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Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - Latvia

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1994
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - Latvia, 1 January 1994, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
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.

Events of 1993

Human Rights Developments

Citizenship and naturalization continued to be the most controversial rights issues in Latvia during 1993. Alone among the Baltic States, Latvia passed neither a naturalization nor a permanent residency law. Latvia took the idea of legal succession, the concept that the Baltic States were not new states but the legal successors to their inter-war predecessors, to its most literal end.

Consequently, the last Latvian Supreme Council, Latvia's legislative body from 1990 through mid-1993, refused to pass legislation concerning naturalization because a majority of deputies in the Supreme Council saw the council as a Soviet organ. Instead, on October 15, 1991, the Latvian Supreme Council passed legislation restoring citizenship to citizens and their descendants who resided in Latvia prior to the Soviet Union's 1940 annexation of the country. The October 1991 law left an estimated 34 percent of the population without citizenship. In parliamentary elections on June 5 and 6, 1993, in which only these "restored" citizens could participate, voters elected a new Saeima, or parliament. The Saeima was debating draft naturalization laws as of November.

In order to determine who was a citizen or the descendant of a citizen of Latvia prior to Soviet annexation in 1940 and therefore able to restore his citizenship under the October 1991 law, the Latvian Supreme Council passed a law on the registration of residents in December 1991. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration conducted registration, which lasted from spring 1992 to June 5, 1993.

Serious problems arose during the implementation of the registration guidelines. On its face, the law on registration was intended to register all of Latvia's residents, providing each with a personal code, similar to a Social Security number in the U.S. According to the law, only active-duty Russian military personnel and their families were not to be registered.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration, however, intentionally and in violation of thelaw "On Registration," conducted a policy of denying certain non-citizen groups registration. Those denied registration included residents of temporary housing, retired Soviet military personnel, civilian employees – both past and present – of the Soviet military, and individuals who resided in housing built by the Soviet military but in many cases later transferred to civilian housing authorities. Estimates of those denied registration reached as high as 150,000. The unregistered had no right to receive social services and were considered temporary residents.

The Saeima's debate on a naturalization law also raised concern because the draft considered most likely to be passed into law included quotas severely limiting the number of non-citizens, estimated at 700,000, who could be naturalized in a given year. In the The Baltic Observer, Andrejs Pantelejevs, the ruling Latvia's Way party's parliamentary chairman, stated that only 300,000 of Latvia's non-citizens would be eligible for naturalization "in the next few years", while the plight of the remaining 400,000 would require an "international solution." Latvian politicians cited the precarious demographic situation of ethnic Latvians in Latvia, where they constituted a slim majority of 52 percent of the population, as the main reason behind a strict quota-based naturalization system. The Soviet government's policy of diluting the ethnic Latvian population through the forced immigration of non-Latvians, however heinous that policy may have been, does not justify a quota-based naturalization system that treats Latvia's non-citizen population en masse, and not as individuals.

The Right to Monitor

Helsinki Watch was not aware of any instance in which human rights monitors were hindered in their work by the Latvian Government.

U.S. Policy

The United States government noted no human rights violations in Latvia and called for the immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops. High-level official visits to Latvia toward the end of the year, however, including one by Secretary of State Warren Christopher on October 26 and 27, suggested heightened U.S. interest in ethnic relations in Latvia. Secretary Christopher called on the Latvian government "to act generously" regarding the adoption of a naturalization law, adding that it was "a matter of great concern to the United States...We want to pursue this vigorously." Other U.S initiatives included the nomination of Jerry Hamilton, Deputy Coordinator for East European Assistance for the State Department, as ambassador to the recently approved CSCE mission to Latvia, and funding for a "National Forum", a round table for negotiations among governmental, ethnic minority, and non-citizen groups.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

Helsinki Watch's work in Latvia during 1993 centered on two issues: the non-citizen community and naturalization legislation. Helsinki Watch sent two missions to Latvia, one in August and September and the other in October. A report issued in October 1993 commented that, "In its investigations, Helsinki Watch has uncovered sufficient evidence to substantiate serious, systematic abuses in Latvia's Department of Citizenship and Immigration.... the Department, in violation of the laws it was entrusted to implement, has targeted certain groups and denied them registration."

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