U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Estonia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Estonia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3fc.html [accessed 26 November 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
ESTONIAEstonia is a parliamentary democracy. With its statehood widely recognized as continuous for more than 70 years, Estonia regained its independence in 1991 after 50 years of Soviet occupation. The Constitution, adopted by referendum in 1992, established a 101-member unicameral legislature (State Assembly), a prime minister as Head of Government, and a president as Head of State. A cabinet reshuffle in March led to the departure of Prime Minister Tiit Vahi and the appointment of Mart Siimann as his successor. The judiciary is independent. The official conversion of the Soviet militia into the Estonian police preceded the reestablishment of the country's independence by about 6 months. Its conversion into a Western-type police force committed to procedures and safeguards appropriate to a democratic society is proceeding, with police leadership actively working to professionalize the force. The police, who are ethnically mixed, are subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Corrections personnel are subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. The security service, called Security Police, is subordinate to the Interior Ministry but also reports to the Prime Minister. Police and corrections personnel continued to commit human rights abuses. Estonia has a market economy. Reflecting the extent of post-1992 reforms, Estonia has been selected to start accession negotiations with the European Union. Services, especially financial and tourism, are growing in importance compared to historically more prominent light industry and food production. Privatization of small and medium firms is virtually complete, and privatization of large-scale enterprises is underway. The economy continues to grow steadily, with gross domestic product (GDP) estimated to increase by about 7 to 8percent in 1997. Although prices continue to rise, incomes are rising faster than the rate of inflation. Per capita GDP is about $2,530 per year. Two-thirds of Estonian exports (textiles, food products, wood and timber products) are now directed to Western markets. Unemployment remained fairly low overall (unofficially about 8percent) but was significantly higher in rural areas. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and the large noncitizen community, but problems remained in some areas. The major human rights abuses continued to be mistreatment of prisoners and detainees, and the use of excessive force by the police. Prison conditions are poor. The deadline for noncitizens to file for permanent residency expired in 1996, after being extended twice. An undetermined number of noncitizens have still not filed for residency. Problems remain in processing the applications for permanent residency of some 19,000 Russian military retirees and family members. Processing of applications for alien passports continued. By late 1997, most applicants for alien passports had received them. The Government continued to issue temporary travel documents and to accept officially invalid former Soviet internal passports for identification in emergency situations, such as registering births and deaths. In January the Council of Europe closed its human rights monitoring mission in Estonia.