Human rights report misleading says activist

  • 2002-03-14
  • Staff and wire reports

The U.S. State Department generally praised human rights efforts in the Baltics in its 2001 Report on Human Rights issued earlier this month.

The report mentioned Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China and most of the former Soviet republics - except the Baltics - as human rights abuses hot spots last year.

The report cited violence against women and discrimination against the ethnic Russian minority as the main problems in Estonia.

Aleksei Semyonov, director of the Tallinn-based Legal Information Center for Human Rights, said the overall positive image of Estonia created in the report was spoiled by a couple of issues that did not attract the attention of American researchers.

Semyonov said the national security police was watching some politically sensitive issues, including the case of Russian politician Pyotr Rozhok who stood trial for illegally residing in Estonia. The case of Sillamae pensioners' union also did not make the report.

"(Sillamae) is a case where the security police started an investigation on minor financial fraud which certainly did not threaten state security," Semyonov said.

"The U.S. report totally ignored such dangerous precedents," stated Semyonov.

Some non-citizen residents, especially ethnic Russians, continued to allege job, salary and housing discrimination because of Estonian language requirements, according to the report.

Semyonov said the expression "housing discrimination because of language requirements" was misleading.

"The real problem is the problem of long-term and continuing mass statelessness in Estonia, which is certainly a human rights problem," he said.

Stiff language requirements for many job categories - medical personnel, teachers, flight controllers - which are applied both for citizens and for non-citizens, are another problem missed in the report, Semyonov suggested.

"In many cases these requirements don't reflect professional qualities and thus represent a kind of discrimination on the basis of language," said Semyonov.