VILNIUS - In a move that strengthens the role of the presidency, the Constitutional Court has ruled that a presidential veto of the new Lustration Law, which defines a KGB reserve officer, was legal.
The court, which had ruled on an appeal by lawmakers on the constitutionality of President Valdas Adamkus' veto, announced its opinion on Feb. 22.
The president's veto halted a draft law that defines the term of "reserve officer" and requires them to be enlisted into a special registry together with the regular officers.
The president also disapproved of the idea of limiting former KGB reserve officers work opportunities.
Provisions on KGB reserve officers directly concern several important figures in the nation's political arena.
Social Liberal MP and former Foreign Affairs Minister Antanas Valionis is a former KGB captain in reserve. Arvydas Pocius, former head of the State Security Department, who was replaced by Povilas Malakauskas in June 2007, was also on the reserve list.
The MPs who appealed to the court wanted to know whether the president possesses the power to veto and return a law without argumentation.
The court, which is chaired by Egidijus Kuris (photo), decided that the president can return a law for repeated considerations on the basis of any legal, economical, political, moral motives or those connected to international obligations of the Lithuanian state, as well as procedural violations.
"In such cases, the president of the republic can, using the right of veto granted by the constitution, prevent the creation of a law, which in his opinion may be inconsistent with the constitution, in accordance to the order of passing legislation," the court ruled.
MP Kestutis Cilinskas, a lawyer and one of the initiators of the appeal, said that this ruling essentially strengthens the powers of the president.
"This is the first time when the procedure was vetoed 's and not the law. It appears that the Constitutional Court considers that powers of the president, as a controlling institution, need to be strengthened," said Cilinskas.
The president initially did not present amendments or suggestions when he vetoed the law on Oct. 31, 2007.
However, he later offered them in November after a vote in the Seimas (parliament), which was unable to override the veto.
The president proposed that KGB collaborators who had not yet admitted as such get "a second chance" to declare their past connections with Soviet repressive services until Dec. 31, 2012.
Parliament approved the proposals, which should be debated by lawmakers in the spring session starting March 10.
In May 2007, Adamkus had also vetoed law amendments according to which working possibilities for former Soviet security (KGB) reserve officers were set.
The president then noted that if the KGB reserve officers were enlisted in the law and their professional activities were restricted, this might be considered as restrictions of human rights and freedom that are inadequate for the purpose sought.
In July of 2004, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Lithuania in case of two former KGB officers who had complained they are banned from employment not only in state sector but also in the private sector as well. The Strasbourg-based court admitted that such discriminatory restrictions of the plaintiffs' basic rights were disproportionate.
However, to this date Lithuania has not implemented the ECHR decision.
Milda Meckauskaite of the Lithuania's representation at the ECHR office confirmed that the decision had yet to be implemented, adding that the Council of Europe monitors the legislative processes within each member country.
"They understand that the legislative process takes time, thus it is just monitored for now," Meckauskaite told The Baltic Times.
She mentioned that Lithuania's delay in implementing the ECHR's decision is not the worst case so far. Ireland, for instance, for four years has refused to amend provisions of its Criminal Code providing that homosexuality is a crime.
Sanctions for failure to implement ECHR's decisions are strict, even involving removal from the Council of Europe or suspension of membership. Belarus has been removed, and Greece has been suspended and then re-admitted, said Meckauskaite.
In January 2007, however, Lithuanian officials seemed more uncertain about reaction of the Council of Europe.
"Lithuania looks horrific. I hope that the extreme sanction will not be applied, and we will not be removed from the Council of Europe," said Julius Sabatauskas, head of the parliamentary legal affairs committee on Jan. 29, 2007.
Elvyra Baltutyte, an ECHR official, admitted that Lithuania has only fulfilled the requirement to pay compensation to plaintiffs but has not changed the provisions, which were considered contradictory to the European Human Rights Convention.
The president's veto of the new draft means that the old law passed in 1999 is still valid. Thus violations of human rights can still occur.
In 2005, the ECHR adopted another decision against Lithuania, in which two lawyers and former KGB officials were fired from public sector jobs.