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Legal clarity yet to be reached on Abkhazian-Estonian citizenship issue

Alli Rutto is at the centre of a large controversy about the citizenship status of Abkhazian Estonians, and as of 23 November, she no longer holds a valid Estonian passport.
Alli Rutto is at the centre of a large controversy about the citizenship status of Abkhazian Estonians, and as of 23 November, she no longer holds a valid Estonian passport. Source: Private library

Despite the fact that outgoing Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt (SDE) had promised Alli Rutto, an ethnic Estonian living in Abkhazia, that the matter of her citizenship would be resolved shortly, Rutto's valid Estonian passport expired on Thursday, as a result of which she no longer holds an Estonian passport, daily Postimees reports.

The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), which was supposed to issue Rutto a new passport to replace the expired document on Friday, said that the matter is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, and until clarity is reached regarding whether or not the Citizenship Act will be amended, Rutto cannot be issued a new passport.

While authorities continue to pass the issue back and forth like a hot potato, the Rutto family is attempting to go on living their lives, including Arnold Rutto, Alli Rutto's son, who lives in Tallinn and has been handling his mother's documents since this summer, the paper reports.

The status on Rutto's application for obtaining a new passport and ID card, which was submitted in mid-August, reads "Accepted to procedure," as has been the case for the past three months, including on Thursday, when Rutto's latest passport expired.

According to the PPA, the bill seeking to amend the Citizenship Act is dragging out the procedure regarding Rutto's passport, which will continue until the amendment either enters into force or is rejected. Thus, despite politicians' emphatic promises, Alli Rutto continues to face great difficulty in going about her life, Postimees write. Should she wish to visit her children and grandchildren in Estonia, it would prove impossible without a passport. In theory she could apply for a visa in Russia to travel to Estonia, but that would require jumping through a myriad of bureaucratic hoops.

Rutto last visited Estonia this summer, when she applied for a new passport at the PPA. In mid-September, she was informed that the PPA had changed their practice of procedure and that Rutto had in 2013 been categorised as a citizen by birth by mistake. This error was revealed in a March Supreme Court of Estonia ruling, which stated that of the ethnic Estonian residents in Russia at the time of the signing of the 1920 Treaty of Tartu, only those who returned to Estonia within a year would actually become citizens thereof.

"When it comes to decisions where an official has discretionary power, we always rely on the principle that an individual should not suffer due to a mistake made by the state in the past," said Kristiina Raidla-Puhm, head of the PPA's Citizenship and International Protection Bureau.

She added, however, that the PPA has no discretionary power in Rutto's case, as the law specifically states that Estonian citizenship can only be reinstated in such a situation if the individual gives up their other citizenship.

We're still trying, officials say

The Ministry of the Interior told Postimees on Thursday that the ministry has not stopped seeking a solution to Rutto's case and those of others in similar situations.

Ministry officials have found a way to not classify as an error the fact that Rutto and others in her situation were not considered citizens by birth — if this had been administrative practice. In order to find a solution, the ministry is consulting with the Chancellor of Justice. 

PPA and ministry officials alike said they are looking forward to receiving an analysis of the issue commissioned from experts at the University of Tartu.

In the meantime, the PPA is seeking legal options for Alli Rutto to obtain a temporary document granting her entry to Estonia.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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