I. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recommendations on correcting the situation with rights of national minorities are set forth in Resolution 1236 adopted in 2001 on completion of monitoring Latvia's compliance with its commitments as a member of the Council of Europe. The resolution, inter alia, encourages Latvia:
«5. i. to ratify as a matter of priority the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (signed by Latvia on 11 May 1995) and to amend and implement legislation, in particular the amended State Language Law, in conformity with the provisions and the spirit of the Framework Convention;
ii. to give further encouragement to non-citizens to apply for citizenship – through media campaigns and public statements by the political leadership. Despite significant progress made in the naturalisation process, sustained efforts are imperative to produce further results in this field by, for instance, combining the compulsory tests for naturalisation with centralised final school exams, targeting language training for naturalisation candidates and reducing the cost of the application for naturalisation;
iii. to provide additional resources to the Naturalisation Board and the National Programme for Latvian Language Training;
iv. to amend and implement the Education Law of October 1998 in accordance with the provisions and spirit of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities;
v. to devise and adopt a law on the protection of national and language minorities and establish a state body in charge of minority affairs;
vi. to ratify as a matter of priority the Social Charter of the Council of Europe;
vii. to speed up the implementation of the Social Integration Programme.»
In case of Latvia, of particular significance is the position of the PACE, which, in its Recommendation 1500 (2001) "Participation of immigrants and foreign residents in political life in the Council of Europe member states", emphasizes that "democratic legitimacy requires equal participation by all groups of society in the political process, and that the contribution of legally resident non-citizens to a country's prosperity further justifies their right to influence political decisions in the country concerned" (para. 4). In this connection the PACE "urges the governments of member states to grant the right to vote and stand in local elections to all migrants legally established for at least three years irrespective of their origin". If the PACE recommends to grant such a right even to foreigners, it would be ever more reasonable to grant it to Latvian non-citizens, who have no other citizenship and who exclusively or mostly resided in Latvia.
II. In its Concluding Observations adopted after consideration of the initial report of Latvia the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (January 2001) called upon the Latvian authorities to comply with the provisions of Articles 29 and 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child with a view to ensuring that children belonging to national minorities сan use their own language in secondary education.
III. The report on Latvia (October 2001) of the Open Society Institute within the framework of its EU Accession Monitoring Program points out to the following.
In 1991 the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Latvia restored citizenship only to those individuals, who were Latvian citizens before the Second World War, and to their descendents. The right to be automatically admitted to citizenship was refused to all others. The report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for 2001 emphasized the indirect discrimination triggered by that decision: "More than 25 per cent of the resident population, many of them belonging to non-Latvian ethnic groups, have to apply [for citizenship] and are in a discriminatory position" (CERD/C/304/ADD.79, 2001, para 12).
The pace of naturalization remains slow which precludes any possibility to admit to citizenship multitudes of non-citizens in the near future.
The language rights of minorities acquire particular importance due to the fact that the Lettish language is not the mother tongue for approximately 38 per cent of the Latvian population. The Law on the State Language declares as foreign all other languages, including those spoken by minorities, and prohibits their use in contacts with public institutions. Lack of sufficient knowledge of the Lettish language contributed not only to underrepresentation of Russians people among civil servants and in bodies making publicly important decisions but also to a notably higher level of unemployment among minorities. On June 14, 2001, the Parliament introduced penalties for language violations, including for "non-respect for the State language".
The reform of education represents a particularly controversial issue. According to the 1998 Law on Education by 2004 all high and professional schools owned by State or local government bodies go over to teaching in the Lettish language. The Law was adopted without any consultations with the minorities and provides for a discriminatory rule prohibiting private minority schools to obtain public subsidies.
The ban on the use of minority languages at State agencies and local government bodies and the liquidation of the system of high education and professional training in the minority languages financed by the State and local government bodies pose a real obstacle to ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The 2001 Council of Europe report noted that although the Latvian Parliament had not yet ratified the Framework Convention this situation was governed by the Vienna Convention on the Force of Treaties signed by Latvia on May 4, 1993. According to the Convention after signing a treaty a State must refrain from actions running counter to the goals and objectives of this treaty (Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe Report, Doc. 8924 (10 January), para.21).
Latvia has no comprehensive legislation in the area of minority rights. Latvia has not yet ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The Latvian anti-discriminatory legislation does not meet the requirements of the EU Racial Equality Directive.
The recommendations by the authors of the report to the Government of Latvia:
1. To consider a possibility of extending the system of bilingual education to secondary schools, and a possibility of expanding the programs ensuring adequate training of teachers for minority schools, in particular for the Russian minority.
2. To ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and to bring the legislation in line with the norms of the Convention, especially with respect to the use of minority languages in contacts with authorities, education in minority languages, private television and radio broadcasting in minority languages.
3. To take all the necessary steps to speed up naturalization, including to ensure candidates' preparatory training, to ease requirements concerning some groups, and to carry out information campaigns in mass media. It is also necessary to take measures to overcome the feeling of alienation from, and distrust toward, the State which appeared among minorities as a result of the State policy of the past.
4. To grant resident non-citizens the right to vote at local elections for further integration of the Latvian society at the local level. To lift the existing restrictions on the "non-political" rights of resident non-citizens, thus ensuring general equality of conditions and an equal access to the labor market.
5. To revise the Program of Integration of the Latvian Society with the active participation of minorities themselves so as to turn it from an "export" declaration of intent into a plan of specific actions. Necessary funding should be provided to implement the Program.
IV. The report prepared by the Open Society Institute in December 2002 and devoted to the evaluation of the government program "Social Integration in Latvia" states that "a broad consensus on its content has not been reached in the society". The authors of the report see the main obstacle in the fact that the Program of Integration is built upon the "legislative basis existing in the country and the state policy which is criticized by many representatives of national minorities, especially in the field of education". Other shortcomings include: "insufficient attention of the Program of Integration itself and the policy of the authorities as a whole to the society's concerns with the state of affairs in the area of ensuring such rights of national minorities as a broader access to education and electronic mass media in native language, support for minority languages, promotion of dialogue between minorities and the state, and effective participation of national minorities in social life".
V. The 2002 Report of the European Commission on the progress made by EU pre-accession countries especially notes that Latvia "refused to ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities". The European Commission urged Riga to ratify this instrument of the Council of Europe.
The document points out the "still slow" pace of naturalization of non-citizens.
The European Commission has criticized the rules of use of the state language, "some of which are worded in such a way that they could give rise to different interpretations".
The amendments to the Law on the Local Authorities, which declare Lettish the working language, represent, in the authors’ opinion, "a potential risk to the opportunities that exist in practice for the use of ethnic minority languages in contacts with public authorities”.
The report notes that the “exclusion of non-citizens from a number of professions (lawyers, armed security guards, private detectives) limits the integration of non-citizens into the economic sphere”.
VI. The report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, of July 23, 2002, highlights the “serious problems” experienced by the Russian-speaking population in Latvia.
The Commission believes that the difficulties experienced by one part of the population of Latvia and the imbalances between its situation and that of the rest of the population should be addressed and remedied as a matter of priority. This would not only improve the enjoyment of civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights by a substantial part of the Latvian population and counter its possible marginalisation and disaffectedness from mainstream Latvian society, but also avoid, in the long term, the creation a climate where social tensions could arise.
ECRI stresses the importance of a clear public recognition of the fact that Latvia is a multicultural society, of which all minority groups are an integral part. It should be made clear that, given the current imbalances in the situation of minority groups, and notably the Russian-speaking population, time and resources must be devoted to providing this part of Latvia society with increased opportunities, including for participation in the public life of the country. Such recognition should be reflected in consistent policies at legislative and other levels.
In this regard the Latvian authorities were encouraged: to promote the process of admittance to Latvian citizenship through naturalization; to monitor the effects of the legislation in the field of language, to provide an access to the education in the mother tongue, to grant voting rights to resident non-citizens in local elections, to remove unjustified restrictions on non-citizens to work in a number of professions.
VII. The conclusions of the OSCE and PACE observer mission to the parliamentary elections in Latvia held on October 5, 2002 contain a number of assessments of the human rights situation in Latvia and recommendations for the development of the democratic process in Latvia. The mission drew attention to the problems of mass statelessness in this country and slow pace of naturalization of non-citizens who were denied the right to vote in either national or municipal elections, which, in the observers’ opinion, created “a serious and long-term democracy deficit” in Latvia. In this context, it was noted that the Council of Europe and the Council of Baltic Sea States had previously addressed the issue of granting the non-citizens the right to vote in the municipal elections as was the practice in Estonia.
The observers recommended that Latvian authorities "review Articles 5, 13 and 15 of the Saeima Election Law still restricting the right of a person to be nominated as a candidate on the grounds of his/her past political party and security service affiliations”. It was also noted that these articles were inconsistent with article 7.5 of the CSCE Copenhagen Document (1990), which urged all member states of the Organization "to respect the right of citizens to seek political or public office, individually or as representatives of political parties or organizations, without discrimination."
VIII. During his visit to Riga in December 2002 R. Ekeus, the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, urged the Latvian authorities to ratify the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and expressed his concern over the slow pace of non-citizen naturalization and inadequate Naturalization Board budget.
IX. On March 4, 2003, the PACE Monitoring Commission held a meeting in Paris, where it considered, inter alia, the Latvian issue (the Head of the Commission Josette Durrieu visited Riga before that). The main concerns expressed by foreign representatives to Latvian authorities related to the following: the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities has not been ratified so far; non-citizens are denied the right to vote and to be elected to local government bodies; a discriminatory Law on Education has been passed. Some speakers noted that it was unadvisable to stop monitoring that early and suggested that another visit to Riga be paid in the nearest future, which the Commission decided to do.
X. A similar interpretation of the state of affairs in ensuring the rights of the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia was given by the Commissioner of the Council of Baltic Sea States for Democratic Development, Helle Degn, who visited Latvia in February 2003.
XI. In its findings published in Geneva on 22 August 2003, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed its concern over the discrepancy between the Latvian legislation and the practical application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The main recommendations given by the CERD to Latvia are as follows:
- to continue efforts aimed at preparating a comprehensive law against discrimination and amend the Labour Law;
- to integrate into the national legislation the definition of discrimination given in the Convention and develop special laws on organized racist activities and propaganda;
- to ensure that the State Language Law does not result in unnecessary restrictions which may have the effect of creating or perpetuating ethnic discrimination;
- to facilitate the integration process by making it possible to participate in local elections for all those non-citizens, who are long-time residents;
- to develop a strategy aimed at accelerating the pace of naturalization;
- to reduce the list of occupations restricted to citizens and to keep it under review,
- to approach the education reform with care and flexibility, maintaining a close dialogue with the schools, parents and students; to monitor the reform process to ensure that a high quality of education is maintained; to consider an extension of the transition period to bilingual education.
XII. During his visit to Riga at the beginning of October 2003 in connection with the consideration by the Council of Europe Monitoring Commission of an enquiry by G.I.Churkin, deputy to the State Duma of the RF, "On the status of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia", A.Gil-Robles, CE Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the Latvian authorities, inter alia, "to facilitate to a maximum degree the naturalization process" and "to allow non-citizens to participate in the municipal elections".
XIII. Taking into account public statements by some Latvian officials suggesting postponing or possible exemptions in case of ratification of the Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities it should be reminded that the recent PACE recommendation 1623 (2003) calls on ”member states who have signed but have not ratified to swiftly ratify, without reservations or declarations, the framework Convention”. It stressed that ”persistent refusal to sign or ratify this instrument, and to implement its standards, should be the subject of particular attention in the monitoring procedures conducted by the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE), as appropriate”.
XIV. The Commission of the European Communities's Report on Latvia’s preparations for membership in the European Union, published on November 5, 2003, urges the authorities of this country:
- to promote integration of the Russian minority by, in particular, continuing to accelerate the speed of naturalization procedure and by taking other proactive measures to increase the rate of naturalisation;
- to ensure sufficient flexibility regarding transition to bilingual education in minority schools;
- to ensure that at all levels the implementation of the language law respects the principle of justified public interest and proportionality, as well as Latvia's international obligations.
XV. The regular session of the Human Rights Committee, held in Geneva from October 20 to November 7, 2003 examined Latvia’s 2nd periodic report on implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966. In Concluding observations of the Committee published on November 6, 2003, the Committee expresses concern about a large number of non-citizens in Latvia, slow rate of their naturalization, obstacles to receiving Latvian citizenship posed by the requirement to pass a language examination, lack of effective enjoyment of political rights by non-citizens, the possibility to occupy certain state and public positions, to exercise certain professions in the private sector, to communicate with public authorities in mother-tongue, restrictions in the area of ownership of agricultural land, as well as social benefits, educational reform.
The Committee recommended that Latvia should:
- further strengthen its efforts to effectively address the lack of applications for naturalization as well as obstacles posed by the requirement to pass a (Latvian) language examination;
- take all necessary measures to further encourage registration of children as citizens;
- facilitate the integration process by enabling non-citizens who are long-term residents of Latvia to participate in local elections and to limit the number of other restrictions on non-citizens in order to facilitate participation of non-citizens in public life in Latvia;
- facilitate communication of non-Latvian speakers with public authorities;
- take all necessary measures to prevent negative effects on minorities of the transition to Latvian as the language of instruction, and provide state subsidies to private schools in a non-discriminatory manner.
The Committee asked Latvia, without waiting for the next periodic to report to be presented in 2008, to forward within 12 months information on the implementation of recommendations regarding the problems of naturalization, the status of non-citizens, the language policy and the education law which are most important for the Russian-speaking population of this country.