The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal

flag
bar


TITLE:  LATVIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                             
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                        LATVIA


Latvia regained its independence in 1991 after 50 years of 
Soviet rule.  A parliamentary democracy, Latvia in June held 
its first free and fair elections in over 60 years, albeit 
under a restricted franchise (see Section 3), and in July 
reinstated its 1922 Constitution.  Valdis Birkavs of the 
right-of-center coalition party Latvia's Way, which won 36 out 
of 100 seats in the Saeima (parliament), became Prime 
Minister.  The Saeima in July elected Guntis Ulmanis of the 
Farmers' Union as President (head of state).  The Prime 
Minister, as chief executive, and the Cabinet are responsible 
for day-to-day government operations.  A 1991 Constitutional 
Law, which supplements and expands on the 1922 Constitution, 
provides for basic rights and freedoms. 

Latvian authorities are gradually replacing the Soviet-trained 
police; however, there are recurrent allegations of corruption 
among police and security forces.  The Home Guard, a voluntary 
military reserve, assists in police patrols but has no arrest 
powers.  The regular military services have yet to establish 
internal disciplinary procedures in accordance with democratic 
norms.  The Latvian Republic Security Service was involved in 
at least two unsuccessful attempts to pressure the media.  As 
of the end of September, 13,000 Russian troops remained in 
Latvia.  Latvia insisted that all Russian troops leave the 
country as soon as possible; the Russians proposed that most 
troops leave in 1994, with a remaining presence at a missile 
early-warning radar at Skrunda.  Although negotiations 
continued, no agreement had been reached by year's end.  

Latvia made progress in stabilizing its economy and pursuing 
market-oriented reforms.  Its currency was strong enough to 
appreciate steadily in a free foreign currency market.  In 1993 
inflation was 35 percent, and a foreign trade surplus was 
expected.  Latvia's economy had contracted substantially since 
the country regained independence in 1991 but appeared to 
stabilized in the second half of 1993.  A booming private 
sector accounted for about a quarter of economic activity, but 
unemployment rose to an estimated 8 percent.  As of September 
1, private farms and gardens covered 54 percent of Latvia's 
farmland, while privatized collective farms accounted for much 
of the rest.  

The previous parliament, elected under Soviet law, deferred 
action on implementing legislation regarding naturalization and 
citizenship.  It did not pass a naturalization law, arguing it 
had to await a legislature elected by Latvian citizens under 
Latvian law.  Due to the policy of Russification during the 
Soviet occupation, ethnic Latvians make up only 52 percent of 
the total population, and none of Latvia's seven largest cities 
has an ethnic Latvian majority.  The possibility that 
non-Latvians who entered the country while it was under Soviet 
rule and who had no proven affiliation to Latvia could control 
the balance of political power made citizenship and 
naturalization issues particularly sensitive for many 
Latvians.  The Government decided to schedule elections without 
resolving these issues.  The new Parliament deliberated on 
several draft naturalization laws, and final passage was 
expected in 1994.  The draft naturalization bill of the 
Latvia's Way Party passed the legislature in November in its 
first reading; the bill is expected to be modified before its 
second reading.  In the context of the deliberations, the 
Latvian Government has pledged to submit a draft of the 
naturalization legislation to the Council of Europe for review 
by legal experts.   

In October the Government directed authorities to close down 
three small organizations that allegedly had plotted a coup 
against Latvia in connection with the October insurrection in 
Moscow.  Prison conditions are so substandard that they 
threaten the health of prisoners.  Juvenile detainees suffer 
from disease and are subject to violence and sexual abuse (see 
Section 1.c.).  

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

No such killings by Latvian authorities are known to have 
occurred.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no known instances of political abductions or 
disappearances.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

Torture is prohibited under the Constitution, and there were no 
indications that such abuses occurred.


There were credible reports of beatings of detainees and prison 
inmates, including juveniles.  Sanitation facilities in some 
cases are inadequate, and shortages of blankets and medical 
care persist.  Poor ventilation and inadequate lighting are 
common.  Under Soviet law, prisoners awaiting trial were not 
allowed to send mail, and in general this prohibition has been 
continued.  

The situation for some imprisoned children was egregious.  
Credible reports indicate that children 14 years old are kept 
in filthy conditions and suffer from disease and deprivation.  
Although detention is supposed to be no longer than 6 months, 
there were cases of children being kept in prison for up to a 
year and a half, and even reports of instances of juveniles 
being placed in solitary confinement.  Both boys and girls are 
subject to violence and sexual abuse, and in one case a 
15-year-old boy was reportedly strangled to death by his 
cellmates.  There have been slight improvements in conditions 
since early 1993.  A new head of the Riga Central Prison is to 
assume duties in early 1994.  One of the main problems 
continues to be a lack of resources.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There were no known instances of arbitrary arrest or exile.  
Arrests are made on the basis of a prosecutorial warrant.  The 
law requires the prosecutor's office to make a formal decision 
whether to charge or release a detainee within 72 hours after 
arrest.  Charges must be filed within 10 days of arrest.  A 
detainee may not be held for more than 6 months without new 
arrest orders being issued by the Procurator's office.  No 
detainee may be held for more than 18 months without the case 
going to court.  Detainees have the right to have an attorney 
present at any time.  The court reviews fulfillment of these 
requirements at trial.

     e.  Denial of a Fair Public Trial

Latvia is reorganizing its courts along democratic lines and 
adding regional courts.  For more serious criminal cases, two 
lay judges join the professional judge in making a 
determination.  The law envisions that capital cases will be 
heard by a 12-member jury, but no procedures exist to put this 
into effect.  There are no reports of judges having been 
improperly influenced by the Government.


Trials may be closed if state secrets might be revealed, but 
there is no known instance of this provision being used since 
Latvia regained independence.  All defendants have the right to 
hire an attorney, and the State will lend funds to destitute 
defendants for this purpose.  Defendants have the right to read 
all charges and confront all witnesses.  Defendants may offer 
witnesses and evidence to support their case.

During the August 1991 Soviet coup attempt, former Latvian 
Communist party chief Alfred Rubiks proclaimed himself head of 
the so-called National Salvation Committee, which is accused of 
attempting to seize power in Latvia.  At year's end, he was on 
trial for his part in the attempted coup.  Some observers 
criticized the 2-year delay between his detention and the 
commencement of the trial, during which time he was denied 
bail.  Rubiks was elected to the new Parliament, which deferred 
seating him pending the outcome of his trial.  

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

According to the Constitutional Law, a judge's order must be 
obtained to intercept mail, telephone calls, or other forms of 
communication.  In practice, however, the law in force on 
investigations allows wiretaps and searches on a prosecutorial 
warrant.  

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Latvia generally enjoyed freedom of speech and press throughout 
1993.

The Constitutional Law contains provisions on free speech and 
press, and the 1991 Latvian press law prohibits censorship of 
the press or other mass media.  Both Latvian and Russian-
language papers printed a wide range of criticism.  The media 
actively covered all aspects of the spring election campaign.

In August the Baltic News Service (BNS) and the country's 
largest Russian-language newspaper, Sm-Sevodnya, revealed that 
government security officers had pressured them on two 
occasions to "cooperate" in government investigations and to 
publish information provided by the Government.  BNS and the 
newspaper appealed to international media organizations to 
assist them in resisting such pressure.  The Government 
disavowed the actions of the security officers involved but 
maintained no laws had been broken.

In September Parliament began considering drafts of two laws on 
the print and broadcast media.  Drafts contain provisions that, 
if enacted, could hamper freedom of the press.  Latvian libel 
law remains modeled on Soviet libel law and has the same 
standards of proof for libel against public as against private 
figures.  In November a court awarded damages in libel suits by 
former Prime Minister Godmanis against two newspapers.  Several 
other papers settled out of court with Godmanis.  In the most 
serious case, the court awarded damages of $1,666 (1,000 Lats) 
to Godmanis against the country's largest newspaper for an 
August editorial that accused the former Prime Minister of 
having acted more in the interest of a private company (in 
which he was alleged to have an interest) than in Latvia's 
national security.  The suit was seen by most publishers as an 
attempt to intimidate the media.

By 1993, virtually all newspapers in Latvia had been 
privatized, but overall circulation figures continued to drop 
due to the weakening economy.  Despite the overall decline in 
circulation figures, a number of new publications have 
appeared, and there has been no loss of variety of political 
views.  

In 1993 the number of independent television and radio 
broadcasters continued to grow.  The independents include both 
Latvian and Russian-language stations.  Two cable television 
companies compete for subscribers in Riga; the number of cable 
television subscribers continues to grow. 

There are no restrictions on academic freedom.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association.

Latvian authorities legally do not have the power to prohibit 
public gatherings but may change the time and place, for 
example, on the grounds of fear of public disorder.  In 1993 
numerous mass meetings and political demonstrations took place 
without government interference.  The Constitution provides for 
the right to associate in public organizations.  Over 20 
political parties participated in the June elections.  

In October the Cabinet directed authorities to close three 
small organizations that allegedly had plotted a coup against 
the Latvian Government in connection with the October 
insurrection in Moscow, including the Union of Communists.  
That organization and the like-minded Union for the Protection 
of Veterans' Rights have sued the Government for its refusal to 
register them as legal organizations.  Trials were scheduled to 
begin in December.  Communist parties are illegal in Latvia.  
The only extant group of Communists is the politically 
insignificant Union of Communists.  Although numerous small 
groupings have formed, resident Russians have not coalesced 
into any large, distinct political movements.  

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Government does not interfere in the exercise of religious 
freedom.  The dominant faiths are Lutheran, Catholic, and 
Eastern Orthodox.  Foreign evangelists are permitted to hold 
meetings and proselytize.  Religious groups are not required to 
register with the Government, but the documents for 
incorporation as a legal entity must be filed by members who 
are residents of Latvia.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no obstacles to freedom of movement within the 
country, foreign travel, or repatriation of citizens.  The 
number of Latvians traveling abroad has increased dramatically 
over the past several years.  Some noncitizens may require 
reentry permits.  Exit visas or invitations are not required.

Latvia is not a signatory to international conventions on 
refugees and does not have a law on political asylum.  Most of 
those seeking refugee status are persons from the Middle East 
entering by land from Russia and hoping to reach Scandinavia; 
Latvia usually attempts to return such applicants to Russia.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Citizens have the right to change their government.  Latvia in 
June held its first free and fair elections since 1931 with the 
participation of 23 political parties representing a broad 
political spectrum.  Eight parties won seats in the Saeima, and 
90 percent of eligible voters participated, using a secret 
ballot.  As citizenship and naturalization questions were not 
resolved before the elections, there was no mechanism for 
residents of Latvia who were not citizens to participate in the 
elections.  Parliamentary representation in Latvia is not based 
on ethnic identity, and ethnic Russians serve in the Cabinet 
and as members of Parliament.

The coalition Latvia's Way obtained 36 of 100 seats in the 
Saeima and formed a parliamentary coalition with the Farmers' 
Union (12 seats).  The Saeima approved Valdis Birkavs of 
Latvia's Way as Prime Minister and in July elected Guntis 
Ulmanis of the Farmers' Union as President (head of state).  
The next elections are scheduled for October 1995.

In November Parliament approved in the first reading the draft 
naturalization bill submitted by the ruling Latvia's Way 
Party.  The bill includes a language requirement, with an 
exemption for senior citizens, and a 10-year residency 
requirement.  The draft includes a provision that the 
Government, with parliamentary approval, would set quotas each 
year for naturalization.  Parliamentary committees are expected 
to suggest many changes to the bill before its second reading.  
Latvia is working with human rights experts from the Council of 
Europe on naturalization legislation and has pledged to submit 
a draft to international organization human rights experts 
before final passage.  The law barring naturalization until 
Russian troops are withdrawn remains in effect, but its 
standing is subject to continuing deliberations on the draft 
naturalization law.

There have been documented instances of abuses by the Latvian 
Department of Immigration and Citizenship against residents who 
are not Latvian citizens.  In some instances, decisions by the 
Department of Immigration and Citizenship were overturned by 
the Court, but the Department continued to refuse to carry out 
the Court's orders.  The Government in December relieved the 
head of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship of his 
duties, and a new head is expected to take up responsibilities 
in early 1994.

At the end of 1993, Parliament was debating a controversial law 
that would determine whether noncitizens would have the right 
to vote in local elections.  

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights.

There are several organizations that transmit concerns raised 
by local ethnic Russians to the courts and the press, but there 
are no domestic human rights organizations as such in Latvia.


The Government welcomes visits by human rights organizations 
and received delegations from, among others, the Conference on 
Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the Council of 
Europe, and the United Nations.  In September the Government 
granted permission to the CSCE to establish a resident mission 
in the country to "address citizenship issues and other related 
matters."  The mission will also report on "developments 
relevant to the full realization of CSCE principles, norms, and 
commitments."

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitutional Law provides that all persons are equal 
under the law regardless of race, sex, religion, language, 
social status, or other grounds, and grants equal rights to 
work and wages to all nationalities.

     Women

Women possess the same legal rights as men.  The law requires 
that women may not be hired for certain jobs considered 
dangerous; beyond this, employment discrimination is banned.  
In reality, given the extreme competition for jobs and the 
potential cost of legally mandated child birth benefits, women 
frequently face hiring and pay discrimination, especially in 
the emerging private sector.  Women apparently have not brought 
any discrimination suits before the courts.  

Adult prostitution has not been outlawed; it is increasing and 
is often linked with organized crime.  Reliable statistics on 
domestic violence against women are unavailable.  Some cultural 
factors have fostered domestic violence, often associated with 
alcohol abuse.  Observers suggest that police are sometimes 
reluctant to arrest in such cases since the victims later often 
drop charges.  No programs exist specifically to assist victims 
of domestic abuse, though normal government-provided health 
care and disability benefits apply.

The women's advocacy groups that exist are still small.  They 
are involved in finding employment for women, lobbying for 
increased social benefits, and opposing army hazing of recruits.

     Children

The Government seeks to ensure that children's human rights are 
respected and their basic welfare needs met.  A few children's 
advocacy groups are active, particularly in lobbying for 
legislation to protect children's rights and for increased 
welfare payments for children.  Legislative gaps hampered 
efforts to win convictions in child molestation cases.  Law 
enforcement authorities have won court suits to remove children 
from abusive parents and secured convictions in child 
prostitution cases.  For a discussion of physical and other 
abuse of children, see Section 1.c.  

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Constitutional Law provides that only citizens may occupy 
state positions, establish political parties, own land, and 
"choose a place of abode on Latvian territory."  Under the 
Constitution, all residents of Latvia enjoy equal rights under 
the law, but the majority of nonethnic Latvians cannot fully 
participate in the civic life of the country.  Noncitizens were 
active in political parties during the election campaign, 
although they did not have the right to vote.  

The Latvian language law requires employees of the State and of 
all "institutions, enterprises, and institutes" to know 
sufficient Latvian to carry out their profession.  The law also 
requires such employees to be conversationally proficient in 
Latvian to be able to deal with the public.  Despite the 
language law, there have been no reports of widespread 
dismissals, even in the city of Daugavpils, in which 87 percent 
of the population is not ethnically Latvian and Russian is the 
prevailing language in industry.  Nevertheless, many 
non-Latvians believe that they have been disenfranchised and 
that the language law discriminates against them, although 
there are no reports of widespread dismissals among management, 
teachers, or other sectors.  In the case of the police force, 
which is predominantly made up of noncitizen ethnic Russians, 
non-Latvian speaking police officers were given 2 years to 
learn Latvian.  

Some ethnic Russians have also complained of de facto 
discrimination resulting from Latvia's property laws, which 
limit land ownership to citizens.  Because of past Soviet 
Russification policies, ethnic Russians generally live in 
newer, better housing than ethnic Latvians.  The level of 
compensation for their apartments to those emigrating from 
Latvia is not high enough to permit them to purchase an 
apartment in Russia.  Latvia does not officially grant any 
compensation to Russian officers for apartments assigned them 
by the Soviet military, though at least some seem to find ways 
around such legal restrictions.

The Government has agreed to continue using Russian as the 
language of instruction in public schools where the pupils are 
primarily Russian speakers.  Although all non-Latvian speaking 
students in public schools are supposed to be taught Latvian, 
there are shortages of Latvian teachers.  State-funded 
university education is in Latvian, except for the medical 
school and some classes for outgoing seniors.  Incoming 
students whose native language is not Latvian must pass a 
Latvian language entrance exam.  It remains the Government's 
stated goal that all public schools eventually convert to 
Latvian as the language of instruction.

Jewish community leaders report anti-Semitism is not a major 
problem in Latvia and the government has been generally 
supportive of efforts to rejuvenate the Jewish community.

     People with Disabilities

Latvia does not have a law banning discrimination against the 
disabled.  The Government supports special schools for disabled 
persons.  A law requiring buildings to be accessible to 
wheelchairs took effect on January 1, 1993.  Most buildings, 
however, are not accessible to wheelchairs.  

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Latvia's law on trade unions mandates that workers, except for 
the uniformed military, have the right to form and join labor 
unions of their own choosing.  In the fall of 1993, about 50 
percent of the work force belonged to unions; union membership 
is falling as workers leave Soviet-era unions that include 
management or are laid off as Soviet-style factories fail.  The 
Free Trades Union Federation of Latvia, the only significant 
labor union confederation, is nonpartisan, though some leaders 
ran as candidates for various smaller parties that failed to 
enter Parliament.  Unions are free to affiliate internationally 
and are developing contacts with European labor unions and 
international labor union organizations.

The law does not limit the right to strike.  Latvia saw almost 
no strikes in 1993.  Although many state-owned factories are on 
the verge of bankruptcy and seriously behind in wage payments, 
workers fear dismissal if they strike, and noncitizens fear 
that their participation in strikes may affect their residency 
status.  While the law bans such dismissals, the Government's 
ability to enforce these laws is weak.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively.

Labor unions have the right to bargain collectively and are 
largely free of government interference in their negotiations 
with employers.  The law prohibits discrimination against union 
members and organizers.  Some emerging private sector 
businesses, however, threaten to fire union members; these 
businesses usually pay better salaries and benefits than are 
available elsewhere.  The Government's ability to protect the 
right to organize in the private sector is weak.

No export processing zones exist in Latvia.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is banned and is not practiced.  
Inspectors from the Welfare Ministry's Labor Department enforce 
the ban.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The statutory minimum age for employment of children is 15, 
although those aged 13 may work in certain jobs away from 
school hours.  Children are required to attend school for 9 
years.  Child labor and school attendance laws are enforced by 
state authorities through inspections.  The law restricts 
employment of those under 18, for instance, by banning night 
shift or overtime work.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of the end of 1993, the minimum monthly wage was set at 
about $24 (15 lats).  Latvian authorities estimate the poverty 
line to be about $83 (50 lats) per month.  Many factories are 
virtually bankrupt and have reduced work hours.  

The Labor Code provides for a mandatory 40-hour maximum 
workweek with at least one 24-hour rest period, 4 weeks of 
annual vacation, and a program of assistance to working mothers 
with small children.  Latvian laws establish minimum 
occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, but 
these standards are frequently ignored. 




[end of document]

flag
bar

Department Seal

Return to 1993 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.