OSCE parliamentary assembly criticizes Latvia, Estonia

  • 2004-07-15
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Just days after the Russian government announced it would pressure Latvia in international forums to change its laws governing minorities, its officials convinced the OSCE's parliamentary assembly to pass a resolution chiding Latvia and Estonia for insufficient progress on defending minority rights.

Specifically, the OSCE recommended that Latvia grant voting rights to noncitizens in municipal elections and ratify the framework convention on national minorities.
The draft resolution - Supplementary Item on the Situation of Minorities in Latvia and Estonia - was submitted by Russia's Parliamentary Chairman Boris Gryzlov, though intervention by Latvia's representative helped remove the names of Latvia and Estonia from the final version.
The resolution passed with a vote of 80 to 20 and was supported by larger nations such as Germany and France.
The decisive element that swayed Western opinion was a speech by Latvian representative Andrejs Klementjevs of the National Harmony Party, said Krisjanis Peters, another Latvian representative.
While Latvia and Estonia might have succeeded in keeping their names clean nominally, they were still the only countries specifically named within the document's text.
Estonia was mentioned to a lesser extent than Latvia since it has already ratified the convention and granted voting rights to noncitizens in local elections.
In addition, the resolution asked the two Baltic countries not to attempt national minoritiy assimilation and to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, language, religion, sex, and national origin.
The resolution also called on Latvia to ratify protocols No. 12, and No. 13 to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
However, Peters said it could have been much worse, explaining that he had submitted 17 corrections to the initial proposal, most of which were taken into account.
Nevertheless, despite Russia's diplomatic "success" in targeting the Baltics, it too has faced OSCE criticism and has even lashed out at the organization. (See story on Page 14.)
Peters also said that an anonymous eight-page document decrying the minority situation in Latvia and Estonia had been distributed at the assembly's summit. It was purportedly prepared by Russia.
Latvia and Estonia have said that they will work together to explain their minority situations to the international community. The Foreign Ministry's press release stated that compliance of Latvian laws with international standards for the protection of human and minority rights has "more that once" been confirmed by organizations such as the U.N., the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
"Also, Latvia's membership in the EU and NATO is proof of its compliance with the standards. Unfortunately, representatives of the Russian Federation are still turning a deaf ear to the opinions of international organizations and are continuing to make a political issue out of the public integration process in Latvia, thus, complicating it," the statement read.
Latvian politicians reacted coolly to the resolution.
"It's just a continuation of what Russia has been doing for the last 10 years," the head of Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Artis Pabriks, said.
"I am deeply disappointed by what larger western European countries, like Germany and France did when they supported this resolution," he added.
"The OSCE recommendations are nothing new, and Latvia has the right itself to say when the convention would have to be ratified," Ina Druviete, head of the Saeima's (Latvia's parliament) subcommittee on social integration, said.
The OSCE's resolution and proposals to Latvia certainly have been heard before. As has the UN, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Alavaro Gil-Robles recommended the same thing in his report on Latvia last year.
However, due to a radicalization process in Latvian politics over the education reform, finding a compromise, granting rights to non citizens to vote in municipal elections or signing the Framework Convention on Minorities is unlikely.
"These are becoming pretty common recommendations to Latvia. We feel that allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections will remove the incentive to naturalize," Special Task Minister for Integration Nils Muiznieks said.
"I am hoping we see some movement on ratifying the framework convention," he added.
Other analysts said that granting noncitizens municipal voting rights would have political fallout.
"The so-called Latvian parties would have a problem to accept such changes. There has been a radicalization of politics, making compromise difficult. Russia knows that there is no real way for change - this is exactly why they are attacking Latvia on this issue," Nellija Locmele, editor in chief of public policy portal www.politika.lv said.
One well informed source said that the Council of Europe might threaten to renew monitoring of Latvia if progress on ratifying the Framework Convention on Minorities does not take place by the end of the year.