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, 1995   
Author:  U.S. Department of State    
Date:  March 1996    
 
 
 
 
                              LATVIA 
 
 
Latvia is a parliamentary democracy.  With its statehood widely 
recognized as continuous for more than 70 years, it regained its 
independence in 1991 after more than 50 years of Soviet occupation.  
Elections for the 100-seat Parliament (Saeima) held in the fall were 
free and fair, but the election law barred some citizens from competing 
as candidates due to prior activity in pro-Soviet organizations or lack 
of fluency in the state language.  The Prime Minister, as chief 
executive, and the Cabinet are responsible for government operations.  
The President, as Head of State, is elected by the Parliament.  The 1991 
Constitutional Law, which supplements the 1922 Constitution, provides 
for basic rights and freedoms.  The judiciary is independent but not 
well-trained, efficient, or free from corruption. 
 
The security apparatus consists of:  the national police and other 
services subordinate to the Ministry of Interior; municipal police 
operating under local government control; the counterintelligence 
service and a protective service operating under the Ministry of 
Defense; and the National Guard, an element of the national armed 
forces, which also assists in police activities.  Civilian authorities 
generally maintain effective control of the security forces and a 
recently established Constitution Protection Bureau (SAB) has oversight 
over intelligence activities.  However, Interior Ministry forces and 
municipal police sometimes acted independently of central government 
authority.  Some members of the security forces, including police and 
other Ministry of Interior personnel, committed human rights abuses. 
 
Traditionally dominated by agriculture and forestry products, with 
military-industrial production introduced by the Soviets, the 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 toward privatization and revitalization is much slower.  
The currency remained stable and freely traded, unemployment was around 
8 percent, and annual inflation about 25 percent, down from 36 percent 
in 1994.  Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was approximately 
$1,000 per year.  GDP had been forecast to rise by 2 percent in 1995.  
However, the economy suffered from the collapse of the largest and 
several smaller commercial banks as well as from a severe government 
budget crisis. 
 
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and 
the large resident noncitizen community, although problems remained in 
certain areas.  Members of the security forces, including the police and 
Interior Ministry mobile battalions, continued to use excessive force; 
police and prison officers beat detainees and inmates.  The Government 
did not take adequate disciplinary action against those responsible.  
Prison conditions remained substandard.  The inefficient judiciary did 
not always ensure the fair administration of justice.  The Citizenship 
and Immigration Department (CID) continued to act arbitrarily and, in 
some cases, to ignore court orders concerning the residence status of 
noncitizens. 
 
Among key positive developments were the enactment of the first law 
clearly defining the status of most noncitizens, a limited 
liberalization of the 1994 Citizenship Law, the beginning of 
naturalization under the 1994 law, adoption of a national program for 
protecting individual rights, and the establishment of an independent 
human rights office.  Moreover, by adopting the law on the status of 
former Soviet Citizens ("On the Status of Those Citizens of the Former 
USSR Who do not have the Citizenship of Latvia or Any Other State"), 
Parliament authorized most of the approximately 700,000 noncitizen 
residents to obtain travel documents verifying their rights to reside 
in, leave, and return to Latvia; however, the Law had not been fully 
implemented by year's end. 
 
Women are discriminated against in the workplace, and spousal abuse is a 
widespread problem, as is child prostitution. 
 
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 or other extrajudicial killings. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated 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.  There were no reported instances of the Government prosecuting 
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 shortage of 
resources.  The law continues to prohibit detainees awaiting trial from 
sending mail, but this prohibition is not universally enforced. 
 
Interior Ministry mobile battalions reportedly used excessive force to 
"restore order" to prisons in Valmiera, near Daugavpils, and elsewhere.  
A detention center established at Olaine, outside Riga, provided 
substandard conditions for over 100 asylum seekers (including more than 
40 children) being held indefinitely without trial.  While new 
construction at prisons in Jelgava and Riga reportedly provided a small 
percentage of prisoners with improved conditions, state auditors found 
evidence that Interior Ministry personnel had misappropriated scarce 
resources allocated to the prison system in prior years. 
 
In December the Riga district court convicted former Latvian Soviet 
secret police head Alfons Noviks of "genocide" and sentenced him to life 
imprisonment for his involvement in mass killings, deportations, and 
torture between 1940 and 1953. 
 
The situation for some imprisoned children, who are not always separated 
from adults, remained poor.  Children as young as 14 years of age 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 the Soviet occupation is the regular practice of 
hazing military recruits.  President Guntis Ulmanis convened meetings to 
highlight this problem and urged military authorities to curb abusive 
practices.  The Parliament also amended the Criminal Code to specify 
criminal sanctions for harassment and abuse of soldiers, but reliable 
reports suggest that the practices continued.  Despite the high-level 
attention, the authorities did not take adequate disciplinary or legal 
action to punish military authorities who accept or tolerate cruel and 
degrading treatment of young soldiers.  However, at year's end 
authorities were pursuing cases against several soldiers arrested for 
abusing recruits during 1995. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
There were no known instances of arbitrary arrest or exile.  As of 1994, 
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.  There were 
credible reports that these rights are not always respected in practice, 
especially outside Riga. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the 
Government generally respects this provision in practice.  However, the 
courts must rely on the Ministry of Justice for administrative support 
and the Supreme Court does not have a clearly established right to rule 
on the constitutionality of legislation.  A minority in the Parliament 
used procedural moves to block establishment of a constitutional court 
to fulfill this function. 
 
Although the criminal justice system was organized according to the 
former Soviet model, Latvia is reforming its judicial system.  In 1995 
it completed the establishment of regional courts which will hear 
appeals of lower court decisions.  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, but corruption 
is reportedly widespread.  Most judges have little legal education, and 
the court system is too weak to enforce many of its decisions.  There is 
a lack of information available on which to make informed decisions, 
especially outside Riga. 
 
Trials may be closed if state secrets might be revealed or to protect 
the interests of minors.  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 and may offer witnesses and evidence to support their case. 
 
While the prosecutor appealed court decisions exonerating three Members 
of Parliament of charges that they had willingly collaborated with the 
KGB, the Parliament voted to restore their mandates (a fourth member had 
been acquitted owing to lack of evidence, and the prosecutor is not 
pursuing the case; a fifth member resigned from Parliament and was not 
tried).  This decision reversed the Parliament's 1994 decision to 
suspend parliamentary participation by the five members pending the 
outcome of their trials.  The Government had characterized the 
Parliament's original decision as an unconstitutional infringement of 
the right to a presumption of innocence. 
 
Following a 25-month trial, former Latvian Communist Party First 
Secretary Alfreds Rubiks was sentenced to 8 years in prison for 
attempting to overthrow the independent Latvian State in 1991.  While 
Rubiks' supporters describe him as a political prisoner, claiming that 
he acted in accordance with the prevailing Soviet legislation, there is 
no evidence that his conviction violated human rights standards. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The law requires that law enforcement authorities must have a judicial 
warrant in order to intercept citizens' mail, telephone calls, or other 
forms of communication.  This protection does not apply to the large 
noncitizen population. 
 
Following press reports that the Ministry of Defense (MOD) 
counterintelligence service had monitored the office telephones of 
employees suspected of possible security breaches, a senior MOD official 
indicated that no warrant was required to conduct such monitoring for 
internal investigative purposes. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitutional Law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, 
and the Government generally respects this right in practice.  The 1991 
Press Law prohibits censorship of the press or other mass media. 
 
Most newspapers and magazines in Latvia are privately owned.  New 
publications continued to appear, but economic difficulties forced 
others to close.  Newspapers in both Latvian and Russian published a 
wide range of criticism and political viewpoints. 
 
A large number of independent television and radio outlets broadcast in 
both Russian and Latvian, and the number of people receiving satellite 
television broadcasts continued to increase. 
 
In late September, a reporter for a major media organization claimed to 
have been beaten after being abducted at a location where she had 
arranged to meet a government official.  However, the Government has 
denied any involvement in this incident, and there is no independent 
evidence linking government officials to the crime. 
 
A new law on radio and television adopted in August contains a number of 
restrictive provisions regulating the content and language of 
broadcasts.  No more than 30 percent of private broadcasts may be in 
languages other than Latvian; in prime time, 40 percent of television 
broadcasts must be of Latvian and 80 percent of European origin.  
Moreover, foreign investment may not exceed 20 percent of the capital in 
electronic media organizations. 
 
There are no restrictions on academic freedom. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association. 
 
The authorities legally may not prohibit public gatherings.  Organizers 
of demonstrations must provide advance notice to local authorities, who 
may change the time and place of public gatherings for such reasons as 
fear of public disorder.  Numerous mass meetings and political 
demonstrations took place without Government interference.  However, the 
Riga city council regularly denied permission or sought to change the 
time and place of demonstrations by groups representing a portion of the 
noncitizen community.  On occasion this led to clashes between 
demonstrators and the municipal police.  Noncitizen representatives and 
Russian-language newspapers accused the police of using excessive force 
to break up "unauthorized" meetings.  On one occasion the municipal 
police detained several demonstrators briefly for allegedly blocking 
access to the city council building, but the cases against them did not 
hold up in court. 
 
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.  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.  More than 35 political parties are 
officially registered. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitutional Law provides for freedom of religion, and the 
Government generally respects this right in practice.  Although the 
Government does not require the registration of religious groups, a new 
law on religious organizations specifies that religious organizations 
can enjoy certain rights and privileges only if they register.  Only 
religious groups which have at least 25 members who are citizens may be 
registered. 
 
Foreign evangelists and missionaries are permitted to hold meetings and 
proselytize, but the law stipulates that only religious organizations in 
Latvia may invite them to carry out such activities. 
 
Representatives of religious organizations which authorities consider to 
be "nontraditional," including the Mormons, continue to experience 
difficulties in obtaining visas and residence permits to serve as 
missionaries in Latvia.  Religious education may be provided to public 
school students on a voluntary basis only by representatives of legally 
registered religious organizations. 
 
 
   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. 
 
In April the Parliament adopted a Law on the Status of Former Soviet 
Citizens which stipulates that registered permanent resident noncitizens 
also enjoy the rights to establish and change residences within Latvia, 
travel abroad, and return to Latvia.  The law also provides for issuance 
of new noncitizen travel documents verifying these rights.  By year's 
end, the Government had reportedly contracted with a firm to produce 
these documents, but they were not yet available. 
 
In the interim, and in apparent contradiction with the Law on Former 
Soviet Citizens, the CID continued to require departing noncitizens to 
obtain separate reentry permits.  Moreover, because of a continuing 
shortage of the former Soviet passports previously issued to 
noncitizens, foreign travel for some noncitizens was temporarily 
restricted in mid-1995.  This situation was largely alleviated in the 
latter half of the year when the CID began to issue temporary noncitizen 
identification documents, valid for 2 years and accepted as travel 
documents by key foreign countries. 
 
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 and Central Asia entering by 
land from Russia or Belarus and hoping to reach Scandinavia; Latvia 
usually attempts to return such asylum seekers, but neighboring 
countries are generally willing to accept only their own citizens or 
legal residents. 
 
One group of over 100 asylum seekers was repeatedly shuttled in a train 
among border posts in Latvia, Lithuania, and Russia.  After being 
detained in the train under deplorable conditions, the group was finally 
transferred to a substandard detention center outside Riga.  In December 
most of these asylum seekers were transferred to a newly constructed 
building at the same location, furnished with the help of the Swedish 
Government, where they remained in detention.  Latvian authorities 
remained unwilling to grant asylum to these persons, who were attempting 
to reach Sweden, and no other country was prepared to accept them. 
 
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 (the Saeima) in September and October, 
with the participation of numerous parties and factions representing a 
broad political spectrum.   
 
Candidates from 11 parties won seats in the Saeima, and 72 percent of 
eligible voters participated. 
 
Although international observers deemed the parliamentary elections to 
be free and fair, the elections law passed in May barred the candidacy 
of any citizen who remained "active" in the Communist Party or various 
other pro-Soviet organizations after January 13, 1991.  Furthermore, 
there was a Latvian-language requirement for candidates.  The law 
granted wide authority to the Central Elections Commission to interpret 
and apply these relatively vague provisions, and it struck the names of 
over a dozen of the nearly 1,000 persons on parties' candidate lists.  
Local elections commissions took inadequate steps in some locations to 
insure that voters could make their choices in private booths, but there 
were no allegations that voters were subject to improper pressure or 
influence. 
 
There are no ethnic restrictions on political participation, and some 
nonethnic Latvians serve in various elected bodies.  There was no 
mechanism for the many residents of Latvia who were not citizens to 
participate in the elections. 
 
Following the restoration of independence in 1991, citizenship was 
immediately 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 the eight largest cities.  More 
than 70 percent of the registered residents of Latvia are citizens, 
almost 400,000 of whom are not ethnic Latvian. 
 
Under provisions of a July 1994 law, various categories of noncitizens 
become eligible to apply for naturalization over a period extending from 
1995 until early in the next century.  Highest priority was given to 
spouses of Latvian citizens, 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 
several groups including 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 Latvian history, 
and to take a loyalty oath. 
 
International observers including the resident Organization of Security 
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission credit the Government with 
establishing a competent and professional naturalization board with 
offices throughout the country to implement the 1994 law.  Early 
experience suggested that the board sought to apply the law fairly, 
although international observers expressed some concern that tests of 
Latvian language and history might be overly difficult for some 
applicants.  Just under 1,000 persons were naturalized in 1995.  The 
reason for this small number may include potential applicants' lack of 
confidence about their language ability, the time needed to establish 
naturalization and testing procedures, the restricted category of 
applicants eligible to seek naturalization in the first year, and 1995 
amendments to the citizenship law which granted automatic citizenship 
(rather than requiring naturalization) for certain persons.  These 
liberalizing amendments, which applied to all ethnic Latvians returning 
to the country (primarily those returning from Russia whose families 
were not Latvian citizens in 1940) as well as to persons successfully 
completing secondary education in Latvian language schools, allowed 
several thousand additional persons to register as citizens. 
 
International experts, government officials, and domestic human rights 
monitors agreed that Latvia must continue to place high priority and 
devote sufficient resources to implementing the naturalization law in a 
fair, impartial manner.  The Government must also provide greater 
opportunities for noncitizens to learn Latvian. 
 
The CID, which has administrative responsibility for registering 
noncitizens, has frequently failed to implement properly and fairly laws 
affecting noncitizens, most often by denying noncitizen residents' 
applications for permanent resident status.  Negative CID decisions are 
subject to judicial review.  However, the CID sometimes refused to 
comply when courts overturned negative CID decisions. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
A growing number of nongovernmental organizations devoted to research 
and advocacy on human rights issues, including prison conditions and 
women's and children's rights, 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.  It 
welcomed visits by human rights organizations and received delegations 
from, among others, the OSCE, the Council of Europe (COE), and the 
United Nations.  A resident OSCE mission continued to operate with a 
mandate to "address citizenship issues and other related matters." 
 
Building on the recommendations of a special high-level team organized 
by the United Nations Development Program, the COE, and the OSCE, the 
Government adopted a national program for the protection and promotion 
of human rights, and the Parliament authorized creation of an 
independent human rights office to replace the interim office of a state 
minister for human rights.  The human rights office has a mandate to 
provide information on human rights, inquire into individual complaints, 
and initiate its own investigations on alleged violations.  Its 
permanent director will be appointed by the Government, confirmed by the 
Saeima for a 4-year period, and subject to dismissal only under limited 
circumstances.  The office began working under an acting director; as of 
December she had been able to fill only some of the office's planned 26 
positions owing to budget cuts stemming from the Government's financial 
difficulties. 
 
In 1995 the U.N. Human Rights Committee charged with monitoring 
compliance with the International Convenant on Civil and Political 
Rights expressed satisfaction at positive changes since 1990 and 
welcomed its "open and constructive dialogue" with Latvia but registered 
concern and made suggestions on numerous issues, including prison 
conditions and the legal system, as well as the status of noncitizens 
and asylum seekers. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
According to the 1922 Constitution, all citizens are equal under the 
law.  The 1991 Constitutional Law, which modifies the Constitution, 
states that "all persons in Latvia" are equal under the law regardless 
of race, sex, religion, language, social status, political preference, 
or other grounds and grants equal rights to work and wages to "persons 
of all nationalities."  However, the Constitutional Law limits to 
citizens the right to occupy state positions, establish political 
parties, and own land.  Of Latvia's more than 2.5 million registered 
residents, there are more than 765,000 ethnic Russians, 100,000 ethnic 
Belarusians, almost 70,000 ethnic Ukrainians, and more than 60,000 
ethnic Poles.  Nearly 400,000 members of ethnic minorities are citizens. 
 
   Women 
 
Sources indicate that 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 make arrests in 
such cases.  No government program exists specifically to assist victims 
of domestic abuse.  Both adult and child prostitution are widespread and 
often linked with organized crime. 
 
Women possess the same legal rights as men.  The Labor Code prohibits 
women from performing "hard jobs or jobs having unhealthy conditions" 
which are specified in a list agreed upon between the Cabinet and labor 
unions.  Beyond this, the Code bans employment discrimination.  In 
reality, women frequently face hiring and pay discrimination, especially 
in the emerging private sector.  It is not unusual to see employment 
advertising which specifically seeks men.  Sexual harassment of women in 
the workplace is reportedly common.  Women apparently have not brought 
any discrimination suits before the courts. 
 
Women's advocacy groups are growing in size and number.  They are 
involved in finding employment for women, lobbying for increased social 
benefits, assisting victims of domestic abuse, and opposing the hazing 
of military recruits. 
 
   Children 
 
Although it is government policy to ensure children's rights to basic 
health, welfare, and education, there is no general legislation 
outlining these rights, and the Government lacks resources necessary to 
provide them fully.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that child abuse and 
abandonment are relatively widespread.  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.  
Although 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. 
 
Although legislation provides for the establishment of special 
institutions for rehabilitation and vocational training of juvenile 
offenders, the Government failed to budget funds for this purpose.  
Consequently, juveniles are frequently housed in regular prison 
facilities after committing relatively minor offenses. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
Latvia does not have a law banning discrimination against the disabled.  
The Government supports special schools for disabled persons.  It does 
not enforce a 1993 law requiring buildings to be accessible to 
wheelchairs, and most buildings are not.  However, Riga has undertaken 
an extensive wheelchair-ramp program at intersections. 
 
   Religious Minorities 
 
In May a mysterious bombing caused serious damage to the sole remaining 
synagogue in Riga.  The President and other government officials 
immediately expressed their outrage, and the authorities actively 
investigated this incident.  However, at year's end no arrests had been 
made. 
 
   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Because the majority of ethnic minorities are not citizens, they have 
difficulty participating fully in civic life.  Noncitizens who are 
temporary residents have particular difficulty.  Prior to 1995, this 
group typically had resided in factory dormitories or housing units 
previously connected to the Soviet or Russian military. 
 
The adoption of a Law on the Status of Former Soviet Citizens who do not 
hold Latvian or any other citizenship was a major positive development 
in 1995, ending years of uncertainty about the legal status of more than 
700,000 persons.  This Law reiterates guarantees of basic human rights 
and provides noncitizens who have been permanent residents continuously 
since July 1, 1992, with the rights to change residence, leave and 
return to Latvia, and invite close relatives to join them for the 
purpose of family reunification.  It also required the registration of 
noncitizens regardless of their housing status, helping to resolve cases 
of persons previously unregistered because they lived in former Soviet 
military or dormitory housing.  The law also provides for issuance of 
new travel documents specifying these rights (see Section 2.d.). 
 
Various laws prohibit employment of noncitizens in certain categories, 
some of which appear to be reasonable restrictions (e.g., only citizens 
can serve as Latvian diplomats) while others seem less justified (e.g., 
service as crewmembers on Latvian National Airlines).  Parliament failed 
to adopt compromise proposals on employment restrictions. 
 
The 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.  Moreover, Russian 
is the prevailing language in state-industrial enterprises.  
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. 
 
Some ethnic Russians have also complained of de facto discrimination 
resulting from the property laws which limit land ownership to citizens.  
Moreover, noncitizens were given fewer privatization certificates (which 
can be used to purchase stocks and will eventually be usable to 
privatize apartments and land) than citizens.  However, the law does 
allow land ownership by companies in which noncitizens own shares. 
 
The Government has agreed to continue using Russian as the language of 
instruction in public schools where the pupils are primarily Russian 
speakers.  It also supports eight other minority language schools.  
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 
examination.  The Government's stated goal is that all public schools 
eventually convert to Latvian as the language of instruction. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
The 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.  Union membership, which had been about 50 percent of the work 
force in 1993, continued to fall as workers left Soviet-era unions that 
include management or were laid off as Soviet-style factories failed.  
Leaders of the two largest trade union confederations, the Confederation 
of Free Trade Unions and the Latvian Trade Unions' Alliance of 
Employees, were among candidates of a "Labor and Justice" coalition 
which gained less than 5 percent of the vote in the 1995 parliamentary 
elections.  Unions are free to affiliate internationally and are 
developing contacts with European labor unions and international labor 
union organizations.  In general, the trade union movement is 
undeveloped and still in transition from the socialist to the free 
market model. 
 
The law does not limit the right to strike.  Although many state-owned 
factories are on the verge of bankruptcy and seriously behind in wage 
payments, workers fear dismissal if they strike.  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 age 13 to 15 may work in certain jobs after school hours.  
Children are required to attend school for 9 years.  The law restricts 
employment of those under age 18, for instance, by banning night shift 
or overtime work.  State authorities are lax in their enforcement of 
child labor and school attendance laws. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
In December the Government decided "in principle" to raise the minimum 
wage to about $70 (38 lats), far below the roughly $95 (50 lats) which 
trade union officials describe as the bare minimum for survival.  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 weekly, 4 weeks of annual vacation, and a program of 
assistance to working mothers with small children.  The 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 1995 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.