Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 14:54 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Lithuania

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 26 February 1999
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Lithuania, 26 February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4148.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Lithuania is a parliamentary democracy, having regained its independence in 1990 after more than 50 years of forced annexation by the Soviet Union. The Constitution, adopted by referendum in 1992, established a 141-member unicameral legislature, the Seimas; a directly elected president, who functions as Head of State; and a government formed by a prime minister and other ministers, appointed by the President and approved by the Seimas. The Government exercises authority with the approval of the Seimas and the President. The Conservatives prevailed in the 1996 parliamentary elections, followed by the Christian Democrats. The two parties formed a coalition government (the first in Lithuania's history). In February Valdas Adamkus was elected President by a narrow margin. The judiciary is independent.

A unified national police force under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry is responsible for law enforcement. The State Security Department is responsible for internal security and reports to Parliament and the President. The police committed a number of human rights abuses.

Since independence Lithuania has made steady progress in developing a market economy. Over 40 percent of state property, in addition to most housing and small businesses, has been privatized. Trade is diversifying, and expanding both to the West and the East. The largest number of residents are employed in agriculture (22 percent), followed by industrial enterprises (19.9 percent, including electricity, gas, and water supply) and wholesale and retail trade (14.8 percent). About 31.6 percent of those employed work for state enterprises, while 68.4 percent are employed by private companies. The agricultural sector's high proportion of the work force reflects a lack of efficient consolidation of small private farms and represents a vocal protectionist current in economic policy debate. The banking system remains weak, but laws on banking control and supervision are in place and a number of large private banks are undergoing outside audits. The inflation rate for the first half of the year was 2.6 percent, compared with an annual rate of 8.4 percent for 1997. Per capita gross domestic product for the first half of the year was estimated at $1,240 (4,960 litas) and unemployment at mid-year was 6.2 percent. The balance of trade remains negative due to imports of gas and other energy products from Russia. Major exports include textile and knitwear products, timber and furniture, electronic goods, food, and chemical and petroleum products.

The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, but problems remain in some areas. Police on occasion beat detainees and abuse detention laws. The Government is making some progress in bringing police corruption under control. Prison conditions remain poor, and prolonged detention in a small number of cases is still a problem. The police investigated the desecration of two Jewish sites but identified no suspects. State media continues to be subject to political interests. Violence and discrimination against women and child abuse are serious problems.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

In May President Adamkus announced an initiative to form an international commission for research into crimes against humanity perpetrated in Lithuania from 1939-91. By year's end, the commission had not yet received funding for its proposed budget, action plan, or staff.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. There is a problem, however, of women who have been forced or willingly sold into prostitution by organized crime figures (see Section 5). Their families, unaware of the situation, claim that they have disappeared or have been kidnaped.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution specifically forbids torture, and there were no reports of its use. However, police sometimes beat or otherwise physically mistreated detainees. The local press reported that incidents of police brutality are becoming more common. In many instances, the victims reportedly are reluctant to bring charges against police officers for fear of reprisals. A total of 79 officers were dismissed for illegal or fraudulent activities in the first 6 months of the year for a variety of offenses, compared with 182 for all of 1997. The Interior Ministry states that district police inspectors are the most negligent in the force. To strengthen the integrity of the police, the Inspectorate General of the Interior Ministry was given administrative autonomy in May 1997.

Human rights violations committed by noncommissioned military personnel continue, despite efforts to quash hazing--a practice inherited from the former Soviet armed forces. As living conditions improve for military personnel, there has been a significant reduction in human rights violations committed by noncommissioned officers. During the first 8 months of the year, 34 cases were brought against conscripts and officers, of whom 5 were charged with "hooliganism" and 1 was charged with causing intentional bodily injury. According to the Ministry of National Defense, most trauma inflicted on conscripts is psychological rather than physical. The Ministry believes that a lack of professionalism among noncommissioned officers--rather than ethnic, regional, or social factors--is a primary factor in cases of hazing, and it is working actively to improve the skills and judgment of such officers.

Prison conditions are poor. Due to limited resources, most prisons are overcrowded and poorly maintained. Prisoners on death row or serving life sentences are required to wear special striped uniforms. Human rights monitors are permitted to visit prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Except in cases that come under provisions of the Preventive Detention Law (described below), police may detain a person for up to 72 hours based upon reliable evidence of criminal activity. Under a law passed in June, a judge also must approve the detention. At the end of that period, police must decide whether to make a formal arrest, and a magistrate must approve an arrest warrant. The authorities have 10 days to present supporting evidence. Once a suspect is formally charged, prosecutors may keep the suspect under investigative arrest for up to 2 months before taking the suspect to court. In exceptional cases, investigative arrest may be extended by a further 6 to 9 months with the written approval of the Prosecutor General. The Constitution provides for the right to an attorney from the moment of detention.

In an effort to cope with the rise in violent organized crime in 1993, Parliament passed the Preventive Detention Law pertaining to persons suspected of being violent criminals. The law was passed as a temporary measure and was repealed in June 1997. The 1993 law allowed police, but not the internal secu

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