Minority issues in Latvia, No. 26

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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 26

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 26

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 26
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
March 8, 2001

Ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of
National Minorities rejected again
On March 8, the Saeima (Parliament) rejected a bill on ratification of
the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
submitted by the pro-minority faction "For Human Rights in United
Latvia" ("HRUL"). 

Leader of the "HRUL" faction Janis Jurkans (first Minister for Foreign
Affairs after the restoration of independence of Latvia) said that
implementation of the modern standards of minority rights enshrined in
the Framework Convention is necessary to ensure peace, stability and
respect to human rights in Latvia, as well as succesful integration of
the Latvian society. Mr Jurkans also reminded the Resolution 1236
adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in late
January which recommended ratification of the Framework Convention by
Latvia "as a matter of priority". 

Inese Birzniece, MP from "The Latvian Way" party, spoke against the
bill. She said that the legislation of Latvia already provides
sufficient protection for national minorities, the term "national
minority" is not defined in legislation, that ratification of this
convention is not an indicator of the level of democracy and respect
to human rights, for several European countries have not even signed
the Convention. In any case, Mrs Birzniece claimed, it is exclusively
up to the government to decide when ratification of the Framework
Convention could be initiated. 

Only 17 MPs voted for ratification (15 members of the "HRUL" faction,
and two MPs from the New Faction), 19 - against, and 46 abstained.

The Framework Convention was signed by Latvia as long ago as in May
1995. This was already the third time when the majority of the Saeima
rejected the ratification bill. 

The European Court of Human Rights declares admissible application in
respect of language requirements for deputy candidates 
The European Court of Human Rights has declared admissible the first
application from Latvia. It is the case of Ingrida Podkolzina.

Mrs. Podkolzina, a resident of Daugavpils (the second biggest city in
Latvia), was a deputy candidate from the People's Harmony Party (the
pro-minority coalition "For Human Rights in United Latvia") at the
parliamentary elections held in October 1998. According to the
electoral legislation of Latvia, all Latvian citizens who received
education in other languages than Latvian, must produce certificate of
the third (highest) level of the state language proficiency in order
to be registered as candidates.   

On August 21, 1998 the Central Electoral Commission struck off Mrs
Podkolzina from the electoral list on the basis of "insufficient state
language proficiency". This decision was taken after the State
Language Centre issued the reference that Podkolzina's state language
proficiency did not correspond to the third (highest) level of the
state language proficiency, based on the results of language
examination held by a state language inspector on August 7, 1998,
despite Mrs. Podkolzina did possess a required valid state language
proficiency certificate of the third (highest) level. 

On August 31, 1998 the Riga Regional Court dismissed the complaint of
the People's Harmony Party on Podkolzina’s case. This decision was
ultimate and came into force from the date of its pronouncement.

According to the views of Mrs. Podkolzina and of the member of the
Latvian Human Rights Committee Ilga Ozisha who represents the
plaintiff, this case makes a violation of Article 3 of the First
Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. Besides, it is
also discrimination on the basis of language in respect of the
subjective right to stand for election (article 14 of the European
Convention). A prominent British barrister, professor William Bowring
will represent Mrs. Podkolzina's interests in the European Court of
Human Rights.  

Mrs Kristine Malinovska, representative of the Latvian Ministry for
Foreign Affairs, told in her interview for TV program "Panorama" that
Latvia's authorities will try to achieve peaceful settlement with Mrs.
Podkolzina to avoid the trial. However, Tatyana Zhdanok,
representative of the Latvian Human Rights Committee, maitained that
the agreement with the state is possible only if the amendments to the
Law on Elections will be adopted to abolish discriminatory language

One more private radio punished for violation of "language quotas" 
The National TV and Radio Council suspended broadcasting of the
private radio station "Maksimums" in Daugavpils (the second biggest
city in Latvia, inhabited predominantly by the Russian-speakers) for
one day on March 5 as a penalty for its violation of the Law on Radio
and Television. According to article 19 para. 5 of the Law, the
broadcasting/telecasting time in languages other than Latvian should
not exceed twenty-five percent of the total broadcasting time. State
officials have found that 61% of the radio station's broadcasting was
in the Russian language.

Concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
on Latvia
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted the concluding
observations on Latvia's periodic reports.

In particular, the Committee welcomes amendments to the Citizenship
Law according to which all children born in Latvia since 1991 are
entitled to citizenship by request. Before 1998, those children whose
parents were not Latvian citizens, could receive Latvian citizenship
only through naturalization.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the Education Law of
1998 foresees that, as of 2004, all state-funded schools will provide
secondary education in Latvian only while bi-lingual education will be
available only until 9th grade. Further it notes the slow pace of the
National Programme for Integration of Society in Latvia. The Committee
encourages the state of Latvia to ensure that children belonging to
minorities can use their own language in secondary education; it also
encourages the implementation of the integration process.

A non-citizen deprived of participation in the European Youth
Parliament's session
A competition for Latvia's schoolchildren teams to represent the state
at the European Youth Parliament's session took place in Riga three
weeks ago. Participant S., non-citizen of Latvia, representative of
the Russian-speaking minority, won the contest and got the right to go
to the session in Sweden. However, in several days after the results
of the competition had been announced, the organisers of this event in
Latvia informed the girl that she cannot go to Sweden, because she did
not possess the citizenship of Latvia. In the conditions of the
contest, no information about any restrictions for Latvia's
non-citizens were included. Of course, it was a drama for the girl
(other her team colleagues from the Riga 34th school with the Russian
language of instruction are citizens).

According to the Citizenship Law, only persons who were the citizens
of Latvia in 1940 and their descendants became the citizens of Latvia
after its independence was restored. Other approximately 700,000
residents of Latvia could receive the citizenship only through the
naturalization procedure; almost all of them belong to national
minorities. The rate of naturalization is very low, only 40,000
persons have been naturalized so far. Thus, approximately a half of
Riga's schoolchildren from the schools with the Russian language of
instruction are non-citizens, majority of them were born in Latvia.

By the request of the girl's parents, member of the Riga City Council
Alexander Gilman (who took part in the contest's jury) and MP from the
pro-minority faction "For Human Rights in United Latvia" Boris
Tsilevich addressed the organisers of the European Youth Parliament in
the United Kingdom with the request to prevent the incidents of the
kind in future. In Mr Gilman's view, special situation in Latvia
should be taken into account. Most of youngsters non-citizens were
born and grew up in Latvia, they have neither other citizenship nor
other homeland, and they should not be alienated and excluded but
involved in all aspects of social life to facilitate integration. In
this particular case, Mr Gilman believes, Ms S. deserves personal
invitation to the session of the European Youth Parliament.
Alexei Dimitrov
Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

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