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Title: Lithuania Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 LITHUANIA Lithuania is a parliamentary democracy. With its statehood widely recognized as continuous for more than 70 years, Lithuania restored its independence in 1990 after more than 50 years of Soviet occupation. The Constitution, adopted by referendum in 1992, established a 141-member unicameral legislature, the Seimas; a directly elected President, who functions as Head of State; and a Government formed by a Prime Minister and other ministers, appointed by the President and approved by the Seimas. The Government exercises authority with the approval of the Seimas and the President. In fair elections in 1992, the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDDP)--the successor to the Communist Party of Lithuania, which in 1989 broke away from the Soviet Communist Party--won a majority of parliamentary seats and formed the Government. In 1993 voters elected Algirdas Brazauskas, then Chairman of the LDDP, as President. Local government elections in March, however, gave the ruling LDDP its first electoral defeat since 1992. Right-of-center candidates captured a majority of local government councils in most of the country's towns and cities. A unified national police force under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry is responsible for law enforcement. The State Security Department is responsible for internal security and reports to Parliament and the President. The police committed a number of human rights abuses. Since independence, Lithuania has moved to a market economy. More than 40 percent of state property, including most housing and small businesses, has been privatized. Industry employs 42 percent of the labor force. The agricultural sector's continuing high proportion of the work force (18 percent) reflects a lack of efficient consolidation of small private farms and represents a vocal protectionist current in economic policy debates. The banking system remains weak, with the Government moving just before Christmas to suspend operations at two prominent private commercial banks for illiquidity and fraud. The inflation rate of 35.7 percent was significantly higher than had been projected. Per capita gross domestic product was estimated at $1,000 per year. Trade is diversifying, with a gradual shift to Western markets. Major exports include textile and knitwear products, timber and furniture, electronic goods, food, and chemical and petroleum products. The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, but problems remain in some areas. Police on occasion beat detainees and reportedly abuse already excessive detention laws. Some journalists allege that government officials apply pressure on them not to criticize governmental policies or acts. Jewish cemeteries are sporadically subjected to vandalism and pilfering. Violence and discrimination against women and child abuse are problems which the Government has failed to address. In April the Parliament ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political or other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reports of politically motivated killings. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment There were no reports that officials engaged in or condoned torture. However, police sometimes beat or otherwise physically mistreated detainees. The local press reported that incidents of police brutality are becoming more common. In many instances, the victims reportedly are reluctant to bring charges against police officers owing to fear of reprisals. The Ministry of the Interior generally has been unwilling to publicize statistics on reported cases of policy brutality. Sources in the Parliament, however, reported that there were 116 complaints concerning employees of the Ministry of the Interior, of which 15 had been resolved and 74 are still under investigation. Owing to limited resources and motivation, many of Lithuania's prisons are poorly maintained. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Except in cases that come under the provisions of the Preventive Detention Law (described below), police may detain a person for up to 72 hours, based upon reliable evidence of criminal activity. At the end of that period, police must decide whether or not to make a formal arrest, and a magistrate must approve an arrest warrant. The authorities have a total of 10 days to present supporting evidence. Once a suspect is formally charged, prosecutors may keep the person under investigative arrest for up to 2 months before taking the case to court. In exceptional cases, investigative arrest may be extended by a further 6 to 9 months with the written approval of the Procurator General. The Constitution provides for the right to an attorney from the moment of detention. In an effort to cope with the rise in violent organized crime, Parliament in 1993 passed the Preventive Detention Law pertaining to persons suspected of being violent criminals. This law, which was passed as a temporary measure, allowed police, but not the internal security or armed forces, to detain suspected violent criminals up to 2 months rather than for the standard 72-hour period. The effect of this law is to give prosecutors and investigators additional time to conduct an investigation and file formal criminal charges against the detainee. Those apprehended must be released after 2 months if an investigation does not lead to formal charges. Local police commissioners must obtain the Procurator General's approval of each arrest carried out under the provisions of this law. Parliament voted in 1994 and 1995 to extend this temporary law for an additional year but with several new provisions, including checks on prosecutorial abuse. The law now requires that a detainee (1) must be informed within 3 hours following arrest of the length of the preventive detention under consideration (not to exceed 2 months), and (2) must be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest for a ruling on the legality of the detention. Furthermore, a detainee has the legal right to consult with an attorney during the period of detention. The law gives law enforcement officials wide latitude in making arrest decisions and may be open to abuse. Police detained over 500 suspected members of criminal gangs under the provision of this law. In several well- publicized cases, the law helped to convict and sentence dangerous criminals to lengthy prison terms. In many other instances, however, the suspects were freed without charge after expiration of the maximum detention period, leading some observers to believe that the police are abusing the lengthy detention period provided by this temporary law. There is no exile. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial Efforts continued in 1995 to reform legal codes imposed under the Soviets. Parliament passed new civil and criminal procedure codes as well as a Court Reform Law. The judicial system currently consists of a two-tier structure of district courts and the Supreme Court, which is an appellate court. There is also a Constitutional Court. Court decisions are arrived at independently. The Procurator General exercises an oversight responsibility through a network of district prosecutors who work with police investigators--employed by the Ministry of the Interior--in preparing the prosecution's evidence for the courts. The Soviet-era institution of lay assessors was abolished at the end of 1994. Under the Court Reform Law now being implemented, two new kinds of courts are being created. Local district courts are being set up below the present district courts to handle cases at the municipal level, while a new appellate court level is hearing appeals arising from district court decisions, thereby reducing the case load of the overburdened Supreme Court. In addition, as a result of Lithuania's accession to the Council of Europe, the Ministry of Justice has begun a thorough review of the country's laws with a view towards bringing them into accord with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Constitution provides defendants the right to counsel. In practice, the right to legal counsel is abridged by the shortage of trained lawyers, who find it difficult to cope with the burgeoning numbers of criminal cases brought before the courts. Outside observers have recommended the establishment of a public defender system to regularize procedures for provision of legal assistance to indigent persons charged in criminal cases. By law, defense lawyers have access to government evidence and may present evidence and witnesses. The courts and law enforcement agencies generally honor routine, written requests for evidence. There were no political trials. Government rehabilitation of more than 50,000 persons charged with anti- Soviet crimes during the Stalinist era led to reports in 1991 that some people alleged to have been involved in crimes against humanity during the Nazi occupation had benefited from this rehabilitation. A special judicial procedure was established to examine each case in which an individual or organization raised an objection that a rehabilitated person may have committed a crime against humanity. In 1994 the Supreme Court overturned the rehabilitation of three persons whose cases were pending from 1993; there were no such rulings by the Supreme Court in 1995. There were no reports of political prisoners. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Constitution provides for the right to privacy. Authorities do not engage in indiscriminate or widespread monitoring of the correspondence or communications of citizens. With the written authorization of a procurator or judge, however, police and the security service may engage in surveillance and monitoring activities on grounds of national security. Except in cases of hot pursuit or the danger of disappearance of evidence, police must obtain a search warrant signed by a prosecutor before they may enter the premises. It is widely assumed, however, that law enforcement agencies have increased the use of a range of surveillance methods to cope with the expansion of organized crime. There is some question as to the legal basis of this police surveillance, but there are no known cases challenging the legality of surveillance. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, which the Government observes in practice. The law prohibits the Government from issuing prior restraint orders over the print or broadcast media or setting restrictions on the disclosure of information, unless the Government determines that national security is involved. Nevertheless, journalists working for the state-owned electronic media complained about pressure by superiors to avoid criticism of government policies in their television and radio reporting. Most independent news publications and many prominent journalists protested against the provisions of a draft public information law, which they thought severely restricted freedom of the press. The draft law failed to pass in a November 6 vote, but parliamentary debate on a press law was expected to continue. The ruling party announced the formation of a committee to review the proposed press law and the provisions which prompted the protests. Many investigative journalists covering organized crime have been harassed by or received death threats, ostensibly from organized "crime families." In October 1993, a copublisher and editor of a widely read daily, who wrote extensively on organized crime, was murdered. In October 1994, the Supreme Court convicted four persons with criminal backgrounds of murder in the case. One person received a death sentence, which was carried out in July. On November 17, a bomb destroyed a major new building under construction for the largest Lithuanian daily, Lietuvos Rytas. The newspaper had been writing a series on Lithuanian organized crime families. It is widely assumed that one or more of these families were responsible for the bombing, although the Government had filed no charges by year's end. Some observers also expressed concern over the Government's motives in sending tax inspectors to the scene shortly after the blast. Press reports of the meeting between Lietuvos Rytas editors and President Brazauskas 2 days after the bombing stated that Brazauskas had chided the editors for publishing charges against organized crime figures without supporting evidence. These events took place in the context of a parliamentary debate in which opposition members criticized the Government for making antipress statements in reaction against journalists' investigation of official corruption. Five private radio stations, including one broadcasting in Polish, are on the air. Two private television stations also broadcast regular programming to wide audiences. Representatives of the private electronic media have complained for some time about unfair transmission fees and advertising rates set by the Government. These rates reportedly favor the state radio and television stations. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for, and the authorities respect, the right of citizens to associate freely, requiring only that they inform local government authorities of planned demonstrations. The law is respected in practice. The Communist Party of Lithuania and other organizations associated with the Soviet regime continue to be banned. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government respects this provision in practice. The Law on Religious Communities and Associations passed in October gives religious communities, associations, and centers property rights to prayer houses, homes, and other buildings and permits construction necessary for their activities. Nine religious communities have been declared by the new law to be "traditional" and therefore eligible for governmental assistance: Latin Rite Catholics, Greek Rite Catholics, Evangelical Lutherans, Evangelical Reformers, Orthodox, Old Believers, Jews, Sunni Muslims, and Karaites. There are no restrictions on the activities of other religious communities. A small Jewish community exists, largely in the main cities. Jewish leaders called on officials to provide better police protection for Jewish cemeteries in Kaunas, Vilnius, and Klaipeda which have been subject to sporadic vandalism and pilfering. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation Under the law, citizens and permanent residents are permitted free movement within, and return to, their country. There are no restrictions on foreign travel. The law on refugee status was signed on July 4. The vast majority of refugees in Lithuania are fleeing economic rather than political situations in their countries and are thus not eligible for asylum. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Lithuania is a parliamentary democracy. The election law provides for a secret ballot in parliamentary elections. Of 141 parliamentary seats, 71 are elected directly and 70 through proportional representation. A party must draw a minimum of 4 percent of the national vote in order to gain a seat through proportional representation. National minority slates are exempt from this rule. Two of the four Polish Union representatives won their seats on a proportional basis, even though the union slate captured only 2 percent of the nationwide proportional vote. The Citizenship Law, adopted in 1991 and amended in October, is inclusive with regard to the country's ethnic minorities. This law provides citizenship to persons who were born within the borders of the republic; who were citizens of Lithuania prior to 1940 and their descendants; or who became citizens under previous legal authority. More than 90 percent of Lithuania's ethnic Russian, Polish, Belarussian, and Ukrainian inhabitants received citizenship. Qualification for naturalization of persons not mentioned by the above-mentioned categories requires a 10-year residency, a permanent job or source of income, knowledge of the Constitution, renunciation of any other citizenship, and proficiency in Lithuanian. There are no legal restrictions on women's participation in politics or government. However, women are underrepresented in political leadership positions. There are only 10 female deputies in the 141-member Seimas, and no female ministers serve in the current Cabinet. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government fully cooperates with local nongovernmental organizations and actively encourages visits by international and nongovernmental human rights groups. The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Lithuania is an umbrella organization for several small human rights groups which operates without government restriction. In 1994 the Government established a department of human rights within the Ministry of Justice, which monitors laws and legal practice to determine whether these are in accord with Lithuania's international obligations. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, or ethnic background, and the Government generally respects these prohibitions. Women Abuse of women at home is reportedly common, especially in connection with alcohol abuse by husbands, and institutional mechanisms for coping with this problem are only now being formed. One private women's organization is attempting to establish a shelter for abused women. According to one sociological survey, 20 percent of women reported an attempted rape, while another 33 percent reported having been beaten at least once in their lives. Official statistics on the incidence of abuse of women in the home are not filed separately from other categories of assault. Women's groups report some resistance among law enforcement officials to collecting and releasing such statistics. Persons convicted of rape generally receive sentences of 3 to 5 years in prison. The Constitution provides equal rights for men and women, and official policy specifies equal pay for equal work. Generally, men and women receive the same pay for comparable work. However, women are largely underrepresented in some professions and in the managerial sector as a whole, and significant inequalities in Lithuanian society based on sex continue. Lithuanian society still has very conservative views about the role of women in society. The fact that women's enrollment now exceeds that of men in some university faculties has prompted university administrators to introduce preferential entrance criteria for men to redress what is perceived as an abnormal state of affairs. Parliamentary deputies speaking about female deputies in public sometimes make unflattering comments based on gender stereotypes, without eliciting any public reaction. Children Child abuse is a problem. The authorities reported that 10 children were killed as a result of severe beatings by parents in the first half of 1995. Social welfare workers believe that much of the abuse occurs in connection with alcohol abuse. The prevalence of authoritarian values in family upbringing has discouraged more active measures against child abuse. The Ministries of Social Protection and of the Interior shared official responsibility for the protection of children's rights and welfare in 1995. Starting in 1994, the Children's Rights Service of the Ministry of Social Protection took on many of the functions formerly handled by the Ministry of the Interior and its subordinate police officers throughout the country, thereby focusing more attention on the social welfare needs of children. The Government showed its commitment to children's rights and welfare by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in July. People with Disabilities The Law on Integrating Disabled People, passed in 1991, provides for a broad category of rights and government benefits to which disabled people are legally entitled. However, given severe budgetary constraints, the Government has been able to allocate only modest sums towards implementation of this law. The equivalent of $3.25 million was disbursed in 1994. No 1995 figures were available. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities Ethnic minorities comprise roughly 20 percent of the population and include Russians, Poles, Belarussians, Ukrainians, and Jews. Ethnic Poles in particular have expressed concerns about the possibility of job discrimination arising from implementation of the language law. The law requires that public sector employees possess a functional knowledge of Lithuanian within a specified time. The authorities have granted liberal extensions of the time in which this is to be achieved. During the first 4 months of 1995, language-testing committees tested 6,975 people for whom Lithuanian is not a native language. Of those examined, 6,048 were certified as language qualified. There is no documented evidence of dismissals based on application of this law. Lithuanian authorities have indicated that the intent of the law is to apply moral incentives to learn Lithuanian as the official language of the State and that no one would be dismissed solely because of an inability to meet the language requirement. This appears to be the case. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association The Constitution and the 1991 Law on Trade Unions recognize the right of workers and employees to form and join trade unions. The Law on Trade Unions formally extends this right to employees of the police and the armed forces, although the Collective Agreements Law of 1991 does not allow collective bargaining by government employees involved in law enforcement and security-related work. In 1990 the Lithuanian branch of the U.S.S.R.'s All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, grouping 23 of 25 trade unions, renamed itself the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (CFTU) and began asserting increased independence from its Soviet parent. In 1993 the CFTU joined eight other unions that also had been part of the All-Union Central Council to form the Lithuanian Trade Union Center (LTUC). The Lithuanian Workers Union (LWU) was formed in 1990 as an alternative to the CFTU. Unlike the CFTU/LTUC, the LWU was an early supporter of restoring independence and actively sought Western free trade union contacts. The LWU now claims a dues-paying membership of 50,000 organized in 35 regional groupings. There are no restrictions on unions affiliating with international trade unions. The Constitution and the Law on Trade Unions provide for the right to strike, although public officials providing essential services may not strike. There were several strikes in 1995, none major. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The Collective Agreements Law provides for collective bargaining and the right of unions to organize employees, although several provisions reportedly hinder the establishment of new union organizations. According to this Law, unions, in order to be registered, must have at least 30 founding members in large enterprises or have a membership of one-fifth of all employees in small enterprises. Difficulties commonly arise in state enterprises in which employees are represented by more than one union. LWU officials charge that managers in some state enterprises discriminate against LWU organizers and have on occasion dismissed employees in retribution for their trade union activities. The LWU also charges that the judicial system is slow to respond to LWU grievances regarding dismissals from work. LWU representatives charge that state managers sometimes prefer the CFTU/LTUC over the LWU unions as collective bargaining partners. In general, trade union spokesmen say that, except in larger factories with well-organized trade unions, managers often determine wages without regard to trade union wishes. The Government issues periodic decrees that serve as guidelines for state enterprise management in setting wage scales. The LWU and the LTUC engage in direct collective bargaining over wages at the workplace level. Wage decisions are increasingly being made at the enterprise level, although government ministries still retain some wage control in state-owned enterprises. The LWU reports that it supplements its bargaining efforts with active lobbying in government ministries that own enterprises. During the first 6 months of 1995, wages continued to grow faster than average price increases, thereby continuing a process of modest real wage growth that began in 1993. There are no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The Constitution prohibits forced labor, and this prohibition is observed in practice. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The legal minimum age for employment of children without parental consent is 16 years. The legal minimum age with the written consent of parents is 14. Free trade union representatives assert that the mechanisms for monitoring minimum age legislation are rudimentary. Complaints about infringement of child labor regulations generally are referred to local prosecutors who investigate the charges and take legal action to stop violations. Available evidence suggests that child labor is rare. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The legal minimum wage is $30 (120 litas) per month, while the average wage in the state industrial sector is $128 (512 litas) per month. The Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Social Protection periodically set the minimum wage. Every 3 months these two government bodies must submit their minimum wage proposals to the Parliament, which has the right to approve or revise the minimum wage level. Enforcement of the minimum wage is almost nonexistent, in part because the Government does not want to exacerbate the current unemployment problem. The 40-hour workweek is standard, with a provision for at least one 24-hour rest period. The Constitution provides that workers have the right to safe and healthy working conditions. In 1993 a Labor Safety Law went into effect, setting down the rights of workers confronted with hazardous conditions and providing legal protection for workers who file complaints about such conditions. The State Labor Inspection Service, which the law established, is charged with implementing the Labor Safety Law. Regional labor inspection offices, each of which have only two or three officials, are severely understaffed. They closed 1,882 enterprises or departments of enterprises found to be in violation of safety regulations during the first 6 months of 1995. Some 170 persons were fined, and 83 cases were referred to local prosecutors' offices. Unsafe conditions caused by worn, outdated industrial technologies are reportedly widespread, and 46 work-related deaths were recorded in the first 6 months of 1995. (###)
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