The country’s linguistic minorities continued to experience discrimination, particularly in employment, affecting some 420,000 people or approximately 30 per cent of the population. In February, the legal status of the Language Inspectorate, a state agency charged with overseeing the implementation of the Language Law, was enhanced. As a result, people fined or reprimanded by the Language Inspectorate found it harder to challenge its practices in court. During the year the government presented its plans for an “Integration in Estonian Society 2008-2013” programme, charged with improving socio-economic integration through enhancing competitiveness and social mobility regardless of ethnicity or language. In June, the government adopted a decree stipulating that prisoners who participated in Estonian language training were to be paid EEK 1,080 (€69) per month.
In his Memorandum to the Estonian government on 11 July, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights recommended that “increased importance should be given to awareness-raising measures targeting non-citizens about the possibilities of learning the Estonian language and the benefits associated with it”. The Commissioner highlighted that the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention on National Minorities and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance had expressed concern regarding discriminatory Estonian language proficiency requirements in employment. In several cases the Language Inspectorate imposed disproportionately heavy sanctions on people found not to have sufficient Estonian language skills.
In April, large-scale demonstrations were held against the removal of a Soviet-era World War II monument from central Tallinn. Most protesters were members of the Russian linguistic minority. There were several reports of peaceful protesters being beaten by police at various locations in Tallinn. There were also reports that peaceful demonstrators were ill-treated and insulted when arrested during the demonstrations.
Commenting on these disturbances, the CAT recommended that Estonia should promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate all allegations of brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel and bring the perpetrators to justice.
In July, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe stated that the deplorable living conditions in prisons amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. These conditions included detainees being confined to cells 24 hours a day and being allowed to leave the cell only once a week to take a shower, sleeping on a thin mattress on a wooden platform on the floor and having limited access to fresh air and daylight. The Commissioner raised concerns that detainees at Tallinn prison complained that they did not have access to hot water and had to pay for their own toiletries.
The CAT expressed concern in its Concluding Observations on 22 November about prison conditions in Estonia, especially regarding access to adequate HIV medical care for detainees, and recommended that the Estonian authorities improve medical and health services in detention facilities.
In June, the European Union (EU) sent a formal request to Estonia to implement the EU Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC), which Estonia had still failed to do by the end of the year.