Minority issues in Latvia, No. 14

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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 14

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 14

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 14
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee
April 10, 2000

News from the Saeima
On March 30 the Saeima (the Parliament) of Latvia adopted amendments
to the Law "On the Status of the Former USSR Citizens Who are not
Citizens of Latvia or Any Other State" (the so-called "non-citizens").
The core of the amendments is the change of the procedure of
deprivation of the non-citizen's status. 

The Law "On the Status of the Former USSR Citizens Who are not
Citizens of Latvia or Any Other State" adopted in April 1995
introduced a unique legal status for those persons who permanently
resided in Latvia at the moment of the restoration of independence
but, according to the citizenship regulations of Latvia, were not
eligible for "initial" citizenship of the restored state. The status
is unique for these persons are considered neither citizens of Latvia,
nor foreigners, nor stateless persons (although in principle they are
stateless because they possess no citizenship but one of the USSR -
the state which does not exist any longer). The law mentioned above
granted to these persons the right to reside permanently in Latvia, to
freely leave and return to Latvia, to enjoy social and economic rights
enshrined in the Constitution (although the law does not prohibit
discrimination of the non-citizens in the field of social and economic
rights). The law envisages also issuing special IDs - the so called
non-citizens', or aliens', passports to these persons.     

After this law had taken effect, numerous cases became known when
officials of the Citizenship and Migration Board annulled the
non-citizen's status the person had obtained earlier. The 1995 version
of the law did not contain any regulations on how this status can be
cancelled, thus, these decisions were taken administratively and often
arbitrarily. A person whose non-citizen's status has been cancelled,
loses any legal status in the country and therefore the possibility to
be legally employed, eligibility for any welfare or social benefits,
the rights to register marriage, to travel abroad, etc. As a rule,
these persons cannot be deported simply because they have no
citizenship, and no state is obliged to accept them.      

The amendments adopted by a small majority of votes say that a person
can be deprived of this status only in accordance with the decision of
a court. The crucial difference is that the administratively made
decision takes effect immediately, and it takes months if not years to
restore the non-citizen's status through court (our Committee helped
victims of arbitrary deprivation in many of such cases). Meanwhile,
the decision made by court takes effect only when all appeal
procedures have been exhausted. Thus, a person had better protection
against arbitrariness, and only those persons who indeed received the
non-citizen's status contrary to the law will be deprived of this

It should be stressed that the amendments do not liberalize criteria
for obtaining the non-citizens' status but only provide better
protection against bureaucratic abuses. Nevertheless, several MPs from
the ruling People's Party being not pleased by these "too liberal"
amendments immediately initiated new amendments to the same law, with
the main idea to allow deprivation of the non-citizen's status to be
made administratively. Taking into account the next governmental
crisis in Latvia and ongoing negotiations about the new Cabinet, it
seems likely that other potential coalition parties will be ready to
concede to the demands of the radical nationalists. The role of the
OSCE, CBSS and other international organisations may be very important
in this situation. 

Minority languages and media
The Latvian National Council for TV and Radio has brought an action
against the private TV company "TV-Riga" on its closing for violation
of the Radio and TV Law. According to article 19 of this law, the
broadcasting/telecasting time in foreign languages (including the
languages of national minorities) should not exceed 25% of the total.
The company "TV-Riga", as well as some other private radio and TV
companies ("Business & Baltia", "Radio PIK") were repeatedly fined and
even were temporarily closed for the violation  of this provision, as
they had too many broadcasts in Russian. 

According to the law, the National TV and Radio Council cannot shut
down a broadcasting company itself, but it can bring the case before
the court demanding that the court takes the decision to close the
broadcasting. In our view, the prohibition to create private radio and
TV channels in minority languages runs contrary not only to the
Framework Convention, but also to the European Convention of Human
Rights. Thus, if the "TV-Riga" company is closed it could bring the
case before the European Court of Human Rights.  

Seminar on minority rights for journalists
On April 1 a seminar for journalists "International and Regional
Standards in the Field of Minority Rights" organised by the Latvian
Human Rights Committee took place in Riga. The aim of the project was
to influence positively the content of the publications concerning the
inter-ethnic relations in Latvian media, to eliminate extremist
approaches, to facilitate building a multi-cultural democratic society
in Latvia. Experts in the rights of national minorities, such as Nils
Muiznieks (Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies), Aija
Priedite (National Programme for State Language Training), Boris
Tsilevich (MINELRES) and others, as well as experts on journalism
delivered lectures followed by vivid discussions. Approximately 50
journalists from both Latvian- and Russian-language media published in
Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja, Rezekne and other Latvian towns attended
the seminar. 

The event was financed by the Council of Europe Confidence Building
Measures Programme. 

A brochure "International and Regional Standards of Minority Rights"
was published in Latvian and Russian languages and distributed among
the participants of the seminar. The publication can be ordered  our
address is: Latvian Human Rights Committee, 102a Dzirnavu str.,
LV-1050, Riga, Latvia.

Alexei Dimitrov
Latvian Human Rights Committee

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