VILNIUS - Although Lithuania has made progress in its efforts against racism and intolerance, the Baltic state has so far failed to ensure the proper treatment of ethnic minorities, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said in its latest report.
Since publication of the commission's previous report in April 2003, progress has been noted in a number of fields, the report said.
The legal framework against racial discrimination has been strengthened by the adoption of the Law on Equal Opportunities, which extended the Equal Opportunity Ombudsman's mandate to include gender, race, ethnic origin and religion.
Lithuania has also taken measures to further national minorities' right to native language education and to integrate national minorities 's particularly the Roma 's in the labor market.
However, a number of recommendations made in ECRI's second report have not yet been implemented or have only been partially implemented, the commission pointed out.
The report also noted that Lithuania's provisions to counter racial intolerance, including the incitement of racial hatred, which has notably targeted the Jewish, Roma and Chechen communities, have not been adequately applied.
What's more, members of the Roma population continue to face disadvantages, prejudice and discrimination across a wide range of areas. They also lack involvement in the decision-making processes, particularly those that concern them.
Antanas Petrauskas, director of the Department of Ethnic Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad, told the Baltic News Service that Roma integration was not just a Lithuanian problem.
"Speaking about problems with the Roma minority 's feelings of intolerance toward them and their separation from society 's they apply to not only Lithuania but all countries of the Council of Europe. This is particularly relevant to post-Soviet countries, which currently do not have the programs to promote integration. Such projects have already been in place among old European Union members for many years. Lithuania has been a member of the EU for only two years, so we've had the Roma integration program for approximately two years," he said.
In Petrauskas' words, the situation in other countries is even worse. "The situation with Roma communities is far worse in the Balkans, Chechnya, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, Moldova and Kazakhstan. We look really good in this context, although it is not an excuse," he said.
Most Lithuanians complain about the Roma's area of living, which is often in crime-ridden and heroin-infested ghettos.
Asylum legislation and practice has undergone an important reform which, in spite of the positive elements introduced, has diminished refugee protection in several areas, reads the document.
Instances of anti-Semitism continue to be a cause of concern in Lithuania, said ERCI, noting some members of the media's contribution to an atmosphere of hostility for minority groups.
In the report, the commission recommends that Lithuanian authorities take further action in a number of areas, specifically the ratification of Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which lays down a general prohibition of discrimination; the need to adequately implement existing legislation against racist expression, such as the incitement of racial hatred; and the need to fine-tune criminal legislation against racially-motivated crime.
ECRI also recommends that the government further develop, in close cooperation with the Roma communities, the integration strategies targeting these communities, and that they adequately fund and implement these plans.
Finally, the commission asked authorities to ensure that the rights of asylum seekers are not jeopardized by restrictive legislation or practice, adding that state officials should monitor and address all instances of anti-Semitism and strengthen public awareness to discrimination.