Concerns have been raised by a new report that Estonia is breaching its human rights obligations for the LGBT community, the stateless, refugees and asylum seekers, and restricts the use of Russian language.
A report released this week by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the government has “yet to implement” reforms it agreed to in 2011 under the Human Rights Council.
“More political will and reform are needed to end statelessness in Estonia,” HRW said, but added that “significant progress” had been made from reducing statelessness from around a third at the end of the Soviet Union to 6.5 percent now.
However, it stated it “documented a number of problematic trends that illustrate the country’s ongoing violations of the rights to nationality and nondiscrimination”.
People living in Russian-speaking areas did not need Estonian to get by in their daily lives which called into question “the fairness and necessity of the language requirements for long-term residents,” it said.
One of the criticisms was that language lessons are not free at point of access, although if the Estonian language test is passed the taker will be reimbursed. HMW also said that having to pay 13 euro to apply for citizenship was too expensive.
It added: “Several interviewees told Human Rights Watch they did not seek to naturalize because they felt alienated from political life and by the government’s interference with their right to nationality.”
The report recommended that the language requirements are reduced to a minimum for anyone who lived in Estonia before the collapse of the Soviet Union and abolish them for all non-citizens born before 1940. It also adds that Estonian language lessons should be free for all people wishing to become citizens.
The rights of the stateless
The report says that stateless people in Estonia enjoy more rights than in many other European countries. However, they cannot hold some jobs such as in the police or civil service, or become judges and notaries.
It is also mentioned that Russian speakers have alleged that they are discriminated against when applying for jobs. In many cases they cannot apply for jobs unless they have a C1 advanced level language certificate.
And it references that the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has expressed concerns that the Estonian Language Inspectorate does not take regional differences into account.
It recommends that discrimination of ethnic origin and language in employment is condemned and prosecuted. The language inspectorate should also stop handing out punishment and start to promote the Estonian language.
HMW questioned whether it was fair for schools in areas with a high population of Russian-speakers to limit teaching in Russian to 40 percent. People the report’s authors spoke to said their children did not receive an adequate education because of their level of Estonian.
Recommendations suggested were to review language policy and ensure than non-Estonian pupils are ready before going to an Estonian school.
HRW also gave recommendations to improve LGBT rights:
Develop and adopt legislation that would recognize hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and make it a crime.
Instruct relevant law enforcement agencies, such as the Interior Ministry, to gather data about homophobic and transphobic crimes, and make the gathering of such data compulsory.
Ensure that all the preparatory work is done for the implementation of the Cohabitation Act by the time it enters into force in January 2016.
Refugees and asylum seekers
HRW noted that human rights activists have said that detention centers were holding up to twice as many as they should be.
It suggests Estonia upgrades its detention and holding centers and guarantees adequate living conditions for refugees after they enter Estonia.
Estonian Integration Foundation declined to comment upon the report when asked by ERR News.
Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Headquartered in New York City, HRW was founded as a private American NGO in 1978, under the name Helsinki Watch, to monitor the former Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki Accords.
Editor: H. Wright