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ECRI calls Estonia to criminalize racist offenses

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), established by the Council of Europe, made a number of recommendations for the Estonian authorities in its latest report.

ECRI, an independent human rights monitoring body specialized in questions relating to racism and intolerance, conducts country-by-country monitoring work, which analyzes the situation in each of the member states and draws up suggestions and proposals for dealing with the problems identified.

With regard to Estonia, it said that since its last report since 2009, progress has been made.

“With regard to legislation, a recent amendment to the Citizenship Act relaxes the language requirements for persons over 65 years of age applying for Estonian nationality and will, as from 2016, make it possibly to automatically grant Estonian citizenship to all children born to parents of undetermined citizenship,” ECRI said in its latest report.

“Estonia also conducted an integration program over the period 2008-2013. The program covered the needs of all vulnerable groups with emphasis on the integration of Russian-speaking citizens and people of undetermined citizenship. The results of the census carried out in 2011 bear witness to the impact, in particular a decrease in the number of persons of undetermined citizenship,” it added.

The monitoring body also highlighted the Cohabitation Act, which will grant same-sex couples equal protection to that afforded to heterosexual couples.

ECRI said that despite the progress achieved, “some issues continue to give rise to concern.”

“Estonia does not suffer from a specific problem of hate speech but the following issues continue to give rise to concern: the prevalence of racist remarks on Internet news portals and the failure to take action in response to homo/transphobic speech by politicians. The under-reporting of cases of racial or homo/transphobic hatred or violence urgently raises the question of the lack of training activities for the police and members of the judiciary,” ECRI said.

According to ECRI, there are insufficient coordinated measures to draw the attention of society as a whole to the problems of racism and racial discrimination.

ECRI called on the Estonian authorities to take further measures in certain areas and made a number of recommendations.

“The Estonian authorities should review the Criminal Code with a view to criminalizing racist offenses such as: public insults or defamation; public expression of an ideology which claims the superiority of a grouping of persons; the public denial, justification or condoning of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes; the public dissemination or distribution, or the production or storage of material with a racist content; creation, leadership, participation in or support for a group which promotes racism; and racial discrimination in the exercise of one’s public office or occupation,” ECRI said.

ECRI said that it has not noted a particular problem of racist hate speech in political discourse, but brought a few examples of occasional instances such as the statements made in May 2013 by Martin Helme, a member of the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) in a television program during which he said that “he would like Estonia to be a white country and that immigration would lead to the pillaging and raping of Estonian towns.”

ECRI recommended that the possibility of suppressing public financing of any organization or political party that promotes racism be introduced into the Associations Act and/or the Political Parties Act.

“In March 2013, Erki Nool, the former athlete and then member of parliament (IRL), made a number of homophobic statements, calling on gays to turn to psychotherapy and religion and avoid the company of “practicing homosexuals,” the report cited another example.

ECRI recommended that the Estonian authorities introduce without delay in parliamentary proceedings a draft amendment to Article 151 of the Criminal Code, removing the restriction whereby an offense cannot be deemed to have taken place unless it is proven that it entails a risk to the health, life or property of the victim. At the same time, ECRI recommends that the authorities put in place a system to collect data and produce statistics offering an integrated and consistent view of the cases of racist and homo/transphobic hate speech and violence brought to the attention of the police and/or being pursued through the courts.

Editor: S. Tambur

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