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No 31/1003-7767
24 December 1996

H.E. Mr. Max van der Stoel
OSCE High Commissioner
on National Minorities
Prinsessegracht 22
2514 AP - The Hague
P.0. Box 200 62
2500 EB - The Hague
The Netherlands


I have the honour to refer to your letter of 28 October 1996. May I confirm that it was a true pleasure for me and the staff of my Ministry to host your visit to Latvia. Your advice and assistance are very important for Latvia at this stage of transformation of our society.

I would like to take this opportunity to inform you about several important developments in Latvia.

The international assistance project for the implementation of the National Programme for Latvian Language training was signed on 6 December 1996. It was developed by the UNDP and supported by a number of bilateral donors. I would like to express our gratitude for your support to the project. It is indeed a very important initiative as knowledge of State language is one of the most important preconditions for social integration. I hope that improved knowledge of the Latvian language will facilitate also the process of naturalisation, as the level of knowledge of Latvian is insufficient for a number of applicants to pass the Naturalisation test.

The Law on the Human Rights Office was adopted on 5 December 1996. The Law guarantees the independent status of the Office and its right to investigate individual cases, as well as the activities of state institutions. Provisions are made to guarantee confidential treatment of information received from individuals. Thus the Office has all the necessary powers to be truly independent and effective in the sphere of protection of human rights.

The United Nations General Assembly at its 51 session decided to conclude consideration of the question on the situation of human rights in Latvia and Estonia, thus rejecting the initiative by the Russian Federation for a United Nations resolution on this issue.

I would also like to thank you for your active involvement in the preparation of the information brochure on the naturalisation process. As knowledge regarding the naturalisation process has proved to be insufficient amongst persons eligible for naturalisation, I am sure that the brochure will serve to activate those who are interested in acquiring Latvian citizenship.

With regard to the possible reduction of the naturalisation fee for several categories of residents I would like to note that the issue could be discussed in the Cabinet of Ministers in 1997, with orientation towards the state budget for 1998. The Saeima confirmed the state budget for 1997 on 12 December. This is a budget without deficit, thus the proportion of resources and spending are carefully planned and balanced for the next year.

The negotiations on amendments to the Law on Citizenship - both to abolish the "window" system and to simplify some procedures of the tests - have not taken place yet. As you rightly mention in your letter, political difficulties remain in this regard.

However, consideration of issues of mutual interest continues in the President's Consultative Council on Nationalities. Challenging discussions also take place in mass media. Various, often opposing views are manifested and discussed. Any discussion leads to some conclusion, and there is usually some point at which even the most opposing views meet.

The recently released opinion of the National Human Rights Office (NHRO) on Differences in Rights of Citizens and Persons Without Latvian Citizenship is the focus of attention of many discussions at present. The opinion was sent to your office earlier this week, and I believe that it will be carefully studied by the institutions of Government and the Parliament of Latvia, with a view to follow-up issues taken up by the NHRO.

I remain truly thankful for your latest recommendations and your contribution to seeking ways of promoting the process of integration in Latvia.

Yours sincerely,

Valdis Birkavs

Minister for Foreign Affairs

of the Republic of Latvia