State left without human rights chief

  • 2005-09-28
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - With boisterous applause and open derision, the left and right-wings in Parliament celebrated the defeated candidacy of Nils Muiznieks to lead the state's human rights office Sept. 22. The right-wing parties New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom joined forces with For Human Rights in a United Latvia, a bitter rival, to gather 51 votes to block Muiznieks, an American-Latvian, in a closed vote.

The People's Party, Latvia's First Party and National Harmony supported the candidacy, while the Greens and Farmers' Union claimed that only two of their deputies voted in opposition.

New Era, which led the opposition to Muiznieks' candidacy, claimed that he lacked human rights experience, then later added he was "politically engaged."

Now that his candidacy has been defeated, its unclear what steps will be taken. New Era head Karlis Sadurskis said his party would now support Liga Biksiniece for the post, the candidate who came in second in the competition.

Muiznieks, long a symbol of contempt for right-wing nationalist groups, also draws the ire of left-wing parties as well. As special task minister for integration, Muiznieks was in a coalition that barred Jurijs Petropavlovskis, an anti-education reform activist, from citizenship.

Petropavlovskis is a member of For Human Rights in a United Latvia.

Muiznieks won the competition to head the state's human rights bureau, but during the debate in Parliament was bombarded with acidic criticism from his opponents despite his qualifications.

Peteris Tabuns of For Fatherland read out a letter that said: "Nils, you can't be one of us!" during the debate, perhaps in reference to Muiznieks' policies, which are at odds to right-wing groups.

Aleksandrs Kirsteins, an unaligned deputy who was recently expelled from the People's Party for anti-Jewish statements, called Muiznieks a "politically extreme person."

Muiznieks first entered government in 2002 as an unaligned minister. After being impugned by a coalition partner (New Era) in 2003, he joined Latvia's First, a party that brands itself as a moral authority since many of its founders are Lutheran ministers.

Recently, however, Muiznieks left the party.

The former minister told The Baltic Times that he'd had enough of politics. "That was my big kiss goodbye from the Latvian political elite," he said.

He added that he would not stand for other political positions, such as the state's vacant ombudsmen's office.

"I clearly do not have a majority that will get me elected," he said.

Muiznieks narrowly missed out on advancing to the top three in the competition for the Council of Europe's human rights chief.

He has also reportedly won the competition to head the European Commission's delegation to Latvia, but that too was put on hold due to political back-room maneu-vering.