International Recommendations on Voting Rights for the Latvian Non-citizens
March 12, 2005 self-government elections were held in Latvia.
November 11, 2004, the Parliament of Latvia has adopted amendments to the Law on the self-government elections. According to these amendments, the EU nationals coming to Latvia will have a right to cast their votes.
At the same time the Parliament has rejected proposal of opposition to grant similar rights to the non-citizens of Latvia. This decision is in contradiction with a number of recommendations of international organizations.
Non-citizens of Latvia are a special category of the population of the Republic of Latvia. The number of non-citizens in 2004 was 470.000 (or 20% of the population). Non-citizens are those permanent residents of the Republic who after the restoration of independence in 1991 were not attributed Latvian citizenship on the grounds that they have settled in Latvia after the World War II. At the present moment they are neither foreigners, nor apatrides from the point of view of the Latvian legislation. Non-citizens are under the legal protection of the Latvian state, they are guaranteed the right to return in Latvia and can participate in political parties (the foreigners and apatrides cannot). By the sum of the legal attributes, Latvian non-citizens can be regarded as second-sort citizens of the country. The only similar group in modern Europe are the non-citizens of neighbouring Estonia, where this category of population is ten times smaller. Estonian non-citizens have the right to vote in local elections. Latvian non-citizens are totally deprived of voting rights despite of a number of international recommendations:
- Concluding observations of the UNO Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination: Latvia. 10/12/2003. CERD/C/63/CO/7, para. 12.
- Concluding observations of the UNO Human Rights Committee: Latvia. 06/11/2003. CCPR/CO/79/LVA, para. 18.
- PACE Recommendation 1625(2003) “Policies for the integration of immigrants in Council of Europe member states”, para. 8.iv, subpara. c). Addressed to the Committee of the Council of Europe in order to ask the member states to promote the voting rights for those immigrants, who have lived in a state at least for three years.
- Report by Mr Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights, on his visit to Latvia, 5-8 October 2003, CommDH (2004) 3, para.5).
- Congress of Local And Regional Authorities of Europe, Recommendation 47 (1998) on local and regional democracy in Latvia, para. 9.
- ECRI Second Report on Latvia, CRI (2002) 21, and para.34.
- European Parliament resolution* on the comprehensive monitoring report of the European Commission on the state of preparedness for EU membership of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia, A5-0111/2004, para.74.
- The recommendations expressed by Mr Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights during his visit to Latvia in November 2004.
There are two main official reasons given by the Latvian authorities for flatly refusing to implement the above recommendations:
- The problem with the political rights for non-citizens can be solved by the process of naturalization.
- Granting of voting rights at local elections to non-citizens would weaken their motivation for the naturalization and delay the process.
These official arguments are unjustified, because:
- At least 45 years will be necessary to solve the problem by naturalization, its average speed being a maximum of 12 000 people a year. According to the opinion polls one third part of the non-citizens will never obtain the citizenship under the existing conditions for naturalization, due to the old age and lack of personal abilities.
- The negative motivation applied by authorities in depriving non-citizens of their political and social rights does not promote naturalization but amounts to an insult and leads to social disintegration and further alienation of people from the state.
Nevertheless, November 16 2004, the Cabinet of Ministers has unanimously decided to withdraw the name of Juris Petropavlovskis (born in Riga in 1955) from the list of those who successfully passed the naturalization procedure and to whom the Naturalization Board offers the citizenship of Latvia. This decision has no legal but only political motivation. Juris Petropavlovskis is widely known in Latvia as one of the leaders of the Staff for Defense of the Russophone Schools. He was nominated recently as a head of the list of the party “For Human Rights in United Latvia” for the forthcoming elections of Riga city Council.
The real reason for depriving non-citizens of the rights to take part in the self-government elections is to limit participation of ethnic minorities in the decision making process on both local and national levels.
* The European Parliament has adopted a Resolution on the comprehensive monitoring report of the European Commission on the state of preparedness for EU membership of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia(A5-0111/2004, rapporteur MEP Elmar Brok, co-rapporteur in respect of Latvia MEP Elisabeth Schroedter).
“- encourages the Latvian authorities to overcome the existing split in society and to favour the genuine integration of ‘non-citizens’, ensuring an equal competitive chance in education and labour;
– proposes that the Latvian authorities envisage the possibility of allowing non-citizens who are long-time inhabitants to take part in local self-government elections;”
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)