limited command of the Latvian language to avoid difficulties in respect of the law. ECRI notes steps taken by the Latvian authorities to ensure that minority school graduates can use their language certificates for employment purposes. However, ECRI stresses that requirements concerning the knowledge of the Latvian language should be accompanied by increased efforts to provide high quality and inexpensive language training courses across the country, as suggested in other parts of this report23.

Footnote 23 Section II, below

50. Official figures indicate that the ethnic breakdown of the unemployed population reflects, broadly, the overall composition of the population. Thus, for instance, in the first six months of 2001, around 51% of the total unemployed population were ethnic Latvians and 35% ethnic Russians. There have been reports, however, that non-ethnic Latvians tend to be disproportionately represented amongst unemployed persons not officially registered as such and that the real situation as concerns unemployment in Latvia presents imbalances along ethnic lines. According to a 1999 survey, for instance, unemployment was twice as common among ethnic Russians of working age than amongst their ethnic Latvian counterparts. ECRI encourages the Latvian government to conduct further research on the real levels of unemployment in Latvia, including employment of women belonging to minority groups.

51. Although the disadvantaged position of minority groups in Latvia is linked to a range of factors, including in particular limited knowledge of the official language, ECRI believes that discrimination also plays a role in their problems in the labour market. ECRI therefore stresses the importance of the existence of effective legal provisions prohibiting discrimination in employment and providing for easily accessible mechanisms of redress. In this respect, ECRI notes with interest the adoption, in June 2001, of a new Labour Law which contains a number of important provisions in the field of combating discrimination, including a definition of direct and indirect discrimination, the possibility for compensation, and the sharing of the burden of proof in discrimination cases. ECRI encourages the Latvian authorities to closely monitor the application of this law, due to enter into force in 2002, and to provide training on its content to the different members of the legal community.

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SECTION II: ISSUES OF PARTICULAR CONCERN

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P. Problems relating to the integration of the Russian-speaking population into the Latvian society

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69. In addition, it has been reported that social problems, such as unemployment, have tended to impact disproportionately upon the Russian-speaking population, although, as mentioned above30, official figures do not necessarily reflect this situation. Once again, language skills appear to play an important role in determining this situation. For instance, a survey recently carried out under the auspices of the Latvian Naturalisation Board, indicates that, of those whose native language was not Latvian, 38% of all non-citizens and 22% of all citizens felt they could not work in a job requiring Latvian language knowledge and 28% and 30% respectively felt they could work but with problems.

Footnote 30 Employment

70. A sociological survey commissioned by the NHRO in January 2000 also
indicates that 24% of all respondents to the survey (i.e. 18% of all Latvians and 31% of all non-ethnic Latvians) felt they had experienced discrimination in the last three years, especially in the field of employment and access to social services. Ethnicity and language were the two main grounds of discrimination mentioned by all respondents, especially by non-ethnic Latvians and noncitizens (respectively 40% and 43% of all those who claimed discrimination).


Document data: CRI (2002) 21; adopted on 14.12.2001, published on 23.07.2002 Link: https://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia/16808b58b0 Also available in Latvian at http://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia-latvian-translation-/16808b58b2

ECRI 2nd report on Latvia (excerpts on media), 2001

SECTION I: OVERVIEW OF THE SITUATION

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J. Vulnerable groups

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Roma/Gypsies

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55. ECRI notes a number of initiatives aimed at improving the situation of the Roma/Gypsy communities on different fronts. These include pilot projects aimed at providing education and vocational training to a number of young persons and adults from the Roma/Gypsy community; the establishment of classes in which education is carried out in the Romany language; and the establishment at the regional level of information centres servicing the Roma/Gypsy communities. ECRI encourages the Latvian authorities to multiply such initiatives and draws the attention of the Latvian authorities, in this respect, to its general policy recommendation N°3 on combating racism against Roma Gypsies, which proposes a range of legislative and policy measures governments can take. ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to distribute this widely among local administrations in areas where Roma/Gypsies live and to promote its implementation. In particular, noting reports that negative stereotyping of members of the Roma/Gypsy community in the media sometimes surfaces, ECRI draws attention to its recommendation “to encourage awareness-raising among media professionals, both in the audiovisual field and in the written press, of the particular responsibility they bear in not transmitting prejudices when practising their profession, and in particular in avoiding reporting incidents involving individuals who happen to be members of the Roma/Gypsy community in a way which blames the Roma/Gypsy community as a whole”.

K. Antisemitism

56. Manifestations of antisemitism are reportedly not prevalent within Latvian mainstream society and media. However, ECRI notes that some antisemitic incidents have taken place, including the bombing of a synagogue, antisemitic inscriptions on Jewish public buildings and desecration of graves. In addition, there have been cases of publication of antisemitic articles in the press. ECRI notes that the Latvian authorities have publicly condemned such incidents and prosecutions have in some cases been initiated, although only one conviction has so far been secured. ECRI urges the Latvian authorities to bring to justice the persons found responsible for these incidents and to closely monitor the situation as concerns manifestations of antisemitism. ECRI furthermore reiterates, in this context, its recommendation formulated above to ensure that legislation against hate speech and degrading speech is adequate and implemented effectively24. ECRI is pleased to note that, as mentioned above, considerable progress has been made in the field of teaching and research about the Holocaust25.

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N. Media

60. ECRI is concerned at the considerable separation existing between Latvian-language and Russian-language media in Latvia, which, in ECRI’s opinion, runs counter to efforts to favour mutual integration of all groups constituting Latvian society. Although, as mentioned below, the situation of separate access to sources of information also concerns the electronic media, it is particularly apparent in the printed media. Latvian-language and Russian-language press report on different issues and events or on the same issues and events in a strikingly different fashion. A part of the Latvian-language press tends to ignore the point of view of minority groups and sometimes portrays members of these groups in a negative fashion, while Russian-language media are reported to be critical of the Latvian authorities and to tend to focus on minority issues. The only nation-wide newspaper published in both languages ended its Russian edition in 2000.

61. As concerns public electronic media, the Law on Radio and Televison provides that one of the two public TV channels must broadcast only in Latvian, while the second may allocate up to 20% of time for programmes in other languages. In consideration of the large proportion of non-Latvian mother tongue speakers in Latvia, ECRI considers that instead of a limit not to be exceeded for programmes in languages other than Latvian, 20% of time could be considered as a share to be compulsorily allocated to such programmes. ECRI notes the work of the National Council on Radio and Television — the body responsible for enforcement of the Law, in this respect. As regards the private electronic media, the Law stipulates that no more than 25% of airtime can be allocated to programmes in languages other than Latvian. ECRI notes that the National Council on Radio and Television has frequently intervened to ensure compliance of broadcasters with these provisions; sanctions which the Council imposes on broadcasters for exceeding the permitted 25% ceiling include cautions, fines and temporary closure. The Council may also file a case against a broadcaster demanding withdrawal of their license in case of repeated violations. ECRI notes that the constitutionality of the provision limiting the time available for broadcasting in languages other than Latvian to 25% of the total time has been questioned, although the Constitutional Court has dismissed the application on procedural grounds. ECRI is concerned that, in practice, this provision contributes to perpetuating the situation of separate access to media and information described above, as members of non-Latvian speaking groups, and notably members of the Russian-speaking population, tend to turn to Russian-language channels originating from other countries.

62. ECRI considers that the media has an important role to play in building contacts and understanding between the majority and minority communities in Latvia, and encourages in this respect initiatives aimed at reaching both communities simultaneously, for example, printed press presenting the same articles in both languages, and more provision of television broadcasting of interest to both communities and made accessible to all residents in Latvia through translations and sub-titling. ECRI hopes that these areas will be addressed as a priority by the projects to be undertaken in the framework of the National Programme for Integration of the Society in Latvia26.

Footnote 26 See Section II below

63. ECRI notes that negative stereotyping of minority groups sometimes takes place both in the broadcast and in the printed media and encourages the media professions to adopt and implement codes of self-conduct which would cover these issues. ECRI notes that the National Council on Radio and Television is working to conclude an agreement with broadcasters whereby, in reporting, unnecessary mention of a person’s personal characteristics such as race and nationality must be avoided.


Document data: CRI (2002) 21; adopted on 14.12.2001, published on 23.07.2002 Link: https://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia/16808b58b0 Also available in Latvian at http://rm.coe.int/second-report-on-latvia-latvian-translation-/16808b58b2