In a report published today, the Council of Europe Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) calls on Latvia to encourage the reporting of racist and homo-/transphobic hate crimes, promote the integration of vulnerable groups in education, language training, employment and health, and to provide for the automatic recognition of Latvian citizenship for children born to the so-called group of “non-citizens”.
First of all, the report acknowledges that progress has been made in a number of fields.
The financial situation, visibility and accessibility of the Ombudsman’s office have improved. The guidelines on the investigation of hate speech and hate crime have been adopted. The State Police College has significantly intensified its training activities in the area of hate crimes, including for police officers, the Prosecutor General’s office and the Supreme Court.
The authorities developed an Action Plan for the implementation of the Guidelines on National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy (2012-2018). They also provided free Latvian language courses to national/ethnic minorities and immigrants, as well as to so-called “non-citizens” who wish to apply for citizenship. The rules for granting Latvian citizenship to newly-born children of “non-citizens” were eased.
The integration of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection has been facilitated. However, more measures are needed, especially in the areas of language training, integration into the labour market and access to healthcare services.
However, despite the progress achieved, some issues give rise to concern, such as the lack, on the political scene, of promotion of counter-speech in response to racist and homo-/transphobic hate speech, the marginalisation of the Roma community and the situation of LGBT persons. ECRI also notes that Latvia’s criminal, civil and administrative law is not yet fully in line with ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation No. 7 on national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination.
As a result, the report makes 21 recommendations to the authorities. Within two years ECRI will evaluate progress made with regard to two of them that it considers to be priority recommendations:
establish a unit within the State Police tasked with reaching out to vulnerable groups in order to increase trust in the police and address the problem of under-reporting of racist and homo-/transphobic hate crimes;
provide for the automatic recognition of Latvian citizenship for children born to “non-citizens”.
ECRI also recommends to:
increase the number of hours of Latvian language tuition for refugees and persons with alternative status;
investigate allegations of racial discrimination in the health sector;
take immediate action to remedy the situation for Roma pupils who have been wrongly placed in special needs programmes. It also recommends that the State Employment Agency offers professional and vocational training also for persons with very low levels of formal education in order to benefit those members of the Roma community who have been hitherto excluded;
carry out a study on discrimination against LGBT persons in Latvia and promote LGBT awareness-raising and tolerance campaigns in schools.