Almost 400,000 people continued to live without citizenship. The vast majority were citizens of the former Soviet Union who were living in Latvia at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union. In order to obtain citizenship, non-citizens must pass a number of tests, for example on the Latvian Constitution, history and language, as well as recite the lyrics of the Latvian national anthem. In May, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee) published its Concluding Observations on Latvia in which it urged Latvia to “ensure that the lack of citizenship of the permanent residents does not hinder equal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including employment, social security, health services and education”.
Almost one-third of Latvia’s population belongs to the Russian-speaking minority. The Russian-speaking minority continued to face discrimination in several areas of public life, including employment. In May, the Committee expressed its concern that “the State Language Law which mandates the use of Latvian in all dealings with public institutions, including administrative districts, may be discriminatory in effect against linguistic minorities living in the State party, including the Russian-speaking minority which constitutes a significant proportion of the population. In particular, the Committee is concerned that members of linguistic minorities, especially older persons, may be disadvantaged in their claims to public authorities with regard to their entitlement to public services. This has a negative impact on their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights”.
The Committee urged Latvia to “ensure that adequate support is provided to members of linguistic minorities, especially older persons, through, inter alia, increased allocation of resources to subsidize language courses, with a view to enhancing opportunities for those wishing to acquire fluency in Latvian”. The Committee also recommended that Latvia, in line with Article 10 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to which Latvia is a party, “consider providing translators and interpreters in State and municipal offices, in particular, in regions that have a high concentration of minority language speakers”.
The Committee also urged Latvia to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation without further delay.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual andtransgender people
On 3 June, a Pride march was held in Riga to celebrate the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. While participants in similar events in 2005 and 2006 had been subject to physical attacks and did not receive adequate police protection, the 2007 march was adequately protected and no major attacks took place.
Over 400 people, including the Latvian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group Mozaika and dozens of Latvian activists, an Amnesty International delegation of approximately 70 people, several Members of the European Parliament and a Swedish government minister, marched in a park in central Riga. The park was closed off and guarded by hundreds of Latvian law enforcement officials, making it virtually impossible for counter-demonstrators to carry out attacks on participants in the Pride parade.
There was, however, a noticeable presence of a large number of counter-demonstrators at the march. Counter-demonstrators ranged from persons of retirement age to pre-teens; they engaged in loud verbal abuse and made obscene gestures towards the Pride march participants. Two home-made explosives were set off inside the park.
In January, the first ever prison sentence for racially motivated assault was handed down under Section 78 of Latvia’s Criminal Code. The case concerned a man who was attacked in central Riga in the middle of 2006. The second ever prison sentence for a racially motivated crime was announced in May when two teenagers were sentenced for a racially motivated attack which had taken place against a woman of Brazilian origin in December 2006. One of the teenagers was given a prison sentence.
In June, the European Union (EU) sent a formal request to Latvia to implement the EU Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/E), which Latvia had to date failed to do.