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His Excellency

Mr Georgs Andrejevs

Minister for Foreign Affairs

of the Republic of Latvia

The Hague

6 April 1993


No 238/93/L/Rev.

Dear Mr Minister,

Following my visits to Latvia on 15-20 January and 1-2 April 1993, I take the liberty of sending you, annexed to this letter, a number of recommendations concerning mainly the non-Latvian population of your country. I restrict myself to this question because I would go beyond my mandate if I would comment on other problems concerning your country.

On the other hand, I can assure you that, in making these suggestions, I have been fully aware of the political and psychological background of many of the questions I am referring to. I think for instance of the long years Latvia suffered under Soviet occupation, the bitterness caused by what is perceived as a deliberate policy of Russificaton during those years, and your concerns about the continued, though greatly reduced, presence of Russian troops on your territory. I also recall the way you and your colleagues have repeatedly stressed the determination of the Latvian people firmly to establish its national identity in various field. Finally, I have registered the concern felt by the Latvian

Government about the situation of the Latvians living on the territory of the Russian Federation.

I am fully aware of the fact that there is no evidence of persecution of the non-Latvian population since the reestablishment of Latvian independence, and moreover, that there have virtually been no incidents pointing to interethnic violence. My hope is that the ideas I am submitting to you - inspired as they are by the various csce documents to which Latvia, together with all other csce participating States, has subscribed - can contribute to the promotion of harmony and dialogue between the various population groups in your country.

When I drafted my recommendations, my basic assumption has been that, though a number of non-Latvians have returned to their native country and more might follow, it would be unrealistic to expect that such a return will be on a massive scale. The great majority will probably prefer to stay in Latvia, partially because they have been living there for a long time or have been born there, and partially because they feel that they have no prospect of finding homes en jobs if they would move to the Russian Federation or any other cis state.

During my visits, I was told by officials of the Citizenship and Immigration Department that according to their estimates the number of non-Latvians that will have acquired Latvian citizenship before June and who will therefore be able to participate in the parliamentary elections scheduled for that month will not exceed 50%. As 98% of all non-Latvians have been living in Latvia for more than 5 years and 93% even for 16 years or more and as the prospects of finding jobs and apartments in the Russian Federation or other cis republics have to be considered very small, it can be assumed that most of those who so far have not been able to acquire Latvian citizenship will sooner or later apply for it. This conclusion is supported by official data which show that per March 22nd out of a total of 617,443 persons registered as inhabitants of Latvia who are not Latvian citizens 593,008 want to acquire citizenship.

On the basis of my conversations, I assume that the Government of Latvia, confronted with this situation, will not decide to oblige this group or parts of it to leave the country. Although every Government has the right to remove from its territory persons whose continued presence could be damaging to vital interests of the state, it is also obvious that expulsions on a massive scale would be contrary to generally accepted international humanitarian principles and would, moreover, probably have very serious international repercussions.

From the point of view of harmonious interethnic relations, it would in my view also be undesirable that Latvia would insist on such high requirements for citizenship that a great number of applicants would not be able to meet them. As a consequence, the percentage of citizens of Latvian origin would be higher and that of citizens of non-Latvian origin lower then would be the case if Latvia would follow a more liberal line. However, the disadvantage of such a very strict policy would quite probably be that there would be considerable dissatisfaction amongst the very many who would then not have the chance of obtaining Latvian citizenship. Even though, as you pointed out in your speech before the un Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on February 15, these persons would be free to choose their place of employment, to engage in professional activities and private enterprise, to receive pensions and unemployment benefits and to have access to health care and housing, they would not have the right to make their views known by participating in the election process.

Another solution would be that Latvia would restrict itself to requirements for citizenship which, broadly speaking, would not go beyond those used by most csce states. In my recommendations I have tried to elaborate this formula in somewhat greater detail. It is my opinion that such a policy would be the most effective way to ensure the loyalty of non-Latvians towards Latvia. I do understand that the Latvian Government feels the need, especially in the light of the demographic changes brought about in Latvia during the years of the Soviet period, to take measures to strengthen the Latvian identity. However, there are other instruments than the citizenship law to promote and strengthen the Latvian identity, especially in the cultural, educational and linguistic fields.

I am fully aware that the policy I advocate does not only require an effort on the part of the Latvian Government, but equally a contribution on the part of the non-Latvian population. Adaptation to the reality of the reemergence of Latvia as an independent state requires that at any rate those who have not yet retired from work and who do not yet speak the Latvian language make a determined effort to master that language to such a degree that they are able to conduct a simple conversation in Latvian. In this way they would, without having to sacrifice their cultural or linguistic identity, provide a convincing proof of their willingness to integrate. The required psychological adaptation to the reality of the reemergence of Latvia as an independent state would also be enhanced if it would be possible to ensure rapid implementation of paragraph 15 of the 1992 Helsinki Summit Declaration, calling for "the conclusion, without delay, of agreements, including timetables, for the early, orderly and complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the territories of the Baltic states."

In a policy aiming at the promotion of continued harmonious relations between Latvians and the non-Latvian population the most important element would, of course, be the passing of legislation which demonstrates that the Latvian Government is taking the interests of the non-Latvians living in Latvia fully into account. It would be especially conducive to harmonious relations if the present uncertainty amongst non-Latvians about the forthcoming legislation concerning their position in Latvia could be brought to an end as soon as possible. In this connection, I should like to mention the need for the speedy adoption of a citizenship law.

Experience shows that lack of information about government policies can lead to serious and perhaps often unnecessary misunderstandings. Against this background, I am making some recommendations concerning the problem of communication with the non-Latvian communities.

In my view, it could also greatly facilitate the relationship with the non-Latvian population, if the Latvian Government would decide to set up the office of a "National Commissioner on Ethnic and Language Questions". His or her main task would be to look into complaints by persons which, in their view, have not been correctly dealt with, to signal possible diverging interpretations of the same laws by different authorities, and in a general sense, to act as a go-between to the Government and the community concerned. In this way, he or she could help to prevent tensions from arising or, if they already exist, to reduce or eliminate them. I would be willing to offer you any assistance you might find desirable in developing this idea.

In addition to the recommendations I have mentioned, you will find some others which are self-explanatory in the text which follows. Even though Russians constitute the largest non-Latvian population group in Latvia, I use the term "non-Latvian" in my recommendations in order to make it clear that they do apply equally to Russians and non-Russians amongst the non-Latvian population of your country.

Finally, permit me, Mr Minister, to thank you once again for the kindness shown to me during my visits to Latvia. I was especially struck by the openness with which you and your colleagues answered my questions.

Yours sincerely,

(Max van der Stoel)

Latvia - Conclusions and recommendations 1) A new citizenship law should be speedily adopted, in order that the conditions for naturalisation be clearly defined.

2) Children born in Latvia who would otherwise be stateless should be granted Latvian citizenship taking into account Article 24, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

3) As far as the requirement of a minimum period of residence in Latvia is concerned, such period should not exceed 5 years. This is the period frequently adopted by states and in this case there do not seem to be good reasons not to adopt it. In terms of non-citizens eligible for citizenship, the difference between 16, 10 or 5 years period of required residence is not great (93 percent, 96 percent and 98 percent respectively). Adopting a shorter period would also be a good decision for psychological reasons, since it would be seen as proof of the Government's determination to resolve the citizenship issue.

4) For those who are already residents of Latvia, the period of 5 years mentioned in Recommendation No 3 should be reckoned from the date they came to Latvia or were born there, whichever may be the case.

5) In order to reduce as much as possible the uncertainty prevailing in the non-Latvian communities, once applicants fulfill the legal requirements for citizenship they should be granted citizenship without delay and no further waiting period should be introduced.

6) If the new citizenship law would include a requirement that basic elements of the Constitution should be known, the requirement should be formulated in such a way that different interpretations are not possible. Generally speaking, the requirement that basic elements of the Constitution be known should not be a major obstacle to the acquisition of citizenship.

7) Whatever language requirements are chosen, they should not exceed the level of "conversational knowledge" which was required by the Supreme Council Resolution of 15 October 1991. The Government, administrative authorities and courts should be lenient in the application of this requirement as far as citizenship is concerned.

8) A clause exempting elderly persons (60 years and over) and disabled persons from language requirements when they apply for citizenship should be introduced.

9) It should be made explicit that any eventual requirement that applicants should have a steady legal income in order to qualify for citizenship should not apply to unemployed persons.

10) If certain persons would be explicitly excluded by law from acquiring citizenship, the law should stipulate that the validity of any allegation that a person would be the subject of such exclusion would, if denied, have to be established by court, in order to forestall any attempt at improper use of such provision.

11) In enacting or implementing legal provisions concerning nationality, citizenship or naturalisation, Articles 1 (3) and 5(d) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, prohibiting any discrimination based on national or ethnic origin, have, of course, to be fully respected.

12) The effective and uniform implementation of the citizenship law should be assured by appropriate review or appeals procedure. A rejection of an application for citizenship, for instance because of a failure to meet language requirements, should not preclude the applicant from applying again. These procedures should be widely publicized.

13) In the end, a number of persons will neither qualify for citizenship, nor have the status of permanent residents. The High Commissioner would recommend that humanitarian considerations and reasonableness be the guiding principles regarding those persons.

14) The legislation on language should be made more precise. E.g. Article 7 of the Language Law of 5 May 1989, as amended on 31 March 1992, appears to require the use of the Latvian language in the internal affairs of all private enterprises and organizations. However, this had not been the intention of the legislator.

15) The Latvian authorities should enhance their efforts at helping non-Latvians to acquire a reasonable level of knowledge of the Latvian language. More use should be made of the mass media, in particular television.

16) The Government should enhance its efforts aimed at informing the non-Latvian population about the legislation, regulations and practical questions which concern citizenship, language requirements etcetera. An information brochure providing this information should be written in such a way that it can be comprehended even by persons with no more than a basic education. The brochure should be distributed in large numbers, not only to households but also to places where larger groups of non-Latvians can be expected, such as certain factories, associations and the like. Second, posters and placards could be positioned at public places and in streets, carrying the most important passages from the brochure or a summary of the main points.

17) The office of a "National Commissioner on Ethnic and Language Questions" should be established. The National Commissioner should be competent to take up any relevant complaint which he/she considers to require further attention with any government agency. He/she would have to actively find out about uncertainties and dissatisfaction involving minorities, act speedily in order to clarify grey areas, answer to questions within a specified period of time (e.g. two months) and finally act as a channel for information and as a go-between to the Government and the minorities in Latvia. The National Commissioner should have the general confidence of all parties concerned. If it should prove impossible to find one person who would meet this criterion, then a commission of three could be established to do the same thing (one Commissioner with two deputies, a triumvirate, like many ombudsman offices are structured).

18) In general, it is recommended that the Government consistently implement a visible policy of dialogue and integration towards the non-Latvian population, which should incorporate the above-mentioned recommendations. In the High Commissioner's opinion, early government action in this regard is indispensable. The Latvian National Minorities department, which is currently part of the Ministry of Justice, should be made an independent body, so that it could act with more authority.