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Letter dated 95/02/10 from the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Latvia to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights.

UN Document Symbol E/CN.4/1995/146
Convention Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Document Type Letter
Session 51st
Type Document

26 p.

Subjects Rights of The Child, Religious Freedom, Nationality, Non-Citizens, Prisoner Treatment, Refugee Protection, Persons with Disabilities

Extracted Text

Economic and Social
15 February 1995
Original: ENGLISH
Fifty-first session
Agenda item 25
Letter dated 10 February 1995 from the Permanent Representative
of the Republic of Latvia to the United Nations Office at Geneva
addressed to the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights
In accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1994/95
of 9 March 1994 entitled "World Conference on Human Rights", I have the honour
to transmit herewith the National Programme for the Protection and Promotion
of Human Rights in Latvia.
I should be grateful if you would have the Programme circulated as an
official document of the fifty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights
under agenda item 25.
(Signed) Sandra Klaniete
GE.95-11037 (E)
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1. Children
2. Religious organizations
3. Non-citizens
4. Prisoners
5. Refugees
6. People with physical, intellectual or psychological disabilities
1. The Saeima (Parliament) and Government
2. Public administration
3. The courts
4. Professional requirements for civil servants and jurists
5. The Prosecutor’s Office and the police
6. Non-governmental organizations
1. Terms of reference of the Human Rights Council of Latvia
2. Powers of the Human Rights Council of Latvia
3. Priority elements for a national programme of human rights
education, information and training in Latvia
page 4
The Government of Latvia recognizes its responsibility to guarantee that
all individuals living in Latvia are equal before the law and have the right
to equal protection against discrimination based on race, language, political
affiliation, ethnic or social background.
Latvia participated in the United Nations World Conference on Human
Rights in Vienna in June 1993. In the Vienna Declaration, countries were
invited to create national programmes on the protection and promotion of
human rights, so as to promote stability in each country as well as to
prevent conflict on a global scale.
At the request of the Government, a high-level international mission,
led by Australian Federal Human Rights Commissioner Mr. Brian Burdekin and
representatives of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, visited Latvia in
July 1994. The mission was organized by the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) to prepare a detailed needs assessment for the preparation of
Latvia’s National Programme for Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. The
basis for Latvia’s National Programme was the Final Report prepared by the
aforementioned international mission.
Clearly, Latvia has made progress since its re-emergence as an
independent State in re-establishing the rule of law and respect for human
rights. However, much of the existing institutional structure is still weak.
Many inadequacies are related to the lack of resources; but others are the
product of bureaucratic reluctance to reforms or ignorance of human rights.
Frequently, these practices are in conflict with Latvia’s international treaty
obligations and its existing national legislation.
The most essential part of this programme is related to the establishment
of an independent institution for the protection of human rights which would
be accessible to the public and would have the following functions: first,
to provide information about human rights and its definition to the general
public; second, to provide objective information on the rights and obligations
of the State and of each and every individual. Special attention must
be given to those individuals in our society who are not capable of
protecting their own rights, such as children, the physically and mentally
disabled, etc.; third, through the process of conciliation, to review and, if
possible, create solutions to individual complaints. While human rights are
universal, Latvia needs a mechanism for the protection and promotion of human
rights which takes into account its own specific needs.
The fifth general principle of the "Education Reform in Latvia" states
that: "All citizens of Latvia, regardless of their property, social status,
race, nationality, political or religious affiliation, membership of different
groups, work or residence, have equal rights to education. Those citizens of
other countries or non-citizens legally residing in Latvia, who pay taxes to
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the Republic of Latvia, have the same rights to education as citizens of
Latvia. The rights of other persons to education fall within the provisions
of international agreements".
The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights concluded that human rights
education, training and information were "essential for the promotion and
achievement of stable and harmonious relations among communities and for
fostering mutual understanding, tolerance and peace". 1/ The World
Conference also called on all States and institutions "to include human
rights, humanitarian law, democracy and rule of law as subjects in the
curricula of all learning institutions in formal and non-formal
settings". 2/
To comply with the spirit of these decisions by the international
community, Governments, with the assistance of the international organizations
(and, where appropriate, bilateral donors), national institutions and NGOs
should take whatever action they can to promote an increased awareness of
human rights. They should not only initiate and support formal education
programmes in human rights, but also ensure effective dissemination of
information to the general public.
There is an urgent and fundamental need to educate the public in Latvia
on the meaning of human rights and the essential role which the protection and
promotion of human rights plays in a democratic society.
It is also essential to inform the public of the rights and obligations
of the State according to Latvia’s international treaty obligations. The term
"human rights" has lost much of its meaning to the people of Latvia due to the
cynical abuse of the phrase during 50 years of Soviet occupation. Therefore,
conditions need to be created to ensure that the public opinion is informed
about the meaning of the concept of "human rights" so that the full range of
issues be included in public debate.
Latvia is just beginning its process of educational reform. The
objective of Latvia’s education reform 3/ is "to create a system of
education, appropriate to a democratic society" and two of its guiding
principles are that: "(1) Every person has a right to education. According
to individual wishes, interests, needs and abilities, the educational system
offers equal opportunities to receive education; and (2) Education is
active. It is based on a concept of the essential values in a democratic
society - freedom, creative attitude to any work, a critical view on any
process in life and society, a sense of responsibility for the result of
one’s work".
The existing Law on Education was adopted in June 1991. However, Latvia
has since embarked on a fundamental transition and there is now widespread
agreement that the Government must develop a new Law on Education which would
comply with internationally accepted norms. 4/ As outlined in "Education
Reform in Latvia": "the basic principles of education are humanity,
democracy, individualization, creative activity, national spirit,
virtuousness, professionalism, scientific character, a systematic approach,
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contemporaneity". In order to effectively integrate human rights principles
within revised curricula, "respect for protection of human rights" should be
specifically included in the definition of "basic principles" in the new Law
on Education. While no human rights education programme exists in the formal
educational establishment, specific curricula for courses on democracy have
been developed, within which components on promotion of human rights could be
incorporated. 5/
In addition to curriculum development, there is a need to train teachers
at all levels in the promotion of human rights. 6/ Teacher-training is
currently provided by both public and private establishments and there is
considerable scope for the development of teacher-training modules in human
rights promotion. 7/ Other needs within the field of education include
creating counselling facilities and social education centres in different
parts of Latvia for a variety of vulnerable groups, including pensioners,
single mothers and people recently released from prison.
In order to address the problem of taking care of children in
after-school hours, it is of importance to develop a situation where those
children attending schools have a chance to participate in appropriate
after-school activities. Cooperation between schools located near each other
should be encouraged to help solve this problem. It is in the interests of
the State to promote multifaceted educational opportunities for disabled
children, while providing parents the opportunity to participate in the
Another important education issue is raising teachers’ awareness of the
rights of children with disabilities (including the mentally ill). Basic
human rights principles, with which Latvia’s policies and practices should
comply, are set out in two recently concluded international instruments - the
Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Standard Rules on
the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. 8/ Latvia
clearly has limited resources. However, the Convention on the Rights of the
Child acknowledges that the rights it enumerates should be implemented
progressively by Governments - in accordance with the resources at their
In order to transform knowledge about human rights into operational
skills, professional training courses as well as a comprehensive programme of
judicial training and retraining are required. A general programme of legal
training is an urgent priority - given the lack of legally trained officials
in Latvia’s public administration. In addition to judges, lawyers and
prosecutors, human rights training needs to be provided to members of the
Saeima, the media, trade union officials, employer associations and labour
Special human rights education and training programmes need to be
provided to those professional groups which have a critical impact on human
rights practice - including the police and other structures of the Ministry
of Interior, the heads of those structures, as well as the military and the
leaders of the military.
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Such training programmes can be effective and relatively inexpensive
if they are structured to reflect the operational realities of the groups
involved. For example, training programmes for the military could be designed
and executed at four levels of intensity:
- The first level is the minimum level of understanding required for
all personnel.
- The second level builds on this understanding and is designed for
members of operational units likely to have direct contact with
the public.
- The third level of courses would be for those personnel involved
in planning and directing operations and administration at
headquarters/command level.
- The fourth level of training would be for service legal officers,
designed to equip them with the necessary expertise to provide
advice to operational commanders.
There is a need to better inform the general public about their
respective rights and responsibilities. 9/ The Ministry of State Reform has
initiated the publication and dissemination of a series of brochures through
postal services and other social service offices. Over 200,000 copies of such
brochures have already been distributed on social welfare aid for the poor,
expectant mothers, privatization vouchers and income tax. In the nearest
future, brochures will be published on issues including the rights of citizens
and non-citizens, the process of naturalization, the tax system and consular
services. A number of NGOs have also started to disseminate material on human
rights issues. 10/
However, it is the responsibility of the Government to speedily collect,
translate and disseminate all international treaties and agreements to which
Latvia has acceded along with other materials on human rights, including
textbooks on national and international law, international human rights
treaties and other instruments from the United Nations, Council of Europe
and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
1. Children
Article 25 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates
that children and mothers shall be entitled to special protection, and that
all children (irrespective of their legal status) shall enjoy the same social
protection. Article 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights also recognizes the need for special protection to be afforded to
children on a non-discriminatory basis. 11/
The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Latvia acceded
in 1991, established a special legal framework for the protection and
promotion of the rights of children. 12/ The underlying philosophy of the
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Convention is the recognition by States that children are a particularly
vulnerable group and their entitlement to protection encompasses both
individual and collective rights.
The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirmed the international
community’s commitment to the protection of the rights of children. States
called for measures to strengthen mechanisms and programmes for the protection
of children, particularly girls, abandoned children, street children,
economically and sexually exploited children, refugee and displaced children
and children in detention. 13/
In July 1994 a report "Children’s Rights in Latvia" was prepared. 14/
The report indicates that, like all other countries, Latvia faces particular
challenges in protecting the rights of children who have been physically and
sexually abused.
It is important to coordinate programmes and possible legislative action
for the protection of children. This is an area in which the independent
institution for the protection of human rights could play an essential
role. 15/ In short, Latvia, along with other countries, has a special
obligation to protect all children.
2. Religious organizations
Latvia is obligated to provide effective guarantees for freedom of
religion and belief which are consistent with the provisions of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR), the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance
and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (the Declaration) 16/ and
other relevant international instruments. 17/
Article 4 of the Declaration stipulates that:
"1. All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate
discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition,
exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all
fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.
"2. All States shall make all efforts to enact or rescind legislation
where necessary to prohibit any such discrimination, and to take all
appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion
or belief in this matter."
The text of this article clearly defines the obligations incumbent on
all States to formulate and implement suitable policies and legislation to
guarantee religious tolerance, protect freedom of conscience and eliminate
religious discrimination. This policy must be reflected in "effective
measures" that will be adopted in "all fields of civic, economic, political,
social and cultural life".
In accordance with the European Convention of Human Rights and
recommendations by the European Commission on article 9 of this Convention
which states that everyone has the right to freedom of religion, the
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Commission has concluded that article 9 requires the State to introduce
mechanisms which would provide that an individual can abstain from the Church
In order to ensure elimination of religious discrimination, legislation
on the right to freedom of religion needs to be clearly drafted, in compliance
with the aforementioned international obligations of Latvia. Therefore, a new
draft law "On religious organizations" is currently being discussed in the
Saeima, which would replace the present law "On religious organizations",
adopted in 1990 by the Supreme Council. The new law was drafted, as stated in
its preamble, according to the priority of humanitarian values, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights documents.
The draft law provides for freedom of conscience regarding the activities
of religious organizations in Latvia, so that every person has the right, on
the basis of freedom of conscience, belief and religion, to choose his/her
religious affiliation or atheism. In the process of drafting the new law, the
flaws of the present law, particularly from the human rights aspect, were
considered: the term "untraditional religious organizations" was eliminated
and religious organizations were not classified according to the world
religious denominations, religious ceremonies and dogmatic stands. The draft
law has also improved the procedure of registration. It is the same for all
newly founded religious organizations which are expected to register again
with the authorities during the first three years following the registration
of their statutes.
The national policy on this issue should reflect clearly stated
principles that guarantee the rights of every individual.
3. Non-citizens
The adoption of the Law on Citizenship of the Republic of Latvia has been
a highly controversial issue in Latvia.
In November 1993, the Saeima accepted one of the five presented drafts as
the basis for the law on citizenship. This document, as well as other drafts
on the citizenship law, was examined by the Council of Europe, the OSCE High
Commissioner on National Minorities and the OSCE Mission to Latvia. 18/
On 22 July 1994 the Saeima adopted and on 1 August the President
announced the Law on Citizenship of the Republic of Latvia, which incorporated
many of the recommendations by international organizations and experts. The
law was recognized as acceptable by the international community. Following
the adoption of the Law on Citizenship, regulations for naturalization were
drafted with the assistance of experts from the Council of Europe and were
approved by the Government. The test on the Latvian language, history and
Constitution for naturalization is being prepared. The Government has to
guarantee the fairness, legitimacy and accessibility of the naturalization
process to all candidates for citizenship of the Republic of Latvia.
In order to allay fears and uncertainties, it is important that
legislation be introduced, as soon as possible, to regulate the status
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of non-citizens. 19/ To eliminate uncertainty and misinformation, the
Government needs to carry out a widespread information campaign about the
status and rights of non-citizens.
Therefore, an intensive training programme needs to be introduced for
the staff of the Naturalization Board and the Department of Citizenship and
Immigration, first, to ensure compliance with existing international standards
to which Latvia is bound and second, to restore the confidence of the general
public in the Department and the professionalism and impartiality of its
It is important that there should be a simple complaints procedure to
ensure that individuals can complain about any arbitrary or improper behaviour
of officials who exceed or abuse their powers and have their complaints dealt
with as promptly as possible.
4. Prisoners
It is now well established that imprisoned individuals should be treated
humanely and in conformity with relevant international standards. These
include United Nations conventions, the European Convention on Human Rights
(and associated case law) and the OSCE commitments. These standards provide
the minimum requirements for the management of institutions and treatment of
prisoners. 20/
Although steps have been taken to change the attitude which existed in
and towards Soviet prisons, it is clear that a sustained programme of prison
reform is required in order for Latvia to meet these obligations. This will
entail, among other measures, providing prisoners with humane living
conditions. Such a programme will be expensive and will obviously have to be
introduced progressively according to the possibilities of the State budget.
In executing it, care should be taken to ensure that juveniles, those on
remand and those serving sentences are accommodated in separate facilities.
Juveniles should have no contact whatsoever with adult prisoners.
In addition, prison personnel must be properly trained and subject to
disciplinary measures when necessary. This will not only assist in ensuring
that prisoners are properly treated, it will also improve the image of the
prison service. Prison personnel have an essential role to play in providing
an atmosphere in which prisoners can try to rehabilitate themselves.
A rehabilitation programme is needed to enable individuals to reintegrate
into the community. Existing evidence suggests that a number of individuals
repeat offences in order to return to prison, because they have nowhere
else to live and no job. A system of sheltered accommodation should be
progressively established to enable former prisoners to gradually readjust
to life outside prison.
It is important that an education programme for prisoners is implemented
in Latvia. This will not simply help to occupy their time. It may enable
them to emerge into the community at the end of their term with better skills.
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The training should be done by paid professionals - but can also be provided
by volunteers. 21/ It is particularly important that juveniles have a
regular education programme.
In order to improve the standards in the prison system, Prison Department
officials should continue to foster contacts and cooperate with their European
counterparts and international organizations. They should also be willing to
build constructive contacts with NGOs that are willing to assist in prisoner
education and rehabilitation. 22/
5. Refugees
Latvia has limited resources and is confronted with substantial
challenges in restructuring its political, economic, legal and social
institutions. Hence, it understandably faces considerable difficulties
in dealing appropriately with refugees.
This is one of the reasons why Latvia has not acceded to the
1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and subsequent Protocol.
However, as noted above, Latvia has accepted the obligations embodied in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 14 of the Universal
Declaration stipulates that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum
from persecution in other countries. 23/
Latvia’s present difficulties are compounded by its geographical
location, making it a regular transit route for refugees from Western Asia and
the Middle East to the wealthier, democratic Scandinavian countries, Germany
and the Netherlands. It is for this reason that the Immigration Police was
formed within the Ministry of Interior. However, there is a lack of
legislation which would determine action towards those persons who are
located in the territory of Latvia without identity documents or with forged
documents. There are insufficient inter-State agreements with neighbouring
countries to deport such persons or to send them back to the countries from
which they arrived in Latvia. On this issue, a common policy for the three
Baltic countries is desirable.
6. People with physical, intellectual or psychological disabilities
It is only in relatively recent times that the international community
has turned its attention to framing particular instruments to ensure that the
rights of such groups are observed in practice. These instruments include
the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness 24/ and
the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for
Persons with Disabilities.
The Government of Latvia has demonstrated its intent to respect these
human rights by its support for the earlier and more general Declaration on
the Rights of Disabled Persons. 25/ From a human rights perspective,
however, people with disabilities are frequently discriminated against because
they lack the resources and physical or mental capability to access remedies
which are available to others.
page 12
The protection of the basic rights of those with disabilities should be
one of the main tasks for the independent institution for the protection and
promotion of human rights which would have, as one of its responsibilities,
the obligation to advocate on behalf of such persons. 26/
1. The Saeima (Parliament) and Government
Within the Saeima there is a Standing Human Rights Committee which is
responsible for reviewing draft legislation pertaining to human rights. The
post of State Minister for Human Rights was established in April 1994 under
the auspices of the Ministry of Justice. The chief responsibilities of the
State Minister are to promote the understanding of human rights in the general
public and to create a mechanism which would guarantee that State structures
respect human rights. Although the State Minister and the Standing Committee
are capable of influencing parliamentarians and government representatives in
the area of human rights, initiatives of these offices are limited by a lack
of finances. A serious problem in the Saeima and Government is the lack of
specialists who could provide authoritative advice on the interpretation and
application of international law and human rights in the context of domestic
For this reason it is of great importance that members of Parliament and
specialists in the Government have access to authoritative advice regarding
the requirements of Latvia’s human rights obligations when considering
proposed legislation or decisions and the adherence of national legislation
in this field. Information and texts of international conventions and
treaties must be made available to members of Parliament and Government
2. Public administration
State and local government are institutions which come into contact with
issues pertaining to human rights on a daily basis. In a country governed by
the rule of law, any action taken by the administration must be in conformity
with national and international human rights norms. In effect, this means
that a civil servant must ensure that his/her actions are in conformity with
human rights norms, in particular, Latvia’s Constitutional Law on the Rights
of Persons and Citizens passed on 10 December 1991 which is the cornerstone of
Latvia’s national human rights norms.
In reality, the State rarely reviews the compliance of its own actions
with international norms, the aforementioned Constitutional law or other
norms. One cannot conclude that the State knowingly or systematically
violates these rights, but it can be stated that violations do occasionally
take place within the State administration. The percentage of violations
would be decreased if each action by the State was taken with a sense of
responsibility and knowledge of human rights norms. Unfortunately, most
violations remain undetected and uncorrected.
Due to the fact that the law of 10 December 1991 was passed by a simple
majority, it does not have constitutional status. For this reason the
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Constitution should be amended to include the norms of the Constitutional Law
on the Rights of Persons and Citizens so as to broaden the Constitution and to
give these rights constitutional status.
It is important to define the responsibilities of civil servants
serving the general public and at the same time to increase the legal quality,
objectivity and transparency of their work. This has been foreseen in the
draft law on Administrative process. This law will regulate the procedure
for the issuance of Administrative decisions, especially Administrative Acts
i.e., individual acts or decisions concerning a particular person. The
relevant institution will have to observe certain abstract criteria in its
decision-making on the issuance of an administrative act and its contents
(necessity, purpose, etc.) as well as formalized procedure for investigation
into errors and repeal of acts.
It is the responsibility of the State to guarantee each individual and
organization the opportunity to gain information regarding the work of the
State administration. Transparency in the decision-making process is an
important part of the realization of the rights of the individual. This issue
carries a great deal of relevance, since in State institutions a tendency
towards secrecy and over-protection of information can often be observed, thus
preventing individuals from actively exercising the protection of their
interests. It is necessary to establish a simple mechanism of information
accessibility for the public about themselves as well as general issues
concerning State administration, while maintaining confidentiality when
private or commercial interests of a third party are concerned.
3. The courts 27/
The Constitution and the 15 December 1991 Law on the Powers of Courts
determine the independence of the court system. This provides for the
principle of division of power. An independent court administration is
essential for the control of public administration actions, particularly with
regard to respect for human rights. The draft law on the Constitutional
Court, presented by the Government to the Saeima, envisages that control
of actions by the legislative power - the Saeima - be ensured by the
Constitutional Court.
A significant step forward are the amendments to the Civil Code, which
allow each person to appeal any administrative act regulating his/her actions
through the courts. This is the most effective way of institutionalizing the
control for the protection of human rights. In practice, this opportunity is
rarely utilized, as a result of a general lack of information about this
particular public administration control mechanism, as well as mistrust
towards the court system during the 50 years of Soviet occupation. Therefore,
it is the responsibility of the State to introduce this court procedure to the
people and explain its role in the protection of human right. For this
purpose, the already existing resources - for example, the programme
"Communication with the Citizen" - can be used, as well as the potential
resources of the to-be-established independent institution for the protection
and promotion of human rights.
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4. Professional requirements for civil servants and jurists
Those working in the State administration must perform their duties
correctly and adequately. This applies also to those jurists employed in the
court system (attorneys, judges, prosecutors). The re-established democracy
of Latvia needs dynamic and skilled civil servants and lawyers, in order to
ensure a successful transition to the rule of law.
Society should recognize that the profession of civil servant requires
basic legal knowledge. Therefore the continuation of civil service reform
is essential. It is important to recognize that not only the present State
and local Government employees should be trained, but a complete two- to
three-year training programme for the new civil servants has to be designed
in advance. The State Administration School, founded in December 1993, could
in the future become a secondary or even higher specialized educational
establishment which would provide training for the new civil servants of
Latvia. The new training programme should be carefully developed in order
to avoid including Soviet ideas about the state, administration and society.
Society should recognize that the professions of civil servant and jurist
in a State governed by the rule of law substantially differ from those in the
Soviet system. In a State governed by the rule of law, the most essential
part in the education of civil servants and jurists is the acquisition of
methodology, the interpretation of legislative norms and how to apply them
appropriately. The task of a civil servant and a jurist is, with the
assistance of this methodology, to find a legitimate and fair resolution
in each specific case. A fair resolution of a particular case is greatly
determined by the particular interpretation of human rights norms, which the
civil servant and the jurist must be familiar with. This is how practice by
an official in a country governed by the rule of law is directly influenced by
international and national human rights norms. In Soviet legislation this
methodology was not applied in practice.
Presently there is a great lack of specialists in Latvia who could apply
both international and national human rights norms according to the principles
of a State governed by the rule of law. Until now most civil servants and
jurists do not have an understanding or the ability to explain the
international obligations of Latvia’s national legislation. Ignorance and
resistance within the bureaucracy in regard to international and national
human rights norms are closely linked to the lack of appropriate education.
Thus, one of the most important issues in the protection of human rights in
Latvia is education for civil servants and jurists. Although Latvia’s
legislation to a great extent already complies with European standards, it is
not sufficient for ensuring the respect for human rights in the daily work of
administrative offices.
Latvian institutions providing training for civil servants and jurists
should be acquainted with the methodology of interpretation and implementation
of legislative norms in other democratic countries. The State Administration
School has the advantage of developing new programmes while the University of
Latvia Law Faculty is in need of reform to accommodate changes in methodology.
page 15
Meanwhile, the State should develop specific education programmes such
as short intensive courses for civil servants, full-time study courses for
persons entering the civil service and specialized intensive programmes for
jurists, including judges, prosecutors and attorneys. Provision and
translation of appropriate literature is of great importance.
There is an urgent need to establish a well-resourced information centre
within the independent human rights institution (when established), to collect
and disseminate information on human rights and relevant international
treaties and domestic legislation, as well as textbooks on domestic and
international law. Copies of relevant judicial decisions and judgements
should also be made available. 28/ This information centre should quickly
establish links with other institutions which have databases on human rights
materials (particularly the United Nations Centre for Human Rights in Geneva,
the Council of Europe and the OSCE). 29/ Bearing in mind the parliamentary
process (in terms of adequate preparation of legislative texts), this
information centre should provide consultations to the Saeima and the
Government as to Latvia’s international treaty obligations and the appropriate
standards required by the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Therefore, lawyers
appointed to provide this service will need immediate training.
5. The Prosecutor’s Office and the police
In relation to the criminal process, 30/ there is a need for reform
within the structures of the Prosecutors Office in accordance with the
principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Training and
assistance is needed in areas ranging from crime prevention to compliance
with the criminal process norms. 31/
The police, in their day-to-day activities, must be able to appropriately
balance their public assistance and law enforcement responsibilities. Latvian
police need to be properly trained in a variety of legal areas. It needs to
be recognized that the rights of the police are a specific area of rights
which need to be thoroughly learned by the police themselves - for example,
the permissible limits on the use of force (including firearms) prescribed
by human rights norms as well as the very limited circumstances in which
interference with correspondence or telephone tapping is allowed, etc. It
should be taken into consideration that the police officer has to decide on
action to be taken in a very short period of time and to comply with human
rights standards. This is an essential precondition for Latvia to acquire
a professional police force in which the public has confidence. 32/
6. Non-governmental organizations
In Latvia there is an increasing number of groups and individuals
dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights. Their continued
growth and development will be of great importance in creating a society in
which respect for the rights of the individual becomes widely accepted.
The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993 not
only emphasized the increasingly important role that non-governmental
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organizations (NGOs) play in the protection of human rights, but also
emphasized the responsibility of the governments to regularly consult
with NGOs and take appropriate notice of their views. 33/
Apart from the traditional role which NGOs have played in stimulating
debate on human rights issues and in focusing public attention on abuses of
human rights, there is a growing acceptance by Governments that NGOs have an
important role to play in "standard-setting". This is true not only at a
national level but also at the international level in the development of new
international treaties, conventions and declarations.
It is therefore essential that the Government, and in particular
government officials, are prepared to consult regularly with NGOs and, more
importantly, to recognize that their views and methods will frequently differ
from those of Government. In many cases NGOs will be able to indicate the
source of problems and provide evidence of human rights abuses of which
ministers and their officials may be unaware.
As is the case in many other countries, the principal focus of public
debate on human rights in Latvia is restricted to the most important issues
for the country, for example, the rights of national minorities and
non-citizens. The rights of many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged
groups in the community can frequently be disregarded, or even forgotten,
without the advocacy and concern which relevant NGOs bring to the public
It is very important that the NGOs take an active part in:
- stimulating and informing the public debate on human rights issues;
- assisting the Government in setting and observing appropriate
standards for protecting human rights;
- focusing attention on the needs of particularly vulnerable and
disadvantaged groups (including children, the intellectually
disadvantaged, the mentally ill, those with physical disabilities
and the elderly);
- assuming the role of observer of the Government and the Saeima in
the process of adopting legislation.
Specific areas requiring cooperation and assistance include:
- Establishment of a regular mechanism (round table or forum)
for NGOs active in the human rights and other fields to meet.
Appropriate government representatives should attend those forums
so that the Government would be able to consult regularly with the
NGOs. A series of round table discussions could be established on
specific issues (e.g. children’s rights);
- Improvement of national legislation in the non-profit
sector; 34/
page 17
- It is important that NGOs have access to translations of
international human rights conventions and treaties in Latvian
and other languages;
- Organization of human rights NGO public forums, at which NGOs can
inform the general public and the media information about their
It is essential that government policy both acknowledges the important
role which NGOs play in the promotion and protection of human rights and also
ensures that government officials are provided with clear policy directives to
regularly consult with NGOs and to respect them.
A genuine pluralistic democracy, respecting human rights and based on
the rule of law, must have a free and independent media. In addition to the
relevant human rights treaties there are other international standards 35/
against which practice and regulations can be tested to ensure they actually
comply with the appropriate standards.
With respect to the training needs of the media professionals, a
number of initiatives and cooperation programmes are being implemented by
international and private organizations with expertise in this area. 36/
Latvia regained its independence in 1991 after 50 years of Soviet rule.
The first free and fair elections were conducted in June 1993. The
Constitution of Latvia of 1922 has been reinstated. Human rights
and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed by the Constitutional Law of
10 December 1991 "On the Rights and Obligations of a Citizen and a Person".
Although the basic laws contain a special reference to conflicts when national
legislative norms do not comply with international legal obligations about
the priority of the latter, this relationship has not been determined at a
constitutional level in a case of collision between the Constitution and
international obligations.
Obligations with respect to the United Nations (UN)
By the Declaration of 4 May 1990, "On the Accession of the Republic of
Latvia to International Instruments relating to Human Rights" the Supreme
Council of the Republic of Latvia proclaimed Latvia’s accession to
52 international human rights instruments. 37/ Latvia is therefore a party
to the principal international human rights treaties, 38/ including the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
Latvia is a member of the OSCE. 39/ All participating States of
the OSCE are committed to the protection and promotion of human rights and
fundamental freedoms, the strengthening of democratic institutions and the
rule of law as the essential basis for peace and security in Europe.
page 18
The Council of Europe
The accession of Latvia to the Council of Europe took place at the
beginning of 1995. As a member State, Latvia will be required to sign the
European Convention on Human Rights, with the intention of ratifying it within
a reasonably short time. The Council of Europe has produced two key human
rights instruments: The European Convention on Human Rights and the European
Social Charter. These stipulate rights which must be guaranteed to
individuals within the jurisdiction of member States, accompanied by
collective supervision and guaranteed procedures at the European level.
Upon becoming a member State of the Council of Europe and acceding to the
aforementioned conventions, Latvia will have to make the additional political
commitment to fully accept the Convention’s control mechanism (i.e. the right
of individual complaint (art. 25) and the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction -
art. 46). 40/
This commitment to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights and its
Protocols and to fully accept its control mechanism necessitates a thorough
study of a State’s legislation and practice with the legal requirements
prescribed by these documents - as interpreted by the European Commission
and the Court of Human Rights. Thus, of major significance is the need to
establish an institution at the governmental level to study Latvia’s laws and
practices to ensure that they are compatible with the Convention and the
relevant Protocols and case-law. 41/
While many legal and institutional reforms have been initiated in
Latvia’s transition to a fully democratic society based on the rule of law, it
will be some time before these reforms and administrative procedures have been
developed to the extent required to guarantee adequate protection of human
rights. It is clear, given the specific circumstances of Latvia’s transition
that the centrepiece of any Latvian Programme for the Protection and Promotion
of Human Rights must be a national independent institution unique to Latvia.
The need for a Human Rights Council of Latvia
It is necessary to create an independent institution with adequate powers
to effectively ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in Latvia.
There are several reasons for this, beyond those already set out:
First, effectively safeguarding and promoting human rights requires the
establishment of a permanent institution expressly for that purpose, with
professional expertise and the credibility which goes with it.
Second, while NGOs play an extremely important role in identifying and
monitoring human rights abuses, they do not have the legal powers which are
often necessary to provide effective redress.
page 19
Third, Latvia currently lacks an effective mechanism to provide redress
for human rights abuses by way of conciliation. It is now well established
that one of the functions which an independent human rights council can
perform is to provide this service. 42/
Fourth, it is now accepted by the international community that human
rights are both universal and indivisible. However, as has been recognized
in both the international treaties on human rights and, more recently, by
the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, the primary responsibility
for effective protection of human rights must rest with each country.
International monitoring mechanisms are important, but they are beyond
the reach of many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals.
Furthermore, they cannot operate effectively without appropriate mechanisms at
the national level to address and redress the majority of human rights abuses.
Fifth, while the institution of an Ombudsman is an important element
in the framework for protecting human rights in a number of countries, most
Ombudsmen have a mandate primarily directed towards protecting the rights
of individuals affected by the arbitrary acts of public officials. They
generally act as advisers in response to complaints lodged with them,
and their decisions are of an advisory/consultative, not binding,
character. 43/ The Ombudsman institution has a long history and traditions
in Scandinavian countries and elsewhere in Western Europe, where it enjoys the
respect of the Government, parliament and public. The recommendations and
proposals made by Ombudsmen in these countries are respected and considered to
be binding. However, there are no such traditions in Latvia. An institution
which only has powers to give recommendations and suggestions will not be
presently respected and Latvia does not have the time to wait for decades
for the development of such respect.
Furthermore, many individuals who are most in need of effective
mechanisms to protect them from abuses of human rights have neither the
knowledge nor, in some cases, sufficient mobility or social skills to lodge
an oral or written complaint. Yet such people (children, the intellectually
disadvantaged, the mentally ill, those with severe physical disabilities) form
a significant percentage of Latvia’s population. They need a proactive,
independent human rights institution to effectively assist them.
The current situation in Latvia indicates that a very high priority
should be given to appropriate human rights education programmes. These are
clearly necessary not only for members of the general public, but also for
government officials, police, other law enforcement authorities, the military,
members of the legal profession and others.
However, to most effectively assess the priority to be accorded to public
education and promotional activities, those responsible for their preparation
should be located in the same organization as those handling complaints of
human rights abuses. It will also ensure that educational and promotional
materials are constantly reassessed against the areas where most problems
are apparent.
page 20
After careful consideration and analyses of Latvia’s existing
institutional structures, the Government of Latvia has decided to immediately
establish 44/ a Human Rights Council of Latvia with the following terms of
1. Terms of reference of the Human Rights Council of Latvia 45/
* To promote understanding, acceptance and the public discussion of human
rights in Latvia;
* To undertake research, educational and other programmes for the purpose
of promoting human rights and to coordinate any such programmes
undertaken by any other persons or authorities on behalf of the
Government of Latvia;
* On its own initiative, or when requested by the Prime Minister or the
Saeima, to report to the Prime Minister and the Saeima as to action which
in the opinion of the Council needs to be taken by Latvia in order to
comply with the provisions of relevant international treaties relating
to human rights;
* On its own initiative, or when requested by the Prime Minister or the
Saeima, to report to the Prime Minister and the Saeima as to the laws
that should be enacted by the Saeima, or actions which should be taken
by the Government to protect human rights;
* To undertake comparative analyses of the existing laws and proposed laws
for the purpose of ascertaining whether they are inconsistent with or
contrary to any of Latvia’s human rights treaty obligations and to report
to the Prime Minister and the Saeima the results of any such examination;
* To inquire into any individual complaint, act or practice related to the
abuse of human rights, and wherever the Council considers it appropriate
to do so, to endeavour by conciliation to effect a settlement of the
matters that gave rise to the complaint, or to report to the Prime
Minister and the Saeima on action necessary to correct the offending
act or practice;
* To refer any individual complaint to another institution, be it a court,
tribunal or similar body, if such a body could deal more appropriately
with the complaint;
* To conduct general inquiries, if necessary, into the needs of
particularly vulnerable groups which are unable to protect their rights,
such as children, the mentally ill and those with physical disabilities;
* To establish Advisory Committees, including members of non-governmental
organizations, to assist the Council in its educational and promotional
* To do anything relevant to achieving these objectives, including sharing
experience with other institutions which have similar responsibilities.
page 21
2. Powers of the Human Rights Council of Latvia
* To conduct inquiries and collect necessary information;
* To call for and examine witnesses if necessary;
* To obtain information and documents and to compel the production of such
information and documents if necessary;
* To prohibit the disclosure of the identity of people giving evidence to
the Council if this is necessary to protect the rights of individuals;
* To ensure that people who are imprisoned or detained can submit
information to the Council in confidence;
* To impose penalties for failure to comply with an order of the Council,
providing false or misleading information, or obstructing a member or
staff of the Council in his/her conduct of an investigation. 46/
The historical circumstances affecting Latvia dictate that public
education will be most important in promoting the respect of human rights.
Consequently, one of the first priorities of the Human Rights Council of
Latvia will be the development of a National Programme of Human Rights
Education, Information and Training containing the following priority
3. Priority elements for a national programme of human rights education,
information and training in Latvia
* Disseminate this programme to interested NGOs, members of Saeima,
government and parliamentary officials, the media and the general
public as a consolidated source of material on specific international
human rights treaties and conventions to which Latvia is a party;
* Ensure that the new Law on Education is fully consistent with Latvia’s
international obligations;
* Develop a series of public information brochures in both Latvian and
Russian which explain in simple, "non-legal" language key human
rights issues (such as the right of individuals to challenge unjust
administrative decisions), obtainable through the postal service system,
social service offices, workplaces and other places of public access;
* Develop a series of short (5-10 minutes) television and radio public
service advertisements to increase public understanding and awareness of
both general and specific human rights issues. Specific issues which
should be given priority include: protection of the rights of children
and respect for the rights of people with disabilities;
* Deliver a series of seminars on human rights issues for key policy
makers - to stimulate their thinking and through their leadership to
encourage greater awareness of human rights issues in official and
unofficial circles;
page 22
* Provide assistance in curriculum development and publishing support so
that human rights courses can be also offered to grades other than
Grade 9;
* Provide training for teachers in areas such as social rehabilitation and
prisons (as well as in the delivery of public school curricula on human
rights and democracy);
* Develop intensive training programmes for judges, prosecutors and
* Introduce courses on international human rights law to study programmes
offered at the Law Faculty and the Department of Political Science at the
University of Latvia;
* Provide courses in drafting legislation for the relevant government
* Introduce an intensive one-week course "Protection of Human Rights in
Public Administration Structures" to the curriculum in the Public
Administration School;
* Provide specialized international human rights training for key senior
civil servants - particularly those in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs,
Justice, Interior and Social Welfare;
* Establish as an integral part of the Human Rights Council an Information
and Documentation Centre, accessible to NGOs as well as government
and parliamentary officials. Such a centre should have access to a
computerized system and electronic link-up capability with various human
rights databases and with other national, regional and international
Conceptually approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 24 January 1995.
1/ Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, part II, para. 78.
2/ Ibid., para. 79.
3/ As outlined in "Education Reform in Latvia", published in May 1994 by
the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.
4/ It is envisaged that a new Law on Education will be in force by the
beginning of the 1995/96 academic year.
5/ A course on democracy is presently offered as an elective for grade 9
page 23
6/ A number of valuable tools for the teaching of human rights
are immediately available from several international bilateral and
non-governmental organizations. An example is the booklet "Teaching Human
Rights - Practical Activities for Primary and Secondary Schools" (1989)
published by the United Nations Centre for Human Rights. This booklet
provides basic information for teachers in primary and secondary schools who
want to foster awareness and knowledge of human rights. The Council of Europe
also provides assistance to teachers of primary, secondary and vocational
schools to attend the International Training Session on Human Rights and Peace
Teaching organized by the Geneva-based International Training Centre on Human
Rights and Peace Training. The Netherlands Helsinki Committee also has a
special human rights education programme in the Baltic States.
7/ Publicly funded teacher-training institutes include Liepaja
Pedagogical College, Riga Teacher Training College, Imanta Teacher Training
Institute and Rezekne Teacher Training Institute. (Further information on the
educational system in Latvia is contained in the booklet "Education in the
Republic of Latvia" published in 1993 by the Ministry of Education.)
8/ The latter was adopted by the General Assembly in December 1993.
9/ Basic human rights material is available through the United Nations
Centre for Human Rights and the Council of Europe. With regard to the latter,
the Council of Europe’s "Human Rights Album" presents articles from the
European Convention on Human Rights in easily understandable form with
illustrations which make it accessible to children. The United Nations
produces a wealth of informational material such as "Human Rights: A
Compilation of International Instruments" as well as a number of booklets/fact
sheets covering areas such as "Human Rights Machinery" and "The International
Bill of Rights".
10/ For example, the news-letters published by the Latvian Centre for
Human Rights and Ethnic Studies.
11/ Latvia acceded to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 4 May 1990.
12/ Latvia acceded to both the 1924 Declaration of Geneva and the 1959
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child on 4 May 1990.
13/ Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, part I, para. 21.
14/ The author, Ilze Arklin¸a, was commissioned by the UNDP to prepare
this report.
15/ This is precisely the role performed by the Australian Human Rights
and Equal Opportunity Commission, which has responsibility for monitoring the
protection of children’s rights and has produced substantial reforms through
the reports it has prepared on homeless children, children with disabilities,
abused children, etc.
page 24
16/ All three documents were included among the international human
rights instruments to which Latvia acceded on 4 May 1990.
17/ See the Document of the Copenhagen meeting of the Conference on the
Human Dimension of the OSCE.
18/ The Government of Latvia gave the OSCE permission, in November 1993,
to establish a residential mission in Latvia "to address citizenship issues
and related matters" and to report on "developments relevant in the full
realization of OSCE principles, norms and commitments".
19/ Presently a draft law on "The status of the citizens of the former
USSR who are not citizens of Latvia or any other country" is being prepared
for the third reading in Saeima.
20/ See also, in this connection, part II, para. 69 of the Vienna
Declaration and Programme of Action.
21/ As is being done in the Ilguciems prison in Riga.
22/ For additional information see "Study on prison reform in Latvia"
prepared by Lı¯ga Krapa¯ne on behalf of UNDP.
23/ The Refugee Convention requires that refugees should not be expelled
or returned to the country which has persecuted them; that is, they should
either be granted asylum in the country in which they are located or sent to
any third State which is prepared to grant them asylum.
24/ The full title of this instrument is "Principles for the Protection
of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care".
These principles are adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in
December 1991.
25/ Declaration of the Latvian Supreme Council of 4 May 1990.
26/ See, for example, the 1993 report by the Australian Human Rights and
Equal Opportunity Commission on the Rights of the Mentally Ill. Mental
illness, in one form or another, will affect 20 per cent of the inhabitants of
Latvia during their lifetime. (This figure is approximately the same for
every country.) However, most of the discrimination and abuses of rights of
the mentally ill are based on widespread public ignorance. The National
Programme for Protection and Promotion of Human Rights can address this
ignorance through effective public education programmes.
27/ See article by G. Zemribo: "The Judicial Power of the Courts in
Latvia" in On the Way Towards Democracy in Humanities and Social Sciences,
published by the University of Latvia in 1994 1 (2), pp. 29-37; D. Dobraja:
"The Establishment of an Administrative Court and Judicial Reform in Latvia",
an unpublished survey.
page 25
28/ In the long-term, the aim should be for courts in their decisions to
refer to the legally non-binding arguments of other decisions, commentaries
and teaching aids. The prohibition of quoting in the Soviet jurisprudence
does not enhance the legal and intellectual quality of the decisions.
Confrontation with arguments mentioned elsewhere as the basis for the decision
in the legal system of continental Europe must not be confused with the
legally binding precedent rights in the Anglo-Saxon system.
29/ There is a lack of information and legal literature in Latvia on the
case law of the European Court and Commission of Human Rights and decisions of
the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
30/ For example, principles of discretionary prosecution, procedures
respecting the quality of the parties, alternatives to imprisonment and other
principles in accordance with the European Court’s case law.
31/ See the Law on Prosecutor’s Supervisory Functions of 19 May 1994.
32/ More specific recommendations are set out in the section on
Education, Training and Information.
33/ Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, part I, para. 38.
34/ Latvia should move towards a system in which registration is a purely
administrative process (rather than prescribing criteria for legitimacy).
35/ Such as the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, 1989.
36/ These include the European Broadcasting Union, the International
Federation of Newspaper Publishers, the International Federation of
Journalists as well as several bilateral assistance programmes in the
organization of seminars, workshops, consultancies and other forms of
37/ A number of these instruments are not actually treaties, but rather
declarations or other documents adopted by the General Assembly or other
organs of the United Nations.
38/ Latvia’s initial report to the Human Rights Committee, which monitors
States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, is overdue. Relevant departments are experiencing difficulties in
preparing it. Appropriate support from the Geneva-based United Nations Centre
for Human Rights may be necessary.
39/ The OSCE comprises the pan-European Group of States together with the
non-European NATO countries of Canada and the United States. Latvia joined
the OSCE at the Moscow Meeting of the Conference on Human Dimension,
September 1991.
40/ Lithuania and Estonia are expected to do so shortly.
page 26
41/ The Lithuanian Working Group, set up by Presidential Decree in 1994,
for the Preparation of the Ratification of the European Convention on Human
Rights, has already begun its work.
42/ See, for example, the Annual Reports from 1987-1994 of the Australian
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
43/ Note: There are many different types of Ombudsmen, but this is the
model which applies in most countries.
44/ The World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 called for Governments
to take immediate action to establish national institutions where necessary
(see, for example, the Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action,
part II, para. 23).
45/ There is very little international literature on the desirable
mandate and powers for an Independent National Human Rights Commission or
similar institutions. One document which may assist the Government of Latvia
in its consideration of this proposal is "Composition, Definition,
Jurisdiction and Powers of National Human Rights Institutions" by B. Burdekin,
46/ To ensure the implementation of the powers of the Human Rights
Council of Latvia regarding imposition of penalties for failure to comply with
an order of the Council, providing false or misleading information, or
obstructing a member or staff of the Council in their conduct of an
investigation, it is necessary to amend relevant acts of legislation.