1. Lithuania joined the Council of Europe on 14 May 1993 and ratified the European Convention for Human Rights on 20 June 1995 as well as protocols 1 through 8 and 11. Lithuania ratified, on October 2003, Protocol 13 concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances. Lithuania has also ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the revised European Social Charter, the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Lithuania has neither signed nor ratified the European Charter for Minority or Regional Languages, the European Convention on Nationality and the European Convention on the Exercise of the Rights of the Child.
THE SITUATION OF CERTAIN VULNERABLE GROUPS
24. Lithuania possesses a body of legislation which promotes gender equality, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and introduces the concept of indirect discrimination. On 18 November 2003, the Seimas adopted the Law on Equal Opportunities which will enter into force on 1 January 2005. This law prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, disability, race or ethnic origin, religion and belief and extends the competence of the Office of the Ombudsman for Equal Opportunities to investigate the cases of alleged discrimination on these grounds. Also, the National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2003-2004, which foresees activities and projects in the areas of employment, education, politics, decision making, as well as measures on violence against women and trafficking in women, and the strengthening of institutional capacities and the development of tools and methods, should be mentioned. Finally, the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman for Equal Opportunities represents a major step forward in fighting discrimination at all levels.
28. Lithuania has taken an open and flexible approach towards the question of minorities. The Constitution determines that citizens belonging to ethnic communities “shall have the right to foster their language, culture and customs”. On the whole, minorities are integrated quite well into everyday life and, aside from very specific points which I will touch upon later in the report, there is no discrimination as such.
29. National minorities constitute roughly 16,8% of the total population in Lithuania and include mainly Poles, Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. According to the Constitution, members of minorities have the same rights and obligations as Lithuanians. A new Law on National Minorities, which places greater emphasis on the individual rather than on the community approach and makes no distinction connected with factors such as length of residence in the country, historical links with the State or geographical location, is currently being drafted. The definitions of “national (ethnic) minority” and of “persons belonging to a national minority” are of special interest since they recognize the importance of the subjective choice of the person to belong to a particular ethnic group.
30. In 1989, the Lithuanian government adopted a law on citizenship, which enabled all permanent residents to obtain Lithuanian citizenship if a request was made in this sense in the two years following the coming into force of the law (the so called “zero option”). The great majority of residents, including more than 90% of persons of nonLithuanian ethnic origin, obtained Lithuanian citizenship in this way. A second law, modified in 1997, was adopted in 1991 enabling access to citizenship for those persons who still did not have it if certain requirements were fulfilled, namely residence in the country for 10 years, have a source of income and pass a language and Constitution test. Although there are no precise figures, according to the ECRI, a few hundred Roma remain without citizenship today as they failed to apply for citizenship before the two-year deadline. These persons possess permanent residence permits and have been assisted by the authorities to collect the necessary documents to prove their families’ residence in Lithuania before June 1940 (according to Lithuanian law, citizenship is also granted to persons whose families lived in the country up to that date).
31. A particular problem, which could be considered as a basis for discrimination, concerns dual nationality. According to article 18.2.2 of the Law on Citizenship, the rule that Lithuanian citizenship is lost where an individual acquires the citizenship of another state, does not apply to persons of Lithuanian origin. Representatives of some national minorities have expressed their deep dissatisfaction with this provision and the manner in which it was introduced in the legal system. They consider it discriminatory since it establishes two categories of persons among Lithuanian citizens, to whom different standards apply depending on their ethnic origin. Although the primary intention behind this formula was to allow Lithuanians living abroad to return to the country without difficulty and without losing the nationality of their country of residence, it does not justify the distinction which, according to the criterion of ethnic origin, is drawn between Lithuanian citizens who, under article 29 of the Constitution, are equal before the law. In November 2003, a group of Parliamentarians filed, before the Constitutional Court, a request to investigate whether Article 18 of the Law on Citizenship is in contradiction with the Constitution. It is expected that the provisions of the law will be reviewed after the Court’s decision.
32. On January 2002, the Ministry of Education approved new regulations for minority education which allow for the use of minority languages as the main language in compulsory education. Thus a student from a national minority can do his entire schooling in his own language, Lithuanian being taught as another regular course. Although the authorities encourage the students to chose courses taught in Lithuanian, this is not by any means compulsory. Of the foreign language schools in Lithuania, the large majority are split between Russian and Polish and to a much lesser extent, Belarusian. During my visit, I found that most people, including the authorities, fluently and gladly converse in other languages, primarily in Russian.
The situation of the Roma minority
33. There are approximately 2.600 Roma in Lithuania. The largest community lives in Kirtimai, in the outskirts of Vilnius, where I visited the Roma Community Centre. This well-equipped establishment provides basic services to the community including social assistance and educational and cultural activities. Living conditions in the Roma settlement of Kirtimai are harsh with most of the population unemployed and houses lacking basic infrastructure and facilities. There are complaints about the lack of integration and the discrimination Roma face in many areas of everyday life such as education, housing, health care, employment and access to citizenship. During my visit to the Centre, representatives raised the question of Lithuanian Roma killed during the Nazi occupation (estimated at about 500 people) and complained about the excessive length in the resolution of cases and possible financial compensation.
34. To promote Roma integration while protecting Roma national identity, the Lithuanian government, through the Department of National Minorities, the Municipality of Vilnius and the Ministry of Education and Science, launched the Programme for the Integration into Lithuanian society 2000-2004 which focused, in an initial phase, on the Kirtimai community. The Programme acknowledges that Roma face specific problems in some areas and identifies budgetary allocations for integration and development initiatives.
35. It should also be said that while Kirtimai holds the largest concentration of Roma, the situation of this community in other parts of Lithuania also deserves attention. The second phase of the Programme for the period 2005-2010, already in preparation, will in principle extend its initiatives to other regions in Lithuania where there are large Roma communities.
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RIGHTS
The restitution of private property
43. The Law on the Procedure for the Restoration of the Rights of Religious Communities to the Existing Real Property provides these communities with a possibility of restoring their rights. All buildings belonging to the Orthodox Church have been returned. In the case of the Jewish Community, however, the problem is far from being solved and, as its representatives told me, in Vilnius only two synagogues have been returned. According to Lithuanian authorities, part of the problem is that Jewish communities did not have a chief religious authority before the war and recognition of the status of Jewish religious communities established after Lithuania regained its independence as rightful successors of the pre-war communities is therefore complicated. Nonetheless, and in spite of the described difficulties, synagogues and other buildings that used to belong to the Jewish communities are in the process of being returned in Kaunas and other towns. The Ministry of Justice has presented amendments to the law, which has been modified several times already, to help solve this situation. As for the Catholic Church, it has recovered most of its properties.
FINAL COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
44. Lithuania has achieved significant success these last ten years in the promotion and respect of human rights. As a result, it can be said that fundamental rights and liberties are widely respected today. Having successfully taken up the challenge of consolidating democratic institutions and making the transition to a market economy, the country faces now the challenge of joining the European Union which will bring major and economic and social changes. In order to assist and encourage Lithuania in its task, and in accordance with Article 8 of Resolution (99) 50, the Commissioner makes the following recommendations to the Lithuanian authorities:
10. Review the regulation on dual citizenship once a decision by the Constitutional Court has been adopted;
11. Broaden the existing integration programmes for the Roma community, with a view to improve the access to employment, housing, health and education;
12. Accelerate the process of restitution of private property to individuals and religious communities;
Document data: CommDH(2004)6 ; 12.02.2004. Link: https://rm.coe.int/16806db7c9