U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Lithuania

  Lithuania regained its independence in 1991 after more than 50 years of Soviet occupation. A parliamentary democracy, Lithuania has a popularly elected unicameral legislature, the Seimas, a popularly 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. In the free and fair 1992 parliamentary elections, the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) – the successor to the Communist Party of Lithuania, which in 1989 broke away from the Soviet Communist party – won a majority of seats and formed the Government. On February 14, voters elected Algirdas Brazauskas, the then chairman of the LDDP, as President. The security structure includes the military forces administered by the Ministry of Defense, the domestic police subordinate to the Interior Ministry, two regiments of militarized police subordinate to the Interior Ministry and responsible for maintaining prison security and public order, and a security service charged with internal security. All forces stationed by the Soviet Union in Lithuania were withdrawn by the end of 1993. Lithuania is gradually transforming a centrally planned economy into a market-oriented system. Most housing and small businesses are now in private ownership, but large enterprises continue to be state owned. The Government has been unable thus far to stem the general economic deterioration characterized by a steady fall in industrial output, rising unemployment, and declining per capita income. Inflation, however, has come down significantly with the introduction of a stable national currency and the reduction of government deficits. Over 100,000 new private farmers cultivate over a third of the arable land. There is respect for basic freedoms and civil liberties. The preventive detention law, aimed at those suspected of violent criminal activity, extended the period of investigative detention from 72 hours to 2 months. Although it was broadly hailed as a useful tool in dealing with gangs of criminals, its possible extension beyond January 1, 1994, while generally popular, caused some concern that law enforcement officials might abuse its provisions. Reform of the judicial system still awaits the completion of civil and criminal procedure codes. The holding of elections in February for two district councils in areas predominantly inhabited by ethnic Poles eased relations between Lithuanian authorities and the Polish community. Lithuania was accepted as a full member of the Council of Europe on May 14, 1993.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated killings by Lithuanian authorities in 1993. The local press did report one instance of a man who died in police custody as a consequence of police brutality. Otherwise, media reporting of alleged police brutality has been scarce. The Ministry of Internal Affairs generally has been reluctant to publicize statistics on reported cases of police brutality.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of abductions or disappearances caused by Lithuanian officials.

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

There were no reports that Lithuanian officials engaged in or condoned torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The press has occasionally reported on police beatings of travelers passing through Lithuanian border crossings, which often are choked with thousands of motorists awaiting their turn to go through customs.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

By law, police may detain a person for up to 72 hours based upon reliable evidence of criminal activity. At the end of that period, police must decide whether or not to make a formal arrest, and a warrant must be approved by a magistrate. The authorities have a total of 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 Procurator General. The right to an attorney is protected by the Constitution from the moment of detention. In an effort to cope with rapidly growing organized crime, Parliament passed in July a temporary law on preventive detention of persons suspected of being violent criminals; it extended the period of investigative detention from 72 hours to 2 months. Those apprehended must be released after 2 months if an investigation does not lead to formal charges. Local police commissioners must obtain the Procurator General's approval of each arrest carried out under the provisions of this law. Lithuanian legislators voted in December to extend the temporary law for 1 additional year. Several new provisions were attached to the July version of the law in an apparent effort to improve the legal rights of detainees. The authorities must now inform a suspect within 3 hours following arrest about the length of preventive detention, which may not exceed 2 months. Within 48 hours of the arrest, the detainee must be brought before a district judge, who must rule on whether the suspect had been lawfully detained. A suspect is legally guaranteed the right to consult with an attorney during the period of detention. Although the law is widely perceived as useful in tackling the organized crime problem, its provisions give law enforcement officials wide latitude in making arrest decisions and may be open to abuse. There is no exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Lithuanian legal system is in a state of transition from a Soviet to a democratic model. To date, progress towards judicial and legal reform has been limited. The judicial system consists of a two-tier structure of district courts and the Supreme Court, which hears appeals from the district courts. Court decisions are arrived at independently. The Procurator General exercises an oversight responsibility through a network of local prosecutors who work with police investigators from the Ministry of Interior in preparing the prosecution's evidence for the courts. Jury trials are not used in Lithuania. A law reforming much of the structure and procedures of Lithuania's judicial system, scheduled to take effect in November 1992, was suspended, pending the completion of new civil and criminal procedure codes. The new civil procedure code should be ready for parliamentary consideration in mid-1994. The newly created Constitutional Court began its deliberations in September. The Constitution specifies that the Constitutional Court shall settle disputes about the constitutionality of official acts of the Government, Parliament, and the courts. Only official bodies such as the Government, Parliament, and the courts may appeal decisions to the Constitutional Court, in contrast to the Supreme Court, which hears appeals involving private citizens and organizations. The Constitution provides defendants with the right to counsel. Public defense attorneys are routinely assigned to persons charged with serious offenses. Defendants also have the right to hire an attorney of their choice. In practice, the right to legal counsel is constricted by the shortage of trained lawyers – only about 340 registered lawyers practice in Lithuania – who reportedly find it difficult to cope with the estimated 40-percent rise over 1992 in criminal cases before the courts in 1993. Outside observers have recommended the establishment of a public defender system to regularize procedures for provision of legal assistance to indigent persons charged in criminal cases. By law, defense attorneys have access to government evidence and may present evidence and witnesses. Routine, written requests for evidence generally are honored by the courts and law enforcement agencies. There were no political trials. Government rehabilitation of over 50,000 persons charged with anti-Soviet crimes during the Stalinist era led to reports in 1991 that some people alleged to have been involved in crimes against humanity during the Nazi occupation had benefited from this rehabilitation. Such rehabilitation clears the person of any wrongdoing during the Stalinist period and is essentially of moral significance. A special judicial procedure was established to examine each case in which an individual or organization raises an objection that a rehabilitated person may have committed a crime against humanity. In 1993 the Supreme Court overturned the rehabilitation of four persons whose cases were pending from 1992. The Procurator General has appealed to the Supreme Court to annul the rehabilitation of an additional three persons suspected of committing war crimes.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The authorities do not engage in indiscriminate or widespread monitoring of the correspondence or communications of citizens. With the written authorization of the Procurator General, however, law enforcement and national security agencies may engage in surveillance and monitoring activities on grounds of national security. The evidence collected in this way must be regularly submitted to a parliamentary committee for review and approval. Except in cases of hot pursuit or the danger of disappearance of evidence, police must obtain search warrants signed by a procurator before they may enter premises. It is, however, widely assumed that law enforcement agencies have increased the use of a range of surveillance methods to cope with the expansion of organized crime. There is some question as to the legal basis of this police surveillance activity, but there are no known legal cases challenging the legality of the surveillance. The former President of the Lithuanian National Bank, who claimed that eavesdropping devices were found in his office, publicly called on the Procurator General to investigate the incident.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech is widely respected. Prior restraint over either print or broadcast media and restrictions on disclosure are prohibited, except in cases determined by the Government to involve national security. Investigative journalists reporting on the organized crime problem have been harassed and have received death threats; a copublisher and editor of a widely read daily, who wrote extensively on organized crime, was murdered. Four persons suspected of killing the editor are being held in investigative detention. The Government made efforts to prevent private printing enterprises in Kaunas from printing two extreme rightwing German publications promoting anti-Semitism. By law, Lithuanian publications are prohibited from propagating racist views or inciting hatred against ethnic groups. At last report, the Lithuanian partner of this printing venture withdrew his participation; the printing enterprises have ceased printing the two German publications. Five private radio stations, including one broadcasting in Polish, are on the air. Two private television stations also broadcast regular programming to a wide audience. The owners of both the private radio and television stations, however, have complained about unfair broadcasting rates that are set by the Government and allegedly favor the state radio and television stations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

There are no laws that prohibit public gatherings. During 1993 a large number of public meetings and demonstrations took place, with rightwing groups, blue-collar workers, pensioners, and farmers being especially active. The Constitution respects the right of Lithuanians to associate freely, requiring only that they inform local government authorities of planned demonstrations. Parliament, however, outlawed the Moscow-backed Communist party in Lithuania in light of its support for the January 1991 military crackdown and the August 1991 Soviet coup attempt. Other organizations associated with the Soviet occupation were also banned. Former officials of Communist-era Lithuania were not arrested, except those charged with specific crimes.

c. Freedom of Religion

There were no restrictions on the exercise of religious freedom in 1993. The Government recognizes no state religion, although the Roman Catholic Church has the largest following in the country, and its clergy are the most visible in public life. Religious instruction was widely introduced in Lithuanian schools in 1992, but parents have the right to enroll their children in secular "ethics" classes as an alternative. Forty-one Russian Orthodox churches and an additional 47 Old Believer churches are in use and mainly serve the spiritual needs of the ethnic Russian community (9 percent of the population). Protestant groups began proselytizing activity, organizing public prayer meetings and religious instruction. Representatives of some Protestant religions and smaller religious communities protested against a draft law on religion that classifies religions according to whether they are considered "established" or "unestablished." There is some concern that the draft law, if it is not amended, could result in preferential treatment (i.e., financial aid and access to the state-owned media) of the larger and older religious communities by the Government, while the more recently introduced religions would be denied these benefits. The Government supports the small Jewish community by helping fund several schools and a Jewish cultural center and museum in Vilnius. Considerable progress has been made in restoring and maintaining Jewish cemeteries as well as memorials that testify to the Jewish community's cultural life and tragic past in Lithuania.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Under Lithuanian law, citizens and permanent residents are permitted free movement within, and return to, their country. There are no restrictions on foreign travel.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Lithuania is a parliamentary democracy. Lithuanian election law requires that parliamentary elections be conducted by secret ballot. Suffrage is universal. Of 141 parliamentary seats, 71 are elected directly and 70 through proportional representation. In the October-November 1992 elections to Parliament, which international observers determined were free and fair, 27 registered party, association, or coalition slates participated. Only 6 won enough votes to enter the new Parliament. A party must draw a minimum 4 percent of the national vote to be represented in Parliament. National minority slates are exempt from this rule. Two of the four Union of Poles representatives won their seats on a proportional basis, even though the Union slate captured only 2 percent of the nationwide proportional vote. The other two won in district races. In addition, two other ethnic Poles were elected, representing other political groups. The Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) won an absolute majority, with 73 of the 141 parliamentary seats. The Homeland Union (which originated from the rightwing Sajudis), the mainstream Christian Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Union of Poles, and one representative from a separate Christian democratic group make up the opposition. The generally inclusive citizenship law of December 11, 1991, extends citizenship to persons who were born in the territory of the Republic of Lithuania, who were citizens prior to 1940, as well as their children and grandchildren, and who became citizens under the legislation in effect prior to the new effective date of December 11, 1991. All applications for retention, restoration, and naturalization must go through a citizenship committee appointed by Parliament. In order to qualify for naturalization, an applicant must pass a Lithuanian- language examination, have been resident in Lithuania for the last 10 years, have a permanent job or source of income, and renounce his current citizenship. Moreover, the 1991 Lithuanian-Russian agreement offered Lithuanian citizenship to Russian residents who had taken up residence in Lithuania as of the date of the agreement's signing. Well over 90 percent of ethnic Poles, Russians, and others residing in Lithuania in 1991 were granted Lithuanian citizenship. There are no de jure restrictions on women's participation in politics or government, but for cultural and historical reasons they are underrepresented in political leadership positions. There are only 10 female deputies in the 141-member Seimas, and no female ministers serve in the current Cabinet.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Lithuania is an umbrella organization for several small human rights groups, which operate without government restriction. However, the Association is not very well known nor particularly active. Lithuanian authorities actively encouraged international and nongovernmental human rights groups to travel to Lithuania.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Lithuanian constitutional law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, or ethnic background.


The Constitution provides equal rights for men and women, and official policy specifies equal pay for equal work. Generally, men and women receive the same pay for comparable work, but women are largely underrepresented in some professions and in the managerial sector as a whole. Women enjoy maternity and day-care benefits. There are, however, significant inequalities in Lithuanian society based on sex. A growing number of formal and informal women's organizations are active in promoting women's rights in Lithuania, but women's rights activists report that public awareness of women's issues is still at a rudimentary stage, and there are no known lawsuits charging discrimination. Abuse of women in the home is reportedly common, especially in connection with alcohol abuse by husbands, but institutional mechanisms for coping with this problem are generally not available. Statistics on the incidence of abuse of women in the home are not filed separately from other categories of assault. Women's groups report some resistance among law enforcement officials to collecting and releasing such statistics. Persons convicted of rape generally receive sentences of from 3 to 5 years in prison.


The Ministries of Social Protection and Internal Affairs shared official responsibility for the protection of children's rights and welfare in 1993. As of January 1, 1994, the Children's Rights Service of the Ministry of Social Protection will take on many of the functions formerly handled by the Internal Affairs Ministry and its subordinate police offices throughout the country, thereby presumably focusing more attention on the social welfare needs of children. The Soviet-era family code, which until recently has governed legal relationships between children and their families, is undergoing reform with a view to enhancing children's rights generally and improving adoption procedures and legal protection against child abuse specifically. Legal experts are working on a separate law regulating the rights and responsibilities of children vis-a-vis their parents. Lithuania is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A number of private organizations are active in children's welfare issues, including monitoring and supporting the work of orphanages and distributing charity to children in socially deprived families (see also People with Disabilities below).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Non-Lithuanian ethnic groups, comprising about 20 percent of the population, include Russians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Jews. Minority nationalities have ready access to primary and secondary education in their own languages. State radio and television programs include a fair selection of programs in minority languages. In addition, Lithuanian television regularly rebroadcasts programs from two television stations in Russia and one in Poland. Numerous periodicals are readily available in Russian and Polish. Relations between the Lithuanian authorities and the sizable ethnic Polish community in the southeast region of Lithuania have improved following elections on February 14 of two district councils that had been suspended immediately after the August 1991 Soviet coup attempt. The members of the councils, which represent predominantly Polish constituencies, had been charged with upholding Soviet rule during Lithuania's independence struggle and supporting the August 1991 coup attempt. Parliament also suspended on the same grounds a county council in Snieckus (now called Visaginas) representing a predominantly Russian community, but, despite repeated elections to the county council in late 1992 and February 14, 1993, local voter turnout was too low to elect new representatives under Lithuanian election law. The county remained under the authority of an ethnic Russian administrator appointed by the central Government. Polish special interest groups have long demanded cultural autonomy and recognition of a Polish university. Non-Lithuanians, especially Poles, have expressed concerns about the possibility of job discrimination arising from implementation of the language law. Many public sector employees were required to attain a functional knowledge of Lithuanian within several years. Language-testing committees began their work in early 1993. During the first 9 months of 1993, about 2,000 persons were tested for their Lithuanian language ability, of whom 1,786 were certified as language qualified. There is no documented evidence of dismissals based on this law. Lithuanian authorities have indicated that the intent of the law is to apply moral incentives to learn Lithuanian as the official language of the State; they have asserted that no one would be dismissed solely because of an inability to meet the language requirement. In its negotiations for a Friendship Treaty with Poland, Lithuania has insisted on a declaration affirming its historic sovereignty over Vilnius. The Vilnius-based Union of Poles and the Warsaw-based Citizens Committee for the Defense of Poles in the Vilnius Region claimed that such a declaration could be used to legalize discrimination against the Polish ethnic minority in Lithuania.

People with Disabilities

A law on integrating disabled people, passed in 1991, provided for a broad category of rights and government benefits to which disabled people are theoretically entitled. A number of government agencies or government-supported public bodies are engaged in protecting the rights and defending the interests of the disabled, who number over 300,000, according to official statistics. The Hope Society promotes public awareness of the problems of disabled children through the mass media and raises funds to support the treatment and care of disabled children.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1991 law on trade unions and the Constitution recognize the right of workers and employees to form and join trade unions. The law on trade unions formally extends this right to employees of the police and the armed forces, although the Collective Agreements Law of 1991 does not allow collective bargaining by government employees involved in law enforcement and security-related work. The Lithuanian branch of the U.S.S.R.'s All-Union Central Council of Trades Union (AUCCTU), grouping 23 of 25 trade unions, renamed itself the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (CFTU) in 1990 and began asserting increased independence from its Soviet parent and promoting the interests of the Lithuanian state industrial sector. In March the CFTU joined eight other unions that had also been a part of the AUCCTU to form the Lithuanian Trade Union Center (LTUC). The Lithuanian Workers Union (LWU) was formed in 1990 as an alternative to and competitor of the CFTU. Since its formation, the LWU has adopted policies clearly supportive of the proindependence Sajudis movement and sought contacts with Western free trade unions. The LWU now claims a dues-paying membership of 50,000, organized in 35 regional groupings. The LWU signed an agreement on February 26 with the then Prime Minister and several other labor unions (including its rival, the CFTU, now called the LTUC), setting forth a cooperative relationship between the Government and Lithuania's trade unions. Although the LWU and LTUC remain rivals on the national scene, there are indications that the two organizations cooperate on the local level. There are no restrictions on unions affiliating with international trade unions. The Union of Teachers (which is associated with the LWU) is affiliated with the International Federation of Free Teachers. The LWU and its component organizations currently maintain loose cooperative contacts with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the Polish Solidarity union, and other international labor organizations. The CFTU/LTUC has also begun pursuing closer contacts with Western labor unions. The 1991 law on trade unions and the 1992 Constitution provide for the right to strike, although strikes by public officials providing essential services are not permitted. A nationwide strike of primary and secondary schoolteachers protesting low wages took place during April and May. Bus drivers in the port city of Klaipeda stayed off their jobs from March to April. Both the schoolteachers and the Klaipeda bus drivers called off their strike after agreement was reached to increase their wages. The teachers received an immediate 10-percent wage increase while the drivers' pay went up about 30 percent.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining and the right of unions to organize employees are protected by the collective agreements law, although several provisions of this law reportedly hinder the establishment of new union organizations. According to the Collective Agreements Law, unions, in order to be registered, must have at least 30 founding members in large enterprises or have a membership of one-fifth of all employees in small enterprises. Difficulties commonly arise in state enterprises whose employees are represented by more than one union. LWU officials charge that managers in some state enterprises discriminate against LWU organizers and have on occasion dismissed employees as retribution for their trade union activities. The LWU also charges that the Lithuanian judicial system is slow to respond to LWU grievances regarding dismissals from work. LWU representatives charge that state managers sometimes prefer the old-style CFTU/LTUC over the LWU unions as collective bargaining partners. In general, trade union spokesmen say that managers often determine wages without regard to trade union wishes, except in larger factories with well-organized trade unions. The Government issued periodic decrees that served as guidelines for state enterprise management in setting wage scales. The LWU and the LTUC engage in direct collective bargaining over wages at the workplace level. Wage decisions are increasingly being made at the enterprise level, although government ministries still retain some control over this sphere in state-owned enterprises. The LWU reports that it supplements its bargaining efforts with active lobbying in government ministries that own enterprises. During the first 11 months of 1993, wage increases appear to have kept pace with price rises. No export processing zones have been established.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor, and this prohibition is observed in practice.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum age for employment of children without parental consent is 16. The legal minimum age with the written consent of parents is 14. Free trade union representatives assert that the mechanisms for monitoring minimum age legislation are rudimentary. Complaints about infringements of child labor regulations generally are referred to local prosecutors who investigate the charges and take legal action to stop violations. Available evidence suggests that child labor is not a widespread phenomenon.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum wage is $11 (43 litai) per month, while the average wage in the state industrial sector is $45 (180 litai) per month. The Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Social Protection periodically set the minimum wage. Every 3 months these two government bodies must submit their minimum wage proposals to the Parliament, which has the right to approve or revise the minimum wage level. Enforcement of the minimum wage is almost nonexistent, in part because the Government does not want to exacerbate the current unemployment problem. The Constitution provides that workers have the right to safe and healthy working conditions. In October a labor safety bill went into effect, setting down the rights of workers confronted with hazardous conditions and providing legal protection for workers who file complaints about such conditions. The State Labor Inspection Service, which was established by the law, has been charged with implementing the labor safety law. Regional labor inspection offices, each of which is staffed by two or three officials, have already been set up in four of Lithuania's largest cities and have begun their work. Nevertheless, severe financial constraints faced by both the state budget and state industrial enterprises will complicate efforts to rectify unsafe conditions caused by worn, outdated industrial technologies. Lithuanian labor safety experts estimate that 150,000 production workers are employed in enterprises with substandard hygienic working conditions. Half of the nation's production work force is thought to be exposed to excessively high levels of noise, vibrations, and air pollution in factories and enterprises.

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