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FEDERATION INTERNATIONALE
DES LIGUES DES DROITS DE L'HOMME
LATVIJAS CILVKTIESBU KOMITEJA
LATVIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE
LV1011, Latvia, Riga, Dzirnavu str. 102a, ph (371) 7285633, fax (371) 7288883

COMMENTS ON THE LIST OF DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE RIGHTS OF LATVIAN CITIZENS AND NON-CITIZENS

1. History of the problem

Before October 15, 1991 all residents of Latvia enjoyed equal legal status. On October 15, 1991, the Latvian Parliament passed the Resolution "On The Renewal of the Rights of Citizens of the Republic of Latvia and Fundamental Principles of Naturalisation" which divided the residents of Latvia into two major categories: citizens (approximately two thirds), and non-citizens (approximately one third). By the data of the Naturalisation Department (the newspaper "Diena", 06.08.97), on the state of 20.05.97 there were 676,981 non-citizens in Latvia (27.7% of the population).

The Resolution "On The Renewal provided with Latvian citizenship only the pre-war citizens and their descendants. In the meantime, the non-citizen population was left in a legislative vacuum for almost four years, as no law clearly determined their legal status, rights and obligations. The difference in formal political rights increasingly led to the differentiation in the Latvian residents' social, property, employment and other "non-political" rights.

The List of differences between the rights of citizens and non-citizens was first compiled by a group of human rights activists under the guidance of B. Tsilevich in 1994. These differences have been introduced through various legal acts passed or approved at different legislative levels. The list was published in several newspapers in Latvia (in Russian and Latvian) and abroad (e.g., "Difference in Status and Rights between Citizens and Permanent Residents (Non-Citizens) of Latvia". By B.Tsilevich, A.Ruchkovsky (INSIGHT Ltd.). "Promoting Human Rights and Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe". Newsletter of International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. Vienna, Austria, April 1994).

In April 1995, under the pressure of European structures, a new law has been passed - "On the Status of the Former USSR Citizens, who are not Citizens of Latvia or Any Other State". This law determined, for the first time, the legal status of the majority of non-citizens. Part 3 of Article 2 of this law states that "institutions of state authority and administration shall be obliged to ensure that the rights (referred to in the law - auth.) are observed and that these rights are not restricted in the laws, regulations, instructions, decrees and other acts issued by state and local institutions"

However, this law did not become an effective a cure against restrictions on the rights of Latvia's non-citizens. While some of the differences mentioned in the original List have been abolished, some other legislative acts provided a source of new differences in rights.

Upon an initiative of an MP V.Dozortsev, the Latvian National Human Rights Office (LNHRO) gave its assessment of the List of differences in December 1996. It was the only time when the List was seriously studied by a state institution in Latvia.

According to LNHRO, out of 70 differences presented in the List, only 34 still exist. Of the latter, only 10 considered by LNHRO as groundless limitations of the rights of non-citizens.

After the publication of LNHRO assessment, new differences in the rights have appeared, while some of the old ones have been abolished. Besides, not all differences have been included into the List. We have added several new differences to the original List, although we cannot guarantee that all existing differences have been included, since some restrictions were adopted by local government institutions and thus are difficult to keep a track of.

It should be emphasised once again that the discriminatory limitations are applied to the permanent residents, rather than to foreigners arriving in Latvia. Majority of the permanent residents was actually born in Latvia and before October 1991 they enjoyed equal rights with today's citizens.

These limitations cannot be considered temporary. Dynamics of the limitations, as well as the fact that most of them have no time limit, are the best proof of that.

Limitations of rights, set by sub-legal acts, even if they do not correspond to international practice, cannot be disputed in a law court (Civil Procedure Code of Latvian Republic, article 2391, part 3).

The size of non-citizen population subjected to limitations will not decrease considerably in the near future, because of the low tempo of naturalisation and deliberately complicated procedure of granting citizenship to children of non-citizens (by February 1999 non-citizens had the hereditary non-citizen status). Moreover, current law makes certain groups of non-citizens ineligible to naturalise. Only 11432 persons were able to receive citizenship through naturalisation by January 1, 1999, including 2993 persons in 1997, 4439 persons in 1998 (source: Newspaper "Diena", December 29, 1998).

In November 1998 the so-called windows'' system of naturalisation was abolished, thus granting the opportunity to submit applications for naturalisation to a larger part of noncitizens. This, however, will not bring about a decisive change to the situation. According to estimates made by the Head of Naturalisation Department Mrs E. Aldermane only 300 320 thousands of Latvian non-citizens will actually become citizens in the long run (total number of non-citizens 646 thousands). And only 60-70 thousands of non-citizens will become citizens by 2002 (source: ''Russian Newspaper ", December 12, 1998).

Authors of the updated List consider it as a monitoring tool, that allows to follow the development of legislation limiting the rights and freedoms of a significant part of Latvia's population. We intend to carry out such monitoring until the last difference is eliminated and the status of "non-citizens" is abolished.

The List contains a short description of 57 differences between the rights of citizens and non-citizens. In addition to that, the document contains commentary, 13 Notes to the List and 2 Annexes. Annex 1 is a list of Latvia's international agreements that discriminate against the non-citizens; Annex 2 contains 28 differences in rights between citizens and non-citizens, which are recognised as null and void or abolished to date.

The List takes into consideration only the differences that apply to those non-citizens who are subjects of the Law "On the Status of Former USSR Citizens... i.e. the majority of non-citizens. The legal status of persons who are not subjects of the above-mentioned Law (several tens of thousands) is much worse. Their situation will be considered in another review.

2. Prohibition to occupy certain positions

The limitations mentioned in Part 1 of the List prohibit the

non-citizens from occupying certain job and serve as a tool of personnel purges. The Latvian National Human Rights Office (LNHRO) justified the latter by mentioning Art.25 of UN 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. LNHRO's interpretation of the Covenant contradicts to the text of the document itself, since the Art.5 of the Covenant explicitly prohibits such interpretation.

Neither can these limitations be accepted as measures to rectify past injustices. Even before the independence, ethnic Latvians dominated the most prestigious positions in the society (Table 1).

Table 1

Employment of non-Latvians in Latvian SSR in 1987
(the newspaper "Yedinstvo", 18.10.1989)

Total population47%
PRESTIGEOUS OCCUPATIONS:
Secretaries of Communist Party of Latvia
Ministers and chairmen of state committees
Personnel of city and district Party committees
Personnel of the Council of Ministers
Heads of local authorities
Cultural sphere and arts
Education
20 %
17 %
34.8%
35 %
23 %
26.4%
46.6%
NON-PRESTIGEOUS OCCUPATIONS:
Industry and construction
Transport
Communal and public services
61.9%
66.2%
54.7%

It should be mentioned that the non-citizens constitute a majority of the rank-and-file in such dangerous jobs as policemen and firemen (existing difference No 11 and abolished difference No 3 hereinafter - No Sp2-3). This, but not the human rights considerations explains codicils in the relevant laws regarding non-citizens already employed in these spheres. In this case, non-citizens' children are prevented from continuing the profession of their parents.

3. Property rights

When evaluating the advantages of citizens over non-citizens during privatisation of state properties the following must be taken into consideration:

1) during the Soviet era, practically all the property was owned by the state, and the laws of the transitional period played a very important role in the irrevocable process of the new proprietors class formation;

2) most of the properties nationalised during the Soviet era were returned to the former owners or their descendants in compliance with special legal acts;

3) general privatisation concerned mainly the properties established after the World War II owing to investments from other parts of the USSR and labour of many present-day non-citizens.

Thus, a number of differences included in the List (Nos. 33, 34 etc.) gave an advantage in the privatisation process to the citizens, while the privatised property itself was created by both the citizens and the non-citizens. To ensure these advantages during privatisation one part of the population was declared non-citizens and thus deprived of political rights in first place.

It should also be mentioned that, during the issuance of privatisation certificates, a record number of law violations concerning the rights of non-citizens has been recorded.

According to the Department of Privatisation by March 1998 86.4% of total number of privatisation certificates for years resided in Latvia were issued to citizens, and only 13.6% - to non - citizens.

It means that an average non-citizen obtained 2.8 times fewer privatisation certificates than an average citizen did.

Every eighth non-citizen (3.5% of total number of residents of Latvia) has no rights to receive privatisation certificates.

The main tool of discrimination was to illegally decrease the time of residence in Latvia for non-citizens, by manipulating the records in the Register of residents. Limitations regarding the lengths of residence in Latvia for non-citizens should be seen in the same context (Nos. 32-35, 44, 45, Sp2 10, 12, 13, 15).

4. Private enterprise

Comments made in the previous section concerning the importance of property ownership regulating legislation during the transition period are equally applicable to the issue of private enterprise.

For example, limitations regarding the founders of banks, pawnshops and joint stock companies (Nos. Sp2 11,12,13) were abolished only after the process of their mass establishment was over.

Limitations regarding privatisation of small businesses (owned by the state during the Soviet era) were abolished (Sp2 15) only when there was nothing to privatise any more. Privatisation of small businesses is often the only way for ordinary people to find employment and to start their business and accumulate necessary means.

5. Social rights

The nature of legal acts concerning rent and tenancy agreements is very important in the day-to-day life of the residents of Latvia. While the real housing market in Latvia is practically non-existent, access to the state-owned dwellings is crucial for individual to find accommodation. Finding accommodation is especially difficult for those people, whose apartments were restituted to the former owners or their descendants.

At the moment, the rent for standard housing during the heating season exceeds both the minimum salary and the average pension size. Mass evictions of debtors take place in Latvia.

6. The dynamics of changes in the List of differences

The dynamics of the introduction and abolition of differences between the rights of citizens and non-citizens is shown in Table 2.

Table 2

The number of introduced and abolished differences in the rights of
citizens and non-citizens

  1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 Total
Introduced

Abolished

Existing
10

-

10
13

-

23
23

1

45
19

5

59
12

5

66
3

4

65
2

6

61
3

5

59
-

2

57
85

28

57

As regards international agreements, the date of the signing of an initial agreement is taken into consideration.

From 1996 on, the rate of new differences being introduced is lower then the rate of old differences being abolished. If the existing rates will remain, one can hope that within the following 30 years all the differences between the rights of citizens and non-citizens will gradually be abolished. At the same time, a worrying development was the introduction of the difference No 26. This limitation was introduced by the students of the leading Latvian University themselves and thus indicates that the root causes of the problem penetrate deep into society and might require a change of several generations.

It is also very important to know how the differences are actually being abolished.

Difference in land ownership rights (No Sp2-8) is abolished by Constitution, but is preserved in several specific legislative acts (See differences No 28-31 and Note 7).

As regards the difference No Sp2-1, the Commercial Court has been liquidated, its functions transferred to regular courts, i.e. the difference has, in fact, been preserved. In the cases Nos. Sp2 9,16,22 the privileges, enjoyed by citizens, rather than discrimination against non-citizens has been abolished.

Access to the fireman service (No Sp2-3) is formally granted to the non-citizens, and they do have equal rights with the citizens. However, positions of the top and medium rank officers of the fireman service are classified as civil servant positions and thus may be occupied by the citizens only (see No. 2). In other words, the non-citizens have been granted the right to occupy only the rank-and-file positions in the service.

In other cases, the limitations on non-citizens' rights have been lifted, thus extending their rights up to the citizens' rights. However, in the great majority of cases (Nos. Sp2 10, 11, 12, 13 and 15), this was done too late, as the limitations had already made their negative impact during the earlier, and most crucial years of transition.

Registration of the exact number of differences, the dates of their introduction, as well as the dates of their abolishment should rather be seen as relative. For example, prohibition for non-citizens to occupy positions of judges, lay judges and court bailiffs (differences No 4,5 and 20) is established by one and the same law. At the same time it is impossible to compare the mentioned positions and thus they are included in different chapters of the List and registered as separate differences. On the contrary, limitations on non-citizens' rights to be educated in Latvian higher education establishments (difference No 46) are introduced by several documents, although we considered them the same limitation, because of their similar nature. The same approach is applied to the differences established by international agreements. The number of such international agreements discriminating against non-citizens is increasing steadily. However, authors of the List included all these agreements into 8 already existing standard groups of differences in rights (differences No 27, 36, 37, 38, 40, 47, 49, 50) introduced by authors and thus, new agreements do not increase the total number of registered differences in rights. Development of the above mentioned international agreements discriminating against non-citizens is reflected in Table No 3

Table No 3

International agreements, establishing differences between the rights of citizens and non-citizens

  1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 Total
Introduced

Existing
3

3
12

15
9

24
9

33
13

46
9

55
11

66
14

80
12

92
92

92*

By V. Buzayev, G. Kotov and L.Raihman

Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

September 1997 / April 1998 / February 1999/ December 1999



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