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Latvia Human Rights - History

Latvia Human Rights - History


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Latvia Human Rights 2017 Report April 2018

The Republic of Latvia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. A unicameral parliament (Saeima) exercises legislative authority. Observers considered elections in 2014 for the 100-seat parliament to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses in some instances, although significant concerns remained regarding accountability for corruption.

A. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

B. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

C. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, but there were a few allegations that government officials employed them.

During the year the ombudsman received from prison inmates two complaints of prison officials allegedly using violence against them. In the report on its visit to the country in April 2016, released on June 29, the Council of Europe’s (COE’s) Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) stated that it received from detained persons (including juveniles) allegations of excessive use of force during apprehension, such as punches, kicks, or truncheon blows after the detainee had been brought under control, and overly tight handcuffing. Patients transferred against their will to the Strenci Psychiatric Hospital made similar allegations. The CPT also heard some complaints of physical mistreatment and threats to inflict mistreatment during preliminary questioning by officers. In a few cases, medical evidence supported the allegations of physical mistreatment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The prison system had an aging infrastructure, but mostly provided satisfactory conditions, meeting minimum international requirements. Some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: The minimum standard of living space per prisoner in multiple-occupancy cells was raised to 43 square feet from as little as 27 square feet in some prisons. With few exceptions the CPT observed this standard in all visited establishments.

The CPT noted that most of the prisoner accommodation areas in the unrenovated Griva Section of Daugavgriva Prison were in poor condition and severely affected by humidity due to the absence of a ventilation system. It also found the Valmiera Police Station to be in a “deplorable state of repair.” In the Limbazi Police Station, according to the CPT, custody cells had no natural light due to opaque glass bricks in the windows. In addition, the in-cell toilets were not fully partitioned, and most of them were extremely dirty.

Health care in the prison system remained underfunded, leading to inadequate care and a shortage of medical staff. Prison officials reported that 9 percent of health-care positions were vacant.

Through August the ombudsman received 25 complaints from prisoners regarding living conditions and 11 complaints about health care in prisons. Most patients in the Psychiatric Unit (located in the Olaine Prison Hospital) were locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

Administration: Prison authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of their investigations in a publicly accessible manner. In the first eight months of the year, 122 complaints were forwarded to the Internal Security Bureau for investigation.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by the CPT and independent nongovernmental observers.

Improvements: During the year the prison administration continued its sustained effort to improve prison conditions, most notably by renovating facilities to increase living space and improve ventilation and artificial lighting. Authorities released 50 low-risk prisoners under an electronic monitoring program in the first eight months of the year.

D. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The State Police, Security Police, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. The armed forces, Military Counterintelligence Service, Protective Service, and National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The State Police and municipal police forces share responsibility for maintaining public order.

The State Police are generally responsible for conducting criminal investigations, but the Security Police, the financial police, military police, prison authorities, the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption (KNAB), and other government institutions also have specified responsibilities. The Security Police are responsible for combating terrorism and other internal security threats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the State Police, Security Police, State Border Guards, the armed forces, and other security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In most cases officials require a warrant issued by an authorized judicial official to make an arrest. Exceptions, specifically defined by law, include persons caught committing a crime by officers or identified by eyewitnesses, or persons who pose a flight risk. The law gives prosecutors 48 hours either to release detainees or to charge and bring them before a judge. The CPT found that persons remanded to custody by courts were frequently held in police detention facilities well beyond the statutory limit of 48 hours, in one case for 29 days, pending their transfer to a remand facility.

Officials generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them. Detainees did not usually receive verbal information about their basic rights immediately upon arrest. As a rule detained persons received an information sheet explaining their rights and duties. Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) complained that the information sheet used legalistic language that was difficult for a nonlawyer to understand and was often only available in Latvian. While a bail system exists, judges used it infrequently and did so most often in cases involving economic crimes.

Detainees have the right to an attorney who may be present during questioning. The government generally provided attorneys for indigent defendants. There were no reports that authorities held suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

Pretrial Detention: For the most serious crimes, the law limits pretrial detention to 15 months from the initial filing of a case. The maximum allowable detention including trial is 21 months. According to Ministry of Justice data, the average length of time between the initial filing and the first court procedure was nearly four months for a criminal case and 10 weeks for an appeal. NGOs continued to express concern about lengthy pretrial detention, hearing postponements, and prosecutorial actions that tended to prolong trials.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Detainees successfully challenged their detention in the past.

E. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Most final judgments were available online, although many other court documents were not published. Many of the documents published often included significant redactions (usually due to privacy concerns) that made it difficult to locate and review online court records. In individual cases the fairness of judges’ verdicts remained a concern, and allegations of judicial corruption were widespread, particularly in insolvency cases. Through August the ombudsman received eight complaints about lengthy proceedings, excessive pretrial detention, and detention without timely charges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent, and have the rights to be informed promptly of the charges against them, and to an expeditious and in most cases open trial, although officials may close trials to protect government secrets or the interests of minors. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial as well as to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and, if indigent, at government expense.

The law provides for the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the rights to the free assistance of an interpreter for any defendant who cannot understand or speak Latvian, to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, to refuse to testify or confess guilt, and to appeal.

Both the ombudsman and NGOs expressed concern that long judicial delays often prevented access to the justice system. According to the Ministry of Justice, the problem was especially acute in administrative courts, where up to five months could pass before an initial hearing on even minor matters. Through June the average civil case took eight months in Riga courts and four months in district courts. The average criminal case required six months in Riga courts and four months in district courts. NGOs expressed concern that defendants often exploited these legal protections in order to delay trials, including by repeatedly failing to appear for court hearings, forcing repeated postponement. Several high-profile public corruption trials have lasted nearly a decade, and NGOs were concerned that this contributed to a widespread public belief that high-level officials enjoyed impunity for corruption.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. It is possible to bring a lawsuit seeking damages or remedies for a human rights violation. After exhausting the national court system, individuals may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Jewish communal property restitution dating from the Holocaust era remained incomplete. While the Jewish community estimated that approximately 270 properties still required restitution, government ministries maintained the number was significantly lower. Some government officials asserted that the issue of restitution had been resolved by the return of five properties seized during World War II under legislation approved in 2016. The unrestituted properties identified by the Jewish community included cemeteries, synagogues, schools, hospitals, and community centers.

F. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

A. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. There were legal restrictions on racial and ethnic incitement, and denial or glorification of crimes against humanity and certain war crimes.

Freedom of Expression: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, incitement to racial or ethnic hatred, and the spreading of false information about the financial system are crimes. The law forbids glorifying or denying genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the country perpetrated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Violation of these provisions can lead to a sentence of five years in prison, community service, or a fine. There were also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to the country’s national security.

The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.” There were no cases brought to court under these provisions during the year.

Criminal proceedings for seeking to overthrow “the independence of Latvian statehood” were brought in 2016 against Deniss Barteckis, an ethnically Russian activist, who drafted an online petition calling for the country to join the United States. The proceedings remained open.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The law requires that 65 percent of all television broadcast airtime in national and regional electronic media be in Latvian or be dubbed or subtitled. Extensive Russian-language programming was also available. The restrictions on speech that incites racial hatred, spreads false information about the financial system, or glorifies or denies genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes against the country by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany also apply to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

The Latvian Journalists Association continued to express concerns regarding the independence and viability of local newspapers. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control or even published their own newspapers, driving many independent competitors out of business. In July the regional newspaper Bauskas Dzive sued the government in the ECHR for allowing municipalities to publish their own newspapers, arguing that this constituted interference by a public authority in the free dissemination of information. The case remained under review at the end of the year. NGOs also expressed concern that opaque ownership of many of the largest media outlets posed a threat to media independence and transparency.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet speech was subject to the same restrictions as other forms of speech and the media. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 80 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

B. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions. Organizers of demonstrations typically must notify authorities 10 days in advance, although this requirement can be reduced to 24 hours if the longer advance notice is “reasonably impossible” to meet. Officials may deny or modify permits to prevent public disorder.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits the registration of communist, Nazi, or other organizations that contravene the constitution or advocate the violent overthrow of the government.

D. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system to provide protection to refugees. The system was generally accessible and subject to due process. The law grants asylum seekers the right to receive information from authorities about asylum procedures in a language in which they are able to communicate. The Latvian Center for Human Rights, an NGO that provided legal services to asylum seekers, continued to express concern that asylum applicants and refugees did not always have prompt access to legal representatives who were knowledgeable about their situation.

Asylum seekers could appeal denial of their applications to the courts, and some did so during the year. Persons whose final asylum claims were denied faced return to their countries of transit or origin.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally did not adjudicate asylum cases based on the applicant’s country of origin or country of transit. As an EU member state, the country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which permits authorities to return asylum seekers to their country of first entry into the EU if they arrive from other EU member states, except in cases involving family reunification or other humanitarian considerations. There were no credible complaints that authorities ignored exceptional cases or routinely returned asylum seekers to countries with poorly developed asylum systems.

Employment: Refugees typically needed some proficiency in Latvian to obtain employment in most jobs in the country, making it difficult for most of them to find work once granted official status.

Access to Basic Services: Public assistance of three euros ($3.60) per day for asylum seekers and 139 euros ($167) per month for refugees was criticized as inadequate to cover basic living expenses. Monetary assistance was terminated as soon as a refugee found employment providing income in excess of the minimum monthly salary.

Durable Solutions: Some observers expressed concern that the government did not take sufficient steps to integrate asylum seekers who had been granted refugee status in the country. Refugee benefits fell well below the country’s poverty line. According to government estimates, as of July all but two of the 90 refugees granted official status in the country under the EU-wide refugee relocation program had departed the country.

Temporary Protection: In 2016 the government also provided subsidiary protection status to approximately 90 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR 242,736 stateless persons were in the country at the end of 2016. As of the beginning of the year, the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) listed 177 persons as stateless and 222,847 persons as “noncitizen residents.” Noncitizen residents accounted for approximately 11 percent of the population. According to data provided to the COE’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, by the Population Register, in July 2016 there were 247,104 “noncitizens,” who constituted approximately 12 percent of the country’s population. Authorities told Muiznieks that, over the year preceding July 2016, the number of “noncitizens” decreased by 10,273 persons. Although UNHCR included most of the country’s noncitizen population in the stateless category, the government preferred to designate them noncitizen residents, since most of them were eligible to naturalize under the law. The government recognized as stateless only those persons with no claim to foreign citizenship or noncitizen resident status.

Persons categorized by authorities as stateless may pursue citizenship through naturalization after obtaining a permanent residence permit and lawfully residing in the country for five years. According to the law, a child born to noncitizen residents in the country is automatically granted citizenship if requested by at least one parent.

Noncitizen residents, mostly persons of Slavic origin who moved to the country during the Soviet occupation and their descendants, did not automatically become citizens when the country regained independence in 1991. They have permanent residence status, consular protection abroad, the right to return to the country, and the right to all government social benefits. They also have employment rights, except in some government and private sector positions related to the legal system, law enforcement, and national security. Noncitizens may not vote in local or national elections and may not organize a political party without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens.

The law also establishes conditions whereby members of the resident noncitizen population can obtain citizenship. In many cases these include a test of Latvian language skills and knowledge of the country’s constitution and history. The law exempts certain persons from the tests, including persons with disabilities and persons who completed high school with a curriculum taught at least 50 percent in Latvian.

The rate of application for citizenship by noncitizen residents remained low. Through July authorities received 620 naturalization applications. They approved 483 applicants and rejected 24 who failed the examination three times or did not appear for the examination (many cases adjudicated during the year were originally filed at the end of 2016).

In a 2015 Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs survey, 48 percent of noncitizen respondents described their poor language skills as a barrier to passing the naturalization examination. In public surveys of noncitizen residents, the majority of respondents who did not seek naturalization reported that, in addition to language barriers, their reasons for not doing so included political objections to the requirement and their understanding that Latvian citizenship was not necessary for them to travel to Russia and EU member states.

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights assessed the 2014 elections for the 100-seat parliament as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens may organize political parties without restriction. The law prohibits the country’s noncitizen residents from organizing political parties without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens. The election law prohibits persons who remained active in the Communist Party or other pro-Soviet organizations after 1991 or who worked for such institutions as the Soviet KGB from holding office.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. Approximately 30 percent of the ethnic minority population were noncitizens who could not participate in elections and had no representation in government.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, and polling data consistently showed that the public believed corruption was widespread and officials were rarely held accountable. According to a European Commission and Eurobarometer report issued in 2016, 73 percent of citizens believed corruption was widespread. Another survey found that 67 percent of citizens believed it would be acceptable to give a gift in return for something they want from a public employee.

KNAB is the primary body responsible for fighting corruption.

Corruption: Corruption was a problem. NGOs expressed concern that prosecutions and convictions of government officials focused on minor violations rather than large-scale corruption. Through June, KNAB initiated 16 criminal cases and recommended eight criminal cases involving 24 persons for prosecution. In June, State Police arrested Maris Spruds and three other insolvency administrators on charges of extortion and money laundering. The arrests took place shortly after parliament passed legislation that anticorruption NGOs believed was intended to remove a rival of Spruds from his role in administering a particular high-profile insolvency case. NGOs and business organizations have long asserted that the insolvency sector was rife with illegal activity, with corrupt administrators protected by political allies. The criminal case remained pending at year’s end.

NGOs further expressed concern that court orders regarding public corruption cases were not always implemented effectively. A court order issued in 2007 and upheld most recently in January prohibited Aivars Lembergs from serving as chairman of the Ventspils city council. Despite the order Lembergs participated in the municipal elections in June, received a majority of votes, and continued to be viewed as the de facto city council chairman; he also regularly participated in leadership meetings of the country’s national governing coalition.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to file income declarations annually. Declarations were public, and there were penalties for noncompliance. While authorities investigated some irregularities, NGOs complained about the lack of effective oversight of the declarations. KNAB is responsible for overseeing the activities of public officials in this area and implementing conflict-of-interest laws. In the first six months of the year, KNAB fined 72 persons a total of 8,175 euros ($9,810) and reprimanded a number of others for conflicts of interest. Most violations involved failure to provide the required income declarations or observe restrictions on outside employment and commercial activities.

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials met with NGOs, often cooperated with them, and responded to their views and inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for monitoring the government’s performance on human rights. The ombudsman received some cooperation from the agencies it monitored and operated without direct government or political interference.

NGOs continued to criticize the ombudsman for lacking the institutional authority or capacity to investigate and act on allegations of discrimination. They complained that the office frequently put forward problems with little follow-through. As required by law, the ombudsman published an annual report describing its activities and making recommendations to the government.

A standing committee on human rights and public affairs of parliament met weekly during the parliamentary session. It considered initiatives related to human rights but generally focused on public media policy.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape. Spousal rape is explicitly considered rape with “aggravated circumstances.” When police receive a report of rape, they are required to open an investigation. Criminal penalties for rape range from four years to life imprisonment. Through August police initiated 56 criminal charges for rape, of which six were sent to the prosecutor’s office and five to court. According to the Ministry of Justice, however, no spousal rape case has ever been prosecuted in the country.

The most recent study by the Ministry of Welfare, published in December 2016, showed that half of all hospitalized female trauma victims had injuries inflicted by their partners. Domestic violence is an aggravating factor in certain criminal offenses. There are penalties for causing even “minor” bodily harm when the victim and perpetrator are spouses, former spouses, or civil partners. Domestic violence remained a matter of concern, and authorities prosecuted a number of cases. The NGO Marta Resource Center for Women (Marta Center) received complaints from 168 women during the first eight months of the year. Through August the ombudsman received five complaints of domestic violence.

The law allows victims of domestic violence to request police officers to issue restraining orders and requires police and judges to respond to such requests within one business day. Once a restraining order is issued, it is in force until a court revokes it. The law requires perpetrators to leave the home where the victim resides. It provides a broad definition of violence that includes physical, sexual, psychological, or economic violence.

State and municipal police may issue a decision on separation for eight days. In 2015 courts granted temporary protection to 71 women and one man.

In the first eight months of the year, police initiated 182 criminal proceedings for domestic violence and detained 54 persons; in the first eight months of the year, police issued 394 restraining orders. NGOs complained that, in some domestic violence cases, police were reluctant to act. In his report Commissioner Muiznieks stated that, although police received an average of 13 telephone calls a day reporting cases of “family conflicts,” 97 percent of the cases did not result in criminal proceedings, mostly because police did not qualify them as criminal offenses. Muiznieks quoted police data that in 2014, 144 women were subjected to domestic violence. In the same year, at least five women were killed by their spouses or partners, and four more were killed by other relatives. In some cases, police hesitated to evict alleged perpetrators despite restraining orders. NGOs also criticized police for not arresting perpetrators until the victim signed paperwork, even if officers witnessed abuse. According to the Marta Center, courts rejected two applications for restraining orders during the year.

No government shelters were designated specifically for battered and abused women. There was one government-funded victim support hotline and several NGO-managed crisis hotlines; none was dedicated exclusively to rape or assault.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is prosecuted under discrimination statutes, and penalties range from a reprimand to imprisonment. Victims have the right to submit complaints to the ombudsman and the State Labor Inspectorate. As in 2016 the ombudsman received no complaints of sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women under family, property, nationality, and inheritance laws.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents, and only one parent must be a citizen to transmit nationality to a child. Children born in the country to resident noncitizen parents are eligible for citizenship provided one parent requests it when the birth is registered. According to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, through June, 84 children born to noncitizens received automatic citizenship and 20 were granted noncitizen status. In June there were 4,836 noncitizen children younger than 16.

Child Abuse: Violence against children was a problem. Police effectively enforced laws against child abuse, although NGOs observed that coordination among agencies involved in the protection of children’s rights was weak, in particular due to a failure to share information. The law empowers courts to remove vulnerable and abused children from violent homes if parents or guardians cannot do so or are themselves perpetrators of the violence.

In the first eight months of the year, the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights organized four nationwide hotline campaigns. They received 17,589 calls and provided 9,444 consultations in response to inquiries about cases of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse of children. Approximately 81 of the calls involved the sexual abuse of children, 369 dealt with physical violence, and 791 concerned emotional violence (the remaining calls involved psychological consultations). During the first nine months of the year, the inspectorate investigated 154 cases of alleged violations of children’s rights.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Persons younger than 18 may legally marry only with parental permission and if one party is at least 16 and the other is at least 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. Through August police initiated 99 criminal proceedings for the sexual exploitation of minors younger than 16.

The purchase, display, reproduction, or distribution of child pornography is punishable by up to three years in prison. Involving a minor in the production of pornography is punishable by up to 12 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Institutionalized Children: The ombudsman and several NGOs raised concerns about the continued use of orphanages despite the provision in the law providing that “every child has the inalienable right to grow up in a family.” During the year approximately 1,216 children remained in orphanages. While the government had a deinstitutionalization plan for these children, NGOs criticized the plan for being unclear and not specifying how or when it would be implemented. There were 1,193 children living with foster families and 4,548 children living with guardians.

In the first eight months of the year, the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights reported five cases of peer-on-peer physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in government-run orphanages and boarding schools for children with special needs. The inspectorate believed the actual figure was much higher, but cases were underreported due to infrequent visits by social workers and limited opportunities for observation.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The CSB reported that there were 4,873 Jewish residents in the country. The 2016 Human Rights Country Report erroneously reported that the CSB agreed with the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs that the Jewish population was 8,659. The CSB actually reported the 2016 Jewish population as 5,013. There were no reports of anti-Semitic attacks against individuals, although there were some anti-Semitic incidents and public references to stereotypes on the internet by some fringe groups.

Three members of parliament from the “All for Latvia” party attended the annual march held on March 16 to commemorate Latvians who fought in German Waffen SS units against the Soviet Army in World War II. No Nazi symbols or insignia were in evidence at the march. Domestically, the march was generally viewed as a commemoration of national identity and remembrance of those who fought for independence rather than as a glorification of Nazism.

On July 4, Jewish community representatives, government officials, and foreign diplomats attended the Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Riga.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions.

Although the law mandates access to public buildings for persons with disabilities, most were not accessible. The NGO Apeirons reported that approximately 80 percent of new and renovated buildings in the country were not accessible to persons with disabilities, and only 2 percent of all buildings were fully accessible. The State Audit Office and NGOs criticized the rules and regulations governing government provision of personal assistance services.

The law grants additional assistance to children with disabilities, allowing them and their caretakers to use public transportation free of charge. The law also permits families of children with disabilities to receive government-funded counseling. Children with disabilities generally attended school, the majority attending specialized schools. While they were also allowed to attend regular schools that could accommodate their needs, very few schools outside of Riga were able to accommodate them. The government provided eligible children with disabilities with assistants in schools. COE Human Rights Commissioner Muiznieks reported that, during the 2015/16 school year, 11,846 students with disabilities attended mainstream schools.

While health and labor services are provided as stipulated by law, NGOs stated that the majority of persons with disabilities had limited access to work and health care due to a lack of personal assistants, poor infrastructure, and the absence of specialized programs for such persons. NGOs also expressed concerns about the technical aid procurement service, which did not allow persons with disabilities to choose their own equipment, such as wheelchairs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

NGOs representing minority groups claimed that discrimination and harassment of national minorities was underreported to authorities. Through August the ombudsman did not receive any written complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination.

In the first eight months of the year, police initiated three criminal cases for incitement of social hatred and enmity, one of which was referred to prosecutors. Complaints generally involved hate speech on the internet.

The Romani community continued to face widespread societal discrimination and high levels of unemployment and illiteracy. According to the CSB, 5,191 Roma were in the country. Observers criticized the government’s action plan to address unemployment and educational problems in the Romani community as underfunded and insufficient to bring about substantial improvements.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The country’s antidiscrimination laws do not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but the labor law does. NGOs expressed concerns about the lack of explicit protection in criminal law against incitement to hatred and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Credible NGOS reported that intolerance of LGBTI persons and discrimination against them continued to be widespread.

A. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides reinstatement for unlawful dismissal, including dismissal for union activity.

There were several limitations on these rights. Uniformed members of the military, members of the State Security Services, and border guards may not form or join unions. While the law provides for the right to strike, it requires a strike vote by a 3/4 majority at a meeting attended by at least 3/4 of the union’s members. It prohibits strikes in sectors related to public safety and by personnel classified as essential, including judges, prosecutors, police, firefighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law prohibits “solidarity” strikes by workers who are not directly involved in a specific labor agreement between strikers and their employers, a restriction criticized by local labor groups. The law provides arbitration mechanisms for essential personnel not permitted to strike.

The government generally enforced applicable labor laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties for violations ranged from a few hundred to several thousand euros but were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor rights organizations expressed concern about employer discrimination against union members.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Worker organizations were sometimes independent of the government or political parties, employers, or employers’ associations.

B. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment and were adequate to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces and reported no incidents of forced labor. Resources were not completely adequate to sustain long-term investigations into forced labor, and a 2016 study uncovered consistent underreporting of forced labor. Government-sponsored NGOs performed educational outreach throughout the country to raise awareness about forced labor.

According to the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, Latvian men and women were subjected to forced labor, particularly in other parts of Europe. In 2015, the most recent year for which official statistics were available, authorities certified for government assistance seven returned victims of forced labor, all of whom had been subjected to labor exploitation in other European countries. In most of these cases, women were lured outside the country with fake job or marriage offers that resulted in trafficking for forced domestic servitude.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

C. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The statutory minimum age for employment is 15. Children who are 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. According to the law, children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were no reports of labor abuses involving children.

D. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination, but employment discrimination on the basis of citizenship is not prohibited.

There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector. Because this type of discrimination was underreported, during the first eight months of the year the ombudsman did not open any cases on employment discrimination. A case opened by the ombudsman in 2016 was closed with no finding of discrimination.

Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work due to a lack of personal assistants, poor infrastructure, and absence of specialized programs. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.

E. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage is 380 euros ($456). According to the CSB, 8.3 percent of employed persons (and 31 percent of the population) were at risk of falling under the poverty line of 320 euros ($384) in 2015, the most recent year for which figures were available.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours with at least one 42-hour rest period weekly. The maximum permitted overtime is 144 hours in a four-month period. Employees may not work more than 24 hours consecutively, 56 hours in a week, or overtime on more than six consecutive days. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced. The law specifies the maximum amount of overtime and prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime. The law entitles workers to 28 calendar days of paid annual leave.

The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, which are current and appropriate for the main industries. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, these regulations were not always followed. Workers may complain to the State Labor Inspectorate when they believe their rights are violated.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are monetary and vary widely, depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but they were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems and effectively enforced labor laws.

Through mid-October, the State Labor Inspectorate reported 50 workplace fatalities, the majority of which were classified as due to natural causes, and 141 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate commented that most of the injuries were not severe and that employees were increasingly active in reporting accidents. The majority of workplace injuries and fatalities were in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.

Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which, according to some estimates, accounted for approximately 23 percent of gross domestic product. Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public sector employees, such as firefighters, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.


Human Rights in Latvia - Participation, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Digits

In the local elections of 2009, 79.7% of elected councillors indicated their ethnicity as ethnic Latvians, 65.5% were male. In the parliamentary elections of 2010, 81 of 100 elected MPs were males, 76 indicated their ethnicity as ethnic Latvians. For comparison, in the beginning of 2010 ethnic Latvians were 59.4% of the population (and 71.8% among citizens) and women — 53.9%.

As of September, 2012, minimum consumer basket was 175.88 LVL (approx. 250 EUR), the minimal salary being 200 LVL) before tax-paying and the minimal age pension — 49.5 LVL. Average calculated age pension in August 2012 was 190.76 LVL. Average salary after tax-paying in June, 2012, was 347 LVL, varying from 247 LVL in Latgale till 392 LVL in Riga.

Unemployment rate in the end of September, 2012, was 11.0% according to State Employment Agency, varying between 7.3% in Riga region and 21.6% in Latgale. Ethnic minorities and persons not indicating ethnicity composed 46.2% of the unemployed in the end of August 2012.

Life expectancy at birth was estimated as 72.93 years in 2012. In 2011, there were 6.3 outpatient visits to physicians per capita, 58.8 hospital beds and 39.1 physicians per 10 000 population.

Pre-school education and nine-years basic education are compulsory. Secondary education (forms 10-12) is free in public schools. However, according to Ombudsman, the constitutional principle of free education is violated by practice of parents having to buy textbooks. According to 2000 census, 13.9% of those aged 15 and older and giving answers on own education have had obtained higher education. In 2011, 94.6% of basic school (9 years) graduates had continued their studies, as well as 63.6% of secondary school graduates had done.

Read more about this topic: Human Rights In Latvia

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U.S. Department of State

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The Republic of Latvia, with a population of approximately 2.2 million, is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral Saeima (parliament). Elections on October 2 for the 100-seat parliament were free and fair. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.

Human rights problems included police abuse of detainees and arrestees poor conditions at police detention facilities poor conditions and overcrowding in prisons lack of detainees' access to attorneys government corruption violence against women child abuse trafficking in persons and hate speech against ethnic and racial minorities on the Internet.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces in one instance killed a criminal suspect in a shootout. On January 2, National Police officers shot and killed a man with a gun who was threatening to kill the officers and other persons in an apartment near Jelgava. After a routine investigation, the Internal Security Bureau of the National Police determined the officers acted reasonably.

On April 16, prominent journalist and local politician Grigorijs Nemcovs was shot and killed at a restaurant in Daugavpils. According to Reporters without Borders, a nongovernment organization (NGO), Nemcovs' killing appeared to be professional. Nemcovs was known for his investigative work on municipal government corruption and had previously been the subject of death threats and violence. At the end of the year, Nemcovs' killing remained unsolved.

There were no developments in the investigation by the prosecutor's office of the death of Sergejs Danilins in 2008, possibly due to a severe beating by a prison guard. In 2009 the Latvian Prison Administration (LPA) found sufficient evidence of wrongdoing by prison guards to refer the case to the prosecutor's office. The guards were found guilty in August 2009 and were fined and suspended for one year.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices however, there were reports that government officials employed them.

Independent local organizations continued to express concerns about police behavior, and there were reports that police severely abused persons in custody. During the year the Internal Security Bureau of the State Police received 141 complaints of alleged police violence. Of these reports, 94 cases were not substantiated, 18 criminal procedures were initiated, and 29 were still under review at the end of the year.

As of December the ombudsman's office received four complaints regarding mistreatment by police and five about mistreatment by prison officials. Some of these involved allegations against guards at the male juvenile detention facility. The ombudsman's office reported that, after it raised the issue with the LPA, a number of corrections officers were terminated, including a supervisor who failed to investigate initial reports adequately.

In December the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) dismissed the case of Edgars Gulbis, a former Presidential Security Service officer whom police allegedly tortured while in custody in 2007. In June 2009, after an internal investigation and an opinion from the ombudsman's office failed to produce suitable redress in his view, Gulbis filed a complaint with the ECHR. The court did not receive required information from Gulbis' representatives and dismissed the case on that basis.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers remained poor and did not meet international standards. The government permitted monitoring visits by the ombudsman and other independent human rights observers, and such visits occurred during the year.

During the year prison authorities opened five investigations into cases of the violent deaths of prison inmates. In three of these cases, investigators found that the victims committed suicide. Investigations in the other two cases continued at year's end.

The ombudsman's office, NGOs, and prisoners continued to complain that prison facilities were seriously inadequate. These complaints echoed many of the conclusions of the 2007 report of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) based on a visit in the same year. The CPT found that in prisons for men, 20 prisoners were typically held together in dormitory-style rooms. Complaints included inadequate privacy in living spaces and bathrooms, severely dilapidated physical plants, lack of heat, inadequate sanitary facilities, lack of hot water, inadequate places to sit, inadequate work and educational opportunities, and inadequate access to open space and fresh air.

As of December, the ombudsman's office received 50 complaints about poor conditions in detention facilities, compared with 50 complaints in 2009. The State Police received seven complaints about poor conditions in detention centers.

In July the ombudsman's office found that prisoners throughout the system did not have adequate access to healthcare services. The report specifically criticized the government's 2009 decision to reduce healthcare in prisons. In November the new minister of justice announced publicly that improvement of prison conditions would be a priority for his ministry.

In 2008 a group of maximum-security prisoners brought a claim in the Constitutional Court alleging inadequate outdoor exercise time. The LPA asserted that it was not possible to give the group outdoor time for security reasons. The Constitutional Court agreed with the prisoners and ordered the government to make changes to prison facilities necessary to allow the prisoners outdoor time by January 2011. The LPA made the required changes and complied with the order by the end of the year.

In 2009 a group of prisoners filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, alleging that a LPA decision to cut prisoners' food rations violated their rights. The Constitutional Court agreed and ordered the prison administration to increase rations. The prison administration complied with the order in June.

As of December the Ministry of Justice reported that 6,790 persons were held in the prison system, which had a total capacity of 7,970 persons. Of these, 2,034 were detainees awaiting trial or the outcome of their appeals and 4,756 were convicted inmates. Detainees and convicted inmates were generally held together. Male prisoners were held in 10 prisons throughout the country.

The prison population also included 91 juvenile males. Most of these prisoners were held at a separate juvenile facility, which was equipped with a school funded by the state. At the end of the year 42 juveniles were held in regular adult prisons. Although the Ministry of Justice stated such cases were temporary and rare, the ombudsman's office expressed concern that during pretrial detention some juveniles were held for long periods at adult facilities, where they were isolated and had no access to education. Conditions, especially sanitary facilities, at the juvenile facility for males remained very poor. However, in September the prison administration broke ground on a new building at the juvenile prison designed to bring conditions there in line with international standards.

The prison population included 417 women, held in a separate women's prison. The country's few juvenile female prisoners were held in a separate wing of the women's prison. The ombudsman's office considered the physical conditions at the women's prison to be better than at other facilities, and generally adequate.

During the year the Ministry of Justice began several projects to improve conditions in prisons. These included building renovations, a project to digitalize prison records and modernize information technology systems, and a program to bring its administrative controls into line with international standards. The prison administration also began new training programs for prison employees.

The Latvian Center on Human Rights reported poor conditions at the Olaine detention center for illegal immigrants in Riga.

In general, prisoners had reasonable access to visitors. The prison administration allowed prisoners and detainees to observe religious practices with some limitations, including security-related restrictions on religious articles kept in cells and dorm rooms. However, a group of prisoners filed a claim with the Constitutional Court challenging these restrictions. A decision was pending at year's end.

Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities. Prisoners may submit complaints without censorship and may request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. The ombudsman's office raised no concerns in this area. Authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. Ministry of Justice and other government officials investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups. In December 2009 a CPT delegation inspected prisons in Daugavpils, Jekabpils, and Jelgava. As of year's end, the CPT had not publicly released its report.

The ombudsman's office consistently monitored conditions at prisons and detention facilities. Although various NGOs argued the ombudsman's office was not aggressive enough in this area, it effectively advocated better conditions in some cases, especially involving juveniles.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The State Police, Security Police, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. Military forces, the Military Counterintelligence Service, the Protective Service, and the National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The State Police and municipal police forces shared responsibility for maintaining public order, but only the State Police were authorized to carry out criminal investigations. The Security Police were responsible for combating terrorism and other internal threats. The military and National Guard were primarily responsible for external security.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention

The law requires that persons be arrested openly and with warrants issued by an authorized judicial official, except in exceptional cases specifically defined by law (e.g., apprehension in the act, eyewitness identification of suspect, or flight risk). The government generally respected this requirement in practice. The law requires the prosecutor's office to decide whether to charge or release an individual under arrest within 48 hours, and authorities generally respected this right in practice. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. There is a bail system however, it was used infrequently and applied most often in cases of economic crimes.

The government provided attorneys for indigent defendants. Detainees have the right to have an attorney present during questioning however, authorities did not always respect this right in practice. Investigators sometimes conducted unscheduled interrogations of detainees, or "talks," without legal counsel. In 2008 the ombudsman's office criticized these "talks" with detainees. The government did not issue a formal response, but the ombudsman reported having periodic discussions about this issue with police.

Authorities permitted detainees prompt access to family members.

The law limits pretrial detention to no more than 18 months from the first filing of the case for the most serious crimes and less for minor offenses. NGOs continued to express concern about the length of pretrial detentions in practice. The government claimed that pretrial detention times were reduced slightly during the year but could not cite supporting statistics.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice however, there were significant problems, including inefficiency.

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, and most judges enforced this right however, the fairness of individual court decisions, of judges, and of the judicial system in general remained a concern. As of December the ombudsman's office reported that it opened 26 investigations into complaints about the fairness of trials and courts.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Trials are generally public however, some may be closed to protect government secrets or the interests of minors. A single trial judge hears most cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. In closed trials, defendants are subject to criminal sanction if they reveal any details of the case outside the courtroom. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, at government expense if they are indigent. Defendants have the right to read charges, to confront and question witnesses against them, and to call witnesses and offer evidence to support their cases. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases and may appeal to the highest levels in the judicial system.

Information on court decisions is published on the Internet a person's identity may be withheld in accordance with regulatory procedures.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Regional Human Rights Court Decisions

During the year the ECHR issued seven decisions in cases involving the country, finding a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights in two of those cases. In general, the country promptly complied with judgments of the ECHR.

On May 17, the ECHR Grand Chamber upheld the country's 2001 conviction of Vassili Kononov on charges of war crimes during World War II. In so doing, it overturned its earlier decision, which found that the country's prosecution of Kononov applied the law retroactively. Kononov was a member of a Red Partisans unit that attacked the village of Mazie Balti in the eastern part of the country in 1944, killing nine villagers.

On October 26, the ECHR ruled that Latvia denied a claimant, Marina, her right to a fair hearing by failing to take her low-income status into account when imposing court fees. The ECHR awarded Marina 1,000 euros ($1,340).

On December 21, the ECHR ruled that Latvia violated the rights of a deaf mute man, Jasinskis, who died in police custody in 2005. Jasinskis, who was intoxicated at the time of the incident, fell and suffered a head injury during a fight. When police arrived, they took him into custody and placed him in a "sobering-up room." While still in custody, Jasinskis died from his previous head trauma. The ECHR ruled that police negligently failed to provide Jasinskis with medical care, thereby violating his right to the protection of life. The ECHR awarded Jasinskis' family 50,000 euros ($67,000).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. The government generally upheld the law concerning civil procedures and generally enforced civil court orders.

Restitution of property confiscated or nationalized during the World War II period and thereafter was substantially completed under an expired denationalization law. However, some religious groups, including the Lutheran, Orthodox Christian, and Jewish communities, continued to claim additional communal and heirless properties. The status of many of these remaining properties was the subject of complicated legal and bureaucratic processes concerning ambiguous ownership, competing claims, and the destruction of the Jewish communities to whom properties belonged before World War II.

The Jewish community has identified a number of properties for restitution. In 2008 the government established a task force to study the Jewish community's outstanding claims and to consider solutions. The task force did not release its report by the end of the year, and members of local and international Jewish communities continued to urge the government to pursue a resolution to this issue.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press. However, certain government actions caused concern among observers.

In general individuals were free to criticize the government and its policies. However, the law criminalizes incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and spreading false information about the financial system.

Human rights groups criticized the government for attempting to enforce national spirit. In April prosecutors brought charges against an individual for "blasphemy against a state symbol" after he disposed of a hand-held Latvian flag in a dumpster. The case resulted in acquittal. The law imposes fines on property owners who fail to display the national flag on designated holidays.

The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, usually without restriction. There were some reports of harassment of the media:

· In January unknown persons ransacked the offices of the daily newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize. This crime remained unsolved at year's end.

· In May the police raided the home of television journalist Ilze Nagle in connection with the high-profile case of Ilmars Poikans (a.k.a. Neo), who was accused of hacking the State Revenue Service's database and publishing public employees' salary information. Nagle reported extensively on the Neo case. Pursuant to an "extraordinary" same-day warrant (usually reserved for cases in which the police fear the loss of evidence), police seized Nagle's computer and files. The ombudsman's office found that the police action violated the country's constitution. Nagle sued the police, but her complaint was dismissed.

· In September the government's Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), which enforces campaign laws, removed a satirical film, The Last Bear Slayer, from the on-demand playlist of the partially state-owned cable provider, Lattelecom. The KNAB stated that the film might have constituted election advertising. Reporters without Borders charged that the prohibition constituted improper censorship but noted it was ineffective because the film was widely available on the Internet.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without government restriction. All prominent newspapers were privately owned. Russian-language print and electronic media were also prevalent and active. The one government-owned newspaper mainly published official records of government actions and decisions. Other newspapers were widely believed to be associated with political or economic interests complete information on media ownership was not publicly available.

The country has one state-owned television station, Latvian National Television (LTV), and one state-owned radio station, Latvian National Radio. Privately owned television and radio outlets also operated in the country. On August 11, the Law on Electronic Mass Media, which requires 65 percent of all broadcast airtime to be in Latvian, dubbed in Latvian, or subtitled in Latvian, entered into force. While Latvian is the sole official state language, approximately one-third of the country's population (largely ethnic Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians) speak Russian as their first language. Many television stations in the country already employ Latvian subtitles or voiceover when broadcasting programs originally produced in another language. Despite the new law, extensive Russian-language programming remained available during the year.

In February after a government appeal, the Supreme Court reduced to 12,000 lats ($22,440) the civil award of 100,000 lats ($187,000) to LTV journalist Ilze Jaunalksne for the violation of her privacy by the State Revenue Service. Jaunalksne claimed in the case that the State Revenue Service targeted her for reporting on incidents of government corruption.

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2009, approximately 67 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and authorities may not prohibit public gatherings except in very limited cases related to public safety. Organizers of demonstrations must provide advance notice to local authorities, who may prohibit the event, or change the time and place to prevent public disorder.

During the year numerous demonstrations took place peacefully and in most cases without government interference. Police usually did not interfere with peaceful assemblies and normally offered demonstrators appropriate levels of protection. However, some observers continued to criticize the legal requirement to give 10- days' advance notification of a planned protest.

In March Riga city officials initially denied the request of a group seeking to hold its annual event in remembrance of Latvian soldiers who died fighting in German Waffen SS units during World War II. A local court overturned the city's decision, and approximately 200 persons participated in the March 16 event. Opposition groups counterdemonstrated, but police kept the two groups apart, and the demonstration was largely peaceful. State Police reported that in connection with the demonstration, officers detained one person for petty hooliganism, and a court later fined the individual 50 lats ($93.50). According to press reports, between three and five additional persons were detained and released without charges.

In May the organizer of a protest in support of hacker Ilmars Poikans (a.k.a. Neo) and reporter Ilze Nagle (see section 2.a.) was arrested for organizing a protest without notifying the authorities. Charges were later dropped.

In June the Riga city government denied a group the right to demonstrate to mark the July 1 anniversary of the German army's entry into Riga in 1941. A court overturned the city's decision, finding that the marchers were not inciting violence or advocating Nazism, and citing the sanctity of the right to assemble. The city complied with the court's order and allowed the march. However, the day of the march, police detained the group's leader, Uldis Freimanis, for questioning on a suspected case of "glorifying Nazism." He was later released without charges. Because Freimanis was in custody at the time of the demonstration, the group officially cancelled it. A small demonstration took place with no more than 30 participants. State Police detained two persons during the demonstration: one for violating assembly laws (charges were later dropped) and one for resisting police and violating assembly laws. A court imposed a fine of 70 lats ($131).

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but bar the registration of Communist, Nazi, or other organizations whose activities could contravene the constitution, for example, by advocating the violent overthrow of the government. Within these limits the government respected these rights in practice.

For a complete description of religious freedom, see the 2010 International Religious Freedom Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl//irf/rpt/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice, including with respect to its "noncitizen resident" population.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not employ it.

The country's laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Reports continued that authorities turned away persons attempting to enter the country at border checkpoints without establishing whether they might be refugees or asylum seekers the government disputed these claims.

During the year 60 persons requested asylum seven were granted asylum, and 18 were granted alternate status ("subsidiary protection"). In 2009, 52 sought asylum, five were granted refugee status, and six received subsidiary protection. In 2008, 51 persons requested asylum, two were granted refugee status and one received subsidiary protection.

Latvia does not discriminate asylum cases based on the applicant's country of origin or country of transit.

In practice the government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Citizenship is derived from one's parents. The children of "noncitizen residents" may be naturalized upon application by their parents.

According to UNHCR data, there were 344,263 stateless persons at the end of 2009, the vast majority of whom the government considered "noncitizen residents." According to the Department of Citizenship and Migration, 335,918 "noncitizen residents" and 172 stateless persons lived in the country as of July. Most of the "noncitizen residents" were persons of Slavic origin, who either moved to the country during the Soviet occupation, or are descended from those who did. The government did not give them automatic citizenship when the country regained sovereignty in 1991. "Noncitizen residents" have permanent residence status consular protection abroad the right to return to the country full rights to employment, except for some government jobs and private sector positions deemed related to national security and the right to most government social benefits. However, they may not vote in local or national elections and may not organize a political party without the participation of an equal number of citizens.

The UNHCR noted that "noncitizen residents" have, under the country's laws, a transitional legal status that entitles them to rights and obligations beyond the minimum rights prescribed by the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. The UNHCR further noted that these rights are identical to those attached to the possession of nationality, with the exception of certain limited civil and political rights.

The law provides naturalization procedures for granting citizenship to the noncitizen population. The citizenship procedure includes a test of Latvian language skills and knowledge of the constitution and history of the country. Although the UNHCR considered most of these "noncitizen residents" to be "stateless," the government did not, because most were eligible to naturalize under the country's law. The government recognized as stateless only those individuals who did not have a claim to foreign citizenship and were not eligible to apply for naturalization in the country.

Most "noncitizen residents" had not applied for citizenship even though they were legally eligible for it. They frequently cited as reasons for not applying the perceived "unfairness" of the requirements, resentment at having to apply at all, and the lack of perceived benefits. A study by Ilze Brands Kehris of the Latvia Human Rights Center found that noncitizens still accounted for 15 percent of the country's population (down from 29 percent in 1995) and that naturalization applications dropped sharply from 2004 to 2009 (largely due to a 2004 surge upon the country's entry into the EU). In addition, failure rates in the citizenship examinations rose to approximately 20 percent in 2008-09. Nils Muiznieks, a University of Latvia scholar and former chairperson of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, asserted that the government made integration a lower priority in recent years. During the year through November, 2,974 persons applied for naturalization, and 2,137 persons were approved. In 2009, 3,470 persons applied and 2,080 were approved.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution and law provide citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic and generally free and fair elections based on universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Free and fair elections for parliament were held on October 2 parliament elected a new president in 2007. Observers from the Office for Democracy and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) visited a limited number of polling stations on election day. It found the elections "generally met OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, as well as domestic legislation." However, it also noted that "321,000 noncitizen long-term residents of voting age" were not able to vote, that the country needs to strengthen its laws regarding candidacy rights to enhance compliance with its OSCE commitments, and that "hidden" advertising illegally not accounted for in campaign spending reports skewed the playing field in the election.

Citizens can organize political parties without restriction however, the law prohibits the country's "noncitizen residents" from organizing political parties without the participation of an equal number of citizens in the party. The election law prohibits persons who remained active in the Communist Party or various other pro-Soviet organizations after 1991 or who worked for such institutions as the former Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB) from holding office.

At year's end there were 20 women (including the speaker) in the 100-member parliament, and three women in the 14-member Cabinet of Ministers. Three of seven judges at the Constitutional Court were women, and 23 of 44 judges of the Supreme Court were women.

Members of minorities, including ethnic Russians and Poles, served in various elected bodies. The mayor of Riga, the country's largest city, is a member of the ethnic Russian minority.

Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices. There was a widespread perception that corruption existed at all levels of government. The World Bank's World Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a problem in the country.

The KNAB is primarily responsible for fighting corruption. During the year the KNAB initiated 30 criminal cases, and other legal institutions initiated 12 criminal cases against government and law enforcement officials. The KNAB also forwarded 14 criminal cases involving 45 individuals to the prosecutor's office.

Corruption cases during the year included the following:

· In May the KNAB initiated criminal proceedings against two municipal officials in Jurmala for offering a bribe in exchange for a vote in a Jurmala city council meeting.

· In June authorities indicted Vladimirs Vaskevics, the former head of the criminal investigative service of the customs service, for failure to comply with financial disclosure laws. This indictment followed an extensive investigation.

In February 2009 the Riga Regional Court sentenced two former district court judges, Irena Polikarpova and Beatrise Talere, to eight years' imprisonment for bribery. Polikarpova and Talere appealed the sentence to the Supreme Court. In October the Supreme Court sentenced Polikarpova to a prison term of three years plus fines. In the meantime, Talere died.

Under the country's law, public officials are required to file income declarations annually, and irregularities within the declarations are investigated. The state auditor's office reviews the financial records &ndash classified and unclassified &ndash of all governmental agencies on an annual basis and documents any irregularities. These reports are forwarded to the prime minister.

There was a perceived lack of fairness and transparency in the public procurement process. A number of foreign companies complained that bidding requirements were sometimes written with the assistance of potential contractors or couched in terms that exclude all but "preferred" contractors.

Allegations of corruption and bribery within law enforcement agencies continued to hurt the public's perception of police effectiveness. The Internal Security Office of the State Police was responsible for investigating and disciplining State Police officers who committed crimes or abuses of power, including corruption. Citizens could also report police corruption to the KNAB. In August the KNAB began criminal proceedings against two State Police inspectors accused of demanding a bribe from a suspect in exchange for not reporting a robbery.

A regulation of the Cabinet of Ministers provides for public access to government information, and the government generally provided citizens such access in practice. There were no reports that noncitizens or the foreign media were denied access.

Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials met with domestic NGO monitors and responded to their inquiries. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

The ombudsman's office has the responsibility to monitor the government's performance on human rights issues. The office generally enjoyed the government's cooperation and operated independent of government or party interference. However, at a time of across-the-board budgetary cuts for governmental agencies, the ombudsman's office complained that it did not have sufficient resources to accomplish its mandate. Under its charter the office's primary function is to investigate complaints and make specific recommendations, but its authority is strictly advisory. Some human rights groups voiced concern that the ombudsman's office was reactive rather than proactive and called for the office to advocate more aggressively with respect to certain human rights problems. The office complied with a statutory requirement to publish an annual public report detailing its activities and recommendations. These included monitoring conditions and making recommendations regarding detention facilities and prisons, as well as collecting, investigating, and answering complaints related to a broad spectrum of human rights: civil rights, children's rights, and rights pertaining to property, social welfare, education, and healthcare. The Justice Ministry acknowledged many of the shortcomings referenced by the ombudsman's office &ndash especially those pertaining to prison conditions &ndash and claimed to be addressing them as resources permit. Notwithstanding calls for greater activism from certain human rights groups, the ombudsman's offices generally maintained public trust.

Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status and the government generally enforced these prohibitions effectively.

The law specifically criminalizes rape but does not recognize spousal rape as a distinct crime. Criminal penalties vary depending on the nature of the crime, the age of the victim, the criminal history of the offender, and the dependency of the victim on the offender. Such penalties range from probation to life imprisonment. During the first nine months of the year, there were 10 convictions on rape charges, compared with 39 convictions in 2009 and 44 in 2008. Several local NGOs complained that rape laws were ineffective or were inadequately enforced by authorities. NGOs continued to report that rapes were underreported due to a tendency of police to blame victims.

In October the parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Law adding domestic violence to the list of aggravating factors in criminal offenses connected with violence. Until these amendments there was no definition of domestic violence, and in practice domestic violence was understood very narrowly.

NGOs and police agreed that domestic violence was a significant problem however, the law was not effectively enforced. Victims were often uninformed about their rights and were reluctant to seek redress through the justice system. Human rights groups asserted that the legal system, including the courts, did not always take domestic violence cases seriously. Police stated they could only make arrests if either the victim or a witness agreed to file charges or if police caught someone in the act of committing the abuse. The women's advocacy NGO Marta Center noted that no system was in place whereby women could receive legal protection as soon as they arrived at a hospital for treatment after violence. Most abused women first went to the hospitals and only then turned to the police.

During the year the Marta Center received 362 complaints of domestic violence, compared with 249 in 2009. Marta Center provided legal assistance in 208 of those cases.

There were no shelters designed specifically for battered or abused women. Women who experienced violence could seek help in family crisis centers however, these centers had limited capacity and gave priority to women with children. There were no dedicated rape or assault hotlines however, NGOs managed four general crisis hotlines. The Marta Center operated Web sites that provided information and legal assistance for female victims of violence.

Riga continued to be a destination for adult sex tourism.

Sexual harassment is illegal however, there was no record of complaints, due in part to procedures required to register incidents. The ombudsman's office, located in the capital, Riga, was the only designated location to file complaints. In addition, cultural factors tended to discourage women from filing sexual harassment complaints. Sexual harassment of women in the workplace reportedly was common. However, in the absence of complaints, the government was not able to enforce the law. As of December the ombudsman's office had received no complaints regarding sexual harassment.

The government recognized the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Health clinics and local health NGOs operated freely in disseminating information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. There were no restrictions on the right to access contraceptives however, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) for 2008, only 68 percent of the population used any kind of contraception, while 56 percent used modern methods, including male and female sterilization, intrauterine devices, the pill, injectables, hormonal implants, condoms, and female barrier methods. According to UNFPA data for 2008, there were approximately 20 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the country. The government provided free childbirth services.

According to statistics compiled by the World Health Organization in 2005, men and women received equal access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, but local health NGOs and clinics reported that women were more likely than men to seek treatment and to refer their partners for treatment.

Women enjoy the same rights as men, including rights under family law, property law, and in the judicial system. The law prohibits employment discrimination however, in practice women frequently faced hiring and pay discrimination, particularly in the private sector. The Marta Center noted that there had been cases of discrimination based on gender when applying for work.

The law prohibits work and wage discrimination based on gender and requires employers to set equal pay for equal work however, government regulatory agencies did not implement the law fully. According to the country's Central Statistics Bureau, in the first quarter of the year, the average female worker earned 18.5 percent less than a male worker.

Citizenship is derived from one's parents. Children of "noncitizen" parents born in the country are registered immediately and are eligible to apply for citizenship. There were no reports of systematic or widespread failure to register births immediately.

An NGO working with abused children, the Dardedze Center Against Violence, stated that the number of reported instances of child abuse, including sexual abuse, increased in the past several years. The center attributed this increase largely to better reporting due to increased awareness of the problem. Laws against child abuse were enforced effectively, although the center observed that coordination among agencies involved in the protection of children's rights was weak. Children from families that were unable to care for them had access to government-funded boarding schools that provided adequate living conditions however, these schools had lower educational standards than regular state schools.

Statutory rape and child pornography are illegal. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. Statutory rape is punishable by four years' imprisonment, or six years if the victims are particularly young. The State Police can initiate proceedings against a sexual abuser without an application from a victim who is a minor. Purchase, display, reproduction, or distribution of child pornography is punishable by up to three years in prison. Involving a minor in the production of pornography is punishable by up to 12 years in prison, depending on the age of the child.

A special police unit in Riga worked to prevent sexual abuse of minors and eradicate child sex tourism through aggressive prosecution of pedophiles and other child abusers. The unit also publicized the potential dangers posed to minors by Internet chat rooms and worked closely with local social networking sites to identify potential Internet predator cases.

The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information on international parental child abduction, please see the Department of State's annual report on compliance at http://travel.state.gov/abduction/resources/congressreport/congressreport_4308.html.

The Jewish community numbers approximately 10,000 and is largely secular and Russian-speaking. There were reports of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, but no reports of anti-Semitic attacks. Anti-Semitic sentiments persisted in some segments of society, manifested in hostile comments on the Internet.

On March 16, according to press reports, authorities in Riga detained one person who was displaying an anti-Semitic sign at an annual event in remembrance of Latvian soldiers who died fighting in German Waffen SS units during World War II (see section 2.b.). The person was later released without formal charges.

On December 7, 89 headstones in the New Jewish Cemetery of Riga were vandalized by painting with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans in the Russian language. Government officials, including the president, prime minister, foreign minister, and the mayor of Riga, quickly and forcefully criticized the acts. The police launched an investigation and said they would charge the perpetrators with grave desecration and inciting ethnic hatred, crimes carrying up to 10-year prison terms. At the end of the year, police continued to investigate the case but had made no arrests. The city of Riga rapidly repaired the damage with city funds, and the mayor stepped up police presence and patrols in relevant areas to prevent further incidents.

On December 13, marks of white paint were found on a monument to Zanis Lipke, a Latvian who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Riga city authorities removed the paint on the day it was discovered, and police opened a criminal investigation. The president and foreign minister quickly and strongly condemned the act.

For information on trafficking in persons, please see the Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to healthcare, or the provision of other state services or other areas, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities however, most buildings were not accessible.

A new law which preserves the rights of handicapped children took effect during the year. The law grants additional assistance to children with disabilities, allowing them and their chaperones to use public transportation free of charge. The law also allows families of children who have been diagnosed with a disability to receive state-funded counseling.

According to government statistics for the year, Russians comprised 28 percent of the population, Belarusians 4 percent, Ukrainians 3 percent, Poles 2 percent, Lithuanians 1 percent, Jews 0.4 percent, and Roma 0.4 percent.

No attacks against minorities were reported. However, NGOs representing minority groups claimed that official statistics underreported the actual number of incidents, including physical assaults.

In the first eight months of the year, the Security Police reviewed 18 applications/complaints connected to possible incitement of ethnic or racial hatred. Of these, in five cases a criminal procedure was initiated for incitement of ethnic hatred. These complaints involved hate speech on the Internet. One of the five cases was dismissed due to lack of evidence, and in the remaining four cases, investigations continued at the end of the year. As of July the ombudsman's office received two written complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination, compared with 85 in 2009.

In August, Valdis Rosans, a self-proclaimed National Socialist, was charged with using hate speech online and was given a two-year suspended sentence. Rosans had published remarks that were demeaning to Jews, gays, and other minorities.

There were no developments, and none were expected, in the February 2009 attack on two Armenians in Riga by unknown persons with apparent racial intent. Police classified the incident as "hooliganism" rather than a racially motivated attack.

The Romani community has historically faced widespread societal discrimination and high levels of unemployment and illiteracy. As a result of emigration, the Romani population in the country fell from approximately 20,000 in the mid-1990s to approximately 8,000 persons. The government had a national action plan to address problems affecting the Romani community with respect to employment, education, and human rights however, observers criticized the plan for lacking adequate funding to improve conditions for Roma substantially.

Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No gay pride parades or marches were held in the country during the year, although a Baltic regional pride march took place in Vilnius, Lithuania, in March. Latvian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists reported they received good cooperation from Latvian police who traveled to Vilnius to assist Lithuanian police in providing appropriate security for the march. LGBT representatives stated the attitude of the country's police toward their organizations has improved in recent years.

There were no official reports of societal violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity however, leaders of LGBT organizations complained of widespread intolerance and underreporting of physical attacks. As of July the ombudsman's office had received one report of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

LGBT representatives also reported that the ombudsman expressed reluctance to assist the LGBT community in securing its rights, particularly LGBT persons' right of assembly.

LGBT groups complained about the use of anti-LGBT rhetoric and images in the campaign of the For a Good Latvia party during the national parliamentary election campaign during the year.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

a. The Right of Association

The law entitles all workers, except for uniformed members of the military, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and workers exercised this right in practice. This law was implemented fairly and effectively. Throughout the year union membership remained constant at approximately 15 percent of the workforce.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, and the government protected this right in practice. The law recognizes the right to strike, subject to limitations related to public safety. However, the law prohibits "sympathy" or "solidarity" strikes by workers who are not directly involved in the specific work agreement between strikers and their employers. While most workers were free to exercise the right to strike within these parameters, labor regulations prohibit strikes by essential personnel, including judges, prosecutors, police, fire fighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law provides arbitration mechanisms that essential personnel may use in lieu of striking.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for collective bargaining, and workers exercised this right in practice. Approximately 18 percent of workers were covered by collective bargaining agreements.

The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and the government effectively protected this right throughout the year.

There are four export processing zones regular labor laws applied in all of them.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children. Also, please see the Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law and policies protect children from exploitation in the workplace, including policies regarding acceptable working conditions, and the government generally implemented these laws and policies in practice.

The law restricts employment of those under the age of 18 years by prohibiting nighttime or overtime work. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15 years, although children who are 13 years old or older may work in certain jobs outside school hours with written permission from a parent.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Welfare's State Labor Inspectorate are responsible for enforcing the child labor laws, and they did so effectively.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legally mandated monthly minimum wage of 180 lats ($336.60) did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and his or her family. By comparison, the Latvian Central Statistical Bureau's "Minimum Consumer Basket" price index for November was approximately 170 lats ($317.90). In 2009 the average monthly wage was approximately 461 lats (approximately $862). The State Revenue Service is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations and did so effectively.

The law provides for a mandatory 40-hour maximum workweek with at least one 42-hour rest period weekly. The maximum permitted overtime is 144 hours in a four-month period. Employees are also not allowed to work more than 24 hours consecutively, 56 hours in a week, or overtime on more than six consecutive days. The law requires premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless other forms of compensation are agreed to in a contract. These standards were generally respected for both citizens and noncitizen workers.

The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, which were effectively enforced. Workers have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without endangering their continued employment however, authorities did not enforce this right.


The Entente and Bermondt against peace

Latvia was pressured by the Entente countries not to conclude peace with Soviet Russia. The situation was made particularly complex as it was necessary to fight Bermondt's army, and the British and French navies partook in the battles as well.

The Western countries likewise provided immense support as concerns weapons, ammunition, equipment and food.

During the Bermondt affair &ndash in which German and Russian troops, assembled under the adventurous Colonel Pavel Bermondt-Avalov with the ostensible goal to fight the Red Army, tried to take the Latvian capital &ndash it was impossible to conclude the peace treaty, which was eventually achieved only on August 11, 1920.

Bermondt was among the chief critics of peace talks, which served as a pretext to accuse Estonian and Latvian governments of Bolshevism or the collaboration with them. Alongside political considerations, he was also wary that the military situation would escalate, as a Latvian offensive against Bermondt's army in Kurzeme was expected after an agreement was concluded with Soviet Russia. In Jelgava, rumor spread among Russian and German officers that Estonia was in the process of relocating several divisions from the Soviet front to Rīga. It is possible that these rumors precipitated the Bermondtian attack on Rīga in early October, 1919.

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Latvia in the EU

European Parliament

There are 8 members of the European Parliament from Latvia. Find out who these MEPs are.

Council of the EU

In the Council of the EU, national ministers meet regularly to adopt EU laws and coordinate policies. Council meetings are regularly attended by representatives from the Latvian government, depending on the policy area being addressed.

Presidency of the Council of the EU

The Council of the EU doesn't have a permanent, single-person president (like e.g. the Commission or Parliament). Instead, its work is led by the country holding the Council presidency, which rotates every 6 months.

During these 6 months, ministers from that country's government chair and help determine the agenda of Council meetings in each policy area, and facilitate dialogue with the other EU institutions.

Dates of Latvian presidencies:

The following link is a redirection to an external website Current presidency of the Council of the EU

European Commission

The Commissioner nominated by Latvia to the European Commission is Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People.

The Commission is represented in each EU country by a local office, called a "representation".

European Economic & Social Committee

Latvia has 7 representatives on the European Economic and Social Committee. This advisory body – representing employers, workers and other interest groups – is consulted on proposed laws, to get a better idea of the possible changes to work and social situations in member countries.

European Committee of the Regions

Latvia has 7 representatives on the European Committee of the Regions, the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives. This advisory body is consulted on proposed laws, to ensure these laws take account of the perspective from each region of the EU.

Permanent representation to the EU

Latvia also communicates with the EU institutions through its permanent representation in Brussels. As Latvia's "embassy to the EU", its main task is to ensure that the country's interests and policies are pursued as effectively as possible in the EU.


Latvia - Political rights index

Source: Freedom House. 1 - the highest degree of freedom.

What is Latvia political rights index?

Date Value Change, %
2018 2.00 100.00%
2017 1.00 -50.00%
2016 2.00 0.00%
2015 2.00 0.00%
2014 2.00 0.00%
2013 2.00 0.00%
2012 2.00 0.00%
2011 2.00 0.00%
2010 2.00 0.00%
2009 2.00 0.00%
2008 2.00 0.00%
2007 2.00

See also

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The ECHR reiterated that it required proof beyond reasonable doubts in deciding an alleged violation of Article 3 of the Convention. It held that the government failed to meet this standard in arguing about the time starting from which the use by the medical service of the central prison of reusable syringes. The ECHR also noted that it was doubtful whether the applicant contracted the viruses after being imprisoned as it could not be proved that the first time the samples were taken, was the "windows period", and also because the applicant hadn't been tested for the Hepatitis C virus before he was imprisoned. The ECHR held that it could not conclude beyond reasonable doubts that the applicant was infected with the viruses after his imprisonment.

Regarding the applicant's complaint on the state's failure to investigate his allegations, the ECHR concluded that domestic civil proceedings had failed to give him the chance to make his case and prove how he actually contracted the infections. His request for a criminal investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor General was justified and the domestic authorities were obligated to provide criminal-law remedies available under their mandates. The ECHR also noted that domestic authorities were obligated to conduct thorough investigations toward serious allegations regarding treatment in violation of Article 3 of the Convention. The ECHR thus found a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 3 of the convention, particularly because the Office of the Prosecutor's General failed to conduct an investigation as required by the domestic law.

Regarding the applicant's claim under Article 6(1) of the Convention, the ECHR had found that he was disadvantaged in the civil proceedings he had with the Central Prison as well as with the publisher of the newspaper. Both respondents were present and given an opportunity to make oral submissions to the appeal courts in both civil proceedings while the applicant was not transported to the hearings. The ECHR concluded that there was a violation of this provision due to the applicant's absence during the hearings.

Regarding the applicant's claim of Article 8's violation, the ECHR held that the notion of Private Life under this Article encompassed a patient's personal information including his name and/or his photograph. It held that the domestic authorities failed in their positive obligation to protect the confidential information of the applicant from abuse by the newspaper in violation of his right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the Convention.

". the positive obligation imposed under the Convention to set up an effective judicial system does not necessarily require the provision of a criminal-law remedy in every case. In the specific sphere of medical negligence the obligation may, for instance, also be satisfied if the legal system affords victims a remedy in the civil courts, either alone or in conjunction with a remedy in the criminal courts, enabling any liability of the doctors concerned to be established and any appropriate civil redress, such as an order for damages and for the publication of the decision, to be obtained. Disciplinary measures may also be envisaged." [Para 76]


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The Court held that there had been violation of Article 8 of the Convention as the Latvian law was not drafted with precision, lacked clarity and did not provide safeguards against arbitrariness.

The Court further stated that there had been a violation of Article 3 as the tissues were removed without the consent of the applicant and it was only much later that she found out about the same. The Court also considered the fact that she was made to bury her husband’s body with his legs ties up caused her great emotional suffering. The Court stated that all the facts led to a suffering, which went beyond the trauma that one suffers due to a loss of a close relation. The Court stated that even after the death of a person, the body has to be treated with respect.

The Court did not consider Article 13 separately.

“As to whether the domestic law afforded adequate legal protection against arbitrariness, the Court notes that the removal of tissue in the present case was not an isolated act as in the above-cited Petrova case, but was carried out under a State-approved agreement with a pharmaceutical company abroad removals had been carried out from a large number of people (see paragraphs 13, 14 and 26 above). In such circumstances it is all the more important that adequate mechanisms are put in place to counterbalance the wide margin of discretion conferred on the experts to carry out removals on their own initiative (see paragraph 15), but this was not done (see also the international material cited in paragraphs 34 et seq. above). In response to the Government’s argument that nothing had prevented the applicant from expressing her wishes in relation to tissue removal, the Court notes the lack of any administrative or legal regulation in this regard. The applicant was, accordingly, unable to foresee what was expected from her if she wished to exercise that right.” (Para. 115)

“The Court considers that the applicant’s suffering had a dimension and character which went beyond the suffering inflicted by grief following the death of a close family member. The Court has already found a violation of Article 8 of the Convention because, as the closest relative, the applicant had a right to express consent or refusal in relation to tissue removal, but the corresponding obligation or margin of discretion on the part of domestic authorities was not clearly established by Latvian law and there were no administrative or legal regulations in this respect (see paragraphs 109-116 above). These facts demonstrate the manner in which the domestic authorities dealt with the complaints brought to their attention and their disregard vis-à-vis the victims of these acts and their close relatives, including the applicant. These circumstances contributed to feelings of helplessness on the part of the applicant in the face of a breach of her personal rights relating to a very sensitive aspect of her private life, namely giving consent or refusal in relation to tissue removal, and were coupled with the impossibility of obtaining any redress.” (Para. 140)

“The applicant’s suffering was further aggravated by the fact that she was not informed about what exactly had been done in the Forensic Centre. She was not informed about the tissue removal and, having discovered that her deceased husband’s legs were tied together on the day of the funeral, assumed this to be a consequence of the car accident. Two years later she was informed about the pending criminal inquiry and the potentially unlawful acts in respect of her deceased husband’s body. It is clear that at this point the applicant experienced particular anguish and realised that her husband might possibly have been buried with his legs tied together as a consequence of the acts that had been carried out in the Forensic Centre on his body. The Government’s argument that this was not proved “beyond reasonable doubt” is misplaced, since the applicant’s complaint relates to the anguish resulting from precisely that uncertainty regarding the acts carried out at the Forensic Centre in respect of her deceased husband’s body.” (Para 141)


United Nations Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council (hereinafter – the HRC) is the main UN body in the field of human rights. The HRC is an inter-governmental body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, as well as addressing systematic human rights violations, and making recommendations on them. The HRC was established on 15 March 2006, replacing the former Commission on Human Rights. By establishing the HRC, a number of new mechanisms were created: the Universal Periodic Review, the Advisory Committee and the Complaint Procedure.

The HRC is made of 47 Member States (African States – 13, Western European and Other States – 7, Asia-Pacific States – 13, Latin American and Caribbean States – 8, Eastern European States – 6), which are elected for a period of three years by the UN General Assembly. In 2014 the UN General Assembly elected Latvia to the HRC for the 2015-2017 term (until January 1st, 2018). Currently Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and Spain are the EU states represented in the HRC.

The HRC holds no fewer than three regular sessions a year, for a total of 10 weeks. The sessions are held in March (4 weeks), June (3 weeks) and September (3 weeks). At the request of one third of the Member States, the HRC can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies. So far 28 special sessions have been held, the most recent of which took place in May 2018 on the deteriorating situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

Universal Periodic Review

The creation of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism was a significant innovation upon establishment of the HRC. Within the system, the HRC reviews the human rights records of all UN Member States. Each year national reports by 42 States (both the HRC Member States and observer States) are being reviewed. The review takes into account information provided by the governments, UN bodies, Special Procedures Mandate Holders and non-governmental organizations, as well as recommendations from other countries. Reviews take place through an interactive dialogue between the State under review and other UN Member States. Recommendations are not legally binding, but within the next review cycle, the states are expected to report on the implementation of the recommendations they have accepted. The second review cycle started in 2012 and, within it, Member States reported on the implementation of the recommendations received during the first cycle and their latest accomplishments in the field of human rights. Latvia presented its first national report in 2011, second in 2016, and intends to present the third report in 2021.

Special Procedures

The system of Special Procedures is a central element of the HRC machinery. These are independent human rights experts or working groups with mandates to report and to advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The ad hoc character of the Special Procedures gives a chance to respond more flexibly to the violations of human rights, in comparison with the UN treaty bodies. Special Procedures mandate holders report either in their personal capacity or as members of Working Groups. They carry out country visits, send communications to governments, convene expert consultations, examine, monitor and publicly report on human rights situations. After the visits, reports are issued containing information gathered during the visit and recommendations to the State concerned. The recommendations are not legally binding. Special Procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council the majority of the mandates also reports to the General Assembly.

Currently there are 44 thematic and 12 country mandates. Special Procedures mandate holders deal with thematic issues such as freedom of religion, violence against women and others. In the case of country mandates, human rights situations in specific countries or territories are monitored, and analysed. Country mandates have been established on the human rights situations in Belarus, Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Islamic Republic of Iran, Mali, Myanmar, the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Somalia, Sudan, and the Syrian Arab Republic.

A “standing invitation” means that a country is prepared to receive a visit from any UN Special Procedures mandate holder whenever they request (in practice, the time of the visits is agreed in advance). Latvia was one of the first countries to issue a standing invitation in 2001. In 2007, Latvia started an initiative of encouraging the UN member states which have not done so to issue a standing invitation. Since the start of the initiative, the number of countries that have extended standing invitations has increased from 57 to over one hundred. Latvia regularly raises this issue at the HRC and in bilateral contacts. In September 2019, Jānis Kārkliņš, the Latvian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, addressed the HRC on behalf of 64 States, calling on the Member States to issue standing invitations and improve cooperation with the Special Procedures mandate holders.

UN Special Procedures mandate holders have visited Latvia four times – the Working Group on arbitrary detention in 2004, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in 2007, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in 2008, and the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights in 2012. In 2005, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus visited Latvia (also Lithuania, Poland, and Estonia), because Belarusian authorities had denied him the right to enter their country.


U.S. Department of State

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The Republic of Latvia, with a population of approximately 2.25 million, is a parliamentary, multiparty democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral Saeima. Elections for the 100 seat Saeima in 2006 were free and fair. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and the large resident noncitizen community however, there were problems in some areas. These included: serious police abuse of detainees and arrestees poor conditions at police detention facilities poor prison conditions and overcrowding judicial corruption obstacles to due process official pressure to limit freedom of speech violence against women child abuse trafficking in persons incidents of violence against ethnic minorities and societal violence and incidents of government discrimination against homosexuals.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings.

In previous years individuals were alleged to have died because of mistreatment by security forces. The suspected 2007 killing of a businessman by two police officers in a detention cell of the Sigulda police station remained under investigation. The officers involved were suspended from all duties. In October they were charged with exceeding official authority, failure to act by a state official, and intentional serious bodily injury. Their cases are awaiting trial.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices however, there were reports that government officials employed them.

Reports continued that police severely abused persons in custody. The ombudsman's office reported receiving multiple complaints alleging police violence. Independent local and international sources continued to voice concerns about police behavior. The ombudsman's office received seven complaints regarding treatment by police and seven about treatment by prison officials. Internal police statistics listed 289 complaints of police violence in the first eight months of the year, although there may have been multiple complaints about a single incident. During the year complaints about police behavior resulted in 21 criminal investigations and 18 internal investigations, none of which found breaches of the law. Authorities dismissed the remaining complaints without opening an investigation, transferred them to other government agencies without taking action, or were considering whether to open an official investigation.

There has been little progress in the investigation of the high- profile case of alleged mistreatment of former security officer Edgars Gulbis in 2007. Authorities held Gulbis in police custody for a month due to his alleged involvement in a car bomb attack against the chief antismuggling officer. Gulbis was later rearrested and at some point left the police car and either fell, jumped, or was pushed off a bridge into a river. Gulbis remained in jail throughout the year awaiting trial. The ombudsman's office indicated that, due to a number of shortcomings, the police internal investigation of the incident did not provide adequate explanation of Gulbis' treatment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention cell conditions remained poor. The government took no significant measures to improve prison and detention center conditions following 2007 reports by the Council of Europe (COE) human rights commissioner, by the COE Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) on its 2004 periodic visit to the country, and by the Latvian Center on Human Rights (LCHR). The 2007 LCHR report on prisons and detention centers described a number of key problems, including prison overcrowding, violence among prisoners, and health problems (a high incidence of tuberculosis, drug addiction, and HIV infection). One prison closed in November, increasing pressure on other already crowded facilities.

The LCHR also reported poor conditions at the detention center for illegal immigrants, including degraded infrastructure with no ventilation system.

There were 10 deaths of prisoners while in custody during the first eight months of the year. Authorities indicated that two were suicides and eight resulted from natural causes. The ombudsman reported only one case during the year that could be connected to behavior of officials in prisons or detention centers. On September 5, Sergey Danilin was found dead in his cell in the Daugavpils prison, having reportedly asphyxiated on his own vomit. Prison administrators indicated that guards might have pushed Danilin as he was being transported. A prison chaplain stated that Danilin's death might have resulted from a severe beating by a prison guard. Administrators have since opened an investigation into the case and declined to comment further. There was no further progress by year's end.

The ombudsman's office stated that it received 42 complaints during the year about conditions in detention facilities, primarily about inadequate light, heat, or ventilation in cells, sanitary facilities, or insufficient exercise areas.

The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups however, there were no independent monitoring visits to prisons and detention centers reported during the year. The CPT carried out its most recent periodic visit to the country in November and December of 2007. The CPT had not released its report on that visit by year's end.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The national police, security police, special immigration police, border guards, and other services were subordinate to the Interior Ministry. Municipal police were under local government control. The Military Counterintelligence Service and a protective service, as well as the National Guard, were subordinate to the Ministry of Defense.

Allegations of corruption and bribery within law enforcement ranks were frequent and continued to affect the public's perception of police effectiveness. During the year, the Bureau for the Prevention and Combating of Corruption (KNAB) pursued investigations of several security officials for bribery or extortion.

In September the Riga District Court sentenced the chief of the Riga city traffic police to six years in prison and confiscation of property for repeatedly accepting bribes.

In August authorities revoked the security clearance of Vladimirs Vaskevics, the head of the criminal investigative service of the customs service, following an extensive corruption investigation.

In April the Supreme Court sentenced the head of a division of the state police central criminal police department to seven years' imprisonment and confiscation of property for bribery.

In March the prosecutor general's office started prosecution of an officer from the Saldus district criminal police board for demanding and accepting bribes and an officer from the financial police for attempted intermediation of bribery. Both were convicted, but their sentences were suspended and they did not spend any time in jail.

Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

The law requires that persons be arrested openly and with warrants issued by a duly authorized judicial official, and the government generally respected this requirement in practice. The law provides a person in detention the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of the detention, and authorities generally respected this right in practice. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. The law requires the prosecutor's office to make a formal decision whether to charge or release an individual under arrest within 48 hours. This requirement was not always followed due to a backlog in the court system. A bail system exists however, it was infrequently used and applied most often in cases of economic crimes.

Detainees have the right to have an attorney present at any time however, authorities did not always respect this right in practice. Investigators conducted unscheduled interrogations of detainees without legal counsel. The ombudsman's office report on the Gulbis case noted that Gulbis was regularly subjected to such unscheduled "talks."

The government provided an attorney for indigent defendants. Authorities permitted detainees prompt access to family members. These rights were subject to judicial review but only at the time of trial.

While the law limits pretrial detention to no more than 18 months from the first filing of the case for the most serious crimes, and less for minor offenses, lengthy pretrial detention remained a concern of human rights groups. During the year the country's most common violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, as found by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), related to lengthy pretrial detention.

In July the ECHR ruled in favor of a former Red Army partisan, Vasilijs Kononovs, in his complaint that the courts had imprisoned him for acts that were legal at the time he committed them. In 1944 Kononovs led a raid in support of the Soviet Army against a village claimed to be aiding the Nazis. Kononovs argued that the villagers were a legitimate military target, while the court found his actions to be war crimes conducted by an occupying force. The ECHR also noted the time that had passed between the act and the conviction, while the government replied that it could not try the case during the period of Soviet occupation. The government appealed the decision.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice however, there were significant problems, including inefficiency and corruption.

The judicial system is composed of district (city) courts regional courts, which hear appeals from district courts and can also serve as courts of first instance a separate administrative court, which adjudicates administrative violations the Supreme Court, which is the highest appeals court and the seven member Constitutional Court, which hears cases involving constitutional issues at the request of state institutions or individuals who believe that their constitutional rights were violated.

On February 7, the Riga regional court sentenced two district court judges, Irena Polikarpova and Beatrise Talere, to eight years' imprisonment for bribery. Polikarpova and Talere appealed the sentence to the Supreme Court.

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, and most judges enforced this right however, the fairness of individual court decisions and of judges and the court system in general remained a concern.

Trials are generally public however, they may be closed to protect government secrets or the interests of minors. A single trial judge hears most cases, although for more serious criminal cases, at the district and regional levels, two lay assessors join the professional judge on the bench. In some criminal cases, modified juries consisting of randomly selected members of the public participate in the tribunal in a limited way. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. At closed trials, defendants are subject to criminal sanction if they reveal any details of the case outside the courtroom. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, at government expense if they are indigent. Defendants have the right to read charges and confront witnesses against them, and may call witnesses and offer evidence to support their cases. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and may appeal to the highest levels in the judicial system.

During the year a special parliamentary commission was formed to investigate the judiciary and the judicial decisions mentioned in the controversial book Litigation Kitchen published by journalist Lato Lapsa in August 2007. The book included a series of transcripts of allegedly wiretapped telephone conversations, sparking allegations of unethical and illegal behavior among some judges, including discussing cases outside of court and inappropriate influence on judges from the political elite and businesses, between prominent figures in the judiciary from 1998 to 2000. The commission released an interim report in September that was inconclusive in regards to the specific allegations of the book, but claimed general improvement in the judiciary since the time of the incidents alleged in the book. Three judges have stepped down because of the allegations, but none have been charged with a crime.

In April the Saeima established an independent judicial ethics committee, and the annual congress of judges elected its members.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. The government generally upheld the law concerning civil procedures.

In September the government established a task force to study outstanding claims for the restitution of pre Holocaust Jewish communal property. The task force had not publicly released any findings by the end of the year. The Jewish community also sought compensation for private property last owned by Jews before the Holocaust that could not be regained by the community upon the restoration of independence because there were no identifiable heirs.

There was no further progress on restitution for either communal or heirless properties. Members of the international Jewish community complained that national and local authorities delayed or ignored claims by Jews regarding property restitution.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

Observers expressed concern about freedom of speech after two persons were detained for comments interpreted as advice to remove holdings from banks. In November security police detained economist Dmitrijs Smirnovs for two days of questioning after a newspaper published his comments suggesting that the banking system was unstable and that the lat (the currency) might be devalued. Pop musician Valters Fridenbergs was also taken in for questioning for comments he made about bank stability during a concert. The law criminalizes spreading false information about the financial system. Both individuals were released without being charged.

The law criminalizes incitement to racial or ethnic hatred.

In October the Supreme Court rejected the prosecutor's office's appeal of the court's 2007 ruling that the publisher of an anti Semitic and anti Russian newspaper was not guilty of interethnic incitement. The paper had published articles referring to Jews as "kikes" and containing numerous derogatory statements about Russians living in the country. In rejecting the appeal, the Supreme Court noted that the newspaper's actions were unethical but not illegal.

The country has one state owned television station, Latvian National Television (LTV), and one radio station, Latvian National Radio. A number of privately owned television and radio outlets thrived.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The three largest Latvian language dailies were privately owned. Russian language print and electronic media were also large and active. There was one government owned newspaper, which primarily published official records of government actions and decisions. Other newspapers were widely believed to be associated with political or economic interests complete information on media ownership was not publicly available.

The law governing broadcast media contains a number of restrictive provisions regulating the content and language of broadcasts. Primary broadcast radio and television stations are required to use the state language (Latvian), and secondary broadcasters are allotted up to 20 percent of total broadcast time for non-Latvian language programming. Non-Latvian television broadcasts are required to have Latvian subtitles. However, these laws only apply to terrestrial broadcasts, as opposed to satellite or cable television. Extensive Russian language programming was available on both traditional channels and cable networks. These restrictions do not apply to the print media.

There was no official censorship of content of public or private media however, the ruling political forces at times reportedly attempted to influence the content of public television broadcasts.

On May 14, the Latvian National Security Committee of the Saeima questioned Edgars Kots, the director of LTV, in a closed hearing. The media reported that committee members criticized the overall content and tone of LTV's broadcasts as biased against the government and overly negative about general developments in the country. The head of the committee stated publicly that the committee did discuss the tone and content of broadcasts of LTV and justified the hearing by asserting, "LTV influences the views of society, which in turn influence the overall security of society." Representatives of the media and the opposition New Era party criticized the hearing as an unacceptable attempt to pressure LTV.

The government's appeal of an approximately 100,000 lat (approximately $200,000) civil award for invading the privacy of LTV journalist Ilze Jaunalksne remained pending after the government was granted more time for investigation. Results from an internal investigation into wrongdoing by financial police involved in Jaunalksne's case were sent to the prosecutor's office for review and for determination as to whether criminal conduct had occurred. The report was considered confidential. As of the end of the year, criminal proceedings were in process against some of the officials involved.

In 2007 the government asked LTV reporters who broadcast a story describing a "search in connection with criminal charges" brought against influential regional politician Aivars Lembergs to reveal their sources. They refused the request. No action was taken on the case during the year, and there were no indications that the matter would be pursued further.

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. The Internet was widely used by the public.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and authorities may not prohibit public gatherings except in very limited cases related to public safety however, organizers of demonstrations must provide advance notice to local authorities, who may change the time and place of public gatherings for such reasons as to prevent public disorder. Numerous demonstrations took place peacefully and without government interference during the year. However, some observers continued to criticize a provision of the law requiring notification of a planned protest 10 days in advance and what they characterized as vague procedures for holding a protest without prior notice.

After denying a permit in 2006, authorities issued, for a second year, a permit for a gay pride parade in Riga. While the parade was held on May 31, its organizers questioned the extremely high level of security measures taken by authorities, which organizers believed discouraged participation and limited visibility of the event.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right in practice however, the law bars the registration of Communist, Nazi, or other organizations whose activities would contravene the constitution, for example, by advocating the overthrow of the existing form of government. Nevertheless, some nationalist organizations using fascist era slogans and rhetoric operated openly.

Under the law, members of the country's large noncitizen community are prohibited from joining and participating in any political party of 400 or more members in which less than half the party members are citizens.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice. However, by law, "traditional" religious groups (Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Old Believer, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist and Jewish) enjoy a number of specific rights not available to "new" religions. For example, representatives of traditional religious groups may teach their religion to public school students who sign up to take classes, conduct official marriages, provide religious services for the army, and have representation in the National Ecclesiastical Council, which provides advice on religious matters to the government. New religions did not have these rights and were subject to some bureaucratic regulations and paperwork requirements not applicable to traditional religions.

In November the government passed laws regulating state relations with the Russian Orthodox and Lutheran churches, similar to laws that came into effect in May regarding the Adventist, Baptist, Jewish, Methodist, and Old Believer Orthodox churches.

Although the government does not require religious groups to register, the law accords registered religious organizations certain rights and privileges, including separate legal status for owning property or for other financial transactions, and tax benefits for donors. Single congregations that do not belong to a registered religious organization must reregister each year for 10 years. Ten or more congregations of the same denomination and with permanent registration status may form a religious association. Only churches with religious association status may establish theological schools or monasteries.

According to Ministry of Justice officials, most registration applications were approved once proper documents were submitted. The law does not permit simultaneous registration of more than one religious group (church) in a single confession. Ten congregations appealed this limitation two of these appeals were administratively rejected during the year, the remaining eight remained pending at year's end.

The law denies foreign evangelists and missionaries the right to hold meetings and to proselytize unless registered domestic religious organizations invite them to conduct such activities. Some foreign religious denominations criticized this provision.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The Jewish community numbers approximately 11,000 and is largely secular and Russian speaking. There was one active synagogue in Riga and one in Daugavpils. There were no reported incidents of violent attacks targeting Jews. However, there were occasional acts of vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and anti-Semitic statements in public spaces, such as Internet fora.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl/irf/rpt.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not employ it.

The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. During the year the government received 51 applications for asylum two individuals were granted the status of refugees. In practice, the government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened. However, there were continued reports that authorities systematically turned away persons attempting to enter the country at border checkpoints without establishing whether they may have been refugees or asylum seekers.

The government also provided temporary protection ("alternative status") to individuals who might not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol. During the year the government granted alternative status to one person.

The 2007 LCHR report on detention facilities noted that the failure of authorities to provide information to irregular migrants and asylum seekers concerning their rights and governmental procedures was a significant human rights problem. The LCHR also found shortcomings in legislation in this field for instance, the law governing immigration does not provide clear provisions on immigrant detention and appeal procedures, resulting in a wide variety of court decisions in apparently similar cases. Neither does the law specifically regulate the protection of rights of detained illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

In 2007 police opened a criminal investigation following a violent attack by unidentified persons on two Somali refugees. The security police continued to investigate the case.

Citizenship is derived from one's parents (jus sanguinis). According to UNHCR data, there were 372,622 stateless persons at the end of 2007, which included 372,421 stateless persons who were considered resident noncitizens and 201 other stateless persons who did not have the rights available to resident noncitizens. The government recognized as stateless only those individuals who did not have a claim to foreign citizenship and were not eligible to apply for naturalization in Latvia. The stateless persons reflected in the UNHCR total consisted primarily of individuals of Slavic origin who moved to the country during the Soviet occupation and their descendents. They were not given automatic citizenship when the country regained its sovereignty in 1991. There are laws and procedures for granting citizenship to the noncitizen population, and more than 120,000 persons have become citizens through naturalization since the process became possible in 1995.

The UNHCR notes that the country's laws grant a transitional legal status to permanently residing persons (noncitizens) entitling them to a set of rights and obligations beyond the minimum rights prescribed by the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and identical to those attached to the possession of nationality, with the exception of certain limited civil and political rights.

As of year's end, most of the remaining 372,000 noncitizens were legally eligible for citizenship but had not applied for it. Noncitizens most frequently said their reason for not applying was the perceived "unfairness" of the requirements and resentment at having to apply for citizenship rather than having it automatically granted at the time of the restoration of independence. The citizenship exam included a Latvian language test and examination on various aspects of the constitution and history of the country. Resident noncitizens have permanent residence status, consular protection abroad, and the right to return to Latvia.

Resident noncitizens have full rights to employment, except for some government jobs and positions related to national security, and to most government social benefits however, they cannot vote in local or national elections and cannot organize a political party without the participation of an equal number of citizens. Authorities reported that the number of naturalizations dropped significantly in January 2007 after the European Union (EU) granted noncitizen residents visa-free travel and work rights within the EU. The government claimed that Russia's June decision to allow these individuals to visit Russia without a visa would similarly depress the rate of naturalization. In contrast to 10,581 naturalization applications in 2006, but similar to 3,308 applications in 2007, there were 2,601 applications during the year. During the year 3,004 persons were granted citizenship through naturalization.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted in its 2008 report that the naturalization process remained slow and there was an urgent need to solve the problems linked to the status of noncitizens which made the persons concerned feel like second class citizens. The government response, included as an appendix to the report, argued that the government already provides a path to citizenship for almost all noncitizen residents, but many noncitizens had chosen not to pursue citizenship for personal or ideological reasons and that granting additional rights to noncitizens would only diminish the incentive to naturalize.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) high commissioner on national minorities visited the country in April and provided recommendations to improve the naturalization process, "by granting automatic citizenship to all children born in the country after 1991 and to the newly born children of noncitizens." He further advised authorities to "grant resident noncitizens the right to vote in local elections."

The Latvian Center for Human Rights noted in its 2008 alternative report, which mirrored the ECRI report, that although international organizations and state officials on several occasions acknowledged the need to reduce the number of noncitizens, the government has neither provided sufficient funds, nor implemented consistent activities, to promote naturalization.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution and law provide citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic and generally free and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Free and fair elections for the Saeima were held in 2006 the Saeima elected a new president in May 2007.

On April 25, the KNAB asked five political parties to pay to the state the amounts by which they exceeded campaign-spending limits during the 2006 election campaign. According to the KNAB's final calculations, the People's Party owed the largest amount, 791,510 lats (approximately $1,570,000). The second largest of the alleged violators of campaign spending limits, Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way, reregistered as a new party in 2007, thereby avoiding legal liability for the payment.

On August 2, the country held a referendum on whether to amend the constitution to give the public the right to initiate procedures to dismiss the Saeima directly. Forty-three percent of eligible voters took part in the referendum. The constitution requires that at least 50 percent of eligible voters vote in favor of the amendment for the referendum to be valid, so the amendment did not take effect. Of those who participated, 93 percent supported the draft amendments.

Citizens can organize political parties without restriction however, the country's approximately 372,000 noncitizen residents were prohibited by law from organizing political parties without the participation of an equal number of citizens in the party. The election law prohibits persons who remained active in the Communist Party or various other pro Soviet organizations after 1991 or who worked for such institutions as the former Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB) from holding office.

Janis Adamsons, a former KGB employee, was barred by the Central Election Commission from running for a seat in the Saeima in the 2002 election due to his former involvement in a Soviet security organization. The courts upheld the commission's decision. On June 24, the ECHR ruled that Adamsons' right to participate in elections had been violated and that the legal provision under which Adamsons was disqualified was too broad. The ECHR ruling noted that Adamsons had held a number of important government positions since 1991 and over that period he had not conducted any antidemocratic activities. The government appealed the decision, but its repeal was rejected and the decision became final in December.

At year's end, there were 21 women in the 100 member Saeima, and four women in the 19 member Cabinet of Ministers.

Members of minorities, including ethnic Russians and Poles, served in various elected bodies. However, the Saeima no longer publicly tracks the ethnicity of its members.

Government Corruption and Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption however, the government did not implement the law effectively. There was a widespread perception that corruption existed at all levels of government, and according to the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators, government corruption was a problem. During the first half of the year the KNAB initiated 14 criminal cases against government officials (including members of the judiciary), compared with 30 in all of 2007 and 51 in all of 2006. The KNAB forwarded eight criminal cases involving 25 individuals to the prosecutor's office. Seven officers of various law enforcement bodies were suspects in corruption related cases, most on suspicion of taking bribes.

In May 2007, the Kuldiga District Court found Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs not guilty of charges of abuse of power and making false statements in connection with the operation of the Ventspils port. The government's appeal was denied, and Lembergs sued the Ministry of Justice, the prosecutor general's office and the Ministry of Finance for damages, and won a reduced settlement from the Ministry of Finance. Several of Lembergs' business and political associates were arrested and charged with related crimes, but none had been tried by year's end. During the year Lembergs had a limited voice in the Ventspils City government. In the fall the prosecutor general forwarded the 2007 case against Lembergs on charges of large-scale money laundering, bribery, abuse of office, and failure to declare property for tax purposes to the Riga Regional Court. The case had not been heard by year's end.
In 2007 the KNAB forwarded evidence to the prosecutor's office accusing a division chief of the Daugavpils City land register of accepting 31 bribes. During the year the Supreme Court sentenced the division chief to two years' imprisonment and confiscation of property.
In August authorities revoked the security clearance of Vladimirs Vaskevics, the head of the criminal investigative service of the customs service, following an extensive corruption investigation. He was reassigned to the more senior position of deputy director of the State Revenue Service. The KNAB forwarded evidence in his case to the prosecutor's office, but the prosecutor's office had not formally charged Vaskevics with a criminal offense.

In October 2007 the prosecutor's office filed charges against 20 individuals, including Jurgis Liepnieks (former head of Prime Minister Kalvitis' office), who was accused of participating in a fraudulent scheme to secure an agreement with a foreign firm to introduce digital television. At year's end the trial had not begun due to a change in the presiding judge. Liepnieks asserted that former prime minister Andris Skele was also involved in the scheme however, no charges had been brought against Skele by the end of the year.

The law requires public officials to file income declarations annually and irregularities are carefully researched. During 2007 there was a partial relaxation of rules on the acceptance of gifts by public officials. Limits were raised on the value of gifts that could be accepted by officials, provided they were not directly connected to the duties of public office. Anticorruption groups claimed that the new rules provide a loophole that could allow officials, especially elected officials, to accept large gifts as long as there was no direct beneficiary relationship between the gift giver and decisions taken by the official.

The state auditor annually reviews all governmental agency financial records, both classified and unclassified, and documents irregularities. Reports are forwarded to the prime minister. The KNAB is responsible for combating government corruption.

To combat corruption, authorities arranged training and seminars for approximately 1,400 personnel during the year on various aspects of conflict of interest and internal controls against corruption.

A Cabinet of Ministers' regulation provides a mechanism for public access to government information, and the government generally provided access to citizens in practice. There were no indications that noncitizens and the foreign press were denied access.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials met with domestic NGO monitors and responded to their inquiries however, the government often lacked the political will or resources to act on NGO reports or recommendations. A parliamentary Human Rights Committee did not enjoy the confidence of human rights NGOs.

Only a few NGOs claimed to address the broad range of human rights problems. Among the most visible was the LCHR. Several NGOs dealt with specific issues: Apeirons was concerned with persons with physical disabilities Marta focused on the protection of women's rights Providus, the Center for Public Policy, and Delna (the national branch of Transparency International) focused on combating corruption and Zelda focused on mental disability. None of these NGOs were closely aligned with the government or political parties.

The government cooperated with international organizations and permitted visits by their representatives. During the year few international organizations published reports on or visited the country.

In February the ECRI released a report on the country, based largely on a visit in March 2007. The report noted progress in some areas, but indicated that the number of racially motivated attacks targeting visible minorities had increased at the time of their visit and the government response had been inadequate racist discourse geared toward newcomers and certain ethnic and religious groups by some politicians and in the media remained a problem and problems persisted with the full integration of the Russian speaking population, partly due to alleged job discrimination and to obstacles to Russian speakers' participation in public and political life in the country. In its response, the government argued that racially motivated violence was limited to isolated incidents and that both changes to the law in 2007 and training had helped police better respond to incidents when they happen.

The OSCE high commissioner on national minorities visited the country in April and provided recommendations to improve the naturalization process, "by granting automatic citizenship to all children born in Latvia after 1991 and to the newly born children of noncitizens." He further advised the government to "grant resident noncitizens the right to vote in local elections."

During the year the government strengthened the ombudsman's office, which was established in 2007 to protect the rights of individual citizens in relation to the government, by providing a longer term of office for the ombudsman, granting the ombudsman the right to propose changes to legislation, and requiring an annual ombudsman's report to the Saeima. During the year the ombudsman's office represented a person in court for the first time, in a case of discrimination against a woman due to pregnancy. The ombudsman's office noted that procedural constraints made it difficult for it to participate in many discrimination cases. None of the ombudsman's recommendations to parliamentary commissions were adopted in legislation. Local human rights organizations continued to voice concern over the office's limited response to human rights issues.

Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, language, disability, or social status however, violence against women and racial minorities, societal discrimination against women and homosexuals, child abuse, and trafficking in persons were problems.

The law specifically criminalizes rape but does not recognize spousal rape. Criminal penalties vary depending on the nature of the crime, the age of the victim, and the criminal history of the offender. Such penalties range from probation to life imprisonment.

A local NGO, the Skalbes Crisis Center, reported that rape laws were ineffective and that rapes were underreported due to a tendency by police to blame the victim. Police reported that the number of criminal cases involving rape had remained stable in recent years and that few rapes were committed by individuals who were strangers to the victims.

Violence against women is against the law however, there are no laws that deal specifically with spousal abuse. Although NGOs and police agreed that domestic violence was a significant problem, the law was not effectively enforced because abuse was underreported. Victims of abuse were often uninformed about their rights and were reluctant to seek redress through the justice system. Human rights groups asserted that the legal system, including the courts, did not always take domestic violence cases seriously. Police stated they could only make arrests if either the victim or a witness agreed to file charges or if police actually caught someone in the act of committing the abuse.

There were no shelters designed specifically for battered or abused women. Women who experienced violence could seek help in family crisis centers however, these centers had limited capacity and gave priority to women with children. There were no dedicated rape or assault hotlines however, NGOs managed approximately five general crisis hotlines. The NGO Marta Center operated Web sites that provided information and legal assistance for female victims of violence.

Prostitution is legal, although procurement is not. Prostitution was widespread and was often linked to organized crime. Riga was an increasingly popular destination for sex tourism.

Sexual harassment is illegal however, in the absence of complaints, the government was unable to enforce the law. Sexual harassment of women in the workplace reportedly was common. Cultural factors tended to discourage women from filing complaints of harassment.

Women enjoy the same rights as men, including rights under family law, property law, and in the judicial system. The law prohibits employment discrimination however, in practice women frequently faced hiring and pay discrimination, particularly in the private sector. The law also prohibits women from performing physically demanding jobs in unhealthy conditions, which are specified in a list agreed upon by the Cabinet of Ministers.

The law prohibits work and wage discrimination based on gender and requires employers to set equal pay for equal work however, government regulatory agencies lacked the skills and resources to implement the law fully. Some progress was made during the year. For example, the Ministry of Welfare implemented an awareness campaign that encouraged primary education teachers to portray more women as professionals and more men as childcare providers.

The government was committed to children's rights and welfare however, in practice authorities did not fully enforce constitutional provisions and laws related to children.

A local NGO working with abused children, the Dardedze Center Against Violence, stated that the number of reported instances of child abuse, including sexual abuse, had increased in the past several years. The center attributed this largely to better reporting due to increased awareness of the problem. Laws against child abuse were enforced effectively, although the center observed that coordination among agencies involved in the protection of children's rights was weak. Children from families that were unable to care for them had access to government funded boarding schools that provided adequate living conditions however, these schools had lower educational standards than regular state schools.

Police expressed concern about an increase in the number of children subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and "traveling pedophiles" in the country for the purpose of sex tourism.

In October the UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography visited the country. In preliminary findings, she noted a low number of reported incidents, but expressed concern about an increase in pornography and child sex tourism, at times facilitated by the Internet, and potentially exacerbated by the country's economic downturn.

The law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons however, there were reports that persons were trafficked to, from, and within the country for commercial sexual exploitation and from the country for forced labor.

The country was a source for women destined for the commercial sex trade in Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom women and teenage girls were also trafficked within the country for commercial sexual exploitation. At least one case of trafficking of men and women to the United Kingdom for agricultural work was still being prosecuted. In one known case, the country served as a destination for trafficking victims from Thailand.

The number of trafficking victims was impossible to ascertain. Relaxed travel regulations within the EU allowed traffickers to target Latvian nationals more easily. Tens of thousands of men and women departed the country in search of economic opportunities created by the country's entry into the EU labor market. Reports indicated that some of these persons might have become victims of labor traffickers. Those most at risk were persons from unstable families and unemployed or marginally employed women from 17-25 years old with poor education and from economically underdeveloped areas.

Police believed that most traffickers were small-scale criminal groups with well-established contacts in destination countries. Law enforcement agencies reported that, because of the country's strict law enforcement since 2006, trafficking organizers were sending persons who began as trafficking victims to recruit their family and friends, rather than risk attempting to recruit in person.

Recruitment over the Internet and through marriage agencies was also popular. The country's antitrafficking squad reported that traffickers usually avoided threatening or applying force when recruiting their victims. Although trafficking victims often consented to being transported abroad, they were usually misled by recruiters with offers of marriage or jobs as dancers.

The law provides for prison sentences of up to 15 years for trafficking. Most perpetrators continued to be prosecuted under a statute that prohibits persons being sent abroad for sexual exploitation. This law, like the antitrafficking statute, carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years. The legal definition of trafficking in persons includes internal trafficking and trafficking for labor exploitation.

Three Chinese nationals were smuggled into the country in August. Investigation of the incident led to 11 arrests, including 10 Latvian nationals and one Lebanese national. Charges for alien smuggling in an organized group have been brought against them, although they had not been tried by year's end. A similar case during the year involving smuggling of Syrian nationals led to five more arrests.

During the year, police finalized investigations of 11 cases for sending persons abroad for sexual exploitation, a form of human trafficking criminalized by the Latvian Criminal Law. All 11 cases were submitted to courts.

During the year courts convicted 11 traffickers for activities during or prior to 2008. Three convictions resulted in prison terms from three to 10 years and confiscation of property. For seven traffickers the conviction resulted in conditional sentences and no imprisonment. Three of the conditionally sentenced traffickers were subject to property confiscation. For one trafficker the conviction resulted in a fine.

In many cases, a lack of recognition among the judiciary of the severity and impact of trafficking led to minimal or suspended sentences for traffickers.

There were no reports during the year that officials were involved in trafficking.

The country maintained several facilities to care for domestic and foreign victims of trafficking. The Marta Center remained the principal provider of assistance to trafficking victims. In November 2007 the government created the Shelter Association Safe Home, which used 27,665 lats (approximately $48,000) in government funds to provide assistance and shelter to trafficking victims throughout the year. Both facilities had the capacity to accommodate and provide services to up to 14 victims at a time. The Shelter Association Safe Home rehabilitated four trafficking victims identified during the year. The Marta Center provided services to fewer victims than in the past, and in November the government ended financial support of the Marta Center's programs, including maintenance of its antitrafficking hot line.

The government systematically monitored antitrafficking efforts and focused mainly on prosecution, victim protection, and prevention. The Ministry of Interior worked with local NGOs and international organizations to develop and implement an antitrafficking project called "Open Labor Market for Women" and maintained an antitrafficking Web portal both to educate the public and provide information resources to specialists, such as law enforcement staff, educators, and social workers. Trafficking victims and witnesses were able to use the Web portal to report instances of trafficking. The Ministry of Interior led a government working group that held regular sessions to coordinate the antitrafficking activities of ministries, government agencies, and NGOs.

Under the national action plan to combat trafficking, the Ministry of Education is in charge of trafficking prevention. Trafficking prevention is part of the social sciences curriculum at the elementary and secondary school levels. The Attistiba College of Social Work and Social Pedagogy and the Latvian Police Academy offered courses, approved by the ministry, to educate future social workers and law enforcement specialists on how to prevent trafficking and assist victims.

The State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and other state services, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities however, most buildings were not accessible.

A report on "closed" institutions released in 2007 by the LCHR summarized a number of problems in psychiatric hospitals and social care homes for persons with mental disabilities, including restrictions on privacy, violation of rights to a private life, and inhumane treatment by personnel that ranged from negligence to emotional and physical violence. NGOs noted no changes in these conditions during the year.

Attacks against racial minorities continued to be a problem, though fewer cases were reported than in previous years. In contrast with 16 registered cases in 2007, there were six registered complaints of abusive behavior against ethnic or racial minorities during the first eight months of the year.
Of these, one was an allegedly racially motivated violent attack against an ethnic minority and the remaining five were incidents that involved hate speech. NGOs representing minority groups claimed that these statistics underreported the actual number of incidents. The ombudsman's office received 17 written complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination and 14 complaints regarding discrimination on the basis of language.

In August the European Agency for Fundamental Rights' annual report criticized the "limited" capacity of the country's system to collect data on incidents of racial crime or discrimination.

In a 2007 report, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) expressed concern that the law mandating the use of the Latvian language in all dealings with public institutions, including with local authorities, may discriminate against linguistic minorities, including the Russian speaking minority, which in 2007 constituted approximately 35 percent of the population. In particular, ECOSOC expressed concern that older members of linguistic minorities may be disadvantaged in receiving public services.

The government acknowledged that the Romani community faced high levels of unemployment and illiteracy, as well as widespread societal discrimination. In January 2007 the government began implementing a national action plan to address problems faced by the country's estimated more than 8,000 Roma with respect to employment, education, and human rights. The action plan was criticized for lacking the funding necessary to achieve substantial improvement in conditions for Roma. During the year 28 members of the Romani community were trained as teacher's assistants in an effort to improve access and participation in the educational system. Two of those 28 were working in schools.

On July 29, the government expanded the list of professions in which persons are required to have a minimum level of proficiency in Latvian.

The government eliminated the position of special assignment minister for integration and transferred responsibility for some of the functions formerly conducted by the secretariat to the Ministry for Child and Family Affairs.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against homosexuals however, the population at large appeared to have little tolerance for homosexuality.
During the year the city of Riga permitted a gay pride event under heavy police protection. There were reports of verbal harassment by opponents from outside the security perimeter, but there were only minor violations of public order. Organizers of the event questioned the severe security measures imposed by the authorities, which they believed discouraged participation and limited visibility of the event.

In April the minister for the Secretariat of Social Integration removed a list of "vulnerable groups" from the national program on the promotion of tolerance after his consultations with church representatives. Some human rights NGOs believed that the list was removed because it included the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

a. The Right of Association

The law entitles workers, except for the uniformed military, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and workers exercised this right in practice. Approximately 15 percent of the workforce was unionized during the year.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, and the government protected this right in practice. The law recognizes the right to strike, subject to limitations that include obligatory, prolonged prestrike procedures and the prohibition of some types of solidarity strikes and political strikes. While most workers were free to exercise the right to strike within these parameters, labor regulations prohibit judges, prosecutors, police, fire fighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel from striking. A labor law addressing disputes identifies arbitration mechanisms that unions and members of those professions forbidden from striking, may use in lieu of striking.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for collective bargaining, and workers exercised this right in practice. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children. Women and children were trafficked abroad and within the country for commercial sexual exploitation men and women were trafficked to the United Kingdom for forced labor. Three women were trafficked to the country from Thailand to work as masseuses they complained to authorities that work conditions and compensation were not what they had been led to expect. After filing the complaint, the women were briefly provided government funded victims' assistance services but were subsequently deported on short notice.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law and policies protect children from exploitation in the workplace, including policies regarding acceptable working conditions, and the government generally implemented these laws and policies in practice. However, there were reports that children were trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. The law restricts employment of those under the age of 18 by prohibiting night shift or overtime work. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15, although children between the ages of 13 and 15 may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Welfare's State Labor Inspectorate are responsible for enforcing the child labor laws, and they did so effectively.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legally mandated monthly minimum wage of 160 lats (approximately $317) did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. As of July, the average monthly wage was approximately 385 lats (approximately $762). The State Revenue Service is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, and it did so effectively.

The law provides for a mandatory 40 hour maximum workweek with at least one 42 hour rest period weekly. The maximum permitted overtime is 200 hours per calendar year. Excessive compulsory overtime is forbidden. The law requires premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless other forms of compensation are agreed to in a contract. By law an employee working overtime receives premium pay that is at least equal to the regular pay rate. These standards were generally respected for both citizens and noncitizen workers.

The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, which were effectively enforced. Workers have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without endangering their continued employment however, authorities did not enforce this right.


Watch the video: Human Rights in Latvia (June 2022).


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