RIGA - “W e request that non-citizen children [in Latvia] are granted full, automatic citizenship,” announced Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland in an interview with LETA.
Even though the Council of Europe maintains its stance that non-citizens should be granted rights to participate in municipal elections, there is a dilemma in this regard, he added. “While meeting with Latvian officials, I was told that this could harm naturalization, which aims at making these people full-fledged citizens and not just partial citizens, if they are granted rights to participate in municipal elections. I see this as a dilemma,” explained the politician.
Jagland also expressed his concern over Latvian parliamentary immunity. “MPs should not hide behind such immunities, everything should be fully transparent,” he said.
Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, at a meeting with the visiting Council of Europe secretary general, discussed the non-citizen issue, explaining that contrary to other nations in Europe, Latvia has a broader interpretation of the definition of “minority;” this also pertains to people who are not citizens of Latvia.
Speaking about non-citizens, the PM informed Jagland that the government recently approved easing the requirements for children of non-citizens.
Jagland made no reprimands about Latvia’s existing human rights record vis-a-vis non-citizens.
Also discussed at the June 4 meeting was the presidency in the CoE, with Dombrovskis insisting that the issue of Greece must be a priority. Jagland and Dombrovskis talked about the many petitions under review in the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) and the hampered legal process thereof.
Most of the petitions are from Russia, Turkey and Italy.
Interviewed by LETA, the secretary general admitted that the EU faces many problems with human rights, and to solve them, concentrated effort must be made in utilizing all available resources.
The Latvian parliament’s immunity is too great, emphasized Jagland during a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics (Reform Party). Rinkevics in turn said that the ruling coalition wanted to reduce it; however, the opposition blocked the motion. The minister expressed hope that Latvia will return to this issue.
The secretary general repeatedly voiced his concern over the number of non-citizens in Latvia. Rinkevics expressed that the naturalization process is well-organized in Latvia and that it is up to non-citizens to decide whether they want to become Latvian citizens.
The officials also discussed CoE and European Court of Human Rights reforms. The minister confirmed Latvia’s support to CoE reform and expressed concern over the observance of CoE principles in Russia and Ukraine.
Saeima Speaker Solvita Aboltina said that her meeting with Secretary General Jagland was held with a highly positive attitude, and no reprimands were voiced on human rights issues. Aboltina said that she told her guest that education is available in Latvia in eight ethnic minority languages. Jagland had not brought the issue up; Aboltina offered the information, adding that non-citizens are protected in Latvia like citizens.
She also mentioned the sole restriction non-citizens have - participation in elections and the right to assume certain offices. At the same time, she added, Latvia is currently working on boosting naturalization and upgrading the Citizenship Law.