• 2001-03-01
RIGA - The U.S. State Department in its annual report on human rights practices released Feb. 26 criticized Latvia for use of excessive force against prisoners, poor conditions in prison, a weak judicial system, reports of corruption and lengthy pretrial detention.

These problems have also been noted in previous annual reports about human rights in Latvia, but the current report emphasizes discrimination against women at the workplace, domestic violence and prostitution in the Latvian capital Riga as serious problems.

"The government generally respects the human rights of its citizens and the large resident non-citizen community. However, problems remain in certain areas," the report reads. Despite legal protection, international observers and human rights groups increasingly are concerned about problems facing women. Although no overall statistics are available, sources indicate that domestic violence against women, often connected with alcohol abuse, is significant and under-reported.

Human rights groups assert that the legal system, including the courts, tends to downplay the seriousness of domestic violence and that the police are sometimes reluctant to make arrests in such cases.

"Women who are victims of abuse often seem to be uninformed about their rights and reluctant to seek redress through the justice system," the report says.

Sexual harassment of women in the workplace, although illegal, is also common. Cultural factors discourage women from coming forward with complaints of abuse.

"In reality women frequently face hiring and pay discrimination, especially in the emerging private sector," the document notes.

Both adult and child prostitution are widespread. The government estimates that there are 3,000 persons prostitutes in Latvia, but NGOs report that adult prostitutes have no legal protection or state institutions to assist them.

"Prostitution is legal; procuring is not," reads the report.

Child abuse, including sexual abuse, is relatively widespread. Trafficking in young girls for forced prostitution abroad is increasing.

"The country is primarily a source or transit country rather than a destination," the report said.

Prison conditions remain poor, although human rights groups note some improvements during the year. Prison cells are often severely overcrowded. Inadequate sanitation facilities, persistent shortages of blankets and medical care, and insufficient lighting and ventilation are common problems, as is the shortage of resources in general.

During the year, 47 prisoners filed complaints concerning their treatment, and 19 persons filed complaints relating to the police.

As for the courts, the report said that the judiciary was inefficient and not free from corruption. "Corruption in the judicial system reportedly is widespread," the report reads.