FCNM Advisory Committee 4th opinion on Lithuania (excerpts on participation), 2018

I. Key findings

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Assessment of measures taken to implement the recommendations for immediate action

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11. The numerically small population of Roma7 in Lithuania continues to have very limited access to the rights enshrined in the Framework Convention (see Articles 4, 12 and 15). However, the Advisory Committee is pleased to note that progress has been made on a policy level, which has started to yield the first results in practice. At national level, the Department for National Minorities oversees the implementation of the Action plan for Roma integration into Lithuanian society 2015-2020 and co-ordinates a number of projects funded by the government and, to a greater extent, the European Union (EU). The Advisory Committee appreciates in particular the efforts made by the Department for National Minorities, with the support of research institutions, in collecting, analysing and publishing data on the situation of Roma. At the level of Vilnius municipality, the “Programme for Social Integration of the Community of the Vilnius (Kirtimai) Roma Settlement” was adopted in 2015. After decades of struggling with the appalling situation in the Kirtimai settlement,8 concrete results have now been achieved. Social housing was secured for families with many children, and school attendance of children still living in the settlement is ensured through a wake-up service and bus shuttle. To secure the sustainability of the measures taken, the effective participation of the various Roma communities concerned is required [..]

7 According to the 2011 census, the number of Roma is 2 115. Several interlocutors of the Advisory Committee estimate that the number has since decreased, mainly due to emigration.

8 See Third Advisory Committee Opinion on Lithuania, adopted on 28 November 2013, paras 32 and 107. See also 5th ECRI report on Lithuania, adopted on 18 March 2016, CRI(2016)20, para 71.

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Assessment of measures taken to implement the further recommendations

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17. In the field of participation, the Council of National Communities continues to be the key advisory body to the government. Its membership has slightly increased to 28 representatives from 20 national minorities. These include representatives of minorities with a shorter history in Lithuania such as Azerbaijani, Chechen or Lebanese communities, which the Advisory Committee welcomes. The Council has only advisory functions and a limited mandate, but interlocutors reported that they feel their voice is better heard since the Department of National Minorities has been re-established in 2015. While noting that the domestic debate on minority rights continues to be dominated by issues around the Polish minority, during this cycle the Advisory Committee did not encounter criticism from smaller minority communities – such as the Karaim – about lacking opportunities for their effective participation.

II. Article-by-article findings

Article 3 of the Framework Convention

Personal scope of application of the Framework Convention

18. The Advisory Committee notes the continuation of the overall flexible and inclusive approach taken by the authorities towards the scope of application of the Framework Convention. The state report refers to the 2011 census, according to which residents of Lithuania affiliate with 154 different ethnic groups.11 At present, organisations of 20 ethnic groups are represented in the Council of National Minorities. 12

11 See the census results on the website of the Department for National Minorities, available at http://tmde.lrv.lt/en/national-minorities

12 The 28 members of the Council represent the Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belarusian (2 representatives), Chechen, Estonian, German, Georgian, Greek, Hungarian, Jewish, Karaim, Kazakh, Latvian, Lebanese, Polish (3 representatives), Roma, Romanian, Russian (3 representatives), Ukrainian (2 representatives), Uzbek, and Tatar (2 representatives) communities.

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Article 14 of the Framework Convention

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Uniform state language curriculum and centralised exams

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Recommendations

98. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to closely consult with teachers and other experts from minority language schools on all measures of education reform affecting students in those schools. To institutionalise this dialogue, the authorities are invited to consider setting up a national board of experts on national minority language teaching, which could advise on issues such as teaching methodologies, evaluation and development of new teaching and learning materials, adaptation of curricula, and testing methods.

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Article 15 of the Framework Convention

Political participation and consultative mechanisms

101. Lithuania has three ethnically-based political parties representing the Polish and Russian minorities, the Electoral Action of Poles – Christian Families Alliance, the Lithuanian Russian Union and the Russian Alliance. 95 In the October 2016 election to the Seimas, the Electoral Action of Lithuanian Poles (LLRA) received 5.7% of the votes and eight seats. The Electoral Action of Poles was part of the government coalition from 2012 to 2014 and holds one seat in the European Parliament. The Advisory Committee notes that representatives of the Polish minority advocate a lowering of the 5% threshold at elections to the Seimas for parties representing persons belonging to national minorities. The Advisory Committee has noted that threshold requirements in electoral laws can potentially have a negative impact on the participation of national minorities in the electoral process, which needs to be duly taken into account. Exemptions from threshold requirements have proven useful to enhance national minority participation in elected bodies.96

95 For a detailed description of the membership and voting results of these parties in municipal and national elections until 2015, see state report pp. 78-80.

96 Thematic Commentary No. 2 “The effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs (February 2008), para. 81.

102. Lithuania has a Council of National Minorities with advisory functions, composed of 28 members from 20 national minority communities, and which meets four times per year. The Advisory Committee welcomes the inclusive approach of the Council, noting that not only those minorities who traditionally settle in Lithuania are represented, but also associations of persons belonging to the Chechen, Lebanese and Uzbek communities in the country.97 The Chair of the Council, elected in 2015, represents the Latvian minority, and the vice-chair the Polish minority.

97 See news on the 2015 elections of the leadership of the Council, available at http://media.efhr.eu/2015/12/23/a-polish-man-elected-vice-chairman-of-the-national-communities-council-of-lithuania.

103. The Advisory Committee regrets that few consultative mechanisms seem to exist at local level. The Advisory Committee finds that such a mechanism would be beneficial not only in municipalities with substantial numbers of persons belonging to minorities such as Vilnius region, and Trakai, but also in municipalities where persons belonging to national minorities are in the majority, such as Šalčininkai and Visaginas, and in those with numerically small numbers of inhabitants belonging to national minorities, such as Kaunas. The Advisory Committee considers that in addition to national councils, local consultative mechanisms have, in some circumstances, proven to be a useful additional channel for the participation of persons belonging to national minorities in decision-making, especially in areas where competencies rest with the municipal level of government. 98 Such mechanisms do not necessarily have to be burdensome and costly structures, but could also be used on an ad hoc or thematic basis.

98 Thematic Commentary No. 2 “The effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs (February 2008), para. 115.

Recommendation

104. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to encourage municipalities to develop suitable consultative mechanisms enabling the effective participation of persons belonging to minorities, including numerically small communities, in decision-making and, if applicable, support them in doing so.

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III. Conclusions

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Further recommendations

  • Encourage municipalities to develop suitable consultative mechanisms enabling effective participation in decision-making of persons belonging to minorities, including numerically small communities.

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Document data: ACFC/OP/IV(2018)004 ; adopted 30.05.2018, published 08.01.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/4th-advisory-commitee-opinion-on-lithuania-english-language-version/1680906d97 Also available in French

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