U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Latvia
|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 - Latvia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa894.html [accessed 30 May 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
LATVIALatvia is a parliamentary democracy, having regained its independence in 1991 after forced annexation and more than 50 years of occupation by the Soviet Union. Elections for the 100-seat Parliament (Saeima) held in the fall of 1995 and for municipal council elections in March were free and fair, but the election law barred some citizens from competing due to prior activity in pro-Soviet organizations or lack of fluency in the state language. The Prime Minister, as chief executive, and the Cabinet are responsible for government operations. The President, as Head of State, is elected by the Parliament. The Saeima reelected President Guntis Ulmanis in a competitive election in June 1996. The 1991 Constitutional Law which supplements Latvia's 1922 Constitution, provides for basic rights and freedoms. (The Saeima, however, has not yet finalized the second portion of the Constitution itself which includes guarantees of human rights.) The judiciary is independent but not well-trained, efficient, or free from corruption. The security apparatus consists of: The national police and other services, such as the Special Immigration Police, subordinate to the Ministry of Interior; municipal police operating under local government control; the Counterintelligence Service and a protective service operating under the Ministry of Defense; and the National Guard, an element of the national armed forces, which also assists in police activities. Effective January 1, the Border Guard Force was transferred from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces and the Constitution Protection Bureau (SAB) is responsible for coordinating intelligence activities. However, Interior Ministry forces, municipal police, and intelligence personnel sometimes acted independently of central government authority. Some members of the security forces, including police and other Interior Ministry personnel, committed human rights abuses. Traditionally dominated by agriculture and forestry products, with military and other industrial production introduced by the Soviets, the varied economy is increasingly oriented toward the service sector. As the transition from a centrally planned to a market-oriented economic system continues, private enterprise in trade and services is thriving. About 80percent of agricultural land is farmed privately, and 60percent of all land is now in private hands. In the industrial sector, progress toward privatization and revitalization is much slower. The currency remained stable and freely traded, unemployment was 7.3percent, and annual inflation was 7.7percent, down from 15percent in 1996. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was slightly over$2,016. GDP continued the rise begun in 1996. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and the large resident noncitizen community, although problems remained in certain areas. Members of the security forces, including the police and other Interior Ministry personnel, continued to use excessive force; police and prison officers beat detainees and inmates. The Government did not take adequate disciplinary action against those responsible. Prison conditions remained poor. The inefficient judiciary did not always ensure the fair administration of justice. Although the Citizen and Immigration Department (CID) remained bureaucratic and slow in dealing with issues concerning noncitizens, independent observers stated that the previous year's improved performance continued. The Prosecutor General formally protested the light sentence handed down in June to an alleged local Mafia boss--a case that also highlighted the current lack of an effective witness protection program. Thirty-three aliens remain in detention in Latvia without trial or final determination of their status. Women are discriminated against in the workplace. Spousal abuse and trafficking in women, as well as child prostitution and abuse, are significant problems. Among key positive developments were the Saeima's ratification in June of the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; and its passage in July of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Government plans to develop a new refugee reception center at Mucinieki, on the outskirts of Riga. In September, the Government signed the Council of Europe's Convention Against Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The National Human Rights Office (NHRO) continues to function independently and to achieve greater recognition from the public.