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TITLE:  LATVIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                             LATVIA


Latvia, having regained its independence in 1991 after 50 years 
of forced annexation by the Soviet Union, is a parliamentary 
democracy.  The 1993 coalition government comprising the 
Latvia's Way and Farmers' Union parties broke up and was 
replaced by another government dominated by Latvia's Way.  The 
Prime Minister, as chief executive, and the Cabinet are 
responsible for government operations.  A 1991 Constitutional 
Law, which supplements the 1922 Constitution, provides for 
basic rights and freedoms.

The security apparatus consists of:  the national police and 
other services subordinate to the Interior Ministry; municipal 
police operating under local government control; the National 
(Home) Guard, a mainly volunteer reserve which assists in 
police activities; and the Latvian Republic Security Service 
(LRSS).  All these organizations were responsible for abuses, 
including use of lethal or excessive force.  In late 1994, the 
National Guard and LRSS, which had operated independently, were 
both placed under Defense Ministry jurisdiction.  All 
active-duty Russian troops left Latvia by August 31, 1994, 
although as many as several thousand officers demobilized in 
place remained illegally.

Traditionally dominated by agriculture and forestry-based 
industry, with military-industrial production introduced by the 
Soviets, Latvia's varied economy is increasingly oriented 
toward the service sector.  As the transition from a centrally 
planned to a market-oriented economic system continues, private 
enterprise in trade and services is thriving, and about 50 
percent of farmland is now in private hands.  In the industrial 
sector, progress is slower, and the first stage of mass 
privatization of firms is not scheduled to begin until 1995.  
With a stable, freely traded currency, unemployment around 8 
percent, and annual inflation about 25 percent in 1994 and 
trending downward, the economy has begun to grow again.

A key development in 1994 was the enactment of a law on 
naturalization and citizenship, and promulgation of attendant 
implementing regulations.  If carried out, the law will allow 
most of Latvia's approximately 700,000 noncitizen residents to 
seek naturalization over the next several years.  The main 
requirements are knowledge of the Latvian language, history, 
and Constitution, as well as a pledge of loyalty to Latvia.  
While Russia and some noncitizens criticized the law, most 
independent experts, including the Conference on Security and 
Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) resident mission, deemed it a 
compromise consistent with international norms.  By year's end, 
the Government had not yet introduced its national program for 
protecting individual rights, and Parliament had not yet 
adopted on third reading a law specifying the rights of 
noncitizens.

Police and security forces, which are ethnically mixed, 
continue to use violence and excessive force, occasionally 
resulting in death, and the Government has not yet taken 
adequate disciplinary action against those responsible.  Prison 
conditions remained substandard, and the authorities reportedly 
injured many inmates when they suppressed prison hunger 
strikes.  Although the Citizenship and Immigration Department 
(CID) continued to act arbitrarily and to ignore court orders 
in some cases concerning the residence status of noncitizens, 
independent observers noted limited improvements in the latter 
half of 1994.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings.

Latvian media reported extensively on instances in which 
security officials inappropriately used lethal force, resulting 
in the shooting deaths of at least two innocent civilians.  In 
a separate case, LRSS officials allegedly beat a detainee so 
badly that he died of his injuries.  Investigations continue in 
these cases, and subsequently the Government greatly reduced 
the size of the LRSS, limited its functions, and placed it 
under the jurisdiction of the Defense Ministry.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no known instances of political abductions or 
disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture.  However, there were 
credible reports that police and prison personnel beat 
detainees and prison inmates (see Section 1.a.).  There were no 
known instances in which the Government prosecuted those 
responsible.

Prison conditions remain poor.  Inadequate sanitation 
facilities, persistent shortages of blankets and medical care, 
and insufficient lighting and ventilation are common problems, 
as is the availability of resources.  The prohibition against 
allowing detainees awaiting trial to send mail, which existed 
under Soviet law, continues.

In mid-1994 the authorities, using Interior Ministry prison 
guards with reinforcements from special Interior Ministry 
police brigades, reportedly suppressed large-scale hunger 
strikes against prison conditions and injured many inmates when 
they cracked down harshly.  Although the State Minister for 
Human Rights appointed an investigative commission, the 
Government by year's end had taken no disciplinary action or 
legal measures against those officials alleged to have used 
excessive force.

The situation for some imprisoned children was extremely poor, 
although some improvements were reported in 1994.  Credible 
reports indicate that children as young as 14 years old were 
kept in unsanitary conditions and suffer from disease and 
deprivation.  Both boys and girls are subject to violence and 
possible sexual abuse.

One of the legacies of Soviet domination is the regular 
practice of hazing military recruits.  The authorities did not 
take any significant disciplinary or legal action to punish 
military authorities who accept or tolerate cruel and degrading 
treatment of young soldiers.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There were no known instances of arbitrary arrest or exile.  As 
of October 1, the responsibility for issuing arrest warrants 
was transferred from prosecutors to the courts.  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 prosecutor'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.  These rights are subject to judicial 
review, but only at the time of trial.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the criminal justice system is organized according to 
the former Soviet model, Latvia is reforming its judicial 
system and adding regional courts.  For more serious criminal 
cases, two lay assessors join the professional judge on the 
bench.  There are no reports that the Government improperly 
influenced judges.

Trials may be closed if state secrets might be revealed.  In 
one case of a parliamentarian accused of collaborating with the 
Soviet secret police (KGB), the trial was closed to protect the 
identity of ex-KGB officers who appeared as witnesses.  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.

In May the state prosecutor informed the Saeima (parliament) of 
allegations that five parliamentarians (of whom two were 
government ministers) were suspected of having willingly 
collaborated with the KGB.  All Saeima candidates had been 
required to sign documents denying such collaboration.  
Although all five originally denied KGB links, the Saeima 
majority voted to suspend their parliamentary mandates pending 
the outcome of trials to determine their guilt or innocence.  
The Government characterized this step as an unconstitutional 
infringement of the parliamentarians' right to a presumption of 
innocence as well as a violation of Saeima procedures.  
Nevertheless, at year's end, three of the accused were still 
barred from exercising their parliamentary responsibilities 
pending conclusion of lengthy trials and appeals.  A former 
minister without portfolio was exonerated and returned to 
Parliament, while the former Foreign Minister admitted limited 
cooperation with the KGB and resigned his seat.

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

By law, law enforcement authorities require a judicial warrant 
to intercept mail, telephone calls, or other forms of 
communication.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Latvia generally enjoyed freedom of speech and press throughout 
1994, which is provided for by the Constitutional Law.  The 
1991 Latvian press law prohibits censorship of the press or 
other mass media.  In 1994 the number of independent television 
and radio outlets, broadcasting in both Russian and Latvian, 
continued to grow.  Two cable television companies compete for 
subscribers in Riga, who continue to increase in number.

Virtually all newspapers and magazines in Latvia are privately 
owned, and new publications continued to appear.  Newspapers in 
both Latvian and Russian published a wide range of criticism 
and political viewpoints.

In September the Riga city council adopted a law which would 
have banned the distribution of certain foreign publications 
"directed against Latvian national independence."  Before the 
law was scheduled to take effect, however, the Government's 
Minister of State Reform exercised her legal authority to 
overrule the city council.  In overturning this local 
legislation, which was intended to outlaw the distribution of 
hard-line Russian nationalist publications, the Government 
argued that the press ban would have been a violation of 
international human rights instruments as well as Latvian 
guarantees of freedom of the press.  Riga city council 
officials did not appeal the Government's decision but 
suggested they would use indirect administrative measures, such 
as the licensing of newspaper dealers, to restrict unwanted 
publications.

There are no restrictions on academic freedom.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association.

The authorities legally do not have the power to prohibit 
public gatherings.  Organizers of demonstrations must provide 
advance notice to local authorities, who may change the time 
and place for such reasons as fear of public disorder.  In 1994 
numerous mass meetings and political demonstrations took place 
without government interference.

The Constitution provides for the right to associate in public 
organizations.  However, the law on registering public 
organizations was amended in late 1993 to bar registration of 
Communist, Nazi, or other organizations whose activities would 
contravene the Constitution.  More than 40 political parties 
are officially registered.

In October 1993, the Cabinet directed authorities to close 
three small organizations that allegedly had plotted a coup 
against the Latvian Government in connection with the 
insurrection in Moscow, including the Union of Communists.  
That organization and the like-minded Union for the Protection 
of Veterans' Rights sued the Government for its refusal to 
register them as legal organizations.  In September a court 
ruled that the Justice Ministry had acted properly in refusing 
to register the Union of Communists.

The Justice Ministry also refused to register the League of 
Stateless Persons in Latvia on the grounds that noncitizens are 
prohibited from forming "political" organizations.  While the 
refusal to register the League has serious legal consequences, 
such as the ability to incorporate and hold property, the 
authorities did not prevent the League from holding meetings 
and speaking out on behalf of noncitizens.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Government does not interfere in the exercise of religious 
freedom.  Foreign evangelists are permitted to hold meetings 
and proselytize.  The Government does not require the 
registration of religious groups.  Only religious groups which 
have members who are Latvian citizens, however, may incorporate.

     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.

Some noncitizens may require reentry permits.  In late 1994, 
the Government was developing a new travel document for 
noncitizen residents.  Before issuing this document, it ran 
short of the former Soviet passports that it previously issued 
to noncitizens.  Pending the Government's issuance of the new 
document (or purchase of additional former Soviet passports), 
foreign travel for some noncitizens was temporarily restricted.

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 
held free and fair elections for Parliament in 1993 and for 
local councils in May 1994, with the participation of numerous 
parties and factions representing a broad political spectrum.  
Eight parties won seats in the Saeima, and 90 percent of 
eligible voters participated, using a secret ballot.

There was no mechanism for the many residents of Latvia who 
were not citizens to participate in the elections.  
Furthermore, there was a Latvian-language requirement for 
candidates in local elections.  A similar requirement may also 
apply to future Saeima candidates, but in 1994 the Saeima 
rejected efforts to apply a language requirement to its own 
members retroactively.  There are no ethnic restrictions on 
parliamentary representation, and ethnic Russians serve in the 
Saeima.

In July the Saeima approved the final version of the 
naturalization law based on a much-amended bill originally 
submitted by the ruling Latvia's Way party.  Since the 
restoration of independence in 1991, Latvian citizenship had 
previously been accorded only to those persons who were 
citizens of the independent Latvian Republic in 1940 and their 
direct descendants.  Owing to the Russification policy pursued 
during the Soviet era, ethnic Latvians make up only about 54 
percent of the total population and do not constitute a 
majority in seven of Latvia's eight largest cities.  Many 
Latvian citizens are particularly sensitive about citizenship 
and naturalization issues owing to the large minority that is 
not ethnically Latvian.

In late June, the Saeima adopted a law on naturalization that 
would have set annual quotas of less than 20,000 applicants in 
each year after 2001.  Following serious criticism by 
international organizations and foreign governments, President 
Ulmanis sent the law back to Parliament with a recommendation 
to eliminate the quota provision from the law.  The Saeima 
accepted the President's recommendation, and the enacted law 
met with approval by most international human rights experts 
from the Council of Europe (COE) and other international 
organizations.

As enacted, the naturalization law provides that various 
categories of noncitizens will be eligible to apply for 
naturalization over a period extending from 1995 until early in 
the next century.  Highest priority will be given to spouses of 
Latvian citizens, ethnic Latvians, citizens of other Baltic 
states, and persons born in Latvia.  The law includes a Latvian 
language and residence requirement as well as restrictions on 
naturalization of former Soviet KGB and military officers.  The 
law requires applicants for citizenship to renounce previous 
non-Latvian citizenship, to have knowledge of the Constitution, 
and to take a loyalty oath.  Furthermore, the law also provides 
for legal guarantees concerning naturalization procedures and 
decisions through operation of (a) a parliamentary supervising 
committee; (b) an obligation to render decisions within 1 year 
from the date of application; and (c) judicial review of 
decisions not to grant citizenship.  International experts, 
Latvian government officials, and domestic human rights 
monitors agreed that Latvia will must place high priority on 
implementing the naturalization law in a fair, impartial manner 
and provide greater opportunities for noncitizens to learn the 
Latvian language.

The Citizenship and Immigration Department (CID), which has 
administrative responsibility for registering noncitizens, has 
consistently failed to implement properly and fairly laws 
affecting noncitizens.  Most cases involve CID denials of 
noncitizen residents' applications for "permanent resident" 
status.  Although negative CID decisions are subject to 
judicial review, when courts do overturn negative CID 
decisions, the CID frequently refuses to comply.  In October 
Minister of State for Human Rights Janis Tupesis acknowledged 
unprofessionalism on the part of CID officials but denied any 
large-scale violations of human rights.  Toward the end of the 
year, there was some evidence of modest improvement in the 
CID's implementation of court orders.

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

A few nongovernmental organizations devoted to research and 
advocacy of human rights issues, including prison conditions, 
operate without government restriction.  Several organizations 
deal with issues of concern to local ethnic Russians, 
presenting them to the courts and the press.

The Government demonstrated a willingness to engage in dialog 
with nongovernmental organizations working on human rights 
issues, particularly after it created in March a new post of 
State Minister for Human Rights.  It welcomed visits by human 
rights organizations and received delegations from, among 
others, the CSCE, the COE, and the United Nations.  A resident 
CSCE mission was established in Latvia with a mandate to 
"address citizenship issues and other related matters."   
Latvian officials worked particularly closely with the CSCE and 
COE during the drafting and ultimate adoption of the 
citizenship law.

In late July, the Government hosted a special high-level 
mission organized by the United Nations Development Program, 
the COE, and the CSCE to discuss the formulation of a national 
program for the protection and promotion of human rights.  
Headed by the Federal Human Rights Commissioner for Australia, 
the mission met with official and nongovernmental sources and 
provided the Government with observations on the human rights 
situation as well as recommendations for developing domestic 
institutions to protect human rights.

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 persons of all nationalities.  Of a total 
population of 2.7 million, there are 1.4 million Latvians, 
900,000 Russians, 120,000 Belarusians, and 100,000 Ukrainians.

     Women

Women possess the same legal rights as men.  The Latvian Labor 
Code prohibits women from performing "hard jobs or jobs having 
unhealthy conditions." based on a list agreed between the 
Cabinet and labor unions.  Beyond this, it bans employment 
discrimination.  In reality, women frequently face hiring and 
pay discrimination, especially in the emerging private sector.  
Women apparently have not brought any discrimination suits 
before the courts.

Sources indicate that the problem of domestic violence against 
women is fairly widespread and is often connected with alcohol 
abuse.  There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the entire 
legal system, including the courts, tends to downplay the 
seriousness of domestic violence.  Observers suggest that 
police are sometimes reluctant to arrest in such cases.  No 
programs exist specifically to assist victims of domestic 
abuse.  Adult prostitution has not been outlawed; it is 
increasing and is often linked with organized crime.

Women's advocacy groups are still small.  They are involved in 
finding employment for women, lobbying for increased social 
benefits, and banning the hazing of military 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.

Children's advocates point to the lack of special institutions 
for rehabilitation and vocational training of juvenile 
offenders.  Although recent legislation provides for the 
establishment of such special schools, the Government failed to 
budget funds for this purpose.  Consequently, juveniles are 
frequently housed in regular prison facilities after committing 
relatively minor offenses.

     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.  However, the majority of persons who are not ethnic 
Latvians have difficulty participating fully in the civic life 
of the country.  Reliable sources suggest that practical 
problems are most acute for those noncitizens who have only 
temporary residence permits in Latvia.  These are typically 
people residing in factory dormitories or housing units 
previously connected to the Soviet or Russian military.

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 in order 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 disfranchised and that 
the language law discriminates against them, although there are 
no reports of widespread dismissals among management, teachers, 
or other sectors.

Some ethnic Russians have also complained of de facto 
discrimination resulting from Latvia's property laws, which 
limit land ownership to citizens.  Moreover, noncitizens were 
given fewer privatization certificates (which will eventually 
be used to purchase land, apartments, and stocks) than 
citizens.  New legislation, however, allows land ownership by 
companies in which noncitizens own shares.  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 former Russian officers for apartments assigned 
them by the Soviet military, although at least some seem to 
circumvent 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 learn 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.

     People with Disabilities

Latvia does not have a law banning discrimination against the 
disabled.  The Government supports special schools for disabled 
persons.  The Government does not enforce a 1993 law requiring 
buildings to be accessible to wheelchairs, and most buildings 
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 1993 about 50 percent of the 
work force belonged to unions; union membership continued to 
fall as workers left Soviet-era unions that include management 
or were laid off as Soviet-style factories failed.  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 in the 1993 elections.  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, and in December 
more than 10,000 Latvian teachers staged a 9-day strike, which 
was the first major labor action since the restoration of 
Latvian independence.  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 has not effectively enforced these laws.

     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 provide better salaries and benefits than 
are available elsewhere.  The Government's ability to protect 
the right to organize in the private sector is weak.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it 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 between 13 and 15 may work in certain jobs 
after school hours.  Children are required to attend school for 
9 years.  State authorities enforce child labor and school 
attendance laws.  The law restricts employment of those under 
18, for instance, by banning night shift or overtime work.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

In October the minimum monthly wage was set at about $50 (28 
lats).  The authorities estimate the poverty line to be about 
$120 (68 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.


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