Research: minority rights not fully protected

  • 2001-10-18
  • Anna Pridanova
RIGA - Both minority rights for ethnic Russians and Roma in the Baltics and European Union human rights requirements need clarifying according to a study by the Open Society Institute.

The institute - a non-governmental organization founded by the Soros Foundation Network - which monitors the EU accession process released a new report on minority protection and judicial independence in 10 candidate countries Oct. 11.

Noting significant improvement in the course of the last 10 years, the research calls for additional efforts on the part of both EU and the candidate states in the area of minority protection.

The research, focusing on the rights of the Russian speakers in Latvia and Estonia, reviews the Roma rights related policies in eight other countries - Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The research was completed by the EU Accession Monitoring Program, which was created by the OSI in 2001.

The EU needs to develop clearer membership standards, apply them universally, and monitor compliance in both member and candidate states, the study says.

The organization's research and conclusions suggest the EU require countries to adopt the Racial Equality Directive prior to accession and provide technical assistance to create minority protection legislation.

But comparing the situation of one million Russian speakers in Latvia and 3,000 Roma in Lithuania is a fundamental problem in the research, said Nils Muiznieks, head of the Ethnic Studies and Human Rights Center, who participated in the discussion concerning drafts of the findings.

"There are different levels of vulnerability involved," Muiznieks said. While the rights of Russian speakers have been restricted, the rights of the smaller minorities have been expanded, he added.

And the situation has improved, he said, comparing the rarity of elementary education in a minority language during Soviet times to the improved present situation.

"It [the research] is good, but I would give it another interpretation," said Muiznieks. "I can't think of any area where the situation has deteriorated."

Of all the Baltic states, Latvia has the longest and most elaborate list of the recommended improvements. The OSI report encourages the country to naturalize and broaden the electoral rights of the ethnic minorities.

Muiznieks said he wasn't sure the report was an accurate representation of the situation in Latvia.

"Regarding the naturalization, the government has completed all OSCE recommendations. This is the area where I would hesitate criticizing the government," Muiznieks said.

For Estonia the research spells out three areas to improve — naturalization, bringing legislation up to international standards and participation of minorities in public and political life, including decision making.

Lithuania's checklist includes supporting the state's Program for Integration of Roma into Lithuanian Society, legalizing houses in Roma neighborhoods and promoting public awareness of the ombudsman's office.

The Open Society Foundation was developed to be an independent source of information on minority protection, independence of judiciary, equal opportunities for women and men and corruption in the European countries vying for EU membership.

The reports on equal opportunity and corruption will be released in 2002.