EP resolution on the comprehensive monitoring report (excerpt), 2004

The European Parliament ,

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87.  Takes note of the satisfactory level of integration of minorities in Lithuania, which is an important factor for social cohesion and political stability;

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Document data: P5_TA(2004)0180 ; A5-0111/2004 ; 11.03.2004 Link: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P5-TA-2004-0180+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN Also available in the other EU official languages

Commissioner’s report on visiting Lithuania (excerpts), 2004

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

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.

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THE SITUATION OF CERTAIN VULNERABLE GROUPS

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Equal opportunities

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.

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NATIONAL MINORITIES

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.

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SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RIGHTS

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The restitution of private property

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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:

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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

The Russian minority in the Baltic States and the enlargement of the EU (excerpts), 1999

The views expressed in this document are not necessarily those held by the European Parliament as an institution.

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V. LITHUANIA

In its Regular Report on Lithuania, the Commission has confirmed that Lithuania fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria, judging that it “demonstrates the characteristics of a democracy, with stable institutions guaranteeing the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.” The treatment of minorities is generally satisfactory, the only comments are that the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has not yet been ratified.

The integration of the Russian minorities in Lithuania does not pose any major problems. In contrast to the other two Baltic states Lithuania’s Russian minority represents only 8% of the population and therefore is not seen, in Lithuania, has a potential treat to the Lithuanian culture. With the coming into force of the 1991 Citizen Act, citizenship was given automatically to all resident of Lithuania regardless of the ethnic origine, length of residence or knowledge of Lithuanian. In 1997, close to 90% of individuals belonging to minority groups had Lithuanian citizenship.

The Constitution provides for individual rights to individuals belonging to minority groups but not collective rights. Therefore, no system of ethnic minority representation is provided. Nonetheless, minorities have the rights to oversee their cultural and educational affaires. Broad rights are granted and various government initiatives, such as the creation of a Department of National Minorities, were put in place in order to better integrate Lithuania’s minorities.

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ANNEX

POPULATION STATISTICS FOR THE BALTIC STATES

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LITHUANIA

GroupPopulation%
Lithuanian3,005,00082.26
Russian300,0008.21
Polish250,0006.84
Belorussian45,0001.23
Ukrainian35,0000.96
Jewish6,0000.16
Tatar5,0000.14
Latvian4,0000.11
Karaim (Karaite)3,0000.08
Total3,653,000100

1998 Figures.
Source: Miniature Empires: A Historical Dictionary of the Newly Independent States, James Minahan (1998)


Document data: Briefing No. 42 03.05.1999 Link: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement/briefings/42a1_en.htm#top Also available in French

PACE recommendation 1339 (excerpts), 1997

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4. Lithuania has signed Council of Europe conventions for the prevention of torture, for the protection of minorities, on local self-government and on bioethics. The principles are thus established for the alignment of its legislation and policy with international standards in these areas.

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6. Following were the principal issues for dialogue with the Lithuanian authorities under monitoring procedure pursuant to Order No. 508 (1995) and Resolution 1115 (1997), notably with the Lithuanian parliamentary delegation:

6.7. position of the ethnic Russian and ethnic Polish minorities (respectively, 8.3% and 7% of the population);

6.8. adequacy of measures to restore property or give compensation to religious communities.

7. The Assembly notes that:

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7.6. the right to use national minority languages is legally secured, in accordance with the principles of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages;

7.7. other minority issues and relations with religious communities are approached in a spirit of mutual accommodation;

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Document data: 1339(1997); 22.09.1997. Link: http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=15373&lang=en

ODIHR election observers’ Final Report (excerpts), 1996

II. ELECTION DAY OBSERVATIONS

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Instructions for Linguistic Minorities

Balloting material is issued only in Lithuanian. The ODIHR did observe, however, on Election Day in areas of highly concentrated linguistic minorities a lot of confusion about voting procedures. The CEC had indeed issued voter education information in the most common minority languages. It is regrettable that this information was not posted on the walls of polling stations in minority areas.

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IV. RECOMMENDATIONS

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Amendment of election law making it mandatory to post on the wall of a polling station information about voting procedures in minority languages in all single member constituencies where the percentage of voters using a specific minority language exceeds a certain percentage.

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Document data: issued after the parliamentary election of October-November 1996. Link: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/lithuania/16236?download=true

Historical constitutions of Lithuania (excerpts), 1922-1938

1922 Constitution

6. The Lithuanian language is the State language. The use of other languages is regulated by law.

73. National minorities of citizens forming a considerable part of the body of citizens have the right, within the limits of the laws, autonomously to administer their own national cultural affairs – popular education, charity, mutual aid – and to elect representative organs in accordance with procedure provided by the law, to administer those affairs.

74. The national minorities mentioned in article 73 have the right, by virtue of special laws, to levy taxes upon their members for cultural needs and avail themselves of an appropriate portion of the amounts which are assigned by the State and autonomous administrations for the needs of education and charity, if those needs are not satisfied by the general establishments maintained by the State and autonomous administrations.

1928 Constitution

7. The Lithuanian language is the State language. The law regulates the use of local languages.

74. National minorities of citizens forming a considerable part of the body of citizens have the right, within the limits of the laws, autonomously to administer their own national cultural affairs – popular education, charity, mutual aid – and to elect representative organs in accordance with procedure provided by the law, to administer those affairs.

75. The national minorities mentioned in article 74 have the right, by virtue of special laws, to levy taxes upon their members for cultural needs and avail themselves of an appropriate portion of the amounts which are assigned by the State and autonomous administrations for the needs of education and charity, if those needs are not satisfied by the general establishments maintained by the State and autonomous administrations.

1938 Constitution

7. The official language is Lithuanian. The law shall decide in what districts of Lithuania and in what public institutions other languages may be allowed in addition to Lithuanian.


Document data:

1928 – Translation by Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – published in British & Foreign State Papers Vol. 128 (1928) London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1932. Pp. 852 ff.

1938 – Translation published in British & Foreign State Papers Vol. 142 (1938). London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1951. Pp. 685 ff. – a reference is given to International Digest of Laws and Ordinances, vol. I, 1938, p. 111