LCHRES: Human Rights in Latvia, First 6 Months of 2001 (excerpts)


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Subject: LCHRES: Human Rights in Latvia, First 6 Months of 2001 (excerpts)

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LCHRES: Human Rights in Latvia, First 6 Months of 2001
(excerpts)


Human Rights in Latvia
1 January 2001 - 30 June 2001

Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies
a member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Alberta St. 13, Riga LV 1010
tel. 371-7039290
fax: 371-7039291
e-mail: office@humanrights.org.lv

Contents

Elections and Referenda
Judicial System and Domestic Safeguards
Torture, Ill-Treatment and Misconduct by Law Enforcement Officials
Rights of Conscripts
Conditions in Prisons and Detention Facilities
Protection of Minorities
Citizenship
Intolerance, Xenophobia, Racial Discrimination and Hate Speech
Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees
War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
Women's Rights
Rights of the Child
The Rights of the Mentally Ill
Patient's Rights

LCHRES Legal Aid, 1 January 2001 - 30 June 2001
Activities of the LCHRES, 1 January 2001 - 30 June 2001


..................


Protection of Minorities

Language policy continued to be a topical issue affecting the rights
of minorities in the first half of 2001. On 14 June the parliament
amended the Administrative Violations Code to envisage fines for
eleven different violations related to language policy: signing a work
contract with an employee whose Latvian proficiency is insufficient
for performing his/her professional duties; failure to use the state
language on the level necessary to perform one's professional duties;
failure to provide translations in meetings if the law so requires;
failure to ensure the use of Latvian in office records; failure to use
the state language in contracts on the provision of medical treatment,
health care, public safety and other public services; refusal to
accept documents written in the state language; failure to ensure
translation in events if the law requires translation; failure to
ensure translation of radio and TV programmes and films if the law
provides for translation; failure to create titles and names in the
state language; failure to create the texts of stamps, seals and
letterheads in the state language if the law provides for creating
these texts in the state language; failure to observe the regulations
on providing information to the public; and "disrespect towards the
state language." 

Many of the provisions are subject to the limiting clause contained in
the State Language Law ("when there is a legitimate public interest"),
but much will depend on implementation.  Several of the provisions are
problematic.  For example, the provision making an employer liable for
hiring someone with insufficient language skills unjustifiably
involves businesses in enforcing the language law. Some provisions are
vague and therefore open to varying interpretations. For example, the
precise meaning of demonstrating "disrespect towards the state
language" is unclear and is left up to the courts to interpret. For
several of the violations, the size of the fines is disproportionately
high - up to 250 lats (~ USD 400).    

The National Programme for Latvian Language Training, an ambitious,
multi-year effort to assist minorities to acquire the Latvian
language, was brought under the Ministry of Education at the beginning
of the year.  While the Programme was initially funded almost solely
by foreign donors such as the United Nations Development Programme,
the European Union and bilateral partners, in 2001 the government
itself became an active funder of the programme, allocating it Ls
428,000 (~USD 680,000). 

On March 8 another effort by the parliamentary opposition to push
ratification of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the
Protection of National Minorities failed, as 17 members of parliament
voted for ratification, 19 voted against and 46 abstained.  Latvia
signed the convention in 1995, but has yet to ratify it.     

After several years of delays, on 6 February the government finally
adopted the National Programme for the Integration of Society in
Latvia, a policy framework which lays out the goals and means for
minority policy and promoting social cohesion in realms such as civic
participation, education and culture.  By mid-year, little had been
done to implement the programme.  On June 21 parliament reviewed the
second reading of a draft law on creating a Social Integration Fund. 
A third and final reading is scheduled for an extraordinary session of
parliament on 5 July.  The law is to create a mechanism through which
government and donor money is to be channelled to support
integration-related projects. 


Citizenship

In the first six months of 2001, the Naturalisation Board received
only 3,862 applications for citizenship, a decline compared to the
same period one year ago, when 5,898 applied in the first six months.
On 1 January 2001 the number of stateless "non-citizens" stood at
551,064. At the end of 2000, there had been some speculation that the
planned imposition by the Russian Federation of a visa requirement for
non-citizens would facilitate acquisition of Russian or Latvian
citizenship by removing one of the few advantages enjoyed by
non-citizens - visa-free travel to Russia and the CIS countries.
However, as the visas for non-citizens are cheap, long-term and
multiple entry, the change did not have a significant impact.  

On June 5 the government adopted two changes to facilitate
naturalisation - it reduced the naturalisation fee and rationalised
the examination procedure. According to the results of a recent
sociological survey commissioned by the Naturalisation Board, of those
non-citizens not planning to naturalise in the next year, 47%
mentioned a lack of money for the basic fee, which for most categories
of applicants has been 30 lats (~ USD 50). This should be seen in the
context of a minimum monthly wage of 60 lats and average wage of 150
lats in 2000. The new regulations reduce the basic fee to 20 lats and
even lower for a number of other categories - 10 lats for pensioners,
partially disabled persons, and students; 3 lats for the unemployed,
families with more than three children and those whose income does not
exceed the state set subsistence level.  Politically repressed
persons, first category disabled, orphans and those under state or
municipal social care are exempt from the fee. 

Another change, long discussed in Latvia, exempts students who have
passed the centralised Latvian examination within the previous two
years from taking the language examination for naturalisation. This
rationalisation of the procedure eliminates the need for students to
take multiple examinations.  

In cooperation with the OSCE Mission to Latvia, the Naturalisation
Board began plans to implement a major advertising campaign aimed at
non-citizens. The survey mentioned above found that 20% of those who
do not plan to apply lack information on the procedure. A budget of
more than USD 250,000 has been amassed from donors and a tender to
local advertising and public relations firms concluded in June.  The
information campaign is to be implemented in the second half of
2001.     


Intolerance, Xenophobia, Racial Discrimination and Hate Speech

In the first half of 2001, the courts ruled on a number of cases
involving racist extremists. On 12 January a court in Liepaja found
Guntars Landmanis, the editor of a violently anti-Semitic and racist
newsletter called "Patriots," guilty of incitement of national hatred
and sentenced him to 8 months in prison. Landmanis subsequently
appealed the verdict. The Liepaja city prosecutor protested the
verdict as well, urging a penalty of one year in prison based on the
fact that Landmanis committed the crime when he was on probation for a
previous offence. Meeting on 17 April to review the appeal, the
Kurzeme Regional Court decided to postpone a sitting until mid-summer
pending further evidence.  

On 16 January the High Court rescinded an earlier sentence levied upon
some members of the neo-Nazi Thundercross group requiring them to pay
a civil penalty of over 20,000 lats (~USD 35,000) for damaging the
Victory Monument in an explosion in 1997. The decision was based on
the lack of any documentation for the sum provided by the proposed
beneficiary, the Riga City Council.  The High Court also reduced the
sentences of several of the defendants (the maximum sentence had been
three years in prison), ruling that the lower court had made mistakes
in its indictments.    

Russian extremists also ran afoul of the law in early 2001. In late
February four members of a neo-Nazi group called Russian National
Unity (RNU) were arrested and charged for armed robbery and assault
and battery in Liepaja.  Police discovered an enormous arsenal of
weapons linked to the suspects, including machine guns, pistols with
silencers and a cross-bow with RNU insignia.  In early 2001 the
Latvian Regional Organisation of RNU published two issues of an
underground newsletter, the second of which contains some anti-Semitic
innuendo: "it is no secret that Jews have the most influence in the
leadership of the parties in the bloc 'For Human Rights in a United
Latvia.'" The same article notes that there is a "struggle under way
between the Latvian bourgeoisie and Jewish finance capital." In the
municipal elections in March, RNU cooperated closely with the Russian
Party in Liepaja, which received 333 votes out of 23,705 cast in the
city, but won no seats. 

A number of members of Russia's National Bolshevik Party (NBP) who had
entered Latvia illegally in November 2000, barricaded themselves in
St. Peter's Church in Riga and threatened to blow themselves up with a
fake grenade faced trial in the first half of 2001. On 30 April the
Riga Regional Court found three members of Russia's NBP guilty of
illegal border crossing and terrorism, sentencing two members to 15
years in prison and a third (a minor) to 5 years. Compared with the
sentences levied on members of Thundercross, the sentences levied
against NBP activists are excessive. A local NBP activist was
sentenced to one year probation for abetting the activists from
Russia. The three from Russia appealed the decision, but no hearing
date was set as of mid-2001. On 6 June a court in Rezekne tried four
other NBP activists from Russia who had also entered the country
illegally in November, but who had been immediately apprehended. The
court sentenced them to 7 months prison (the time they had been held
in detention) and ordered them to be deported to Russia.      

A fringe right-wing publishing house called "Vieda" created
controversy in March by organising an essay contest for youth on
themes such as "Latvia's liberation from 700,000 colonists is task
number 1," "the European Union - a contemporary tower of Babel," and
"is the Russian language press a disseminator of Great Russian
chauvinism or fascistic ideas in Latvia?" In the presence of two
members of parliament from the governing Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK
party, on 13 June the publishers launched a book entitled "We Don't
Give Latvia to Anyone" containing about 75 essays. While the newspaper
"Chas" urged the authorities to bring charges of incitement against
the publisher, the Constitutional Protection Bureau, the national
security agency, has ruled that nothing in the book crosses the line
of incitement. 

While the book contains sentimental nationalist poetry, calls to give
national partisans and legionnaires due respect, and suggests ways of
promoting the "voluntary repatriation" of Russian speakers, it also
contains statements of a more militant nature. In the preface, the
publisher Aivars Garda calls "colonists" a "cancer" and calls for a
"struggle against internal and external enemies".  Certain essays end
with the inter-war fascist greeting "Hail in the Struggle!" Others
speak of "blood purity," "the twisted Russian language, alcohol,
destruction, polluted environment that are inalienable attributes of
Russian pseudo-culture," and the Russian community's "murderer,
destroyer, provocateur stance, which has been nurtured for centuries."
While such statements are not prosecutable as hate speech according to
Latvian jurisprudence, much controversy could have been stemmed if the
Latvian government  had condemned the intolerance in a timely manner
and the two deputies had avoided the launch.         

A new Labour Law adopted by parliament on June 20 (see also below
under Women's Rights) contains a number of important
anti-discrimination provisions, prohibiting direct or indirect
discrimination in the right to work, safe working conditions, and
equal pay on grounds of race, skin colour, national origin and other
grounds.  In line with recent EU directives, in some cases, the burden
of proof shifts to the employer, who must demonstrate
non-discrimination.     


Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees

On 2 April 2001 a subcommittee of the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a
draft Law on Asylum which will broaden the notion of a refugee by
introducing temporary protection and alternative protection. Thus, the
draft law determines the legal protection of those asylum seekers who
do not fall under the criteria of the 1951 UN Geneva Convention or the
1967 Protocol on the Status of a Refugee. The draft law also envisages
the possibility to review an asylum application at the border
(so-called short procedure) without having the person enter the
country, as well as criteria for recognising a country as a safe
country, which will replace the list of safe countries currently in
force. 

On 5 June the parliamentary standing commission on human rights and
social affairs supported the first reading of amendments to the law
"On Civil Status Acts" which will lay out the procedure for
registering the marriage of a person granted refugee status. 

..................

------------
>From the moderator: Full text of the report (86 Kb in .doc file) can
be obtained from the MINELRES moderator by request. 
Boris
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