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Report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation “Human Rights Situation in Certain Countries”

REPORT
of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Human Rights Situation in Certain Countries

Moscow
2023

 

CONTENTS

Australia
Austria
Albania
Belgium
Bulgaria
Bosnia and Herzegovina
United Kingdom
Hungary
Greece
Denmark
Ireland
Iceland
Spain
Italy
Canada
Cyprus
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Moldova
Netherlands
New Zealand
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Romania
North Macedonia
Slovakia
Slovenia
USA
Ukraine
Finland
France
Germany
Croatia
Montenegro
Czechia
Switzerland
Sweden
Estonia
Japan
Kosovo*

* Since NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999, the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija has been de facto not controlled by Belgrade. However, UN Security Council Resolution 1244 reaffirms Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity regarding Kosovo.

____________________________

Countries are listed in accordance with the alphabet of the Russian language

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Introduction

This report is a further effort by the Russian Foreign Ministry to bring public attention to human rights challenges facing today’s international community.

We firmly believe that applying the so-called double-standards while assessing certain situations and phenomena remains a major challenge in this field. It is evident that year after year the “collective West” has been increasingly resorting to this approach in order to fuel confrontation. These states have totally discredited everything they said about the universal nature of human rights. In fact, some members of the international community have blatantly instrumentalized the human rights agenda to serve the political interests of certain states and to interfere in internal affairs and infringe the sovereignty of independent states.

We have repeatedly pointed out that, despite the legal mechanisms established and currently in place within the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe that aim to reject, condemn and prevent the glorification of Nazism, racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, a number of countries openly spread racist ideology and values, provoking the upsurge of radical nationalism. In certain states, manifestations of racism and intolerance have permeated structures in all spheres of public life. Attempts to split societies based on ethnic origin and language are mounting. Some of these countries are witnessing a steady growth of xenophobic and racist incidents, a surge of aggressive nationalism, chauvinism, and other forms of racial and religious intolerance. Authorities in these countries are trying to justify their inaction with regard to a wide range of manifestations of intolerance by hypocritically claiming the absolute nature of the freedom of expression.

Today, all these manifestations are glaringly obvious. The 2022 events vividly showed that the West had only applied its duplicitous approaches to inflict maximum damage on Russia and the “Russian world”, seeking “Russia’s strategic defeat” – the fact they now openly acknowledge. They are ready to justify and use any ways and means whatsoever to achieve this. The history of the 20th century offers instructive examples in this regard.

It is also telling that racist, neo-colonial views are typical of Western “model democracies.” The recent notorious metaphor about the world divided into the “nice small garden” and “the jungle” used by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell is an apt illustration of this neo-colonial perception. The fact that Western countries are seeking to propagate their “rule-based order” as opposed to international law is in line with these views. This approach builds on an inherently racist division of states into those who “have the right” to lay down such rules and those who must strictly follow Western instructions.

Particularly noteworthy are the efforts of Western countries and their allies to rewrite the history and revise the outcomes of World War II, their cynical attempts to whitewash war criminals and their accomplices – those who devised and put into practice the theory of racial superiority, – as well as to glorify Nazi collaborators as members of national liberation movements and introduce the related topics as subjects in general compulsory education curricula. Anything is fit for the purpose: distortion of historical facts; bashing of culture and traditional values, “war” against monuments and memorials, cracking down on religious organizations.

This report looks into the human rights situation in certain countries, including those that consider themselves advanced democracies which claim to set standards in human rights protection, as well as those that seek to join them. Building on data from international and national sources, as well as reports from human rights non-governmental organizations, the research summarizes evidence on human rights violations in the said group of countries. It also takes into account recommendations to these countries made by international universal and regional human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies (committees) and regional (particularly European) human rights institutions.

We recommend that the reader, when going through the sections of this report on the current human rights situation in the said countries, bear in mind that these very states actively work to “export” their democratic and human rights standards presented as universal, interfere in internal affairs and are highly critical of the human rights situation in undesirable countries that pursue an independent foreign policy agenda and defend their own historical, cultural and religious values and norms.

We believe that the emerging new world and fairer system of international relations will make it possible to fully implement the principle of genuine respect for the sovereignty, as well as historical, cultural, religious, and national particularities of states across the world. Such system will be free from colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance. Likewise, it will not tolerate attempts by certain countries to ‘bring to heel’ the international legal system and use its universal human rights mechanisms to suit their own vested interests. This report includes negative examples from both the present and the recent past, which, for the most part, we are all well aware of, to illustrate behaviours the entire constructive-minded international community needs to stand up to.

 

Australia

Over the past few years, Canberra’s claims to global leadership in the human rights sphere have been visibly shaken by the criticism from international and national human rights entities. Respect for the rights of the aboriginal population and other vulnerable groups, as well as backsliding on the freedom of speech and the protection of personal data remain the most acute issues.

Increased incidents of racial discrimination and xenophobia in both everyday life and the public domain were reported by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in November 2017[1] and by the Human Rights Committee (HRCttee) in October 2017.[2] Migrants, especially Arabs, Muslims, people of African descent, and people from indigenous communities are the most frequent targets of intolerant attitudes.

The latter even lack constitutional recognition and remain the poorest and most vulnerable social group in Australia. In October 2019, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) noted that aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, are expressing suicidal ideation due to the lack of support, poverty and isolation.[3]

Persons with disabilities, women and minors are the most vulnerable group in indigenous communities. In November 2019, the Australian government was criticized by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children disproportionally more often became victims or witnesses of family and domestic violence, including sexual violence.[4]

In September 2022, the HRCttee found that Australia had failed to adequately protect Torres Strait Islanders against “the effects of climate change.” The Committee arrived at this conclusion upon examination of a complaint filed by representatives of eight Australian islands. The plaintiffs claimed that the state’s failure to adequately protect their territories against extreme weather conditions had resulted in the indigenous peoples’ inability to engage in farming, traditional crafts, and many ceremonies inherent in their culture. The Committee called on the Australian government to compensate the indigenous Islanders for the harm suffered and engage in meaningful consultations with communities to develop measures to secure their safe existence on the islands.[5]

The Closing the Gap Initiative launched by the government in 2008 and designed to ensure that the Aboriginal population enjoys the same opportunities to exercise their rights as Australians of European ancestry, has also proven insufficiently effective. Many indigenous peoples live in remote and hard-to-reach areas, which severely limits their access to medical, educational, legal and other services and reduces their financial opportunities. So far, some progress has been made in education only. In other aspects, the gap remains, with the Aboriginal population still severely disadvantaged, in employment, mortality, and imprisonment rates.

Statistics show that, though the indigenous population only amounts to 3 per cent (about 750,000 people) of the total Australian population, natives account for about 30 per cent of prison inmates in Australia. Thus, the share of prisoners per total number of Aboriginal people (about 13,000 prisoners) is more than 13 times higher than that of “white” criminals per total non-Indigenous population (about 32,000 out of 24.5 million).

In November 2017, the CERD[6] also noted the plight of indigenous people in Australia, including in terms of political participation, the lack of protection of their land rights, socio-economic discrimination, disproportionate rate of violence against indigenous women, as well as extremely high imprisonment rate among Aboriginal people, especially children.

Law enforcement officers continue to treat the indigenous population in a biased way. However, no remedy mechanisms have been provided to them so far. In December 2015, a 26-year-old Dungutti man David Dungay died in his prison cell due to asphyxia. The prisoner was restrained by the guards after he had refused to follow their order to stop eating biscuits. A video footage shows that before fainting he screamed 12 times that he could not breathe. The coroner of the state found that none of the guards should even face disciplinary action, let alone criminal charge.[7]

The trial of police officer Zachary Rolfe, who shot dead 19‑year‑old Kumanjayi Walker from the Aboriginal community of Yuendumu in November 2019, was another high-profile case. The teenager had a criminal record and was wanted by the police; during his first attempted arrest, he had threatened officers with an axe; he had stabbed Rolfe in the shoulder with a pair of scissors before the officer shot him. Wounded Walker was brought to the police station where he received first aid. But the local health clinic was closed, and the nearest city of Alice Springs is 300 km away. The boy died about an hour later. The incident sparked protests of the Aboriginal community demanding that those guilty of the death of their member be punished; the murder charges were filed within a few days. Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Michael Gunner promised that “consequences would flow”. In March 2022, the police officer was acquitted.[8]

In September 2019, Joyce Clarke was shot by a police officer as she walked down a street outside her home in Geraldton holding a kitchen knife in her hand. The woman had mental issues and had been released from hospital a few days before, after a suicide attempt. The police officers called by her relatives (who were concerned about Clarke’s condition and asked to help them take her to hospital) confirm that the woman stood almost still and there were no sudden movements or threats on her part. The jury found the police officer who shot the woman (his identity remains suppressed due to safety concerns) not guilty after the argument presented by lawyer Linda Black. The lawyer called the Aboriginal woman “a walking time bomb”, quick-tempered and aggressive, and qualified the shooter’s action as self-defense.[9]

The said incident also highlighted the persisting problem of prejudice towards the indigenous population on the part of medical staff (Joyce Clarke was released from hospital despite her clearly psychotic state). Other high‑profile cases include the death of Naomi Williams, a six moths’ pregnant 27‑year‑old woman. She had presented to hospital 18 times in the six months before her death with pain and vomiting, but had been given proper treatment or sent to a specialist. She and her unborn child died of sepsis. The infection proved treatable with a course of antibiotics. Following an inquest (that took three years) the state coroner merely issued recommendations, leaving their implementation to the discretion of the hospital administration. Those guilty remained unpunished.[10]

The information provided by The Guardian reveals the true scope of the problem. With reference to the Australian Institute of Criminology and several other line agencies, The Guardian reports 500 indigenous deaths over the last 30 years (1991 – 2021) at police stations and in similar circumstances.[11]

Australian laws on Aboriginal cultural heritage need to be reformed because mining companies still manage to find loopholes in laws to obtain consent for the destruction of indigenous artefacts when conducting extractive activities. Causing destruction or alterations to Aboriginal territories is a crime under Australian law. Yet regulations may be more flexible at the state level. Thus, in Western Australia, consent by the Aboriginal Affairs Minister is enough to avoid criminal liability. Furthermore, most agreements between companies and tribal elders include a clause prohibiting the latter to seek advice from third parties, including in order to protect their cultural heritage, without prior consultation with company administration. Aboriginal people complain that in fact, all these treaties are signed only on conditions set forth by mining companies.[12]

In May 2017, experts of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern over Australia’s non-compliance with the principle of free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples while developing policies with regard to extractive activities on the lands traditionally used by them.[13]

In order to smooth over the impression of the total failure of state policies in this field, the Australian government seeks to demonstrate its concern over and full involvement in the issue. Hence, a tolerant attitude towards ideas promoted by some civic associations to change the date of Australia Day, the flag and the anthem. All official events must now be opened with reference to “traditional owners of the land.” In 2020, governments of states and the Coalition of Peaks comprising representatives of 55 Aboriginal organizations and associations signed an agreement on the renewed Closing the Gap Programme stipulating that governments of states are to establish their own mechanisms to engage with Aboriginal organizations. They should build on a new practice of framing decisions pertaining to the interests of Australia’s First Nations as a document bearing a signature of a local Aboriginal community elder. However, since the recommendations are not binding, those who are to follow them approach them in a formal way, do not seek to achieve results and sometimes ignore them altogether or delay their implementation as much as possible.

Some political activists believe that a referendum should be held on the issue of establishing a new advisory body within the Australian parliament – the so‑called “First Nations Voice to Parliament” referred to in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. Experts hope that the Labor party which came to power in 2022 will achieve progress in this area. The Albanese government announced a referendum on the constitutional recognition of the indigenous populations, including the creation of the “Voice,” to be held no later than 30 July 2024.

As for Canberra’s migration policy, it is also criticized by the human rights community. Australia refuses asylum to irregular refugees and places them indefinitely at detention centres, including on Nauru and (earlier) on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) without adequate access to medical and legal services. The harsh conditions for inmates in such centres, including inadequate mental health services, serious safety issues and instances of violence, sexual abuse and self-harm, as well as the fact that the harsh conditions compel some asylum seekers to return to their countries of origin were pointed out by the HRCttee.[14]

The lack of an adequate legal mechanism to regulate periods of detention in migration centres in the major stumbling block here. An average term of detention is 736 days (accounting for two full years).[15] In some instances, however, persons have awaited decisions by immigration authorities for more than 11 years.[16] On 13 May 2021, Australian parliament endorsed amendments ruling out the possibility to expel foreigners who stay illegally in the country if they have applied for asylum. According to the government, the measure aims to ensure that the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees prohibiting forcible return of refugees to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened, is reflected in national legislation. This step was followed by a joint statement of 30 human rights entities, including Amnesty International Australia. They pointed out that even the amended version of the law lacks provisions on the periods of detention of persons in migration centres and in fact authorizes indefinite detention.[17] According to the Australian Home Affairs Department, as of May 2022, more than 1.4 thousand irregular migrants were kept at Australian detention centres, including on the continent.[18]

In December 2019, Australian parliament took yet another “progressive” step by voting to repeal the Medevac Bill passed in March 2019 by the Labor majority, which permitted illegal migrants whose health required medical attention to enter Australia. About 200 people who managed to enter Australia this way are currently kept in national migration centres or detained in hotels.

Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child believe that the best interests of the child are not a primary consideration in asylum, refugee and migration processes. They also criticized Australia for not intending to establish an independent guardianship body for unaccompanied children and ignoring the issue of prohibiting the detention of children in all circumstances. Furthermore, neither the Migration Act nor the Maritime Powers Act prohibit the return of vessels carrying children who may be in need of international assistance.[19]

In April 2022, the WA Court of Appeal heard the statements of six Indonesians who were sentenced to prison in 2009 for smuggling people by sea. Under Australian law, the then minors were to be deported to Indonesia, but law enforcement officers disregarded their oral testimonies and put down their dates of birth based on the medical evaluation. They relied on wrist X‑ray evidence to determine that they were of age, despite the fact that the world scientific community was sceptical about this method. The court of appeal found that a miscarriage of justice had occurred in 2009 and ruled that the earlier decisions be reversed. Yet the issue of compensation as well as that of the systemic nature of this sort of “errors” remain unresovled.[20]

As for the foreigners residing in the country on legal grounds, including of Russian origin, Australian competent authorities have usually treated them, until recently, impartially. Violations of the rights of Russian citizens and compatriots living abroad have mainly occurred due to persistent deficiencies in the law enforcement system.

First of all, the local police often fail to pay due attention to reports of victims of domestic violence. The story of Olga Edwards (Serebryanskaya) got a wide media coverage. On 5 July 2018, her former husband came to her house, shot dead their children and committed suicide. In September 2020, the Coroner’s Court in Lidcombe, Sydney, initiated a check for possible gross negligence on the part of police officers. Olga Edwards had repeatedly reported instances of domestic abuse on the part of her husband, but complaints of the Russian woman had not been given due consideration. Her written statement of December 2016 bears a note made by the law enforcement officers, which reads as follows: “may be a premeditated attempt to influence some future family court and divorce proceedings.[21]

The hysteria whipped up by Australian authorities and the Ukrainian diaspora (including the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations) around the Special Military Operation, which had been launched by the Russian Federation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine, could not but affect Russian citizens and compatriots living in the country. Members of the Russian diaspora in Australia, who had always been actively involved in efforts to preserve the Russian language and culture, were subjected to enormous psychological pressure. Faced with outright intimidation, few patriotically-minded compatriots proved ready to openly express their views.

On 13 March 2022, activists from the Russian community held a pro‑Russian rally in front of the Russian Consulate General in Sydney, which was also attended by representatives of friendly diasporas and some critically-minded Australians. TASS reporter Anna Arkayeva, who had covered the event, received threats from pro-Ukrainian associations soon afterwards.

It should be also noted that Australian competent authorities have always closely followed the efforts of pro-Russian activists in Australia. In particular, the ataman of the Australian branch of the Union of Cossack Warriors of Russia and Abroad Semyon Boykov was interrogated as to whether he had contacts with members of armed formations in Donbass. Later on, he was sentenced to ten months in prison for publicly stating that local authorities had limited themselves to imposing but nominal pre-trial restrictions on a person accused of child molestation. Boykov is being accused of breaching a court order not to disclose confidential information. This a tough step can be explained by our fellow citizen’s public activity, which has for a long time run counter to the Russophobic line pursued by official authorities in Canberra.

Australian media outlets have occasionally shown a biased attitude towards the Russian diaspora against the backdrop of their generally lopsided presentation of the Russian issue. In August 2020, the Inside Story online magazine published an article by Kyle Wilson (a retired intelligence officer who specializes in Russia and is currently an Australian National University staff member) calling our compatriots who openly support Russia’s policy “Putin’s fifth column in Australia.” In January 2021, Australia’s central television channel, ABC, broadcasted a so-called documentary “Putin’s Patriots: Russian Money and Influence in Australia,” depicting a number of civic associations of Russian nationals as agents of Russia’s allegedly malicious influence (including local branches of the Union of Cossacks Warriors in Russia and Abroad, the Night Wolves Motorcycle Club, and others).

Numerous complaints from our compatriots to the Russian Embassy are indicative of the fact that the Russophobic policy adopted by the country’s leadership and its state-controlled media has spread hatred towards people of Russian descent across various spheres of public life. It should be noted, however, that Australian authorities take certain measures to prevent possible conflicts in public places. The police are taking preventive measures to protect the Russian Orthodox churches in Sydney and Melbourne.

Human rights defenders have also pointed to certain aspects of the counter-terrorism activities conducted by Australian special services. In particular, they are entitled to detain individuals suspected of terrorist activity for more than 48 hours without charge, conduct surveillance on individuals, and access bank account information, electronic and text messages, computer and telephone devices of citizens without a relevant court order.

The Telecommunications Amendment Act became effective in 2015, which made it compulsory for telecommunications companies to keep metadata on the Australians’ phone calls and electronic messages for two years. Besides, in December 2018, a law compelling cryptographically encrypted electronic messaging services to provide information about the correspondence of terrorist suspects to security authorities was enacted.

The Espionage and Foreign Interference Act and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act enacted in December 2018 criminalize obtaining and dissemination of classified information and compel individuals and legal entities acting in the interests of foreign States to provide data regarding their activities at short notice of competent authorities. According to human rights activists, all these powers can be used for uncontrolled and unfounded interference with the citizens’ privacy. Thus, the HRCttee has noted that there is a risk that such emergency measures could over time become the norm rather than the exception.[22]

In 2019, the CRC recommended that Australian authorities revoke the December 2015 amendments to the Citizenship Act that allow for children under 18 years of age to lose their Australian citizenship if they engage in or are convicted of certain foreign fighting or terrorism-related conduct.[23]

The international human rights community is criticizing the ongoing practice of the impunity of law enforcement officers for the abuse of power. The HRCttee has pointed out, in particular, that the existing close relationship between the police investigations and the coroners’ investigations may compromise the independence of investigations.[24]

In June 2019, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) searched the house of the political editor of News Corp media holding newspapers as well as the headquarters of the largest broadcasting corporation, ABC, seizing material on war crimes in Afghanistan. The Federal Court of Australia subsequently dismissed the company’s suit filed against the AFP regarding the lawfulness of the actions by law enforcement officers.[25]

In September 2021, the Surveillance Legislation Amendment Act was adopted to expand surveillance powers of Australian special services to conduct surveillance as part of operational and investigative activities. The AFP and the Criminal Intelligence Commission have been given the power to disrupt and delete data on the Internet to prevent offence, to track down online activities by criminal organizations and establish control over accounts without consent of account holders for the purpose of collecting evidence of criminal activity.[26]

People with disabilities also face challenges in Australia. They cannot fully exercise their electoral rights, the rights to health, education, family life, etc. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities highlights the segregated education experienced by children with disabilities as well as insufficient funding for inclusive education in mainstream schools. It points to the lack of access to early intervention mechanisms for children with disabilities, the widespread practice of retaining and restraining them in adult settings. Besides, parents with disabilities are more likely than other parents to have their child removed from their care, often on the basis of disability. There are challenges related to providing affordable and accessible housing and information and communication technologies.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is being criticized, as it still relies heavily on the medical model of disability and does not provide older persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and other categories of people with equal opportunities. Moreover, such factors as complex procedures, limited publicly available and accessible information on the system and the lack of services in remote areas of the country reduce its accessibility.[27]

Human rights monitoring mechanisms are concerned with the practice of non-therapeutic forced sterilization of women and girls with intellectual disabilities and/or cognitive impairment, despite the fact that in its July 2013 report, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs recommended limiting this practice and strengthening the safeguards against abuse. The HRCttee,[28] the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (in July 2018),[29] and the CHC[30] have highlighted this issue. In October 2019, the CRPD also took note of the reports of forced sterilization, forced abortion and forced contraception among persons with disabilities. Besides, experts were concerned about the cases of obliging persons with cognitive and mental impairment to undergo treatment, including through indefinite detention in psychiatric centres, as well as the use of psychotropic medications, physical restraints and seclusion under the guise of behaviour modification against persons with disabilities, including children.[31]

Despite the government’s proclaimed commitment to the principle of gender equality, the Australian constitution lacks appropriate safeguards and the prohibition of discrimination against women. The practice of subjecting women to forced marriage and female genital mutilation still persists in the country. At the same time, as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women notes in its concluding observations, there is no systematic data collection on the number of women who have faced these challenges.[32]

There are a number of challenges pertaining to ensuring the rights of children. In November 2019, the CRC expressed concern over the persistently high number of minors in alternative care, with remarkably high though traditional overrepresentation of Indigenous minors in alternative care. Experts also noted the limited access to mental health and therapeutic services for children in alternative care.

Another problem is the high rate of violence against minors both in the home and in specialized institutions. The CRC criticized the fact that the National Redress Scheme, which was set up for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse, only covers citizens and permanent residents of Australia. At the same time, it excludes persons sentenced to five years of imprisonment or longer and children who were under eight years of age in 2018.[33]

In June 2022, the ABC news agency published results of a journalistic investigation into the government childcare system. Based on the evidence of more than 700 persons, 222 of whom were child protection workers, the investigation concludes that there have been numerous instances of abuse and violence, systematic manipulation of statistics about children in care and discrimination based on race. It also includes evidence of negligence on the part of the childcare staff. Besides, child protection services tend to disregard welfare measures for struggling families and prefer to remove the child right away.[34]

The criminal age of responsibility continues to be 10 years old in Australia. The HRCttee[35] and the CRC[36] noted the need to review this regulation. There were similar calls during the third cycle of the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review in January 2021.[37]

Among the minors prosecuted under the court judgment, there is a disproportionately high share of persons with disabilities, Aboriginal people and those who belong to both categories at once.[38] According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, children in detention are frequently subjected to verbal abuse, including of a racist nature. Moreover, they often are subjected to cruel and degrading treatment: they are deliberately denied access to water, restrained in ways that are potentially dangerous and many are subjected to isolation. There are cases where children are detained with adults.[39]

Canberra continues to dismiss the recommendation, arguing that the matter falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the states and territories. It has become traditional to refer to the inability to deal with certain problems because they fall outside the responsibility of the federal authorities. During the COVID‑19 pandemic the government used this argument to excuse its failure to increase the number of quarantine areas for Australians returning from abroad and residents. In April 2021, the HRCttee decided in favour of two Australians upon complaints about the violation of their right to return to their homeland. Noteworthy is the fact that the decision by the international expert body had no effect whatsoever on Canberra’s behaviour: Australian government claimed that the said persons had failed to prove that their situation had been critical.[40]

There are also doubts as to the alleged independence of the leaders of national human rights organizations. Candidates to the posts of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner in 2019 and the head of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in 2021 were approved without due selection process. As a result, in April 2022, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) called into question the the AHRC’s re‑accreditation. The Alliance warned that if Australia did not take measures within 18 months to ensure a transparent representative selection process to senior posts in the human rights sphere, the country’s status would be downgraded.[41]

 

Austria

Ensuring and protecting fundamental human rights is among the priorities of the Austrian Constitution. The local legislation, particularly the key regulations that set the framework for the Austrian public policy, draws on relevant international standards and mechanisms. The vast scope of the law enforcement practice in this field offers the authorities the powers they need.

Human rights issues have traditionally remained a focus of media attention, closely monitored by local and foreign NGOs, which regularly publish reports on the situation regarding violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and make facts of violations and the names of those involved publicly known using their websites and social media profiles, often making law enforcement agencies initiate inquiries into these cases.

Amidst the efforts to suppress the spread of the coronavirus infection, the Austrian government was forced to take a number of measures to restrict the exercise of certain fundamental rights. For instance, the right to peaceful assembly could only be realized if the number of people participating in the event was limited to 6 people when held indoors or 12 people when held in the open air, in addition to organizers, any staff involved and children. As to the right to freedom of religion, the practice of religious worship could be carried out without hindrance. At the same time, the number of persons entitled to attend the funeral was gradually reduced: as of 18 September 2020, up to 500 people could attend the ceremony, and on 22 October 2020, this number was reduced to 100 people.[42]

In the context of steps taken by the Austrian government to contain the spread of the infection, human rights organizations have placed a focus on the legitimacy of such measures.

In particular, the adoption of the Compulsory Vaccination Law (practical implementation suspended by the authorities) in January 2022 despite public protests, restrictions during national lockdowns, a simplified procedure for banning demonstrations, and more stringent rules for holding demonstrations (quantitative limits), etc. have been subjected to criticism. It has been reported that a number of complaints in this area have been satisfied, inter alia, by the Constitutional Court, which found certain restrictive solutions of the authorities to be contrary to the Austrian Constitution.

Upon the consideration by the Austrian Constitutional Court of more than 70 appeals against the imposed restrictive orders of the federal authorities, measures to restrict access and use of public spaces and public transport, which had earlier been allowed only in special cases (professional activities, emergency care, walks); the responsibility of citizens to provide to law enforcement officers the reasons for being in a public place; as well as the decree according allowing some small shops (shops with less than 400 square meters of retail space, home improvement supermarkets with garden centers) to resume work two weeks earlier than bigger ones, which had all ceased to be effective by then, were found unlawful and cancelled.

Furthermore, the 2022 report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus on high-profile cases of human rights violations in certain countries of the world points out that the government anti-coronavirus measures were not popular with the Austrian society, which led to mass protests.

According to the report, thousands of people took to the streets of the Austrian capital to express their protest against the compulsory vaccination against COVID‑19 and self-isolation for those who have not yet been vaccinated. By the end of 2021, such rallies had been attended by thousands of people throughout Austria and had been held for several weeks straight. The most extensive rallies against compulsory vaccination were held in Vienna, gathering about 40,000 protesters every weekend according to police reports.

On 8 January 2022, the protesters gathered in the central square of the Austrian capital – Heldenplatz in front of the Hofburg palace and marched along the Ringstraße. Ground public and private transport traffic was completely blocked because the roads were closed to allow for the procession. The protesters lit torches and smoke grenades and threw firecrackers. A few protesters were arrested by the police.

The Amnesty International Österreich human rights foundation criticized the prohibition to leave the house; the impossibility for disabled people and elderly people who need help of social workers to observe social distance; poor accessibility of e-learning for migrant children; discriminatory actions by police officers on racial and ethnic grounds when carrying out checks. An increase of instances of domestic violence against women and children in the period of “home quarantine” has been reported.

At the same time, in the context of countering COVID-19, one should commend introducing amendments into the legislation on special leave for parents to enable them to fulfill their childcare responsibilities whenever educational institutions are closed deserve a positive assessment. The previous regulation had been criticized by both the Austrian Trade Union and the NGO Volkshilfe, as it had left its provision to the discretion of the legislator. Under the new regulation, the possibility to miss work in order to fulfill family obligations has become an inalienable right of an employee.

The introduction of a short-term employment scheme during the coronavirus epidemic was another positive step. It enables workers whose working hours have been reduced due to the implementation of the imposed restrictions, to receive 80-90% of their original net income.[43]

Art. 14 and 15 of the 1867 Basic Law recognize Austria as a secular state that guarantees its citizens freedom of conscience and religion.

The Office of Religious Affairs and Inter-religious Relations (Kultusamt) subordinate to the Federal Chancellery in Austria, is the main institution responsible for state-church relations, including state recognition and registration of religious communities and associations, religious education, and anti-extremist monitoring.

Since the nation-wide census ceased recoding information on the religious affiliation in 2001, Austrian authorities and religious communities have been providing only approximate statistics on the issue. Exact figures are only reported by the Catholic and Evangelical churches, which keep records of their worshipers.

According to a specialized survey undertaken by the national institute of statistics, Statistik Austria, published in May 2022, 77.6% of the country’s population (about 6.9 million people) identify themselves as belonging to some religion. The Catholic church is in the lead, with its worshipers accounting for 4.9 million (55% of the population). 340.3 thousand people (3.8% of the population) belong to the Evangelical (Protestant) church. Orthodox Christians of various dioceses account for about 437 thousand people (4.9% of the population). The total number of Muslims in Austria is nearly 746 thousand people (8.3% of the population). About 482 thousand people profess other religions, including Buddhism and Judaism.

The relations of the Austrian state with churches and religious societies are governed by separate laws, which were adopted along with the development of the national, European, and world context in this area. The basic legal acts on this issue include, inter alia, the Concordat between Austria and the Holy See, the 1961 Protestant Law, the 1967 Orthodox Law, the 1990 Jewish Law, the 1912 Islam Law (updated in 2015) and others. By adopting every law, the state recognized a relevant church or religious community. There are currently 16 churches and religious communities in Austria recognized by the state.

In 1998 Austria adopted a law on religious associations, which provided a simplified organizational form for the activities of some denominational communities. It introduced the term of ‘registered religious associations’ which possess legal personality but, unlike state-recognized churches and religious societies, are not corporations under public law. A religious association needs to have a charter and at least 300 community members residing permanently in Austria to get state registration. Besides, the law establishes a procedure for state recognition of a religious group as a church or religious community, which stipulates, among other things, a minimum period of existence of a religious community of 20 years, including five years as a registered religious association.

There are currently 10 state-registered religious denominational communities in Austria (Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Pentecostal Church, Hindu Religious Community, and others).

The need to stand up to various forms of radicalism, including in the context of a significant increase of the Muslim population (which has doubled over the past 20 years) and the migration crisis, is an important aspect of Austria’s religious life.

The shocking November 2020 terrorist attack in the center of Vienna led to a comprehensive revision of anti-terrorism legislation with a focus on countering the spread of terrorist ideology and preventing religious extremism.

In July 2021, a package of measures aimed at stepping up efforts to counter the spread of radical movements was enacted. Tougher punishments for crimes on religious and political grounds were introduced. The powers of the authorities in dealing with radical religious associations engaged in educational and outreach activities were expanded, in particular: control was reinforced and the procedure for closing “radical” mosques was simplified, compulsory registration of imams preaching in Austria was introduced, and funding opportunities for Muslim organizations were restricted. In order to prevent the radicalization of certain social groups, primarily the youth, special focus is placed on the early warning system.

The authorities’ prohibition for Muslim girls to wear hijabs in schools, which, however, was considerably eased by the Constitutional Court ruling (the ban on hijabs was revoked for elementary school pupils) provoked a wide public response.

It should be noted that the ban was formulated in the School Education Act in broad terms: students under the age of 10 should not wear clothes covering their heads that reflect religious or ideological beliefs. However, the parliamentary subcommittee on education subsequently issued an explanatory commentary on the issue stating that only those headdresses that hide either the hair entirely or most of it are subject to restriction. Thus, the wearing of yarmulkes and patkas – children’s headdresses of Sikhs – was removed from the scope of the law. This makes it even more obvious that this step is directed against Muslim girls, which, according to ECRI experts, may result in the marginalization of this group of students and negatively affect their exercise of the right to education.[44]

Some actions of law enforcement agencies, in particular the Luxor counter-terrorist operation aimed at detaining followers of radical branches of Islam, which followed the said terrorist attack in Vienna, have added to ethnic tensions.

Amnesty International believes that the package of counter-terrorist measures is “threatening the respect for the rights of Muslims.” The experts believe that these steps can lead to the stigmatization of the Muslim population and create a negative backdrop for the Islamic world as a whole.

According to the 2022 report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus on high-profile cases of human rights violations in certain countries, the July 2021 amendments to Austria’s Federal Law “On Islam” (Islamgesetz) considerably expand supervisory powers of the Office of Worship in the Federal Chancellery with regard to Islamic entities and facilitate the procedure for the liquidation of Muslim communities in cases where any violations are found. Countering “political Islam” was among the objectives of the “counter-terrorist package.” The Islamic Religious Society in Austria, IGGÖ – the largest public association of Austrian Muslims – expressed disapproval with the new version of the law. Community members point to the discriminatory nature of the new provisions. Besides, Austrian Muslims find it unacceptable to link the issues of counter-terrorism and relations between the state and religious institutions.

On the other hand, Islamophobia, which has remained a high-profile issue recently, and the situation of the Muslim population of Austria, which raises concern among human rights activists.

In 2021, the Dokustelle Osterreich consulting entity recorded 1061 anti-Muslim incidents (against 1402 in 2020) (the spread of hate messages in the media space, insults on religious grounds, damaging property, unequal treatment). 65% of these occurred on-line, with political figures “accounting” for one-third of the incidents (mostly members or supporters of the right-wing populist Austrian Freedom Party). Muslim women were harassed more often (70% of cases), while three-fourth of the perpetrators were men.

In this regard, the results of a social survey contained in the 2020 EU Agency for Fundamental Rights Report are very illustrative: 45% of the respondents are convinced that Muslims should not enjoy the same rights as “all the other people living in Austria.”[45]

The situation with the purchase of a house in the Weikendorf community (Lower Austria) by a large Palestinian family in March 2019, where local residents and the city administration expressed disagreement with its acquisition and tried to prevent the family from moving to a new place to live, caused a wide resonance. An appeal against the purchase of the said property was filed by the local authorities with the Lower Austria Administrative Court; after several months of proceedings, the legality of the transaction was confirmed by the Austrian State Register.

According to the “integration barometer” of the Austrian Integration Fund, the attitude of Austrian citizens towards the Muslim part of the population is deteriorating every year (62% of 1,000 respondents rated their life together with Muslims as bad). The last time this figure was as high was during the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015. For Austrian citizens, the problem of the spread of radical Islam is the second most important after the topic of global warming. At the same time, the situation with the integration of refugees in schools and workplaces worries 58% of respondents.

As to the risk of disclosure of personal data, the Muslim diaspora expressed dissatisfaction with the launch of an interactive online platform, the National Map of Islam (which contains detailed information on more than 600 Muslim organizations functioning in Austria). Local heads of the Catholic and Protestant churches considered the initiative to be conducive to further social division and ethnic tensions. The authorities insist that the resource serves purely informational purposes. On this basis, the Austrian Data Protection Authority (Datenschutzbehörde) turned down the complaint of the Muslim Youth of Austria NPO.

The main concern of native Austrians about Muslim immigrants is the increased risk of the spread of radical Islamic ideologies and practices among them, as well as challenges in integrating Muslims in schools and at the workplace.

At the same time, in the context of broad confessional representation, Austria pays significant attention to interreligious communication in its multiple organizational forms and manifestations. Thus, in 2012, an informal Platform for Churches and Religious Societies was created to discuss various issues pertaining to the interaction of religious communities (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist) – both among themselves and with the state. The Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria is another prominent platform for dialogue uniting 16 Christian churches as well as 9 communities and organizations with observer status. The Pro Oriente foundation, established in 1964, promotes cooperation between Catholic and Orthodox churches from different jurisdictions, including the Moscow Patriarchate. A number of Austrian interreligious projects have been recognized as examples of best practice in Europe, such as the Ecclesiastical University of Education Vienna/Krems, where Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists successfully work side by side.

Churches and religious communities in Austria are actively engaged in educational activities. This includes, first of all, compulsory religious courses in Austrian schools (public and private), where students and their parents get to choose religious instruction in accordance with their officially declared religious affiliation. In addition to that, the Catholic Church operates 900 kindergartens (about 30,000 children), almost 300 schools (more than 70,000 students), 5 pedagogical and 2 theological universities. There are also two Jewish educational institutions in Vienna, whose job is to facilitate the integration of migrant children of Russian-Jewish descent.

The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC-MP) has six parishes and communities in Austria: in Vienna, Linz, Innsbruck, Graz, St. Pölten, and Laa an der Thaya. One more parish is based in Salzburg, operating under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). The Vienna-Austria diocese of the ROC‑MP gained the official recognition by the state in 2012, while previously ROC enjoyed the status of a parish of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Vienna. A Sunday school was organized at St. Nicholas Parish in Vienna, and the Rachmaninoff Music School operates at the church, with teachers and students from both Russia and Austria.

In light of the special military operation in Ukraine and the ongoing destructive processes in the country’s church system, noteworthy is the attempt – undertaken in summer 2022 – to create a fully-fledged parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in Vienna, independent of the Vienna–Austria diocese of the ROC-MP. A priest was sent to Austria from Kiev to provide religious guidance to the growing Ukrainian flock. In the meantime, an agreement was reached with the Serbian Bishop in Vienna on the provision of premises for worship services. As a result, it was agreed that such services should be considered as services held “for the community of the natives of Ukraine” under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Serbia.

In its annual human rights report for 2021/22 published in April 2022, Amnesty International, a human rights NGO, criticizes Austria for insufficient social benefits and lack of measures to combat homelessness; inadequate investigations of police violence; unjustified deportations of asylum seekers; and problems with discrimination against migrants. The government failed to create by the end of 2021 an independent investigation and complaint mechanism to look into reports of ill-treatment, as was announced in January 2020.[46]

The situation in the migration sphere has deteriorated.

According to statistics, almost a quarter of the country’s population (about 2.2 million people) has migrant roots (an increase of 24% since 2015[47]), with the most active resettlement originating from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. According to Austria’s Ministry of the Interior[48], there has been a sharp increase in the number of applications for refugee status: up to 39.9 thousand in 2021 (+170% from 2020, with more than half of applications submitted by natives of Afghanistan and Syria), owing to the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions, including those on entry. In 2021, 12 thousand asylum applications were granted (with Syrians accounting for 57% of applicants), 13.5 thousand were rejected. From January through August 2022, 56 thousand applications were received[49] (+195 compared to the same period in 2021). The influx of Ukrainian refugees has totaled about 80 thousand people (of which 57 thousand receive social welfare benefits).[50]

The consequences of the 2015 crisis and the continued arrival of new refugees, including from Ukraine, have put a serious strain on the social system. The government pursues a very strict migration policy focusing on the fight against illegal immigrants, which has been harshly criticized by the opposition and human rights activists. Deportation of foreigners whose presence in the country has been declared illegal as a result of the denial of asylum, deprivation of refugee status, or violations of local law appears to have become a standard practice.

The head of the Ministry of the Interior, G.Karner, is pushing for legislation to ensure that the initial “screening” of refugees is carried out in third countries prior to their entry into Austria. At a conference on refugees (Vienna, 21‑22 February 2022), he suggested that refugee status applicants with a clearly low chance of obtaining one should be sent back home at the EU doorstep, that is at the Western Balkan countries’ borders.[51] In return, G.Karner promised to help those countries with border control activities and deportation of refugees to their countries of origin. 

Following the trilateral “migration” summit (Austria, Hungary and Serbia) held on 3 October 2022 in Budapest, Austrian Chancellor K.Nehammer called on EU countries to take concerted action to combat illegal migration and entry of refugees, ensure their “fair” distribution among European countries, and strengthen cross-border cooperation.[52]

Human rights defenders have criticized the way migrants are treated, including the living conditions in refugee reception centers. A report by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe following her visit to Austria in December 2021 pointed to a sharp difference in migrant accommodation standards between regions. A number of centers, particularly in Traiskirchen near Vienna, have been found to be overcrowded, including with children and teenagers. Cases of illegal push-backs of refugees at the borders have been noted.[53]

According to Amnesty International, between January and August 2021, more than 60 Afghan refugees were expelled in spite of the risk of freedom violations that they would face upon their return. The authorities have been considering an extension of the period of stay in the country for persons enjoying temporary protection as well as facilitation of the procedure for migrant family members’ reunification.

In the first months following the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, Ukrainian refugees received quite a warm welcome. They have been granted certain preferences as compared to refugees of other nationalities, including a simplified procedure for receiving social payments, access to the labor market and the educational system, subsidized medical care, etc.

Against this background, the unequal treatment of refugees from different countries is becoming increasingly apparent. Human rights defenders have voiced concerns over the insufficient efforts by the state to counter an ever-more systemic racism (“institutionalized racism”) in the migration sphere. The emergence of a so-called two-tier asylum system has been noted. While Ukrainian citizens enjoy special protection, refugees from other countries face downright racism and other forms of discrimination. Besides, the need for equal treatment among the Ukrainian refugees themselves regardless of their nationality has been emphasized (there have been cases of discrimination against persons of Asian and African appearance arriving from Ukraine).

The current program of the Austrian government (formed from representatives of the Austrian People’s Party and the Green Party) for 2020‑2024 contains a provision stating that “Austria does not intend to come up with new initiatives on refugee distribution rules”. For its part, the Austrian government will strive to ensure that the asylum application process lasts no more than 6 months. In general, there is a trend towards pursuing a more differentiated migration and asylum policy. For this purpose, the country has established the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum (BFA), as well as the Advisory Council with the participation of the civil society, NGOs and legal experts.

At the end of August 2020, the Vienna parliament called for the admission of 100 children from refugee camps located on the Greek islands. A joint statement by three parties (Social Democratic Party of Austria, the Green Party and the NEOS party) in support of this idea emphasized that “with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, the living conditions of children, many of whom have lost their parents, in the resettlement camps have become even more unbearable”. Despite such appeals, the Austrian federal government is adamant in its determination not to allow migrants into the country, a position supported by a majority of the population.

The Austrian government pays great attention to providing assistance in the voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin. In the framework of the government program RESTART II, refugees leaving Austria are provided with financial aid (2,800 euros) to facilitate their adaptation at a new place of residence. Over the past three years, more than 500 returnees have received assistance under the program, which is co-financed by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) of the European Union and the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior. In 2019, 2,840 migrants returned to their homeland (mostly to Serbia (309), Iraq (302) and China (197)) with the support of the International Organization for Migration.

The Council of Europe European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed regret over further tightening of family reunification rules for persons granted refugee status under the Asylum Act, the application of which had already been limited to spouses and minor children of such persons only. In accordance with the new rules, the time limit for submitting applications was reduced to three months from the date of recognition as a refugee. Apart from this time limit, the law stipulates additional requirements to be fulfilled, such as sufficient income, health insurance and stable accommodation. Increased costs for visa applications, without which the reunification as such would have been impossible, have become an additional factor complicating the process.[54]

As noted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), unaccompanied refugee children over the age of 14 cannot expect to receive support similar to that provided to Austrian children. In addition, legal guardians are assigned to them only after they have been placed to a reception center of the respective federal province, and this transfer may take a while due to the age-assessment procedure. The fact that this procedure is not always carried out with respect for the dignity and best interests of the child is also a matter of concern. Besides, despite the potential inaccuracy of its results, it is impossible to appeal against them.[55]

Supranational monitoring bodies are also alarmed by the situation with the low academic performance of migrant children. They are twice as likely as other students to be unable to acquire basic academic knowledge.[56] The reasons for such poor results lie in the imperfection of the existing integration mechanisms, poor command of the German language, differences in curricula and the general marginalization of this part of the population.

The high crime rate among migrants remains a serious problem About 35–40% of offenses in Austria are committed by natives of other countries.[57] Offenses committed by refugees and members of ethnic minorities are regularly reported by Austrian media.

Hate speech on the Internet remains one of the most acute and controversial topics both in Austrian political discourse and among the local public.

The law prohibiting the distribution of hate content on the Internet, which took effect on 1 January 2021, has been widely criticized. Its scope covers all websites designed for the exchange of messages, photos, videos and audios and having at least 100 thousand users and a turnover of more than 500 thousand euros per year. The package of measures introduces the responsibility of the Internet platforms (including Facebook, Google, TikTok, etc.) to monitor and promptly remove “messages of hatred, threats, hate speech”. Network operators are supposed to provide their users with the opportunity to lodge complaints about hate content on their online resources. Such complaints can also be made through the website of the Austrian Ministry of Justice. In case the complaint is found to be valid, the relevant Internet platform has to remove the publication in question within 24 hours (the penalty for non-compliance is up to 10 million euros). If violators ignore court decisions or delay taking action, the penalty may be levied from the advertising partners of the online resource that violated the law. Austrian Internet platforms with less than 100 thousand subscribers, online stores, as well as online forums of Austrian electronic media, which are already covered by the national media law, are outside the scope of the law.

While before the adoption of this legislation human rights activists were concerned about the risk of online censorship and legal discrimination against undesirable online resources, now they are dissatisfied with the law because of its low efficiency. Online bullying and incitement to hatred are still present on the same scale as before, meaning that the law has failed to significantly curb the online activity of the perpetrators. Threats on the Internet have even been made against Minister of Justice A.Zadic and Minister of Defense K.Tanner.

The number of proceedings initiated by prosecutors’ offices as well as the overall workload of law enforcement agencies have increased markedly, but the increase in the share of convictions has been insignificant. Similarly, more was expected from the system of psychosocial support for victims (with funding amounting to 13.6 million euros). In 2021, actual support was provided only in 16 cases, worth a total of 11.5 thousand euros.[58] With a view to raising public awareness of protective measures, a broad information campaign against “hate on the net” was launched in the first half of 2022.

At the same time, it is important to note a number of steps taken by the official government to counteract this phenomenon. For example, to simplify the procedure for reporting hate speech and offensive messages on the Internet, a special mobile app called BanHate was developed.

One of the methods used for combating hate speech is the promotion of a counter-narrative. That is exactly what is done by the National Committee for the Council of Europe’s no-to-hate-speech campaign, established in 2016. Following the launch in 2017 of the project #makelovegreatagain, it has continued to hold different activities and events aimed at raising public awareness, with the participation of NGOs and public authorities. In 2018, the Neustart probation service, together with the Austrian prosecutor’s office, launched the “Dialogue instead of Hate” program, aiming to develop a constructive response to hate speech by modifying the behavior of perpetrators.[59]

The Amnesty International Report 2021/22[60] highlights the issue of police violence and a lack of action by courts during the investigations into such cases. Plans to establish an independent body to effectively investigate cases of violence and abuse by law enforcement officers, announced by the government in January 2020, have remained unimplemented.

Thus, it is no surprise that, according to opinion polls[61] (summer 2022), more than 25% of respondents do not trust the police. Aggressive, disproportionate actions of law enforcement officers when dispersing peaceful protests, particularly those against the COVID-19 restrictions, as well as environmental activists’ tent camps, have been criticized. In April 2022, a police officer was sentenced to a fine of 2,250 euros for nearly running over an eco‑activist protester in the center of Vienna with his service vehicle in May 2019. The investigation, which lasted almost three years, moved forward only after the prosecutor’s office was provided with personal video footages made at the scene of the accident.

The Austrian Interior Ministry has observed a marked radicalization of the protesters. Following more than two thousand public events held in 2021, about 25 thousand administrative and 550 criminal offences were revealed (with some 400 people arrested by court decision).[62] In connection with cases of physical aggression of protesters against police officers, the powers of the latter were expanded, which has also sparked criticism on the part of human rights defenders.

Human rights organizations cite the examples of abuse of authority by police officers and special forces, which, as a rule, takes the form of using excessive force against people being detained. According to research conducted by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice covering 1,500 police misconduct allegations, only 7 of those cases were referred to court, without a single guilty verdict. In 10 per cent of cases, the complainants themselves faced defamation charges.

In January 2019, two police officers beat a 28-year-old Chechen during a routine identity check in Vienna’s Favoriten-district. Six law enforcement officers who were nearby just watched these unlawful actions indifferently. The same as in the above-mentioned case of a police officer who almost ran over a protester, it was only after the victim provided video evidence of the incident that an internal check was initiated against the police officers, as a result of which they were suspended from duty and the case was referred to the Federal Bureau of Anti-Corruption.

In its report on Austria, prepared during the sixth monitoring cycle, the ECRI cites data from a study conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Human Rights: 66% of respondents of African descent noted that they were stopped at least once by law enforcement agencies in the last five years prior to the survey; 34% of them considered it racial profiling.[63] This is the highest rate among the EU member states.

In addition, according to the ECRI, despite the legal ban on racial profiling in Austria, only two cases in which this issue was raised have been resolved in court so far. There is also no data on complaints of such treatment being considered by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Austria, despite the fact that the topic of racial profiling is within its competence.[64]

Human rights activists criticize the policy pursued by the country’s leadership to gradually reduce budgetary allocations aimed at supporting the poor. In particular, as a result of the reform of the social security system, there has been a significant reduction in payments (by 35–40%) for this category of persons, about 20% of which are refugee status holders. Out of the total of 230 thousand basic social security recipients, this measure is expected to primarily affect the 66 thousand people belonging to this social group. The most significant cutbacks will hit families with a large number (more than 3) of children (a decrease of the country average from 2,084 to 1,350 euros), as well as individuals who are not proficient enough in German. The payments to single refugees are expected to be reduced from 863 to 560 euros. Experts believe that, at the end of the day, this reform will have the most impact on the welfare of children and minors residing in Austria.

The tough stance of then Chancellor S.Kurz in favor of “consistent deportation of foreigners who have committed offenses in the country and whose refugee status has been revoked” as well as the problem of migrant smuggling into Austria (a series of such cases occurred in January-February 2020, resulting in at least 50 refugees being brought into the country) were another matter of concern voiced by specialized NGOs.

The phenomenon of human trafficking is also associated with the admission of migrants. According to the CEDAW, Austria is a country of destination and transit as regards trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation (95%) and forced labour. In this respect the Committee expressed its concern that despite the increase in cases of investigation and criminal prosecution against traffickers (in 2017 63 people were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking and 75 – in connection with the involvement in cross-border prostitution) perpetrators of human trafficking receive too lenient sentences. In this regard experts refer to article 104a of the Criminal Code that punishes such offenses by imprisonment for the term of up to 10 years.[65]

Ahead of elections to Vienna parliament in October 2020 human rights defenders criticized the situation regarding the provision of general voting rights for foreigners: about a third of the city population with a migration background are not entitled to vote due to the lack of Austrian citizenship. K.Edstadler, minister for the EU and Austrian Constitution, gave the following explanation of the situation: “citizenship… completes a successful integration process and full identification with Austria” while noting that citizens of other EU countries “are entitled to vote in local elections in Austria” and the above‑mentioned approach applies only to persons from third countries.

A pro-migrant party “Social Austria for the Future” through a formal request to the Constitutional Court of Austria initiated a campaign for the recognition of minority status for the Turks and ethnic groups of the former Yugoslavia residing in the country who allegedly greatly contributed to the economic, social and cultural development of the country. S.Raab, Austrian minister for women and integration, firmly rejected such initiatives believing that “there exists a clear distinction between migrants and ethnic groups” and “the desire of certain migrant communities to be recognized as an ethnic group is absurd and has no legal grounds”.

The report of the Vienna Jewish community[66] noted that in 2021 a record number of incidents in the last 20 years of the number of anti-Semitic incidents (965; 65% increase over 2020). Prevalent are: abusive treatment, especially in virtual space (60% cases), sending of letters containing Anti-Semitic material (261) and property damage (95). In 22 cases they included threats,
in 12 – physical coition.

According to the Ministry of the Interior[67] there was an increase in 2021 in the number of offences committed by right-wing radicals (1053; +18% over 2020), including on the grounds of Anti-Semitism (61; +69% over 2020). The main “places” of offences are Internet and “anti-COVID” demonstrations. It emphasizes that Anti-Semitism on the grounds of nationality is becoming less common than its “side effects” – such as Holocaust denial and anti-Israeli actions.

Against the background of criminal proceedings related to radical Islamists, anonymous bomb threat calls to educational institutions, courts and Jewish cultural centers became more frequent. In late June 2022 a series of such provocations was organized by the so-called Jihadists in Vienna, Graz and Sankt Pölten under the slogans “Death to Jews and infidels” (investigation is underway).

In January 2021 the government presented a national Anti-Semitism strategy aimed inter alia at strengthening security of Jewish organizations, increasing socialization of representatives of the Jewish diaspora. An educational course was developed for pupils and students to get them acquainted with the foundations of Judaism and Jewish world.

The European Conference on Anti-Semitism was held in May 2022 in Vienna organized by the Federal Chancellery. Its Vienna Declaration against Anti-Semitism envisages a set of measures aimed at developing new methods of monitoring such manifestations and improving the electronic record database. It noted the worsening of the situation with respect to prosecutions of Jewish population in Europe as a whole, especially of the younger generation in online environment.

According to the study on the dissemination of Anti-Semitism in the country conducted as early as the beginning 2019 and commissioned by the Austrian National Council, about 10% of the population support Anti-Semitism. But according to the Austrian Institute of Empirical Social Research Anti-Semitism is more common among people speaking Turkish and Arabic. 10% of respondents agreed with the thesis that “if the State of Israel disappears peace will prevail in the Middle East”, while among Arabic language population those supporting it represent more than 70% and among Turkish language – 50%. According to the study conducted by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency 24% of Jewish respondents view Anti-Semitism as a great problem in Austria while 49% as a relatively serious one.[68]

Pursuant to the Austrian Governments decision, from September 1, 2020, Jews deported during the Second World War from the territory of Austria (more than 100,000 people) and their descendants may apply for Austrian citizenship without the need to renounce existing citizenship (in Austria, dual nationality is granted only in exceptional cases). According to authorities, at the first stage more than 50,000 applications are expected. The leader of the Austrian Jewish community O.Deutsch called this decision “not a gift but a formal rectification of injustice”.

According to the study conducted by SORA Institute for Social Research (one of the leading European social science institute) on the classification of forms of discrimination in Austria, harassment in the workplace is the most common form and usually it targets foreigners. The survey (about 2 thousand people at the age of 14–65 years old) recorded the experience of discrimination and unequal treatment in the sphere of labor, healthcare and education. Almost half of all respondents (43%) were subjected to harassment at least once in each of the areas of study. Persons with migration background or Islamic religious affiliation suffer discrimination twice as often (62% and 78%) as persons without such background (37%) or Christians (39%). People with low social status claim that they suffer discrimination twice as often as people with wealth.[69]

Complexity and fragmentation of anti-discrimination legislation are still a problem specific for the Austrian legal system. The reason for this lies in the division of competence between the federal government and lands. Differences between the Law on Equal Treatment and laws of each land related to providing different level of protection depending on the grounds for discrimination lead to legal uncertainty and regulatory confusion.[70]

According to human rights activists everyday racism remains a major challenge in Austria. According to the report by Austrian NGO “Civic Courage and Work Against Racism” (ZARA)[71] in 2021 recorded 1977 violations of human rights on racial grounds (-35 from the “record” 3039 cases in 2020; in 2019 – 1950 cases), including more than 57% in Internet and 14% – in public places. The report recorded 112 cases by public employees, 102 – law enforcement officials, 84 – political figures and media representatives. In 78% reports on incidents (including in an online environment) came from eye witnesses or witnesses and only 22 % – from victims themselves.

According to the Austrian NGO “Non-Discriminatory Education Initiative”[72] in 2021, 121 cases of discrimination were registered including against school children (45%), students (35%) and educational personnel (7%), from which 80% were racist. Major forms include racism in educational literature, gender/nationality-based insults particularly with regard to Muslims and persons with non-traditional sexual orientation. It is noted that only in one out of 20 cases of discrimination from teachers they were fined.

In March 2020 the Committee for the Rights of Children (CRC) welcomed Austria’s measures to combat hate speech and manifestations of neo‑Nazism, racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. They include establishment of special units in prosecutor’s offices to investigate cases of incitement to hatred and inclusion of issues of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in Austrian school curricular.[73]

Women’s rights situation in the light of the increase in domestic violence. The government annually allocates about 25 million Euros for the improvement of the counselling centers, as well as legal and information support. In order to get a composite profile of the criminals and analyze their motives the Federal Criminal Police Agency reinvestigates cases for the last ten years. According to “Autonome Österreichische Frauenhäuser” NGO[74] 3 women perish at the hands of criminals every month in the country. In 2021 31 cases of murder were recorded and since the beginning of 2022 – 17 cases (one of the highest number in Europe). In 75–80% cases there were kinship or family relationship between perpetrators and their victims.

The state also faces certain difficulties in ensuring children’s rights. Thus, in 2018 the Austrian Constitution was amended transferring exclusive powers to provide children and youth with social protection to federal lands. In this regard the CRC in its concluding observations following consideration of the 6th Austria’s periodic report expressed its concern that this may lead to disharmony in the application of legislation and fragmentation and inconsistency in the realization of children’s rights.[75]

On the whole, Austria fulfills in good faith its obligations to care for Soviet war graves, most of each are in good condition. The Federal Ministry of the Interior in cooperation with land authorities continues, within budgetary capacity, rehabilitation of Red Army memorials in need of repair.

For example, on August 10, 2021, marking the 75th anniversary of the opening, the Embassy of Russia in Austria held a solemn ceremony at the restored Soviet section of the Central Cemetery of Vienna. On 3 December 2021, wreaths were laid at the rehabilitated burial site in the Aspern district of Vienna. Similar events culminated in the completion of repairs to Soviet memorials in the lower Austrian cities of St. Pölten and Mistelbach (February and June 2022, respectively).

Unfortunately, the Soviet military memorial sites located on the territory of Austria have not been spared. Such incidents, however, are exceptional and receive a prompt response from Austrian law enforcement. For example, in September and November 2021, hooligans spray-painted graffiti on the monument to the Soviet soldier-liberator on Schwarzenbergplatz Square in Vienna. These acts of vandalism were subsequently removed and the Vienna police promised to provide for 24-hour monitoring of the monument.

The need to increase vigilance with regard to Soviet graves appeared with the beginning of the special military operation by Russia to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine and the rising degree of anti-Russian tension fueled by pro-Ukrainian activists.

In the spring of 2022, two cases of vandalism and desecration of Red Army memorials were recorded. In April, graffiti condemning the SMO were found on the gates of the Soviet military burial site at the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Laa an der Taya (Lower Austria), and on May 25, unidentified persons applied the emblem of the Ukrainian national battalion Azov (mirror image of the emblem of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich during the Second World War) on the wall provocatively painted in the color of the flag of Ukraine of a privately owned building behind the monument to the Soviet liberation warrior in the capital’s square Schwarzenbergplatz. After the protest of the Russian Embassy, the symbol was promptly removed.

Austrian authorities, political forces and social movements are generally loyal to our commemorative activities and do not obstruct them. In 2022 in Vienna the Coordinating Council of Organizations of Russian Compatriots (KSORS) organized with great success events dedicated to the 77th anniversary of the Victory and the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow (concerts, procession of the Immortal Regiment). Appropriate infrastructure support, particularly in terms of security, was provided by the authorities during the international Memory Garden and Candle of Memory events with the participation of the Russian Embassy.

No illegal exhumations/transfers of the remains of the Red Army and anti-fascist soldiers have been recorded in Austria.

At the same time, after Russia launched its special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, the generally calm situation with Russian citizens in Austria changed dramatically. As a result of the growing manifestations of the “cancel culture” all Russian and everything associated with Russia are subjected to harassment and discrimination.

The Austrian authorities have clearly anti-Russian positions. On February 25, 2022, Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer, in a statement to the press following the meeting of the Austrian Security Council, stated the need to restrict the freedom of movement and private property of Russian businessmen.

Russian compatriots in Austria are subjected to pressure, threats and harassment for their pro-Russian statements.

Massive attacks on the websites of Russian compatriots have been recorded. Thus, after refusing to publish fake Ukrainian videos, the group Russian-speaking Vienna in Facebook (one of the largest – more than 30 thousand subscribers – groups of compatriots in the social network) was subjected to large-scale trolling attacks and was subsequently blocked. In parallel, calls for blocking another major Internet community Russian Austria – Russisches Osterreich have begun. The reason was that the community administrators did not publish anything on the events in Ukraine, except neutral reports on the organization of aid collection for Ukrainian refugees.

Discrimination against Russian citizens and compatriots in Austria has gone beyond the Internet. Cases of bias against Russian children in schools and kindergartens were reported to the Russian Embassy. Compatriots also reported that in educational institutions materials about Russia and events in Ukraine are presented in a one-sided manner.

Acts of vandalism against cars with Russian plates were also recorded.

Austrian banks, including such large institutions as the Erste Bank and Raiffeisenbank, block the accounts of Russian residents without any warning and refuse to open accounts. In particular with reference to “internal instructions” the Erste Bank verbally refused to open an account for an employee of the Russian Trade Representation Office in Austria, who was on a less than six months mission in the country. As a result, compatriots are unable to pay for basic needs, including utilities, rent, medical services, etc.

Austrian cultural and educational institutions got also involved in the cancellation of Russia campaign. So, in February 2022, the Bruknerhaus Linz concert hall broke agreements with the St. Petersburg House of Music and canceled musical Russian Tuesdays for the current season and for 2022-2023.

On March 1, 2022, the Salzburg Festival declared that it saw no grounds for creative cooperation with institutions and individuals from Russia. Also in early March 2022, the director of the Vienna Concert Hall (Wiener Konzerthaus) M.Nazke announced his intention to stop cooperation with persons “not supporting Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict”. The message posted on the concert hall website says that its management, as before, will in some cases assess whether the views of individual artists correlate with those accepted in the Konzerthaus. On March 16, 2022 the rectors of the universities of Innsbruck and Salzburg, in messages published on their websites, informed about the termination of contracts with the foundation “Russian World” and the intention to reformulate and substantively change the concepts of the Russian centres operating at these universities.

Austrian side refused the Ambassador of Russia and diplomats of the Embassy to participate in a number of memorial actions on the occasion of the 77th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe (8 May – solemn act in the Federal Chancellery, 15 May – commemorative event in the memorial complex on the site of the former Mauthausen concentration camp).

 

Albania

Albania is a party to most European and universal international human rights treaties. Drawing on these instruments, the Government is taking steps to improve legal protection of its citizens and developing relevant plans and programmes in cooperation with national and international NGOs.

In 2022, the human rights record in the Republic of Albania, despite a number of critical comments from Western and international human rights organizations, saw no significant changes and remained generally satisfactory.

The most sensitive issues continued to be those related to the activities of organized crime groups (OCGs) in the country and violations of civil rights and freedoms of the population.

Human rights protection is one of Tirana’s top five priorities for launching accession talks with the European Union; however, the attempts by the Albanian leadership to reach EU standards have yielded no tangible results so far. Despite certain positive developments, the human rights situation in Albania remains complicated. The most painful issues, as international experts point out, include human trafficking, law enforcers’ brutality, inappropriate prison conditions, use of hate speech, double standards on property rights, blood feuds, discrimination against national minorities, and domestic violence.[76]

Such problems are mainly caused by widespread corruption, nepotism, imperfect legal framework and weak judicial system, lack of professionalism among judges and prosecutors, a low level of legal literacy of the population, traditional social mores, high unemployment rate, poverty, which prompt people, especially youth, to migrate outside the country.

In the field of combating human trafficking, despite the efforts made at the national level over recent years[77], Albania still fails to meet the minimum standards for detecting, prosecuting and preventing this type of crime. There are no witness protection, victim rehabilitation and assistance programmes. Western partners initiate and provide the Albanian government with full support in the fight and preventive measures in this direction. Albanian organized crime groups remain strong though. From time to time, information appears in open sources about newly revealed OCGs specializing in human trafficking and operating both in Albania and abroad (Italy, Greece, Kosovo,[78] etc.). Recent attempts by the country’s leadership to disavow accusations against the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army of involvement in human organ trafficking, including through Albania’s territory, have failed to receive any response from the international community.

Albania has not overcome its negative image as a source and transit country – and in some cases a destination country – for sexual slavery and forced labour for men, women and children. The primary risk groups include Egyptian and Roma minorities, children and socially vulnerable segments of the population. This was indicated, inter alia, by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) following the review of the combined ninth and twelfth periodic reports of Albania in December 2018.[79]

In order to put the situation right, Albania is taking steps to reform the justice system. The report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, published in July 2019, gave a positive assessment of the adoption of Law No. 76/2016 on amending the Constitution of Albania and a package of seven organic laws that contain provisions guaranteeing independence, impartiality, professionalism and integrity of judges, as well as improved mechanisms of accountability and monitoring of the work of the judiciary. In addition, parliament approved a package of 23 laws covering all aspects of the judicial reform.[80]

The tradition of blood feuds is a yet another open issue. According to the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, Public Administration and Human Rights, about 10,000 people (120 families) are involved in this relic of the Middle Ages. Today, neither the Ombudsman nor religious leaders nor the Coordination Council for Combating Blood Feuds are able to put an end to these practices. The international community has also expressed concern about this phenomenon since many Albanians, including minors and often those who are not involved in blood feuds, seek refuge in Western Europe under the pretext of an impending vendetta.

Repeated violations of prisoners’ rights are recorded, in particular the abuse of power by police officers, use of physical and psychological violence by prison guards, and scarce access to medical care. Independent inspections revealed numerous cases of overcrowding in correctional labour institutions and unacceptable conditions of detention of persons with mental disorders.

OSCE’s and Council of Europe’s human rights monitoring bodies constantly report that there is no freedom of the media in Albania and that media outlets are often controlled by the authorities and show bias. Despite the fact that the government and the leadership of print and electronic media, TV and radio companies keep talking in unison about complete independence of the media space, the environment of strong political biases and a low level of professional culture in the media has remained unchanged over the recent 20 years. Albania ranks 103rd on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

In late 2019 – early 2020 Albanian society launched an active government campaign aimed at adopting an “anti-defamation package” – amendments to the Law “On Audiovisual Media”, which, in particular, would equate the status of online media and official media and introduce fines for publishing inaccurate information. The contents of innovations caused dissatisfaction both within the country (Albania saw massive protests against changes in regulation) and on the part of supranational monitoring bodies. The opinion of the Council of Europe’s European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe), published on June 19, 2020, concluded that the proposed amendments required careful revision. As the experts noted, in their current form, they may negatively impact the freedom of expression, in particular on political issues, in the Albanian sector of the Internet.

Despite the intention stated by the authors of the draft law to extend its effect exclusively to the professional media exercising editorial control over their publications, the submitted text contained no clear instructions in this regard. Thus, bloggers and users of social networks were also covered by the scope of the proposed amendments. At the same time, one of the prerequisites was deanonymization of online media resources, which, in the case of individuals who are not professional journalists, conflicts with their right not to disclose their identity in the cyberspace.

In addition, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe expressed doubts about the real extent of independence of the Albanian media regulator and the Complaints Committee, whose powers are expected to be significantly expanded with the adoption of new legislative provisions. Finally, the lack of any reference to the need to proportionately correlate the amount of fines with the financial situation of a particular media outlet so that the implementation of the sanction part of the norms in the draft not lead to its ruin, according to the experts of the monitoring body, is fraught with the development of self-censorship to the detriment of democracy.[81] Due to such harsh criticism and rejection, the initiative was postponed.

Interfaith relations remain harmonious in the country, but restitution of the property of religious organizations, seized during the years of Enver Hoxha’s ruling, is still an issue.

In 2022, the Ombudsman documented some 40 cases of non-compliance with procedures for compensating the expropriation of land for the construction of infrastructure. The problem of legalizing illegal construction and the shortcomings of the legislation in this field remain relevant to Albania in the context of extensive reconstruction of the road network and tourist infrastructure in coastal areas.

The government is regularly criticized over non-observance of the electoral rights of citizens. Most often a “lack” of choice and “coercion” to vote for members of the ruling Socialist Party are meant. In addition, the lists of candidates of the overwhelming majority of parties in all regions of the country indicate non-compliance with the 30 per cent quota for women wishing to participate in the country’s political life. At the same time, there is roughly an equal ratio of men to women in state bodies and key institutions, although this often requires a top-down decision-making and is not actively supported in traditional Albanian society.

The OSCE/ODIHR June 30, 2019 municipal elections observation mission report recognized their legitimacy and outcome. Nevertheless, the failure to accommodate the interests of the electorate, incompetent work of the CEC and lower-level electoral commissions, lack of an appropriate legislative framework in electoral matters, and that the election campaign was launched against the backdrop of an internal political crisis were subject to criticism.

The heads of OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE PA and PACE monitoring missions to the April 25, 2021 parliamentary elections, gave a generally positive assessment of the electoral process, noting at the same time the persisting systemic flaws – the “buying up” of votes, active use of administrative resources and budget funds by the authorities during the election campaign, overly confrontational rhetoric up to personal affronts. The reluctance of the government to organize voting for Albanian citizens living abroad was criticized. The ban on coronavirus infected citizens from participation in the elections was separately noted.

Despite the amendments to combat domestic violence introduced to the national legislation, actually this problem remains unresolved: 55 per cent of Albanian women face it. The number of reported cases has increased by 21 per cent in the last five years. Over 3,000 women and girls were placed under the care of social services, having become victims of domestic abuse which led to up to 18 deaths. (For comparison, over 3,200 women and girls – victims of domestic violence – received assistance from social services in 2019).

In 2018, number of important amendments were made to the law “On Punishment for Domestic Violence and Emergency Measures to Detect and Prevent this Phenomenon,” to ensure gender equality. In addition, the country implemented its National Strategy for National Protection in 2021, which prioritized vulnerable families and groups, and improved services to support victims of domestic violence.

The percentage of Albanians applying for political asylum or refugee status remains traditionally high. According to this indicator, the country ranks first in the Balkan region with more than 11,000 applications in 2021 (Albanians were the most frequent applicants in the EU). However, over 90 per cent of all applications were rejected.

The Roma people is the most vulnerable national minority. Many members of this community have no identification documents and are discriminated against in access to employment, education, health care, housing, social assistance (including in the context of the coronavirus pandemic).

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ report of 2022 notes that in late 2021, as part of the implementation of the EU Strategic Framework for Roma until 2023 (launched by the European Commission in October 2020[82].) Albania, being its accession candidate, along with its Member States, submitted a revised national strategy on Roma to the European Commission.[83]

NGOs, the Ombudsman, Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth are coordinating the implementation of the National Strategy for the Roma and Balkan Egyptians Social Inclusion. However, the results of their activities remain subtle.

Nevertheless, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance registered significant progress in its sixth report on Albania, published on June 2, 2020, as compared to the previous monitoring cycle. A dialogue between the Ombudsman and the National Bureau for Protection against Various Forms of Discrimination, as well as the improved inclusive education, were noted. At the same time, the practical implementation of the decisions made and interaction on this topic between governmental and non-governmental institutions and organizations remain a significant problem.[84]

According to Dunja Mijatović, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, access to justice for vulnerable groups in Albania is still a challenge. The results of a 2017 UNDP survey showed a high level of popular legal illiteracy, in particular among Roma and a lack of trust in the justice system. According to this survey, many Romas, low earners, persons with little formal education, persons with disabilities, victims of domestic violence and children from residential institutions are victims of discrimination and economically challenged, which leaves them unable to access better quality services. As a result, some do not even attempt to have their legal issues addressed.[85]

Despite progress registered by the UN in developing legislation on stateless persons residing in Albania, there are approximately 4,900 stateless or potentially stateless persons in Albania, many of whom are Roma, as well as their children or children born abroad and without birth registration. Another group at risk of statelessness are Albanian emigrants who have gone abroad and voluntarily renounced their citizenship and/or did not obtain citizenship of the destination country.[86] The revised Law on the Status of Citizens excluded the possibility of children receiving the status of a “non-citizen”.

In 2018, the Law on the Protection of National Minorities in the Republic of Albania was amended to stipulate that in areas where minorities made up at least 20 per cent of the population school education would be provided in their native language.

The aforementioned normative legal act contains declarative provisions aimed at protecting, preserving and developing the cultural identity and languages of national minorities. It defines the personal scope and rights of persons belonging to national minorities.

The high level of cultural and religious tolerance that has been established in the country is commendable.

The report by Dunja Mijatović, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, following her visit to Albania (published in September 2018) focuses on the children’s rights record. The document concludes that the situation had improved considerably in recent years, but the country should continue a comprehensive updating of its legislation. The report also commends the reforms in the social sectors that were carried out over the first half of 2018 (including the increase in cash payments for socially vulnerable groups  – children and people with disabilities).

The UN highlights the Albanian government’s prioritizing of child rights, in particular the adoption of the new National Agenda for the Rights of the Child 2021-2026.

In 2019, the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review also noted a number of positive changes in this area, namely: improved legislation in terms of a better system of protecting children from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect; the adoption of the Children’s Criminal Justice Code, which aims to protect minors in conflict with the law; development of a national action plan for the protection of children from economic exploitation.[87]

There were no visible manifestations of Nazism or neo-Nazism recorded in Albania in 2021-2022; no neo-Nazi marches or rallies held, or any attempts made to glorify the Italian Fascists and German Nazis, who occupied Albania between April 1939 and the end of November 1944.

So the ideas of Nazism, fascism and neo-Nazism do not enjoy widespread support among the population. At the same time, the Albanian leadership (both socialists and democrats) has been consistently pursuing a line aimed at re-evaluating the events of World War II and reviewing its outcomes.

Against this backdrop, we are not surprised by the position taken by the delegation of Albania when considering the draft resolution “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” introduced annually by Russia and other co-sponsors in the UN General Assembly. As a candidate to the European Union, Albania has been lining up with the EU and abstaining at the voting (last time – on December 16, 2021).

The situation of 2021-2022 with the spread of far-right ideologies and discriminatory practices in Albania has shown no significant change either.

Albanian nationalist and anti-Communist organization, “Balli Kombëtar” (or “National Front”, founded in 1939, currently without representation in Parliament), continues to be active in the country. Initially, it stood for fight against Italian and German armies, but in 1943 turned to collaboration with the occupiers. Members of “Balli Kombëtar” took part in the occupation of Greece and Yugoslavia by the Axis countries, in particular serving in German military units, such as 21st SS Skanderbeg division, Lyuboten battalion and Kosovo regiment.

In 2021-2022, Albanian newspapers released some articles to explain the ideology followed by “Balli Kombëtar” during World War II and the reasons of its disagreements with Albanian communists led by Enver Hoxha in their anti-Nazi fight.

Recently, there have been no attempts as such to glorify the “Balists”, but the circumstances under which local people joined balist-nationalist rather than communist units during the war have been brought before the Albanian public in considerable detail.

According to the 2022 report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), a number of reports[88] published by public authorities in Albania in 2021 indicate an increase in online hate speech.[89]

While the development of the far-right movement in Albania is not a big issue at the moment, its legal framework does not allow for its final elimination. It does not outlaw racist organizations or criminalize participation in them. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination pointed this out, among other things, in December 2018.[90]

According to Article 18 of the Fundamental Law of Albania, discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion, nationality and other similar grounds is prohibited in Albania. However, Section 3 of this Article contains a reservation according to which the prohibition is only effective if “there are no reasonable and objective reasons” for non-compliance therewith.

Albania’s Criminal Code also contains a number of provisions against discrimination and intolerance. For example, it criminalizes discrimination by government officials on the grounds of origin, gender, health status, religious or political values, trade union activities, or because of belonging to a particular ethnic group, country or religion. In accordance with Article 253 of the Criminal Code, this act is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to five years.

According to the information from 2022 Report of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, in the run-up to the 2021 National Parliamentary Elections in Albania the No Hate Alliance together with the Central Electoral Commission developed a code of conduct to prevent incitement of hatred.[91] All the political parties taking part in the elections were obliged to abide by that document.[92]

Despite this, according to the NGO Amnesty International, female candidates faced hate speech during the March 2021 campaign.[93]

After Albania qualified Russia’s actions to protect Donbass as an “unjustified aggression” against Ukraine, it has been witnessing a surge of Russophobia in the country. It includes anti-Russia attacks of the Albanian leadership and narrative in the media, rallies in front of the building of the Russian Embassy that took place in Tirana in March 2022, as well as individual cases of “persecution” of our compatriots via Internet. Though the street events were initiated mainly by the Ukrainian Embassy, they received wide support from the local authorities. Albania strongly supports all EU sanctions against Russia, has been maintaining an anti-Russian stance in international organizations, including the UN, and working with the US on the “Ukrainian dossier” in the UN Security Council.

 

Belgium

Although Belgium is a party to major international human rights treaties and the promotion of the relevant high standards is declared as one of its key domestic and foreign policy priorities, violations of the universally recognized rights and freedoms are reported there on a regular basis. Thanks to the activity of the media and national and international human rights organizations, such facts are usually made public, but authorities do not always take measures to remedy the situation.

The State features several official human rights bodies with different mandates, including the Inter-Federal Centre for Equal Opportunities (Unia). At the same time, in 2019, a law was adopted to create the Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. In this regard, international monitoring bodies are concerned about coordination between the new institution and the existing ones.[94] The institute’s mandate at the federal level is still limited and does not cover the power to receive individual complaints.

According to the Centre’s 2021 report, Unia received 10,610 reports of alleged discrimination, hate speech or hate-motivated acts. This is an increase of 12 per cent compared to 2020 (9,466 reports). 35 per cent of them had to do with a discriminatory effect of measures related to coronavirus restrictions (in 2020, 16 per cent) – in the media sphere, 1,054 reports; purchase of goods and use of services, 712; public life, 508.

Unia opened 2,379 individual cases after examining the reports. The 9 per cent increase, compared to the previous year, is due to the relaunch of a number of sectors that were forced to suspend their activities in 2020 because of the healthcare crisis. There is a slight decrease in the number of racism-related cases: 897 in 2021, compared to 956 in 2020. Disability (538 cases in 2021, compared to 519 in 2020), health condition (391 cases in 2021, compared to 162 cases in 2020), religious or other beliefs (243 cases in 2021, compared to, 261 in 2020)[95] are also among the most frequent grounds for discrimination.

In addition, the Federal Centre initiated a launch of the project on “Improving equality data collection in Belgium”, which brings together dispersed and previously unstructured data on discrimination and categorizes it according to the grounds underlying unequal treatment.[96]

In 2023, it is foreseen that the participation of Flanders in Unia will end. This body will no longer have a mandate to assist persons affected by discrimination in areas under the region’s jurisdiction. A Flemish human rights and anti-discrimination body is to be established instead. According to experts, this would result in the Inter-Federal Centre losing some of its resources, and making the system of human rights promotion and protection even more complex.[97]

The Flemish authorities also continue to oppose the ratification of the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.[98] Belgium has not signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. At the same time, the situation in this area is far from perfect. The Association for the Francophonie in Flanders, for example, points out that the Walloons residing in the north of the country are discriminated. In particular, they have limited access to social housing; French-speaking cultural associations cannot apply for funds from the region, document flow at the level of local authorities in the vast majority of communes is in Dutch, which contravenes constitutional provisions on linguistic freedom.

For its part, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has criticized the fact that there is no independent body with any competence on questions relating to discrimination on the ground of language despite the fact that the establishment of such a body is provided for by the relevant legislation.[99]

EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report of 2022 contains the results of a discrimination-testing study carried out in Antwerp in order to examine the level of discriminatory attitudes among local employers. As part of it, researchers sent out 2,880 job applications in response to 1,440 job advertisements. Candidates with a “non-Flemish-sounding” name had 17% less chance of receiving a positive response to their job application than those with a “Flemish-sounding” name, the results showed.[100]

In July 2022, the Belgian government approved a national plan of action to combat racism in accordance with the decisions of the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. The document includes 70 measures aimed at combating racial discrimination in employment, service industry, public administration, asylum, migration, justice, law enforcement and other areas.

In May 2021, however, the Belgian authorities rejected the recommendation contained in UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review to enshrine an explicit ban on racial profiling in national law. However, the existence of this problem has been confirmed by sociological studies on several occasions. In particular, in June 2019, researchers from the University of Antwerp published data showing that police are three times more likely to stop and search persons with ethnic minority backgrounds for identity checks than other citizens. The research finding show that such practice can undermine trust in law enforcement among this group of the population.[101]

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is also concerned that there is a risk of abuse in practice based on a loose interpretation of the term “reasonable grounds”, used in the Police Functions Act, in connection with the powers of police officers to carry out identity checks.[102]

In addition, Belgian legislation still contains no provisions declaring organizations that incite racial discrimination illegal. Nor there are any provisions banning parties that seek to curtail freedoms or de facto organizations that promote racial discrimination.[103]

International human rights bodies are especially concerned over the plight of the Roma national minority. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) noted in March 2020 the shortcomings in the implementation of the national strategy for the integration of Roma people and the absence of specific measures to combat discrimination against members of this community. Experts criticized the increase in forced evictions and the simultaneous absence of relevant aggregated data at the federal level, and the fact that caravans are not adequately protected as a place of residence.[104]

Earlier, the Inter-Federal Centre Unia also expressed its concerns about a large-scale operation “Strike” on May 7, 2019, as part of an investigation into a large car fraud scheme. It involved a raid on parking lots with 90 caravans seized. As a result, the people living there were left homeless. According to representatives of the centre, the measures taken by law enforcement officers were excessive and had a negative impact on families with children, older persons and people with health problems.[105]

In its report on Belgium within the sixth monitoring cycle, ECRI noted a trend toward the increasing marginalization and impoverishment of Travellers. The document also notes the insufficient numbers of transit and long-term sites in the country.[106]

In May 2021, CERD also noted that poverty and social exclusion of Roma people, especially children, remained a pressing problem.[107] In addition, child and/or forced marriages still exist in Roma communities.[108]

There is a high rate of unemployment among members of this group, compared to the rest of the population. There is a low rate of health insurance coverage for Roma. CERD also noted the negative impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the already precarious enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by Roma and Travellers.[109]

As a positive example, however, cities with a strong Roma presence, especially Ghent, Sint-Niklaas, Antwerp and Brussels, have deployed “neighbourhood stewards”. They form a bridge between the Roma population, the city administration and social services. The neighbourhood stewards work closely with a number of schools with a large Roma population.[110]

The issue of wearing headscarves at school in Belgian society is still a source of heated debate. The decision to completely ban them in institutions of higher education has been reversed by the Council of State, which has decided that such a measure should be applied in a selective manner and that it should be justified by the specifics of the institution itself. Nevertheless, according to ECRI, there have been no practical consequences of the verdict: institutions of higher education (whether official, independent, subsidized, confessional or non-confessional) still have internal regulations that prohibit the wearing of religious symbols.

In their most recent report, the Commission’s experts recommended that the authorities ensure that the decisions taken by schools regarding the wearing of religious symbols or clothing at school and in higher education establishments should respect the principle of lawfulness and be free of any form of discrimination.[111]

In turn, the HRCttee criticized the law governing the wearing of full veils in public. The fact that it imposes a fine or imprisonment as a sanction evidences a disproportionate infringement on the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief. In addition, the Committee is concerned about the prohibition against the wearing of religious symbols at work, in certain public bodies and by teachers and students at public schools, which could result in discrimination and the marginalization of certain persons belonging to religious minorities.[112]

Alongside these measures, xenophobic statements in political discourse has also contributed to the deterioration of attitudes towards the Muslim community in Belgium. EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report 2022 documented a case where the president of a political party in Belgium blamed the Muslim community “for the increase in Covid-19 cases in Antwerp”.[113] Annual report 2020 on the work of Unia specifies that it is a case of Tom van Grieken, president of “Flamandsky Interes” (“Vlaams Belang”).[114]

People of African descent are affected by racial discrimination in employment, education and housing. For example, they have high levels of unemployment and employment in lower status jobs. Black people are not sufficiently represented in public administration, the media, cultural settings, the scientific community and academia.[115]

The arrest of a Congolese migrant woman in Liège in March 2021 sparked another wave of public discontent and resulted in a demonstration in defense of people of African descent under the slogan “Black Lives Matter. The woman accused the police of racism and violence. A spontaneous protest that began peacefully ended in clashes with the police.[116]

Earlier that year, a similar incident took place in January in Brussels, where riots broke out after a 23-year-old man of Guinean origin died in a police station. He was arrested after he refused to provide the officers with documents and tried to run away. At the station, he felt unwell, lost consciousness and died.[117]

On April 11-12, 2020, the migrant district of Brussels, Andrélecht, also saw mass demonstrations. This was sparked by the death of a young man who was hit by a car while trying to escape from a police patrol. Clashes with the police culminated in the use of water cannons and mass arrests.

In 2021, CERD expressed concern about reported cases of deaths of migrants, asylum-seekers and persons belonging to ethnic minorities at the hands of law enforcement officials. It is pointed out that such practice is gaining momentum in the context of monitoring compliance with self-isolation measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is noteworthy that cases of racially motivated police violence are treated as isolated problems and are not dealt with in a consistent and systematic way in order to confront a situation that suggests the presence of a structural discrimination challenge (according to CERD experts).[118]

In the wake of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, a special parliamentary commission on the colonial past was established in Belgium in 2020. In December 2022, after two and a half years of studying how the metropolis had treated its three colonies (today’s Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi) and preparing 128 recommendations to the Chamber of Deputies, the experts were forced to stop their work. The failure was caused by the lack of consensus on the wording expressing the attitude of official Belgium to its own actions in the past: while socialists and environmentalists felt that Brussels should “apologize” for them, liberals advocated expressing “deepest regret”, following suit of King Philip of Belgium. Due to the absence of agreement on this issue, the outcome of the commission’s work was never put to a vote, nor the developed recommendations submitted to Parliament.[119]

There has been an increase in manifestations of anti-Semitism. Most cases are reported in Brussels and Antwerp. The most frequent are insults of Jews in public places, vandalism (exposing of the swastika, nationalist stickers on buildings of the Jewish Museum and the Documentation Centre on the Holocaust and Human Rights), written and verbal threats, and anti-Semitic rhetoric on the Internet. In 2018, Belgium saw at least one judicial sentence for denying the Holocaust.

In March 2019, the high-profile crime against members of the Jewish community in Belgium was closed (the attack committed on 24 May 2014 at the Jewish Museum in Brussels resulted in four deaths; the crime gave rise, in Belgium and throughout Europe, to a wave of emotion and indignation and a movement of sympathy towards the Jewish community in Belgium). The perpetrator was sentenced by the Assize Court of Brussels to life imprisonment. The judgment also established the anti-Semitic nature of the attack.[120]

CERD also pointed to the numerous racist hate crimes reported since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting people of Asian origin in particular. There has been an increase in the use of hate speech, particularly anti-Semitic and Islamophobic speech, and the increasingly aggressive language on the Internet and social networks, including against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.[121]

The system to collect data on hate speech and hate crimes fails to identify which are anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, anti-Gypsy, Afrophobic or hateful towards persons of Asian origin. It also does not give a sufficiently reliable picture of the specific problems affecting different groups of victims.[122]

Migration crisis consequences are deeply felt. The primary grievance of human rights defenders to the Belgian authorities in this area is the inadequate detention conditions for asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and their families. Often potential refugees have to be housed on the street.

The Belgian government’s unsatisfactory migration policy has also been the subject of harsh criticism at the national level. In December 2022, deputies and supporters of the opposition party, “Les Engagés”, held a rally in front of the headquarters of the ruling party, “Open VLD”: they stayed outside all night, having previously pitched a tent like migrants. This was triggered by the lack of progress in resolving the issue of accommodation for asylum-seekers (estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000), while temperatures outside had dropped below freezing.[123] The number of children among those without enough warm housing, according to “Anadolu” agency, was at least 21.[124]

On top of that, the arrival of refugees from Ukraine in 2022 only exacerbated the already unfavourable circumstances of migrants of African and Asian origin. The accelerated procedure for granting Ukrainians residence permits, work permits, housing and access to the social security system delayed the resolution of all these issues for all those in need of other nationalities.[125]

At the same time, the clandestine business of trafficking migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe is establishing transit channels through Ukrainian territory. For example, Dries Van Langenhove, a representative of far-right party “Flamandsky Interes”, pointed out that one in three of all asylum seekers claiming to come from Ukraine had nothing to do with it.

The capacity to receive migrants remains limited. The vast majority of accommodation centres are already fully occupied or overcrowded.[126] According to experts, this is caused by the lack of funding for the relevant services and a shortage of trained personnel.

On February 25, 2021, the Constitutional Court of Belgium accepted the practice of detaining applicants for international protection, considering it necessary for effective border control.[127]

The latter was criticized by CESCR in March 2020. The Committee noted with particular concern the return to imprisonment of migrant families, pregnant women and children.[128]

For persons who are staying in the country without proper legal justification and have suffered a criminal offense, reporting to a police station may result in arrest for immigration control purposes. This state of affairs is contrary to the principle of prohibiting the criminalization of victims of crime.[129] The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted in November 2022 the serious obstacles to access to justice faced by victims of gender-based violence for fear of being deported.[130] CERD and CESCR add that the risk of deportation has an adverse impact on the exercise of certain basic rights, such as the rights to education, health care and housing. Migrants in an irregular situation must follow complex, variable and costly bureaucratic procedures even in order to obtain emergency medical care.[131]

According to one of ECRI recommendations of 2019 subject to interim follow-up, the Belgian authorities were to ensure that no public or private service provider is required to report to migration control authorities any persons it suspects of being irregularly present for the purposes of immigration control and enforcement. This applies in particular to providers in the areas of labour protection and justice, the aim being to prevent any obstacles to the effective enjoyment by unlawfully resident workers of their right to recover back pay owed by their employers and to have full access to complaint mechanisms. The Commission’s experts, however, had to note in September 2022 that no action had been taken in that direction by the government.[132]

The Committee against Torture (CAT) noted with concern in August 2021 the vague provisions in Belgian law regarding the possibility of refusing refugee status or subsidiary protection if the requesting person was a threat to national security.

Lengthy periods of stay in the country without an opportunity to legalize their status, pushes migrants into desperate acts. In 2021, about a thousand people, some of whom had not been able to obtain official documents in Belgium for over 10 years, went on hunger strike in a church in the centre of Brussels. Some of the migrants sewed their mouths shut, others attempted suicide. Under public pressure, the country’s authorities announced that consideration of requests for documents will be expedited “for humanitarian reasons” and “for medical purposes”.[133]

“Punitive” measures taken by the authorities against those sympathetic to migrants or refugees raise concerns. For example, two journalists, a social worker, and a fourth person faced trial because they had given shelter or otherwise supported migrants.[134]

There are reported cases of minors being placed in closed centres by Belgian authorities. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) pointed out in January 2019 that unaccompanied children are housed in adult asylum-seeker centres. It also noted that the incidence of disappearances among unaccompanied children transiting Belgium is high.[135]

FRA report 2022 states that several children were detained in closed centres for a long period of time to determine their age. Owing to delays in the age assessments resulting from compulsory Covid-19 quarantine, two were recognized as children after 20 days in closed detention centres.[136]

CERD refers to reports that non-citizens are overrepresented in the prison system in Belgium. However, there is no reliable data on the national or ethnic origin of the persons concerned, particularly with regard to the length of their imprisonment.[137]

Migration issues were one of the key themes of the 2018-2019 election campaign. A noteworthy aspect is a wave of conservatory rhetoric from representatives of right-wing parties and nationalist movements, not always in line with Belgian international obligations. Thus, for example, proposals were made on the immediate removal of all illegal migrants, on “clearance” of parks and railway stations, on granting migrants a “special status” that would allow them access to social welfare only after several years of stay in the country. Belgian human rights defenders criticized the discriminatory police instruction that appeared just prior to elections, calling on school administration to supply to the law enforcement authorities the records on “troubled” teens from migrant environment.

According to ECRI, the integration policy of the Belgian authorities also remains incomplete. By focusing on the acquisition by immigrants of certain skills, particularly language skills, and familiarization with the way of life of the host society, it does not encourage the development of cultural diversity among the population at large, nor does it seek to overcome existing discriminatory practices against migrants.[138]

The situation in the protection of the rights of the child is also far from being optimistic. The lack of access by the French-speaking minority to French-language education in the Brussels-Capital region; the risk of school dropout caused by the ban on wearing religious symbols in public educational establishments; irregular attendance at nursery school and regional and socioeconomic disparities; the lack of data on Roma children, including to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures taken to facilitate their access to education; the de facto segregation of children based on their social background and the difficulties faced in schools by children with disabilities[139] – this is by no means an exhaustive list of issues of concern to the monitoring bodies.

Thus, CRC pointed to the growing trend of radicalization of children and incitement to hatred. Instances of bullying and violence in schools, not only by students but also by teachers, are still widespread in the country. Prejudice and discrimination make it difficult for migrant minors to receive education.[140]

The health of children in Belgium is gradually deteriorating. CRC experts note that more and more children are exposed to stress, and the problem of suicide among minors is gaining more and more momentum. In this connection, it is pointed out that timely primary psychological aid, which is more effective in the initial stages of psychological problems, rather than common medical therapy and placement into psychiatric institutions, is insufficient.[141]

In addition, CRC noted that data on cases of child abuse, domestic violence, are underreported or under-recorded by the authorities, and also drew attention to the problem of sexual harassment in public places.[142]

For its part, CESCR reported concern about the number of children born to Belgian nationals who were still in conflict zones and about their conditions there, in the absence of a clear and fair established procedure for the repatriation of all such children, with respect for the principle of the best interests of the child.[143]

National and international human rights defenders express the opinion that Belgian authorities often go too far in their counter-terrorist activity, using issues of fighting terrorism and ensuring security as reasons for limiting freedom of expression and interference in privacy. In particular, there is criticism of the legislative practice of massive supplying by employees of social organizations of personal information about their supervisees to the law enforcement authorities. Data transfer is organized through the “Departments of integrated safety on the local level” created in every Belgian commune. These organizations, bringing together police officers, representatives of district administrations and social assistants, systemize, in particular, information on radicalized elements registered in the district. Human rights defenders insist that such a system might imply violations of Article 23 of the Belgian Constitution, which guarantees equal rights to social protection, access to health care and legal aid.

Since September 2017, social assistants have been obliged to report to the police about any suspicions concerning the relations of their clients with terrorists. But in March 2019 the Constitutional Court cancelled this norm as violating the right to privacy.

In 2019, the HRCttee criticized the lack of legal safeguards regarding data collection and processing procedures to prevent and combat terrorism and violent extremism, as well as the provisions of the Code of Belgian Nationality and the Consular Code allowing the deprivation of nationality of a person posing a serious threat to public order or security.

CAT noted with concern the introduction of new methods of investigating terrorism-related crimes, in particular the possibility of conducting round-the-clock searches and infiltration of civilians for undercover work. This also includes the use of the vaguely defined notion of “radicalization” in order to a) prevent terrorist threats through emergency measures and b) subject so-called “radicalized” prisoners to special security measures or place them in “D‑Rad:Ex” (“deradicalization”) units with significant restrictions, no respect for the adversarial principle and the possibility of reviewing the decision.

In July 2021, an international journalistic investigation called “Pegasus Project” revealed that spyware developed by the Israeli NSO Group had been used to spy on Belgian citizens, activists and senior politicians.

The problem of systematic unlawful use by police officers of official databases for personal purposes also remains unresolved.

There have been frequent cases of abuse of power and use of excessive force by law enforcement officials, including when dispersing demonstrations and protests. For example, law-enforcement officers used special means, including water cannons and tear gas, against those protesting about coronavirus restrictions.[144] According to local media reports, one demonstrator blacked out during the unrest after being hit by a water cannon truck.[145]

HRCttee notes, in turn, the disparity between the number of complaints alleging ill-treatment by police officers filed with the Standing Committee for Police Monitoring and the number of judicial inquiries conducted by the Police Investigation Service for such acts and of convictions and disciplinary penalties handed down. In addition, experts also have persistent misgivings regarding the independence of the Standing Committee.[146]

One of the most acute problems of the Belgian justice system is the overcrowding of prisons. The sharpest criticism from independent experts is levelled primarily at prison overcrowding. For example, HRCttee pointed to this problem in 2019.[147]

According to the statistics published annually by the Council of Europe, Belgium regularly finds itself among the countries with the highest prison occupancy rates in Western Europe. In 2022, there were 108 prisoners per 100 prison places. In December 2021, the Antwerp prison with a capacity of 439 places held 748 inmates.

International experts in their reports draw the attention of official authorities to the insufficiency of alternatives to deprivation of liberty.[148] However, it should be noted that from the early 2000s the federal government has been trying to reduce the number of inmates. Under the current Cabinet of Charles Michel the goal was set to the Ministry of Justice to reduce the rate of persons serving sentences to 10,000. Attempts have been made to decrease this number by preventing offenses, rendering lesser sentences for low-level crimes (replacing imprisonment by house arrest with mandatory wearing of an electronic bracelet or by corrective labor). In November 2018, the Belgian minister of Justice, Koen Geens, declared that the goal was achieved and there were less than 10,000 persons detained in the prisons of Belgium. But, as of January 2019, this rate surpassed the established level again and amounted to 10,305 persons.

Another important problem of the penitentiary system in Belgium is the prohibition of carrying firearms for prison staff. Personnel are authorized to carry as equipment only batons, more rarely electric stunning devices, and radio sets. There is a special outfit in case of a prison riot, consisting of a protective suit and a shield. Usually, in the event of an emergency prison staff is charged to block all the exits and to wait for the armed police. All this leads to reduced safety levels in penitentiary facilities, increasing chances for inmates to escape. An illustrative case was reported from the prison near Ostend, when the accomplices of an inmate rented a helicopter in a private firm, flew in it to the prison and took him away directly from the exercise yard. Due to the lack of any defense means, security personnel were unable to act.

As demonstrated by the studies, most prison staff suffer from chronic diseases due to permanent stress, including neurotic disorders and, as a result, overweight. Strikes of prison staff requiring better working conditions are frequent in the Kingdom. In this regard, international monitoring bodies continue to point out to the authorities that such staff strikes have a very negative impact on the situation of prisoners.[149]

Other problems highlighted by experts include lack of access to health care and services for persons deprived of liberty and, at the same time, the use of overmedication in penitentiary facilities, the detention of persons with mental disorders in psychiatric wards of prisons, where the care is insufficient and appropriate treatment is lacking and high suicide rates in detention.[150]

There was a high-profile case of a Tunisian, N.Trabelsi,[151] whose extradition to the US was ruled illegal by the Brussels Court of Appeal on September 12, 2022. The Court found that the decision by the Belgian Ministry of Justice had violated the statutory principle non bis in idem. The victim is entitled to a payment of 10,000 euros for each year spent in a US prison (the total is close to 100,000 euros). The authorities have been instructed to advise Belgian participants in the US trial to refrain from testifying because they would otherwise facilitate the violation of the defendant’s rights. In addition, according to the Court’s appeal decision, the US Department of State must be requested to return N.Trabelsi to Belgium. The media have been drawing attention to the inhumane conditions of Trabelsi’s detention – in a soundproofed, 24‑hour lighted cell with practically no contact with his family. As a result of his prolonged detention in such conditions, he has developed numerous chronic illnesses.

CERD has criticized the persistence of trafficking in persons and the significant increase, in recent years, in the number of cases that have been closed without referral to the prosecutor’s office. There is a lack of both financial and human resources to effectively combat this phenomenon, including for the detection of specific cases and the protection of victims.[152]

A scandalous case generated wide coverage in Belgian media in July 2022 when over 150 people, mainly Filipinos and Bangladeshis, were used as forced labourers during the construction of the Borealis factory in Antwerp.

International monitoring bodies have also identified a number of problems in protecting the right of Belgian citizens to work. Thus, according to the HRCttee, the country has a very low employment rate for persons with disabilities in the private sector, the unemployment and underemployment of young people and people over 55 years of age. In addition, experts are concerned about: the termination of measures to promote employment for persons over 50 years of age; the disproportionate gap in the unemployment rate between different employment categories, according to the level of skill; and the lack of legal recognition for the right to strike.[153]

In addition, the CESCR identifies discrimination against women in the economic and social spheres as a concern, especially the persistent wage gap between men and women and the obstacles faced by women in gaining access to decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. There are also difficulties encountered by women, especially women with children, in accessing stable employment.[154]

According to a high-profile survey carried out by the University of Ghent in June 2022, 81 per cent of women and girls aged between 16 and 69 had experienced sexual violence in Belgium.

The number of victims admitted to the three centres specialized in the reception of victims of sexual violence decreased during the first lockdown (March and April 2020). According to a research conducted in February 2021, that was a decrease of 50 per cent compared with the same period in 2018 and 2019. The lockdown therefore was an obstacle to the provision of support services for victims.[155]

The international human rights community has expressed some concern about the situation of the independent work of the media in Belgium. According to “Reporters without Borders”, Belgium is ranked 23rd in the press freedom index for 2022 (in 2021 it was 11th).

Since the start of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, Belgium has witnessed an increase in unfriendly attitudes towards citizens and natives of Russia. Some private entrepreneurs, for example, refuse to cooperate with Russian legal entities and individuals with no explanation. There have been cases when businesses used self-imposed restrictions on contacts with Russians for fear of being sanctioned.

Belgian authorities have suspended the issuance of tourist visas to Russian citizens.

Governments of certain Belgian regions also undertake discriminatory actions against Russian citizens. For example, such a decision was taken by the Flemish Government which closed the possibility for Russian applicants to participate in the Mastermind student exchange programme, which provides subsidies (up to 8,400 euros per academic year) to foreign undergraduate graduates who wish to upgrade their skills at master’s level at Flemish universities. However, young people who are already in Flanders may continue their education. But the respective bodies will not consider new scholarship applications “until the end of the armed hostilities in Ukraine”. This was announced by Minister of Education of Flanders, B.Veits, in his Twitter account.

Before February 2022, cases of discrimination against Russian compatriots were few, but no less xenophobic. The case of discrimination against the Russian citizen E.Tynyanskaya, a former citizen of Ukraine, seems unprecedented. E.Tynyanskaya, a native of the city of Sevastopol, had lived in Belgium since 2007. After recognition as a Russian citizen and obtaining a foreign passport as a Russian citizen in 2015, E.Tynyanskaya was deported.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a number of flaws in the Belgian human rights record. The most vulnerable to the new disease have been older persons, who have often been denied medical care and institutionalization because they are less likely to recover. The guidelines issued by the Belgian Society for Gerontology and Geriatrics were subsequently amended to make it clear that patients should not be refused hospital admission on the grounds of their age.

Studies confirm that only about 19 per cent of people over 65 have been tested for COVID-19, while the figure for other age groups is about 24 per cent. In addition, older persons have difficulty in accessing medical advice. Only 13 per cent of people in this age group have been able to do so, compared to
28 to 29 per cent of those aged 25-44.

In such a situation, nursing homes accounted for 53 per cent of all deaths due to coronavirus. Following the publication of this data, the official Brussels stated that the statistics included all suspicious deaths and that COVID‑19 was actually confirmed in only 10 per cent of cases.

The pandemic has also put people with disabilities in a difficult situation. Physical distancing and other hygiene requirements, in particular, eventually affected the speed of school buses, so that children with disabilities had to spend up to five hours in them every day. The Flemish government is to be commended for having allocated two million euros to fund extra buses. In addition, the authorities in the same region temporarily granted a 25.5 per cent increase in benefits for people with disabilities. This measure was aimed at compensating additional costs incurred when care facilities were unavailable.[156]

At the end of March 2021, the Brussels Court of First Instance issued a decision obliging the Belgian State to lift the emergency measures taken in the face of the pandemic within 30 days. The Human Rights League had previously filed a lawsuit to challenge the extension of these measures until 1 April 2021 by a direct ministerial decree without sufficient legal justification. In support of its verdict, the court referred to Article 159 of the Belgian Constitution, according to which courts and tribunals apply rules only if they are consistent with the law. In its view, however, the suspension of classes in schools, restrictions on public and private gatherings, the closing of a number of institutions, and other similar steps taken by the government, and not by the country’s legislature, are not consistent with the law on emergency situations with “requisitions or evacuation measure” invoked by the official authorities.[157]

 

Bulgaria

In the Republic of Bulgaria, human rights issues are under the competence of the Ombudsman as well as specialized state bodies, such as the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, the Personal Data Protection Commission, the National Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men with the Council of Ministers, the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues with the Council of Ministers, the Permanent Commission for Human Rights and Police Ethics with the Ministry of Interior, the State Agency for Child Protection, etc. The National Coordination Mechanism for Human Rights has been in place since 2013 to improve cooperation between public bodies and independent institutions. Draft legislation affecting these topics goes through the parliamentary Commission on Religions and Human Rights.

Despite the well-developed institutional network of authorized bodies, Bulgaria has not made significant progress in the field of human rights. The country continues to show weak improvement in most key indicators in this area. According to many of them, it still ranks last among EU countries. The steps taken by the authorities in this regard are often formal or fragmented. The coronavirus pandemic has also had an impact on the human rights record. Measures that had initially targeted the spread of COVID-19 ended up having an additional negative impact on the most vulnerable segments of society.

Ensuring independence and reform of the judiciary was one of the declared priorities of the Bulgarian policy in the reporting period. More than ten relevant draft laws were submitted to the National Assembly of the 44th‑46th convocations. As a result, the Witness Protection Bureau was removed from the jurisdiction of the Chief Prosecutor and placed under the control of the Ministry of Justice.

In July 2022, the European Commission published yet another report on the rule of law in EU countries. The part on Bulgaria highlights problems related to the functioning and composition of the Supreme Judicial Council. These include the absence of regular competition for the promotion of magistrates, combined with an extensive use of secondments, risks to affect the independence of this branch of government. Challenges remain in the area of digitalization of justice.

With regard to the fight against corruption, the European Commission pointed out that a number of sector-specific corruption risks such as management of budget funds and control activities, including procurement were identified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lobbying and protection of whistle-blowers are still not properly regulated.[158]

After six months in office,[159] K.Petkov’s government failed to come close to achieving the goals stated in the election campaign and enshrined in the coalition agreement, i.e. limiting the powers and dismissal of Chief Prosecutor of Bulgaria, I.Geshev; and making changes in the work of the Commission for counteracting corruption and for seizure of illegally acquired property. The only tangible outcome was the decision to close the Specialized Court and Prosecutor’s Office (April 2022), whose main task was to fight corruption in the higher echelons of government.

Several nationalist and frankly neo-Nazi structures are active in Bulgaria propagating racial hatred, ideas of national socialism and intolerance to national minorities living in the Bulgarian territory.[160] Cases of glorification of Nazis and their accomplices are reported. For example, since 2003 Sofia has been hosting the Lukov March, an annual neo-Nazi torchlight procession in memory of H.Lukov, a Bulgarian World War II Nazi figure and leader of the extremist nationalist organization, Union of the Bulgarian National Legions, which supported the alliance with the Nazis. Participants in the march wear military uniforms, nationalist symbols, and slogans with relevant content.[161]

Despite repeated attempts by the capital’s administration to ban the Lukov March, Bulgarian courts have generally sided with the nationalists, invoking the provisions of the Law of the Republic of Bulgaria on Assemblies, Rallies and Manifestations. In 2021, the mayor of Sofia, Y.Fandakova, issued an order banning the torchlight procession in the centre of the capital on February 13, 2021, which was approved by the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria. However, those wishing to “honour the memory” of the collaborator were allowed to gather at the site of H.Lukov’s death. In 2022, the prohibition of this gathering by the mayor’s office was again overturned by the courts. As a result, the neo-Nazi march, which de facto put Bulgaria on a par with the Baltic States, took place in central Sofia on February 12, 2022.

International monitoring institutions have expressed their concern over the reports on the increased number of cases related to the use of hate speech and hate crimes, especially against the Turks, Roma, Muslims, Jews, people of African descent, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. This was noted, for example, by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination after consideration of the combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic reports of Bulgaria in May 2017[162] and by the Human Rights Committee during the overview of the fourth periodic report of Bulgaria in October 2018.[163]

According to the information submitted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2022, the Bulgarian legal framework does not ensure that racist and xenophobic motivations are considered an aggravating factor in all crimes.[164]

Hate speech against ethnic minorities living in the country is used mainly at the domestic level, isolated instances of hate speech, mainly anti-Semitic language, have been recorded during election campaigns.[165]

Experts point to insufficient efforts by the authorities to integrate the Roma minority. In 2019, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) stated that its members continued to face discrimination in the fields of employment, housing, health care and education, and that such discrimination was being exacerbated by a rise in anti-Roma sentiment.[166]

Widespread stigmatization of and discrimination against Roma, including children, was also pointed out by the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC).[167] This state of affairs, according to experts, leads to violence and hate speech against them.

Biased attitudes towards this group were clearly evident during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Disproportionate restrictions affecting Roma communities were reported during the first wave of the pandemic.[168] With this in mind, the Bulgarian government adopted in 2021 a new version of the National Strategy for Equality and Integration of Roma for 2021-2030, aimed at solving a number of “chronic problems” of this ethnic group.

According to experts with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDW), Roma girls find themselves in a particularly vulnerable position. They often fall victim to the persistent practice of forced marriages, despite the existence of legislation prohibiting marriage for persons under 16 years of age.[169]

ACFC also concluded that, as regards the right of national minorities to participation in public affairs, the situation had unfortunately deteriorated during the monitoring period. Many organizations working with Roma as well as organizations representing the Turkish minority either left the National Council or not reapplied to be a member of it, expressing their discontent with its work.[170]

The fact that persons belonging to national minorities have not been granted the right to use their native language when interacting with the executive authorities should be noted with a negative appraisal. Moreover, no measures have been taken to assess the demand for its use in such situations.

There are reported difficulties in the functioning of religious structures. It is alleged, for example, that spiritual leaders of Islam feel disadvantaged. Initiatives to build religious schools in order to educate children about Islam and to publish Muslim literature are ignored at the local level. Amendments to the Religious Denominations Act have significantly limited the sources of foreign funding for religious organizations. Another approved regulation prohibits wearing in public places all kinds of “thick or semi-transparent fabric that covers or conceals the face”, including scarves, masks, and other parts of clothing. An exception is made only for those who cover their faces due to their profession or health problems. Everyone else is allowed to wear burqa and niqab only in religious institutions and at home.

There have also been cases of vandalism in places of worship. Investigations into such cases rarely lead to the identification and prosecution of those responsible.

ACFC also noted that traditional local topographical indications in Bulgaria were not displayed in minority languages. Furthermore, in 2018, the Stara Zagora local council decided to replace local toponyms of Turkish-Arab origin with Bulgarian translations or neologisms. These facts, according to experts, show that there continues to be a lack of appreciation for the significant symbolic value that such names have for the population as affirmation of the long-standing presence of national minorities as a valued part of society in a particular territory.[171]

At the same time, in 2019, aids for teaching Turkish as a mother tongue in grades 1‑7 were introduced in schools in Bulgaria. Work to produce materials for the mother-tongue teaching of Armenian, Hebrew and Romani is underway. As regards the media, some news bulletins are published with the support of the National Council for Co-operation on Ethnic and Integration Issues in minority languages. Bulgarian National Television continues to broadcast daily ten‑minute news programmes in Turkish. In 2015, the first national Roma television channel in Bulgaria was launched.[172]

The authorities refuse to enter into a dialogue with persons who continue to request recognition as a national minority. The same applies to persons identifying as Pomaks. A 2019 judgment by the Sofia Court of Appeal confirmed once again the position maintained by Bulgaria for 20 years now that there is no “Macedonian ethnos” in its territory.[173]

At the same time, parties and NGOs defending the interests of the Turkish and Roma population operate freely in the country.

There have been cases of detention of Russian citizens in Bulgaria. A high-profile case was that of S.Zonenko and his family members (October 2021) suspected of passing on secret information to the “Arsenal” arms factory in Kazanlak. The Russian scientist and his relatives were released on bail in December 2021.

A Russian citizen (who also has Bulgarian citizenship) was arrested in Sofia in March 2021 as part of a group of Bulgarian citizens accused of intelligence activities in favour of the Russian Federation. She was released from custody on bail of 1,000 euros by the Sofia Military Court of Appeal on March 22, 2022.

In June 2022, Interpol-wanted computer programmer, D.Emeljantsev (Kloster), was detained in the city of Bansko on charges of interfering in the US presidential election. On September 19, a Bulgarian court authorized his extradition to the US. The man himself did not object to the extradition and expressed his readiness to prove his innocence in the face of US justice.

A significant decrease in migration flows has not resolved the problem concerning the adaptation of illegal migrants who had previously moved to Bulgaria. Living and sanitary conditions in specialized migrant camps are poor and, generally, do not meet European requirements. Refugee minors, especially unaccompanied children, appear to be the most vulnerable due to these circumstances. In August 2021, Bulgaria’s Human Rights Ombudsman, D.Kovacheva, reported overcrowding in an area designated for children at the reception centre in the capital’s district of Voenna Rampa, i.e. 221 people within an area designed for 100 children. Moreover, 75 children were housed in the sports hall in unsatisfactory conditions and with access to only two bathrooms and two toilets.[174]

Report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus “The most high-profile cases of human rights violations in certain countries of the world” provides statistics, according to which by the end of 2021 there were more than 1.1 thousand such cases recorded, which affected at least 13,000 people.[175]

D.Kovacheva generally notes in her reports the degradation of the situation with regard to children’s rights. It mainly occurs during family conflicts and in the framework of activities of guardianship authorities. There have been acts of violence and unacceptable practices in child-rearing in kindergartens and nurseries. There is an increase in attempted child molestation with the use of social networks. During the consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Bulgaria in June 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child pointed also to discrimination concerning access to education and health care against children from ethnic minorities, primarily Roma, as well as children with disabilities, asylum-seekers, and children living in remote areas.[176] The statistics on physical abuse of children are alarming.

Attempts to limit the spread of coronavirus infection have had a negative impact on Bulgarians’ access to secondary education: local schools were fully or partially closed for a total of 47 weeks during the pandemic period (from January 2020 to December 2021).

There has been little progress in ensuring freedom of the media. In the Reporters Without Borders ranking in 2022 Bulgaria slipped one position down to 112th place. This is the worst result among the EU member states. The organization concludes that politically biased members of the Council for Electronic Media (which de jure should constitute an independent specialized body) exert a markedly negative impact on the editorial policy of the “fourth estate”. Most major publications remain under the control of a small group of oligarchs. Independent journalists, including those investigating criminal and corruption schemes, often receive threats.

Amid the special military operation to demilitarize and denationalize Ukraine launched by the Russian Federation, Russian media outlets have been targeted as well. Their coverage of events from a viewpoint that is different from the Russophobic stance of the official authorities, prompted the Bulgarian State Council for Electronic Media to decide on March 1, 2022 to suspend the broadcasting activities of Russia Today TV channel, Sputnik news agency, as well as related resources. They were technically blocked the same day.

Human rights activists report domestic and sexual violence against women. However, sexual violence committed within marriage continues to be outside the law, and the percentage of victims seeking help is one of the lowest in Europe. According to the Bulgarian Center for the Study of Democracy, official statistics do not include about 70‑80 per cent of cases of violence, while one in four women in Bulgaria becomes a victim of such a crime. In addition, there is a growing trend of severe cases of domestic violence, as well as an increasing number of violent acts against older persons and children.

According to the Protection from Domestic Violence Act, Bulgaria is obliged to create conditions for the implementation of programmes to prevent and protect against domestic violence and programmes to assist victims of domestic violence. In practice, most of this work is done by NGOs.

As CEDAW pointed out in its Concluding Observations, Bulgaria is a source and destination country for trafficking in women and girls for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour. At the same time, there are practically no protection and support services for victims of this crime in the country.[177]

CEDAW drew attention to the increasing occurrence of hate speech and sexism in the media, in particular in online social media. Misogynistic statements are also voiced by high-ranking politicians.[178]

The problem relating to lower participation of women in the labour market, the persistence of horizontal and vertical occupational segregation between men and women, and the pay gap are also mentioned. This was noted by CEDAW[179] and CESCR.[180]

The situation of persons with disabilities remains complicated. Discrimination against people with disabilities in exercising their right to education or employment is not uncommon. Necessary elements of infrastructure are absent in the majority of cities. The government is ready to pay social workers only 200 lev (which is about 100 euros) per month for an eight-hour work day. Such salaries discourage those potentially willing to ease the lives of people with disabilities.

Experts of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) carried out an ad hoc visit to Bulgaria in October 2021. It resulted in the publication of a report which noted a lack of progress in the practical implementation of safeguards against ill-treatment, such as the right to notify a third party of detention by law enforcement authorities, the right to legal and medical assistance and the right to be informed of the above.

Violence among inmates was identified as the main problem of penitentiary institutions. The material conditions in a number of prisons were described by experts as poor and even unacceptable. Shortage of staff in general and medical staff in particular was noted, as well as interruptions in the supply of medication and difficult access to psychiatric care.

The practice of isolating patients and using mechanical and chemical restraints continues. Experts in Kardzhali received evidence of patients being left in isolation rooms strapped to beds for more than 48 hours, with their hands secured over their heads, which had caused their limbs to ache, swell and lose sensitivity. Such treatment should, according to the report, be qualified as ill-treatment.

The CPT notes that this situation has been caused in no small measure by extremely low staffing levels in these institutions, which do not allow for adequate care and treatment to be provided. At the same time, the report indicates that a number of legally competent patients, who had signed consent to hospitalization, were nevertheless not truly consenting to their hospitalization. Such people frequently want to leave but are not allowed to do so, and are thus de facto detained.[181] The chronic nature of these problems is evidenced by the fact that even earlier, in March 2020, CEDAW also expressed its concern over cases of death, abuse and ill-treatment in psychiatric and mental health institutions and social protection centres.[182]

The country also has a number of controversial laws from a human rights perspective, such as the law “On Combating Terrorism”. The law grants the military and security agencies extremely broad powers during anti-terrorist operations. These include, inter alia, the right to enter any residential or non-residential premises; to forcibly evict citizens from the operation area; to use any vehicle for their purposes (except vehicles with special status); to suspend the activities of educational institutions, private security companies, production of chemical, explosive and other dangerous substances).

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

There were no major developments recorded in the human rights situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) between 2021 and the first half of 2022. The legal framework that was established in the aftermath of the 1992 – 1995 armed conflict is still deficient. The country’s population continues to face challenges related to the ethnic differentiation in society and persistent social and economic difficulties.

The implementation of a number of constitutional provisions of BiH (Annex 4 of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Dayton Agreement), as well as human rights laws developed and adopted on its basis, faces certain difficulties. These are due to both the continuing deep discord between the three constitutive peoples of the country (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) and the specifics of activities in BiH by international presences.

This problem was pointed out by the UN human rights treaty. For instance, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) following its consideration of the combined twelfth and thirteenth periodic reports of BiH in August 2018, noted that more than 20 years after the end of the war and the Dayton Peace Agreement, ethnic tensions and schisms persist in the country, impeding legal, institutional and policy progress towards greater societal integration and reconciliation.[183]

One of the main features of BiH is the existence to this day of an external protectorate in the form of the Office of the High Representative (OHR),[184] whose activities are completely contrary to the principles of the rule of law. The acts of the High Representative constitute essentially unilateral decisions of a foreign citizen, which have supremacy over laws and cannot be appealed against, including in court. For example, in response to the refusal of Bosnian Serbs to accept the validity of “genocide” verdicts returned by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), including in view of attempts to use them to promote the idea of “collective responsibility” of Serbs, the High Representative, bypassing parliamentary procedure, amended in July 2021 the Criminal Code to criminalize “genocide denial”,[185] essentially allowing for the prosecution of Serb activists.

At the same time, the current so-called “High Representative” C.Schmidt (FRG), positioning himself as the voice of the international community, does not have the necessary international legal legitimacy and is a de facto usurper of the position. His candidacy was not duly agreed by the constituent peoples of BiH and all members of the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (Russia was against it). The necessary procedure for its approval by the UN Security Council was not followed either – the relevant Russian-Chinese draft resolution was not adopted when the Council voted on July 22, 2021. Despite this, C.Schmidt “took office” on August 2, 2021 in contravention of all norms. Throughout 2022 he repeatedly interfered with BiH’s law and practice,[186] contributing to a climate of general legal chaos,[187] lawlessness and insecurity.[188]

A serious danger is the line supported by the collective West to revise the fundamental tenets of the Dayton Peace Agreement regarding the rights of the constituent peoples of BiH in favour of centralization and unitarization of the country. In these circumstances, the Serbian people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are struggling to defend their constitutionally guaranteed rights and the constitutional powers of Republika Srpska. There is an ongoing struggle of the Croatian people living in BiH for equal representation in government bodies.

CERD expressed its concern regarding the limited representation of ethnic minorities in decision-making bodies and public positions at entity and local government levels.[189]

International monitoring mechanisms have expressed concern that hate speech and statements are used in public discourse, both by public and political figures and in the media, including the Internet. This takes the form of nationalistic and ethno-religious discourse against returnees, anti-Semitism, intolerance and attacks against Roma. Only a small number of hate crimes have been effectively prosecuted. This problem was highlighted, for example, by the Human Rights Committee (HRCttee).[190]

Another category of vulnerable groups in BiH are returnees and displaced persons. They face difficulties in their sustainable reintegration into society, full restitution of their property, and access to the labour market and social benefits.[191]

The UN human rights treaty bodies have observed high rates of locating and identifying persons reported missing during the 1992-1995 armed conflict. However, the work in this area is far from being complete. For instance, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances has noted that the fate and whereabouts of about one third of the 30,000 persons remain unknown. It observed the insufficient budget allocated to the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the lack of sufficient forensic experts to carry out the work in a timely manner.[192] HRCttee also previously pointed to obstacles hampering the integration of returnees and internally displaced persons.[193]

The judicial system is highly politicised, ethnocentric, and characterised by long case processing time.[194] There is prejudice against the Serbian people, who see 70-80 per cent of all war crimes cases from the period of the armed conflict filed against them.[195] However, atrocities committed by other ethnic groups are often dismissed.[196] Depending on which ethnic group is being prosecuted, the Bosnian Muslim-controlled courts arbitrarily apply the law of a particular period (former Yugoslavia or modern BiH) against the defendant, giving Serbs a harsher sentence.[197]

A separate problem is an increasing tendency to apply to all Bosnian Serbs the corpus delicti of the July 1995 genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica established by ICTY verdicts against individual Serbs[198], which is why criminal proceedings against defendants of this nationality are conducted without regard to the statute of limitations for the acts imputed to them.[199]

Residential areas of BiH have a number of streets and educational institutions named after “figures” of modern and contemporary history. In particular, there have been cases of renaming the streets in Mostar, Široki Brijeg and Čapljina (with the majority of the Croatian population) in honour of the leaders of the Ustasa movement – Mile Budak and Jure Francetić, Ante Vokić and Mladen Lorković.

In 2018, the Sarajevo school received widespread media coverage as it was named after Mustafa Busuladžić, the bearer of anti-Semitic and fascist ideas during World War II.

Education remains an area of concern, as ethnic segregation in this field has not yet been addressed. The practice of “two schools under one roof”, where children of different nationalities study not only under different programmes but also on different shifts, is still common in areas of the Muslim-Croatian Federation BiH (FBiH) with a mixed population.

This issue, which undermines reconciliation efforts, was highlighted by many UN human rights treaty bodies – HRCttee in March 2017[200], CERD in August 2018 ((situation in some cantons of Central Bosnia and Herzegovina-Neretva was of particular concern to the committees),[201] the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in September 2019[202] and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in November 2021.[203]

The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) once again pointed out to the national authorities in December 2019 that their efforts in this area are insufficient. ECRI’s representatives took note of the data made available to it about the activities implemented in a number of FBiH cantons related to a common core curriculum for all students. However, these consisted of pilot projects and training activities. ECRI also strongly recommended the removal in all schools of any symbols that represent an ethnic or religious bias.[204]

It is noteworthy, however, that since 2002, there have been no new cases of opening “two schools under one roof,” and there is a trend towards a further reduction in their number.

CRC, however, drew attention to broader educational challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was pointed out, for example, that many schools were not provided with teaching materials and did not have the necessary teaching equipment. In addition, many of them lacked heating and sewage systems. It is among children from marginalized families that school dropout rates are highest. Pre-school attendance rates are low in rural areas, largely due to lack of budgetary means.[205]

Educational problems in BiH are often politicized. A case in point is the controversy over the name and teaching of the Bosniak-Muslim national language in schools of Republika Srpska (RS). The wording used to name the subject in Bosnian-Serbian educational institutions – “the language of the Bosniak people” – is stipulated in the Constitution of the RS and dissatisfies the parents of the students who defend, with substantial political support, the right to study “the Bosnian language”. In other cases, the debate is heated by the choice of the adjective “Bosniak” instead of “Bosnian”, which is also seen by repatriated refugees as an act of infringement of their rights. Such a position has not been so far spread to some of the cantons of BiH itself. In May 2018, the FBiH Constitutional Court changed the spelling of “Bosniak” to “Bosnian” in official documents and formally restored the constitutional rights of Serbs, the Serbian language, and the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.

CESCR experts reported in their concluding observations that the three official languages and two alphabets are not recognized by all cantons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has led to a high incidence of discrimination based on language and disruption of education.[206]

In June 2021-March 2022, there were 113 hate crimes recorded on the territory of BiH, with an absolute majority of them motivated by intolerance towards persons belonging to other ethnic or religious groups. Only a small number of these incidents were publically denounced by the authorities; the number of prosecutions remains low as well. However, the very low number of cases of racial discrimination registered, investigated and brought before both the courts and the Ombudsman in BiH was criticized by CERD experts as early as in 2018.[207]

Human rights organizations note difficulties in ensuring the rights of a large (up to 30,000 persons) Roma community in the country. It remains the most marginalized group in BiH.

This segment of the population remains under-integrated in the educational process. Only 1.5 per cent of Roma children attend preschool institutions, 69 per cent attend primary and only 22.6 per cent attend secondary school.

No effective mechanisms for the social integration of Roma in BiH have yet been found. The freedom of self-determination on the basis of nationality is guaranteed by law, as well as the right to organize and convene meetings to express and protect their cultural, religious, educational, social and economic, as well as economic and political rights, the freedom to use symbols, the right to use their mother tongue, including in social and legal relations in those areas where they constitute more than one third of the population, the right to secondary education in the mother tongue in municipalities where the national minority constitutes more than one third of the population (if it is more than one fifth of the population, education in the mother tongue is allowed as an option). In practice these rights and freedoms are not exercised. If, for example, there are enough children of certain ethnic community to attend school in their mother tongue in a particular locality, then another problem arises – the lack of teachers. Many Roma have to express themselves as Serbs or Bosniaks so that their rights are respected.

The situation of the Roma population in the country, in particular the persistent marginalization of the Roma, obstacles to their integration into society, high levels of unemployment, lack of adequate housing and identity documents, difficulties in accessing health care, as well as low school attendance of Roma children and discriminatory attitudes of teachers towards Roma students, were emphasized by HRCttee in March 2017[208], CERD in August 2018[209] and CRC in September 2019.[210]

In its concluding observations, CESCR noted that not only Roma, but also other ethnic minority groups face such problems. These include the persistent and rampant stigmatization, heightened hate speech and hate crime targeted at them, discrimination in housing and public services. A significant number of Roma families live in illegal dwellings or in informal settlements without security of tenure, and do not have access to basic services or utilities.[211]

The status of women in BiH is below the European average in many respects. Despite the existing legislative framework (Law on Prohibition of Discrimination and Law on Gender Equality), the bodies responsible for gender equality lack functionality and efficiency. Women continue to face unequal treatment, especially in employment. In addition, they are underrepresented in the political life of the State.

The problem of violence against women in BiH was noted by the UN human rights treaty bodies. In March 2017, for example, the HRCttee drew attention to the inadequacy of protection and assistance measures to victims of violence.[212] In September 2019, CRC noted with concern the protracted process to harmonize legislation on domestic violence in the entities and local administrations on domestic violence.[213]

According to the Agency for Statistics of BiH, about 100,000 children are in a difficult family situation, 40,000 of whom live in families with incomes below the minimum subsistence level. There are cases of non-payment of child benefits recorded, despite constitutional guarantees.

Freedom of religion is sufficiently respected in BiH. However, acts of vandalism against religious sites of the three main confessions in the country (Islam, Orthodoxy and Catholicism) are not uncommon. Regular thefts of church property and desecration of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Mostar, which is under reconstruction, including numerous incidents in 2021-2022, are viewed by the local Serbian community as a signal that they are not welcome in these predominantly Croatian-populated areas.[214]

Persons with disabilities continue to experience systemic social vulnerability: the budget payments they receive are lower than the pensions paid to military veterans and disabled persons affected by the armed conflict of 1992-1995 in BiH. The country’s urban infrastructure fails to offer a comfortable life for this category of citizens.

There have been no mass violations of the rights of Russian citizens and compatriots recorded in the country, nor any new cases of denial of entry to BiH for Russians.

Previously, in 2018, there were such precedents: three Russian citizens, including writer Z.Prilepin, were denied entry to the country, allegedly on the grounds that their “presence threatens security, public order, peace as well as international relations of BiH”.

Despite the adoption in recent years of a number of laws aimed at improving the situation with regard to the freedom of the media and opportunities for free expression, violations of journalists’ rights and pressure on media have been recorded in BiH. Most of the local press, radio and television are kept under close supervision by certain national and political elites and receive grants from foreign States. As a result, there is a difference in interpretation of the same events, a biased presentation of the recent tragic past, which is a negative aspect on the way of rapprochement of the peoples in the country. All this suggests that free access to information in BiH is not fully ensured.

There is also no progress with regard to BiH’s implementation of the Terezin Declaration which calls on signatory States to make every effort to guarantee the restitution of former property of the Jewish community, property of religious significance and private property of Holocaust victims and other victims of Nazi repression. Relevant legislation has not yet been drafted, despite the fact that it was declared a prerequisite for joining the European Union.[215] Apart from the Jewish community, the Serbian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, as well as the Islamic community, are the most interested in passing a restitution law.

The Constitutional Court of BiH abolished the death penalty nationwide in October 2019. Previously, it had been provided for in the Constitution of the RS, even though it had never been applied. No acts of torture have been recorded, and detention conditions are broadly in line with generally accepted standards.

According to the annual report of the Human Rights Ombudsman of BiH, the largest number of complaints in 2021 related to violations of political and civil rights, inefficiency of the judicial and administrative systems, and inadequate enforcement of economic and social rights. Youth, retired people, persons with disabilities and members of single-parent families remain among the most vulnerable segments of the population.

It should be noted that, by and large, human rights issues in BiH are being politicized, becoming an tool of struggle between ethno-political forces, on the one hand, and pressure on local elites by States of the “collective West”, on the other.

 

United Kingdom

The UK has positioned itself as a benchmark in the promotion and protection of human rights in seeking to mask the significant problems that exist in this area.

London largely prefers to ignore the painful issue of neo-Nazi groups being active in the country. Although they are mostly marginal and focus on online activities, there is a growing trend towards the popularity of far-right ideology, especially among young people. The latter was recognized to be a serious terrorist threat in a UK Government policy paper titled Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy presented in March 2021.[216]

A Home Office statistic[217] shows that, as at 30 September 2022, there were 239 persons in custody for terrorism-connected offences in Great Britain; of those in custody, 66 were categorised as holding far right-wing ideologies (35 per cent more than in 2021), while 155 were categorised as holding Islamist-extremist views. Starting from 2018, those of White ethnic appearance have accounted for the most of terrorist-related arrests – 86 out of 190 (45 per cent). However, their proportion has decreased since 2021 (100 out of 190 persons arrested, 52.6 per cent).

According to Hope Not Hate, an advocacy group, a total of 18 young people who support extreme right-wing ideas were convicted of terrorist crimes in 2021 (twice as many as in the previous year). Six of them were teenagers.[218]

In this context, the following high-profile case is especially worthy of mentioning. In March 2021, a 16-year-old boy was given a two-year rehabilitation order for possessing and distributing “right-wing materials”; he was the suspected leader of the British branch of the mentioned Feuerkrieg Division (See Estonia section). It was established that he was engaged in the illegal activity since the age of 13. The judge’s decision to spare the boy from jail was explained by the fact he had expressed the desire to pursue a better path, causing a backlash from members of the Muslim community, saying that a Muslim would have been jailed in a similar situation.

The increasing number of law enforcement officials in the ranks of supporters of radical nationalism is an alarming symptom. A highly-publicised court decision was made in April 2021, when a 22-year-old Met Police officer, who had been a member of National Action, was found guilty on charges of terrorism. According to a spokesperson of the Metropolitan Police Counterterrorism Office, this is the first time a police officer has been officially recognised as a follower of such an ideology.[219]

In December 2021, Ben Raymond, a co-founder of National Action, was sentenced to eight years in prison with the right to parole two years before the end of his term. In addition to his active involvement in the development of the neo-Nazi group, the court also found that he had kept the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik’s manifesto and instructions for making explosives at home. Ben Raymond became the 17th member of National Action to be prosecuted for membership in this organisation.[220]

At the same time as extreme right-wing attitudes are becoming increasingly widespread in the population, the rights of ethnic minorities are becoming a pressing issue in the country.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) last considered the periodic report on the UK in August 2016. At that time, it was noted that people of African and Asian descent, Roma and other ethnic communities continued to face exclusion and were subject to negative stereotypes and stigmatisation in the media. Experts pointed out that many politicians not only fail to condemn, but promote and perpetuate prejudice, thereby encouraging individuals to commit acts of intimidation against ethnic or ethno-religious minority communities and visually different people.[221]

Over the years, the government has taken a number of steps to remedy the situation, but overall, as human rights activists unanimously point out, racial inequality in the UK is “systemic” and the authorities’ measures essentially fail to address the true social and economic causes of the alarming situation.

Furthermore, the ethnic composition of the majority of the police forces in the State party is not representative of the communities that they serve, particularly in Scotland.[222] Although some steps in this direction have been taken since 1999, the progress has been extremely slow. The situation has been criticized by Members of law enforcement agencies. For example, According to the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Sara Thornton, progress on this issue will not be seen until 2052 at best, that is, not sooner than in 30 years.[223]

CERD noted, inter alia, persistent discrimination in access to health services and in the quality of care provided.[224] A few years later, after the experts had prepared their respective concluding observations, this aspect of ethnic inequality became especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Office for National Statistics[225], a number of ethnic minority groups (of African, South Asian and Caribbean descent) were 1.5-2 times more likely to die from coronavirus than White Britons. What is more, the highest infection rate was registered in London Boroughs of Brent, Barnet and Harrow mostly populated by Black population. As a rule, these people are underpaid for their labour and have no adequate access to healthcare. A number of high-profile political figures urged the British government to immediately initiate an independent inquiry into the causes of the “abnormally high mortality” from coronavirus among ethnic minorities.

The risks associated with other diseases are also on the rise. The imbalance was highest among the male population – males of Black African ethnic background had 2.7 times higher chance of dying from COVID‑19-related causes than White males. A similar trend was registered among those of African Caribbean and Bangladeshi descent. Females of Black Caribbean ethnic background had the highest rate (twice the number of White females) followed by females of Black African and Pakistani ethnic background. It is worth noting that after adjustment for geography, socio-economic status (level of income, education), and other factors, the statistical disparity in the mortality factor decreases but remains visible. Analysts offer various explanations to it, including racial discrimination.

On 16 March 2021, the final report of an independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities[226] was presented. The commission was created on the recommendation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson following the wave of protests by the Black Lives Matter movement, and included prominent figures from fields spanning education, science, business, healthcare and law enforcement; 9 out of 10 contributors, including the chairperson, represented ethnic minorities.

In contrast to the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities prepared on the request of the UK government in 2016, which painted a bleak picture as regards ethnic and racial disparities, the new document offers a more optimistic view. It concludes that, although a post-racial society is yet to be achieved, the UK has become a beacon to other predominantly White countries in minority rights issues due to a significant progress in reducing inequality in education and economy. The authors conclude that they “no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”. The remaining disparity in many spheres is explained not by racial bias but rather by geography, family composition, socio-economic status, culture and religion.

The document recognizes that outright racism still exists in the UK, which has migrated to the internet. It is noted that members of ethnic minorities are hardly ever found at top jobs in some sectors. At the same time, the report sends a message that non-White British people should strive to play an active role in ensuring their participation in all the social spheres. What is more, the authors drew attention to “an increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking” that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of racism, and noted that the BLM movement might have pushed away the less political public from dialogue.

The conclusions implying a decrease in the significance of racist sentiments in the life of the nation caused an extremely negative reaction in some circles, above all ethnic minorities’ organisations.

The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism E.Tendayi Achiume failed to agree with the report’s conclusions. The experts were outraged by the Commission’s failure to acknowledge “the pervasive role that the social construction of race was designed to play in society, particularly in normalizing atrocity”.[227]

Non-White Britons continue to be “disproportionately targeted throughout the criminal justice system”.[228] They are the most frequent victims of abuse by British law enforcement authorities. Data from the London Police Service published in August 2017 showed that Black and ethnic minority people, particularly those of the Caribbean origin, were twice as likely to die due to excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and subsequent lack of access to proper medical care as White Britons. Although African, Asian and minority ethnic groups make up only 14 per cent of the total population, they account for 25 per cent of the prison population. At the same time 40 per cent of the pre-detained young people are also non-Whites. Human rights defenders point out that the Metropolitan Police Service’s Organised Crime Suspects Database has been criticised on the grounds that the number of young black men in the database is disproportionate to the likelihood of their association with the criminal world.[229]

Minors are victims of police brutality as much as adults. A high-profile case has been that of “Child Q”, an African-American girl of high school age who was subjected to a humiliating strip search in her own school’s medical office in London in 2020. The humiliation was prompted by suspicions from teachers that Child Q might have brought drugs into the school: they testified that she had clearly smelled of cannabis. As they could not find anything of interest in the girl’s belongings, the teachers decided to call in the police for help. The police officers arrived and searched the girl’s belongings in the absence of an adult representative, without informing the girl’s mother. However, the efforts of law enforcement officers were in vain: the schoolgirl was not found in possession of any drugs. The girl needed psychological help because of the stress she had been under.

According to the March 2022 Local Safeguarding Children Practice Review published by the City of London and Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, the factor influencing the decision to conduct a body search in Child Q’s case was very likely to be racism (which could have been conscious or unconscious).[230]

As of February 2021, it was estimated that the number of young black inmates aged 15 to 21 in children’s prisons was 51 per cent of the total number of young inmates (40 per cent in 2017). According to experts, this was due to a combination of factors, including reduced funding for local authorities, police, mental health services, increased confiscation of residential property from African families, etc.[231] Children of Caribbean descent are 3.5 times more likely to be excluded from public schools than other students.

According an Opinium survey among members of ethnic minorities published by Guardian in May 2019, 71 per cent of respondents faced racial discrimination. At the same time, 50 per cent of respondents said that they come across racist behaviour on the internet and on social media on a daily basis.

In June 2020, the polling agency YouGov carried out a large-scale survey that found that 52 per cent of respondents thought racism was common in the UK (8 per cent thought it was “extremely common” and 44 per cent thought it was “fairly common”). However, 36 per cent thought the problem of racism was “exaggerated”, while 6 per cent thought that id did not exist in the UK.

According to a study by Fawcett Society and the Runnymede Trust, three-quarters of women of non-European descent (about 2,000 women from this group participated in the study along with 1,000 women of European descent) experience racism in the workplace, and just over a quarter faced racist hate speech. More than 60 per cent of non-White respondents reported having to hide their ethnicity by changing their hairstyles, clothing style, eating habits, and way of speaking. Women of Indian descent also reported changing their names. 42 per cent of non-indigenous British women say their superiors prioritize White employees when making decisions on promotion. One third of women of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi ancestry say their promotion was not only discouraged, but also prevented. By comparison, only 20 per cent of British women of European descent reported such negative experience. More than half of the women in the first group had also experienced discrimination in hiring.[232]

According to the official statistics of the Home Office (with numbers provided for England and Wales[233] as a whole, then Scotland[234], and Northern Ireland[235] separately) in year ending March 2020, number of hate crime increased. In total, 111.9 thousand such offenses were recorded during this time (for 2018-2019 – 103.7 thousand, for 2017-2018 – 92.7 thousand). The overwhelming majority of them – 79.7 thousand (71.3 per cent) – were committed on the grounds of racial hatred. For comparison, in 2018-2019, their proportion was 72.9 per cent, in 2017-2018 – 74.1 per cent. At the same time, the observed increase in registered crimes may not necessarily be associated with a growing number of such offences. It may be about the growing willingness of victims to report crimes, as well as the readiness of the police to register their reports.

However, international human rights monitoring bodies have on a number of occasions over the years (CERD in August 2016[236], Human Rights Committee (HRCttee) in July 2015).[237] The Committee on Human Rights (CHR) in July 2015, the Committee against Torture (CAT) in May 2019.[238] The Committee against Torture (CAT) in May 2019) have voiced their concern about the sharp increase in racially motivated hate crimes. However, underreporting of such offences remains a problem. The gap between the number of reported offences and the number of successful prosecutions remains significant. According to CAT, only 2 per cent of such cases result in convictions where racially motivated hostility is considered an aggravating factor.[239]

In February 2021 the Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism published a report titled Operating with impunity. Hateful extremism: the need for a legal framework[240], which stated that the current legal framework is not sufficient for combatting hate crime effectively (including that inspired by far-right ideology). The report acknowledges that full protection against hateful extremism is impossible and that attempts to fully resolve this issue would impede the freedom of speech. However, the paper makes a case for updating and tightening the rules in this area (not least due to the development of the digital space).

Despite active public censure and widespread media coverage of anti-Semitism in the UK, human rights activists assess the situation in this area as extremely negative. According to a report by the British NGO Community Security Trust, 2021 was the year with the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the organisation’s history of keeping such statistics. A total of 2,255 incidents were recorded during this period, 34 per cent more than in 2020 (1,684 incidents). The previous record high was registered in 2019 at 1,805.[241]

The scale of the problem was pointed out by Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on contemporary forms of racism E.Tindayi Achiume in her report to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly on contemporary manifestations of racism and the fight against the glorification of Nazism, prepared in compliance with UN General Assembly resolution 73/157.[242]

Also, in recent years, manifestations of what can be described as reverse discrimination have taken place. The starkest example is a series of cases when inquiries into grave crimes committed by ethnic minority criminal gangs remained incomplete, while law enforcement agencies and local authorities were reluctant to cooperate with the investigation. The findings of a trial launched by the municipality of Telford, Shropshire, and published in June 2022 relating to a series of decades-long crimes involving the sexual exploitation of minors in the area drew considerable publicity. The investigation revealed that some 1,000 adolescent girls had been victims of a sex trafficking scheme, but authorities and law enforcement agencies in the town had long refrained from prosecuting the defendants, who were from the Pakistani diaspora. Moreover, even after the crimes were made public, local authorities apparently tried to draw public attention away from the perpetrators’ origin, fearing that “racial tensions” would escalate.

There were no mass violations of the rights of Russian citizens in the UK, including in places of detention, prior to Russia’s special operation to demilitarise and denationalise Ukraine. During 2021 the Russian Embassy received occasional messages from the Russian compatriots about prejudice from the wider population in connection with reports by local media alleging that the Russian-speaking diaspora had close links to the Russian security services.

There has been no evidence of the British authorities impeding the activities of Russian compatriot organisations and their “interest clubs”. In particular, the “Union of Assistance to Russian Compatriots in the United Kingdom”, established in March 2020, is actively working. Its main objective is to raise the legal awareness of representatives of the Russian-speaking diaspora and to provide assistance in resolving social and domestic problems.

At the same time, against the backdrop of the events in Ukraine, in February 2022, cases of harassment of Russian and Russian-speaking citizens have been registered across the country. The Russian Embassy in Great Britain continues to receive emails with relevant complaints. Leaflets with the slogan “GOOD Russian = DEAD Russian” were widely used by the owners of public places. Social networks are flooded with Russophobic comments with threats both against Russia’s leadership and ordinary ethnic Russians and even people with indirect ties to Russia or the territory of the former Soviet Union.

The premises Consular Section of the Russian Embassy were attacked, when “activists” pelted it with eggs and broke windows of the visitors’ hall. In breach of the UK’s international legal obligations, Russian diplomats’ rights to work, to fair and favourable working conditions, to access any place or service intended for the use of the general public, and to security of person and protection by the state were compromised. In particular, these include restriction of access to the Embassy’s bank account, BMW’s decision not to renew the contract for the service of the Embassy’s car fleet, the disabling of the so‑called alarm button in the Embassy and the Residence of the Russian Ambassador, as well, intrusion into the premises of the Embassy’s country house and damage to its property.

Anti-Russian hysteria has not escaped the spheres of culture and sports. For example, British auction houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams refuse to hold auctions of Russian art.[243] The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire has banned a Russian graduate from participating in a music competition in Dubai.[244] The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra refused to house a recital dedicated to the work of Tchaikovsky. Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra announced on its website that they “feel the previously advertised programme including the 1812 Overture to be inappropriate at this time”.[245] The Royal Opera House has cancelled the Bolshoi Ballet’s London tour.[246] London’s National Gallery decided to rename the painting Russian Dancers by Edgar Degas as Ukrainian Dancers.[247]

Russian teams and individual racers were banned from participating in any competitions in the UK. Nikita Mazepin, a Russian Formula One racing driver, was suspended from participation in the British Grand Prix.[248] Russian tennis players were also threatened that they would be suspended from tournaments. Daniil Medvedev was asked to publicly condemn the Russian special operation if he wished to participate in Wimbledon.[249]

In March 2022 in Oxford, looters plundered the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The altar was vandalized; holy relics, altar vessels, and the crucifix were stolen. The church bookstore and the donations collected by the congregation for refugees from Ukraine were taken. The Police opened an investigation into the case.[250]

The authorities of Warrington attempted to close a Russian school that educated children from Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine, among others. Nevertheless, a petition to preserve the educational space helped prevent the closure.[251]

Restrictions have been imposed to cut off wealthy Russians’ access to UK banks including GBP 50,000 limits on bank accounts.[252]

Finally, the Soviet War Memorial Trust Fund decided not to hold Victory Day commemorations in 2022, which it had organised in previous years.

Russian journalists and media workers have faced persecution for years. In July 2015 due to EU’s introduction of personal sanctions against International Information Agency Russia Today Dmitry Kiselev, Barclays, a British bank, froze the account of the RIA Novosti London Office. Explanations (included those provided by lawyers) that Mr. Kiselev was not the owner of this media outlet were ignored. At present, representatives of RIA Novosti in the UK still have no access to their corporate account, so the correspondent bureau is unable to function properly.

Since February 2016, Channel One correspondent Timur Siraziev has not been able to open an account at NatWest Bank or any other bank upon his arrival in the UK. He was not given any reasons for the refusal. So far, the problem has not been solved, which significantly hampers the correspondent’s work in the country.

In February 2016, without any explanation, HSBC closed the corporate account of the British office of Rossiya 1 TV channel, as well as the personal account of correspondent chief Alexander Khabarov.

Since December 2018, Ofcom initiated legal proceedings into the work of the RT news channel citing an alleged violation of the principle of “impartiality” of the Broadcasting Code. The inquiry looks into seven programmes that aired between March 17 and April 26, 2018 (two of them were dedicated to the Salisbury incident, the others to glorification of Nazism in Ukraine and military operations in Syria).

Without waiting for the decision of the High Court in London, Ofcom published the results of its investigation into the RT materials and imposed a flagrantly high penalty of GBP200,000. In an appeal prepared with the help of British lawyers against the actions of the media regulator, RT presented extensive arguments refuting Ofcom’s accusations. The main point of RT’s appeal was that the UK media regulator failed to fulfil its obligations under Paragraph 3 of the UK Human Rights Act of 1998, according to which Ofcom should interpret and apply the principle of “due impartiality” in full accordance with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular ensuring the freedom of citizens and the media “to receive and impart information and ideas without interference from public authorities and independent of any public authority or national borders”. Furthermore, RT pointed out that Ofcom did not into account the fact that in its coverage of the Salisbury incident, the British media acted in line with the dominant narrative, which initially assumed that the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal was committed “on the instructions of the Kremlin”. In this regard, RT did not consider it necessary to further explain the position of the British authorities on the Salisbury incident in its newscasts, and focused on explaining the position of the Russian side on the case.

Having considered the appeal in June 2019, the High Court in London found that RT’s lawyers had presented “a provable set of arguments that should be fully analysed” and allowed RT to challenge the regulator’s decision in further proceedings. However, in late March 2020, the same court dismissed RT’s claim that the GBP 200,000 penalty imposed by Ofcom was unlawful. Lord Justice Dingemans, Court of Appeal Judge, called RT’s argument regarding the dominant media narrative “vague”. The court also dismissed the argument of the broadcaster that the requirement to be impartial interfered with its right to freedom of expression. The Judge mentioned that “the only requirement was that, in the programme as broadcast, RT provided balance to ensure that there was due impartiality”.

In April 2020 RT filed a second appeal to the High Court of London in an attempt to overturn the Ofcom ruling and gave further clarification of its position, only to be dismissed at the end of 2021.

The Sputnik news agency also faces restrictions in the UK. The Sputnik, like the correspondents of RT, were denied accreditation to cover the Global Conference for Media Freedom in July 2019. Foreign Office citing Ofcom’s accusations explained the exclusion with the “active role of RT and Sputnik in spreading misinformation”. The then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt publicly supported the ban of RT and Sputnik from joining the event, calling them “not free media, but mouthpieces of the Russian state”.

A similar situation occurred in December 2019, when an RT employee was accredited but subsequently not allowed to attend the NATO summit. Having arrived at the media centre, an RT representative was detained by the local security service, after which police officers searched the journalist, checked his documents and equipment, and said that his accreditation had been cancelled. The police cited the Terrorism Act to justify their actions. RT’s inquiries with the organising committee of the NATO summit and the organisation itself were left without response.

Russian media in the UK continue to face difficulties, mainly due to a constant pressure from the country’s authorities. Our correspondents experience difficulties in obtaining information and establishing contacts. There have been cases when Russian journalists were made to wait for long periods of time for the British authorities to extend their working visa, which effectively bound them to one location and prevented them from normal journalist work. What is more, representatives of the Russian media are facing difficulties with initial issuance of UK visas.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the coverage of the Russian special military operation to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine should, in the opinion of Ofcom, be exclusively pro-Western. The refusal to describe the events as an ‘invasion of a sovereign state’ cost RT its broadcasting licence in the United Kingdom. To justify its decision, Ofcom cited 29 simultaneous investigations into the media outlet in order to verify the “due impartiality” of its reporting on the events in Ukraine.[253]

The destiny of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains a high-profile case in the context of the violation of the human right to freedom of opinion and expression. The political implications behind the ongoing criminal proceedings against him are obvious. There remains a serious risk of gross violations of his rights should he be extradited to the United States. At the same time, the question of Assange’s actual situation in the United Kingdom remains a pressing one.

Despite having served his full sentence for violations of British law, he is still being held in extremely harsh conditions at Belmarsh high security prison on pretext of preventing him from escaping while his extradition proceedings against the US authorities are pending.

The journalist was on 7 September 2020 arrested and then brought before the Westminster District Court to decide whether to extradite him to the US authorities to face prosecution on 18 counts of the indictment. On 4 January 2021, the court ruled that Mr Assange could not be extradited to the US because he suffered from clinical depression and suicidal tendencies, but would remain in a British prison during the time given to representatives of the US prosecution to lodge an appeal. The UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Meltzer, welcomed the ruling, stressing that if transferred to the US, Mr Assange could be subjected to harsh and degrading conditions of detention, close to total isolation. However, the British judiciary concluded that the US prosecution of the Australian national was not an attack on freedom of the press and was not political.

On 10 December 2021, after receiving assurances of proper treatment for Julian Assange from the US authorities, the High Court of Justice ruled that the journalist could be extradited. The decision sparked a wave of indignation in human rights and journalistic circles: the ruling was described as “a blatant miscarriage of justice”. The Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, said the outcome of the trial was a threat to press freedom around the world. Julian Assange, the organisation believes, “has been victimised for his contribution to journalism”.

On 20 April 2022, the Westminster magistrates court, where the Australian’s case was transferred, did issue a warrant for his extradition, but the final decision to hand Assange over to US justice rested with the then UK Home Secretary Priti Patel. She, too, approved the extradition in June 2022. The defence briefly appealed the decision to the UK Supreme Court, and the appeal hearing is due to take place in early 2023. In addition, Assange’s complaint against the British authorities is pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

The decision by the British media regulator Ofcom to revoke the licence of the Chinese news agency CGTN can be seen as an illustrative example of restrictions on the activities of foreign journalists in the UK. The official reason was an investigation initiated in 2020, which found that the media outlet was under the control of the Chinese government, which, in the opinion of the UK, hindered journalistic impartiality and violated local laws on the operation of the media. The decision was a serious setback for the company, which had planned to use its London office as an outpost for extensive international outreach.

According to Ofcom’s official statement, the news agency’s license belonged to Star China Media Limited, which had no editorial control over CGTN’s content.

CGTN described the decision as unconstructive and politically motivated and the launch of the investigation as a manipulation by far-right anti-Chinese political forces. It stressed that the British side refused to make trade-offs and chose to ignore CGTN’s reputation as a professional international news agency with 18 years of experience in the UK.

Another practice that draws attention is the crackdown on undesirable civil actions, which, in London’s view, does not conflict in any way with the principles that underpin the democratic society. For example, in August and September 2021, 480 people were arrested by Extinction Rebellion activists for taking part in two weeks of mass climate demonstrations in London alone, hundreds more were arrested in numerous pickets and demonstrations across the country during the year, including in connection with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Glasgow in October-November 2021. At least 18 people were sentenced to prison for taking part in such groups, 10 of whom were members of the Insulate Britain campaign for thermal insulation in homes by 2030. There have been cases of police brutality against protesters during civil actions.

The report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus The most high-profile cases of human rights violations in certain countries, published in 2022, provides an extensive list of the disproportionate use of force against activists of the Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, as well as statistics on detentions.[254]

In addition, the high-profile George Floyd incident in the US was a catalyst for the outpouring of discontent over racism in the UK. The wave of mass demonstrations in UK’s major cities led to clashes with police and attacks on historical monuments linked in one way or another to the slave trade.

However, the most public outcry came from disproportionate and unjustifiably brutal actions by the Met police during a peaceful commemoration of S.Everard in London. A member of the Diplomatic Missions and Government Buildings Protection Unit of the Metropolitan Police was charged with the kidnapping and murder of the young woman. The crime literally shook the public in the United Kingdom, prompting thousands of women to share their stories of rape, beatings and harassment. The Reclaim These Streets activists did not vandalize historical monuments related to the slave trade, nor did they block the printing presses like the eco-activists. They took to the streets as a reminder that violence against women is not a relic of the past and that official authorities and society as a whole are not doing enough to address it. Nevertheless, law enforcement officers responded to the anti-violence rally with new violent actions: participants in the rally had their arms twisted and were dragged along the pavement by their hair.

The disproportionate crackdown by law enforcers has been criticised even in the UK itself, notably by London Mayor Sadiq Khan and UK Home Office chief Priti Patel. The opposition has also called for the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.

The British human rights community is seriously concerned about the prospect of a significant extension of police powers in policing demonstrations. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act introduced in April 2022 provides for more complex procedures for authorising marches and gatherings, increasing the powers of the police to respond to protests where there is an greater risk that the rights of people and organisations will be violated in the vicinity of the event (for example, if protesters making too much noise). The Home Secretary may introduce a clear definition of “disorderly conduct” into secondary legislation. The act also provides for an increase in the maximum term of confinement (up to 51 weeks) and higher fines (up to £2,500) for organisers and protesters if they refuse to obey the demands of the authorities.

The bill was heavily criticised by the expert community as it passed through parliament. The Human Rights Committee of the British Parliament gave highly unfavourable assessments of some of its provisions. There was significant resistance to the act from members of the House of Lords. It has been noted that the language of the new police powers is vague and “broad”, and that some of the measures that are particularly at odds with the British “protest tradition” have been described as disproportionate or even conflicting to human rights.

However, the government persistently ignored public opinion on the bill’s most controversial provisions and in the final stages of its passage through Parliament used the Conservative majority in the House of Commons to push the initiative and force the House of Lords not to block the bill.

Numerous protests in a number of cities in England against the bill, under the slogan Kill the Bill, were met with a brutal response from law enforcers.

At the same time, the human rights community has criticised the government’s steps to tighten counter-terrorism legislation. The HRCttee[255] and CERD[256] have noted that the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 introduces broad powers for intelligence agencies to seize and temporarily withhold a person’s travel documents (if there is reason to suspect that they intend to travel abroad to engage in terrorism-related activity) and to monitor suspects at significant distances from their homes. Experts were also concerned about the vague wording of the regulations regarding the interception of communications and transmitted data, which allowed for widespread violations of the right to privacy. In particular, there was a practice of issuing non-specific warrants for the interception of external private communications and data transmitted or received outside the United Kingdom. In addition, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 established broad powers to retain and access such information.

The UK Home Office’s practice of withdrawing citizenship for the “public good” is also controversial. Such a procedure should only be applied when a person has another nationality, but practice shows that this requirement is not always met by the authorities. In this connection, British human rights activists draw attention to the position of persons formerly associated with ISIS and currently living in refugee camps in Syria (according to media reports, this may include several hundred people, primarily the wives and children of militants). The most telling example is considered to be that of former UK citizen Shamima Begum, who left the UK for ISIL-held territory in 2015 at the age of 15. Begum, who had been stripped of her British citizenship, subsequently initiated an appeal procedure. However, in February 2021, the UK Supreme Court denied her the right to enter the country to participate in the proceedings and also ordered that until her participation was otherwise resolved, the proceedings would be suspended. This has set a precedent that places a significant number of people at risk of uncertainty with no apparent prospect, while living in extremely precarious conditions in refugee camps.

Human rights activists are also dissatisfied with the government’s June 2018 Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which, according to Sajid Javid, then head of the Home Office, is based on the principle of “ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists internationally, in the UK or online”. The document requires British intelligence agencies to share operational information with municipal authorities and the government as much as possible. In addition, the strategy seeks to quickly address vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure, strengthen security measures in crowded areas and respond to suspicious purchases. It even provides for the involvement of private companies in counter-terrorism activities, which should alert the police to questionable purchases (chemicals) and strange behaviour of customers (e.g., renting a car, etc.).

Human rights activists also called attention to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which, among other things, provides for stricter penalties for the distribution of illegal content in electronic form via the Internet. In their opinion, its vague provisions can be interpreted as broadly as possible by law enforcement agencies, with the result that perfectly legitimate actions, including exposure to extremist materials for academic, research and professional purposes, can be considered criminal. There is also a continuing and lively discussion about toughening responsibility for posting extremist content on the Internet, as well as strengthening the instruments of influence against those who spread extremist ideology.

The government’s decision to give retrospective effect to the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 has been heavily criticised by the British public. The legislation resulted in dozens of people being denied parole.

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act, which came into force in April 2021 and aimed, inter alia, to significantly increase the counter-terrorism powers of security agencies, with an emphasis on preventive measures, has been assessed negatively by UK’s experts and members of the public. It has been proposed, among other things, to change the practices of law enforcement agencies using so-called “terrorism prevention and investigation measures”, including the imposition of curfews on individuals, house arrest, forced relocation to a new place of residence, prohibition of participation in meetings, restriction of the right to use banking services and means of communication, and confiscation of foreign passports. Currently, this tool can be used for up to two years if there is evidence that a suspect is involved in terrorism. The new bill proposes to allow its use “if there is suspicion that a person is engaged in terrorist activity”, to remove time limits on such measures, and to include such measures as compulsory drug testing, engagement in drug rehabilitation programmes and mandatory registration with law enforcement agencies of all electronic devices present in the household.

The human rights defenders accused Boris Johnson’s Cabinet of disregarding the UK’s human rights obligations and intending to punish certain individuals out of court on the suspicion of security agencies, rather than on hard evidence of their guilt. It was noted that the introduction of the bill in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic was “not accidental”. The move was said to have been intended to push the document through Parliament without proper public debate.

Furthermore, since 2014, the UK has had an electronic facial recognition system in place, which has drawn very mixed reactions from the public. Before the technology was used in the British capital, it was publicly tested on 12 January 2020 in Cardiff during a football match at Cardiff City Stadium, accompanied by protests and strong condemnation from human rights groups and the general public.

The way the system works is as follows. The software reads faces in standalone mode, capturing dozens of individual features of a scanned face to produce a unique “fingerprint” which is automatically checked against a database of wanted criminals, as well as missing children and people in vulnerable groups. The computer then ranks possible matches for subsequent verification by a police operator.

If a match is found, the “identified” individual is detained by a police officer for questioning.

The British NGO Big Brother Watch, which defends the right to privacy and freedom from surveillance by the state and “tech giants”, has been actively fighting its implementation through pickets, lawsuits and petitions to Parliament. According to statistics from this NGO, 93 per cent of “recognitions” resulting from 10 tests were found to be incorrect. According to research conducted by Professor Peter Fussey, an expert on surveillance systems at the University of Essex, the accuracy of the system is no more than 19 per cent.

Allan Hogarth, an Amnesty International spokesperson has commented: “The Met Police’s decision to introduce facial recognition tech poses a huge threat to human rights […] This technology puts many human rights at risk, including the rights to privacy, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. […] This is no time to experiment with this powerful technology that is being used without adequate transparency, oversight and accountability”.

Human rights activists point out that law enforcement officials often use personal data under the pretext of national security and search for criminals with no legitimate grounds. This can have negative consequences for the citizens in the country. The Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material, Paul Wiles, spoke out about the chaotic use of identification systems and called on the UK authorities to establish a clear legal framework for handling these technologies to ensure that human rights are not being violated.[257] The government’s UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, has expressed concern about the “irresponsible, inappropriate and excessive” use of such technology and the mass collection of sensitive biometric data without the knowledge, choice and control of the public. According to Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter, the government has extensive legal powers to monitor the public, while proper legislative leverage and thus public oversight of such practices is lacking.

Human rights activists are also concerned about the widespread practice of gathering detailed information about the activities and personal lives of some of the “most dangerous activists” on behalf of law enforcement agencies, municipal authorities (such as London City Hall), and big businesses. The Times and the Open Democracy online news outlet have reported the hiring of private detective companies, such as Welund, for this purpose. For example, in 2019-2021, on the commission of British Petroleum, this agency carried out targeted collection of information (including video and photos from street surveillance cameras, data on online activity) on a member of Art Not Oil, Chris Garrard, and a Warwick University student, Connor Woodman, campaigning for the abolition of mining and sponsorship of cultural projects by the above-mentioned corporation.

The UK Ministry of Defence’s policy of “exonerating” British servicemen who may have been involved in committing crimes while fighting in other countries continues. In April 2021, the Overseas Operations Act came into force, aimed at protecting servicemen from prosecution for crimes committed during overseas campaigns. The law establishes only a five-year statute of limitations on criminal liability for such acts. Its extension is only possible in exceptional cases at the discretion of the prosecutor general. There is also provision for limiting the possibility to extend the standard limitation period in civil cases of damages caused during such military operations (which in no case can exceed six years).

In July 2022, a story published by the BBC, revealing numerous killings by British Special Air Service troops of unarmed detainees in Afghanistan in 2010-2011, drew a wide response. According to the materials, at least 54 people were victims of such war crimes in that period. It has also been suggested that senior officers not only turned a blind eye to what was happening but also refused to provide evidence for the subsequent military police investigation.

The UK Ministry of Defence, commenting on the situation, referred to the fact that an internal investigation into the events had already been conducted and ended inconclusive due to insufficient evidence. However, critics, including former members of the British Army, have questioned the transparency of such proceedings within the defence department.

The failure of the UK authorities to conduct independent investigations into torture during the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq has been the subject of repeated criticism by international human rights bodies.[258] In 2018, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament published reports regarding the maltreatment of detainees and extradition of suspects by UK intelligence and security services, which was prematurely terminated because crucial evidence could not be obtained – British authorities had banned intelligence officers from giving evidence. Nevertheless, the findings on the possible involvement of UK military personnel in torture contained in the documents produced were of particular concern to CAT.

The committee also noted that none of some 3,400 reports of unlawful killings, torture and maltreatment committed by UK military personnel in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 received by the Iraq Inquiry Team resulted in a criminal prosecution. Moreover, the investigations that had not been completed by the time the Panel ceased its work in June 2017 were handed over to the military police, and most of the cases were closed.[259]

In the meantime, human rights organisations and law firms representing victims have reported unprecedented pressure put on the country’s judicial system by the military lobby in order to promptly “close” pending cases.

The fact that in twenty years of investigating crimes in Iraq, only one soldier has been brought to trial and sentenced to one year in prison demonstrates that the UK is not prepared to investigate the crimes of its soldiers.[260]

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed its dismay over the fact that the British authorities protect their military personnel who have repeatedly committed murder and torture. In particular, it was pointed out that no one has the right to impose a statute of limitations on forced disappearance, since the latter is a crime that has no statute of limitations. However, the lack of prosecution deprives the victims of the right to justice and reparation. OHCHR considers that the UK Government should not impose a deadline within which victims can seek remedies.[261]

The human rights groups have raised concerns about the situation in the UK penitentiary system. Overcrowding and poor conditions in men’s prisons in England and Wales are identified as major problems. In addition, the experts note the disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities among the prison population of both sexes in these parts of the Kingdom. This was acknowledged, including by the UK official delegation in May 2019 during the submission of the 6th periodic report to the CAT, and is reflected in its concluding observations.[262] It is pointed out that the use of tasers in British prisons has increased, including against children and young people. These are used disproportionately against members of minority groups. Between March 2017 and March 2019, there were eight violent deaths and 160 suicides[263] in various prisons across the country.

In June 2021, a team of experts of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) of the Council of Europe visited the UK. The report following the visit noted a consistently high level of violence in men’s prisons, which would undoubtedly be much higher if prisoners were not in their cells for most of the day. The CPT delegation found that the vast majority of prisoners were still locked up in their cells for 22 to 23 hours a day without any activity.

At HM Bronzefield female prison, experts observed similar shortcomings as in male prisons. In addition, the CPT has documented that during the coronavirus pandemic, the number of self-harm cases among women increased dramatically. Moreover, due to their frequent use of ligatures, the risks of lethal incidents increased. In one prison, there were several women with severe mental health problems who did not receive appropriate care.[264]

British human rights activists are concerned about the government policy concerning migrants. The provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act, passed by British Parliament in April 2022, sparked a wave of strong criticism. It effectively deprives foreigners of the right to apply for asylum to the UK authorities if they arrive in the country illegally and not directly from a state/territory where their “life or liberty is threatened”. The measure is essentially aimed at illegal migrants entering the UK in small boats across the Channel (28,500 in 2021, and over 10,000 in the first half of 2022) who, after staying in France and other Continental states, by default do not meet the criterion of arriving directly from a “dangerous” country.

According to specialist non-profit organisations, such an interpretation conflicts with humanitarian considerations, especially given the fact that undocumented migrants are taking serious risks with their lives on their way to the UK. Notably, these individuals now actively invoke the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) to justify their demands for the right to reside in the UK.

In January 2022, Ms Siobhán Mullally also expressed concerns over the Nationality and Borders Bill, whose provisions, according to Ms Mullally, promote discrimination and serious human rights violations. In particular, the document does not require the state to ensure the protection of migrants and children seeking asylum, while specific norms raise the risk of increasing the number of persons without nationality.[265]

In the second half of 2021, amid a growing number of illegal migrants arriving in the UK in small vessels through the English Channel, UK Home Office officials repeatedly stated that the Border Force has the power to physically push back such vessels that have entered British territorial waters or adjoining waters. However, the legal basis for such a measure remains unclear. At the same time, the aforementioned Nationality and Borders Act grants border guards the power to “turn around” vessels and also exempts such officers from criminal liability if they commit offences in the exercise of their powers (potentially triggering a situation leading to loss of life). The original clause requiring the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea to be taken into account when deciding on such coercive measures was removed from the bill as it was scrutinised by Parliament.

Critics argue that the pushback tactics may in general or in specific cases contravene Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the ECHR and a number of international maritime law conventions (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, Convention on the Law of the Sea).

Arguably, especially in view of the poor seaworthiness and technical state of many of the boats used by migrants, it could also be a violation of Article 2 of the ECHR, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, supplementing the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and, in case there are children among these migrants, of Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Public organisations and victims see a potential human rights violation in the actions of the British authorities in the way they responded to information about a small boat with migrants in distress in the English Channel on 24 November 2021 (resulting in the deaths of at least 27 persons). The survivors said that the British rescue services initially refused to accept requests for assistance after the emergency, claiming that the vessel was in French waters.

The French non-profit organisation Utopia 56 has brought claims against the British Coast Guard and its French counterpart for unintentional negligent homicide and failure to assist people in distress. It is also possible that the British authorities will conduct their own investigation into what happened. In addition to the human rights dimension, there may be a violation of the aforementioned maritime conventions. However, credit must be given to British rescue workers and border guards. They provide assistance to migrants in small vessels in the English Channel in the vast majority of cases, even in the absence of an emergency situation.

In June 2022, Siobhán Mullally also criticised London’s agreement with Rwanda in April 2022 for the transfer of international protection-seekers who had entered the UK illegally to Rwanda. Special Rapporteur said that such a practice breaches the international law principle of non-refoulement and does nothing to prevent or combat human trafficking. UN human rights expert urged the United Kingdom to halt plans of forcible transfer of asylum seekers to third countries.[266]

Not only human rights defenders criticized this decision as inhumane, but also Theresa May, ex-Prime Minister (2016-2019) and Home Secretary (2010-2016). She voiced her displeasure with the new migration policy and doubted its “legality and efficacy”. The hierarchs of the Anglican Church were among the critics, as well as Prince of Wales, who commented on the new policy in a private conversation.

Practical implementation of the arrangement has so far been prevented due to the pro-active position of the asylum-seekers to be deported to Kigali, as well as human rights advocates who have undertaken to file necessary complaints with the judicial authorities. The first “deportation” flight to Kigali was scheduled for June 2022, but was cancelled just before departure on the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to take interim measures against one of the passengers on board. However, British authorities have not given up trying to enforce the measure and are reportedly making preparations for a second transfer.

International human rights groups have criticised the UK government for failing to honour earlier commitments to accept Syrian refugees.

In 2016, London announced its intention to grant asylum to 3,000 Syrian minors. In reality, however, only 480 were accepted, after which in July 2018 the government announced it was scrapping the programme. A subsequent attempt by Refugee Aid to challenge the decision in court failed. The High Court in London upheld it and rejected a subsequent appeal.

The plight of asylum-seekers was also highlighted by UN human rights treaty bodies, including CERD, CEDAW, CAT, the HRCttee and CESCR. They noted, in particular, that refugees, asylum-seekers and rejected asylum-seekers, as well as Roma continued to face discrimination in accessing healthcare. In addition, human rights activists have drawn attention to the lack of clear time limits for the duration of detention in removal centres. The mistreatment of this group in holding centres as well as in prisons and detention centres remains a serious problem, which has been documented in a large number of complaints. This has been pointed out by UN human rights treaty bodies, including the HRCttee in July 2015[267] and CAT in May 2019, who have reflected these facts in their Concluding Observations. According to CAT statistics, between 2013 and 2018, more than 6,500 investigations were conducted into allegations of misconduct and 2,600 correctional officers were disciplined, including 50 for physical abuse[268].

The human rights community has repeatedly highlighted the social inequalities experienced by certain vulnerable groups in the UK. CESCR was concerned that changes in fiscal policy, such as the increase of the minimum base from which inheritance tax and value added tax are payable, as well as the gradual reduction in income tax, are affecting the state’s ability to address persisting social inequalities. This is true, despite the fact that the State has sufficient resources to fully implement economic, social and cultural rights for the benefit of disadvantaged citizens and marginalized individuals and groups, the Committee believes.

It was emphasized that reforms to the legal aid system and the introduction of fees for proceedings in labour courts had led to a reduction in fair justice in the areas of employment, housing, education and social security. Committee experts noted that, despite higher employment, unemployment rates for some disadvantaged and marginalised groups, including people with disabilities, young people and those of ethnic, religious or other minority backgrounds, were still higher than for other groups in the UK. Changes to the rules on welfare entitlements and reductions under the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 have also been a cause for concern. These include reductions in the maximum total amount of benefits per household, the amount of the housing subsidy in case of a spare room (“bedroom tax”), a four-year freeze on some benefits and the amount of child tax credits. CESCR was particularly concerned about the negative impact of these changes on the enjoyment of the rights to social security and to an adequate standard of living of disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, including women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and families with two or more children.

The Committee noted with concern that certain groups, in particular persons with disabilities, persons from ethnic, religious or other minorities, single parent families and families with children, were more affected by or were at higher risk of poverty.

In addition, CESCR highlighted the critically low levels of accessibility to finance and housing in the UK, partly as a result of cuts to welfare benefits paid by the state. The shortage of social housing has led to households moving into the private rented sector with higher costs of living unaffordable for those living on welfare.[269]

In November 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston following his visit to the UK published a report where he strongly criticised the UK’s current social security system. The document stressed that the “austerity” policy implemented since 2010 by the Ministry of Finance has had a negative impact on the social security system. The welfare reform has effectively failed, primarily due to stricter eligibility requirements and significant delays in payments. The UK tax system has had a negative impact on the welfare of the most vulnerable, including women, people of Asian and African descent, ethnic minorities, single parents and people with disabilities.

In response, the government tried to accuse Philip Alston of “substituting concepts”, stressing the alleged absence of extreme poverty in the country and pointing out that the remarks do not characterise the general situation in the social sphere.

The coronavirus pandemic worsened the situation. In the first three months alone, six thousand Britons lost their homes and moved into temporary accommodation. A report from the charity Shelter found that the number of homeless people housed in state-run centres reached 253,000 – the highest number in 14 years.[270]

It should be noted that concerns about the vulnerable position of women, particularly those of Asian and African descent, other ethnic minorities and refugee women, were reflected in the February 2019 CEDAW report following the consideration of the 8th periodic report on the UK. In particular, the Committee pointed to the disproportionate impact of austerity measures on women, who are assessed to be the vast majority of single parents and tend to have no steady employment and therefore no stable income. Reduced budgetary allocations to the public sector, which employs more women than men, and reduced funding for organizations providing social services to women were also mentioned. The Committee believes that this move has led to an increased burden on women specifically, including in the area of childcare.[271]

Despite the efforts of the government to eradicate gender inequalities in the UK (including the adoption of a roadmap in July 2019), human rights organisations estimate that the situation is “far from perfect”.

Fawcett Society estimates that the income gap between the two sexes currently reaches 10 per cent among full-time employees and 34.5 per cent among part-time employees in the UK. Women make up 70 per cent of all minimum wage earners. Income inequality in the UK has grown faster in recent years than in other OECD countries; women now earn on average £140k less than men over the course of their career. In addition, 54 per cent of women in part-time jobs (2.8 million) hold low-paying dead-end jobs that do not match their qualifications, experience and skills.

The Scottish Widows pension and insurance company reports that 37 per cent of British women have no pension savings and the proportion is increasing every year. In 2019, only 40 per cent of women had retirement savings to match their standard of living (up from 50 per cent in 2006). Meanwhile, the average monthly contribution barely reached £182 per month, compared to around £260 among men. Analysts attribute this to the ever-increasing costs of supporting children and elderly parents, most of which are borne by women.

Journalism, law and business in the UK also present significant disparities. Women hold only 6.1 per cent of senior positions in top companies and just 3 per cent of board seats. Women account for 23 per cent of the judiciary. Many higher courts continue to be closed “men’s clubs”, with members blocking the appointment of women to senior positions.

The situation regarding the protection of children’s rights in institutions continues to be depressing. A report published in January 2017 on the investigation into institutional abuse, partly revealing the extent of physical and sexual abuse in orphanages and other residential institutions run by religious, charitable and state organisations in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995. The CPT noted this problem, stressing that the recommendations of the investigation have not been implemented and, as a result of the authorities’ inaction, identified victims of abuse have not received financial or any other compensation or remedy for the physical or mental harm.

At the same time, CAT expressed concern about the facts cited in a report published in February 2019 by the Independent Panel of Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Between 2009 and 2017, 1070 cases of sexual abuse of minors were reported to have taken place in detention facilities across the UK. It was noted that investigations into complaints received were very rare. The Committee also mentioned an investigation into institutional practices not covered by the above-mentioned enquiry was pending, in particular the infamous St. Magdalene laundries and some other mother and baby homes.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the authorities to take measures which, although limiting a number of basic human rights and freedoms, were necessary to contain the spread of the disease. However, the struggle against COVID-19 exposed a number of human rights problems. According to the Office for National Statistics, a number of ethnic minority groups (of African, South Asian and Caribbean descent) were 1.5-2 times more likely to die from coronavirus than White Britons. What is more, the highest infection rate was registered in London Boroughs of Brent, Barnet and Harrow mostly populated by Black population. As a rule, these people are underpaid for their labour and have no adequate access to healthcare. A number of high-profile political figures urged the British government to immediately initiate an independent inquiry into the causes of the “abnormally high mortality” from coronavirus among ethnic minorities.

There have been problems in safeguarding the rights of the elderly. For example, in April 2020, 17 nursing homes refused to accept residents who had been previously hospitalised with coronavirus and had been discharged from hospital after recovery. The owners said they did so because they did not want to run the risk of spreading the disease further, even though they had received health certificates from those persons. The government’s Care Quality Commission has been looking into the reports.

Among other things, incidents of forced labour in the UK became more common as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the number of phone calls to Unseen, an anti-slavery hotline, increased during the lockdown. According to the organisation, the largest number of victims of exploitation were identified in the construction industry. Construction workers continued to work throughout the lockdown without following basic hygiene regulations.[272]

Emergency measures to control the pandemic, such as switching to distance working, had a negative impact on wages. The difference in earnings between skilled workers performing their duties from home and those who continued to come into the office was 13 per cent.

Low-income families with schoolchildren were struggling. The transition of all British schools to distance learning meant that education continued mainly through video lessons, both live and pre-recorded by the teacher. However, this format of learning was not available to all students, as many low-income families could not afford a computer altogether. So, some children in the UK were simply excluded from the educational process.

The food parcels provided to children who would normally be eligible for free school meals and intended to last one school week were found to be meagre and unsatisfactory. Amid a wave of criticism from parents, the authorities decided to give them a choice starting from 18 January 2021 – either continue to receive pre-packaged kits or switch to food stamps so that parents could buy their children’s food themselves.[273]

The forced self-isolation led to the exacerbation of an already serious problem of domestic violence. At the end of April 2020, the number of calls to the domestic violence helpline increased by 49 per cent since the start of the lockdown, and the number of fatalities in domestic conflicts doubled. According to the Counting Dead Women Project, 14 female victims and two children were reported.[274]

Information from relevant NGOs suggests that the lifting of anti‑covid measures had a positive effect on the emotional state of people, and in 2022 there was a significant drop in the number of domestic violence cases compared to the 2021 figures.

However, the chances of the UK overcoming this human rights challenge appear dubious, given that domestic violence is prevalent, including among law enforcement officers. More than 1,000 officers and police officers who were accused of this crime were not dismissed and remain in service, according to a Guardian report published in March 2022.[275]

In early 2019, Birmingham protests against the inclusion of “sex education” lessons in a number of schools to “promote equality and combat homophobia” received wide publicity. The protesters objected to the decision arguing that such “courses” should at best be optional, rather than compulsory.

The government policy was primarily to marginalise the protesters, most of whom were Muslims. They were positioned in the media as a “violent minority” and “extremists”. The Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds called the protests “disrespectful to teachers and school staff”, claiming “the danger to students posed by the demonstrators”. Proponents of alternative viewpoints were subjected to criticism. For example, statements by the MP for the House of Commons, Esther McVey, to the effect that parents should decide whether or not their children attend such classes, were fiercely attacked by fellow party members, in particular former Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening (in a same-sex marriage) and former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd (known to be a strong supporter of greater rights for the LGBT community).

As a result, on 31 May 2019, the High Court of Justice upheld a claim by Birmingham City Council and ruled that protests in the vicinity of educational institutions should be banned because they allegedly “affect the safety and health of school staff, students and their parents”. The organisers said they would appeal the verdict to a higher authority.

 

Hungary

Hungary, in general, meets international humanitarian standards with respect to fundamental human rights and freedoms.

No gross violations of authority by law enforcement officers have been reported in the country; steps are being taken to prevent manifestations of xenophobia, racism and religious intolerance with enough success. The state fully guarantees freedom of expression and public assembly.

The coordinated campaign of criticism against the ruling conservative parties by international human rights organisations and NGOs has become a familiar element of the human rights landscape in Hungary. Budapest, in turn, has accused these bodies of interfering in domestic politics in order to influence the current leadership of the country.

The complaints include claims that Hungarian legislation purportedly restricts the activities of NGOs in the country and prohibits the promotion of LGBT ideology among minors, as well as allegations of widespread corruption, interference by the authorities in the judiciary and pressure on the media.

True to tradition, early 2022 was marked by the publication of country reports for 2021 by three major international watchdogs – Transparency International, Amnesty International and Freedom House. All the sources largely agree on a critical assessment of the human rights situation and the “quality of governance” in Hungary.

In 2022 on the commission of the Civitas Institute, Transparency International published the second volume of the Black Book, which, according to the authors, describes “the characteristics and practical implementation of corruption in Hungary” since the previous parliamentary elections in 2018 up to 2021. The first section of the book contains reflections on the “state capture and the destruction of the rule of law, the impact of corruption on economic development, the systemic abuse of the public procurement system and the EU funding system, and, finally, the colonization of the media along political interests”. The second section describes specific corruption cases that received previous coverage in the opposition press. The publication concludes that in Hungary “state power and corruption are closely intertwined and abuses of power often go unpunished”.

The report by Freedom House mainly critiques Hungary’s June 2021 Child Protection Act, prohibiting the promotion of gender and sexual diversity in schools, media, advertising, etc. The government launched a referendum to further restrain the use of LGBT ideology in education. Held alongside the parliamentary elections on 3 April 2022, the plebiscite was not recognised as valid as the necessary electoral threshold was not reached.

The fact that in February 2021 the Hungarian National Assembly voted to restructure higher education institutions in order to increase their competitiveness has also sparked harsh criticism from NGOs. As a result, the control of 11 state universities along with billions of euros worth of state assets was handed over by the Hungarian government to foundations labelled quasi-public in the aforementioned report, whose boards of directors are allegedly dominated by government allies.

The issue of the alleged excessive involvement of the state in the activities of private academic centres in the implementation of the mentioned processes was not ignored by UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan.[276] In her view, the actions of the Hungarian authorities to optimise the private higher education institutions present risks for the freedom of academic and research activities and can undermine the autonomy of these institutions.

Freedom House drew attention to the abolition in January 2021 of the Equal Treatment Authority, which was considered to be one of Hungary’s most effective institutional mechanisms for combatting discrimination. Its powers were transferred to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, whose independence and efficacy were questioned by Freedom House.

European structures and international NGOs use neoliberal values as a pretext to put pressure on the Hungarian leadership. In particular, Hungary has been criticised for passing the legislation in June 2021 prohibiting and restricting access to LGBT content for minors. This law is said to discriminate against LGBT minorities. Furthermore, it is pointed out that gender discrimination is evidenced, inter alia, by the fact that many government policies and messages allegedly actively reinforce gender stereotypes, relegating women to homemaking and downplaying the importance of gender equality. The COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced these inequalities. This was highlighted, in particular, the Amnesty International Report 2021/22: The state of the world’s human rights.

On 15 July 2022, the European Commission filed a lawsuit to the European Court of Justice against Hungary and Poland over the legislation regarding LGBT issues in those countries. In their statement, the European Commission hypocritically described the protection of minors as a legitimate public concern of the Hungarian authorities, which the EU shares and seeks to promote. European officials displayed an obvious double standard on this matter, noting that the information provided by the Hungarian authorities on the legislation in place did not explain why “exposure of children to LGBT content may be detrimental to their well-being or not in the best interests of the child”.[277]

The situation of the Roma community has also been criticised by international human rights bodies, the vast majority of whom have low social status and reportedly suffer from various forms of discrimination. Various human rights NGOs have repeatedly highlighted the problems of this group. For example, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and Amnesty International in their recent reports mentioned a number of cases where children from disadvantaged Roma families had been separated from their parents and placed in long-term state care. It is noted that this practice is prohibited by the Hungarian Child Protection Act. Another concern of NGOs is the prevalence of racist hate speech against Roma and other minorities. In addition, human rights activists have spoken about a large number of Roma ghettos in the country, especially in the north-east, which are not fully controlled by the authorities and do not contribute to either the improvement of living standards or the social adaptation of Roma.

The problems of the Roma community have been highlighted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child[278], the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[279], the Human Rights Committee[280] as well as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance[281] and the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM).[282] The recent report of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights also drew attention to the unfavourable situation of the Roma community in Hungary. In particular, they noted the low accessibility of education for Roma children, the incident around forced eviction of the Romani families, as well as the restrictive measures imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which have significantly affected the Roma.[283]

Starting from July 2020 a scandal has been unfolding around Pegasus spyware made by an Israeli company NSO Group amid allegations of mass wiretapping of telephones of oppositional journalists, entrepreneurs, lawyers and politicians. A group of international journalists, including Amnesty International and the Hungarian portal Direkt36, investigated the issue as part of Pegasus Project. More than 80 journalists from 17 newspapers in ten countries each conducted their own investigations, the overall coordinator being Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based NGO. Their investigation revealed that the Pegasus software had reportedly been acquired by ten other countries besides Hungary. At least 180 journalists from 20 countries are listed as potential victims of the spy software between 2016 and 2021.

Human rights defenders also draw attention to violations of the rights of refugees and migrants in Hungary. European agencies and human rights activists are particularly dissatisfied with the refusal of the Hungarian authorities to subscribe to EU migration quotas and their complaints about the possibility of a large number of Muslims entering the country. Amnesty International has criticised in its latest report the sweeping measures introduced in 2016, which the NGO says have compromised Hungary’s commitment to ensuring effective access to international protection for asylum seekers.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants at the UN Human Rights Council, migrants Felipe González Morales, following his visit to Hungary in July 2019, expressed concern about the grave situation of migrants in the country.[284] Among the problems he highlighted were the compulsory stay of migrants and asylum-seekers in transit zones, where they are effectively detained, poor living conditions in such zones, problems with medical care for migrants, the serious difficulty for such persons to appeal in court against decisions on their detention, and denial of access to human rights workers in transit zones (except for lawyers acting for human rights organisations). At the same time, the Special Rapporteur commended the Hungarian authorities’ programme of university education for students from 70 countries, which promotes development through education and addresses the root causes of migration.

UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan, following her visit in November 2021 also spoke about the spread of hate speech against migrants and refugees, as well as human rights advocates who helped them.[285]

Human rights bodies and NGOs have criticised the Hungarian authorities for restricting the activities of the media. For example, on 22 November 2021, following her visit to Hungary, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan, said that the entire media sector had been reshaped by the efforts of the Hungarian authorities. To this end, Budapest used its influence on the national media regulator, allocating state funding to pro-government media and repressing opposition media, she said. According to Irene Khan, such actions by the Hungarian government have undermined the diversity of the media and violated the principle of its independence.[286]

The 2022 State of Press Freedom Report by Reporters Without Borders ranks Hungary 85th out of 180 countries (92nd in 2021) saying that Viktor Orbán “has built a media empire whose outlets follow his party’s orders. Independent media maintain major positions in the market, but they are subject to political, economic, and regulatory pressures”. Further, the report mentions the suspension of the broadcasting license of independent radio station Klubrádió. Reporters Without Borders also condemn the Hungarian government for using the COVID‑19 pandemic as a pretext to accuse independent media of spreading false information and to limit their access to public information. Similarly, the watchdog expresses concern that the funding of independent media in Hungary – in the absence of a real opportunity to monetise content – is threatened by the discriminatory distribution of state advertising in favour of pro-government media outlets.

According to an international survey conducted by Action and Protection Foundation in 2021, Hungary ranks third (after Greece and Poland) out of 16 countries with respect to the level of anti-Semitic sentiments in society. The survey showed that 42 per cent of Hungary’s population is extremely or moderately prejudiced against the Jews – 24 per cent of citizens are openly anti-Semitic, and 18 per cent have moderately anti-Semitic views. In terms of party affiliation, Our Homeland leads with 45 per cent of its supporters, followed by Jobbik with 40, the Hungarian Socialist Party with 31 per cent, while 28 per cent of Fidesz-HDNP’s active supporters are people who share anti-Semitic views. The figure is 18 per cent for the liberal Democratic Coalition and 14 per cent for Alternative Politics and Momentum. At the same time, the Hungarian government in recent decades has pursued a policy of “zero tolerance” of any manifestation of anti‑Semitism at the national level.

However, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in its 2022 Report mentioned Hungary as one of the countries (along with Bulgaria, Lithuania, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany and Sweden) that have not fully implemented European norms on criminalising certain forms of hate speech and Holocaust denial in national legislation.[287]

Amnesty International points out that there are serious challenges to the rule of law in Hungary, citing a relevant annual report of the European Commission. “The Commission was not able to identify any substantial improvements as compared to the findings of the 2020 report. Hungary’s system of checks and balances, as well as the transparency and quality of the legislative process, remained a source of concern”.

As early February 2018, the European Commission submitted an application to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) requesting that investigations into the compliance of Hungarian legislation with EU regulations be initiated. This was prompted by the NGO law adopted in June 2017, which required NGOs to specify in all their publications, printed materials and websites that they were “foreign-supported organisations”. This requirement is made mandatory for NGOs if they receive foreign financial aid of more than HUF 7.2 million (about USD 28,000). In June 2020, The European Court of Justice found the provisions of the law to be in conflict with EU norms, arguing that they breach the right to free movement of capital, to privacy and protection of personal data, and to freedom of association. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán reacted negatively to the ruling accusing the EU of gross interference in the country’s internal affairs.

These laws are being reviewed by European institutions together with a package of “Stop Soros” legislative initiatives adopted by Hungary in 2018, which outlaw helping illegal immigrants. The EU Court of Justice also found them to be in violation of EU law.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan, also joined in criticising Hungarian activities in this field and following her visit she noted specifically the negative effect of the NGO Law and called on Budapest to review its policy on civil society organisations in light of the Court’s decision.[288]

In April 2022, the European Commission launched a probe into Hungary’s violations of EU norms, accusing Budapest of interfering with the judiciary and restricting media freedom.[289] On 18 September 2022, the organisation toughened its stance by officially suggesting that for the first time in EU history it would freeze payments to Hungary from the EU budget. This was announced by European Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn. The Commission suggested that the EU Council suspend 65 per cent of all payments to Hungary from three operational programmes under the EU’s balanced development fund, equivalent to about 7.5 bn euros.[290]

The criticism by international NGOs targeting the Hungarian authorities fails to evoke a noticeable public response in the country. The government, for its part, does acknowledge certain problems in the area of human rights and regularly signals a willingness to cooperate with the European institutions and international human rights organisations in order to solve them.

 

Greece

The Constitution of the Hellenic Republic of 1975, as amended in 1986, 2001, 2008, and 2019, enshrines a set of human rights and freedoms.[291] The State guarantees rights of the human being as an individual and as a member of the society, as well as the principle of the welfare state rule of law. This fundamental law establishes the right to respect for and protection of life, honour and dignity irrespective of nationality, race, language, religious beliefs or political convictions. The rights to personal liberty, private and family life, housing, freedom of expression and of the press, and protection by the courts are inviolable. Torture, cruel and degrading treatment, injury to health, psychological pressure, arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as full confiscation of property are prohibited.

The human rights situation in Greece remains ambiguous. Following the efforts made by the Greek authorities in recent years to modernize the legislative framework and taking into account the recommendations of human rights organizations and European Union directives, national legislation has been brought in line with the provisions of international law. Meanwhile, the existing human rights difficulties, particularly in law enforcement, caused by the financial and economic crisis and the influx of refugees and irregular migrants from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, have not been overcome. Greece has been implementing national action plans on human rights, asylum reform, migration management, social integration of the Roma, and protection of the rights of the child. However, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990), the European Convention on Nationality (1992) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995) have not yet been ratified. Besides, Greece has neither signed nor ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992).

Strong restrictive measures aimed at combating the spread of a novel coronavirus infection in 2020-2021 have negatively affected the enjoyment of a range of fundamental rights in Greece (freedom of movement, assembly, as well as several aspects of privacy). The unvaccinated people were particularly affected. In particular, about 7,000 health providers have been suspended for failing to comply with the legal requirement for mandatory vaccination.[292] In August-September 2021, major Greek cities witnessed mass protests accompanied by clashes with the police.

A large set of human rights issues is associated with the migration pressure on Greece that has continued over recent years. The problem of mass arrivals from the Middle East and North Africa region and some Asian countries peaked in 2015-2016, when about 1,000,000 people tried to transit through Greek to other European countries. According to the authorities, there are currently more than 100,000 migrants in the country. The total number of refugees arriving in the EU Med5 (Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Spain) in 2022 is projected to reach 150,000 people.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly drawn attention to the situation in reception centres.[293] Despite some progress, human rights defenders are concerned about the conditions of detention: overcrowding, substandard sanitary conditions, lack of food and water, limited access to qualified medical care, as well as exceeding of maximum detention terms, violation of norms of separation of children and adults, non-provision of a qualified interpreter, etc. The provision of social services to this group of people has been affected by the restriction of movement of refugees living in migrant camps, as well as full or partial ban on receiving visitors.[294]

Migrant children and child asylum seekers face challenges in receiving school education. According to the Human Rights Watch (human rights organization), only 15 per cent of them have access to educational services. This NGO’s[295] report refers to the “intolerable conditions for migrant minors in Greek deportation centres where they are detained, despite the Law 4760/2020 ratified by Greece’s Parliament in December 2020 prohibiting the unaccompanied detention of children.”[296] However, in May 2020, the maximum term for detaining children was decreased from 45 to 25 days.[297]

Victims of violence face difficulties in accessing a safe environment. There are insufficient shelters and emergency accommodations and inconsistent coordination of services.[298]

International human rights organizations and media increasingly accuse Greece of circumventing EU legal norms and unjustifiably ill‐treating refugees, including the practice of “unofficial expulsions” that often endanger their health and lives.[299] According to materials on migrant rights abuses by Greek law enforcement officials, published in the European press and based on the EU Anti-Fraud Office report of 15 February 2022, the management of the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) was not only aware of, but also deliberately covered up the abuses. In June 2022, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament held a hearing on reports of gross violations of the rights of asylum seekers and their human rights defenders in Greece, with Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Committee Chair, submitting a relevant appeal to the European Commission. Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, noted serious abuses by the Greek authorities following her visit to the country in June 2022.

Human Rights Watch published a report entitled “Their Faces Were Covered: Greece’s Use of Migrants as Police Auxiliaries in Pushbacks” based on interviews with 26 Afghan refugees who tried to cross the Greek-Turkish land border between September 2021 and February 2022 and were pushed back to Turkey.

The report states that Greek police detained asylum seekers at the land border between Greece and Turkey on the Evros River during the period, in most cases beating them and stripping them of their clothes, seizing their money, mobile phones and other belongings. Then, they handed the migrants over to masked men who pushed them into small boats, took them to the middle of the Evros River and threw them into the frigid water, making them wade to the riverbank on the Turkish side. They employed men who were of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin.

Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, pointed out in a letter to Notis Mitarachi, Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, in spring 2021 to more than 100 episodes of “pushing back” migrants in 2020.

On 30 June 2022, Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, during a teleconference with George Gerapetritis, Minister of State, Takis Theodorikakos, Minister of Citizen Protection, and Ioannis Plakiotakis, Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy, accused Greece of “pushing back” migrants, abuse and excessive use of force by Greek border services and coast guards and obligated the government to develop a mechanism for dealing with migrants that meets basic human rights. Otherwise, the European commissioner promised to stop allocating migration-related funds to Greece.[300]

Experts observe manifestations of racism and xenophobia, especially against incoming migrants, but also against Roma. They have significant difficulties in accessing basic social services such as housing, employment, education and health care, regularly face prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination, and are subjected to disproportionately frequent checks of documents and arbitrary arrests by police and other law enforcement bodies.

In its 2020 annual report, Athens Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) comprised of more than 50 NGOs noted an increase in ethnic and religiously motivated beatings, grievous bodily harm and killings.[301] Investigations into such acts often drag on for many months. A similar 2021 report, published by the RVRN on 26 May 2022, documented an increase in racist violence perpetrated by the police in recent years.[302]

Experts are also concerned about the introduction of a testing system for applicants for Greek citizenship from 1 April 2021, which includes, apart from a language test, a set of complex questions on Greek history, geography, culture and State structure. Testing this knowledge in May 2021 showed that almost none of the applicants met these new requirements.

According to the annual Reporters Without Borders (NGO) report,[303] Greece is ranked 108th out of 180 countries (it was 70th in 2021) in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index. It is noted that the police often resort to violence, while journalists are regularly prevented from covering migration-related issues and rallies in the capital.

According to the draft report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the European Parliament published in November 2022, spyware (Pegasus, Predator, etc.) was actively used by Greek and several European leaders for political purposes. It was used to spy on members of opposition, civil society, the business community, human rights defenders and journalists. In general, there are no infringements on freedom of assembly and religion in Greece. In June 2022, the Alevi House of Worship (2,800 members) was opened in Thrace with the support of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, becoming the first such institution in Greece and third in Europe (after Austria and Germany).[304]

Meanwhile, there is some peculiarities with regard to ensuring the rights of the non-titular Muslim ethnic groups (Turks, Pomaks, Roma and others, over 120,000 people in total) living in the Thrace region in the northeast of the country and on several islands in the Aegean Sea. Athens recognize them as a religious minority (there is no notion of “national minority” in the law), but formally restrict the possibility of including the ethnonym “Turkish”[305] in the name of any regional associations and unions. The HRCttee[306] and CERD[307] have repeatedly expressed concern that Greek Muslims might be denied the right to ethnic and cultural linguistic self-identify.

The right to freedom of religion of Russian compatriots in Greece is not violated. In Greece, there are several Russian-speaking Hellenic Orthodox Church (HOC) parishes. Meanwhile, after the Moscow Patriarchate severed full communion with several HOC dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Athens, in response to the recognition of Ukrainian schismatics by the HOC in October 2019, several local Russian-speaking diaspora believers have had some difficulties.

Since the beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine, Greece has ceased all cultural and humanitarian interaction with our country. Athens has joined the European Commission’s discriminatory decision of 2 March 2022 to ban the broadcasting of Russia Today and the work of Sputnik and their subsidiaries in the EU territory. Sputnik Greece and Russia 24 web-resources are blocked in the country.

Russian citizens residing permanently in Greece have had their accounts blocked by local banks under the Council Regulation (EU) 2022/328 of 25 February 2022, which frequently resulted in the loss of their only source of income.[308]

Domestic Russophobia, actively promoted in the local media, is on the rise. There have been incidents involving nationalist Ukrainians. In April 2022, for instance, a group of hooligans attacked participants in the rally “For Peace! For Russia! For Greece!”[309] leaving a seven-year-old girl injured. In the same month, a Russian female citizen was beaten by Ukrainians on a beach in the capital.[310] More than 75,000 migrants have arrived in Greece from Ukraine since the beginning of the special military operation; and the authorities say they are ready to accept more if necessary.

In March 2022, acts of vandalism and desecration were recorded against monuments related to our country: the Monument to Soviet Soldiers who Fell Fighting for the Freedom and Independence of Greece in 1941-1945 in Athens,[311] the Memorial of Admiral Fyodor Ushakov on Corfu Island[312] and the Monument to the Squadron of Count Alexei Orlov on the island of Lemnos. There is still no official information on the outcome of the investigations into these offences.

Moreover, about 40 Russian sailors are kept in Greek penitentiary institutions, accused of smuggling migrants, a serious crime under local legislation, punishable with long prison terms and heavy fines. The Russian Embassy in Athens provides our citizens with the necessary assistance and regularly organizes consular visits to their places of detention.

In August 2022, Aleksander Vinnik, Russian citizen, arrested by Greek authorities in 2017, was extradited to the United States following more than five years of imprisonment and legal proceedings in Greece and France. In breach of article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and contrary to an official request by the Russian Embassy in Athens, the Russian citizen was not allowed to see the consular officials of the diplomatic mission, his lawyer and an interpreter. The Greek authorities have completely ignored the repeated (since 2017) requests by the Russian competent authorities to extradite Aleksander Vinnik to Russia, country of origin, as well as the requests by the Russian side to apply the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, given the grave humanitarian situation in which our national finds himself.

 

Denmark

Denmark has traditionally been at the top of the list of countries providing the most effective guarantees of human rights and freedoms. For several years in a row, the Freedom House (international NGO) has given Copenhagen one of the highest scores – 97 out of 100[313] (11th place in the world statistics). The statistics provided by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) also contributes to some extent to Denmark’s human rights record: the Court issued only 53 judgments against Denmark between 1959 and 2019.

Given these clearly exaggerated assessments by pro-Western human rights NGOs, it is not surprising that Denmark occasionally tries to politicize human rights issues, especially within the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Council of Europe, where Danish representatives often criticize the human rights situation in “unwelcome” countries.

Nevertheless, despite the declared flagship human rights positions, including those of Copenhagen itself, the situation is far from easy. This is illustrated, in particular, by the findings of the annual report of the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) on the main human rights problems of the Kingdom of Denmark.

International human rights organizations have regularly criticized the Danish authorities’ harsh refugee and migrant policies, particularly the deportation of Syrians and plans to establish a refugee reception centre outside Denmark.

According to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance report on Denmark (sixth monitoring cycle), published in 2022, as of 1 January 2021, there were 617,770 registered immigrants living in Denmark. Out of these, 260,304 were from Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (“western”, predominantly white immigrants) and 357,466 from the remaining 157 countries (“non-western” immigrants, classified as ethnic and religious minorities by the Danish Statistical Office).[314] In March 2021, 34,494 persons were registered as people of western descent and 165,174 as having a “non-western” origin.[315] The report also draws attention to the fact that it has become ever more difficult for refugees and migrants to obtain permanent residence status in Denmark, which can usually only be granted after eight years and which is conditional on a set of restrictive criteria. With the new policy, all categories of refugees have their residence permit examined every one or two years.[316]

In 2019, the Danish Government began tightening up its legislation on refugee protection: mandatory regular review of cases, restrictions on family reunification and more stringent conditions for obtaining social benefits were introduced.

Thus, for instance, there were different rules on family reunification for refugees with different statuses: persons subject to persecution in their country of origin are entitled to apply for family reunification from the moment they are granted asylum, whereas refugees who have been granted temporary status on general grounds have to wait three years before they can apply.

On 9 July 2021, the ECHR pronounced its verdict in the case of a Syrian refugee who had brought an action against Denmark in 2017 for the years-long family reunification process. The Court found that the Kingdom had violated the right to family life and ruled that refugee status should not limit this right.[317]

The only concession the Danish authorities are currently discussing is a plan to shorten the waiting period for refugees to apply for family reunification from three to two years. However, human rights defenders consider the measure insufficient.

In June 2022, DIHR published a report noting that “the Danish interpretation of the right to privacy and family life is in some cases too narrow,” resulting in refugee families risking being separated because “the authorities do not assess a family as a unit.”[318]

In 2019, the Kingdom passed a law that guarantees refugees only temporary protection under quotas of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), meaning that if the authorities decide that the country of origin is safe for residence, the refugees will not receive an extension of their residence permit in Denmark. In 2021, Copenhagen recognized certain areas of Syria as such, with natives to be returned to their homeland.[319]

Discriminatory attitudes towards migrants still persist in the country. This is reflected in the fact that second and third-generation migrants have very limited avenues for acquiring Danish citizenship by law. This category of persons, especially women, has little involvement in the labour market.[320]

The Danish Government has been criticized for its initiatives introduced in 2018 to combat so-called “parallel societies”, a social phenomenon where a large proportion of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa lead isolated lives, remaining outside the Danish language, culture and legal environment. The programme was named “One Denmark without Parallel Societies: No Ghettos in 2030.” Its provisions have been implemented in various sectoral regulations in the Kingdom.

Since the ethnic ghetto eradication programme was launched, the Danish law enforcement authorities have been enabled to establish “areas of increased criminal liability” in ghettos. It is envisaged that if a person commits a crime in these areas, the punishment imposed by court may be twice the maximum penalty provided for this category of crimes in Danish Criminal Code. If the crime is punishable by a fine as a maximum penalty, it may be replaced by imprisonment. As additional policing measures, the Danish Government has also proposed increasing the police presence in ghettos, including through deploying mobile police units. In addition, a mechanism has been approved to identify and subsequently expel repeat offenders and the most “influential” members of the criminal environment from the ghetto.

In 2019, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) took notice of the situation and expressed deep concern about provisions in the Government programme adopted “in contravention of Danish Constitution and its international obligations” that “impose differential treatment on grounds such as national origin, social status and residence.” In particular, the CESCR regarded as discrimination the categorization of specific areas as ghettos based on the national origin of the persons living there (the classification of areas as “ghettos” is defined by the proportion of residents from “non-Western” countries) and pointed out the violation of migrants’ right to the freedom of residence and the liberty of parents to choose their children’s schools. The combination of such measures, according to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, only results in discrimination based on ethnic origin and nationality, but also further marginalizes residents of disadvantaged areas.[321]

In 2021, the authorities proposed a plan to reduce the number of urban areas with a predominant proportion of social and municipal housing, where the number of migrants from “non-western” countries and their descendants exceeds 30 per cent (so-called “ghetto” areas). It suggests a number of restrictive measures to adjust the national composition of the inhabitants.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance calls on the authorities to stop the practice of selling public housing and then resettling migrants and their descendants, using instead “positive incentives to create more mixed residential areas.”

To further reduce the influx of migrants into the country, Copenhagen is considering establishing a reception centre for refugees abroad (however, the initiative does not apply to those arriving under UNHCR quotas). In June 2021, the Danish parliament passed a law allowing for a similar agreement with a third country.[322]

In September 2022, Denmark and Rwanda signed a declaration on cooperation plans for the reception of refugees.[323]

The initiative has been criticized by the United Nations, the European Union and a large number of human rights organizations. Adalbert Jahnz, Spokesperson of the European Union for Internal Affairs, said that the right to asylum is a fundamental right in the EU and expressed concern about the compatibility of the new law with Denmark’s international obligations, as well as at the risk of undermining the foundation of the international refugee protection system around the world. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also opposed the Danish authorities’ decision to transfer asylum and international protection obligations to a third country, as “it is contrary to the spirit and letter of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.”

With regard to its compliance with the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, the DIHR highlights the current practice in the country of detaining persons who have been refused asylum or are present in the Kingdom upon the expiry of their residence permit.[324] This mainly concerns people from Syria, who cannot be deported forcibly, since the Danish authorities do not have diplomatic relations with the regime of President Bashar Assad. Refugees who refuse to return home voluntarily, whether or not they have committed an offence, may be administratively sent to a detention centre for up to six months (up to 18 months in particular cases). The centre conditions resemble imprisonment in many ways,[325] which in most cases forces refugees to leave the Kingdom. The DIHR urges to reduce duration of administrative detention of foreigners and use it only as a measure of last resort.

In April 2022, Denmark signed an agreement with Kosovo to lease 300 prison places for foreigners sentenced to deportation at Gilan prison since 2023.[326] The Danish authorities note that, in accordance with the Kingdom’s international obligations, prisoners will serve their sentences under conditions that are consistent with those in Danish prisons. However, human rights defenders have criticize the agreement, pointing out, among others, that the right of prisoners to see relatives and friends will be restricted.

On 1 January 2020, amendments allowing the Kingdom’s police to search homes and seize personal belongings, including means of communication, of persons convicted of sexual offences without a court order, entered into force in Denmark.

A bill providing law enforcement bodies with similar powers in relation to those convicted under the anti-terrorism provisions of the criminal law has also been introduced to the Danish Parliament. As an additional punishment for such convicted persons, it is suggested that an indefinite ban on visiting certain places and contacting certain persons should be imposed by a court. The DIHR believes that this is a violation of the right to inviolability of the home, as well as the right to privacy and the right to freedom of movement.

Attention is drawn to the uncontrolled use of surveillance data on citizens residing in the Kingdom by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) over a three-year period, which was revealed in 2020. The transfer of such data to the PET was made without a court order in direct violation of Danish Data Protection Act.

As for the right to privacy, the DIHR also draws attention to the reluctance of the Danish Parliament, contrary to the 2016 EU Court of Justice decision, to review the legal provisions requiring telecommunications service providers to collect and store users’ mobile and Internet traffic data for law enforcement purposes (the review of such legal provisions has been delayed by the Folketing (the Parliament) for the ninth time since 2011). According to human rights defenders, this leads to large-scale indiscriminate surveillance of citizens, most of which are not involved in the commission of specific crimes.

The right to peaceful assembly has also been restricted.

Since the beginning of 2021, the country has witnessed waves of mass protests against the extension and intensification of COVID-19 restrictive measures. For instance, in late January – early February, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest against increased quarantine requirements due to the rapid spread of the new COVID-19 strain and the authorities’ actions to tighten legislation. In particular, a digital vaccination certificate (“COVID‑19 passport” or COVID-19 PAS) has been introduced, to which great importance is attached, and the Danish authorities have approved amendments to the Penal Code, doubling the punishment for crimes based on or linked to COVID-19.

The January protests very quickly escalated into mass clashes between protesters and security forces, resulting in several arrests by the police.[327] The Danish authorities have taken harsh measures against certain protesters.
In mid-March 2021, a court decision was made based on new amendments to the Penal Code: a female participant in the protests which took place in January 2021 was sentenced to two years in prison instead of one year.[328] This led to a new wave of protests, in which some 600 people took part.

Despite public discontent, including new protests that resumed in Denmark in the first half of April 2021 and saw several hundred participants,[329] the “COVID-19 passport” was introduced in the country. This certificate is issued to Danish residents over the age of 15 who have already been vaccinated against COVID-19 and have tested negative or had an infection (due to which they are immune). Holders of such a passport were free to visit restaurants and cafes serving outdoor, museums, art galleries, libraries, and enjoy other relaxations of restrictive measures.

There are problems in prisons. The DIHR has noted a significant increase in the number of cases where prisoners were placed in solitary confinement for more than 14 days as a punishment for breaches of discipline in prisons. In comparison, in 2015, this measure was applied seven times, while in 2019, prisoners serving their sentences were placed in solitary confinement for more than 14 days on 705 occasions.

In early 2020, the situation was brought to the attention of the delegation of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), following its visit to Denmark in April 2019.[330] The Committee criticized Copenhagen in general for failing to implement its 2014 recommendations and pointed to the continuing problem of overcrowding in Danish prisons, where two prisoners often have to share a single cell.[331]

The Council of Europe representatives noted similar shortcomings with regard to the two Danish asylum temporary detention centres, calling on the Danish authorities to either renovate or close these facilities due to overcrowding and inadequate conditions for rejected asylum seekers.

In 2019, the ECHR noted two more shortcomings in the Danish human rights record. The first case involved the repeated refusals by the Danish prison authorities to allow a person in involuntary isolation[332] to have an independent review of his/her 2015 medical report, according to which he/she constituted a danger to society and should remain in involuntary detention. The Court concluded that Denmark had breached the right to liberty and security of person guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the second case, the ECHR, based on the famous 2016 case “Paposhvili v Belgium”, found the Kingdom guilty of violating the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in relation to the deportation of a Turkish citizen suffering from a severe mental illness from Denmark to his home country.

In the context of ensuring non-discrimination guarantees, the number of religious and racially motivated hate crimes continues to rise in the Kingdom. According to information published by Danish law enforcement agencies, only in the first quarter of 2022, there had been 263 hate crimes, 32 per cent more than in 2021. Muslims and Jews are among the most vulnerable religious groups (56 per cent and 23 per cent of the total number of such crimes, respectively).

According to the 2022 FRA report[333], the number of registered hate crimes, many of which were relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, increased by 12 per cent in the first half of 2021 compared to the previous year.[334]

As follows from the information provided in the Denmark’s Government reply to the 6th questionnaire (2021) of the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), Danish national police reported 100 cases of hate speech in 2019 (there were 68 such cases in 2018, 48 in 2017, and 56 in 2016).[335]

The ECRI report[336] was published on 9 June 2022, documenting several “worrying trends” in recent years with regard to the treatment of people of “non‑Western” origin. One trend is that Muslims in Denmark are increasingly depicted (including in political circles) as a threat to Danish values and culture. The Commission recommended that the Folketing develop a legal framework for cutting the State funding of and disbanding “racist organizations, including political parties” if their programmes are based to some extent on religious or racial hatred. The report also notes that the Danish Government has still not adopted a national action plan against racism, with a particular emphasis on preventing anti-Muslim discrimination (in January 2022, the majority in Folketing decided to prepare the said action plan).

On 19 March 2022, the Danish Institute for Human Rights published the report titled “Ethnic Profiling”,[337] which analyses how often Danish law enforcement officers, with no objective justification, use the factor related to ethnicity in control, surveillance or investigation activities. The report is based on data from on charges (2.5 million preliminary cases) and arrests (270,000 cases) of permanent residents over 14 years of age collected in Denmark in the period 2009-2019.

The main conclusion of the report is that people from “non-Western” countries, especially those from the Middle East and North Africa, raise more suspicions among the Kingdom’s law enforcement agencies and are thus much more likely to be wrongly detained and convicted and then pardoned than ethnic Danes.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has pointed to a significant increase in the number of homeless people in the country and has also expressed concern about the criminalization of begging and homelessness.[338] According to experts, the shortage of affordable housing in the Kingdom is exacerbated by the growing trend in property acquisition by private investors who, under the 1996 Act on Temporary Regulation of Housing Conditions, are authorized to increase rents up to the “value of the rented dwelling.”

In 2021, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) drew attention to the feminization of poverty in Denmark. Moreover, the CESCR has expressed concern about the prevalence of violence against women. According to its experts, women and girls belonging to socially vulnerable segments of the population, especially migrants who face various forms of discrimination, are the most affected by these phenomena.

The CESCR also noted persisting gender segregation in the education sector at all levels in the country. In practice, this results in the majority of women and girls choosing a recognized “standard” specialization, with only a low number of women and girls choosing non-traditional fields of study and career paths.[339]

In May 2022, an investigation[340] published in the Danish press revealed that the Danish authorities in the 1960s and 1970s had conducted a campaign to reduce the birth rate in Greenland through forced contraception: half of girls and women of childbearing age (approximately 4,500 out of 9,000) were fitted with IUDs during that period, often without the consent of the patients or their parents, and in some cases without informing them. As a result, the birth rate on the island had more than halved by the mid-1970s.

The Human Rights Council of Greenland and the Danish Institute for Human Rights have jointly called on the Danish authorities to acknowledge its responsibility for this campaign, which has entailed serious violations of girls’ and women’s right to self-determination and subjected them to degrading treatment.[341] In June 2022, Mette Frederiksen, Danish Prime Minister, issued a formal apology to the victims.

In June 2022, experts began to work on a report to create “the conditions for reconciliation with Denmark and Greenland’s past.”[342] It, inter alia, will present the results of the investigation into the campaign for forced contraception of Greenlandic women.

The Danish Government’s legislative initiatives against foreign terrorist and fighters (FTFs) who are citizens of the Kingdom are singled out in a separate block. In particular, amendments adopted in 2019 by the Danish Parliament allow for the administrative deprivation of Danish citizenship in absentia of persons who have caused “serious damage to the vital interests of Denmark” by their actions (adopted due to the reluctance of Danes to return and prosecute their foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) in the territory of Denmark). In addition, under these new regulations, children born of Danish FTFs are no longer entitled to automatic acquisition of Danish citizenship. This discriminatory provision is counter to Copenhagen’s commitment to reducing statelessness (according to Danish counterintelligence officials, 40 Danish children now remain in the former ISIL-controlled regions of Syria and Iraq). Finally, FTFs who are Danish citizens and remain abroad may now be completely denied consular assistance in Danish foreign offices.

With regard to the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Denmark, the report of the Danish Government Commission on Freedom of Expression, published in April 2020, is noteworthy.

The Commission was greatly concerned about the intentions of the ruling Social Democratic cabinet to continue the Western trend of combating the spread of “fake news” in the spirit of the Western trend. To this end, it has been proposed that control over social media should be strengthened and that there should be the possibility of forcibly removing “fake” content from their platforms. It should be noted that such actions by the authorities are fully in line with the general trend in Western countries to take control of the media and Internet and to “cleanse” the space of opinions alternative to those of the Government.

Besides, human rights defenders have criticized the increased penalties for threats and insults against Danish civil servants, including against senior officials. Now, such crimes are punishable in Denmark by a fine of up to DKK 5,000 (equivalent to about USD 800) or imprisonment for up to a year. It has been noted that the new legislation is vague and therefore there is a risk of penalizing citizens criticizing the actions of the authorities in a normal democratic debate, which ultimately results in self-censorship of media and Internet platforms.

Human rights defenders also criticize the 2016 amendments to Danish Penal Code that established liability for justifying unlawful violent acts in religious education (the “Imam Act”). In addition to these changes, the Danish law has been amended to tighten control over preachers, making it possible to limit funding for certain religious organizations and ban clerics who justify radicalization from entering the country.

In general, the adoption of such measures to combat extremism and terrorism is in line with the common European practice; however, the practice of their application in Denmark has been criticized by human rights defenders. At the same time, it is noteworthy that similar anti-extremist measures taken by Russian lawmakers are often used in Denmark to accuse Russia of allegedly attempting to restrict freedom of expression and suppress civil society.

Since the beginning of the special military operation (SMO) to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine and protect the civilians in the Donbass by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, the Danish authorities, in line with the Western approaches, have taken an extremely anti-Russian position. Thus, the media reported that the territory of the Kingdom had been used for cyberattacks on Russian institutions. However, the participants of these attacks have not been brought to justice.

Though the Danish authorities did not undertake legislative steps discriminating Russians and representatives of Russian-speaking community, our compatriots face infringement of their rights and psychological pressure in daily life.

When talking to representatives of Russian compatriot organizations living in Denmark, several Russian citizens confirm that they periodically become victims of the policy of “cleansing” everything Russian, including the mention of this word in the names of non-profit organizations.

There have been cases of the Danish authorities not promptly informing the Russian Embassy of incidents involving the detention of our citizens, as well as the inappropriate refusal of private clinics to provide medical assistance to them. Though the law enforcement authorities of the Kingdom formally provide consular access to the detained Russians; however, the periods for approval of such visits are dragged on by them from time to time.

The Danish authorities do not impede open recruitment of nationals and citizens of other countries by the Ukrainian Embassy in the Kingdom of Denmark for participation in the military hostilities in Ukraine. The aggressive activities of the Ukrainian Embassy, violating the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, is not limited to recruitment of mercenaries. Its information resources are also used to distribute photos and videos of the torture, abuse and brutal killings of Russian servicemen in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Embassy also stirs up inter-ethnic hatred by spreading insults and calls to kill Russians on the Internet.

There are cases of vandalism against the buildings of the Embassy, the Russian Centre for Science and Culture, the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Copenhagen, and memorials to Soviet servicemen in Copenhagen, Aarhus, and Allinge (island of Bornholm).

 

Ireland

Ireland brands itself as one of the world leaders in implementing human rights standards.

The rights and freedoms of its inhabitants are protected by the Constitution (articles 40-44), which stipulates that all citizens, regardless of age, religion, social status or mental or physical state, have equal rights, which the State protects through the courts.

Besides, due to Ireland’s membership in the European Union and the Council of Europe, the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and many other relevant international agreements to which Dublin is a signatory have been fully incorporated into the national legal system.

However, the Irish judiciary authorities continue to rely primarily on domestic legislation rather than on international treaties when addressing individual cases of human rights violations. According to human rights defenders, this system does not allow Ireland to be considered as a country fully compliant with the standards set by the international community in the field of promotion and protection of human rights.

As a result, the national courts dismiss the claims of its citizens and thus make them regularly appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and other international judicial institutions. According to human rights defenders, the majority of complaints relate to violence against women, the denial of access to citizenship and employment to migrants.

In general, Dublin’s human rights policy follows Western samples, which provide for maximum individual and civil liberties in line with the liberal paradigm. The Irish brands themselves as human rights “pioneers” of the world community, promoting relevant initiatives at international forums, including within the United Nations, which are often of questionable nature (on issues related to gender equality, promotion of the LGBT agenda, the artificial overstatement of the role of women, youth and minorities in political life, settlement of armed conflicts and countering new challenges and threats). However, the Irish authorities have so far failed to achieve an exemplary human rights situation in their country.

Although the democratic institutions are well-developed in Ireland, its citizens living outside the country are effectively deprived of active suffrage. Only diplomats and other civil servants and their family members who are on assignment outside the country may vote abroad when electing representatives to all levels of government. This practice is due to concerns that fellow citizens who are disconnected from local realities (the size of the Irish diaspora abroad is comparable to the country’s population) may have a highly unpredictable influence on local political life.

In 2014, the Commission on Human Rights and Equality is established in Ireland by a special law, with 15 members appointed by the President. The Commission has offices in all Irish counties and major cities. The Commission publishes detailed annual reports, which are subject to a mandatory study by the competent authorities to redress violations mentioned therein. Moreover, Irish people have the right to appeal to the Ombudsman, who is designated by the President in consultation with both houses of Parliament. He/she is responsible to monitor how public authorities, health care, education and social welfare institutions comply with human rights standards.

As of 2021, the Commission had registered 1,811 human rights communications. The majority of complaints relate to violations of human rights laws (530) or equality issues (521). More than 20 per cent of complaints relate to discrimination by employers (334).

In 2014, the Irish Constitutional Convention recommended that the government organize a referendum on a matter of public concern regarding the enshrining of the right to housing in the Constitution. The government has pledged to implement the recommendation by 2020, but the plebiscite has yet to take place. In the context of the country’s deepening housing crisis, its dragging on has drawn sharp criticism by the Irish public and human rights defenders.

According to the Commission’s report, the Irish mass media and international human rights NGOs, the areas of greatest concern are the protection of the rights of national and religious minorities, migrants, Roma, as well as the situation in places of detention.

Since 2004, a new version of the Equality Act has been in force in Ireland, which declares equal rights to all citizens regardless of their nationality or religion. The Act prohibits all forms of racism and discrimination in all spheres of social and economic life. The Equality Authority and the Equality Tribunal, as well as the Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office, are responsible for the observance and implementation of its provisions. The national Irish Network Against Racism NGO is active in the prevention of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The Equality Act does not prohibit organizations and movements that promote racial discrimination, since the Irish law, which establishes the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association, requires evidence that the organization is one.

Under Irish law, any case of racism, discrimination and xenophobia (Nazism and neo-Nazism are not mentioned due to their absence) is subject to review in a court which imposes the penalty. In practice, while considering these few cases (graffiti on walls, verbal insults in schools and in the streets), the judgment of the court is limited to administrative penalties in the form of a fine, although it foresees imprisonment.

According to human rights defenders, despite existing legal framework to combat the spread of racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, these phenomena are becoming intense, which contribute to continued discrimination against national and religious minorities in the country.

The anti-racist demonstrations in the Unites States in the summer of 2020 prompted an analysis of the situation in Ireland. A general assessment was given by Irish President Michael Higgins, who stressed that sentiments against migrants and people of different skin colour are gaining momentum in the country, and that nationalism is beginning to threaten Irish democratic foundations. Political leadership and civil society began to recognize that refugees, migrants and other groups of national minorities have increasingly been regarded as a threat to “majority rights” in some parts of the Irish society. Under this pretext, some groups of local extremists have begun active racist and anti-Semitic criminal actions.

There is also racism in education (despite new legislation banning the practice of discriminatory children’s school enrolment depending on their parents’ religion).

As follows from the 2022 EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report, research findings across the EU provide evidence of discrimination against ethnic minorities and migrants in education.[343] Thus, more than a third (35 per cent) of staff from minority ethnic groups have been subject to racial and/or ethnic discrimination on campus or online in the course of their work, compared with 16 per cent of “white other” respondents and 3 per cent of “white Irish” respondents, according to a survey that the Higher Education Authority in Ireland conducted with 3,323 respondents.[344]

According to the iReport.ie Racist Incident Reporting System launched by the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR), there were 700 racist incidents reported in 2020 (530 cases in 2019), including 159 criminal offences. There was also mentioned the largest increase in the reports about manifestations of racism on the Internet, 334 cases (174 cases in 2019), including on social media and on the pages of the respected radio and printed mass media, on Facebook, with the largest number of such publications was recorded exactly on Facebook (119 cases). It is noted that this all contributes to an increase of amounts of far‑right content.[345] Moreover, in its 2021 report titled “Reports of racism in Ireland,” the INAR highlighted that Chinese, South Asians and other Asians became the most frequent victims of racist crime, while the greatest discrimination in Ireland was experienced by people of African descent as well as by black Irish people.[346]

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) highlighted manifestations of racism in the Irish society, mentioning a high number of cases of racial profiling in the Irish police (Garda) and hate speech. There were also noted cases of racist speech and its frequent use by Irish politicians, especially during electoral campaigns. In this context, the CERD mentioned that the 1988 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act turned out to be ineffective in the fight against hate speech, especially the ones published on the Internet.[347]

The CERD noted with concern the significant number of racial hate crimes targeted at ethnic minorities, mentioning that they are often accompanied by other grounds of discrimination such as gender and religious affiliation. It was mentioned that the existing Irish criminal laws do not criminalize cases where racial hatred would be the main cause; this circumstance is also not prescribed as aggravating one.

According to CERD experts, this leads to improper recording of such crimes, since their racist motives are systematically not taken into account during criminal proceedings. In the context of escalated far-right rhetoric and increased number of racial hate crimes targeted ethnic minorities, the Committee also indicated the absence of legal norms prohibiting racist organizations in the country.[348]

Human rights defenders still greatly concern about the Muslim community which has been steadily growing (more than 70,000 people). According to the Commission for Human Rights and Equality[349] and the Immigration Council of Ireland[350], the number of racist incidents against Muslims in general remains at the same, rather high, level. About 40 per cent of Muslims in Ireland officially stated that they had experienced violence (verbal or physical) at work, in educational institutions, in their daily lives because of their faith. However, experts of the indicated human rights institutions mention that in fact, the actual figures are considerably higher, there are about 80 per cent.

Shortly after the beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine by Russian Armed Forces, the Irish Government, guiding by political reasons, allowed all Ukrainian citizens unhindered (without prior notification or visa requirements) entry, organizing a large-scale effort to welcome them as refugees.

However, the Ireland’s attitude towards people from other countries (mainly from the Middle East and Afghanistan) applying for asylum on humanitarian reasons remains much less favourable: it can take up to two years (1.5 years on average) for local competent authorities to consider their applications to enter Ireland.

The differential treatment of refugees has caused discontent among a number of human rights organizations that described such policies as “racist.”

Following the decision of the Irish Government to suspend the 1959 European Agreement on the Abolition of Visas for Refugees for one year from 19 July 2022, the situation has been exacerbated. Thus, the Irish authorities are trying to relieve the burden on the migration and social services as a matter of urgency, by restricting the entry of refugees from other signatory countries, who could previously stay in Ireland for up to three months without a visa if they had the relevant documents.

Meanwhile, the Irish leadership categorically denies any plans to introduce any limits on the Ukrainians (over 50,000 people), who entered Ireland from 24 February to 24 August 2022, in the foreseeable future. This situation is a vivid example of Dublin’s double standard in the humanitarian matters.

Migrants and refugees from Asia and Africa are among the most vulnerable members of society. Ireland has made commitments to accept 4,000 people under the programmes of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and of the European Union. Of these, the Irish Government has accommodated about 1,100 people, mainly from Syria. In accordance with the Government’s plan, the refugees are accommodated in special reception centres (as a rule, these are hotels leased by the Government) where they are waiting for all the documents necessary to stay in the territory of Ireland. However, the excessively protracted legalization procedures has led to the situation where the vast majority of refugees have to live in such centres for a long time, which also causes discontent among members of the local community.

In 2019-2020, several of such institutions were set on fire, which has led to victims among refugees in certain cases. As a result, there has been a wave of protests across the country, demanding that the authorities reconsider the existing refugee reception process.

Ireland’s new coalition government, formed in June 2020, has pledged to dismantle the centres and develop new procedures for the reception and accommodation of refugees.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[351] and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance[352] drew attention to the difficult situation of migrants in Ireland. In this context, slow processing of applications for international protection, unreasonably lengthy process of obtaining a work permit, long detention of migrants in poor conditions in the reception centres, and concealment of deaths in these centres were highlighted. There was also mentioned that the media, including the mainstream Irish media, spread anti-migrant sentiments.

The ECRI noted with concern that 40 per cent of migrant crew members working in Ireland’s fishing fleet had reported racial verbal abuse insults and humiliation against them. According to the EU MIDIS II survey, Ireland had one of the highest rates of hate-motivated harassment experienced by immigrants and descendants of immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa.[353]

The plight of a large (30,000 people) ethno-cultural group of people, the Irish Travellers, who have no fixed abode and prefer a “nomadic” lifestyle, remains a very real problem in Ireland. This group in Ireland also encompasses Roma.

Irish Travellers experience racial discrimination, including in recruitment. However, it is difficult to assess the real extent of the problem since they rarely seek formal legal assistance. Meanwhile, human rights defenders indicate that members of this group are much more likely to encounter abuses by local law enforcement authorities. As noted by OHCHR experts, this explains, in particular, the disproportionate number of Travellers in Irish prisons.

According to Irish human rights defenders, the official recognition of such people as ethnic minority in 2017 has not changed the general situation. Currently, more than 25,000 of these people still live in poverty. Between 30 and 50 per cent of prisoners of both genders in Irish detention centres are representatives of this group of society. The general public and human rights defenders of Ireland admit that the effective solution to the Travellers issue has not been found yet, which is explained primarily by their culture hardly compatible with the sedentary lifestyle and socially useful work.

This issue also came to the attention of international universal and regional human rights monitoring mechanisms, primarily the CERD and the ECRI. In particular, it was mentioned that the Travellers and Roma, along with people of African descent, are disproportionately becoming victims of racial profiling by the police, as well as constitute the majority of prisoners. It is exactly this vulnerable group of population that the racist rhetoric in the mass media and on the Internet is directed. These ethnic minorities are poorly represented in the Irish public sector and political positions at all levels. They have restricted access to social housing, face serious discrimination and inequality in renting in private sector and, as a consequence, are disproportionately more likely to become homeless.

It is noted that the 2002 Housing Act is used by the local authorities to justify forced evictions of Travellers. In addition, local authorities demonstrate a reluctance to fully use the budgeted allocations for providing housing to such persons. The rate of unemployment among Travellers and Roma is extremely high, and their children are very rarely enrolled in school. All members of these groups of the population have very poor health.

Forced involvement of minor female refugees in pornography and prostitution is another problem. In 2019, the Irish law-enforcement authorities identified 27 cases, but human rights defenders believe that the real number of such episodes is three-four times higher.

The CERD indicated abuses based on race in Irish mother and baby homes, including racial discrimination in the adoption process and physical, emotional and sexual abuse which mostly affect children of mixed racial origin.[354]

A specific issue related to violence against women is historical abuses, ill-treatment of women and girls in the Magdalene Laundries (or shelters). Despite the adoption of the 2005 Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act, the Irish authorities did not managed to conduct independent, thorough and effective investigations that meet international standards in respect of all allegations of neglect of women and children in such shelters, which would make it possible to determine the role of the State and the Church in the alleged violations.

Concerns about the scale and systemic nature of forced labour practices that took place under State patronage from 1922 to 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries have been repeatedly expressed by virtually all UN human rights treaty bodies, noting the need to investigate outrageous abuses.

The violations committed in the shelters were of particular concern to the Committee against Torture, which sent a request to the Irish authorities in May 2019 for action taken to investigate the abuses and compensate the victims of these shelters (it should be noted that this request was sent by the Committee following receipt of a report from the Irish authorities on the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations in this regard).[355]

The problem of torture or inhumane treatment in detention facilities still needs to be addressed. According to the 2019 Equality and Human Rights Commission report, about half of the penitentiary facilities of Ireland are overcrowded, and the calls of public activists demanding the authorities to provide a detailed report have been ignored since 2016, when the last analysis on this subject was submitted.

Human rights defenders report no serious violations of civil rights and freedoms in Ireland. In this regard, official Dublin has been criticized by local and international community for being overly liberal in its treatment of certain organizations and individuals who freely disseminate extremist and racist content in the electronic media under the guise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and for having used complex and highly specific Irish legislation to rebut the charges in court. The Government refuses to take decisive action against such entities (primary, ban or closure), giving priority to the freedom of expression on any issue, excluding direct incitement to violence.

However, the Irish authorities acted decisively against participants in protests against COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, which were longer than in other European countries. According to media reports, a protest in Dublin city centre in late February 2021 was held with a heavy police presence and ended in clashes. Security forces attacked protesters with batons after an object similar to a lit firecracker was thrown at one of the police officers. 23 persons were arrested.[356]

On 6 March 2021, there were protests in different parts of the country involving a considerable number of participants. Thus, about 400‑500 journalists gathered in Cork, in the centre of the district of the same name. RTÉ TV reported detentions of four protesters in Cork, Kerry and Kildare districts for breaching COVID-19 restrictions, in particular for unreasonably moving outside the boundaries of their area.[357]

Ireland receives the greatest number of positive comments for its progress on the rights of people of non-traditional sexual orientation. In practice, this led to aggressive incorporation of neo-liberal values and approaches, especially among children and the youth.

The Gender Recognition Act of the same year makes it possible to officially register the change of name and gender on the basis of self-determination and without the need for medical intervention or assessment. In 2016, detailed Being LGBT in Schools guidelines were adopted under the pretext of preventing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools and supporting LGBT students. The National LGBTI+ Youth Strategy 2018-2020, adopted by the Ministry of Children and Youth Affairs, serves the same purpose. In fact, these and similar documents are aimed at promoting appropriate “values” and lifestyles among the younger generations, that are contrary to the traditional patterns of Irish society.

There is still a tendency to spread negative attitudes towards Russia in the public sphere. The Irish sections of international human rights NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Frontline Defenders, work actively in this regard. Meanwhile, there were no cases of explicit discrimination against Russian journalists.

The sixth UN HRC Universal Periodic Review on Ireland in 2021 resulted in over 250 recommendations to Dublin in the following thematic areas:

–        to ratify relevant international agreements and accede to international legal instruments on the rights of the child, missing persons, persons deprived of their liberty and those serving a sentence, and persons with disabilities (33 recommendations);

–        to promote international human rights cooperation and assistance (one recommendation);

–        to improve the constitution and legislation on reducing inequalities and building peace and justice (11 recommendations);

–        to develop national human rights institutions (five recommendations);

–        to ensure equality and non-discrimination, reduce inequalities, as well as to ensure decent work and economic growth, access to education, gender equality, sustainable cities and communities (47 recommendations);

–        to counter racial discrimination (seven recommendations);

–        to promote human rights in the business environment (two recommendations);

–        to ensure the human right to a healthy environment (one recommendation);

–        to mainstream human rights aspects of combating climate change (two recommendations);

–        to prevent torture and ill-treatment, including of prisoners in custody (three recommendations);

–        to improve prison conditions (nine recommendations);

–        to ensure justice and fair trials (four recommendations);

–        to combat human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery (16 recommendations);

–        to ensure the right to a decent life (one recommendation);

–        to ensure the right to housing (nine recommendations);

–        to ensure the right to health protection (five recommendations);

–        to ensure the rights to marriage and a family (one recommendation);

–        to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights (eight recommendations);

–        to ensure the right to education (five recommendations);

–        to counter discrimination against women (19 recommendations);

–        to protect women from violence (four recommendations);

–        to protect the rights of persons with disabilities (four recommendations);

–        to ensure the integration of persons with disabilities and their independence (eight recommendations);

–        to ensure the rights of the child (six recommendations);

–        to protect children from exploitation (four recommendations);

–        to ensure rights relating to name, personal identity and nationality (one recommendation);

–        to ensure the functioning of a national body for the prevention of human rights violations (one recommendation);

–        to ensure the functioning of national complaints mechanisms for human rights violations (one recommendation);

–        to fight against sexual and gender-based violence (11 recommendations);

–        to ensure the freedom of conscience, belief and religion (one recommendation);

–        to ensure the freedom of assembly (one recommendation);

–        to ensure economic, social and cultural rights (one recommendation);

–        to promote women’s rights (two recommendations);

–        to establish juvenile justice (one recommendation);

–        to protect minority rights (13 recommendations);

–        to protect migrants’ rights (six recommendations);

–        to protect refugees and asylum seekers (five recommendations).

In July 2022, the OHCHR published an interim report on Ireland’s response to these recommendations.

Among the comments made by international experts it is worth mentioning the lack of an adequate complaints mechanism in Ireland to address the massive human rights violations in Ireland’s system of so-called “mother and child homes” in the mid-20th century, where over 60,000 unmarried women with children were often forcibly and arbitrarily placed, including by the Catholic Church.

In addition, the OHCHR has made claims against Dublin regarding access to abortion, the State Commission’s monitoring of human rights standards in places of detention, corruption and women’s rights (a relevant national strategy expired in 2020 and after which the document was not updated).

The experts also pointed out the partial measures taken by Ireland to increase women’s representation in elected bodies, combat sexual and gender-based violence, ensure the labour rights of Irish Travellers, counter discrimination against people of African descent, and increase access to health care for migrants.

Moreover, there was an increase in complaints of racially biased attacks against people of Asian descent in Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Iceland

Human rights issues are among the priorities of Iceland’s foreign and domestic policy. The country traditionally positions itself as one of the most active human rights defenders in the international arena. As of September 2022, Freedom House NGO ranked Iceland seventh in the world in terms of political and civil liberties (94 points out of 100).

At the same time, a number of government initiatives are controversial. For example, the Icelandic authorities are actively pursuing a neo-liberal agenda. Iceland has been particularly active in protecting the interests of the LGBT community. Since 2013, the country has participated in the UN Free and Equal campaign against homophobia and transphobia, the main purpose of which are the so-called “educational” activities around the world.

In 2022, Iceland has moved up five places (from 14th to 9th) in the ranking of European countries in terms of respect for the rights of sexual minorities (compiled annually by the ILGA-Europe).

Reykjavik has consolidated its position in this area, as in June 2019, at the initiative of Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Althingi passed the Act on Gender Autonomy, which allows people to choose their own gender according to their personal preferences. The choice can be made once in a lifetime upon reaching the age of 15. Moreover, it recognises the right to be the so-called “gender-neutral” person. This regulatory legal act also stipulates that Icelandic names are no longer gender-specific, meaning that anyone can choose any name, regardless of gender (previously, the naming law stipulated that girls should be given female names and boys should be given male names).[358]

Activists who speak out against the state’s neo-liberal agenda are often persecuted under various pretexts.

In recent years, Iceland has strengthened its position in international human rights cooperation. In July 2018, the country became a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for the first time. Iceland received 172 votes in favour, taking the place of the United States, which withdrew from the HRC in June 2018.[359] Gender equality, women’s rights and the rights of sexual minorities have been declared Reykjavik’s priorities in the Council’s activities. The Icelandic government intends to nominate the country for membership in the HRC for 2025‑2027.

In June 2018, Iceland’s Bragi Gudbrandsson was elected to the Committee on the Rights of the Child for the period 2019-2022.

The Icelandic Human Rights Centre has been active since 1994, collecting information and providing education and analysis on human rights issues. The Centre’s partners are the Icelandic Red Cross, the field office of Amnesty International and other relevant NGOs, as well as the Universities of Reykjavik and Akureyri. According to their assessments, the right to life, liberty and integrity, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to privacy, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to association for the protection of one’s interests are generally respected in Iceland.

Despite changes to the Icelandic legislation made in the late 1990s which abolished the obligation for foreigners to change their names to Icelandic when acquiring Icelandic citizenship, the country still has a government-approved list of about 2000 recommended names and forms of their spellings. The Icelandic National Registry (Registers Iceland) has its Naming Committee. If a citizen’s name does not correspond to the approved form, or if he/she wishes to take a name that is not on the official list, these people face serious problems with civil registration and issuance of identity documents. It takes a long time for the Naming Committee to process such requests. Citizens have had to go to court, in some cases all the way to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), to protect their rights. No legal proceedings on this issue have been recorded in the country in recent years, following high-profile lawsuits in 2013-2014 filed by a number of Icelandic families demanding that the authorities recognise the children’s names not included in the approved list.

The prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is generally respected in Iceland. However, there are cases of unjustified police brutality during the arrest of citizens, as well as the detention of juvenile offenders together with adult criminal.

In May 2021, the Ombudsman’s monitoring visit to Holmsheidi prison in Reykjavik revealed numerous “excesses” committed by prison warden during searches. Some experts believe that the search procedure should be relaxed. Suggestions, in particular, include conducting body searches only when absolutely necessary, as well as minimising the use of humiliating intimate searches of prisoners.[360]

According to the Walk Free Foundation international human rights organisation, there is no slave trade in Iceland (according to the 2018 report[361]). Moreover, in July 2022, the US State Department listed Iceland among the 30 countries, where the government has taken the necessary measures to prevent human trafficking, in its annual report.

However, there are individual cases of people being forced to work against their will in the tourism and construction sectors, especially migrant workers from Eastern European countries. Between June 2020 and April 2021, the Icelandic Police filed 13 cases of human trafficking. The victims were predominantly women under the age of 40. The most common perpetrators were African and Asian nationals with residence permits in Iceland.[362]

In June 2021, Althingi approved amendments to the General Penal Code initiated by the Ministry of Justice. The amendments aim to protect victims of human trafficking, especially women and children.

The principles of equality before the law, the right to a fair, independent and impartial trial and the presumption of innocence are generally respected in Iceland. At the same time, there were cases of selective justice. For example, in 2019, businessman Olafsson appealed to the ECHR, accusing two judges of the Supreme Court of Iceland of bias when they sentenced him in a fraud case. Olafsson said that the son of one of the judges had worked for his company and had suffered financial losses during the 2008 crisis. The ECHR accepted the complaint after first finding that the judges had abused their power. However, the case did not reach a decision as the parties reached a settlement agreement in December 2019.[363]

In December 2020, the ECHR ruled that the right of the Icelandic citizen Gudmundur Andri Astradsson to a fair trial had been violated by the Icelandic Court of Appeal’s failure to comply with the rules governing the appointment of judges.[364]

In 2021, Bragi Gudmundur Kristjansson won a case against Iceland in the ECHR. The Court found that the applicant had been convicted twice for concealment of income and sentenced to fines and imprisonment, in violation of the principle that one cannot be tried twice for the same offence.[365]

The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is largely respected in the country. Violations were recorded in 2013-2015.

The St. Nicholas Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Icelandic capital is implementing a project to build an orthodox church in Reykjavik. A lease agreement has been signed with the city administration for a land plot for the construction. The anti-Russian rhetoric of the municipal authorities amid the special military operation of Russia in Ukraine has not affected the project. A licensed Icelandic architectural firm is currently adapting the documentation to local standards and obtaining the necessary building permits.

When Iceland signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it made five reservations, including not applying Article 20(1) on the prohibition of propaganda for war. Following the publication of the UN Human Rights Council’s 2016 Universal Periodic Review, which highlighted this fact, Reykjavik pledged to consider ratifying the article. As of September 2022, the Ministry of Justice is still considering the issue. According to the Ministry, a ban on propaganda could lead to a violation of the right to freedom of expression.[366]

The right to freedom of marriage and to found a family is generally not violated in Iceland. Since June 2022, only those who have reached the age of 18 can get married. The Minister of Justice is no longer authorized to grant individual permissions to younger people (including in cases of pregnancy).

Dissolution of marriage remains challenging. According to the Law in Respect of Marriage of 1993, the procedure takes at least six months if both spouses agree to divorce. If they have children together, the period is increased to two years. If one of the spouses does not agree to divorce, the case is considered by the National Court. In this case, the party insisting on divorce must provide evidence of the substantiation thereof (e.g. domestic violence).

The right to political participation and public administration is generally not violated in Iceland. However, there is an imbalanced proportionality in representation of different regions in parliament. According to the Act No. 55/1991 on the Standing Orders of Althingi, each of Iceland’s six constituencies must be represented by at least six MPs following the elections. However, as the number of votes required to obtain a mandate varies considerably by region, 22 of Althingi’s 63 MPs currently represent the metropolitan constituency, while each of the other five constituencies is represented by eight to ten MPs.

There is no legal limit to the number of terms a person can serve as President of Iceland, but this provision of the law may be amended. In January 2021, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir initiated constitutional amendments that would, among other things, make it impossible for the same person to serve more than two presidential terms (six years each). The issue remains on Althingi’s agenda.

Local expert community has criticised the authorities for providing very low childcare allowances for children under the age of 18.

According to a report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published in December 2021, child allowance in Iceland is lower than in most of Europe. For example, a family with two children receives a monthly payment of 2.5 per cent of the parents’ salary, or about 17,000 ISK (approximately 124 USD). For comparison, the allowance in Denmark reaches 290 USD. As noted by representatives of Icelandic trade unions, the payment should be at least doubled, taking into account inflation and the cost of living in Iceland.[367]

In addition, in the summer of 2021, a group of parents of children with physical disabilities approached lawyers in order to address poor conditions for the full education of persons with disabilities in schools in Reykjavik. In particular, it was noted that schools often lack psychologists and speech therapists. No further developments were reported in open sources.[368]

Crimes of online corruption of minors and distribution of child pornography have become more frequent in recent years. In 2021, the Icelandic Police reported an investigation into 36 sexual offences against school-age children. According to media reports, perpetrators were engaged in conversation with minors and extorted intimate photos of them for a fee.[369]

The protection of women’s rights is a priority in Iceland. In particular, according to the Platform for Action of the government formed in November 2021 following the parliamentary elections, the issue is under the personal control of the Prime Minister. Reykjavik has made considerable progress in this area. For example, according to data published by the Foreign Affairs magazine in March 2020, Iceland is one of the top 10 countries (and first among the Nordic States) where women excel in the workforce.

According to the World Economic Forum’s July 2022 ranking, Iceland was listed first in the world in terms of gender equality. Countries were ranked on indicators such as women’s participation in economic and political life of the State, and equal access to education and health care for both genders

Iceland is one of the leading countries in the Generation Equality Forum, which was launched in 2020 under the auspices of UN Women at the initiative of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The five-year project focuses on the active involvement of public authorities, international NGOs and private companies to promote gender equality. Icelanders attach great importance to the initiative and there is an ongoing task force led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir.

The annual Women Leaders Global Forum on gender equality was held in Reykjavik in November 2021.

The Prime Minister’s report on the situation in Iceland in this area published in August 2020 focused on fair pay and combating traditional occupational segregation between women and men.

At the same time, domestic violence remains an acute problem. For example, in June 2022, the police received 36 per cent more corresponding appeals than in May of that year.[370]

The same trend in violence against women, especially committed by partners, is reflected in a study on the subject published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. The study also points out that cases of violence are often not reflected in general statistics.[371]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of documented cases of domestic violence increased in Iceland, as in many other European countries. Human rights activists, citing data from the Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, note that while globally the rate of female homicides committed by a male partner is 38 per cent, in Iceland it stands at 50 per cent. However, a large percentage of such cases go unreported for a variety of reasons, including fear of further harassment or distrust of law enforcement.

Sexual violence is also widespread in Iceland. A survey by the University of Iceland found that every fourth Icelandic woman has been raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. However, according to the Icelandic Stígamót Centre for victims of violence, only about 12 per cent of victims actually report the crime.[372]

Racism and xenophobia are virtually absent in Iceland.

However, a high-profile incident took place on 31 March 2022. During a meeting with the Farmers’ Association of Iceland, Sigurdur Ingi Johansson, the Minister of Infrastructure of Iceland and the head of the Progressive Party, made a racist remark about the Association’s executive director, a woman of Indonesian origin, Vigdis Hasler. According to Hasler and her colleagues, Johansson refused to be photographed with her, saying that he did not want to be in a picture “with that black person”. On 4 April 2022, after this information was published in the media, Johansson personally apologized to Hasler.[373]

Opposition MPs initiated the consideration of the case before the Althingi Ethics Committee. In September 2022, the hearing against Johansson was closed, allegedly for “lack of credible facts” to support the racist statements.

According to the Iceland Monitor newspaper[374], in March 2021 the Icelandic government agreed to allocate about 20,000 euros to raise a monument to Hans Jónatan who is considered the first black settler in Iceland (according to some sources, he had been a slave in Denmark and one of its Caribbean colonies before being an escapee to Iceland). The memorial is to be installed in Djúpivogur where Hans Jónatan lived.

In recent years, there have been isolated manifestations of neo‑Nazi activity in the country, as well as spread of neo-Nazi or hate ideology.

Human rights community notes with concern a rise of hate speech in Iceland, especially towards ethnic and religious groups and foreign Muslims, cases of inciting racial hate and promoting ideas of racial superiority as well as using racist stereotypes, including in political debates, the media, the Internet and social networks.

It is noted that the measures taken by the Icelandic authorities to counter racism are insufficient. Furthermore, under Icelandic law, penalties are only imposed for serious and repeated offences, and this does not happen often. As a result, the effective prosecution and punishment of those responsible for spreading hateful ideas and speech faces difficulties.

Remarkably, there are no registered far-right organizations in Iceland. Therefore, efforts to spread racism and neo-Nazism in the country are conducted and coordinated from other states.

In 2020, Icelandic neo-Nazis attacked members of the Jewish community living in the country: anti-Semitic posters denying the Holocaust and accusing Jews of abuse of women and paedophilia were distributed near synagogues and Jewish institutions. The action was organized not only in Iceland, but also in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. These actions organized by right-wing radicals during the Jewish community’s celebration of Yom Kippur sparked outrage from international Jewish organizations.

In October 2020, Simon Wiesenthal Centre for International Affairs director Shimon Samuels sent a letter to Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, expressing concern about these events (letters were also sent to the leaders of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden). The letter noted that given the total population of the country of about 364,000, neo-Nazis could hardly remain unknown to the authorities. Reykjavik was called on to take action against the instigators of the anti-Semitic campaign.[375]

The Government of Iceland pays great attention to the implementation of UN recommendations on human rights protection.

In November 2021, Iceland published its ninth report on the country’s implementation of the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women[376], noting that between 2015 and 2021 the authorities had implemented a number of measures to protect women’s rights. These included the entry into force of the Act on Equal Pay (2017) and the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights Irrespective of Gender (2021), as well as amendments to the General Penal Code to stiffen the penalty for harassment, domestic violence and stalking. In addition, a five-year plan for 2019-2023 on gender equality was approved, funding for NGOs supporting victims of domestic violence was raised, and the proportion of female civil servants in Icelandic ministries was increased.

In January 2022, an intergovernmental working group of the UN Human Rights Council began preparing its next Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights situation in Iceland. The Prime Minister[377], speaking at the first session of the Group, noted that Reykjavik had worked hard to address the shortcomings identified in the previous review in 2016 (by adopting a number of laws on gender equality, including the aforementioned Act on Gender Autonomy (ambiguously perceived in the human rights community), strengthening cooperation with human rights NGOs etc.). Priority is given to children’s rights to education, health services and psychological counselling. In particular, in the summer of 2021, the country launched a government plan to allocate additional funding for psychological support of children, to protect minors from violence and to ensure their participation in political life of Iceland.

In line with the recommendations of the 2016 Universal Periodic Review, Reykjavik ratified the 1960 UN Convention against Discrimination in Education, the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the 2002 Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the 2011 the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

In September 2016, the Government of Iceland also ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In February 2021, the Cabinet of Iceland decided to establish a special state committee on the implementation of the convention, and in July 2022, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour began developing a roadmap for this.

In April 2022, the UNHRC Working Group published its recommendations for Iceland, which include highlighted general thesis on the need to remain active on the human rights track. More specific recommendations include: the need to ratify a number of international conventions (including the 2019 International Labour Organization’s Convention Concerning the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, the 2011 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure, the 2008 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance); to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into domestic law; to take effective legislative measures to combat racial discrimination; to incorporate provisions on racial hatred as an aggravating circumstance in the General Penal Code; reform the electoral system; to establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles; to meet the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for official development assistance.

Human rights activists have documented some problems with the implementation of religious freedoms.

In Iceland, human rights activists document certain problems with the implementation of religious freedoms and pointed to instances of intolerance against members of certain religious denominations. The media reported public protests against the construction of a mosque in the suburbs of Reykjavik, accompanied by acts of vandalism, and that the perpetrators have not been identified and brought to justice. Human rights activists also point out that the church is not separated from the state in Iceland and that the country’s constitution gives special privileges to the Evangelical Lutheran church.[378]

There are issues linked to the reception of refugees and migrants in the country. The experts have linked the abovementioned protests over the construction of a mosque primarily to fears among parts of the population that this religious facility would contribute to the spread of Islamic radicalism in the country.

At the beginning of 2020, there were a number of rallies in support of refugees on the verge of expulsion from the country amid the growing activity of far-right entities spreading migrant-phobia.

According to the information of 28 February 2022, on the news portal RUS.IS, there is a rise of Russophobia in Icelandic society, incited by national media, declarations of government members and limited access to unbiased and comprehensive information.[379]

For example, on 27 February 2022, the Prime Minister of Iceland announced on TV the intention to cancel all visas issued to Russian citizens. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland corrected her words and informed that only visas of specified categories would be revoked.[380]

Since late February 2022, Icelandic media published a huge amount of blatantly biased and highly emotional materials, professionally inciting xenophobic sentiments among ordinary citizens, showing developments in Ukraine only from a negative side for Russia, without citing alternative information sources, without any analysis of situation and neutral coverage of events.[381]

Since the beginning of the special military operation of Russia in Ukraine two rallies (without public order infringement) were held in Iceland in front of the consular department of the Russian Embassy.[382] On 28 February 2022, Russian consulate was attacked. After the rally, one person with mental disorder broke down the gates and tried to knock down the camera.[383] The perpetrator was arrested and brought to the police. On the night of 14-15 April 2022, an unidentified man spent half an hour banging on the metal fence of the consular department of the Embassy with iron rebar and throwing various objects (children’s toys, chairs, etc.) that had been left outside by the participants of the anti-Russian held the day before. The police patrol arrived only half an hour later. The (presumably Icelandic) citizen managed to move a considerable distance away from the consular office, but was subsequently detained and taken to the police station for questioning. Diplomats constantly receive insults and threats by e-mail and telephone.[384]

According to the compatriots, after the beginning of the special operation some members of the Russian diaspora experienced insults and threats on Facebook from Icelanders, as well as from Balts and Poles residing in the country. Russian compatriot N.Stefaunsson, in an interview for the documentary “West: Territory of Hate” on the RT television channel, reported threats of physical violence and calls to leave Iceland from local acquaintance.[385] Following the release of the film, threats of “proceedings” with the Icelandic authorities and calls to “return home” continued.

In the beginning of March 2022 vandals desecrated the chapel at the construction site of the Russian orthodox church in Reykjavik, drawing two swastikas on it.[386]

The leading Russian news website 1tv.ru is blocked in the territory of Iceland from February 27, 2022.

 

Spain

The protection of human rights has been identified as a priority of domestic and foreign policies of the Spanish government, regardless of party affiliation, and is under constant scrutiny. Nevertheless, the country’s human rights record is far from perfect. Madrid’s human rights problems have been highlighted by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the OSCE, the OECD, the Council of Europe, the European Union and international human rights NGOs (Médecins Sans Frontières, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, SOS Racismo, Movimiento contra la Intolerancia and others). Many particular cases are reported in the Spanish media.

In particular, in January 2022, during the regular round of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Spain, a substantial list of recommendations regarding freedom of expression and assembly, as well as disproportionate actions of police officers against participants of public demonstrations, was presented to Madrid. High levels of violence against women, discrimination against minorities and restrictions on migrants’ access to health-care services, harsh living conditions for asylum seekers and systematic violations of migrants’ rights were also highlighted.[387]

Amid strict quarantine measures related to the new coronavirus pandemic in the EU Member States, the European Parliament reported an upsurge in violence against women (domestic, sexual and other types of violence). In Spain, where domestic violence against women and children has long been a systemic problem, since the beginning of the pandemic and until now, local hotlines have recorded a 55 per cent increase in the number of complaints about beatings and harassment. In this context, the authorities have developed special applications for mobile devices to enable rapid contact with law enforcement agencies.

Statistical indicators reflect the difficult situation in this area. According to the Ministry of Equality of Spain, in 2021, 162,848 various acts of violence against women were reported to law enforcement agencies. In addition, 43 women were murdered in 2021 (47 in 2020) and 30 children were orphaned. As of 31 July 2022, 26 women were reported dead (19 children were orphaned).

According to the Spanish National Statistics Institute, in 2021, 3,012 women were recognized as victims of gender-based violence (2,915 in 2020) and 5,058 women were recognized as victims of domestic violence (5,082 in 2020).

According to surveys, more than 13 per cent of women in Spain have experienced domestic violence at least once and only 20 per cent of them have reported it to the police. 6,900 men are serving criminal sentences for corresponding charges. Yet 21 per cent of Spaniards aged 15 to 29 years are convinced that the concept of “gender-based violence” is an artificial product of government propaganda.

The gender pay gap remains a problem in Spain. According to the Comisiones Obreras (Working Women’s Committee) trade union, women earn around 24 per cent less than men. They are also often discriminated against in the workplace because of the need to take maternity leave.

The problem of street harassment and abuse of women persists in the country. According to the El Pais newspaper of 20 November 2019, around 92 per cent of Spanish women have been subjected to sexist remarks at various times.

Official statistics from the Ministry of the Interior of Spain show a quantitative increase in the number of hate crimes committed, with a total of 1,802 of such in 2021 (1,401 in 2020). This includes 678 xenophobic and racist crimes (485 in 2020) and 336 ideological crimes (326 in 2020).

Only properly recorded cases are covered. According to Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, only 8 out of 10 instances of hatred come to the attention of the police. However, the Minister noted that the increase in number of such offences was not a purely Spanish phenomenon, but a pan-European one.

In order to prevent hate crimes, the Ministry of the Interior of Spain has begun the execution of the Comprehensive Hate Crime Action Plan for 2022‑2024 aimed at coordinating the efforts of the State in this sphere. The document provides for 86 specific measures, including the creation of special units within the existing hierarchy of the National Police Corps and the Civil Guard.

The Spanish Movimiento contra la Intolerancia NGO registers more than 4,000 hate incidents in the country every year. The vast majority of victims are migrants and homeless who often do not report such cases to the police because of the risk of collateral legal problems.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights notes that only one out of ten victims (i.e.10 per cent) of hate crimes in Spain informs thereof the law enforcement bodies. Such an elevated level of distrust to the police is explained by the lack of conviction that that the police would take it seriously or by fear of retaliation.[388]

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance also noted the continuing problem of the Roma community in the country, in particular, the low rate of school attendance and school completion by Roma children, even though the Spanish authorities have taken steps in this regard.[389]

In its comments on the implementation of the 2018 recommendations, the Commission called on Spain to undertake additional measures to avoid school segregation and early school leaving of Roma students. It found that no funding was allocated in this area.[390]

According to the FRA, hate speech and publications on issues related to coronavirus mostly targeted Roma people.[391]

According to the Movimiento contra la Intolerancia, Spanish far-right groups consisting of more than 10,000 members hold mass events every year to spread their ideology. It is noted, that the Spanish segment of the Internet has become the new platform for racist demonstrations (more than 1,000 relevant websites have been registered).

Since 2007, the members of far-right organizations hold annually in February a procession through Madrid in memory of the fallen soldiers of the Blue Division, shouting anti-Semitic slogans and publicly displaying fascist symbols. The most recent event of this kind (unauthorized, unlike previous years) took place on 13 February 2022. Many of those involved in organizing and participating were fined under Spanish administrative law.

Curiously, the members of far-right groups (Bastion Frontal) tend to be involved in criminal cases involving grievous bodily harm, hooliganism, drug trafficking and robbery. It should also be noted that the Spanish far-right masses maintain stable relations with their like-minded counterparts from other European organizations, e.g. the Italian Casa Pound, the Greek Golden Dawn and others.

Such NGOs as Amnesty International and SOS Racismo draw attention to the practice of nationality-based discrimination when the Spanish authorities process asylum applications by refugees from Africa and the Middle East, as well as to the prejudicial treatment they receive by local police

Illegal migration remains one of the main and most complex problems. According to the Ministry of the Interior of Spain, 41,945 illegal migrants entered the country in 2021 (22,316 of them via the Canary Islands), while 1,700 illegal migrants were expelled. According to the International Organization for Migration, the mortality rate of migrants trying to reach Spain with the help of organized criminal groups and smugglers remains high
(875 adults, 80 minors).

The stringent measures taken by the Spanish government to prevent illegal migrants (including refugees) from entering the country remain a major concern for international monitoring mechanisms, human rights defenders, independent lawyers, and the public. In particular, they point to the dangerous practice of immediately deporting migrants, even if they have physically crossed the Spanish border, back to Morocco without examining their documents, formalizing protocol, and granting them the right to apply for asylum (these procedures are provided for by EU directives, as well as by international treaties signed by Spain). The Juvenile Chamber of the Ceuta Public Prosecutor’s Office in Spain opened investigations on “hot returns” of unaccompanied children.[392]

According to the report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus “The Most Resonant Human Rights Violations in Certain Countries”, in August 2021, a Spanish court deemed the return of 55 unaccompanied children to Morocco unlawful. Soon afterwards, however, the Prime Minister reiterated the government’s intention to continue expelling such children to Morocco.[393]

The experts of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, as well as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), highlighted the need for Madrid to legally abolish such practices. However, in June 2020, the ECHR softened its position and unexpectedly recognized the lawfulness of actions by the Spanish authorities in several cases of expulsion of illegal migrants, mentioning the “aggressive behaviour of Africans”. According to the FRA report, the issue of expulsion of illegal migrants persisted in 2021.

Human rights agencies remain concerned about the situation in overcrowded migrant temporary stay centres. Experts drew particular attention to inadequate reception conditions in migrant holding centres on the Canary Islands.[394]

On 24 June 2022, more than 20 migrants died and many were injured while attempting to cross the Moroccan-Spanish border (between Nador and Melilla). The International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have therefore reiterated their call for all authorities to prioritize the safety of migrants and refugees, refrain from the excessive use of force and uphold their human rights.[395]

The following irregularities have been noted in the administrative expulsions of illegal entrants from Spain: failure to carry out proper medical examinations to confirm readiness to travel, unjustified use of handcuffs, arranging flights without prior notice to the expellees. Experts point to outdated and inaccurate methods of forced medical age verification of minor migrants.

There is still a problem with the temporary accommodation centres for migrants in Ceuta and Melilla, where the number of migrants often exceeds the permissible limits: over 1.500 and 1,000 migrants respectively, while the official capacity of the centre in Ceuta is 500 people and of the centre in Melilla – 780 people. For several years, documents from the Human Rights Council and the Council of Europe, opinions of the Supreme Court of Spain, studies by NGOs and Spanish universities have shown the lack of improvement of living conditions in detention centres for migrants.

Cases of disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials and ill‑treatment of detainees have been recorded in Spain. The report of 1 July 2021 by the Spanish branch of Amnesty International highlights numerous cases of abuse of authority by Spanish law enforcement officers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has also received a significant number of reports of ill-treatment of detainees by the Spanish National Police Corps. In order to force the suspects to provide information or to confess to crimes, as well as to punish them, law enforcement punched and kicked their victims to the body and head as well as, on occasion, used batons or other objects.[396]

International Trial Watch, an international NGO dedicated to arbitration and monitoring of court trials around the world, regularly prepares reports on the trial of three politicians (Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Cuixart) who, according to its experts, are being “illegally” detained in connection with the charges against them in the case of the illegal referendum on Catalan independence. The NGO also notes that the proceedings are politicized and highly irregular.

Spain’s reaction to the press conference held by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after his meeting with the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell (a Catalan), is illustrative in this case. Sergei Lavrov noted at the press conference that noted that noticed that some in Europe are also questioning the courts and what they decide. For example, the judicial authorities of Germany and Belgium urged the Spanish side to revoke “politicized decisions” in the case of the referendum in Catalonia. “This is what Spanish government authorities replied: ‘You know, we have our own judicial system. Don’t even think of calling into doubt the decisions that we adopt in our courts under our laws.’ This is exactly what we want from the West as regards reciprocity”.[397] Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya responded to these words by saying that “there are no political prisoners in Spain, there are imprisoned politicians”.

In June 2021, the leaders of the Catalan independence movement were released from prison by a decision to pardon after almost four years of incarceration.

Problems in prisons are being recorded. In Spanish prisons, the treatment of prisoners with serious and chronic diseases is an acute problem. According to the Spanish Prison Health Association, almost half (around 4,000) of 9,500 patients with hepatitis C do not receive the necessary medication. The number of HIV‑infected and persons with mental disorders in these institutions remains high. At the same time, there is an acute shortage of doctors.

The Supreme Court of Spain notes the dilapidated state of most remand centres in the Autonomous Community of Madrid. There is also evidence that Spanish prison officers complain of insufficient funding for maintenance and renovation, as well as understaffing. All this has security implications, with over 300 attacks by prisoners on guards recorded each year.

Following a visit to selected Spanish prisons in September 2020, the CPT noted in its report a large number of credible allegations of physical ill-treatment by staff. The widespread use of mechanical fixation in the country, including on juveniles, has been the subject of sustained criticism by international experts.[398]

The treatment and living conditions in the two prison psychiatric hospitals of Alicante and Seville that they visited were of separate concern. In particular, they were critical of the prolonged restrictions of liberty imposed on patients (for as long as four months) without appropriate legal safeguards and inadequate judicial review. The CPT also recommended that the Spanish authorities ensure full institutional and functional separation of hospitals from the prison service by putting the former under the responsibility of the national health-care system.[399]

The overall peaceful situation with the Russians living in Spain drastically changed after the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation began the special military operation in Ukraine for denazification and demilitarization.

Amid the atmosphere of intolerance towards all that is Russian, whipped up, among others, by the Spanish authorities, as well as the wide-scale anti-Russian campaign unfolded in the media, instances of discrimination of Russians residing in Spain began to be recorded. Thus, drastic growth of negative attitudes to compatriots in everyday life is noted. Besides, there is increased spreading of anti-Russian speech in social media. Messages regarding fighting with “Russian World promoters” come to Russian-language chats in Spain. These messages contain calls to collect information and personal data of Russians on a specially designated website. They promise to publish the collected materials in the media and send them to the Spanish authorities (the Foreigners’ Bureau in Madrid). This “database” of Russians by its nature is similar to the notorious Ukrainian website Myrotvorets.

Our fellow citizens informed the Russian Embassy and other diplomatic missions in Spain about instances of discrimination of children of the Russian citizens residing in Spain as well as of their regular bullying in Spanish schools.

Spanish banks impeded up to mass-scale blocking of accounts both for the fellow citizens permanently residing in Spain and for the Russian diplomats. All our citizens, notwithstanding whether residents of the country or not, experienced problems with opening, servicing and replenishment of accounts and cards. As the result of such restrictions our citizens could not pay for the basic services including healthcare services, rent of housing, insurance services, etc. Thus, for example, in the end of March 2022, a Russian family informed that the bank Sabadell refused to replace them a card with expired validity period with a new one, nor did they give out cash from the account. The reason given was that they were Russian.

The Madrid restaurant Nordin from time to time receives telephone calls with threats. Though its owner is from Morocco, his wife is of Russian origin. Some clients refused to visit this place, and its profits decreased twice.[400]

The unfolding anti-Russian hysteria also affected the honorary consuls of Russia (all of them Spanish citizens), who were subjected to aggressive rebukes and threats.

There were recorded cases where the Ministry of Transport of Spain temporarily seized the movable property (yachts) of the Russian citizens. According to the authorities, these actions are aimed at checking the ownership rights and establishing the possible appurtenance of the property to individuals and legal entities included in the EU sanctions lists.

 

Italy

In Italy, despite the fact that the national legislation provides significant guarantees for fundamental human rights and freedoms, and that the authorities declared their commitment to respect them, human rights activists report cases of their violation.

In October 2022, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted in its concluding observations on Italy that corruption continued to be pervasive within the country, including in the judiciary. At the same time, international experts are concerned about the inadequate and underresourced institutions empowered to curb corruption. The Italian authorities have been given corresponding recommendations to address the shortcomings in this regard. The attention has also been drawn to the need to ensure the effective protection of victims of corruption, whistle-blowers and their lawyers.[401]

In early 2022, Russophobia manifested itself sharply in Italy amid the special military operation in Ukraine for denazification and demilitarization conducted by the Russian Federation. This mass hysteria had a significant impact on Russian citizens and Russian speakers from the former Soviet republics living on the Apennines. From February to April 2022, the situation in Italy was characterized by a particularly strong escalation of anti-Russian sentiments. The Russian Embassy and consular offices regularly receive messages from compatriots on threats against them. Aggression towards representatives of Russia and Russian diaspora come mostly from representatives of the numerous Ukrainian diaspora in Italy, one of the largest in Europe.

Since the end of February, Russian citizens have been discriminated against by major banks refusing to service cards and open new accounts. There have also been problems related to limited access to healthcare for Russian citizens. This includes Russophobia towards Russian diplomatic missions. Students undertaking an education in Italy (as a rule, they have come here in the framework of exchange programmes), found themselves under serious pressure; observers estimate that by the end of February 2022 they were about 350 in the Apennines. After blocking of Russian bank services and freezing of accounts they were virtually deprived of their means of subsistence and had either to prematurely terminate their studies and return to Russia or to look for other ways to earn money.

But then the hysteria began to wane. As of October 2022, the situation with Russian citizens in Italy had partially normalized.

The campaign against Russian culture and its representatives, launched in Italia, led to a number of ignominious incidents. Thus, on 28 February 2022, mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala, also head of La Scala Theatre, demanded to the world famous conductor Valery Gergiev to publicly condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine under the threat to end cooperation and, in particular, to ban him from participation in the performance of the opera “Queen of Spades” by Piotr Tchaikovsky.[402] Receiving no reply to this ultimatum, the authorities of Milan announced that La Scala theatre “refuses further cooperation with the Russian conductor”.

At the same time, as the general intensity of the Russophobic campaign declined, the management of La Scala began to demonstrate a balanced approach, refusing to join the campaign to “cancel” Russian culture. On 12 November 2022, the theatre refused to cancel the performance of the opera “Boris Godunov” by Modest Mussorgsky (with which the next theatre season was to begin), and also announced that it planned to stage works of other Russian classics. Earlier, the Ukrainian consul general in Milan had called for the opera to be cancelled. In response, one of La Scala’s board members, stage director Francesco Micheli, said it was an “act of intimidation”.[403]

There are also problems with ensuring media freedom in Italy, in particular as regards the Russian media. According to a decision adopted by the Council of the European Union, the Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik are banned on the territory of the EU starting from 27 February 2022. This very fact has affected the access of Italian citizens to accurate information. The editorial policy of most major national media is to publish anti-Russian content.

According to the 2022 report by Reporters Without Borders, an international non-governmental organization, Italy ranks 58th place out of 180 countries in press freedom index. There are threats and attacks against journalists on account of their professional activities by the mafia and neo-fascists, and therefore some journalists are receiving police protection.

Experts note cases of unlawful use of force by law enforcement officials. For example, in July 2021, Italian prosecutors issued more than 50 orders against those involved in the investigation of beatings of prisoners in the Santa Maria Capua Vetere prison in the region of Campania. Earlier, on 17 February 2021, 10 former officers of the Italian Prison Police were sentenced to two years and eight months in prison: the court found them guilty of torturing prisoners in the San Gimignano prison in Siena.

Italian human rights activists express concern over the prison overcrowding. According to the Ministry of Justice of Italy, as of 31 March 2022, 54,509 people were detained in local prisons, with a nominal capacity of 50,853 people.

There are problems with the promotion and protection of women’s rights. According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, gender stereotypes persist in Italy, resulting in lower labour market participation rate of women, much lower wages and higher unemployment rates for women than for men. Furthermore, the persistence of stereotypes is cited as the reason for the concentration of women in traditionally female-dominated professions.[404]

The level of domestic and other forms of violence against women remains high, despite the law criminalizing this offence, which entered into force in 2014. According to ISTAT, in 2021, the hotline for women who have been abused or stalked received 16,446 calls. In most cases, however, women prefer not to contact law enforcement agencies or support centres. In this context, the reality is significantly different from the official reports.

According to the Italian Criminal Police Central Directorate, the number of femicides has been declining in recent years. Thus, 120 cases were reported in 2015, 115 in 2016, 113 in 2017, 86 in 2018 and 73 in 2019. However, amid the spread of the coronavirus infection and the related restrictive measures, the number of femicides increased to 117 cases in 2020 and to 118 in 2021.

Human rights mechanisms identify a number of negative aspects in the protection of children’s rights. According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the school dropout rate in Italy remains among the highest in the European Union. Taking into account regional disparities, children in the southern regions are most affected, as well as migrant children (sometimes referred to as “foreign-born children”) and Roma children. The Committee has also raised the issue of child obesity due to the prevalence of junk food.[405]

In Italy, there is a continuing trend of increasing racial discrimination, particularly in the form of incitement to racial hatred. This was highlighted in particular by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in her speech on 22 January 2022 at the meeting of the Italian Senate’s Extraordinary Commission against intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred and violence.[406] It should be noted that, alongside the problems, the efforts made by the Italian authorities to combat manifestations of hatred were also highlighted. These include the establishment of the above-mentioned Commission in 2019[407], as well as the launch by Italian civil society organizations of the Map of Tolerance project[408], which aims to examine discriminatory publications on social networks and the Internet.

As for the manifestations of xenophobia in Italy, according to experts, most of them are not related to the activities of neo-fascists and are of a domestic nature. The main reasons for the growth of xenophobic attitudes in recent years include the deterioration of the socio-economic situation of the population, high unemployment among young people and the presence of migrants from Africa and Asia, as the country has actually become one of the main “transshipment points” on its way from Africa to the rest of Europe. According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the country has a record of instances of hate speech inciting animosity towards migrant, religious and race-based communities, including proposals to deprive these communities of their rights.[409]

The increase of the number of migrants caused a growth of anti-immigrant rhetoric in political discussions, which was noted with concern by the ECRI[410]. Experts stated the inefficiency and the lack of financial, organizational, and regulatory tools in Italy to counter this phenomenon.

The UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies have a rather balanced approach to dealing with the migration situation in Italy. At the same time, the need is constantly pointed out to ensure the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, improve living conditions in migrant primarily registration centres, migrant reception centres, as well as specialized “crisis centres” and centres for unaccompanied children, and to stop the practice of holding migrants in detention for more than 48 hours. The Human Rights Committee[411], the Committee on the Rights of the Child[412], the Committee against Torture[413], the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[414] and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (in 2015[415] and 2022[416]) have highlighted this. In particular, in its concluding observations of October 2022, the CESCR expressed concern that Act No. 132 of 1 December 2018, on immigration and citizenship, had contributed to a rise in the number of irregular migrants in the country, which in turn had increased their risk of exploitation. In addition, the Committee pointed out that there were attacks on journalists and human rights defenders advocating for or supporting migrants. This year, the problems faced by migrants in Italy were also highlighted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.[417] Among other things, its experts noted the inadequate conditions in the initial-reception facilities for migrants (inter alia, on the island of Pantelleria), the lack of information on the possibility of lodging an asylum application, the use of immigration detention, as well as cases of push-backs in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.[418]

The problems of the migrants from African and Asian countries engaged in the commercial sphere in Italy drew the attention of the experts of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights following their visit in late September – early October 2021. They noted, inter alia, inhuman working and living conditions of many migrant workers caught in a vicious circle of exploitation and debt bondage, serious problems in the field of occupational health and safety. Agriculture, production of clothes and logistics were cited among the problematic sectors.[419] This problem was also highlighted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in October 2022. The migration problem is also exacerbated by the large shadow economy sector, which employs a significant number of workers without labour and social security. The Italian authorities apply a punitive approach to such workers.

Cases of attacks on migrants have been recorded. However, there are also examples of perpetrators being brought to justice. In 2021, the citizen responsible for shooting six migrants in 2018 was sentenced to 12 years in prison. It is noteworthy that at the time of sentencing, the aggravating circumstance of racial hatred was confirmed.[420]

As practice shows, anti-Semitism is not over in the Apennines. According to a report published in January 2021 by the Eurispes Institute of Social and Political Studies[421], there was an increase in the number of people in Italy in 2020 who deny the mass extermination of Jews by the Nazis – 15.6 per cent (by comparison, in 2005 there were only 2.7 per cent). 16.1 per cent of respondents say that the persecution of Jews resulted in “not many casualties.” 61.7 per cent of respondents believe that cases of anti-Semitism in Italy “are isolated and do not indicate the existence of a problem.” 19.8 per cent of respondents believe that “Benito Mussolini was a great leader who made a few mistakes.”

These data correlate with numbers provided by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. In its overview of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the European Union in 2011-2021 the FRA cites statistics of the Italian Observatory for Security against Acts of Discrimination (Osservatorio per la Sicurezza Contro gli Atti Discriminatori – OSCAD), which also show a rise in detected anti‑Semitic incidents in Italy: 91 in 2019, as well as 101 in 2020 and 2021 each. The most common offences were incitement to violence (79 cases in 2021) and vandalism directed against Jewish sites (22 cases in 2021). It is also worth noting that notable differences in the number of such incidents for 2010-2018 and 2019-2021 are attributed to different methods of counting. But this difference does not affect the overall trend of anti-Semitic incidents in Italy: even for the first period there is a growth in number of anti-Semitic cases from 16 in 2010 to 56 in 2018, with a maximum value of 64 in 2014.[422]

The Map of Tolerance study, which analyses social media posts, also points to an increase in manifestations of anti-Semitism.[423]

Italy is a party to the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1997; signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2000. Article 6 of the Italian Constitution state that “The Republic safeguards linguistic minorities by means of appropriate measures”. Constitutional lawyers explain the absence of the term “national minorities” in the basic law by the fact that “language, and not nationality or ethnicity, is the defining instrument for identifying foreign and multilingual communities in need of protection”. The 1999 Law on Provisions to Protect the Historical Linguistic Minorities provides for a unified language policy in the country. 12 linguistic minorities (2.5 million people living in 14 regions of the country), existing as ethnic communities within their linguistic areas, are recognized at the state level.

However, the law only mentions those ethnic groups that have historically lived in the territories of present-day Italy. This effectively ignores the rights of numerous Roma communities living in the territory of Italy, which has repeatedly led to criticism of Rome by international human rights mechanisms.

When it comes to the situation of Roma in Italy, it is generally referred to illegal buildings on the outskirts of settlements. These areas are criminalized, and drug trafficking often flourishes there. Law enforcement agencies regularly raid places where Roma live, and illegal buildings are periodically demolished. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (September 2015 and 2022), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (December 2016), the Human Rights Committee (March 2017) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (January 2019) drew attention to the importance of addressing the situation of the Roma, including in housing, access to social services and education, and the labour market. In October 2022, the CESCR noted that Roma continue to face segregation, with most living in settlements without any infrastructure, and discrimination against Roma children in education.

The latest survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights on the situation of Roma in the European Union shows that anti-Romani sentiment in Italy is quite high: 40 per cent of those surveyed had experienced hate-motivated aggression in the past year, and one in ten members of the Roma community had been physically attacked for the same reasons[424].

In March, the Court of Cassation sentenced four Italians to between two and four years in prison for organizing an informal Roma encampment in the outskirts of Turin in 2011.[425]

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights drew attention to the difficult situation in the country with regard to the realization of social and economic rights. For example, the Committee noted that the Italian economy had been adversely impacted by the austerity measures adopted by the authorities to reduce public debt following the financial crisis and the coronavirus disease pandemic, including the resulting budget cuts to the health-care sector. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. The CESCR considered that that efforts to control the budget deficit and public debt might require the adoption of further austerity measures. The Committee also noted the traditional disparities between the northern and southern regions of the country, including in access to social and health-care services. These disparities are also reflected in the low and varying levels of financial and administrative capacity of local governments, and the lack of coordination between the national and local governments. Compounding the unfavourable economic situation, poverty levels remain high and vary from region to region, having increased in some of them in recent years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rising cost on food has the greatest impact on the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups, including migrants, individuals and families with low income, and persons living in the southern regions. At the same time, there is a high level of absolute poverty among non-nationals, a significant proportion of whom are migrants.[426]

As of August 2022, the unemployment rate among the working age population was 7.8 per cent. The rate is traditionally high among young Italians
(15 to 24 years of age) – 22.6 per cent. According to data published in June 2022 by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), at the end of 2021 there were 5.6 million people in Italy who were completely poor (9.4 per cent of the population) and 6.61 million people who were relatively poor (11.1 per cent of the population).

 

Canada

In its domestic and foreign policies, the “Maple Leaf Country” proudly proclaims its commitment to justice, equality and democratic values. In reality, however, Canada’s human rights record continues to be poor. During Canada’s Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing the Canadian Human Rights Commission, noted that there has been little progress in addressing many long-standing issues, including the situation of Indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups.[427]

The Indian, Métis and Inuit peoples have been among the most oppressed and marginalized elements of Canadian society for many decades. The boarding schools for Indian children, which existed from 1883 to 1996, caused the greatest moral, psychological and social damage to First Nations. Violence used against students was widespread and could even result in death. Children were intentionally taken from their families and sent to such schools. The students of the boarding schools were not only forbidden to see their relatives, but they were even forbidden to use their mother tongue in communication and to follow their own traditions. At the same time, developing skills in primitive manual labor was one of the main tasks of such schools. Living conditions in the boarding schools were very poor: children suffered from poor nutrition, lack of good medical care, hard physical labor, and maltreatment, which contributed greatly to the high mortality rate in these institutions. In the event of a child’s death, neither the cause of death nor the child’s name and surname were recorded. It is therefore impossible to determine the exact number of deceased and missing persons.

The UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, E.Tendayi Achiume, citing relevant sociological and historical studies in her report to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly on reparations for racial discrimination in the era of slavery and colonialism, noted that the aim of the Indian Residential School System established by the Canadian government was to assimilate Aboriginal children by denying them the opportunity to adopt the traditions, customs, values and languages of their people. Also, “deliberate and often brutal strategies were used to destroy family and community bonds” under this system. In addition, about one in three of the children were subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.[428]

In May 2021, the remains of 215 minors were discovered in Kamloops, British Columbia. Another 93 graves were discovered in Williams Lake, British Columbia on January 25, 2022. The total number of Aboriginal burials investigated over the two-year period reached 1,685.

After admitting guilt in 2008 for violence in former aboriginal schools, the federal government supported Indian leaders’ demands that the Catholic Church (which ran up to 60% of the schools) apologize for crimes committed in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Pope had responded to the demands by apologizing to First Nations twice: first on April 1, 2022, at the Vatican during a meeting with a delegation of Indians, Métis and Inuit, and on July 25, 2022, in Edmonton during an apostolic visit to Canada, officially called the “Pilgrimage of Repentance”. The Pope recognized the policy of forced assimilation and the destruction of the cultural identity of the Aboriginal people in the residential schools as genocide. Previously, a 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report had used the term “cultural genocide” in reference to Canada’s colonial past.

The Trudeau’s Liberal government declares a desire to turn the “shameful page” of Canadian history as fast as possible. The 2022 budget includes CA$209.8 million to locate burial records of Indian children, create memorial sites at former boarding schools and build a new National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg. Among other things, CA$10 million will be used to open the office of the Special Coordinator, and another CA$55 million will be used to digitize archives, work with the police, and improve monuments. In July 2022, a national advisory committee on residential schools and unmarked graves was established.[429] In 2021, Truth and Reconciliation Day, celebrated on September 30, was added to the national calendar of commemorative events.

At the same time, there have been a number of attempts by the Canadian authorities to challenge court rulings in favor of the payment of significant sums of money to victims of abuse. In March 2022, for example, the Trudeau government asked the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn a verdict on the satisfaction of the class action of the Indigenous people for compensation in the amount of CA$600 million for material and moral damages caused by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.[430]

Thirty-two long-term drinking water advisories remained in effect on 28 Indian reservations as of September 2022.[431] In July 2021, the Government of Canada reached a CA$8 billion court settlement with First Nations to compensate 142,000 people, having previously acknowledged its inability to fully resolve the water access issue by a target date of March 2021.[432]

In June 2022, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) raised serious concerns about the plight of Anishinaabe Indian children in northwestern Ontario. The water in the area is contaminated with mercury, resulting in chronic and very serious health problems for the local population, both physical and mental. In particular, the Committee notes that children suffer from speech disorder and learning disabilities and are prone to seizures.[433]

In February 2021, an inspection by Canada’s Auditor General found that federal funding for the maintenance of wastewater treatment systems in some remote communities had remained unchanged for 30 years.[434]

In June 2019, the water supply in two tribal areas (Attawapiskat and Eabametung) was found to have excessively high levels of harmful chemicals that can cause cancer.

In early April 2019, it was reported that Norse Caribou Lake Township had requested funding from the federal government to repair a sewer that was polluting the local lake, the township’s main source of drinking water. The community had previously been promised CA$265,000 in funding. However, the funds had not yet been received.

In February 2016, the weakening of environmental regulations, including for extractive industries, was noted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).[435] This has exacerbated the already adverse situation surrounding indigenous lands being damaged by these activities. Decisions on environmentally harmful resource development that affect the lives and territories of indigenous peoples continue to be made without their free, prior and informed consent. Costly, time-consuming and ineffective litigation is often the only way to resolve problems.[436] In this context, the CESCR has expressed concern about the limited access to remedy for victims and about the fact that existing alternative remedy mechanisms (such as the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor) do not always achieve a fair resolution of the dispute.[437]

In 2019, the Trudeau government initiated the Impact Assessment Act, which established a legal framework for federal policy to manage the environmental risks of economic activities on Canadian territory, including Indigenous lands. The Act created the Impact Assessment Agency, which is charged with collecting information on proposed industrial projects and determining the extent to which they are consistent with the principles of sustainable development, i.e. protecting the environment, promoting the social and economic well-being of citizens, and protecting their health.

The company or organization proposing an economic project must provide the Agency with detailed information on the schedule of works, research results and forecasts of potential risks, as well as measures to prevent undesirable consequences. Experts and public associations are involved in reviewing and discussing the documentation. It also takes mandatory consultation with Indigenous peoples: Aboriginal peoples are given the opportunity to express their views on the impact of the project on their communities and on their rights under treaties with the government regarding the use of historical tribal area.

For each project, a separate First Nations Participation and Interaction plan is developed. It lists the tribal chiefs to be consulted, defines the format of communication between the Agency’s staff and these chiefs, and sets out the parameters for the use of Aboriginal traditions and the assessment of the impact on their treaty rights. Financial support is available through government funding for Indigenous peoples involved in this work. Since 2019, the Canadian government has spent CA$21.2 million on training and education for Indigenous professionals and organizations on impact assessments.

Canada’s fulfillment of its obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is also ensured by federal law approved in 2021. It requires the government to develop a road map for implementing the Declaration into national law by June 2023 and to report annually on the results achieved. In this way, the Trudeau’s government intends to ensure that one of the main principles of the UN instrument is respected in Canada, which is obtaining the “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous peoples when making decisions about major infrastructure construction projects.

Despite the steps Ottawa has taken in recent years to legally recognize the importance of consultations with Aboriginal peoples on major economic projects, in reality the federal authorities often side with business and neglect the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples. As a result, conflicts arise and sometimes lead to lawsuits or confrontations with the police.

Mass protests against the construction of the CA$6.6 billion Coastal GasLink Pipeline in British Columbia in February 2020 were among the most high-profile cases. The trigger for the escalation was a BC Supreme Court injunction of December 31, 2019, that the police crackdown on First Nations demonstrations against the pipeline was lawful. Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people cut and felled 100 trees on a forest road, blocking the contractor’s workers from accessing the construction site. Aboriginal rights activists rallied in support, organizing rallies across the country and setting up barricades on highways, including those connecting western and eastern Canada. To resolve a crisis that had the potential for serious economic damage, the Government of Canada had to use force and to negotiate with Indian chiefs. As a result of negotiations, the then-Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations C. Bennett announced that Ottawa recognized the rights to manage the historical tribal lands. A few days later, construction at the site was resumed.

The situation around construction of the second pipeline of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in western Canada is evidence of the continuing mistrust of Aboriginal people towards the Canadian authorities regarding the realization of their rights. The project was launched in 2013; from its very start, the First Nations on whose territories the pipeline was to be built began regular protests demanding that the work be stopped.

On August 30, 2018, in response to public unrest, the Trudeau government purchased the project from the U.S. company Kinder Morgan. On the same day, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) revoked the Trans Mountain permit, citing a lack of consultation with First Nations and a failure to assess the environmental impact of an oil spill in the event of such an accident. Following the Court’s recommendations, Natural Resources Canada organized consultations with 117 Indigenous communities affected by the project. A positive Environmental Impact Assessment was also prepared. On June 18, 2019, the Trudeau government re-approved the project. On February 4, 2020. The FCA dismissed a lawsuit against the ruling cabinet, also ruling that the consultation requirement did not give Indian organizations the right to block the project by delaying negotiations. In July 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the FCA ruling.

In May 2022, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) sent a letter to the Permanent Representative of Canada in Geneva criticizing Canadian law enforcement in British Columbia in February 2020, demanding that they stop using force to disperse Indians protesting the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline and Trans Mountain Pipeline construction and suspend the projects.

The CERD cited the example of the Site C dam, which was the subject of opposition by Indigenous peoples whose territories, including sacred lands and burial sites, were affected by the project. Nevertheless, the work on the project was not halted despite a joint review by the Canadian federal and provincial governments of its harmful environmental impacts and irreversible consequences for First Nations.

Another example is the Mount Polley field development project, which was approved without any environmental impact assessment and without consultation with Indigenous peoples. The CERD noted with concern that the launch of the mine has resulted in the deterioration of water quality, fishing resources, and traditional medicines used by the peoples living in the area.[438]

Residents of Canada’s Far North have been victims of experiments of dubious purpose. In May 2019, the media reported on a mysterious study conducted in the early 1970s in Igloolik, Nunavut. According to witnesses, within the International Biological Programme, DNA samples from 30 local residents were taken, allegedly to study the effects of vaccinations on the health of isolated communities (for this purpose, a thin layer of skin was removed from the subject’s palm). Both the author of the study (Professor J.Dossetor) and the official authorities, represented by the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs and Health Canada, refused to inform the public.

According to official data, Canada has one of the lowest TB rates in the world, with reported 1,772 cases annually. But in northern regions, where a large part of the population is Inuit, the number of patients with the infection is 300 times higher than in the rest of the country. In 2018, the federal government committed to eradicating the disease among Inuit by 2030, with $13 million in funding. However, new cases are still identified in remote communities. In November 2021, Nunavut officials announced an outbreak of tuberculosis – the largest in five years – in the community of Pangnirtung. In August 2022, there were 161 cases registered in the community of 1,600 people, which are 22 more cases than three months earlier.[439]

Suicide is another acute problem among the peoples of the Canadian North. In October 2022, G.Eggenberger, the Chief Investigator of the Northwest Territories, reported that the region experienced the first recorded increase in suicides in a decade. In 9 months of 2022, 18 people committed suicide (11 people in 2021); 45% of them were men between the ages of 20 and 29.[440]

On July 14, 2022, the Senate of Canada Standing Committee on Human Rights released the second part of the report, the first part of which was made public a year earlier, on June 3, 2021,[441] on the results of the investigation into forced sterilizations that began in 2019.[442] In preparation for the report, four sittings were held. During these sittings, nineteen witnesses were questioned, including nine victims (mostly indigenous women). All complained that they had not given free, prior and informed consent to be operated on. The medical staff threatened the patients and misled them about the necessity of the procedure, as well as its consequences. In some facilities, tubal ligations were performed without any consent of the patient at all. The report notes that the hearings reaffirmed the problem of racism existing in obstetrics and discrimination against ethnic minorities in the Canadian health care system.

According to the report of the Committee Against Torture (CAT) of November 2018, at least 55 Indigenous women filed a class action lawsuit against doctors and health care workers at Saskatoon City Hospital for performing tubal ligations without proper consent.[443]

In light of the human rights violations revealed, the Senators called on the Canadian authorities to amend the Criminal Code by adding a separate article for forced sterilization procedures, introducing (thus, Bill S‑250 was introduced in Parliament in June 2022), to develop a program of compensation for victims, to issue a public apology, and to increase funding for the training of medical practitioners on Indian reservations.

International human rights monitoring bodies have paid considerable attention to the issue of disappearances and killings of Indigenous people, especially women. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),[444] the Human Rights Committee (HRCttee),[445] the CESCR,[446] CERD[447] and CAT[448] have all addressed the importance of investigating such cases and the need to establish a national body to do so in their concluding observations. It should also be noted that disappearances and killings of Indigenous women were examined by CEDAW in 2013, with a separate report published in March 2015.[449]

Under the pressure from international human rights legal arrangements, the Canadian authorities established a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (later referred to as the “National Inquiry”), which concluded its work in early June 2019.[450] The main conclusion of the experts was that for centuries the Canadian authorities had systematically subjected the Aboriginal peoples to socio-economic, cultural and linguistic discrimination based on colonial, ethnocentric and racist beliefs rooted in Canadian society. In this context, it was recommended that there should be an urgent government commitment to the creation of a new social fabric that would be free of colonial ideology.

The report mostly focused on the destruction of cultural heritage and identity of Aboriginal women, both in the re-education process in residential schools and in the implementation of government policies for the forcible removal of tribes from newly incorporated territories.

The National Inquiry also came to disappointing conclusions when considering the issue of access to health care for First Nations women: when Indigenous women do seek health care, they receive lower quality services than their white counterparts. At the same time, shelters and rehabilitation facilities established by Indian NGOs are poorly funded.

The National Inquiry also called for further scrutiny of Ottawa’s international crimes, including crimes against humanity, describing Canada’s policies toward its Indigenous peoples as colonial genocide.

The importance of conducting such an analysis, uncovering the truth, and allowing victims to be heard was noted by the then‑UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, M.Bachelet, following her visit to Canada in June 2019.[451] She also called on the authorities to make an immediate effort to address the inequalities that currently exists.

It is noteworthy that, under public pressure, Canadian Prime Minister J.Trudeau publicly referred to the government’s policy toward Indigenous Canadians as “Canadian genocide”,[452] but later the Chief of Staff and some of his ministers, concerned about the international legal consequences of such a hasty “heartfelt admission” (especially in light of OAS Secretary General Almagro’s call for an independent body under the Inter‑American Commission on Human Rights to conduct an investigation), chose to use more muted language in public.

The CEDAW expressed concern about the high percentage of girls who suffer discrimination and sexual harassment in schools and about the disproportionately high number of migrants, refugees, asylum-seeking and Indigenous girls who continue to face difficulties in accessing quality education.[453]

The HRC Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples noted the adoption of legislation that removes some of the discriminatory effects of previous provisions under which Indigenous women, as well as all their descendants, who marry “non-status” men lose their Indian status, while non-Indigenous women married to “status” Indians retain it. He noted that this status continues to be denied to certain categories of people because of historical discrimination against maternal descendants.[454]

The CRC urged the Canadian authorities to review the legislation in order to ensure equal opportunities for men and women to pass on Indian status to their grandchildren. In addition, the Committee’s experts suggested taking measures such as restoring names on birth certificates where they have been illegally altered or erased, as well as legislative and administrative measures that would take into account the rights of Indigenous children to keep their names, to preserve their native culture and language, and grant these children opportunities to learn about their cultural identity.[455]

The CRC also criticized the difficulty for indigenous parents to access the birth registration process.[456]

A structural nature of discrimination against Indigenous children and children of African descent was also criticized by the CRC. Experts noted that education, health and adequate standard of living remained the most problematic aspects.[457]

The CERD expressed concern about reports of unequal distribution of educational resources and inadequate funding for mother-tongue education programs, resulting in unequal access to quality education for certain groups of children, particularly Afro-Canadian and Indigenous children, and potentially leading to socio-economic disparities among these groups.[458]

A report on the state of northern dialect studies in Nunavut schools found that despite the inalienable right of indigenous peoples to be educated in their native language, only 11 institutions in the region offer a set of basic subjects in Inuktitut (one of the main Inuit dialects), and only up to and including Grade 5. In high school, to the great detriment of their national identity, students study either in English or French. The report notes that the territorial government’s program to hire teachers who are required to speak local languages is a 10‑year effort and will take a long time to produce results.[459]

In addition, the CERD has highlighted that black students are disciplined more harshly than other students, which often forces them to drop out and leads to a school-to-prison pipeline.[460] This problem was also highlighted by the CESCR in February 2016, emphasizing that Afro-Canadian and Indigenous children have lower educational indicators and academic performance, resulting in higher dropout rates among this group at all levels of schooling.[461]

Youth poverty and vagrancy among Aboriginal people are widespread in Canada. According to the report by the Assembly of First Nations, NGO, the percentage of poor Indigenous children is several times higher than among white Canadian population. The highest rates – 47% – are found among Indian tribes (up to 65% in the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan).

Over the past decade, the situation in one of the most economically developed provinces, British Columbia, has deteriorated sharply. The worst situation is seen in Kamloops and its suburbs, with a population of about 300 thousand people, including 84 thousand Indians, where poverty among people under 18 years of age reaches 30%. According to experts, there are 7.7 socially disadvantaged children per 1,000 people (twice the national rate), 78% of whom are Aboriginal.[462] The lack of money due to parents’ inability to support their families makes caregivers four times more likely to investigate them and 12 times more likely to remove children from their families. The HRCttee and the CERD have pointed out that First Nations children are more likely to be isolated from their families, communities and culture and to be placed in child care.[463]

According to CRC experts, indigenous children and children of African descent are currently still dominant in terms of numbers in the alternative care system, realized including in the form of foster care. Moreover, they are often disconnected from other people of their ethnicity. These children are more likely to be victims of violence and abuse and to suffer from a lack of attention from caregivers.[464]

In January 2022, the federal government and Aboriginal organizations reached an agreement in principle[465] to pay CA$40 billion to compensate the victims of welfare discrimination against children on Indian reserves between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022. In July 2022, the parties signed the first part of the CA$20 billion agreement, but it still requires the approval of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Federal Court.[466] At least 200,000 people have been victims of the Canadian welfare system, according to the Assembly of First Nations, NGO. As part of the second part of the agreement, Ottawa plans to conduct an audit of the department’s services to aboriginal people.

The CEDAW was concerned by reports that indigenous women and girls in the foster care and child welfare systems are at particular risk of being trafficked for sexual exploitation.[467]

The National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence (NACAFV) has indicated that in most Canadian communities, social services are funded through provincial or territorial governments. However, on First Nations reserves, these services are generally funded by the federal government. In many areas, the federal government provides significantly less per capita funding for programs and services than the provincial and territorial governments do.[468]

The HRC Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also pointed out that the housing situation of Inuit and First Nations communities has reached crisis levels. People are living in overcrowded conditions and their homes are in need of repair.[469]

In January 2019, a state of emergency was declared on the Cat Lake Indian Reserve in Ontario due to the emergency condition of the housing stock. Lacking basic amenities, the cardboard homes of local residents were unable to retain heat for long, even when heated by potbelly stoves. As a result, there were outbreaks of diseases among Indigenous people, including lung infection. The Municipal Council urgently asked the provincial and federal authorities to intervene and consider evacuation. In December 2018, CA$200,000 were approved to inspect 110 homes.

The number of Aboriginal people in Canada’s correctional facilities is steadily increasing. According to official data, their share in federal prisons exceeded 32% in 2021[470] (compared to 25% in 2016) and 54% in the western provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan).[471] Since 2010, the number of First Nations people in federal prisons has increased by 43%, while the number of people of other categories have decreased by 14%. The incarceration rate for Indigenous women reached an all-time high of 50%. In provincial prisons, the share of Indigenous people increased from 21% to 30% between 2008 and 2018. Aboriginal people are mostly sent to maximum security prisons, serve longer sentences, and are often placed in solitary confinement. Recidivism rates for Indigenous people in the western provinces are as high as 70%.[472]

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, D.Lametti, acknowledged the government’s inability to find a way out of the situation. He hoped that progress would come from the incorporation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into national law and the passage of Bill C‑5, which would repeal mandatory minimum sentencing for more than 20 types of offences.[473]

The overrepresentation of Indigenous and Afro-Canadians at all stages of the justice system, from arrest to incarceration, was noted by CERD in September 2017. The human rights body attributed the reasons for this situation primarily to widespread poverty and inadequate social services for members of this group.[474] The fact that Indigenous peoples and people of African descent in Canada are disproportionately more likely to face poverty than the rest of the population was also criticized by the CERD.[475]

In 2019, after analyzing the results of a survey of 491,000 Canadians, researchers at the University of Toronto found that black people are more affected by food insecurity. Only 10% of Caucasian families experienced a food crisis, while the figure was twice as high for people of African descent, at 28.4%.[476] According to NGOs, CA$25 million allocated by the federal government in March 2019 to support black communities never reached recipients.

At the same time, the CESCR’s concluding observations noted with concern the decrease in already scarce funding for indigenous peoples, both on and off reserves. The experts also noted that this situation is exacerbated by jurisdictional disputes between the federal and provincial governments over funding for indigenous peoples.[477]

In May 2022, the Auditor General of Canada, K.Hogan, discovered as a result of an audit of the Correctional Service of Canada that officers of this agency, guided by long-outdated instructions, disproportionately placed people of color and Indigenous people in cells with enhanced security. As a result, inmates were forced to stay in jail longer than their court sentences required. Hogan said it was a strong indication of systematic racism. Auditors had previously called attention to the problem in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Compared to other ethnic groups, the percentage of Blacks and Indians in maximum security cells is 51%. The situation is even worse for convicted First Nations women: 70% of them are in such cells. The statistics do not favor minorities of color either: 53% of women of color, 46% of men of color, and only 33% of white citizens are transferred to maximum security cells.[478]

For Canadian law enforcement officers, racial profiling is a common practice. It has a particularly detrimental effect on Aboriginal people, as well as Muslims, Afro-Canadians and other ethnic minority groups.[479]

The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent reported the frequency of racial profiling in Canada. Experts noted that approximately 1,500 Ontarians have been racially profiled by police in the workplace, educational institutions, hospitals, shopping malls, and the airport in their report to the 74th UN General Assembly, citing the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s report “Under Suspicion: Research and Consultation Report on Racial Profiling in Ontario.”[480]

According to another report, people of African ancestry face curfews and are five times more likely to be stopped on the street for identity checks than other ethnic groups. In the 12 years preceding the research (March 2019), over one‑third (28%) of the black-skinned population in Halifax, Nova Scotia’s provincial capital, was subjected to unlawful and unmotivated police interrogations and detentions per week (around 4% among whites). The situation is complicated by the fact that decisions to initiate cases of abuse of power are made by the law enforcement agencies themselves, which reduces the victims’ hopes for an objective investigation.[481]

Black‑skinned and Middle Eastern drivers were stopped more frequently than other drivers, regardless of their gender or age, according to a York University research team from Canada that investigated traffic stops by Ottawa police by race. Despite representing less than 4% of drivers in Ottawa, people of African origin were stopped 7,238 times over the course of two years, accounting for 8.8% of all motorists stopped during that time.[482]

A team of independent experts who looked into cases involving Montreal police detaining residents between 2014 and 2017 also came to the conclusion that particular racial groups were routinely targeted by law enforcement. Thus, natives and black-skinned people are stopped in the street four times each, and Arab people are stopped twice as often as white people.[483] The NGO Black Coalition of Quebec filed a class action complaint in a Montreal court in August 2019 about arbitrary police arrests and interrogations of people of non-European appearance.[484]

The murder of African-American George Floyd in the United States on May 25, 2020, set off a powerful wave of protest in Canadian society. Major cities around the country hosted numerous “Black Lives Matter” anti-racism protests. The demonstration in Ottawa on June 6, 2020 was attended by Justin Trudeau, who knelt in solidarity with the participants. Furthermore, the Prime Minister openly admitted the presence of “systemic racial discrimination” in the country in June 2020. However, some of Canada’s senior officials disagreed with this interpretation. The Premier of Quebec, François Legault, refused to accept the thesis that there are structural problems of racism in his province. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki also initially questioned the need to use such harsh language in relation to law enforcement, but after criticism of her and calls for her to leave her post she changed her viewpoint to the diametrically opposite.

A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation survey found that a black person is three times more likely than a white Canadian to be killed by a police officer. Nearly half of all reported homicide victims are of the Caucasian ethnicity, which is the largest racial group in Canada. However, when one examines the country’s overall racial and ethnic diversity, the numbers are biased toward Afro-Canadians and Indigenous people.[485]

In the debate about systemic prejudice that took place in May and June 2020, the Canadian media extensively covered incidents in which police killed or brutalized Aboriginal people and people of color. On May 27, 2020, Reggie Korczynski Packett, 29, who suffered from mental illness, fell from the balcony of her own apartment on the 24th floor in Toronto during a police raid. A 20‑year‑old Inuit who was under the influence of alcohol was struck and killed by a police car on June 1, 2020 in Kingait Township, Nunavut Territory. He was assaulted at the detention center by a fellow inmate and had to be hospitalized[486] On June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, New Brunswick, law enforcement officers shot and killed 26-year-old Chantel Moore (according to the investigation, she attacked a police officer with a knife) during an operational check. On June 12, 2020, an indigenous man named Rodney Levy was killed by police in New Brunswick. In June 2020, video surfaced of the March police beating of Athabasca Chippewan tribal chief Allan Adam in Fort McMurray, Alberta, for expired license plates on his car. A 62‑year‑old Pakistani man with schizophrenia was shot and killed by a police officer in Peel, Ontario on June 20, 2020. Journalists estimate that since April 2020, six indigenous people in Winnipeg, New Brunswick and Nunavut have been killed in Canada.

Cases of openly barbaric treatment of the indigenous population, and not only by law enforcement officials, have also been recorded. On December 20, 2019, police in Vancouver used force while detaining an Indigenous man at a bank who was trying to open an account for his 12‑year‑old granddaughter. In February 2020, Inuit women in Nunavut who were victims of domestic violence were arrested for drinking alcohol. In June 2020, the Métis of British Columbia asked authorities to verify information about emergency room employees who, they said, were playing guessing blood-alcohol levels in “First Nations” patients.

At the same time, there is the issue of law enforcement personnel’s formal attitude against indigenous people and their unwillingness to investigate crimes committed against this community. The facts of the questionable quality of law enforcement officers’ work on First Nation Indian reserves were confirmed in the pages of the report prepared by the Council of Canadian Academies, an NGO at the request of Public Safety Canada. The research cited police officers’ basic ignorance of local laws and tribal customs as the primary source of difficulties. Furthermore, the authors contend that a lack of conversation between government officials and local residents leads to misunderstanding and outright hatred by the white majority against members of other racial and ethnic groups.[487]

After two years of work, Montreal’s Office of Public Consultation presented a report on June 15, 2020, arguing that the metropolitan police force has a culture of impunity, accompanied by apathy to allegations of racial violence and prejudice. Furthermore, just 7.7% of the city’s police enforcement organizations are made up of people of color, and less than 1% of management officers (35% of Montreal’s total) are made up of people of color.[488]

It has been reported that in the territories where indigenous peoples live, they have no representatives in Canadian local authorities. For example, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, pointed out in a report to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly that the Inuit are underrepresented in the Nunavut administration, preventing this body from adequately considering and implementing their traditional knowledge.[489]

Human rights activists frequently point out other issues that are not directly related to First Nations rights. It specifically highlights the disproportionate impact of austerity measures implemented in certain areas of the country on marginalized groups and disadvantaged persons. Furthermore, as a result of tougher restrictions, the number of unemployed people who are eligible for unemployment insurance has been reduced. There is also an increase in the number of homeless people, a shortage of temporary housing centers designated for them, and existing legal provisions aimed at punishing such persons, yet containing no solution to the problem itself. This was brought to the CESCR’s attention in 2016, among other places. The Committee also pointed to insufficient state building funding, including a lack of social housing, an insufficient share of the housing subsidy in social assistance income, and an increase in evictions for rent arrears.[490]

In April 2022, the human rights organization B’nai Brith (Sons of the Covenant) published its 2021 report on anti-Semitism in Canada. A total of 2,799 such incidents were recorded, including assaults on citizens, vandal attacks on synagogues, and the depiction of swastikas in schools. Compared to 2020. (2,460) the number of criminal acts increased by 9%. Simultaneously, the number of violent incidents climbed sevenfold, from nine to 75. The leaders in statistics are Quebec (828), Ontario (821) and British Columbia (409). Students were identified as the main “breeding ground” for antisemitism. Members of the Jewish community were most often insulted and abused at institutions of higher learning.[491]

Instances of antisemitism have been documented at York, McGill, Ryerson, and Toronto universities, among others.[492] The Edmonton Journal (Alberta) was convicted of intentional hate propaganda in connection with the publication of an offensive cartoon.[493] There have been calls on social media for a boycott of small and medium-sized businesses owned by Israelis.[494] Statements by Quebec politician Gillett recognized by the leadership of the Liberal Party as a manifestation of intolerance towards an ethnic group.[495] Racist graffiti was sprayed on election posters of members of the Jewish community.[496] People were attacked, anti-Semitic slurs were made repeatedly,[497] and there were multiple acts of damage,[498] including the display of Nazi emblems.[499]

In November 2020, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, recognizing that anti-Semitism was on the rise in Canada and the world, appointed a Special Representative for Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism.[500] However, crimes in this area have not ceased. For example, in January 2021, an act of vandalism to a synagogue in Westmount, Quebec Province, garnered widespread condemnation after a young man painted a Nazi swastika on the walls.[501]

On the proposal of the federal government, the Parliament of Canada amended the Criminal Code of Canada in June 2022, providing for prison penalties of up to two years for public denial of the Holocaust or downplaying the role of the Nazi regime in the mass murder of Jews. The federal budget also allocated C$70 million to support the Jewish community. 20 million for the renovation of Montreal’s Holocaust Museum and 2.5 million to support a Toronto educational center.[502]

In July 2022, only 106 years later, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized for “blatant racism” to descendants and relatives of members of the Construction Battalion No. 2 who served in France during World War I. The unit was formed in 1916 in Nova Scotia. Black Canadians who were members of the Construction Battalion No. 2 faced discrimination, including confinement in concentration camps and denial of basic medical care, food, and equipment.[503]

Notably, Justin Trudeau was accused of racism during the September 2019 campaign after archive images of him wearing blackface makeup were published. Later, the politician admitted to “unconscious racism” and apologized to Canadian minorities.[504]

The results of the 2019 Stats Survey, published in February 2022, revealed that one in every five Canadians (19%) experienced prejudice between 2014 and 2019. And black citizens are harassed far more often than others. Almost half of African Canadians (46%) reported violations of their rights. In 2014, this figure was much lower – 28%. Among the indigenous population, one in three (33%) experienced discrimination. Specifically, Indians 44%, Métis 24%, and Inuit 29%.[505]

Hate crimes increased considerably in Canada during the first year of the coronavirus outbreak. According to a February 2022 report circulated by the Stats Service,[506] there were 2,669 such offenses in 2020, a 37% increase over 2019. (1946). The number of violent occurrences has also increased from 865 to 1,143. The sharpest rise in numbers were in Ontario (+316), British Columbia (+198), Quebec (+86) and Alberta (+84). More than fifty percent of the 1,594 instances were aimed at members of a certain racial or ethnic group. People of African (663), Asian (388), and Native American (73) origin faced the most discrimination. There were 321 incidences of religiously motivated aggression directed at Jews, 182 directed at Muslims, and 12 directed at members of other religions.

Statistics Canada previously disclosed data on the huge spike in insults directed against racial minorities since the COVID-19 pandemic began in July 2020.[507] According to a survey of 43,000 people, one in every five (21%) “colored” Canadians has faced discrimination. People of African descent (26 per cent), Koreans (26 per cent), Chinese (22 per cent), and Filipinos (22 per cent) were the most frequent victims.

According to the March 2021 report of the NGO COVID Racism,[508] 1,150 people reported anti-Asian racism between March 10, 2020 and February 28, 2021. Attacks were mainly against vulnerable segments of the population (the elderly, young people, the poor). The incidents most often occurred in public places. Sixty percent of the victims were women. On March 23, 2021, initiated by the opposition New Democratic Party, the House of Commons unanimously approved a resolution condemning racism against people of Asian descent.

In Vancouver, Canadian entrepreneurs of Chinese origin were forced to reduce business activity by 50-70%.[509] In the Greater Toronto Area, Chinese restaurant sales are down 30-80%.[510]

One in six respondents to a study of ethnic Chinese people taken between June 15 and June 18, 2020, reported altering their daily routine to avoid confrontational situations in public. Survey respondents reported being threatened 43% of the time and insulted 50% of the time throughout the outbreak.[511]

On April 8, 2020, Canadian Human Rights Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry expressed concern about the “outbreak of racism” that occurred in the aftermath of COVID-19.[512]

Canadian politicians also indulged in fomenting nationalist sentiment. In April 2020, Conservative Party member of the House of Commons Derek Sloan, expressing dissatisfaction with the actions of Canada’s Chief Medical Officer Theresa Tam to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, accused her of aiding and abetting the PRC. Despite the outrage of the Chinese diaspora, who condemned the incident as racist, the MP refused to apologize to the official.

Former Ontario Senator Lynn Beyak was twice suspended for refusing to remove from her official page letters from citizens supporting her positive statements about the colonial system of boarding schools for Indian children. It was not until her third attempt (after finishing another course on anti-racism) in June 2020 that the Senate Upper House Ethics Committee recommended her reinstatement.[513]

According to the report, Police Registered Crime Statistics, released on August 2, 2022, the overall number of criminal offenses motivated by hate continued to grow in 2021, increasing by 27% over the previous reporting period. Jews were found to be the most at risk (487 crimes), followed by blacks (642 crimes). Overall, there was a rise in hate crimes committed against religious minorities: Jews increased by 47%, Muslims by 71%, and Catholics by 260%.[514]

CERD experts, in their recent concluding observations on Canada’s next periodic report, expressed concern that the actual number of racially motivated hate crimes in Canada may be much higher than the statistics, as not all incidents of offences are reported to Canadian law enforcement. The Committee noted that the number of reported racially motivated hate crimes against Muslims increased by 61%.[515]

For more than five years, Ottawa has done nothing to put the recommendations in the 2017 report of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to Canada into effect. The document’s writers urged authorities to apologize to people of color for slavery and compensate their representatives.[516]

Extremist ideas, especially neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist ideas, are becoming more and more entrenched in Canadian society. In April 2022, a report on systemic racism and discrimination in the Canadian military, commissioned by the Department of National Defense, was released. The study’s experts determined that the number of supporters of extreme ideologies in the military department is increasing. A growing number of Canadian military members are secretly joining groups that advocate white supremacy and ultra-nationalist views. Technological improvements that have created potential for recruiting new members via the darknet and encrypted chat rooms have hampered timely identification of radicalized components. The ministry’s various counter-action options were determined to be ineffective.[517]

The House of Commons Committee on Public and National Security published a report on the emergence of violent extremism driven by ideology in Canada in June 2022. According to interviewed experts, there has been a sharp increase in the number of radical groups in the country. At least 300 such organizations have appeared since 2015. They are primarily based in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. The radical agenda includes xenophobia, hostility toward immigrants, hatred of women, and power-grabbing upheaval. To some extent, tight limitations on persons who have not been immunized against COVID-19 have contributed to an upsurge in societal radicalism. To spread their ideas, extremists use little-known social networks that do not have the technology to filter illegal online content.[518]

On June 19, 2020, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in the United Kingdom released a report commissioned by the Canadian Department of Public Safety titled “Monitoring the Right-Wing Extremism Online Environment in Canada.” Researchers uncovered 6,660 right-wing Internet resources, including 6,352 Twitter profiles and 32 YouTube video channels. Experts estimate that the number of local users on these virtual sites is in the millions, second only to the United States and the United Kingdom.

The CERD noted that anti-racism framework law does not exist in all Canadian provinces and territories.[519] Another barrier to resolving racial prejudice is that Canada does not routinely gather statistics “by skin color” to measure socioeconomic disparities in society. As a result, on June 15, 2020, the Alberta government stated that it saw no sense in applying such procedures.

Another form of xenophobia – Russophobia – is becoming increasingly commonplace in Canadian society. After the Russian Armed Forces launched a specific military campaign to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, ethnic discrimination against the Russian and Russian-speaking population became extremely common. Russian diplomatic missions in Canada began receiving regular complaints of threats and insults received in person and over e‑mail by our compatriots, as well as property damage and harassment at schools and universities Ukrainian neo-Nazis in Montreal sent letters to Canadian companies demanding that they fire Russians from their jobs and compiled lists of prominent Russian-speaking lawyers. Private Russian-language schools have been compelled to operate remotely since March 2022 as a result of the current circumstances.

Previously, the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the Russian-language educational environment. There were active private schools that taught Russian history, language, literature, and geography, employed teachers who were Russian compatriots, and used Russian educational resources in addition to the mandatory subjects required by the Canadian educational system, in many major Canadian cities, including Winnipeg, Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Edmonton. However, in order to combat the coronavirus, the Canadian government has reduced class numbers and maintained social distance, which has led a number of Canadian educational institutions to unilaterally cancel their leasing agreements with Russian schools that had been housed on their property.

There have been instances of physical violence, and the cause of the hostility may have been the straightforward use of the Russian language, regardless of the speaker’s race. One example is the assault on a Moldovan citizen by three teenagers when they overheard the woman speaking Russian on the phone, the teenagers threw her to the ground.

There is noticed serious administrative and public pressure on business connected with Russia. Aggression against all things Russian forces private company owners to remove all references to Russia and the Russians. For example, on March 10, 2022, the Russian Spoon bakery in Vancouver was forced to remove the word “Russian” from its name because of threats.

The sphere of culture fell under the restrictions. The Canadian side cancelled the concerts of the young Russian virtuoso pianist Alexander Malofeev in Vancouver and Montreal. The Canadian Council for the Arts has refused to sponsor creative projects involving Russian or Belarusian cultural leaders until the Russian military has left Ukraine’s borders.

On March 16, 2022, the Canadian media regulator formally voted to prohibit RT and RT France from airing in the country at the request of the federal government. At the same time, local cable TV providers announced that they were excluding all Russian channels from their networks. As a result, the Canadian authorities continued their program of purging Canada’s information field, denying its residents and Russian compatriots living in the country access to alternative information.

Russophobic manifestations occurred in this nation before February 2022, largely as a result of the activities of the Ukrainian population in Canada, especially the offspring of Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych’s adherents. The controversy surrounding the customary Victory Day celebration by Russian compatriots in Ottawa near the T-34 tank housed at the War Museum of Canada is one of the most striking examples. In 2018, the management of the cultural institution decided to ban the event from its premises. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Ottawa branch’s open letter to museum director James Fleck, in which the commemoration of the Great Patriotic War’s triumph was decried as glorifying of the “criminal Soviet regime,” served as the impetus for this. Even so, on their own initiative, concerned locals continue to place flowers to the “T‑34” tank on the museum’s property.

Pro‑Banderite organizations circulated murder threats on social media the night before May 9 of 2022 against anyone who would be confronted with a St. George’s ribbon. One of the event’s organizers in Calgary was struck by a car bearing Ukrainian flags and lacking license plates. The law enforcement agencies did not search for the attackers.

The Canadian authorities are against and even repress the patriotic actions of the Russian-speaking diaspora. Canadian law enforcement authorities have fired people of Russian heritage and conducted administrative audits and interrogations of them. The forthcoming World Congress of Compatriots will feature representatives from the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriot Organizations, which is why the special services are paying more attention.

There have also been restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression in the past, specifically targeting journalists of the Russian media. For instance, in 2019, Canada’s foreign policy agency denied accreditation to the Lima Group meeting to a number of them, including TASS’s own correspondent Daniil Studnev, who was already accredited in Canada. It’s important to note that the spokesperson for the Canadian Foreign Ministry cited the fact that “Russian agencies have not been kind to the minister in the past” as the reason for their decision.

The CERD specialists drew attention to the deteriorating state of immigrant rights in Canada, which is in part due to the large number of immigrants in this category who are admitted by the Canadian government each year. The practice of mandatory detention of stateless persons who “enter the country in violation of the established procedure” continues. At the same time, the legislation does not establish any limits on the duration of such a conclusion. In addition, there are no effective mechanisms for reviewing its legality. Inadequate medical and psychiatric care in federal and provincial migrant detention centers has also been noted, in some cases leading to death.[520]

Migrant children are also detained and are often held with adults. The same problem was brought to the attention of the HRCttee and CAT.[521]

In Canada, there are problems in the penitentiary system. The HRCttee and CAT have drawn attention to overcrowding in a number of prisons and the lack of medical care for prisoners with serious mental illnesses, a problem particularly acute in women’s prisons.[522] The CAT has also expressed concern about the deplorable conditions of detention of prisoners in places of detention. He pointed to the use of ill-treatment of detainees, including prolonged interrogations, sleep deprivation, and abusive strip searches. Of serious concern to the Committee was a violent incident at Dorchester Prison that resulted in the unexpected death of prisoner Mathew Ryan Hines on May 26, 2015. The February 15, 2017 report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator on the investigation into the incident did not address the Committee’s concerns. In addition, experts noted an 18 per cent increase in the number of pretrial detainees between 2013 and 2016. There has been an increase in the number of prisoners with disabilities, including those with mental disorders, in federal prisons.[523]

On March 12, 2020, Joe Friday, Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, submitted a report pointing out the inadequacy of measures taken by management at the Archambault Correctional Facility, Quebec, to prevent insubordination and sexual harassment at the mental health center for inmates. In particular, the document reflects facts of discrimination of convicts and medical staff by warders.[524]

Experts have documented the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, including during protests. The HRCttee noted that such incidents occurred during indigenous actions, students, social policy events, and the G20 Summit in Toronto. It is noted that complaints of police misconduct are not always investigated promptly, and if perpetrators are prosecuted, the penalties imposed are lenient.[525]

According to released internal documents from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, police officers used force more than 20, times between 2017 and 2019, a 10 percent increase over the previous three-year period. The police pointed their guns at people 5,500 times, and pulled the trigger 99 times (resulting in 26 deaths).[526]

The coronavirus pandemic has uncovered decades of problems in Canada’s protection system for seniors. Chronic staffing shortages, low levels of medical care and provision of medications contributed to the rapid spread of the new infection in public and private nursing homes (the epidemic reached a total of 971 institutions). The most shocking story took place at Montreal’s Residences Herron boarding house, where 31 of 154 patients died within a month. As a result, Canada topped the list of OECD countries with the highest mortality rate among retirees. Their share of the total number of deaths was 81% (6,000 out of 8,454 people).[527] A Department of National Defense Canada report on the situation in Ontario’s social care facilities, which was released to the media in late May 2020, documented gross violations of sanitary and epidemiological norms and standards of inpatient social and medical care.[528]

 

Cyprus

The human rights situation in the Republic of Cyprus remains at an acceptable level. The rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the national Constitution and international agreements are generally respected.

The national human rights monitoring bodies operating on the island include the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights, the Office for Combating Racism and other Discrimination, and the Office for Equal Treatment.

The de facto division of the island into the Republic of Cyprus and the unregulated by the official authorities and unrecognized by the international community so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) remains the main and invariable obstacle to the realization of international human rights standards in Cyprus. The continuing tensions between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities of the island has a negative impact on the enjoyment of rights such as the right to freedom of movement, the right to use private property, the right to seek asylum, etc.

Many Cypriots remain internally displaced. Formally, they have the right to freely cross the buffer zone, the so-called “green line” (the location of the UN peacekeepers), in order to get from one part of the island to another through nine official checkpoints. In fact, the authorities of both communities often impose undue restrictions on the free movement of the population, which also affects foreigners. Cases of refusal of citizens of other countries, including Russians, to enter the Republic of Cyprus through international checkpoints (Larnaca and Paphos airports) on the grounds that they intended to enter the territory of “TRNC” were repeatedly recorded.

Other long-standing problems related to the division of the island include the unresolved issue of the protection of the property rights of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The most pressing issue is Greek Cypriot property in the closed area of Varosha, Famagusta. It is compounded by the unilateral decision of the Turkish Cypriot authorities to open part of the territory and to commercialize real estate in violation of UNSC resolutions 550 (1984) and 789 (1992).

The most difficult situation is that of the rights of migrants and refugees, whose illegal flow continues to increase. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, from January to October 2022. about 17,000 potential refugees entered the territory of the country illegally. In the first five months of 2022, the authorities received about 11,000 applications for refugee status. (For the whole of 2021 – more than 15,000).

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) noted “significant difficulties” in ensuring adequate reception conditions for asylum seekers in Cyprus.[529] In May 2017, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted the limited number of reception centers for refugees.[530] The two detention centers on the island are overcrowded and the living conditions are extremely poor. In an attempt to address the problem, the authorities are creating densely populated areas for certain groups of migrants in small settlements, which cause resentment among the local population and anyway often result in denial of the rights of those seeking international protection.

The already difficult situation of residents of the centers was further exacerbated during the coronavirus infection pandemic. At that time, the lack of access to health care, education and even recreation was particularly acute, as was the increase in physical and sexual violence.[531]

Against this background, the simplified reception regime for Ukrainian refugees in the Republic of Cyprus in accordance with the EU directive is noteworthy. According to the local Ministry of Internal Affairs, from the end of February to November 2022, a total of about 65 thousand people arrived on the island from Ukraine. Ukrainians and members of their families are granted temporary protection status in an accelerated manner (more than 17 thousand persons have been granted tis status since February), which allows legal residence in Cyprus for one year, adequate accommodation, access to the labour market, health care, social benefits, education for minor children, and the right of the holder to family reunification. Temporary protection status is valid until March 4, 2023, and can be automatically extended for another year (based on 6‑month periods). The processing of the relevant applications by migrants from other countries take more than a few months, while they are waiting for the decisions of Cypriot authorities in overcrowded detention centers.

Lack of space in detention centers has a negative impact on the rights of refugee minors who, according to the Cyprus Commissioner for Children’s Rights, live in inhuman conditions. For example, the “Pournara” center in the village of Kokkinotrimitia, intended for the temporary detention of migrants, has a permanent population of about 300 children, with two toilets and one shower. The rooms hold 15 people each, forcing children to share single beds or sleep on the floor.

The lack of respect for the rights of refugee and migrant children is of concern to experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In June 2022, they reiterated to the Cypriot authorities that this category of minors was deprived of access to health care and social services due to their nationality, residence and legal status of parents. Access to non-segregated education remains problematic.[532]

With regard to unaccompanied children, throughout the asylum procedure in Cyprus, there is no legal representation.[533]

Another concern of international experts is the excessive use of medical age determination while there are no mechanisms to challenge the results of such examinations.[534]

According to FRA, in 2021, there were regular reports from Cyprus of forced expulsions of migrants, including to countries where their lives and health were at risk, often with violence.[535] According to CRC, the use of such practices by border guards often resulted in the separation of families. At the same time, applications for their reunification, as well as any applications for international protection, are considered with considerable delay. Such an approach rarely takes into account the State’s obligation to act in the best interests of the child.[536]

The Committee against Torture (CAT) was alerted to the criminalization and routine detention of irregular migrants.[537] In December 2019, experts from the monitoring body welcomed information that asylum seekers are no longer detained under the Aliens and Immigration Regulations. However, CAT also noted with concern that during the refugee determination process, they continued to be detained for long periods of time, including during the judicial review of their cases, which reportedly may take up to two years.[538]

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) noted with concern the difficulty of access to justice for foreign domestic workers, because of their possible detention and subsequent deportation pending trial.[539]

An ad hoc delegation of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited Cyprus from 7 to 9 November 2022. The purpose of the experts was to examine the treatment in that country of nationals of other States deprived of their liberty under the law on foreigners and the conditions under which they were held, in particular at the Menoya centre. CPT also observed the transport of persons to be returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Larnaca airport, as well as their transfer to the Cyprus Police responsible for boarding foreigners on a flight to Kinshasa.[540] At the time of writing, the report on the findings of the visit had not yet been published on the official website of the CPT.

Challenges remain in protecting the rights of women and girls. According to the Gender Equality Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus, I.Antoniou, one out of every three women in this category of citizens is subjected to physical or sexual violence. However, only 1 in 10 girls is willing to seek help from law enforcement agencies. According to Cyprus Police, in 2021 there was a 30 per cent increase in the number of complaints related to violence against women. Eradication of this type of crime remains a priority for the country’s authorities.

The protection of children’s rights is no less complex. According to a study by the Cypriot NGO “Hope for Children”, in 2020 there were 324 cases of sexual violence against minors in Cyprus. In the first 10 months of 2021 there were already more than 420 such cases. Most of these crimes, according to the organization, are committed by people close to the victim, including relatives and acquaintances.

Disaggregated data on such cases remains insufficient. In particular, this is due to under-reporting and lack of coordination among competent authorities. At the same time, both investigation and sentencing rates are low.

In addition, CRC noted, among other factors that hamper the improvement of the situation under review, the lack of training of persons working with child victims, the failure to take into account the specificities of interaction with children, as well as the statutory requirement for parental consent to a child’s medical examination and psychological and psychiatric assistance.[541]

Human rights defenders continue to draw attention to overcrowding in the only prison in the Republic of Cyprus in Nicosia. The Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics 2021 mentions this in particular, according to which Cyprus has more than 110 convicted per 100 places of detention (the fourth place among the Council of Europe member countries).[542] The European average is 85.4. However, the situation with the rights of prisoners remains generally stable. In recent years there have been no cases of torture or inhuman or degrading punishment of detainees.

In accordance with the recommendations of the European Commission to the EU Member States on the Rights of Persons Subject to Pre-trial Detention, which entered into force on 8 December 2022, in Cyprus, there is no time limit for the period of pre-trial investigation and thus for the detention of persons suspected or accused of crimes.

The residents of the island enjoy full religious freedom. According to the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, all religions, faiths and rites which are not exercised in secret are free and equal before the law. The majority of the population profess Orthodoxy, in the so-called “TRNC” Islam prevails. Religious leaders of Cyprus remain committed to joint dialogue and freedom of religion within the framework of the “Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process” under the auspices of the Swedish Embassy in the Republic of Cyprus. After the complete lifting of coronavirus restrictions in May 2022, the practice of annual pilgrimages from the north to the Muslim shrine, the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca, resumed.

Previously, in 2015, the Human Rights Committee had expressed concern about the unjustified obstruction of the right to freedom of religion and belief of some minorities, particularly Muslims, due to restricted access to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, as well as reports of inadequate care of Muslim cemeteries.[543]

The members of the Greek Cypriot community include three religious groups whose status is enshrined at the constitutional level: Armenians, Maronites and Latins. According to the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), a general climate of tolerance prevails on the island, especially with regard to the above-mentioned groups. The State assists them in preserving their identity, especially in the field of education and culture. Members of these religious groups, especially in the Parliament of the Republic of Cyprus, take an active part in political decision-making on matters affecting them.[544]

At the same time, the FCNM Committee notes that the State’s interaction with religious and ethnic communities, whose status is not enshrined in the Constitution, is insufficient. Thus, according to the official position of the authorities, the Roma living in Cyprus are considered part of the Turkish Cypriot community. This makes it difficult for them to access and exercise certain rights, while the Roma community remains economically and socially marginalized. In this regard, one of the main recommendations of the Nicosia FCNM Committee was the development of a detailed action plan for the social integration of Roma and their participation in socio-economic life in general, to be carried out in close cooperation with representatives of this population group.[545]

Furthermore, the Committee encouraged the authorities to consider the establishment of a State institution with a mandate to address the problems of national minorities, Roma communities and other groups whose status is not enshrined in the Constitution, as well as interaction with relevant structures.[546]

In May 2017, CERD noted with concern the spread of racially motivated verbal abuse and physical attacks by extreme right-wing extremist and neo-Nazi groups against persons of foreign origin, including persons of African descent, as well as human rights defenders and Turkish Cypriots. The Committee has also expressed concern at the prevalence of racist stereotypes and hate speech in society, often at the hands of the media, against members of certain ethnic minority groups as well as Roma who are Muslims. The experts pointed to the lack of legal provisions to prosecute such acts, as well as insufficient law enforcement efforts in this area[547].

Although the overwhelming majority of the population of the Republic of Cyprus is committed to traditional political ideas, against the background of the crisis in the negotiations to resolve the Cyprus problem, the increasing number of migrants on the island and the unresolved social situation nationalist ideas resonate around economic issues. The “National Popular Front” right-wing party is their conduit. It opposes the presence of migrant workers from developing countries as a cause of unemployment in Cyprus and increasing the tax burden on its indigenous citizens, the deportation of all irregular migrants and the establishment of quotas for migrants from EU member states.

In February 2022, the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights in the Republic of Cyprus, M.Stylianou-Lottidis, expressed concern about the increase in attacks against migrant food delivery drivers since the beginning of this year. The Ombudsman perceives them as xenophobic and calls on the various agencies to work together in a coordinated and resolute manner within the framework of a responsible State policy to combat racism and discrimination. According to her, Cyprus has a sufficient legal basis for this, but individual hate crimes are still common to Cypriot society and require a collective response.

As a positive illustration of the efforts made by Cyprus to combat manifestations of racism and xenophobia in its territory, the following case was brought to the attention of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2022. The Attorney General of Cyprus appealed against the verdict handed down by the court of first instance in 2019 in relation to a group of persons who had attacked a resident of the island of Russian origin. In the presence of her minor child, the victim was not only insulted because of her nationality but also physically assaulted. The Supreme Court found an aggravating circumstance in the case of an act motivated by racial hatred and agreed to increase the previous sentence: 3,000 euros fine (instead of 750 euros) and an increase in the term of probation[548].

At the same time, after the start of a special military operation by Russia to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, discriminatory manifestations were recorded in Cyprus against Russian citizens both in everyday life and on the Internet.

In this case, the aggression against Russians comes mainly from nationalist representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora and refugees from Ukraine. There have been cases of moral and physical pressure on some of our compatriots to publicly condemn the actions of the Russian authorities and support Ukraine, as well as the tracking of the personal data of participants of pro-Russian actions and subsequent posting of information on social networks with calls to violence.

Anti-Russian protests took place with the participation of deputies of the House of Representatives (Parliament) of Cyprus.

Here are some concrete examples: on 1 March 2022, the Russian flag was torn from the flagpole in front of the Honorary Consulate of Russia in Limassol. On 22 August 2022, in Larnaca, an ethnicity motivated hate attack was carried out on a participant of a motor rally under the auspices of the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots in Cyprus, a Russian citizen L.Chuikova. This incident goes beyond the usual threats and has clear signs of a terrorist attack. The Russian Federation calls upon the Cypriot authorities to conduct a thorough, objective and impartial investigation and to impose, within the framework of the criminal proceedings initiated, punishment to the full extent of the law.

Cases of Russophobia in educational institutions have been identified. There were also incidents of harassment of Russian-speaking children, including from mixed families, by classmates.

Following complaints by the Russian Embassy in Cyprus to the leadership of the country, the necessary measures were taken to ensure the security of the Russian and Russian-speaking inhabitants of the island. Citizens’ allegations of threats and aggression are investigated by the local police and, where there are sufficient grounds, procedural responses are taken. Special instructions have been issued for Cypriot school and university management to prevent misconduct. Regular actions in support of Russia are held in coordination with the authorities, a large-scale procession of the “Immortal Regiment” was held, Cypriot law enforcement officers ensure adequate security of such events.

There are financial difficulties due to Nicosia’s accession to illegal anti-Russian restrictive measures imposed by the European Union. There have been recorded cases of unauthorized blocking of transfers from Russian banks that were not subject to sanctions.

The social rights of Cypriots and residents of the island are guaranteed by a fairly effective social security system and support for the poor. The Republic of Cyprus does not yet have a minimum wage, but there are minimum wage rates for the most vulnerable groups, including migrant workers. At the same time, there are still cases of abuse of the labour of illegal foreign nationals who work in violation of the working regulations established by law and for low wages. CERD noted in 2017 that migrants are employed in jobs that require mainly unskilled manual labour, particularly in agriculture, livestock and fisheries.[549] In addition, foreign domestic workers, especially women, continue to be at risk of exploitation and abuse. This was pointed out by CERD and CEDAW.[550]

Cyprus legislation prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, political participation, access to health care and other public services. In practice, this group of citizens still does not have full access to all infrastructure. Also in Cyprus, there are still no special institutions to help people with intellectual disabilities in need of permanent care.

The Republic of Cyprus has a fairly democratic electoral system with the possibility of monitoring the voting by international observers. In addition to members of the Greek Cypriot community, Turkish Cypriots with permanent residence in officially controlled territory have been participating in the electoral process since 2005. In the elections to the European Parliament, all citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, EU citizens residing in Cyprus and Turkish Cypriots have the right to vote and be elected (polling stations are deployed only in the territory controlled by the Republic of Cyprus).

However, a number of shortcomings are highlighted by human rights defenders. In particular, there is no national independent electoral body in Cyprus (these functions are performed by the MoI). Also, local legislation does not include provisions for national and international observers, making it difficult for them to travel to the island. Among other things, smaller political parties have less information capacity and are in fact disadvantaged in the conduct of electoral campaigns than larger parties, as the coverage is related to the number of votes cast in the previous elections. Sources of electoral funding also remain opaque.

Citizens’ right to free and accessible education is generally respected. Exceptions noted by CRC experts in this regard include children with disabilities, children from minority backgrounds, children from families with socio-economic difficulties and children in alternative care[551]. There are still some restrictions on joint educational programmes in the universities of both parts of the island.

The FRA indicated that in 2021 foreigners in Cyprus were denied equal with Cypriots access to COVID-19 vaccinations, which constituted discrimination on the basis of citizenship[552].

Cyprus continues to develop a civil society that is playing an increasingly active and visible role in the public debate. The right to freedom of expression and the press is freely exercised and citizens have unrestricted access to the Internet. There had been no reported cases of journalists being prosecuted for carrying out their work.

According to the draft report of the European Parliament Select Committee published in November 2022, the leadership of several EU countries actively used spy software (Pegasus, Predator, etc.) for political purposes. It was used to spy on members of the opposition, civil society, business, human rights defenders and journalists. In many cases, these software products were acquired by the European authorities through specialized companies registered in Cyprus. According to them, the country has become a haven for the re-export of spyware programmes because of the inadequacy of its national legislation and oversight mechanisms for ΙΤ economic operators.

In its opinion (June 2019), the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) drew attention to Cyprus’ failure to implement two recommendations of the European Commission: Country Report Cyprus 2016. In particular, it is noted that the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights of the Republic of Cyprus has not carried out activities in support of vulnerable sections of the population since 2016, nor has it published reports and recommendations on discrimination. The second recommendation concerns the need for the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights to be involved in the selection of candidates for appointment to his office. Now, according to ECRI, the appointment is made exclusively by the Public Service Commission.[553]

 

Latvia

Human rights situation in the Republic of Latvia (RL) remains quite unfavorable. The nationally oriented ruling coalition continues to pursue a policy of a monoethnic state. Latvian authorities deliberately distort the facts and interpret history to justify their own unseemly actions. A similar approach is used everywhere to substantiate the obvious glorification of Latvian SS legionaries, Nazi accomplices and an open fight against the memory of Red Army soldiers who liberated Latvia from Nazism. A significant part of the country’s Russian-speaking population is in a disadvantaged position being regarded by the authorities solely as an alien and destabilizing element.

After the start of a special military operation of the Russian Federation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, Latvia took the most anti-Russian stance among the Baltic states, there was a sharp upsurge of Russophobia in the country, violations of the national minorities’ rights became more frequent. In general, The Ukrainian crisis has become a convenient pretext for Latvian politicians to realize their Russophobic aspirations. Under the pretext of fighting the symbols of “Russian aggression” in the country, the authorities are going over to another stage of war on historical memory and Russian-speaking residents, thereby trying to divert attention from the rapidly deteriorating economic situation.

The official Riga presents this state of affairs as a stalwart intention to continue support to Ukraine. According to Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš, Prime Minister of Latvia, the Baltic countries have shown by their own example that “it is more important to support Ukraine, rather to think about short‑term benefit, leaving some ties with the Russian Federation open”.[554]

Meanwhile, the residents of Latvia, as well as neighbouring Lithuania and Estonia, felt the effect of the anti-Russian policy of their own authorities very soon and in full measure. Inflation, an increase in utility tariffs, a GDP and industrial production dip, among others, affected the economic situation. In October 2022 the Latvian authorities stated a 22.2% increase in consumer prices.[555] The price hike is even more impressive in annual terms. Food prices in general rose by 27.5%, sugar – by 63.5%, flour – by 62.2%, butter – by almost 52%, milk – by 43.7%. Utility tariffs went up by 51.6% for the year[556].

According to OECD, the Latvian economy is facing recession in 2023. In June, the OECD forecast that Latvia’s GDP would grow by 3.5% and 1.6% in 2022 and 2023 respectively. But, having studied the situation in the republic in early December 2022, experts of the Organization changed their forecast for the worse. According to updated OECD estimates, Latvia would see an increase in the harmonized consumer price index by 17% in 2022, 10.7% in 2023 and 5% in 2024. In turn, the unemployment rate in Latvia in 2022 would be 6.7%, and in the next two years – 7% and 6.8%, respectively[557].

The lack of Latvian citizenship remains the main problematic aspect of the human rights sphere for a significant part of the population. According to the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) it was 9.7%, or 182,300 inhabitants as of January 2022; according to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA) of the RL Ministry of Internal Affairs it was 191,036 people as of 1 July 2022.

At the moment, the “non-citizen” status is no longer reproduced – all children of “non-citizens” born after 1 January 2020 obtain citizenship automatically. It is difficult to call this decision revolutionary: the amendments to the Citizenship Law that came into force on 1 October 2013 already significantly simplified the procedure for registering newborn children of “non-citizens”, and over 2014-2019 only 301 individuals have obtained this status. The issue of the final elimination of mass statelessness in Latvia, a shameful phenomenon for the modern Europe, will not definitely return to the agenda in the near future.

“Non-citizens” residing in the country are in a discriminatory position. They continue to be deprived of a range of social, economic and political rights. Currently, independent Latvian human rights activists count about 80 differences between citizens and “non-citizens”. “Non-citizens”, in particular, do not have the right to elect and be elected, hold positions in the civil and military service, be judges, etc. In this regard, the elections to the Saeima of Latvia took place on 1 October 2022 in the absence of a universal suffrage right and with the continued “long-term deficit of democracy” (as noted in PACE and OSCE reports back in 2002 and 2006 respectively).

Official statistics illustrates the adverse situation in the field of “naturalization”: the rate of obtained citizenship declines every year (725 individuals naturalized in 2020, 419 in 2021, and just 166 as of April 2022). Since the “naturalization” process began on 1 February 1995 – the citizenship of the Republic of Latvia has been granted to 148,478 people, while the peak was in 2004-2006 in connection with the country’s accession to the EU (51.6 thousand people). At the same time, the term “naturalization”, its legal side apart, is largely artificial in nature, since people who are meant here in most cases are not migrants, but have always lived in this territory. The number of “non-citizens” is reducing now already due to the natural loss of this population category and its migration outflow only.

The topic of “non-citizenship” in Latvia is given considerable attention by Latvian Russian-speaking NGOs, primarily the Latvian Human Rights Committee (LHRC). It works systematically with human rights institutions and other interested structures, prepares alternative reports on the human rights situation to relevant international organizations. This activity is traditionally criticized by local authorities being reflected in the State Security Service (SSS) annual reports.

It should be noted that against the backdrop of the Ukrainian crisis, “non-citizens” who have obtained Russian citizenship are being discriminated against. Thus, on 22 September 2022, the Saeima of Latvia finally adopted amendments to the Immigration Law which reads that from 1 September 2023 on, citizens of the Russian Federation who were previously citizens or “non-citizens” of the Republic of Latvia, will need to confirm at least A2 level of state language proficiency in order to maintain a permanent residence permit.

International universal and regional human rights mechanisms have published more than 50 recommendations on this serious problem, to include those related to a simplified naturalization procedure, grant of voting rights to “non-citizens”, and the entire package of language rights of national minorities. However, the official Riga continues to ignore all numerous recommendations.

Latvia has never signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of November 5, 1992; it only ratified the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) in 2005 with two reservations that significantly limit the effect of Conventional provisions. First, national minorities in their habitats in Latvia are given no chance of communicating in their native language with authorities, as well as using it for topographical names. Besides, an additional declaration adopted by the Latvian parliament on the ratified FCNM, separately stipulates that “non-citizens” are not subjects of the said Convention.

The approach of narrowing the scope of non-state languages actively introduced by authorities is becoming more and more noticeable in the context of the coercive de-Russification policy. The Latvian language is being strenuously promoted as the only language allowed for communication with authorities, topographical signs and other inscriptions, as well as identity documents.

It should be noted that Russian is the second most common and used for communication language in Latvia after the state one. According to the latest population census (2011), Russian is the native language for 37.7% of Latvia’s population. According to the Central Statistical Bureau latest data (2017), about 78% of Latvians speak Russian as a foreign language. Meanwhile, according to the surveys conducted in 2019 for the State of the Tongue in Latvia in 2016-2020 report, 96% of Latvian respondents confirmed to have a command of the Russian language.

Despite all the efforts by the Latvian authorities, the share of Russian-speaking residents is declining just slowly: over the recent twenty years, it has decreased by only 1.5%. This trend is typical for all regions, except for Latgale (Latvia’s south-east region with the highest proportion of Russian-speaking population), where Russian is native to 54.5% of the population. The concentration of Russian speakers in Riga also remains significant – about 56% of the inhabitants.

The 2012 referendum on giving the Russian language the status of a second state language can be considered the most recent attempt to legitimize it in the country. 273347 people (24.88% of the participants) voted “in favour”. The opinion of the 15% of (then) “non-citizens” who were deprived of the right to vote even on such a significant issue still remained “outside the scope” of the survey. The Russian language expectedly received significant support in Latgale – 55.6% (in Daugavpils, region’s capital – 85.2%, in the Zilupe region bordering on Russia – 90.3%). Thus, Russian still has the legal status of a foreign language in the country.

The discriminatory language policy of the official Riga is built around the exclusive need to preserve the Latvian language and culture as the basis of the Latvian nation. The use of the Latvian language is handled by the State Language Center (SLC), whose inspections were dubbed the “language inquisition” in the Russian-speaking environment. According to the latest SLC report, 2,255 inspections were carried out in 2021 (2061 inspections in 2020), 531 proceedings were initiated on administrative offenses (530 proceedings in 2020), 517 people were fined. Over 60% of all cases on this issue are related to the state language underuse in the discharge of professional or official duties. Through the Friend of the Language app, in operation since 2018 and actively promoted by the local authorities, only 58 reports of language violations were submitted (136 reports in 2020).

The Latvian authorities position the Russian language as the main threat to the development and even the very existence of the state language. The State Language Policy Guidelines for 2021-2027 approved on 25 August 2021 cites addressing the consequences of the “Soviet occupation” in the societal linguistic behaviour, including the allegedly unreasonable demand for knowledge of the Russian language on the labor market, among the main tasks. In addition, it is noted that children must be given an opportunity to study one of the EU official languages as a second foreign language at school (English is the first, as a rule). It is noteworthy that due to a lack of teachers, some educational institutions may offer only Russian to study as a foreign language, and there is still sufficient demand for such lessons among the youth.

Since the launch of the Russian special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, abandoning the use of the Russian language has occupied a central place in the rhetoric of the country’s leadership. It has been repeatedly emphasized that “Latvian core value – the state language – needs to be fostered more than ever” in the current geopolitical conditions. It is no surprise that this is supposed to be done at the expense of the oppressed Russian language. In fact, upright propaganda of discrimination on the linguistic grounds has been launched in the country.

With this in mind, the Latvian government is working systematically to squeeze the Russian language out of all the domains of country’s public life. On 16 June 2022, the Saeima approved in the second reading the National Bloc-sponsored amendments on election campaigning in the state language only. On 22 September 2022, the country’s parliament adopted in the first reading the Law on Ensuring the Status of the Latvian Language as the Only State Language suggested by the New Conservative Party. The document provides for the use of EU official languages only, including the private sphere and communication of people outside state and municipal institutions. Non‑EU languages are also banned from telecommunications and other public service industries.

Moreover, the ruling circles hurried up to pull out the National Bloc proposal to conduct election campaigning only in the state language (under consideration by Seimas commissions since September 2020). On 16 June 2022 these amendments were approved by parliament in the second reading already.

Along with this, the Latvian state apparatus began to massively reject the use of the Russian language. Thus, Minister of Welfare Gatis Eglitis and Minister of Economics Ilze Indriksone ordered to communicate in the state language only within their ministries which became the case from 1 September 2022 in the Ministry of Economics and from 1 October 2022 in the Ministry of Welfare. This concerns information on websites and in social networks, messages for clients and interviews with the Latvian media. That said, since 24 August 2022, the Russian-language version of the website of President of Latvia Egils Levits has been blocked, the official portal president.lv is now available only in Latvian and English.

The Latvian authorities actually eliminated the Russian-speaking educational space through a comprehensive education reform (transfer of schools and kindergartens to the Latvian language of instruction, development and implementation of new educational content, streamlined school network, a ban on teaching in Russian in private universities). These discriminatory innovations were spectacularly supported by the judiciary. Thus, in 2019 and 2020 the Constitutional Court of Latvia recognized the provisions on the de-Russification of education and introduction of compulsory education in the Latvian language at various levels of education as constitutional.

The initiatives to finally eliminate Russian-language education were promoted at an accelerated pace in 2022, considering that 1 September 2021 was the end date of the school reform transitional period. This implies almost complete teaching in the state language in all basic and secondary schools starting from the 2021/2022 academic year already: grades 10-12 were taught only in Latvian, for grades 7‑9 a new language proportion is introduced of 80% to 20%. Lawsuits by parents of national minority schoolchildren regarding this reform are currently being adjudged by the European Court of Human Rights. The “de-Russification” of educational institutions was recognized as fully legitimate by Constitutional Court decisions in 2019.

The Latvian authorities used Russia’s special military operation to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine as a convenience to force the rejection of the Russian language in education. Amendments to the Education Law providing for a full transition to teaching in Latvian in kindergartens from 1 September 2023 and in schools from 1 September 2025, were approved in the final reading on 29 September 2022. Grades 1, 4 and 7 will also begin to study in the state language exclusively from 1 September 2023. The language and culture of national minorities will be only available as interest education programs subsidized by the government or a specific local government.

The proportion of the Latvian language in kindergartens has been increased since 1 September 2019 already, for children of five years and older it is the main means of communication. The regulation obliging Russian-speaking municipal kindergartens to open groups with instruction in the Latvian language on request is maintained. It should be noted that education had been Latvianized even earlier in private educational and preschool institutions. On May 14, 2020, The Saeima of Latvia adopted amendments to the Education Law, according to which all municipal preschool educational institutions are required to provide educational programs in the Latvian language.

Higher education in the Russian language is currently unavailable in Latvia’s public universities as well. Russian Philology programs at the Latvian and Daugavpils universities where certain disciplines are taught in Russian, is the only exception. Russian-language streams in private universities have been stopped since 1 January 2019, studying is only possible in the EU official languages.

On 21 November 2022, the Ministry of Education and Science, in order to achieve the goal of “fostering Latvian core value – the national language – and a strong Latvia in the common family of the European Union”, announced plans to require a EU language only to be studied as the second foreign language in all educational institutions starting from the 2026/2027 academic year. It would be impossible to study Russian as a second foreign language.[558]

Russian-speaking teachers found themselves in dire straits. Subject teachers of national minority schools have to undergo constant checks for compliance with the top level of Latvian language proficiency which became more stringent after the start of the Ukrainian crisis and decision to eliminate Russian-language education. For 2018-2022 The SLC identified 396 teachers (114 for the period from January to April 2022 only) who do not speak the state language at a proper level.

The trend to oust non-state languages (primarily Russian) has become quite noticeable in other spheres of public life in Latvia. A consistent policy to oust the Russian language from the media has been pursued. Over the years, regulations have been adopted to increase the proportion of broadcasts and publications in Latvian and EU official languages, while limiting radio and television broadcasts, as well as publications in Russian.

Since 1 July 2020, in accordance with a new law on administrative penalties for offenses in the domain of administration, public order and use of the state language, liability has been introduced for showing “serious disrespect for the state language”, concluding labour contracts with employees without knowledge of the Latvian language and reluctance to ensure its use at work. Printed promotional products must be circulated among Latvian citizens in Latvian only. An exception is possible if a citizen has agreed to receive materials in other languages.

This restriction had a serious impact on the mass vaccination in the country in 2021, despite the critical situation in the healthcare sector and significant problems with the vaccination campaign, especially among older people (this age group makes up a significant part of Latvia’s Russian-speaking population). The authorities did not even agree to temporarily suspend the force of the law, thereby limiting our compatriots’ access to vital information.

On 16 June 2022, the Political Parties Law was also amended to make possible suspension of the activities of political associations for “denying crimes or expressing support for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of democratic governments.” Despite absent country names in the wording, this innovation is clearly directed first and foremost against those political parties that represent the interests of Latvia’s Russian-speaking inhabitants who are in favor of maintaining ties with Russia.

Meanwhile, a draft law on the financing of election campaigning in the state language only was adopted in the second reading.

The actions in the linguistic field by the Latvian authorities who take active measures to create a monolingual society, have been repeatedly criticized by international human rights mechanisms. According to an Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities opinion adopted back in 2018, the Latvian leadership’s language policy leads to a limited space for the use of national minorities’ languages.[559] In particular, the comprehensive education reform in the country actually serves to eliminate bilingual schools and abandon the use of the Russian language in educational institutions of all levels. Russian was named the second most spoken language among the population. According to the 2017 CBS study, it was spoken by 37.7% of the population (Latvian – 61.3%).[560]

The AC FCCNM also pointed out that the Latvian authorities’ educational reform puts national minority students in a certainly disadvantageous position in terms of academic achievements, which in turn may adversely affect their ability to successfully integrate into the socio-economic life of society.[561]

The opinion of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe) on educational reform in Latvia of June 2020 also pointed out problems in the field of education for national minorities. In the Commission’s opinion, the issue of introducing Latvian as the main language in kindergartens should be reconsidered, since teaching in the native language is important for preserving identity and linguistic diversity in society. It was also noted that private schools should have the right to implement programs in minority languages, which is prohibited by the Latvian authorities’ legislative innovations.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also expressed concern over the measures taken by the official Riga to Latvianize education. In particular, he pointed out that such a language policy could have discriminatory consequences for persons belonging to minorities, especially in the areas of education, employment and access to services. It was also noted that the Committee remained concerned that the amendments to the Education Law and Cabinet Decree No. 716 of 21 November 2018 had a discriminatory effect on minority groups and created unreasonable restrictions on the teaching and learning in minority languages, both in public and private schools of the pre-school and primary education system.[562]

The resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia of 3 March 2021 also draws attention to discrimination against national minorities in Latvia.[563] The document states that “cases of inflammatory statements by public figures have not led to the authorities taking sufficient action, creating an impression of impunity and ambivalence, thus affecting negatively the interethnic climate. Restrictive policies and other pressures driven by a political agenda… are particularly evident in the education system, the media, and with regard to the use of national minority languages.” It was also noted that the extensive application of language requirements in Latvia adversely affects the possibility for non-native speakers of Latvian of accessing many positions within the public service.

On 25 March 2022, the Human Rights Committee began to consider the complaint of the Latvian Human Rights Committee about the non-compliance of the recent 2018 school reform with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The experts asked the government of Latvia to clarify the nature of the introduced changes.

In July 2022, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Kairat Abdrakhmanov sent a letter to the Saeima of Latvia regarding a new government proposal to completely transfer schools to the Latvian language of instruction from 2025. He pointed out to possible violations of international law in the implementation of this initiative and recalled the importance for children to receive education in their mother tongue, as well as need to take into account the opinion of national minority members in implementing reforms. The response of the RL Ministry of Justice, illustrative in this regard, mentions that there is supposedly no evidence that the Russians in Latvia are a national minority (they are supposedly a group of “Soviet era migrants”), also noting insufficient dominance of the state language in the country.

Although there are no formal restrictions in Latvia on participation in political life and public administration (with the exception of “non-citizens”), nevertheless, the current version of the Elections to the Saeima Law prohibits persons who were members of certain Soviet organizations (State Security Committee, Latvian Communist Party, International Front of Workers of the Latvian SSR, etc.) after 13 January 1991, to participate in them. This makes possible to put pressure on the radical left forces (for this reason, for example, co‑chairman of the Russian Union of Latvia party (RUL) Tatjana Ždanoka cannot participate in the elections). Also, since 2013, there has been a procedure of deputy mandate divestment for insufficient knowledge of the state language (it was applied to mayors of the cities of Zilupe and Daugavpils, as well as several deputies from predominantly “Russian” self-governments).

The situation of the Russian-speaking diaspora in Latvia has become very vulnerable. The efforts of community activists to protect the right to use their native language and preserve the memory of exploits of the Red Army who liberated Latvia from Nazism faced a harsh reaction from the authorities. It resulted in the constant persecution of activists of the Russian-speaking community, putting pressure on them with demonstrative “punitive actions”. As a rule, compatriots are charged with “anti-state activity”, “assistance to a foreign state in its activities against Latvia”, “organization of riots”, “espionage”. The Latvian authorities have practiced this before, but after the start of the Russian special operation Latvia witnessed a sharp surge of Russophobic sentiments. “Show trials” to combat “dissent”, criminal cases initiated under far-fetched pretexts against pro-Russian diaspora activists and summoning them for “preventive conversations” became more frequent in 2022.

Among other things, the pressure by Latvian special services has increased on the Russian Union of Latvia (RUL), which is the country’s only political force that consistently opposes the official anti-Russian policy. In April 2022, the local State Security Service (SSS) issued a warning to the party for alleged “inconsistency of the activities of the RUL and its members with the democratic values and national security interests of Latvia.” Government funding of the RUL in accordance with the Latvian legislation (based on the results of the previous parliamentary elections) was terminated.

The Latvian authorities considered a ban on the activities of parties disagreeing with the official interpretation of the Soviet era and assessments of the Ukrainian crisis. In May 2022, the Saeima commission on security, internal affairs and fight against corruption submitted a draft law to amend the Political Parties Law. Pursuant to the amendments, “parties in their activities are prohibited from publicly praising, denying or justifying genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, war crimes or any actions aimed at undermining the territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence or constitutional order of democratic countries.” Experts note that the vague wording makes it possible to use the document for repressions against parties relying on the Russian-speaking electorate who for the most part does not agree with the anti-Russian policy pursued by Latvia and denigration of the Soviet period in the RL history.

The Latvian authorities have adopted a set of legislative measures seeking to criminalize any form of support to Russia and its special operation. Thus, there is an article in the Criminal Law of Latvia stipulating responsibility “for the justification and glorification of crimes” of Russia on the territory of Ukraine. On 31 March 2022 the Saeima adopted a law to amend the criminal law to criminalize the use of the letters Z and V in public space “in order to support the aggressor.” Such kind of symbolism also implies the St. George ribbon, also banned in Latvia earlier. All such acts are punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

As of August 2022, the SSS was in charge of 26 criminal cases initiated in connection with “glorification of genocide and war crimes”, “incitement of ethnic hatred”, etc., in most cases for online comments or participation in Victory Day events. The charges are brought under RL Criminal Law article 74.1 “Justification of genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and war crimes” (support to the Russian military special operation). As of July 2022, state police opened about 80 lawsuits related to the Ukrainian crisis. The accusations are mainly brought under the mentioned RL Criminal Law article 74.1 “Justification of genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and war crimes”. Student Alexander Dubyago was under arrest (for demonstrating the Russian flag at the monument to Soldiers – Liberators of Riga and Latvia from Nazi invaders). From 21 June to October 2022, public figure and publicist Vladimirs Lindermans was imprisoned.

Other lawsuits are ongoing against local Russian-speaking public figures. Alexander Gaponenko, a well-known human rights activist and public figure, co‑chairman of the United Congress of Russian Communities and head of the Congress of Non-Citizens, was sentenced to a suspended sentence on 8 February 2022. The reason for this prosecution, as for a similar earlier one, was his statements that many residents of Latvia voluntarily agreed to cooperate with the Nazi Germany in the 30s-40s of the 20th century. Mr. Gaponenko’s case is now at the stage of appeal. On 29 October 2021, publicist and public figure Yuri Alekseev was found guilty on falsified charges of stirring up interethnic hatred and possession of cartridges. On 30 January, 2023 the Latvian Court of Appeal dropped one of the articles of the charge (possession of cartridges) after an appeal against the verdict, but the term was reduced by only a month.[564]

In January 2023 Latvian special services detained Marat Kasem, editor-in-chief of the Sputnik Lithuania agency, on suspicion of violating sanctions and espionage. On January 5, he was ordered to be held in custody as a preventive measure. The Latvian authorities put pressure on the Russian journalist in order to compel a confession. During his imprisonment, Mr. Kasem’s health deteriorated sharply: he developed an allergy and chronic diseases aggravated in solitary confinement under unsanitary conditions. Prison staff and medical workers ignore Mr. Kasem’s complaints and diagnosis.[565]

Criminal proceedings were initiated against RUL Board member and permanent author of the Russian analytical portal Rubaltic.ru Alexander Filey (for glorification of the “Soviet occupation”) and a number of other fellow citizens. The well‑known human rights activist, Euro-MP Tatjana Ždanoka is also subjected to serious pressure by the government (the proceedings initiated in August 2020 against her and a number of other activists of the Russian community in connection with the organization in 2018 of the All‑Latvian Parents’ Meeting were terminated; later on, proceedings resumed against the well-known public person Vladimirs Lindermans). The case against O.Burak is in the second stage of appeal.

The largest organization of country’s retired military servicemen, the Republican Association of Veterans in Latvia, was subjected to significant pressure by the authorities; it was closed based on a court decision under a formal pretext (violations of account keeping rules were mentioned as the reason)., Chairman of this organization, the 76-year-old Russian retired military serviceman V.Norvind, was separated from his family and forcibly expelled from Latvia on 6 October 2020, notwithstanding a heart attack. Latvian authorities cancelled his residence permit.

Russophobic hysteria so consumed the Latvian authorities that in August 2022 the Latvian parliament declared Russia a “terrorist supporter state.”

The SSS and state police actually began “hunting” people with dissenting opinions since late February 2022. There was an outbreak of summoning activists for “preventive conversations” to these agencies all over the country. In particular, journalist Yuri Alekseev whom Latvian intelligence services threatened with new criminal proceedings for his active civic position, informed about such summoning on his social media page. Information is available that Latvian intelligence services summoned contributors from practically all Russian-language media of the country to such “conversations”, including such large ones as Segodnya (Today) newspaper, Telegraph magazine, Latvian News weekly, Saturday, Seven Super Secrets, Baltcom radio as well as mixnews.lv, pross.lv, bb.lv websites.

In addition to criminal prosecution, Russian residents of Latvia faced massive intimidation, insults and threats in everyday life. In fact, social networks are bullying “unreliable citizens” who declare their support for Russia in whatever form or simply hold balanced views.

Since autumn 2021, https://myrotvorets.team, a website similar to the notorious Ukrainian Myrotvorets website, has been active in the country. The website publishes personal data of people who have supported Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine. This media has published the personal data of Latvian Russian-speaking journalists, including those who were victimized by intelligence services for “cooperation” with the Russian media, as well as of Russian-speaking community activists, including RUL members.

Notably, the Latvian government did not find this website unlawful. The State Data Inspection of Latvia found no violations there making a cynical remark that the data on the website had been processed with due consideration of the right to freedom of expression.

Besides, the “cancel Russia culture” became introduced countrywide. In June 2022, an SLC-agreed request was submitted to the Riga City Council to rename the streets of the capital named after Russian scientists and cultural figures.

Under the far-fetched pretexts of fighting “Russian propaganda”, the “cleansing” of Latvian information field from any “dissent” continues, as a result of which serious pressure is systematically exerted on Russian-language media contributors.

The persecution intensified since late February 2022, when rebroadcasting of all Russian channels gradually began to be banned in Latvia. On 24 February 2022 broadcasting of the channels Russia RTR, Russia 24 and TVC International was terminated. Starting from 2 March 2022 broadcasting of RBC TV channel was banned, Belarus 24 was suspended, and rebroadcasting licenses were withdrawn in respect of First Baltic Channel Estonia and First Baltic Channel Lithuania. On 7 March 2022 the Latvian National Electronic Media Board decided to switch off 18 more Russian channels in the country: ТНТ – Comedy, ТНТ 4, ТНТ 4 International, ТНТ, ТНТ Music, ПЯТНИЦА (FRIDAY) International, KHL TV, Kinopremiera, Kinosvidanie, Men’s Cinema, A‑Minor TV, Auto Plus – Auto‑Plus TV Channel, Nostalgie, Live!, Who is Who, Baby TV, Russian Night, Zee TV.

When it became clear that the ban failed to affect the popularity of Russian channels and Latvian residents still watch them using “illegal decoders” and satellite dishes, the Latvian Parliament, working to foster country’s media landscape, endorsed the amendments establishing administrative liability for unlawful watching the banned Russian channels content. An up to EUR 700 fine may be imposed for such offence.

In early December 2022 it became known about the detention of a man in Riga by the state police on suspicion of installing “illegal television” in houses. He was accused of organizing unlicensed rebroadcasting of illegal television. It was also established that “the detainee has been providing television connection and service for almost 100 households in the Riga region for a long time”.[566]

Latvian law enforcement agencies are exerting brutal pressure on Russian citizens crossing the border. To enter Latvia, they are required to sign a statement of disagreement with the policy of the Russian Federation. In case of refusal, the Russians are denied entry under the pretext that they allegedly pose a threat to country’s public order and internal security.

In December 2022 the State Security Service of Latvia addressed the residents of the republic with a “request” not to travel to Russia and Belarus during the Christmas and New Year holidays, recalling that special services of Russia and Belarus “recruit” Latvian residents in the territories of their countries.[567]

Discriminatory initiatives against citizens of the Russian Federation are being promoted. In particular, amendments to the Immigration Law of 22 September 2022 provide for the refusal to renew temporary residence permits issued to Russian citizens in exchange for investments and purchase of real estate in Latvia. The government also approved the proposal by Minister of the Interior Kristaps Eklons to test Latvian language fluency of Russian and Belarusian citizens applying for a residence permit. Since 19 September 2022 Russian citizens are prohibited from entering the territory of Latvia even if they have a valid Schengen visa. The Embassy of Latvia in Russia now issues visas for “humanitarian reasons” only.

After the start of the Russian special operation, the Latvian ruling circles have repeatedly mentioned the need for the unity of Latvian people in a crisis, but their utterances often only exacerbated interethnic confrontation. Thus, on 26 May 2022 Seima member (National Bloc) Janis Iesalnieks noted at a parliamentary session that “there are two societies in Latvia – Latvians and occupiers”, and “as long as the occupiers walk on our land and bless their monuments, our children will live in hate.” On 24 August 2022 President of Latvia Egils Levits mentioned the rise of “a part of Russian society disloyal to the state” as a negative impact of the “war in Ukraine” and hence, “the task is to subdue and isolate it.” On 16 December 2022 A.Kiršteins, a Saeima member, proposed deporting 250,000 Russian-speaking residents from the country. Earlier, on his social network page, he spoke out that the Russian nation does not exist, and “the Russian language arose as a dialect when the Mongol-Tatars tried to speak Ukrainian.”[568]

Such Russophobic manifestations did not arise out of the blue. Data gathered by international universal and regional human rights monitoring mechanisms have repeatedly revealed the spread of intolerance against several groups in Latvia. Thus, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, referring to a Latvian Center for Human Rights 2016 survey among NGO employees, migrants and foreign students, indicated that almost 68% of respondents either became victims and 33% witnesses of hate incidents or discriminatory manifestations, or heard of such cases. 13% of respondents were victims, or heard about other victims of attacks. According to respondents, hate incidents were motivated by race (36%), ethnicity/xenophobia (25%), language (22%), religion (6%). Over 40% of third‑country nationals reported to have been discriminated against, for example, when contacting government bodies, police, medical institutions, when passing through border checkpoints, as well as in the street and public transport.[569]

ECRI also pointed out to gaps in Latvian legislation concerning the prohibition of racial discrimination, as well as the public expression or incitement of hatred, insults based on race, language, religion or ethnic origin. The Commission noted that Islamophobic rhetoric strengthened in socio-political discussions in Latvia.[570]

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted that “unofficial data show a higher number of hate crimes and hate speech than are officially reported” and was concerned “at reports that victims of hate crimes are unwilling to report crimes to the authorities.” It also pointed out to the use of hate speech by politicians in relation to the upcoming election, as well as on the Internet.[571] The Latvian authorities regularly prove this remark of the Committee in practice. The statement by Minister of Defense of Latvia A.Pabriks is an example hereto. Amid the coronavirus infection, instead of treating those who came to the Liberators of Riga monument on May 9, 2020 to pay tribute to the Red Army soldiers, he proposed to oblige them to pay for the treatment of “those whom they surrounded”.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern about the absence of a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and policy framework aimed at ensuring equality and non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural domains. The CESCR also noted the reported prevalence of prejudice and discrimination based on colour, language, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation and gender identity that hinder disadvantaged and marginalized groups’ access to economic, social and cultural rights.[572]

Discriminatory attitude towards migrants is reported in Latvia as well. Many international human rights mechanisms noted this problem. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representation for the Nordic and Baltic countries has repeatedly drawn attention to the need to review Latvia’s refugee policy on the border with Belarus. On 9 August 2022 the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights sent a letter to the RL Ministry of the Interior where she called on the Latvian authorities to “ensure the access of representatives of civil society, international organizations and the media to the border areas in order to provide adequate humanitarian assistance to people in need”, as well as “protect borders in a manner consistent with the country’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

In July 2022 Amnesty International also expressed concern about the intention of Latvian authorities to extend the state of emergency in areas near the eastern border, which allows denying asylum to refugees and migrants. Experts reproached the Latvian authorities for the fact that people trying to enter the country from the territory of Belarus (mainly Afghani and Iraqi citizens) faced stiff resistance from law enforcement agencies of the Baltic state.

These concerns are underpinned by real-life examples. In mid-December 2022 Belarusian border guards found a refugee who was forcefully expelled out of the Latvian territory. According to the foreigner, he was on the Latvian territory and wanted to get to Germany. After being detained by the Latvian police, he was taken to a forest and left on the border with Belarus. According to the Belarusian Border Committee, the refugee said that he had stayed in Latvia with his brother. However, his relative died in a Latvian hospital, where he was taken after being beaten by local police officers.[573]

As to hate crimes as offence category, there was no separate statistics on such offences in Latvia before. However, given the seriousness of this problem, the RL Ministry of the Interior created a working group in July 2021 to analyse it.

Recently, cases of desecration of Ukrainian flags hung in public places are considered as such crimes. Some of them eventually qualify under the article on inciting ethnic, racial and other hatred. According to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs, “physical or verbal attacks on people from Ukraine or damage to property with Ukrainian symbols are exactly hate crimes in essence.”

Latvia is making deliberate efforts to falsify history and glorify former Waffen-SS legionnaires, as well as Nazi accomplices, who are elevated to the rank of “national liberation movement” participants. The collaborationism is being justified along with inculcating in the public mind the idea of identity of the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In practice, this takes the shape of cultivating nationalist and Russophobic sentiments among the broad masses. Such policy began almost immediately after Latvia withdrew from the USSR. The declaration “On the Latvian Legionnaires in World War II” adopted by the Saeima on 29 October 1998, laid a foundation for such a course. In defiance of the facts, it stated that “the soldiers who were called to arms or voluntarily joined the legion intended to protect Latvia from the Stalinist regime restoration” and that they “never participated in Hitler’s punitive actions against the civilian population.” With the government support and donations from the Daugava Hawks organization created by veterans of the Latvian Legion, a memorial complex to cherish the memory of members of that same criminal formation was opened in the village of Lestene in 2000.[574]

In line with this policy, public efforts to distort and falsify history and justify collaborators are made by representatives of not only right-wing radical forces, but also Latvian authorities, including country’s leaders. Among other things, there are known instances of coordinated efforts by the leaders of three Baltic States in this area. Among them are the joint statement made on 7 May 2020 by the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe (where the liberation of the Baltic States from the Nazis is called “occupation”, allegedly “because one totalitarian regime was replaced by another”) and the video message by heads of the three Baltic States posted in June 2021 on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of deportation from these countries (14 June 1941) making a false point of equal responsibility of the Nazi Germany and Soviet Union for starting World War II.[575]

There have also been attempts to whitewash Latvian accomplices of the Nazis from a legal standpoint. In this regard, it is worth mentioning a decision made in February 2019 by the Prosecutor General of Latvia to terminate the criminal proceedings on the possible involvement of Latvian pilot Herberts Cukurs (who was a member of the Arajs Kommando – a unit of the Latvian Auxiliary SD Police – and nicknamed “the butcher of Riga”) in the extermination of the Jewish population of Latvia during World War II. The investigation had been lingering since 2006 under Article 71 – Genocide – of the Latvian Criminal law. The proceedings were terminated due to the fact that Latvian Prosecutor’s Office did not find the corpus delicti provided for in Article 71 in Cukurs’ actions.

To promote the attitudes of “occupation doctrine” supporters, all kinds of pseudo-scientific works on “occupation” are published (e.g. Crimes of the USSR occupation army in Latvia. 1940 – 1991 by Jānis Riekstiņš). Moreover, books aimed at shaping a positive image of the Nazis and their accomplices are used as supplementary history books in schools.

This topic is promoted in Latvia, in particular, through organizing tourist paths along memorable sites related to the forest brothers. Guided excursions are provided along a tourist path near Stompaku bog in Viļaka[576] with various tasks and historical recitals. In general, the Baltic States implement a number of measures to incorporate locations related to the forest brothers into a sightseeing network. In May 2021, Latvia and Estonia created a map and a brochure listing military and historical tourist sites related to the forest brothers (over 150 well-kept former military sites with exhibitions, as well as natural sites such as battlefields, trenches and bunkers).

Nazi symbols also appear in everyday life. In late November 2022, swastika decorations on the city Christmas tree in Lielvarde became public knowledge.[577] Basically, such incidents are not new in Latvia. Back in 2017, one of the buildings in Saldus was decorated for the holiday with a Nazi swastika, dubbed the “fiery cross” by local authorities.[578]

By contrast, any attempt to paint over the Nazi symbol is persecuted by the authorities. So, in April 2022, the Latvian police detained three Russian sailors who were trying to paint over the swastika painted on the Russian state flag in the center of Riga.[579]

It should be noted that the efforts of Latvian authorities to glorify Nazism and justify the crimes of Nazi collaborators assumed unprecedented, previously unseen forms and proportions in 2021-2022.

For many years, the Latvian political establishment has made efforts to achieve the legal ban on May 9 celebrations, public demonstration of the symbols associated with the Victory over Nazism, and public events near Soviet military memorials.

On 11 November 2021, the Saeima passed several amendments to the laws on Security of Public Recreational Events and Celebrations and Holidays and Commemorative Days that prohibit the use of St. George’s Ribbon.

On 31 March 2022, the Saeima adopted a series of amendments to the Security of Public Events Law which banned events within 200 meters of any memorial that “glorifies the victory and memory of the Soviet Army or its servicemen in Latvia”.

On 7 April 2022, the Saeima adopted a law on Establishing a Day of Remembrance of the Dead and Wounded in Ukraine which proclaimed May 9 a day of mourning and banned public events and celebrations on this date. The law had “one-time application” and ceased to be in force on 11 May 2022. However, the same may happen in the coming years and be legitimized for a long term.

In addition to legal bans, Riga authorities also made practical steps to prevent people from laying flowers to the Monument to Liberator Soldiers in city Victory Park on 9 May 2022: the night of 8 May 2022, the State police fenced off the Monument without prior notice and closed the nearby public transport stops. However, these restrictive measures did not stop local residents from honoring the memory of fallen Soviet heroes. The outcome was 35 persons detained and 49 administrative proceedings initiated, mostly related to the “use of symbols that glorify military aggression and war crimes”, implying St. George’s Ribbon. On the morning of 10 May 2022, the authorities used an excavator to barbarically remove flowers laid on the square by the Monument. Such blasphemous actions against the memory of fallen liberators caused justifiable outrage among many Riga residents who continued to bring flowers to the Monument on 10 May 2022. The same evening, Latvian nationalists helped by the State police forced all visitors out of the Victory Park blocking access to the Monument until 31 August 2022.

The Latvian authorities did not stop at just restricting access to the monument. On 12 May 2022, deputies of the Saeima of Latvia urgently legitimized the dismantlement of the Monument in Victory Park, suspending article 13 of the 1994 Russia – Latvia Intergovernmental Agreement on the Social Protection of War Pensioners, under which Latvia pledged to protect Soviet memorials in its territory. Members of the Saeima’s Foreign Affairs Commission who sponsored the amendments, supported this cynical decision by openly stating that “Latvia’s commitments under article 13 of the Agreement do not extend to such structure as the Monument any more”.

Deputies of the Riga City Council endorsed the above decision to bring down the Monument to Liberator Soldiers by majority voting (39 against 13 votes) at an extraordinary meeting on 13 May 2022.

The Monument to Liberator Soldiers in Riga was annoying right-wing nationalists long time before that. There were suggestions to rename or transform the memorial, allegedly to reflect its “true meaning”. An initiative to demolish it was discussed within a working group formed in the Saeima of Latvia. The Internet was used as well. Google Maps displayed an incorrect “translation” into Latvian – Okupacijas piemineklis (“Monument to Occupation”) – next to the Russian name of the Victory Monument. Admins of the web-site did not respond to complaints.

The Monument to the Liberators of Riga was one of the first victims of vandalism against monuments to Red Army soldiers who had liberated the country from Nazism during World War II, another surge of which has spread throughout Latvia since the beginning of the special military operation. On 24 February 2022, the Monument was poured over with paint. After that, a vandal tried to destroy the Monument with a hammer. The offender was however detained by police. In this context Jānis Bordāns, Latvia’s Minister of Justice, urged for demolition of the Monument, calling it a threat to national security, and encouraged Latvian authorities to find loopholes to circumvent provisions of the treaty with Russia that protected the memorial.

On 16 June 2022 the Saeima speedily adopted a law on the Prohibition of Exhibiting in the Republic of Latvia of Items Glorifying the Soviet and Nazi Occupation Regimes that obliged municipalities to demolish Soviet memorials before 30 November 2022, including the Monument in Riga. Roughly 300 Soviet memorials to Red Army soldiers who liberated Latvia from Nazism are covered by this law.

President Egils Levits publicly supported this act, noting that behind it was a desire to prevent “any glorification of Russia’s imperial ideology in the public space”.

It is also indicative that the Latvian authorities, in the nationalist frenzy of their campaign to demolish the Monument to the Liberators of Riga, completely ignored the opinion of international human rights mechanisms and their obligations under international treaties. On 26 August 2022 the Human Rights Committee appealed to the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with complaints received regarding violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (an attempt by public activists to suspend the dismantling of the Monument to the Liberators of Riga and Latvia). The appeal of the Committee failed to prevent the demolition, however, the Government of Latvia was instructed to give explanations to HRCttee experts on this situation by 26 February 2023.

Parallel to the intense fight against Soviet memorials and historical heritage, Latvian authorities continued efforts to glorify Latvian Waffen‑SS Legionnaires and harbour surviving collaborators from the court.

In September 2021, the Latvian competent authorities denied Belarus legal assistance in the criminal case on genocide during the Great Patriotic War, not allowing to interrogate 22 Latvian SS Legion members with a reference to possible “damage to the sovereignty of the Republic of Latvia”. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus made the above request in June 2021,[580] after the Historical Memory Foundation and the Foundation for the Support and Development of Jewish Culture, Traditions, Education and Science had published a report titled Supporters of Nazi Crimes. 96 Latvian SS Legion veterans who are still alive. It included information about almost a quarter of about 400 former Latvian SS Legionnaires living in Latvia and abroad, at least some of whom may have been involved in serious crimes during World War II. It identified, among others, 22 former Latvian SS Legion members.[581] 23 more Nazi collaborators were identified in the Foundation’s 2021 report Retired Butchers. Latvian Nazi Criminals in CIA Service. The report clearly demonstrates that most Latvian CIA agents served the Nazis during World War II, and many of them were directly involved in crimes against humanity, including the Holocaust, punitive operations against civilians of Soviet republics, the blockade of Leningrad. Among these criminals was Jānis Cīrulis, who, as part of a Security Police and the SD special unit, took part in mass murders of civilians in Latvia and the USSR, including near the village of Zhestyanaya Gorka (Novgorod Oblast).

The violent reaction of Latvian ultra-patriots to the Belgian authorities’ decision to demolish the monument to Latvian legionaries in Zedelgem that was installed in 2018 (dismantled on 31 May 2022) is indicative of the true attitude of the official Riga to Nazi accomplices. in December 2021, Latvian Minister of Culture Nauris Puntulis (National Alliance) spoke in defense of the monument, urging “to respect the memorial”, and spokesperson of the mentioned political party Laima Melkina stated that “attempts to accuse Latvian legionaries of Nazi war crimes and the Holocaust clearly contradict the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal”. The Latvian Embassy in Belgium sent a note on this matter to the Belgian Foreign Ministry, and Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs addressed a letter to Flanders leaders.

Besides, honoring former Waffen-SS legionnaires continues in Latvia.

On 16 November 2021 the Saeima officially approved the establishment of the National Partisan Armed Resistance Remembrance Day on March 2 to commemorate forest brothers’ fights near Stompaku bog in Viļaka.

In 2022, the events to commemorate this day were for the first time held under the aegis of the official public Remembrance Day, during which President of Latvia Egils Levits opened a memorial to the so called “national partisans” – in fact, open Nazi collaborators – forest brothers buried in Stompaku.

On 16 March 2022, the Latvian Waffen-SS legionaries remembrance day, there was a traditional procession of “national heroes” sympathizers attended by Daugava Hawks members traditionally dressed in uniforms with Nazi chevrons. As before, National Alliance members – Imants Parādnieks and Jānis Iesalnieks, advisors to the Prime Minister of Latvia, Raivis Dzintars, leader of the party, and Saeima deputy Jānis Dombrava – took part in the procession to the songs of the Waffen-SS Legion. Meanwhile, Riga City Council rejected the Latvian Anti-Nazi Committee application to hold a parallel event against justifying Latvian punitive division crimes. On the same day, Speaker of the Saeima Ināra Mūrniece laid flowers and delivered another revisionist speech at the legionary cemetery in Lestene.

Latvian Waffen-SS legionaries marched another time on 16 March 2023. The event was traditionally guarded by Latvian special services and police, whereby Jelgava City Council deputy Andrei Pagora, who went to a single picket with an anti-fascist poster, was detained. On the occasion of this event in support of the Nazis, President Egils Levits issued a statement where he equaled Latvian legionaries and “forest brothers” to national resistance members who advocated an independent Latvia.

The international community has heavily criticized the marches of Waffen‑SS veterans. ECRI has repeatedly expressed concern in its reports about the annual commemoration of Latvian Waffen-SS legionaries on 16 March. ECRI noted that MPs from the National Alliance which is part of the ruling coalition, had been seen attending the ceremonies. Commission experts have repeatedly recommended Latvian authorities to condemn all attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen-SS and collaborated with the Nazis, as well as to call on MPs to abstain from attending such ceremonies.[582]

The Latvian authorities take care of the burial places of former SS men. On 13 October, 2022 a draft law was adopted in the first reading on the Lesten Lutheran Church in the cemetery of which Latvian Waffen-SS legionaries are buried. This memorial is a kind of mecca for nationalists from the Latvian political establishment. Speaker of the Seima Ināra Murniece regularly attends the annual events held there to honor the SS.

In February 2023, it became known that this year the Ministry of Culture of Latvia would allocate 300 thousand euros for the shooting of a film glorifying another SS man – Ernest Laumanis, company commander in the 21st Liepaja Schutzmannschaft Battalion, later Latvian SS Legion member, who participated in the extermination of Jews in Latvia and securing the Nazi blockade of Leningrad.

Given the trends described above, it is no surprise that 2022 witnessed a sharp upsurge of the desecration of Soviet military memorials in Latvia. The Latvian government began eliminating Soviet memorial heritage on a larger scale than all the Baltic countries, immediately addressing the issue of iconic monuments that are widely known outside the republic.

While the Embassy of Russia in Latvia recorded four acts of vandalism against Soviet monuments in the territory of the country throughout 2021, there were dozens of such cases in the first half of 2022 already.

As of the end of June 2022, 13 cases of desecration of memorials to Red Army soldiers were recorded, municipalities illegally demolished 7 monuments and eliminated a mass grave. In several cases, such blasphemous actions were approved by local legislative authorities, as was the case in Ogre and Jelgava.

It is remarkable that several Latvian municipalities have been proactive in demolishing Soviet memorials without waiting for legislative amendments to come into force. For example, on 31 May 2022, Sigulda authorities announced their plans to demolish three monuments: a Panfilov Division memorial in the village of Mālpils, a Young Communist League memorial and a Soviet prisoners of war memorial stone in Sigulda.

On 14 June 2022 in violation of Latvia’s international legal obligations, Jēkabpils authorities began executing the regional council’s illegal decision to eliminate the mass military burial on 205, Rīgas street in close vicinity of the memorial complex. Heavy duty equipment demolished the pedestal of the monument to Soviet artillerymen, the remains of three Soviet officers buried underneath were exhumed. On the same day, the adjacent complex in memory of the Heroes of the Soviet Union who perished in the Krustpils operation was demolished. Head of Jēkabpils local council Raivis Ragainis allowed himself to publicly call the dismantled memorial stones “pieces of concrete without any historical value”.

The Jēkabpils monument had been attacked by vandals previously as well. On 24 February 2021, the 76 mm gun was stolen from the monument’s pedestal. Despite the fact that Latvian law enforcement agencies initiated a criminal case on the matter, the perpetrators have not been prosecuted.

On 25 October 2022, Liepaja authorities demolished the defenders of the city monument installed on the Liepaja Canal embankment in 1960 in memory of the defence of the city from Nazi troops on June 22–29, 1941.[583]

In late October 2022, a part of the Friendship Mound memorial located near the border of Latvia, Russia and Belarus, was damaged by heavy equipment.[584] The memorial complex was built in 1959. It is a symbol of the heroic struggle of Russian, Belorussian and Latvian partisans during the Great Patriotic War. A month later, Latvian authorities destroyed the pedestrian bridge across the Sinyukha river near this monument.[585]

On 31 October, two monuments to Soviet soldiers were demolished in Daugavpils – a stele in the Square of Glory and a memorial on November 18 Street, opposite the Fraternal Cemeteries. Notably, the mayor of the city and local residents opposed the dismantling of monuments. On the demolition day, the police cordoned off the monument and, as a result, detained 37 people, made up reports on them, including for singing songs allegedly glorifying combat actions.[586]

On 6 November 2022, a monument to Soviet partisans, memorial plates and a tombstone with the names of buried Red Army soldiers (about 30 people) were demolished in the village of Šķaune. The monument was razed to the ground by heavy construction equipment. Exhumation of the remains, as far as is known, was not carried out.

On 9 November 2022, the last of the large monuments to Soviet soldiers in the country was demolished – a monument in the city of Rezekne, known as “Alyosha”. Mayor of the city Aleksandrs Bartaševičs said that the demolition of “Alyosha” is a desecration of memorials and an act of vandalism. But the central authorities failed to listen to him.[587] In an address to the townspeople on 8 November, the mayor stated that the options he proposed, involving transfer of the monument to the territory of a city cemetery, were rejected by Riga. Latvia also ignored the opinion of the Human Rights Committee who urged that the monument be preserved.

On the evening of 19 November 2022, unidentified persons stole 16 memorial plates from the military fraternal cemetery in the Jurmala Bulduri district where Soviet soldiers are buried.[588]

Official information by Latvian authorities shows that Latvia is actively implementing its policy of destroying Soviet memorials. As of 14 November 2022, 124 monuments to Red Army soldiers have been dismantled in Latvia. This was stated by Ms. L.Kokale, head of the public relations department of the Ministry of Culture. According to her, self-governments of the Baltic Republic reported to have demolished 69 sites to be dismantled by a Cabinet of Ministers decree by 15 November. Municipalities demolished another 55 objects on their own initiative.[589]

Indicative in this regard is the fact that the official Riga widely uses repressions against those who oppose their line. Latvian special services initiate investigations and disciplinary checks against those mayors who are trying to resist the demolition of Red Army memorials or “sabotage” (delay) it. In particular, on 9 November 2022, Daugavpils mayor Andrejs Elksniņš was summoned to the Latvian State Security Service for explanations in relation his interview to a local TV channel where he condemned the dismantling of Soviet memorials in Latvia and called Crimea part of Russia.

It is regrettable to note that a similar negative tendency has developed in Latvia as a whole. The Latvian side has not asked for the agreement of the Russian side to the above monument destruction “works” and exhumation of the remains of Soviet soldiers, as provided in the relevant bilateral treaties. Protest notes of the Russian Embassy with demands to fulfill the international legal obligations assumed by Latvia and prevent such unilateral illegal actions have been left without a coherent answer.

Moreover, the Latvian authorities deliberately distort the facts and interpret history in order to justify their own unseemly actions. Now a similar approach is being used to justify the obvious glorification by Latvia of the Latvian SS legionaries, Nazi accomplices and an open fight against the memory of Red Army soldiers who liberated Latvia from Nazism.

On 14 October 2022, a month and a half after the Liberators of Riga monument was dismantled, the Latvian Foreign Ministry responded to Russia’s protests sent on 24 August. Parallels were drawn between the modern Russia and USSR who “occupied” Latvia after Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It was then concluded that the Soviet Army exploits were cultivated by Russia to justify its own “aggressive geopolitical ambitions”. On this basis, the protest of the Russian side and accusations of violating obligations under Article 13 of the bilateral agreement were rejected, indicating that Latvia had been “honestly” fulfilling it for 30 years.

This was then followed by a conclusion that with the “Russian aggression in Ukraine”, the Liberators of Riga monument turned into a “symbol of violence and threat”, standing no chance to exist in a “democratic Latvia”. Then a conclusion followed that “aggression” was forcing the world community to reconsider its attitude towards the symbols associated with the USSR army. (Thus, it appeared that the Latvian side cited its own interpretation of the international context as a basis for a unilateral, without legal grounds, refusal to fulfill its obligations under the current agreement without any legal steps to withdraw from it).

All of the above facts testify to the intentional efforts by the Latvian authorities to forcibly revise historical events, glorify Latvian legionaries under the false pretext of their alleged participation in a “national liberation movement”. Along with this, a course has been taken to exclude everything Russian from the country’s public life and disqualify Russian-speaking inhabitants of this Baltic country.

 

Lithuania

The human rights situation in the Republic of Lithuania, unfavorable on the whole in any case, has continued to deteriorate over the recent year. There are still numerous cases of freedom of speech restrictions, national minority discrimination, primarily in the educational sphere, neo-Nazi and anti-Semite manifestations, persecution for political and other reasons.

A serious economic crisis manifesting itself not only in Lithuania, but also in other Baltic states, aggravates the state of affairs. Macroeconomic indicators have been rapidly declining in the three countries. They are among the EU leaders in terms of GDP and industrial production fall. Moreover, the local population is experiencing a soaring cost of basic goods and services, utility tariffs and high inflation.

The high depopulation rates in Lithuania (as well as in Latvia and Estonia) do not contribute to an improved situation either. After the Baltic countries joined the Schengen zone, they turned out to be unattractive to live in and uncompetitive in the labor market in the eyes of their own youth.

More than 15 years have passed since Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia entered the Schengen zone, which led to record depopulation in these countries due to the mass emigration of young able-bodied citizens. According to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, in early January – late August 2021, 11,133 citizens left the country, while it was 18,345 during the same period in 2022.[590]

According to media reports, in 2022 the economic situation in Lithuania has essentially rolled back to the state of the 1990s. The cost of certain types of inexpensive cereals has almost tripled in a short time: from 29 to 75 cents. The combined inflation rate amounted to 22.4%.[591] This is the highest figure since 1996. At the same time, 10% of Lithuanians living below the poverty line are those who work full-time.[592]

According to a survey conducted at the end of November – beginning of December 2022 by the market and opinion research company Baltijos tyrimai commissioned by LRT (Lithuanian National Radio and Television), the vast majority of Lithuanian residents (87%) believe that the situation in the country is getting worse. Only 12% of respondents believe that it is improving. 1% of the respondents had no definite opinion on this issue. Over the past month, the number of pessimists has increased by three percentage points, and over the year – by 7 percentage points. People under the age of 30 living in big cities with a higher education and a monthly income of over 1.8 thousand euros predominate among the optimists.[593]

The deterioration of the economic situation has also affected the population’s attitude toward the authorities. The survey conducted by the Lithuanian Public Opinion and Market Research Center “Vilmorus” in the first half of December 2022 showed a decrease in confidence, even in comparison with the previous month. The Lithuanian population has the greatest distrust in the government – 46.8% against 45% in November, in the Seimas – 58.1% (in November – 58.3%) and political parties – 60.7% against 56.7% in November. The level of trust is even lower: only 14.4% of Lithuanians trust the government, while a month ago there were 17.9%. Party structures faced a catastrophe with 3.7% of citizens trusting them (in November they had 7.1%). A decline in trust in the president of the country Gitanas Nauseda was recorded: while in November 44.1% trusted him, in December it was 37.9%. 56.1% of the respondents do not trust Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte with only 27.2% of the respondents trusting her. Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis turned out to be the most unpopular politician: 65.7% of the respondents said he was not trustworthy and only 16.3% still trusted him.[594]

Official Vilnius is explicitly pursuing a policy of falsifying the history of the Second World War and placing Nazi collaborators on the same footing as national heroes, which is contrary to the conclusions of the Nuremberg Tribunal. Thanks to the efforts of the authorities, the crimes of the Nazi accomplices, the Forest Brothers, are being openly justified in the country.

In 2022, in a burst of historical revisionism, the Lithuanian authorities headed for accelerated demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers located in places of burial of the Red Army servicemen all over the country. The authorities motivate this policy by a desire to get rid of the “totalitarian legacy”. There is also a legal basis for this: Soviet symbols are prohibited by law in the republic. On 13 December 2022, the Lithuanian Seimas majority passed a Law on De-Sovietization of Public Spaces in Lithuania, which will come into force on 1 May 2023. The propaganda of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes and their ideologies will be banned in the country.[595] The law creates an environment for the dismantling of unwanted monuments, memorial sites, as well as the renaming of street names and other toponyms.

In fact, the Lithuanian authorities used the Russian Federation’s special operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine and protect the civilian population of Donbass as a pretext for such actions. Following the start of the special operation, settlements in Lithuania were subjected to a wave of vandalism resulting in the desecration of dozens of monuments, memorials and obelisks, mainly in military burial sites.

Although Lithuanian law enforcement agencies reported that investigations had been initiated into these incidents, nothing is yet known about their results. It is clear that the Lithuanian authorities are not interested in solving such crimes and are ready to overlook them, as such actions are fully consistent with the policy pursued by them. An example is the monument to the Soviet soldier in Kurkliai, Anykščiai District, that was desecrated by vandals on 10 April 2022. On 18 May 2022, the Utena district prosecutor’s office decided to stop the pretrial investigation “due to the lack of corpus delicti”. This outcome was facilitated by the fact that the sculpture had already been dismantled by the local government on May 5.[596]

In addition, in April 2022, the Seimas of Lithuania approved amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences prohibiting the public display of the St. George ribbon, which was considered to be a symbol of the “totalitarian regime” that “promoted military aggression”.[597]

Vandalism against Soviet monuments is condoned and even encouraged by the leaders of the Lithuanian state. For example, President of the country Gitanas Nauseda (who lived almost half of his life in the USSR, or to be more exact, in the Lithuanian SSR as a part of the Soviet Union) unequivocally made it clear that he was not going to “put up with vestiges of Soviet propaganda”.[598] Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, who in her distant childhood also studied at a Soviet school, declared that she did not understand “why monuments were considered to be some kind of heritage and what kind of heritage it was”.[599] Simonas Kairys, Lithuanian Minister of Culture (the 16th Minister of Culture in about 30 years of the country’s independence) also made his mark along these lines. On 19 April 2022, he signed an order that allowed local governments to determine the future of Soviet monuments in cemeteries that “give off aggression and symbolize war”.[600] At the same time Lithuanians make a formal reservation that the graves of the fallen and the tombstones will remain untouched, because, they say, Vilnius undertakes to fulfill the relevant provisions of the relevant Geneva Conventions. In practice, however, they are not always observed.

In May 2022, the Lithuanian authorities demolished a monument to Soviet soldiers in Palanga, whose mayor Šarūnas Vaitkus grandly called this abominable act “a new page in the history of the city”. The obelisk stood on the grave of the Red Army soldiers, but that did not stop its destruction. The municipal authorities explained their actions by the fact that the hammer and sickle on the monument made a bad combination with the nearby church building. However, the most likely reason is that in the immediate vicinity of the monument is a monument to Jonas Žemaitis, who served in the Nazi punitive unit “the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force” during World War II, and later led nationalist gangs – for all these crimes he was executed in 1954.

As a result, by July 2022, the Lithuanian municipal authorities decided to dismantle tens of monuments, memorials, obelisks and statues, including in the largest cities. It has already happened in Kaunas, where in April the local authorities demolished a monument depicting a Soviet soldier at the Aukštieji Šančiai military cemetery. 5,065 soldiers and officers of several rifle corps of the 3rd Belorussian Front’s 5th Army who died in July 1944 fighting in the area, including 12 Heroes of the Soviet Union, are buried in this cemetery.[601]
On 4-6 July 2022, the dismantling of the sculpture of three soldiers, the sword, and the red star and the eternal flame effectively destroyed the memorial to Red Army soldiers in Klaipieda.[602]

Supporting the Russophobic hysteria, in June 2022, the Vilnius authorities decided to demolish a memorial to Soviet soldiers in the Antakalnis cemetery where Lithuania’s largest burial site is located. At a meeting of the city council, mayor Remigijus Šimašius called the monument “a militaristic monstrosity not fitting the graves”.[603] The centerpiece of the memorial were six steles with images of Soviet soldiers. For decades, this particular monument has been the main venue of wreath-laying ceremonies by the Russian Embassy on memorable days of World War II. On such days Russian compatriots gathered there as well. At the end of November 2022, demolition of the steles[604] began and was completed on 9 December. A call by the Human Rights Committee to the Lithuanian authorities not to destroy the memorial did not prevent its destruction. Commenting on the actions of Vilnius authorities, who ignored the appeal of the international body, mayor Remigijus Šimašius called this act of vandalism a response to “Russian aggression” and even said that “the UN was not an institution that had the right to tell Lithuania or Vilnius whether or not the symbols of totalitarianism could be there”.

In October 2022, a monument at the burial place of Soviet soldiers, representing a sculpture of a soldier with a flag in his hands, was demolished in the town of Raudone, Jurbarkas district. The remains of 190 Red Army soldiers and officers, who liberated the city from the Nazis and their henchmen in October 1944, are buried in this military cemetery.

The policy of whitewashing and glorifying the Forest Brothers (in Lithuanian interpretation – “partisans”) as alleged “heroes of the national liberation movement” and “fighters against the Soviet regime” continues. Groups of these “activists”, numbering up to 30 thousand people, acting on the territory of Lithuania from 1944 to 1956, are responsible for the death of over 25 thousand civilians, including children, women and the elderly. Most of the victims were ethnic Lithuanians. Many of the band members actively collaborated with the occupation administration of the Third Reich and were part of it, were directly involved in the Holocaust in Lithuania during World War II, when about 220 thousand Jews were killed (96% of the Jewish population living in the country at that time). Witnesses say that the Forest Brothers came from the very villages whose residents they murdered and robbed.[605] After the war, the Forest Brothers continued their terrorist activities, killing not only the representatives of the Soviet government, but also people who had saved Jews from the Nazis during the war.[606]

Celebrations in honor of the Forest Brothers take place in Lithuania annually. “Scientific” papers are published, and various related memorial events are held: monuments and memorials to the Forest Brothers are installed, their remains are looked for and re-buried, memoirs of collaborators are published and disseminated, etc.

In May 2021, a monument to another Forest Brother Antanas Kraujelis, nicknamed “Siaubūnas” (“Monster” in Russian) was opened in one of the cemeteries of the Lithuanian capital in the presence of members of parliament and representatives of the executive branch, including Deputy Defense Minister Žilvinas Tomkus, Lieutenant General Valdemaras Rupšys, commander of the Lithuanian army, and Arūnas Bubnys, director of the LGGRTC.[607] The tombstone was consecrated personally by Catholic Archbishop Gintaras Grušas.[608]

In December 2021, Vilnius authorities opened a new square in the capital and named it in honor of “hero” Juozas Lukša, one of the most well-known leaders of the Lithuanian anti-Soviet movement, a member of the Lithuanian Activist Front, and also the agent of Western special services, who was sent to Lithuania to fight against the Soviet regime after the Great Patriotic War (at the same time, official Vilnius conceals the fact that Juozas Lukša actively participated in the Holocaust in Lithuania). The event was preceded by the decision of the Lithuanian parliament to declare 2021 the year of Lukša. The demand by Faina Kukliansky, chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) to the parliament to cancel the relevant decision caused indignation of the right‑wing forces and provoked a scandal.[609] Earlier, on the day of Lukša death, Lithuania honored his “heroic deeds” in the fight against Soviet authorities. The event was attended by Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anušauskas, members of the Seimas of the Republic, mayors, and local residents. President G.Nauseda recalled in this regard that Lukša’s remains have not yet been found and called it the duty of Lithuanians to find them. He also called this Forest Brother an example of patriotism and courage for Lithuanian youth.[610]

Antisemitic manifestations continue to be recorded in Lithuania. This is also facilitated by controversial actions of the Lithuanian authorities. In 2020, the Lithuanian Seimas was considering a bill stipulating that neither the Lithuanian state nor its leaders were responsible for involvement in the Holocaust during World War II.

In late December 2022, the parliament approved a bill to allocate 37 million EUR to the Good Will Foundation, which is considered a tool for compensating surviving members of the Jewish community and their family members for property taken from them during the war. The fund also finances other projects to support the Lithuanian Jewish community.[611]

At the same time, the local establishment shamefully conceals the facts of the direct participation of ethnic Lithuanians in the mass murder of Jews on the territory of this Baltic republic during the war. The country is still not ready to be honest about Lithuanian responsibility for the genocide of the Jews in Lithuania. Some attempts to tell the truth face fierce resistance from the authorities (one such example is the book “Our People” by journalist Ruta Vanagaite, published in 2016).

Vandalism at Jewish cemeteries has been a regular occurrence for many years, and as a rule, the perpetrators are not found. For example, in the spring of 2022, unknown persons desecrated the memorial to Holocaust victims and World War II victims in Paneriai near Vilnius four times. In a statement condemning these incidents, the JCL noted the “apathy of the responsible agencies and public tolerance of such attacks”.[612]

In November 2021, Lithuanian authorities in Šiauliai were forced to halt the construction of a bicycle route because it was discovered that it passed through a mass grave of Holocaust victims. The city’s leaders did not make the decision immediately: it was only after the Jewish community had raised the alarm.[613]

In September 2021, an act of vandalism took place at the old Jewish cemetery Piramontas (Šnipiškės) in Vilnius.[614] A Nazi swastika was painted on a plaque calling for respect for the final resting place of the Jewish people.

Official statistics published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights[615] do not contain data on antisemitic manifestations in Lithuania for 2021. Three such cases were recorded in 2020 and five in 2019. These officially recorded data do not allow for a full assessment of the level of antisemitism.

Nationalist circles, the Department of State Security (Lithuania’s main intelligence agency) and the country’s law enforcement agencies subject to harassment and reprisals anyone who publicly declares the involvement of Lithuanians in the Holocaust and the mass murder of civilians. Vilnius is making active efforts in this direction, despite the fact that these unsightly facts have historical evidence. In particular, the fact that Lithuanians themselves also took part in the Holocaust was pointed out to the Lithuanian authorities by Faina Kukliansky, chair of the JCL.[616]

Furthermore, the denial of Lithuania’s assessment of the period when the country was part of the USSR as “occupation” is subject to criminal prosecution under Article 170 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code for “denial of Soviet occupation” with a penalty of up to two years imprisonment.

The Lithuanian judicial system is also subject to claims under the ECtHR. The observations made over the years about the lack of progress following the ECtHR decision in the Paksas v. Lithuania case were not satisfied by Vilnius until the spring of 2022. As is known, the unlawful decision taken by the Lithuanian Constitutional Court in 2004 excluded Rolandas Paksas, former president, from the political life of the country for a period.[617]

The final statement of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of 5 December 2019 on Lithuania’s unconditional commitment to comply with the court ruling said that more than eight years after the ECtHR issued its final decision, Rolandas Paksas’ situation, which violates the European Convention on Human Rights, persists and must be resolved no later than the parliamentary elections in 2020 for the former president to be eligible to run for office. However, the Seimas did not support the required constitutional amendment until April 2022.[618] It provides that a person excluded by impeachment may be elected and assume duties requiring an oath of office.

In addition to the above-mentioned policies, breaches of the prohibition on retroactive application of the law, the principle of presumption of innocence, and the right to a fair trial persist in the Lithuanian legal sphere. These provisions are used by the Lithuanian special services and law enforcement agencies, as well as nationalist circles to persecute and harass anyone who expresses alternative views on Lithuanian domestic and foreign policy and history, much less publicly states the involvement of Forest Brothers in the Holocaust and the mass murder of civilians. Some human rights defenders say that Lithuania has developed an entire system of measures and methods to influence dissenters. Offences introduced by Article 170-2 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code play a significant role in this system.

A vivid example is the years-long trial of a trumped-up and politically motivated criminal case concerning the well-known events at the Vilnius TV tower in January 1991. On 31 March 2021, the Court of Appeal of Lithuania partially upheld a prosecutorial protest against the decision of the Vilnius District Court of 27 March 2019, under which 67 former Soviet party and state figures, special forces fighters and military personnel, most of whom were Russian nationals, were sentenced to long prison terms for allegedly committing “war crimes and crimes against humanity”. As a result, a Russian citizen, officer of the Russian Army Yuri Mel, who has been in custody in Lithuania since March 2014, had his term of imprisonment extended by 3 years to a total of 10 years (on 30 June 2022, the Supreme Court of Lithuania reduced the term to 9 years). Gennady Ivanov, who had previously been subjected to a restriction in the form of recognizance not to leave, was sentenced to five years imprisonment as a cumulative punishment.

The media also reported that in this case the Lithuanian judicial system demonstrated double standards. Russian citizens were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. At the same time, exceptions were made for some. Alexander Radkevich, a citizen of Ukraine, who served in the Soviet army and also took part in the events at the TV tower, was first sentenced to four years imprisonment. But in November 2022 the term was reduced to a year and a half. The reason may be the fact that he is a veteran of the Ukrainian counter-terrorism operation and may currently be back in the AFU ranks.[619]

One more revealing example of discrimination by the Lithuanian authorities against Russian citizens is the case of the former officer of Riga Special Purpose Mobile Unit (OMON) of the MIA of the USSR Konstantin Nikulin who was found guilty by the Vilnius district court on 11 May 2011 of committing premeditated murder of seven persons and attempted murder of one person at the customs post in Medininkai in July 1991. He was initially charged with “murder of two or more persons” (by the date of the trial, the limitation period for such crimes had expired, so the charge was changed). No clear evidence of Nikulin’s involvement in the crime attributed to him was presented, but the Russian citizen was sentenced to life imprisonment with time served in prison and a fine of 660,000 EUR. Despite the fact that in 2021 this Russian citizen was recognized as having group III disability status, the prison administration twice refused to transfer him from a strict detention unit to a less strict one. Despite repeated requests from the Russian Embassy, our citizen is denied medical diagnostic procedures, which he has been requesting for several years due to increased stomach pains. In March 2020, after a two-year consideration of Konstantin Nikulin’s application for a transfer to continue serving his sentence in Russia in accordance with the Russian-Lithuanian Agreement on the transfer of persons sentenced to imprisonment for serving their sentences of 25 June 2001, the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice informed him “that the transfer does not seem possible”.

The gross violations by the Lithuanian authorities of the right to freedom of opinion and expression are clearly seen in the campaign of harassment and intimidation of a group of Russian and Lithuanian citizens and local journalists launched by the country’s main intelligence agency, the State Security Department, under the pretext of spurious accusations of espionage for Russia. The criminal prosecution of a well-known local politician Algirdas Paleckis, who visited Russian Crimea and has his own point of view, distinct from that of the official authorities, about the events in Vilnius in January 1991, is continuing. It is alleged that Algirdas Paleckis and entrepreneur Deimantas Bertauskas were recruited by the Russian special services and tasked to gather information about the judges and prosecutors who handled the “13 January case”. Algirdas Paleckis was held in custody from October 2018 until April 2020, after which the Court of Appeal of Lithuania replaced the arrest with another preventive measure – intensive supervision with a bail of 50,000 EUR and seizure of personal documents. On 27 July 2021, the court found the politician guilty and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment.[620] His lawyer told the media that the disgraced politician was being held in solitary confinement and was severely malnourished and suffering from health problems.[621] The Vilnius entrepreneur Deimantas Bertauskas, who pleaded guilty in this criminal case and testified, was exempted from criminal responsibility.

In the summer of 2022, it became known that the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a pre-trial investigation against the International Forum for Good Neighbourhood association[622] founded by Algirdas Paleckis under the Criminal Code article, which provides for responsibility for aiding another state in its actions against Lithuania. The organization is suspected of illegal activities since its activists express an interpretation of recent Lithuanian history and current events in the country and in the world that differs from official Vilnius and advocate the normalization of relations between Lithuania and Russia and Belorussia. A widespread campaign to discredit the Forum was launched in the media with the involvement of all major media outlets and politicians in the country. In October 2022, Erika Švenčionienė, head of the Forum, was searched; law enforcement authorities initiated a criminal case for aiding another state in actions against Lithuania. It is also telling that during the court hearing that began in late December 2022 on the dissolution of the Forum, the court rejected the organization’s request to postpone the hearing to finalize its agreement with a lawyer. Erika Švenčionienė E.Švenčionienė said that the organization had little time to find a lawyer. According to her, other lawyers were afraid to defend the organization for fear of being disbarred.[623]

A Russian national, journalist and historian Valery Ivanov, who is a witness in the Paleckis case, continues to be under scrutiny of local law enforcement agencies. In June 2020, the Vilnius District Court convicted Valery Ivanov “for illegal possession of firearms” (a defective starter pistol was found during a search) – he was sentenced to a two-year ban on leaving Vilnius and his place of residence during nighttime hours.

Such persecution of human rights defenders in Lithuania has occurred before. In March 2020, Aleksejus Greicius, leader of the Juvenus youth organization and organizer of the “Immortal Regiment” in Klaipeda, was subjected to repression. On the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the Victory, his organization published brochures about the liberation of Klaipeda and handed them over to the city’s school libraries. On 12 November 2021, the District Court of Klaipeda found him guilty of “spying for the Russian Federation” and sentenced him to four years imprisonment. According to the case file, the human rights defender is accused of collecting and transmitting information about the events he organized, photographs of people who participated in these events, video materials and articles, a video report about the trial of the Klaipeda politician Vyacheslav Titov, and information about employees of the State Security Department to “the special services of the Russian Federation”. On 5 July 2022, the Court of Appeal of Lithuania upheld the sentence of the human rights defender.[624] Another defendant in the case, Mindaugas Tunikaitis, was sentenced to a year and a half of imprisonment and pleaded guilty. The court noted that the information provided to Russia was not a secret, but the judges equated it as such (!) as it was allegedly of interest to “foreign secret services”.[625]

In late 2019, a harassment campaign was launched against the head of the Lithuanian Association of Russian School Teachers Ella Kanaite. As a result, she was fired from the school where she worked as a teacher and was not employed anywhere else. In 2019, a criminal case was initiated against Victor Orlov, head of the Forgotten Soldiers Association, which searched for the remains of Soviet soldiers. The case was dropped after a year, however, he had been subjected to pressure for a long time, and received threatening phone calls.[626] In 2020, Tatyana Afanasyeva-Kolomiets, organizer of the Immortal Regiment in Vilnius, was also searched and interrogated by the State Security Department.

The Lithuanian authorities abolished the Lithuanian Russian Union. Its leader, Sergei Dmitriyev, is also constantly under all sorts of attacks and threats.

In this regard, the decision of the ECtHR dated 12 March 2019 in the case Drelingas v. Lithuania, which upheld the sentence of a Lithuanian court to Stanislovas Drėlingas, a former KGB officer who participated in the 1956 operation to detain Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas and his wife (later, by decision of the Soviet court, the leader of the gang was executed by shooting) is telling. Official Vilnius interprets this ruling of the European Court as the alleged recognition of the struggle of the Soviet authorities against the “partisans who fought for the freedom of Lithuania” as “genocide of the Lithuanian people” (we should remind that these were the “partisans”, who collaborated with the Nazis, and who continued to take part in the killing of civilians after the war).

In October 2020, the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Lithuania did not admit opposition politician V.Titov to the elections to the Seimas by refusing to register some of the signatures he had collected. He accused the ruling elite of “bureaucratically blocking” a non-systemic politician. In 2019, V.Titov was fined 10 thousand EUR for criticizing the memorialization of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, one of the above-mentioned Forest Brothers commanders.

Because of persecution by Lithuanian authorities, the Chairman of the Socialist People’s Front, anti-fascist Giedrius Grabauskas, who also opposes the glorification of “Forest Brothers” and the promotion of Russophobia, has been forced to leave the country.

Since the start of the special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, there has been a sharp increase in Russophobia and discrimination against Russians and natives of Russia in Lithuania. The media was the first one to be subjected to restrictions. A large-scale attack on Russian mass media was launched. The Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission (LRTC) first suspended the broadcasting of RBC and Mir-24 channels for five years and applied similar sanctions to six more Russian and Belarusian channels. In March, the LRTC disconnected other TV programs of interstate TV and radio company Mir from the Lithuanian airwaves and blocked more than 50 news websites and several official portals belonging to the Russian authorities. In April, the LRTC suspended re-broadcasting of 32 TV channels in the Russian language (in particular, Kinokomedia, NTV Mir, Pyatnitsa, Indian Cinema, TNT, Malysh-TV, and others) controlled by Russian company Gazprom-Media. As indicated in the LRTC report, Gazprom-Media holding is owned by Gazprombank, which has been sanctioned by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (not Lithuanian!). Furthermore, according to the organization, the broadcasting or distribution of TV programs on the Internet, whose owners are subject to anti-Russian sanctions, is not in the “national security” interests of Lithuania.[627] In September, the Seimas, on the pretext of the need to “protect its information space from the flow of disinformation, which is no less important than physical national security,” decided to ban Russian and Belarusian channels from Lithuanian airwaves. The new ban will be in effect until 1 October 2024.[628]

The Lithuanian authorities adopted legislative measures aimed at countering the spread of supportive attitudes towards the Russian special military operation in Ukraine among residents of the country. On 17 March, the Seimas of Lithuania approved draft amendments to the Lithuanian Criminal Code which, under the guise of war propaganda criminalization, provide for criminal liability for its public support. At the same time, in mid-March, the Lithuanian Parliament approved legislative amendments governing public procurement, which enable the exclusion of companies of hostile states (meaning Russia and Belarus) from tenders and terminate contracts concluded with them.

On 19 April 2022, the Seimas of Lithuania adopted amendments to the laws on administrative offenses and on assemblies, which prohibit the public display of the St. George Ribbon and other symbols of “totalitarian and authoritarian regimes” used “for the propaganda of aggression, crimes against humanity and war crimes” (including the letters Z and V). Penalties for individuals are fines from 300 to 700 EUR, in case of repeated violations – up to 900 EUR, fines for legal entities are higher – up to 1200 EUR, and for repeated violations – up to 1500 euros.[629]

It should be noted that the Lithuanian authorities have previously taken steps to establish a legal basis for putting pressure on pro-Russian activists. In May 2021, the Seimas adopted amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens that prohibited persons supporting or participating in the “aggressive” policy of a foreign state from entering Lithuania. These new amendments are aimed primarily at Russian citizens, including popular media figures, who openly express their civic position in support of the actions of the Russian leadership.

In September 2022, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, in violation of all international rules on the movement of citizens, reached an in-principle agreement to restrict the movement of Russians across their borders with Russia and Belarus. In line with this policy, on 14 September 2022, the Cabinet of Ministers approved blatantly discriminatory entry criteria, including in terms of Vilnius international human rights obligations, for Russian citizens into the country. On this basis, Russian citizens entering the territory of the Republic of Lithuania through all border checkpoints will be subject to individual enhanced inspection during the state of emergency.[630] A month later, on 22 November 2022, Agnė Bilotaitė, head of the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior, signed amendments to decrees tightening the procedure for issuing documents to aliens wishing to enter and reside in the country. These measures resulted in a special mandatory questionnaire for citizens of Russia and Belarus applying for a visa or residence permit. Some of the questions are about the attitude to what is happening in Ukraine. Applicants are also required to answer questions about education, former employment, service in the armed forces, ties in business circles, and contacts with governmental authorities of non-NATO and non‑EU countries. Taking into account the overall policy pursued by official Vilnius to increase Russophobia, it is not surprising that the answers in this questionnaire serve as grounds to ban entry. In particular, refusals of entry on such grounds have been confirmed by Arnoldas Abramavičius, Deputy Head of the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior.[631]

The Lithuanian authorities, like other Baltic states, required the Russians staying in the country to condemn the Russian special operation. In March 2022, an active campaign was launched in Lithuania, with the support of the country’s largest media outlets, calling on Russian-speaking residents of Lithuania to publicly condemn the policies pursued by the Russian Federation in Ukraine. In the same month, a plan to organize mass phone calls for psychological pressure on the Russian population was launched. To this end, huge posters titled “Call Russia” were installed in Lithuanian cities, inviting “all concerned” to make calls through the technological platform callrussia.org to Russian numbers and convince people to oppose the Russian special operation. The organizers alleged that this resource had a database containing 40 million Russian private telephone numbers. When organizing these calls, volunteers were assisted by technology, advertising, and communications experts who instructed them on how to conduct the conversation. Furthermore, the organizers of the project suggested that participants call their friends and acquaintances in Russia for the same purposes.

The Lithuanian media placed a strong emphasis on the participation of the “intellectual” stratum of society in the “anti-war” movement. A special place was given to the publication of open letters by figures of culture and science in support of Ukraine, calling on Russian citizens to come out to protest, and on Russian-speaking Lithuanians not to trust “Kremlin propaganda”. One of the first to publish such a statement were the employees of the Faculty of Philology at Vilnius University together with the staff of the Alexander Pushkin Literary Museum in Vilnius.[632] In addition, the Lithuanian media actively published “repentant” interviews with Russian-speaking citizens of the country with calls for “anti-war” protests in Russia.[633]

Many figures of culture and art, who refused to publicly condemn Russia’s actions, were also subjected to pressure. In late February 2022, Simonas Kairys, Minister of Culture of Lithuania, insisted on the dismissal of those employees of Lithuanian theatres, who also carry out their activities in Russia. On his Facebook page, he wrote, in particular, that “no performer from Russia will set foot in Lithuania”. Furthermore, the Lithuanian authorities imposed a concert ban on a number of Russian performers, and local radio stations, following this unambiguous “signal,” refused to broadcast Russian broadcasts and music as a gesture of support for Ukraine.[634]

Given all the efforts made by the Lithuanian authorities to denigrate and discriminate against everything related to Russia, since February 2022, there have been cases of hatred and discrimination against Russian citizens and Russian-speaking residents of the country. The level of anti-Russian and Russophobic rhetoric in the country has risen sharply, and these sentiments are being actively promoted in society by efforts from upstairs.

According to human rights defender Giedrius Grabauskas, in 2022 cases of threats to Russian-speaking residents became more frequent. It got to the point of smashing cars, attacking people on the streets.

Russophobic hysteria has also affected culture as well. Books by Russian classics began to be removed from Lithuanian libraries. Lithuanian publishers, including those that produce printed materials in Russian, are also subjected to persecution. For example, White Swans publishing house, which publishes books in both Lithuanian and Russian, is under pressure. The army of this Baltic country also joined the ranks of the most zealous censors. For example, there are reports that books of this publishing house were seized from libraries and stores under the influence of the Lithuanian Armed Forces Strategic Communication Department.[635]

Russophobic attitudes have also become pronounced at the local level. For example, Russian tourists are denied access to the largest Baltic Pakruojis manor.[636]

The Russian special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine and protect civilians in the Donbass was used by Vilnius as a pretext to put pressure on ministers of the Vilna-Lithuanian Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church (the Orthodox community is the second largest in the country). The Lithuanian authorities have begun to actively promote the idea of “restoring” the activity of the parishes of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the territory of the republic. A relevant letter from Ingrida Šimonytė, Prime Minister of Lithuania, stating the Lithuanian government’s willingness to support this process, was handed over to Patriarch Bartholomew in May 2022. On 19 September 2022, he held talks with a Lithuanian delegation led by Mantas Adomėnas, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Thousands of laity and the vast majority of Orthodox clergy in the Archdiocese of Vilnius firmly stand for canonical unity with the Patriarchate of Moscow. Nevertheless, such sentiments did not prevent the leadership of the diocese from petitioning Patriarch Kirill in May 2022 to grant it the status of a self-governing diocese in seeking “greater ecclesiastical independence”. The level of pressure exerted on the diocese by the authorities is evidenced by the fact that on 28 December 2022, the assembly of the Orthodox Church of Lithuania confirmed the policy of acquiring the status of a self-governing religious organization announced by Metropolitan Innocent, and adopted a corresponding appeal to the Holy Synod for the status of a self-governed church.[637]

The Russophobic hysteria correlates with the manifestations of xenophobia that international human rights monitoring mechanisms have observed in Lithuania.

Relevant international organizations have repeatedly documented persisting violations of the rights of Roma, as well as other national minorities, and certain social groups. Thus, the specialized Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) pointed to the prevalence in the country of biased attitudes towards members of vulnerable and minority groups, especially migrants, Muslims and Roma, “hate speech” and insults against them, including antisemitic statements in the media and on the Internet.[638]

The Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (AC-FCNM) operating within the Council of Europe noted that the authorities’ efforts to mitigate the negative effects of assimilation policies on minority language learners were insufficient, as well as the existence of problems regarding the use by linguistic minorities of their native languages.[639]

Among other human rights problems, international monitoring organizations note the existence in Lithuania of deeply rooted prejudices against vulnerable and minority groups, especially migrants, Muslims, Roma, and Jews. This has resulted in the widespread use of hate speech, particularly in the media, including Internet platforms, and in the political discourse.[640]

The international community remains concerned about the anti-discrimination provisions in Lithuanian law. Even the European Commission, which has been generally lenient with respect to Vilnius’s Russophobic attitudes, has noted that provisions in Lithuanian law do not adequately integrate EU standards on criminal liability for certain forms of hate speech inciting violence or hatred. Thus, the legislation establishes liability for public connivance, denial or gross understatement of international crimes and the Holocaust in Lithuania only when public order is violated and only if such actions are committed on Lithuanian territory or against Lithuanian citizens.[641]

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), citing national data for 2021, also noted an increase in the number of complaints about discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnicity to the relevant authorities in Lithuania.

Violations of the rights of national minorities still persist in Lithuania, mainly in education. Since the repeal of the 1989 Law on National Minorities in 2010, efforts to draft new comprehensive legislation to protect minorities have not been successful. The Seimas did not reach the point of adopting them. This, in particular, was pointed out by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its concluding observations in 2019.[642]

The Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities noted that efforts by the authorities to mitigate the negative effects of assimilation policies on students learning minority languages were insufficient. As noted, the 2011 Law on Education introduced a single Lithuanian language curriculum for all schools and a uniform state language exam at grades 10 or 12. This created significant difficulties for children belonging to national minorities, and a transition period of eight years was introduced in 2012. Students from minority language schools who sat this exam in 2013 had received 818 hours fewer of Lithuanian language lessons than their peers from Lithuanian language schools. The level of minority language proficiency in the final exams is not taken into account. Only examination results in Lithuanian, mathematics and one foreign language (usually English) are relevant, while Polish or Russian can be taken only as optional exams. Thus, representatives of national minorities, who scored the worst in the final exams, were more disadvantaged than Lithuanians with regard to access to higher education.[643]

The number of hours of instruction in the Lithuanian language, as well as teaching aids and educational materials are still not sufficiently adapted to the needs of children of families speaking mostly minority languages. Many first graders start learning the national language almost as a foreign language and are overwhelmed by the requirements of a uniform curriculum.

Furthermore, the number of schools with instruction in Russian in the country is decreasing, while the number of subjects taught in Lithuanian is increasing, and the requirements for passing the Lithuanian language proficiency exam for graduates of ethnic minority schools and Lithuanian students are being fully equalized. As a result, in 2020, one in five graduates of secondary schools with instruction in a language other than the title language failed the state exam in Lithuanian, which prevented them from accessing free higher education. In 2021, the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport increased the compulsory Lithuanian language instruction in preschool institutions for ethnic minorities to five hours and provided funding for teachers to improve their professional skills in teaching the Lithuanian language to preschoolers. The Ministry of Education outlined the long-standing goal of discontinuing the teaching of the Russian language.[644] For now, Russian language textbooks have been removed from circulation because they “glorify Russia”. The publishers have also been instructed to review the contents of other manuals.[645]

In total, during the years of independence the number of Russian schools decreased from 85 to 27. In September 2022, the Alexander Pushkin Gymnasium in Kaunas was renamed the Kaunas International Gymnasium, because, according to the head of the institution, the new name “better corresponds to the list of services provided and its specifications”. Russian compatriots living in Lithuania are deprived of the opportunity to receive a full-fledged higher education in their native language.

The negative political and informational background surrounding education in languages of ethnic minorities in Lithuania has resulted in a constant discussion of Russian ideological influence on the Lithuanian population, interrogations of teachers at Russian schools by the State Security Department officers about student trips to Russian summer camps, and proposals by some Lithuanian government officials to close these educational institutions.

National minorities in Lithuania, especially the Russian and Polish, also need their rights protected in matters of authentic spelling of names in documents, as well as geographical names in their native languages. The Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania specifies that names, family names and names of places in documents shall be written in accordance with the rules of the Lithuanian language. This is contrary to Article 11 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe. According to the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the right to use a personal name in a national minority language and to have it officially recognized is a central linguistic right closely linked to personal identity and dignity.[646]

In this regard, persons with foreign names face legal challenges and are forced to defend their rights in court. In January 2022, Vilnius still legitimized the spelling of names with letters that are not present in the Lithuanian alphabet, but the right to use diacritic symbols of foreign languages was not supported.[647]

Relevant international agencies and nongovernmental organizations have documented gross violations of the fundamental human rights of illegal migrants entering the country.

Since April 2021, Vilnius has been taking measures to cope with the influx of refugees, illegal migrants and asylum seekers. In doing so, the authorities allow for discrimination by granting more favourable accommodations to some applicants, while others are subjected to violence and detention. The country experienced an influx of people, mostly from Asia and Africa, fleeing armed conflicts and dire living conditions at home. By August 2021, the number of migrants who entered Lithuania illegally was 4.2 thousand. The authorities announced a “crisis” and blamed it on the “Lukashenko regime,” which is “supported by the Kremlin”. Illegal immigrants were housed in tent camps, barracks, empty buildings, and former prisons. These temporary housing facilities were under armed guard to quell occasional riots (people repeatedly complained of inhumane conditions: lack of food, lack of warm clothing, denial of medical care, ban from leaving these “reservations”).[648]

In July 2021, Lithuania passed a law[649] limiting appeals against refusals to grant asylum and allowing for deportation in the appeal process. Even Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda had to admit that this expeditiously enacted law was “flawed” in terms of human rights. It is noted that the legislative amendments deprive asylum seekers of the right to appeal the decisions of the first instance court on appeal, although the Constitution does not allow for any legal regulation that denies opportunities to review the decisions of the first instance court and to remedy possible misjudgements of the court.

On 1 August 2021, the Lithuanian authorities legitimized a “pushback” practice: migrants were simply forced to return to the territory of Belarus. The “pushback” principle is also enshrined in the Seimas State of Emergency Regulation, adopted on 13 September 2022.[650]

In January 2023 another step was taken in this area: the Cabinet of Ministers of Lithuania approved amendments to the law on the state border, establishing a procedure for the expulsion of illegal migrants trying to enter the country. When presenting this draft law at the meeting, Agnė Bilotaitė, Minister of the Interior, emphasized that one should distinguish between natural migration and migration as a political tool and “apply different procedures for responding to them”.[651] Vilnius believes that the migration crisis of the last two years is “a consequence of the actions of the Belarusian authorities”.

The media regularly published articles portraying the deplorable conditions in which foreigners were held: meager food, lack of medical care, overcrowding, etc. There were reports of repeated incidents of security abuse and even sexual violence by Lithuanian refugee workers.[652] The process of “pushing back” migrants trying to sneak into the country was also often accompanied by the use of force against them and the hounding of dogs.[653] There were occasional reports of refugees dying from beatings at the border or from hypothermia in the woods. Furthermore, there were reports of repeated attempts by local border guards to forcibly displace refugees from Lithuania, as well as Latvia and Poland into the territory of Belarus. There is a case when Lithuanian soldiers forced an Afghan citizen to carry the corpse of a refugee across the border with Belarus. The State Border Committee of Belarus, in particular, reported a similar incident that occurred on the evening of 17 November 2022. A Belarusian ambulance crew on the scene recorded the death of one of the refugees, while the other was taken to a hospital with bruises, signs of frostbite and exhaustion. The Afghan man said that Lithuanian soldiers brought him together with the corpse to the border fence, and then “at gunpoint forced him to carry the body through the gate to the Belarusian side”.[654]

This state of affairs has been criticized both domestically (a report by the Lithuanian Seimas Ombudsman on inhumane conditions and degrading treatment of migrants[655]) and by numerous human rights organizations and structures (Amnesty International[656], International Committee of the Red Cross[657], Medecins Sans Frontiers[658], Frontex[659], Report by the Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson[660], Center for European Policy Studies[661], Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Lithuanian Red Cross, Human Rights Center, Diversity Development Group[662]). Their reports pointed out that the Lithuanian practice of “pushing back” refugees ran counter to the EU legal system, and that such actions against migrants were illegal. It has been established that the forcible expulsion of migrants to the territory of Belarus traumatizes them emotionally and physically, and, most importantly, directly threatens their safety and lives.

The humanitarian situation of migrants on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border (as well as on the Belarusian-Polish and Belarusian-Latvian borders) was critical. According to the AOHR, by the end of 2021, 8 thousand, 28 thousand and 4 thousand migrants, respectively, were not allowed into Lithuania, Poland and Latvia.[663]

The situation of migrants in Lithuania has been the focus of attention of international human rights monitoring mechanisms before. The Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities[664] and the CERD[665] expressed concern about poor conditions at foreigners registration centers and unreasonably long periods of migrant detention (up to 18 months). The CERD emphasized, in particular, the lack of capacity to provide adequate housing for newly arrived asylum-seekers, especially families with children. The country also fails to take into account the special needs of applicants, particularly women and girls, who are not provided with safe places to stay.

Lithuanian authorities are not going to abandon the measures applied to migrants. Minister of Interior Agnė Bilotaitė in particular said that Lithuania considered the tactics of displacement of illegal migrants as a turning point in the fight against the migration crisis and was not going to abandon its decisions, despite criticism coming from human rights organizations. Vilnius justifies its harsh actions against migrants by the need to protect against the influx of illegal migration.[666] Belarusian border guards have repeatedly noted that Lithuanian and Polish law enforcers are forcibly pushing migrants into their territory. The maximum number of displaced persons for 2022 was recorded on 18 July (80 persons)[667].

In contrast to Lithuania’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia, Ukrainians entering the country in recent months from both “frontline” cities and the “deep rear” of Ukraine receive a completely different welcome. From the first days of the Russian special operation, Lithuanian authorities at all levels expressed their readiness to accept thousands of Ukrainian refugees and urged their fellow citizens to place them in their own apartments. The rest were placed in vacant houses, hotels, holiday hotels, and, as a last resort, in school buildings. They were also assisted in finding and renting housing and in employment. Minors were immediately enrolled in public schools and universities. To date, about 66 thousand people from Ukraine have arrived in Lithuania. In this case, the country’s leadership does not require them to know the state language. Furthermore, they are granted a special status that even allows them to avoid such requirements from the employer (which is stipulated by Lithuanian law with respect to local minority representatives).

The situation of migrants of African and Asian descent stands in stark contrast to this situation. Thus, the border service reported that over the year and a half it “pushed back” about 15.8 thousand illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa, in respect of whom back in the summer of 2021 it was said that “the resource for receiving refugees is fully exhausted”.

International organizations have repeatedly documented violations of the rights of Roma and other ethnic minorities and some social groups in Lithuania. The persistence of discrimination against Roma, particularly in the exercise of their rights to housing, health care, employment, and education, has been noted with concern by UN human rights treaty bodies such as the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. In particular, it has been pointed out that the Roma community faces social exclusion and is disproportionately affected by poverty. In particular, the ECRI noted the issue related to the legalization of Roma buildings in the Kirtimai community in Vilnius.[668] In May 2019, CERD noted the prevalence of prejudice against members of vulnerable and minority groups, in particular migrants, Muslims and Roma, “hate speech” and insults against them, including antisemitic language in the media and online.[669] The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights also noted unresolved housing issues for Roma, including in the mentioned community.

Another egregious case of human rights violations involves the organization of illegal prisons by the US Central Intelligence Agency on the territory of the country. So far, Vilnius has never made a public acknowledgment of its criminal complicity. In her 2022 report, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin recalled that the European Court of Human Rights found Lithuania, along with several other states, complicit in the torture and enforced disappearance of detainees in United States rendition and secret detention programmes. The Special Rapporteur called for effective independent inquiries by governments, including Lithuania, into credible allegations that secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons (“black sites”) had been established on its territory.[670]

The Lithuanian authorities evade the investigation of their involvement in torture in secret CIA prisons and continue to deny their presence in the country. However, in December 2021, the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice was compelled to compensate Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian national, for his illegal detention in a secret CIA prison near Vilnius, based on the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.[671]

Violations of the right to peaceful assembly have also been reported in Lithuania. On 9 January 2023, the Vilnius District Prosecutor’s Office brought to court a criminal case concerning riots near the Seimas of Lithuania on 10 August 2021, following a rally against government plans to restrict the rights of those unvaccinated against the coronavirus. The criminal case included 23 incidents. During the investigation, 101 persons were detained and 87 persons were charged.[672]

 

Luxembourg

The authorities of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (GDL) are committed to complying with the State’s international obligations for the promotion and protection of human rights and to addressing existing challenges in this area.

The implementation of the specific requirements of the universal and regional treaties by the commissioners is monitored by the Inter-Agency Committee on Human Rights (established by the government in May 2015) through consultations with national human rights institutions and civil society. It is coordinated by the representative of the Foreign Ministry of Luxembourg in the capacity of a special envoy for human rights issues. He also represents the country at international meetings and conferences on relevant issues.

There are many human rights institutions and international NGOs in Luxembourg. They coordinate their activities with the Consultative Human Rights Commission of Luxembourg. This body was established in 2000, and its competence, organizational structure and methods of financing were later enshrined in the law of 21 November 2008.

Several organizations are involved in combating various forms of intolerance: the Ministry of Family Affairs, Integration and the Greater Region, National Reception and Integration Office of Luxembourg, Ministry of Equality between Women and Men, Center for Equal Treatment, Inspectorate of Labor and Mines, etc.

However, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) receives reports about the lack of coordination between these institutions and the fact that this multiplicity of actors makes it difficult for victims to determine which is the most appropriate institution to contact. In addition, the Committee notes that the financial and human resources allocated to some of these institutions remain insufficient for them to fulfill their mandates.[673]

International intergovernmental organizations and human rights bodies, including the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) of the Council of Europe, have often criticized certain gaps in Luxembourg’s system for protecting citizens from possible manifestations of xenophobia. For example, the national penal code does not define crimes motivated by racial hatred as an aggravating circumstance[674] and these crimes are not taken into account by courts when taking sentencing decisions.[675] Furthermore, not a single legal act contains a provision on the recognition as illegal and prohibition of any organization that incites racial discrimination[676], although the possibility of bringing legal persons to justice, in this case, is envisaged by legislation. Similar concerns have been raised by CERD. The experts also noted that the Act of 28 November 2006 on equal treatment did not include the criteria of national origin, colour or descent.[677]

Public opinion surveys on anti-discrimination issues, including EU‑wide surveys (e.g., the 2019 EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) study “Being Black in the EU,” conducted among nearly 6,000 respondents from 12 states) show that Luxembourg is in the bottom three in a number of indicators. Thus, 47 per cent of people of African descent experienced various forms of harassment in this country, mainly in employment. At the same time, the average figure for other countries was 39 per cent.[678]

The authors of the study “Racism and ethno-racial discrimination in Luxembourg”, published in March 2022, also concluded that people of African descent fell victim to racism and discrimination in employment, education and housing in significantly higher proportions than other population groups. In addition, according to the study, two-thirds of alleged victims did not report incidents, in particular because it could entail significant financial costs and difficulties in providing evidence and in accessing adequate legal assistance, which was usually limited, as well as because of fear of losing their jobs.[679]

So far, supranational human rights monitoring mechanisms have encountered difficulties in assessing whether different population groups fully enjoy the rights provided for in international treaties. The reason behind this is that Luxembourg does not collect statistical data disaggregated by ethnicity.[680]

According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)[681], the Human Rights Committee[682] and ECRI[683], antisemitic sentiments, Islamophobia and migrantophobia are widespread in Luxembourg, as well as and discriminatory stereotypes in the media and the Internet that contribute to prejudice against particular groups.

In May 2022, CERD observed an increasing trend of racist hate speech against migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and people of African descent in the country, including online. The “BEE SECURE Stopline” platform was launched to combat hate speech. The platform is used to collect and forward reports of hate speech on the Internet to the police.[684]

As noted above, several experts still note the presence of some antisemitic sentiments in Luxembourg society. According to Katharina von Schnurbein, EU Coordinator on combating antisemitism, who visited Luxembourg in May 2019, 13 manifestations of antisemitism were recorded during the year of her visit, which was quite a lot, given the small size of the Luxembourg Jewish community (1,500-2,000 people).

In light of the special military operation of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, there has been an increase in Russophobic sentiments among Luxembourgers. Cases of harassment of Russian children in schools and aggressive outbursts against compatriots have been reported. Leaflets with the Ukrainian flag and the call “Russians, get out of Luxembourg!” were thrown into their mailboxes.

On 7 March 2022, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian girl was attacked and severely stabbed in the center of Luxembourg under unclear circumstances. Since her nationality was not known, the Russian Embassy in Luxembourg sent a note to the Foreign Ministry of Luxembourg requesting an investigation into what had happened. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg was also provided with information available to the embassy on particular cases of Russophobia.

Persistent appeals by the Embassy resulted in the Foreign Ministry of Luxembourg assuring that in all contacts with the Ukrainian community, it warns against a recurrence of Russophobia and urges not to escalate the atmosphere and not to splash out negative emotions on the Russian-speaking population of the Duchy.

On 9 March 2022, Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, said that “under no circumstances should the Russian community be discriminated against in Luxembourg”.

In light of the influx of refugees from Ukraine (4,300 persons as of August 2022), applicants for refugee status from other countries, especially Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, who traditionally accounted for most applications for refugee status in Luxembourg, complain about bureaucratic difficulties, in particular about the extended processing time. In mid-March 2022, Lydie Polfer, Mayor of Luxembourg, demanded that rooms be vacated for the arriving Ukrainians in a specially created refugee center in the capital. At the same time, it was not clear where the evicted refugees from the Middle East and Africa had been sent. This fact caused discontent, including among local human rights organizations.

There have been some difficulties in the integration of refugees accepted by Luxembourg. According to many human rights defenders, the basic allowance they receive is insufficient for their livelihood and their employment opportunities are limited. Although Luxembourg has unimpeded access to the labor market, only 7 per cent of refugees managed to get a job. CEDAW expressed concern that local language requirements acted as barriers to foreigners and migrants in the labor market and education.[685]

Another issue related to the rights of migrants is ensuring decent working conditions, the violation of which, according to human rights defenders, can sometimes be qualified as a modern form of slavery or human trafficking. Despite the fact that Luxembourg is commonly ranked among the countries with the best situation in this area, there are no objective statistics on cases of violations of labor standards. The provisions of the law regarding employer liability are excessively lenient (low fines and prison sentences). No sanctions are established for filing false social security information for an employee or avoiding the declaration of employment contracts. All of this paves the way for the imposition of “bonded” working conditions (often exceeding the maximum permissible 48-hour working week to 70 hours).

In 2020, the NGO “Luxembourg Refugee Community” brought allegations against the Directorate of Immigration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg that some refugees had allegedly experienced intimidation by staff at the Office of Reception. Officials allegedly tried to persuade visitors not to apply for asylum.

Registration methods for arriving refugee families are also a subject of criticism: a single file is created for the head of the family, with spouses and children included, which leaves room for possible discrimination.

In the view of the HRCttee experts, the provisions governing the application for family reunification are too rigid. This applies in particular to the time limits for submitting applications, which do not require the provision of any funds, insurance and housing. The HRCttee experts also reported concerns about long delays in decisions on family reunification applications, which could be a serious obstacle to the integration of asylum-seekers[686].

Regarding the “mass influx” of applicants for international protection, Luxembourg has pursued a policy of increasing the number of reception structures since 2015. These include the National Agency for Reception and Integration and the new integration unit of the Ministry for Family, Integration and the Greater Region, which was specially created in 2020.

Discrimination on the basis of nationality remains a sensitive issue for the GDL. With almost 58% of the population being foreigners (up to 70% in the capital), combating intolerance and xenophobia against them is of particular importance.

The CERD[687] and the HRCttee[688] have criticised the draft constitutional reform in this regard. The document proposes the retention of Article 10 bis (1) of the Basic Law, the wording of which – “Luxembourgers are equal before the law” – suggests the existence of inequality between citizens and non-citizens. This approach runs counter to the practice of the GDL Constitutional Court, which recognises equality regardless of nationality.

Human rights activists working with foreigners and stateless persons, in particular, regularly point to prejudice in the local labour market. The Duchy of Luxembourg requires a Luxembourg nationality for service in the Duchy’s police force. There is, however, no such requirement for volunteers in the armed forces. The GDL Labour Code, the General Status of Civil Servants Act and the General Status of Municipal Employees Act do not prohibit discrimination on grounds of colour and origin.[689]

In addition, human rights activists have repeatedly pointed out to the official authorities the need to include measures to integrate foreign residents into Luxembourg’s political life, in particular by granting them the right to vote. However, a referendum in 2015 showed that 78% of Luxembourgers were strongly opposed to such an initiative. In 2022, the Voting Law was amended so that EU or third-country nationals residing in Luxembourg would no longer have to comply with the five-year residency requirement to vote in municipal elections.

On 8 March 2017, the Luxembourg Citizenship Act was adopted, simplifying the conditions and procedures for naturalisation, but the barrier is the Luxembourgish language test.

In 2019, ECRI declared that Luxembourg has fully implemented its recommendation to adopt a new national integration plan. This document was adopted by the Government Council of the GDL on 13 July 2018. It covers two major areas: the reception of applicants for international protection and the provision of social support, and the integration of all “non-Luxembourgers” permanently resident in the country.[690]

The practice of ill-treatment of detainees by law enforcement officials remains a focus for human rights defenders. According to statistics from the Inspectorate General of Police of the GDL, out of 75 cases of internal criminal investigations against police officers in 2019, more than one fifth of the charges related specifically to brutality in detention and further treatment of persons whose liberty was temporarily restricted. The HRCttee notes with concern that the criteria and limits for the use of force by law enforcement officials under Luxembourg law do not comply with the criteria of necessity and proportionality reflected in international standards and the requirements concerning the circumstances in which firearms may be used.[691]

The Government of the Grand Duchy is actively instilling the theme of same-sex marriage and the promotion of “LGBT values” inside the country. Thus, the fundamental changes in family legislation, positioned by the authorities as the main achievements (the Law of January 1, 2015 “On the possibility of same-sex marriage in Luxembourg”, as well as a series of amendments in 2016 to the Civil Code on the procedure for recognizing same‑sex marriages concluded abroad and acts of adoption of children by same‑sex parents, issued before the adoption of the reform of the Family Code) caused a significant resonance in a society that adheres mainly to traditional Catholicism. In the development of this line, the authorities decided to replace the lessons of religion and morality in schools with a single lesson of social values.

In the field of protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, in September 2022, the HRCttee welcomed the adoption of the Law of January 7, 2022 “On accessibility of public places, public roads and apartment buildings for all”. The experts noted that the provisions of this act comply with the recommendations issued in 2017 by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities regarding the definition of “disabled person” and “reasonable accommodation” and qualify any refusal of reasonable accommodation as discrimination on the basis of disability – a criminal offense. At the same time, the HRCttee regretted that access to certain services and public financing is still conditioned by the degree of disability and that disabled persons are still underrepresented in the labor market[692].

There is a lack of resources to fulfill its mandate by the Center for Equality. The coronavirus pandemic has only worsened this situation, especially in terms of organizing transport for the disabled. The largest number of appeals to the Center in 2020 concerned “disability discrimination” (49 out of 203).

There is no information on the handling of cases of discrimination on grounds of disability by authorised government bodies, which indicates a lack of awareness among this category of persons of the existing mechanisms for the protection of their rights.

Equality of rights between men and women in the GDL has not yet been achieved. According to the Gender Equality Index 2020 published by the European Institute for Gender Equality, Luxembourg’s score is only 44.8 out of a possible 100.

The authorities have developed a range of measures to remedy the situation, starting with the creation of a new “Equality Observatory” in March 2021, the adoption of an updated national action plan for gender equality and the revision of primary school education programmes to eliminate gender stereotypes.

The differences in the position of men and women in Luxembourg society are most clearly illustrated by the ratio of men and women in the civil service and in executive positions in companies. The Ministry of Gender Equality has drawn up an action plan to remedy this situation.

The problem of domestic violence, exacerbated during the period of forced self-isolation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, persists. According to human rights defenders, the GDL government has not developed a comprehensive approach to the issue. Statistics from annual police reports confirm that there are serious problems in this area, as well as inadequate legal protection mechanisms.

Luxembourg’s initiative to prevent the re-victimisation of women subjected to domestic violence is commendable. In March 2019, the GDL courts began to adopt a new approach to the selection of special protective measures in court hearings. These are now to be determined on a case-by-case basis. For the first time, a first-instance court in a domestic violence case allowed the victim to give evidence and answer questions from the court via video link while in the next room to avoid direct contact with the accused[693].

The largest number of comments from national and international monitoring bodies concerns the protection of children’s rights. Evidence of the authorities’ close attention to this problem was the transformation in 2020 of the Children’s Affairs Committee into a legally independent mechanism of the Ombudsman for Children and Youth Affairs from the executive branch.

A stumbling block in this area remains the conflict between the provisions of the GDL Criminal Code and the need to guarantee children’s rights as well as the overly broad powers of juvenile justice. Luxembourg law does not stipulate a minimum age of imprisonment for a juvenile[694], as well as a minimum age of criminal responsibility. There are no procedural safeguards for children in detention as there are for adults. According to human rights defenders, the detention situation for juveniles (even in the Dreiborne detention centre built specifically for them) is close to critical. Moreover, the law still allows the detention of a child in a penal institution, while cases of children over 16 can be referred to the ordinary courts, and in some cases a lawyer is appointed for the child by the judge. There are no restrictions on the length of detention in centres for juvenile offenders in prison-like conditions. Those who serve their sentences can continue to be held there after reaching the age of majority. The practice of solitary confinement is common in these facilities, as well as in socio-educational boarding schools. This punishment is applied if the offender runs away again. According to experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the lack of systematic review of temporary placements is also a significant deficiency.[695]

A significant number of complaints are made about the treatment of children from migrant families: outdated, non-indicative and degrading techniques in the form of bone tests and photos of genital organs are used to determine whether they are minors. According to the CRC, unaccompanied children can be transferred several times from one reception centre to another, sometimes being placed with adults before being sent to specialised reception centres for unaccompanied children, which in some cases occurs without their prior consent. Under certain conditions and in certain circumstances, Luxembourg legislation on immigration and asylum allows for the detention of minors. At the same time, the maximum duration of detention for families with children has been increased from three to seven days.

Furthermore, according to CEDAW, migrant girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to bullying in educational institutions[696].

International human rights mechanisms note that the children of immigrants and children without residence permits, as well as children of parents affected by unemployment and/or with low levels of education, and children in single-parent families, are more vulnerable to poverty, which levels only increase over time[697].

An inter-ministerial committee consisting of representatives of children’s rights organisations, relevant ministries and services was set up in accordance with a decision of the GDL Council of Government of 7 July 2017. This body, based on a case-by-case assessment of the interests of minors, decides either to return and organise the expulsion of irregular child migrants, subject to the requirements of Article 10 of Directive No 2008/115/CE, or to grant them permission to stay in the country.

Nevertheless, international experts have questioned the independence and neutrality of this body, which includes officials responsible for the forced return of migrants to the countries of origin.[698]

As far as the competence of Luxembourg’s juvenile justice is concerned, in case of a child’s bad or dangerous behaviour, authorised officials are entitled to raise the question of his or her transfer to a special regime institution (it is even possible to transfer to other countries). At the same time, as noted by CRC experts, police officers are regularly involved in enforcing court decisions to place children in special institutions. However, they can remove a child from home or school without informing the parents.[699]

The rights of minors and their parents are also violated at the trial stage of such cases: Luxembourg judges are empowered to decide on the transfer of parental rights without respecting the procedural rights of the persons concerned, such as the right to legal defence, the right to have a lawyer present and the right of the child to be heard. It is noted that when a child is removed from his or her family, placement in an institution is still given preference over foster care. If the decision is made in favour of the second option, the risk remains for the child that his or her new family will be abroad, making contact with the biological parents difficult.

Challenges remain in ensuring a dignified existence for children with disabilities. For example, the National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2019-2024 focuses on inclusion in non-formal education, but does not include measures for inclusion in formal education. There is a shortage of qualified professionals, including speech therapists, child diagnostic psychiatrists, psychomotor therapists and occupational therapists in the GDL. Other problems identified by the CRC include the lack of a clear Luxembourg policy on forced sterilisation of children with disabilities and the increased risk for girls with disabilities of becoming victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation.[700]

In addition, UN and CoE human rights bodies have noted many deficiencies in the country’s legal system with regard to the sexual exploitation of minors, especially the lack of a clear definition of child pornography and child prostitution.

An alarming situation is observed in the area of personal data protection, where the “concern for national security and the fight against crime” has led to an increase in cases of intrusion by intelligence and law enforcement agencies into the private lives of citizens. According to a 2020 report by law firm DLA Piper, Luxembourg ranks 7th out of 27 EU countries in terms of the number of breaches of personal data protection to the size of its population. The adoption in 2015 of an anti-terrorism package, which includes the possibility of round‑the-clock searches, an increase in the maximum period of detention from 24 to 48 hours, wiretapping and monitoring of internet activity, is noted. Government and private GDL structures are having difficulty adapting the new European Regulation No 2016/679 on the Protection of Individuals with regard to Personal Data (in force 25 May 2019). It was only after criticism from human rights NGOs, including prominent online activist M.Schrems, that the National Commission for Personal Data Protection issued its first fines to offenders in 2021.

Indirectly related to this topic is freedom of the press in Luxembourg. In recent years, the journalistic corps has repeatedly noted pressure from the authorities, up to and including prosecution for defamation, if they refuse to name their sources of information. Another example is the campaign organised in 2018 by the official authorities against journalists who spread information about the vulnerability of the website of the Chamber of Deputies, which allowed outsiders to access confidential documents.

In 2022, the HRCttee expressed concern about articles 443 and 444 of the penal code of GDL on defamation, which it considered should be decriminalized by States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, the Committee criticised articles 144 and 145 of the Criminal Code of the GDL, which provide for liability for written and graphic material insulting objects of worship or the performance of religious rites.[701]

The topic of protection of personal health data has gained prominence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Luxembourg society and human rights circles there has been a lively debate on how the principles of medical confidentiality and privacy, including in the context of the introduction of a mobile application to track contacts of patients with a new coronavirus infection, should be balanced against the need for epidemiological security throughout the country, especially in an “emergency situation”. The National Ethics Commission of the GDL called on the government to take the respect of human rights and freedoms very seriously, despite the extraordinary circumstances.

The emergence and spread of coronavirus infection in 2020 has exacerbated some of the pre-existing human rights challenges. These include, for example, the shortage of decent and affordable housing. As an analysis of calls to the NGO Caritas coronavirus hotline shows, housing prices continued to rise despite the pandemic and the provision of affordable rental housing remained one of the most pressing challenges of the crisis response.[702]

Another consequence of the pandemic has been an increase in unemployment. Thus, according to the FRA, the number of unemployed people under 30 years of age increased by a third between August 2019 and August 2020. It has become even more difficult for older people to find work. Research by analysts at the Idea Foundation found that the crisis could have dire long‑term consequences for older people’s career prospects and will only exacerbate the problem of long-term unemployment that already exists.[703]

Luxembourg’s reservations to various provisions of the fundamental international human rights treaties deserve a separate analysis. These concern the interpretation of a number of rights and freedoms as absolute, that is, as if they were not subject to any restrictions. They refer primarily to the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of assembly and association. For example, article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights declares that “all propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law”. The essence of Luxembourg’s reservation is its refusal to take the necessary legislative measures to give effect to this provision, on the grounds that it would contravene the right to freedom of expression.

 

Malta

As an integral part of the Western community and a member of the European Union, Malta has positioned itself as a consistent advocate for democratic human rights and freedoms. However, local and foreign experts point to a number of human rights problems, many of which are long-standing and systemic in nature.

Tellingly, in the Economist magazine’s annual democracy ranking for 2019, Malta lost its “full democracy” status for the first time since 2006 and was placed in the “imperfect democracy” category from 2019 to 2021.

The topic of media freedom and freedom of expression in Malta has recently come to the fore in light of the murder in October 2017 of prominent journalist, Malta Independent reporter D.Caruana Galizia, who covered corruption in local ruling circles and was under pressure from the authorities[704] (at the time of her death, 42 libel suits had been filed against her and part of her property was seized).

Despite some progress in the investigation, Malta continues to be criticised by a number of representatives from the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), who accuse the authorities of dragging out the investigation and of having a “conflict of interest”.

In June 2019, PACE passed a resolution based on a report by Dutch MP P.Omtzig on the case, saying that the rule of law in the island republic was “seriously undermined” by the “extreme weakness of checks and balances”.

The protracted investigation was one of the main factors behind the wave of protests against corruption in late 2019. Thousands of people took to the streets, demanding not only an effective investigation into the case, but also the resignation of a number of major political figures, including the country’s Prime Minister J.Muscat. He was eventually forced to resign on 13 January 2020.

In December 2019, eight journalists’ organisations published a joint open letter criticising the Maltese authorities for their continued practice of intimidating members of the media. In their message, they cited two cases as examples, both related to the coverage of the investigation into the high-profile murder of D.Caruana of Galicia.

The first concerned the unlawful restriction of freedom for journalists attending a press conference at the Castilian courtyard following an urgent government meeting during which a decision was taken to refuse to grant a presidential pardon to J.Fenech, a businessman accused of involvement in the massacre of D.Caruana Galicia. After Prime Minister J.Muscat made a public statement on the issue to the media, the guards locked them in the room where the meeting was taking place and would not let them leave the room until the politician had left the residence.

The second incident was an attempt to confiscate the phone of a Times of Malta journalist reporting on the chaotic Maltese parliament following the arrest of a businessman.

The letter condemned these actions and called for the fulfilment of Malta’s international obligations by ensuring the safety of journalists carrying out their professional duties and giving them access to information of public interest.[705]

In 2020 – early 2021, due to constraints imposed by the need to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the country, activists had to abandon large‑scale anti-corruption protests, but even so, they found ways to convey their position to the authorities through small-scale events.

For example, in November 2020, to mark the first anniversary of the protest movement, civil society representatives put up posters with images of politicians, both incumbent and retired, who they believed were encouraging corruption to take root in the country.[706] However, in less than a day there was no trace of the action. All the posters had been removed by unidentified individuals. The authorities deny any involvement in the incident[707].

In October 2020, S.Balzan, editor-in-chief of Malta’s MediaToday, noted that the death of D.Caruana of Galicia had had the most negative effect on the work of journalists, provoking the development of self-censorship among them.

On 1 March 2021 a rally was once again held outside the Maltese Parliament in support of a fair trial in the protracted case. Those gathered (about 200 people) sat behind fences with a social distance and held placards reading “Malta has been strangled by a mafia octopus” and “Corruption has killed a journalist”. The octopus metaphorically referred to corrupt politicians and businessmen who had “put their tentacles” into all Maltese institutions.[708]

The July 2021 report of the Maltese Independent Public Inquiry Commission into the high-profile crime found the Maltese government guilty of “creating a climate of impunity among the highest echelons of government, which has led to a breakdown of the rule of law in the country” and of “failing to assess the real threat to life and to take the necessary steps to protect D.Caruana Galizia”. The commission also concluded that the journalist’s death was directly linked to the anti-corruption investigative work she was conducting against senior government officials.

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the murder of the Maltese woman on 14 October 2022, the two perpetrators of the murder, who were in custody, confessed and were sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment with the possibility of parole. However, public criticism is raised by the fact that only three of the 11 possible perpetrators of the murder have been convicted, while the alleged customer of the crime (J.Fenech) is still under investigation.

Malta is among the countries where the scandal has led to a setback in the right to freedom of expression, according to a report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University on the impact of the Panama revelations.[709]

An important legislative step in Malta was the decriminalisation of libel. However, it is still a civil offence, so the media and their representatives still have to bear the burden of frequent litigation.

The use of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) continues to be used as a way of pressuring the local press, with plaintiffs suing for defamation in US courts, at considerable financial cost to the defendants. As a result, many local publications are forced to take down material that is deemed unsatisfactory to the plaintiffs, under threat of a lawsuit. In the process of drafting the media law[710], the government refused to include measures aimed at protecting the press from SLAPP on the pretext that they contradict European Union legislation.

In this context, the Maltese journalistic community appealed in September 2022 to Prime Minister R.Abele to hold public consultations to ensure that their suggestions and concerns were taken into account in the amendments under preparation to the mentioned law.

This appeal was supported by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, who stressed in her letter to the Maltese head of cabinet dated 23 September 2022 the importance of media access to information about the activities of public authorities, including those relating to the investigation of D.Caruana’s murder in Galicia.

The above-mentioned facts are reflected in the relevant ratings compiled by various international NGOs. Statistics of recent years indicate a rapid deterioration of the situation with freedom of the press in the country. In particular, in the annual survey of the Reporters Without Borders movement for 2021, Malta again lost positions compared to 2020, dropping from 78 to 81 places (in 2019 – 77th place, in 2018 – 65th, in 2017 – 45th, and in 2010 – 16th place)[711].

According to the NGO Freedom House, in 2020 Malta retained the status of a “free” country in terms of the media, but compared to 2019 it lost points again (the overall score decreased from 91 to 90)[712], In 2021, Malta did not gain a single point compared to 2020, having frozen at the level of last year (90 points).

In June 2020, Malta’s media regulator ordered state-owned Malta Television (TVM) not to broadcast journalists’ questions to government officials at live press conferences. The measure was allegedly aimed at eliminating possible bias in the coverage. The regulator’s decision caused a mixed reaction from the public, especially after, following the decree, TVM interrupted the broadcasting of a press conference on Malta’s response to the spread of coronavirus infection. In particular, the Malta Institute of Journalists condemned the decree, calling it an act of censorship[713].

In recent years, in the context of the so-called ‘Panama revelations’, a string of corruption scandals, as well as its ‘passport-for-investment’ scheme, Malta has come under external criticism for its flawed judicial and law enforcement systems and for its significant deficiencies in the rule of law, transparency and good governance.

The lack of any reaction from the authorities to the obvious cases of corruption in the highest echelons of government, in particular, was repeatedly pointed out by delegations from the European Parliament, which itself has recently been shaken by corruption scandals within its leadership.

In July 2022, in its annual report on the state of compliance with the rule of law in the EU countries, the European Commission once again criticized the Maltese justice system, which, in the opinion of this European structure, does not provide sufficient counteraction to corruption and proper punishment for its manifestations, especially in cases involving high-ranking officials.

Similar concerns were voiced in the report of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament published on July 11, 2022.

The European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe), functioning within the framework of the Council of Europe, made its recommendations to Malta in this regard[714].

A common complaint by human rights defenders against the Maltese judicial system is the excessive length of time it takes to adjudicate cases, many of which are human rights related.

In its report the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNHRC) also noted that the Maltese judicial system is still characterised by long waiting times for justice[715].

In January 2016, the ECtHR ruled for the first time in history that a Maltese court violated the fair trial provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. In December 2016, the same court issued another similar ruling.

According to local authorities, Malta only solves around 70% of homicides (the EU average is 85%).

Local human rights organisations have been sounding the alarm for years over the numerous complaints of ill-treatment and substandard medical care in the country’s only penitentiary institution. It is noted that 14 prisoners have died in the prison over the past three years, seven of whom committed suicide. The last such case, which occurred in October 2021, led to the resignation of the prison’s director-general, A.Dalli. The new management of the institution has promised extensive work to improve the situation, the results of which, however, are still too early to judge.

The situation regarding the protection of the rights of stateless persons remains very pressing for the island republic. Malta is one of the few EU member states not party to the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In addition, Valletta has signed but not yet ratified the 1997 European Convention on Nationality. The UNHCR field office periodically urges the government and parliament to sign the 1954 and 1961 conventions. The European Statelessness Network has issued a country report, which makes a set of recommendations to Valletta in this regard.

The Constitution of Malta and a number of other legislative acts prohibit racial discrimination. In particular, the Criminal Code (article 82A) provides for punishment in the form of imprisonment for a period of 6 to 18 months for actions aimed at inciting racial intolerance. Article 83 B qualifies manifestations of racism and xenophobia as an aggravating circumstance. These measures are evaluated by human rights defenders (including the local branch of the European Association of Law Students) as generally adequate to prevent misanthropic rhetoric and incitement to violence.

However, there is no legal ban on organisations and movements that promote racial discrimination and glorify Nazi ideology in Malta. In 2019, the far-right (locally referred to as neo-fascist) Imperium Europa party was officially registered in the country. Its leader, Norman Lowell, is an ultra-nationalist who openly denies the Holocaust[716]. In his statements he has repeatedly made positive references to Hitler, as well as repeatedly praising Carmelo Borga Pisani, a Fascist of Maltese origin who worked for Italian intelligence during the Second World War. However, the party is not popular with the population – the island republic inherited the two-party system of the former metropolis, neo-fascists do not get the necessary number of votes to be elected to the House of Representatives or the European Parliament. In general, Malta is characterised by a respectful attitude to history and the absence of any significant forces promoting the ideas of fascism in its political space

Domestic xenophobia and racist attitudes towards irregular migrants – mainly from Africa and the Middle East – remain a significant problem in local society.

This is evidenced by the fact that Malta has lost a number of cases brought by this category of citizens before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in recent years.

Racist and xenophobic attitudes towards migrants in Malta, including racially motivated violence and racial discrimination in accessing employment, housing and services, as well as the low enforcement of laws against xenophobia, were highlighted by the UNHRC Universal Periodic Review of Malta.

The Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (AC on the FCNM) has also noted cases of discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin in employment, access to housing and health care.

According to the Committee, circumstantial evidence pointed to the commission of racially motivated crimes, bullying in schools, treating people of colour as perpetrators of crimes rather than as victims or innocent bystanders. It is noted that a number of educational materials portray groups of people of non‑Muslim origin in a negative light, and that the timetable of educational institutions does not take into account the religious or cultural festivals of this section of the population.[717]

In its latest report on Malta, the AC on the FCNM cited a public opinion survey that showed that 38% of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa surveyed had experienced discrimination on the grounds of skin colour. In relation to employment, 20% of the respondents reported that their ethnicity or origin had led to discrimination in recruitment. A further 15% reported that they had experienced discrimination in the workplace.[718]

According to the AC on the FCNM, these factors can hinder the integration of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.[719]

Experts at the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) note that refugees remain the most vulnerable and marginalised group in Malta, facing isolation and relatively low levels of interaction with the local population.

ECRI also repeatedly referred to Malta’s lack of implementation of recommendations to protect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers, including those related to the granting of citizenship by naturalisation. It noted that many of the irregular migrants complained about low wages and exploitation by employers who preferred to employ migrants without proper legal status. The authorities’ overly rigid policy that holders of temporary humanitarian protection status (as opposed to refugee status) are not entitled to family reunification has also been criticised.[720]

According to ECRI, social media in Malta is rife with violent content and a platform for racist speech, and public opinion is largely negative towards migrants.

According to an opinion poll conducted in May 2019 by The Times’ journalists, more than 70% of the Maltese population recognize that racism is a problem in the country. However, 46% “feel threatened” by other cultures and 45% believe there are too many migrants living on the island.

Maltese research also shows that over 60% of Black Africans regularly experience intolerance in everyday life and tend to avoid interacting with locals as much as possible. Around 30% of them have been victims of racially motivated hate crimes in the past.

There have also been isolated instances of xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric used by political and public figures in Malta.

Discrimination against migrants in the provision of health services has recently been increasingly highlighted in the Maltese media. In December 2021, news broke of the death of a 22-year-old woman due to the negligence of staff at a public health centre. According to the report, such treatment of migrants is widespread: instead of providing proper medical care, doctors often recommend that they take painkillers.[721] Concerns about the frequent lack of necessary medical care were also raised by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).[722]

In 2019, there were several high-profile cases in the country. For example,

On 6 April, a man of Côte d’Ivoire was shot dead and two other people of African descent were seriously injured. This is the first case of a racially motivated murder in Malta. Two soldiers were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the crime. One of them confessed to hating people of African descent.

The President of Malta and the Armed Forces of Malta have issued press releases condemning the murder and warning of the “dangers of racist, xenophobic and extremist rhetoric” in this regard. In addition, the Commander of the Armed Forces launched an internal investigation into the incident to ascertain whether the two attackers acted independently or whether there were xenophobic groups or tendencies within the Maltese Army.[723]

The Times of Malta published an interview with a Thai student who complained of racism not only in her daily life, but also in her dealings with Maltese officials.

The situation has not escaped the attention of relevant international organizations. The HRC Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants recommended that Valletta fully implement its legislation to combat direct and indirect racial discrimination with regard to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by immigrants, in particular refugees and asylum seekers, including access to private rental housing and the labour market.[724] Malta was recommended to step up its efforts to eradicate stereotypes and discrimination against migrants while promoting tolerance and respect for diversity[725], and to take measures aimed at investigating racially motivated violence.[726]

As there is no systematic collection of data on the prevalence of racially motivated crimes or incidents of incitement to racial hatred in the country[727], in 2021 the AC on the FCMN called on Valletta to establish a publicly available system for collecting such data.[728]

According to 2021 ECRI conclusions on Malta’s implementation of the relevant recommendations, the absence of the aforementioned system is due to the fact that the number of hate crimes is small enough, which is why the Malta Police Force records the number of hate crimes reports in general.[729]

According to the same document, the Hate Crime and Speech Unit, established on 24 October 2019, which works closely with the Maltese Police Force, compiles statistics and processes cases of hate crime and hate speech.[730] The unit also supports victims of such crimes through the provision of free therapeutic and legal services.[731]

By 19 January 2021, the Unit had received 249 reports, 193 of which were filed against individual alleged perpetrators.[732]

The Maltese authorities seek to limit the influx of migrants as much as possible. Charity Sea-Eye reported that the Maltese coordination centre regularly ignores distress signals in the Maltese search and rescue zone from vessels carrying migrants (most recently on 11-12 May 2022[733]).

In 2019, Prime Minister of Malta (then J.Muscat) and leader of the opposition (then A.Delia) made public remarks about the “dominance of migrants” in the Maltese labour market.

In May 2019, one prominent businessman, Icelandic Honorary Consul to Malta M.Mizzi, said that illegal Muslim migrants should be banned from coming to the island republic, which he would like to see as a “Catholic country”. He said too many Muslim families were now arriving in the country, which would “eventually” lead to a “takeover” of Malta.

HRCttee noted long periods of detention of migrants arriving in Malta (up to 18 months for irregular migrants and up to one year for asylum seekers). Cases of ill-treatment and excessive use of force, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, by police officers in migrant detention centres were noted.

In March 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision in the case Feilazoo v Malta, which found the Maltese authorities guilty of violating articles 5(1) and 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights by detaining a Nigerian national for over the legal maximum period (14 months instead of nine) and preventing him from going to court.

NGO representatives note that living conditions in the temporary migrant detention centres often do not meet international standards, which periodically leads to riots (the last such riot took place in January 2020). Complaints continue to be received from the closed “centre” residents about the quality of food and water, and the lack of heating and air conditioning systems.

The most vulnerable groups, such as young children with their parents and unaccompanied minors, are in a particularly difficult situation. They are detained under general conditions and held in inadequate conditions together with unrelated adults.[734]

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited the mentioned Maltese centres in October 2021, noted in her report a number of problems in the conditions of detention of refugee children. The Commissioner was particularly critical of the accommodation of refugees in overcrowded barracks with no heating and no ventilation, while the number of irregular migrants arriving in Malta is decreasing for the third consecutive year (832 in 2021, 2281 in 2020, 3033 in 2019). In addition, she pointed out that children living in these centres said they were not attending school or any sports or creative activities, and “generally have a poor view of their future”.

Despite the deliberate restriction of migration flows to Malta, the authorities of the island republic listen to the views of relevant international organisations.

A number of educational measures aimed at promoting a culture of tolerance and mutual respect, and combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance have been implemented in the country. When it comes to these aspects, education for children and youth is built in accordance with the national educational strategy for the period 2014-2024, as well as the framework programme “Respect for All”, adopted in 2014. The implementation of the UNESCO project “Education for Global Citizenship” is underway. It includes measures to promote programmes in educational institutions aimed at countering violent extremism.

In 2021, the ACFC noted that the Maltese authorities pursued their efforts to reinforce their integration policies, in particular by adopting the National Migrant Integration Strategy and its Action Plan.[735]

In order to implement them, a special integration unit was created within the Ministry of EU Affairs and Equality. For the same purpose, a special inter-ministerial co-ordinating body and a consultative forum were created, where organisations representing the interests of migrants could come forward. The Action Plan provides for, among other things, lessons in Maltese and English for asylum-seekers, training for so-called cultural mediators who could operate within various public services, and research to assess the special needs of the most vulnerable groups in the context of integration.[736]

It is indicative that Malta positions itself as a mono-ethnic state. The fifth monitoring cycle of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities contains the position of the country’s authorities that there are no national minorities in its territory.[737]

The Jewish community in Malta consists of about 200 people. There are no recorded cases of anti-Semitism.

There is traditionally a large (7-8 thousand people) Russian diaspora in Malta. Russian citizens, mostly women who are married to Maltese citizens, form its core.

The Russian community is deeply integrated into the local society, actively engaged in public life; it makes a noticeable contribution to the social and economic development of Malta, which is also noted by the Maltese authorities. There are no ethnic conflicts between our compatriots and local residents.

The interaction of the Maltese authorities with the Russian diaspora amid the Ukrainian crisis is built in the spirit of Prime Minister R.Abela’s statement that “xenophobia is unacceptable towards Russians and Russian-speaking people living in the country” (April 2022).

At the same time, verbal aggression in Maltese online communities increased sharply against the background of the EU’s Russophobic campaign, after the start of the special military operation in Ukraine. There have been regular attacks on compatriots living in Malta, usually by members of the small Ukrainian diaspora (around 1,000 people).

There is information about individual cases of inappropriate behaviour against Russian-speaking children in local schools. The Russian embassy is working specifically with compatriots and local authorities to resolve the problem. The problem was brought to the attention of the Maltese authorities, who took adequate measures. As a result of this work, the Ministry for Education of Malta brought recommendations on interaction with Russian‑speaking students to the notice of the heads of educational institutions.

Law enforcement has responded appropriately to incoming reports (of threats, xenophobia, etc.). However, some wealthy compatriots have had problems in the banking sphere with the freezing of accounts and financial transactions.

It is also worth noting that between March and May 2022 there were a number of small anti-Russian rallies in Malta (including near the Russian Embassy), held by local NGOs and representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora. The demonstrations went off without any incidents and in the presence of police.

The Maltese government is regularly criticised for not having a sufficiently effective anti-trafficking policy.

According to the US Department of State, forced labour and sexual slavery have and continue to occur in Malta. The relevant “risk group” includes people from South-East Asia, China and Eastern Europe, as well as women from Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine. In this regard, over the past years, the country has been consistently included in Washington’s “Tier 2 Special Attention List” as a country whose state authorities do not fully comply with the minimum requirements of the law to protect victims of trafficking, although some efforts have been made to do so. On the other hand, the US State Department’s reports, which are often based on the political situation rather than the real situation in the field, cannot always serve as a benchmark for an objective assessment of the situation in a particular country, let alone the US itself.

In November 2017, a Maltese man and a Chinese national were detained on charges of forced prostitution and trafficking. In March 2018, eight Maltese and foreign nationals were arrested for allegedly being involved in a human trafficking scheme involving South-East Asian workers employed by local cleaning companies.

The Maltese government has periodically been criticised for alleged violations of privacy rights. In recent years, reports by Facebook have been repeatedly quoted in the press as saying that the Maltese authorities sent the largest number of requests between 2013 and 2021 for disclosure of personal data (per capita) to the social network in the world.

Challenges remain with regard to the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. In its report on Malta, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities identified a number of relevant issues and made a set of recommendations. In particular, the Committee expressed concern that persons with disabilities are deprived of legal capacity and subjected to multiple forms of discrimination under certain provisions of local legislation. In the Committee’s view, certain laws are inconsistent with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In particular, the Mental Health Act allows for involuntary detention and psychiatric treatment of persons with disabilities on the basis of their psychosocial or mental disabilities. The continuing practice of hospitalizing such persons without their consent was also noted.[738]

It was also noted that persons with disabilities, in particular persons with psychosocial and/or mental disorders, are still subject to decisions on deprivation of legal capacity and that the draft law on personal independence, which is currently under development, can deprive disabled persons of their legal capacity by introducing concepts and mechanisms such as “protective measures”, “joint decision-making” and “representation agreements”.

According to the local Commission for Persons with Disabilities, persons with disabilities continue to face discrimination, including in insurance, banking and education and in employment. It is also reported that 628 cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities were investigated during 2021, an increase of 30% from 2020.

According to the World Economic Forum report, Malta has slightly improved its position in the global gender equality ranking (i.e. equality between women and men), rising from 91st place in 2018 to 85th place in 2022 (2017 – 93rd, 2016 – 108th) out of 149. However, statistics show that disparities persist in the areas of employment (women’s employment rate is much lower than men’s), pay (women earn on average 11% less), and politics, education and healthcare.[739]

Despite the April 2021 law on gender parity in public administration (Malta has one of the lowest representation of women in executive and legislative bodies in the EU, at around 15% compared to the EU average of 35%), the number of women in middle and senior government positions currently does not exceed 30%. The legalisation of abortion continues to be another hot topic related to women’s rights. The practice is completely prohibited in Malta, under penalty of imprisonment for between one and a half to three years.

The most recent high-profile case was in June 2022, when US citizen A.Prudente, who was in Malta, was refused an abortion by Maltese doctors for a partial miscarriage that threatened her life. The American woman had to fly to Spain for an emergency operation. In September 2022, the victim filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Health of Malta demanding to recognize the relevant provisions of the Maltese Criminal Code as violating the European Convention on Human Rights and oblige the State to compensate her for the damage caused.

The “sociological dynamics” of public opinion polls are illustrative in this regard: while in 2019 about 45% of respondents supported the legalisation of abortion, in July 2022, according to local human rights activists, their number was already 55%. Against this background, on 21 November 2022, the government introduced a bill in parliament that would allow doctors to perform abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. This shook the Maltese public and divided the population into two camps. On 4 December 2022 mass protests against the initiative took place in front of the Maltese prime minister’s office. According to the organisers of the protest, around 20,000 people took part in the demonstrations, including the Archbishop of Malta, C.Shikluna. The final decision on the legalisation of abortion is due to be taken by parliament in 2023.

The human rights community points to the problems in Malta with regard to the protection of children’s rights.

In its report the UN Human Rights Committee and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern that children aged 16-18 continue to be prosecuted as adults and that they are subjected to criminal laws and adult courts in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Malta is a party. Valletta recommended that persons under the age of 18 be detained separately from adults in correctional facilities and detention centres.

Children of different ages were also held together in residential homes. CRC noted with concern that cases of sexual abuse of children within families and/or by persons in their circle of trust were regularly reported. According to the experts, the risk of sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism was also high.[740]

In its report, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (a Council of Europe body) has expressed concern about the practice of placing children exhibiting problematic behaviour in a closed psychiatric institution and has recommended that more robust procedures to prevent such cases be put in place. No significant improvements in this area have been noted so far.

Despite the reference to the Catholic traditions of Maltese society in dealing with certain issues of domestic politics, including health care, the current Labour government is at the same time pursuing an earlier course of promoting neoliberal values.

Malta’s external and internal criticism of its human rights record has been offset by its ‘successes’ in protecting the interests of sexual minorities. In the last five years, for example, same-sex “civil unions”, “gay marriage” and the adoption of children by such families have been allowed, a law banning so‑called “conversion therapy” (the practice of changing orientation from homosexual to heterosexual) has been passed and regulations have been passed which allow citizens (including children) to choose their own gender (without resorting to surgical intervention), as well as designate their gender in documents using the letter “x” (“neutral third gender”). In this context, the concepts of “mother”, “father”, “husband” and “wife” have been removed from local legal practice (replaced by the terms “parent” and “spouse”). Work is underway to expand the rights of transgender and homosexuals.

These efforts are reflected in the European rankings of ‘progressive’ countries published by LGBT organisations, in which Malta consistently ranked first in 2016-2021.

The debate on the decriminalisation of recreational cannabis use, which has been ongoing since 2017, culminated in the adoption of a legalisation law in December 2021. It is now legal in Malta to possess up to seven grams of cannabis, to grow up to four cannabis plants at home or to “join a club”, which means being able to purchase up to 50 grams of cannabis per month from specialised establishments.

In addition, targeted articles appear periodically in the press, apparently designed to probe Maltese society for its attitudes and willingness to legalise prostitution.

Finally, in the context of a human rights analysis, the difficulties encountered by the authorities and the population in relation to the unpreparedness of the Maltese health system for the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic deserve attention. According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, there were not enough beds and equipment in hospitals, in particular in intensive care units, and the number of trained staff was clearly insufficient.

At the same time, the government has announced a significant increase in the proportion of the budget allocated to health, including to make a rapid testing system available.[741]

Over the last five years Malta has made some efforts, under pressure from various international and national bodies, to implement some of their recommendations.

In particular, Malta has ratified Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence into local legislation, adopted a Law on Cohabitation (protects the interests of couples wishing to register their cohabitation and ensures legal recognition of their rights and obligations), significantly optimized legislation to combat tax evasion and laundering of proceeds from crime (resulting in June 2022 Valletta was excluded from the FATF’s “grey list” of unreliable jurisdictions), and also took a number of other measures.

Discriminatory restrictions on political participation persist in Malta and are reflected in significantly restricted rights for overseas voters. According to the legislation, citizens lose the right to vote if they have been in Malta for less than six months within a year and a half of registering as a voter. The excuse given is that those living abroad “have lost an essential link with their home country”.

When signing the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Malta made a reservation of the their right not to enact legislation for the purposes of the relevant article (Article 20 – “all propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law”).

An important element of the functioning of civil society in Malta is the institution of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Local NGOs actively promote grassroots participation, provide analysis and expertise on political issues, act as an ‘early warning’ mechanism and help oversee the implementation of international agreements.

Non-governmental organisations are regulated by the “Law on Voluntary Organisations” of 11 December 2007, according to which any voluntary non‑profit association of citizens organised at local, national and interstate level is considered a non-governmental organisation.

The registration and operation of Maltese NGOs is overseen by a special Council, which is composed of members of the main NGOs and one representative of the Government. Its composition is approved every two years by the Minister of Education and a chairperson is elected by the participants. There is also a Volunteer Organisations Commissioner who is responsible for facilitating dialogue between the government and ordinary citizens and for the rational allocation and efficient use of European Union funds allocated to various NGO community programmes.

Human rights NGOs have traditionally advocated for the full respect of human rights and freedoms and against discrimination of any kind. Due to the relevance to Malta of irregular migration, refugee protection organisations have been most active. In addition, women’s rights organisations have been more active recently.

Civil and political NGOs aim to develop civil society institutions, fight poverty, racism, xenophobia, improve the competitiveness of Maltese workers in the international labour market, assist the government in setting up programmes to promote employment, health and safety, support people with disabilities, fight against alcoholism and drug addiction.

There are a number of NGO associations operating in the country, among the largest of which are the local branch of the European Anti-Poverty Network – the Anti-Poverty Forum Malta, the Malta Health Network, the Malta Confederation of Women’s Organizations, as well as the Platform of Human Rights Organizations in Malta, which brought together all local independent structures of this orientation under one roof in the interests of exchanging experience and information..

There are a number of non-governmental organisations in Malta, created by compatriots and their associations, whose activities are in one way or another connected with Russia. These include, in particular, the Coordinating Committee of the Russian Compatriots Assembly (CCRCA), the European Foundation for the Support of Culture, the Maltese branch of the “Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society” (IPPO Malta), the Russian Orthodox Parish of St. Paul the Apostle, etc. Almost all of these NGOs are mainly engaged in projects in the cultural and humanitarian sphere.

In general, NGOs in Malta are a sought-after channel of interaction between civil society and the state. The national leadership regularly notes in its statements that NGOs are able to make a significant intellectual contribution to society and to increase the involvement of Maltese people in key processes in the life of the country.

It appears that despite Malta’s attempts to bring its human rights record in line with modern European democratic standards, the current human rights situation is still far from perfect.

 

Moldova

The situation with respect for fundamental human rights in Moldova looks alarming. The correction of this sphere, which began after the removal from power in 2019 of the oligarch V.Plahotniuc and his inner circle, in which widespread corruption turned the country’s legal system into a tool for seizing competitors’ businesses and influencing political opponents through criminal prosecution, has completely stopped. Negative trends began to manifest themselves. President M.Sandu and the Moldovan Government have made every effort to fully take control of the mechanisms built under the oligarchic regime of V.Plahotniuc, and are now actively using them to remove political opponents. Relying on the majority in parliament, the current authorities are trying to lead the country in a course pleasing to the West, which has nothing to do with the interests of Moldova itself and its population.

Instead of fulfilling their electoral promises, the current authorities launched a fight against the opposition. The security forces became particularly active in 2022. Criminal cases were filed against former Moldovan President I.Dodon, Prosecutor General A.Stoianoglo, former Speaker of Parliament Z.Greceanii, as well as M.Tauber, vice-president of the “Shor” party and a number of deputies. In April 2023, Shor leader I.Shor was sentenced in absentia by the Chisinau Court of Appeal to 15 years’ imprisonment and confiscation of property. In May 2023, trying to prevent a “pro-Russian” candidate from the party “Shor” E.Gutsul from winning the local elections in Gagauzia, the Moldovan leadership initiated a check on the constitutionality of this political force. After several days of sessions of the Moldovan Constitutional Court, the examination of the case was postponed until 12 June. According to the authorities, the party violates the principles of the rule of law and is against the sovereignty of Moldova.

There are regular reports of administrative pressure on journalists, previously including illegal wiretapping.

Against the background of the general degradation of Russian-Moldovan relations, the discriminatory policy of the Moldovan authorities towards the Russian-speaking population and Russian citizens is clearly increasing.

The Moldovan authorities are making efforts to create new legislative instruments to combat the opposition. For instance, the Ministry of Justice has put forward a proposal to tighten the national legislation against persons under international sanctions. The initiative envisages the possibility of restricting, without court proceedings, the rights on the territory of Moldova of those who are on any US and EU sanctions lists. The most stringent measures are allowed, up to and including the deprivation of the right to dispose of their own property or finances.

The negative state of affairs in the economic sphere contributes to the aggravation of the situation. Inflation in the country in 2022 broke all records, amounting to more than 30%. The most painful for the population was the rise in the cost of food and utilities. Tariffs for gas and electricity have increased several times, for gasoline and diesel fuel – by half. In the draft budget for 2023, pensions are indexed by only 14%, which is a direct violation of the law prohibiting indexing pensions by less than the amount of inflation in the country.

Corruption remains at an all-time high, with the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative (RAI) estimating that the country loses up to 13 per cent of GDP and about $3 million a day.

The attitude of public opinion to the socio-economic situation is also revealing. According to the opinion poll published in the media, almost 80% of the respondents said that their household was in a difficult socio-economic situation, with 30% not having enough money to cover even the most basic mandatory expenses. The number of people who believe that the course of development of the country chosen by the authorities is wrong has risen to 50.5%. 68.2% of the respondents are sure that the leadership of the country is responsible for the energy crisis and price growth while only 21.6% of the respondents think that “Russia, V.Putin and Gazprom” are responsible.[742][743] Many experts point to the failure of the current leadership’s economic policy. This policy has had a particularly negative impact on Moldovan agriculture, whose products are the basis of the country’s exports. For example, compared to the previous agricultural season, export of wheat fell by 55%, and export of goods to Russia decreased by 31%.[744] At the same time, the team of incumbent President Sandu “turns the tables” and blames Russia and its special military operation aimed at the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine for inflation, rising prices for gas, electricity, fuel, utilities and food. However, in the agricultural sector, negative trends began to increase long before that. The reasons, according to experts, are the chronic lack of investment, the rising cost of food production, the reduced solvency of the population, periodic droughts and the problem of selling the harvest outside the country.

Of particular concern is the lingering issue related to the status of the Russian language, which, according to expert estimates, is constantly used by over one million people (out of a population of around 2.6 million). According to Article 13 of the Moldovan Constitution, “the State recognises and protects the right to preserve, develop and use the Russian language and other languages spoken in the territory of the country”. However, a Constitutional Court ruling of 4 June 2018 recognising the 1989 Law on the Functioning of Languages in the Moldovan SSR as “obsolete and useless” was in force. This fundamental legislative act enshrined the Moldovan language as the state language, while treating the Russian language as a means of inter-ethnic communication.

In December 2020, I.Dodon signed the “Law on the Functioning of Languages in the Republic of Moldova”, which was developed on his initiative after the Constitutional Court of the Republic recognized the 1989 document of the same name as obsolete. Russian was assigned the status of the language of interethnic communication and provided that all official documents and the names of state institutions of the country should be duplicated in Russian. At the same time, the President approved amendments to the legislation returning Russian news and analytical programs and talk shows to the Moldovan television (their broadcast was also banned in 2018 under the pretext of combating propaganda; at the same time, it was repeatedly noted that before the ban on the broadcast of Russian TV channels, they were watched by the majority of Moldovans).

However, as far as in January 2021, a month after the adoption of the law on the functioning of languages in Moldova, the Constitutional Court of the country upon the request of the Action and Solidarity Party[745] (ASP) recognized it as unconstitutional, thus depriving the Russian language of the status of an inter‑ethnic communication language.

We should not forget that the Russian language was first targeted against in Moldova in early to mid-2010s. The updated Code of Education adopted in 2014 did not mention the Russian language any more as a language of tuition and actually referred to it as to a language of a national minority of Moldova. Such transformation of the educational legislation whips up further the process of cutting the school enrolment at schools where Russian is the language of tuition (and, as a consequence, the gradual reduction of the share of such schools in accordance with the line aimed at the “optimization” of educational institutions that do not receive enough financing from the government, which is established based on a “per capita” approach).

Besides, the National Statistics Bureau of Moldova progressively refused to publish separate data on the number of “Russian” schools in the country while providing the overall statistics as regards their secondary educational institutions. Such approach allowed diverting attention from the de-Russification of education.

Every public organization maintaining contacts with Russia and connected with it found itself under pressure. The information was heard of the threats to the Russian-speaking journalists in Moldova. Among those facing threats and offences was the editor of the Russkoye Slovo compatriot movement newspaper. There are also cases of exercising pressure and intimidation on pro‑Russian activists.

In this context, it is no surprise that the Russian-speaking population continue facing discrimination at the national level. We regret to state that the Russian compatriots residing in Moldova as well as Russian-speaking citizens in general often find it difficult to exercise their guaranteed rights of access to the public service, choice of education and tuition language, and free receipt of information in their native language. Experts have concerns about the activities of the authorities aimed at revisiting the language legislation and cutting the use of the Russian language, as well as limiting broadcast in Russian. At the same time, according to the expert assessments, over one million of people in the Republic constantly use the Russian language in their everyday life. The events of the previous year show that the Moldovan authorities have become active in implementing the plan on reducing the status of the Russian language and squeezing it out of the public and political life.

The officials often refuse to communicate in Russian or accept applications made in Russian. Designed to combat such manifestations, the public authorities, namely the Inter-Ethnic Relations Bureau and the Bureau for the Prevention of Discrimination dissociate themselves from such functions while referring to insufficient powers. It should be noted that the inefficiency of the Agency for Prevention and Combatting Discrimination as well as of the People’s Advocate (the Ombudsman) in fighting against manifestations of discrimination was emphasized with regrets by the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in its conclusions in 2021 on the implementation by Moldova of previous recommendations. Among the reasons for inefficiency was the complicated system of their financing, low salaries and, as a result, a high level of staff turnover.[746] Although it is clear that the factors named by the ECRI experts are rather not the causes, but the consequence of the course chosen by the current authorities in the language sphere.

In 2017, the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed its concern with the situation of the Russian-speaking population noting that since the 2012 amendments to the law on identity documents, the national passport system had failed to fully recognize the names of persons belonging to ethno-linguistic minority groups, particularly Russian minorities.[747]

The appeals of Russian-speaking residents of the Republic received by the lawyers of organizations of compatriots most often contained complaints about violations of the rights to use the Russian language when applying to authorities, including judicial authorities, about frequent cases of sale of medicines without instructions in Russian and lack of information in Russian in medical institutions.

The Russian Embassy in Chisinau also receives complaints from Russian-speaking citizens by e-mail, which contains reports on their “discrimination” when turning to the state and municipal institutions. Thus, Moldova’s public officials refuse to communicate and consider the applications from the citizens in Russian.

Moldova’s authorities are pursuing a policy of destroying any form of dissent in the country by using the methods of totalitarian censorship, cleaning the national information space from the last spots of alternative points of view. According to the canons of the “collective West”, the government of Moldova in March 2022 began a “cleansing” of the country’s media space from the Russian-language press. By decision of the Security and Intelligence Service of Moldova (SIS), the access was blocked to a number of information resources and Internet portals, including Sputnik Moldova, Politnavigator, Eadaily.com and Bloknot.ru. The Russian-language sites “Gagauznews” and “Regional Trends Analytics” were blocked as well.

Since March 2022, a ban on Russian news and socio-political TV programs has been in force in Moldova; the Russian-language TV channels are being fined on a regular basis (RTR Moldova, NTV Moldova, GTR and TVC21). Moldova’s authorities suspended broadcasting from those States that did not ratify the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. This measure “cut off” the Moldovan population from the broadcasting of several Russian TV and radio channels. Moldova’s authorities explained this anti-Russian approach by the fact that Russian-language information channels promoted Russian “aggression” in Ukraine and misinformed the Moldovan society. As pretexts for restricting freedom of speech, mass media and freedom of expression, such reasons as “one-sided coverage” of the special military operation and “inaccurate information” that could harm the national security of the country were named.

Moreover, in May 2023, at the regular meeting of the Parliament the decision on withdrawal from the treaties was approved in the final reading on the functioning of the “Mir” inter-State television and radio company in the country.

Along with this, the PAS together with the US Embassy in Moldova announces a grant from the US Department of State to compile a certain “rating” of Moldovan TV channels with “reliable” information. This is not surprising, since in recent years, numerous projects have been carried out in Moldova by the United States, a number of European countries and pro-Western NGOs to support freedom of expression and counter “disinformation.” In particular, at the beginning of December 2021, a report was published by the Independent Journalism Centre NGO (receives Western financial assistance), which concludes that the broadcasting of three Russian TV channels – First in Moldova, NTV Moldova and RTR Moldova “does not contribute to the formation of correct opinions” and “threatens the information security of the country.” A few days later, on 8 December, President of the Moldovan Parliament Igor Grosu announced that propaganda from outside “comes from Russia.”

On 16 December 2022, The Commission for Exceptional Situations decided to revoke the licenses of six Russian-language TV channels: Orhei TV, ТV6, NTV Moldova, Accent TV, RTR Moldova and Primul in Moldova. “Insufficiently correct coverage of national events and the conflict in Ukraine” was named as the basis for such an attack on the media.

With this step, official Chisinau, hiding behind an imaginary concern for protecting its citizens from “insufficiently correct” interpretations of events taking place in Moldova and in the world, deliberately deprived the Russian-speaking residents of the country’s last sources of news content in their preferred language. Hundreds of journalists from these news outlets lost their jobs at the behest of politicians.

Such actions of the authorities caused discontent in the society. In particular, the disagreement was heard from the opposition in the Moldovan parliament, as well as the Gagauz autonomy. Deputy of the Parliament’s opposition Party of Socialists B.Tsirdea in the interview to 1TV.md TV channel noted that the the President and the Government of the country banned the broadcasting of six TV channels at the direction of Western curators, calling the ban itself a political order from outside.[748] The authorities of Gagauzia demanded to review the decision of the Commission for Emergency Situations to suspend the broadcasting of six TV channels, as well as to cancel the state of emergency, which, in their opinion, is “used to fight the opposition.” This is stated in a joint statement[749] of the Executive Committee and of the Presidium of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, the press service of the Parliament reports. The Ombudsman of Moldova Ceslav Panico also condemned the ban. He noted that the decision of the Commission for Emergency Situations violates the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and property, and therefore this decision taken bypassing the court violates the principle of separation of powers and the country’s constitution.[750] In their turn, journalists of six TV channels closed by the order of the Moldovan authorities held protests in March 2023 in Brussels, and in April 2023, a working meeting with the representatives of Dostoevsky Institute in Athens and the head of the “2510” Greek human rights organization in order to uphold and protect one of the basic principles of a democratic society – the right to freedom of speech. At the same time, according to the World Press Freedom Index, the Republic of Moldova is ranked 28th, with 12 positions up compared to 2022. The apotheosis was the announcement by the President of the Republic of Moldova Maia Sandu on 29 May 2023 on a legislative initiative to create the national information security and counter-propaganda centre called “Patriot.”

The Russian language is being ousted by the Moldovan authorities not only from the media sphere. On 1 December 2022, the Parliament of Moldova adopted in the second reading the amendments to the Electoral Code, suggesting that ballot papers will be issued exclusively in the state language, while in Russian they can only be printed at the request of local election commissions. Along with the exclusion of the Russian language from the ballots, the scheme for appointing members of the Moldovan CEC was changed. Their number has been reduced from nine to seven, and they are now appointed by the President, Parliament, government and the Superior Council of Magistracy. All these bodies are now controlled by the PAS. Such changes were criticized by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.[751]

The true attitude of the Moldovan government towards the rights of not only the Russian-speaking population, but also other national minorities is evidenced by the statement of Dumitru Budianschi (former Minister of Finance in the Gavrilița Cabinet of Ministers), which he made during the discussion of the issue of financing schools teaching in the languages of national minorities during parliamentary sessions on 12 December 2022. He proposed to solve the problem of insufficient funding of such schools by transferring them to teaching in the state language. According to him, the load on schools with different languages of instruction is easily reduced by transferring them to the Romanian language of instruction.[752]

In addition to the fight against the Russian language in Moldova, the tendency to plant everything Romanian in the country and the rejection of the actual Moldovan identity is becoming more and more noticeable. The fears of experts regarding the concepts of Romanian expansion in Moldova are confirmed by the actions of government officials.

Declared at the highest level, the intention to replace the notion of the “Moldovan language” by the “Romanian language” in the Constitution and in other fundamental law was implemented in practice. On 24 March 2023, the corresponding law entered into force. According thereto, the word combinations, such as the “official language”, “state language” and “native language” are to be adjusted. In the lead-up to the summit of the European political community, the “historical importance of this event” is evident, said Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova Igor Grosu.

Along with the efforts to put aside the Russian language and the tendency towards the “Romanization” of Moldova, the authorities deliver attacks on the historical memory about the Great Patriotic War. Revisionist pro-Western tendencies are on the rise in the country. Recently, radicals from among the supporters of the liquidation of the Moldovan statehood and joining Romania have become more active in the country. These are openly circulating in the public space recognizing the “liberating” role of the Romanian henchman of the Nazis – dictator Ion Antonescu, whom the current president of Moldova, Maia Sandu (who, like almost the entire leadership of the country, has Romanian citizenship) considers a “historical personality.” The facts of the glorification of Nazism and its accomplices look especially contrasting against the backdrop of the pan-European “cancel culture” of Russia.

In 2022, the restrictions were introduced on conducting the events on the occasion of the Victory Day – the 9 May – and other memory dates of the Great Patriotic War in Moldova. Traditionally, the holiday of May 9 is widely celebrated in the country. Earlier among the organizers were even the administration of the President of Moldova, the “Party of Socialists” and Russian compatriots. In particular, in advance of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory in 2020, an action plan was adopted at the government level and a working group was created with the participation of the Prime Minister, leadership of a number of ministries, as well as public figures, including the the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots (CRC) Alexey Petrovich. Orders and medals, a military uniform of the times of the USSR, red flag, Georgian ribbon (one of the significant and dear symbols of the Great Victory of the Soviet people in the war against the Nazi invaders for the Russian-speaking population) were freely used during the festivities and popular among the population.

However, after the start of a special military operation by the Russian Federation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, an active attack on the symbols of Victory and Soviet monuments to soldiers-liberators began in Moldova; efforts are being made to rewrite the history of that period. In line with this approach, on 14 April 2022, the Moldovan Parliament approved amendments to the Contraventions Code, which introduce fines or forced labour for the use of attributes and symbols of “military aggression”, including the “black and orange two-colour ribbon” – the Georgian ribbon, as well as “Z” and “V” symbols. On 19 April President Sandu approved the amendments. The new provisions of the law entered into force from the date of their publication, namely shortly before the celebrations of the 9th of May.

These legislative innovations caused dissatisfaction of part of the Moldovan society. Thus, Gagauzia opposed the ban on wearing the Georgian ribbon. On 29 April 2022, the deputies of the People’s Assembly of the autonomous entity adopted the regional law on the Use of the Symbols of Victory in the Territory of Gagauzia. Adopted by the head of the autonomy on 3 May, the law provided that on the territory of Gagauzia it was allowed to manufacture, store and use the Georgian ribbon, red flags of Victory and other symbols associated with the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. In addition, the law also established the holding of a number of events on the territory of Gagauzia in order to perpetuate the memory of the participants in the war and for the purposes of the patriotic education of the younger generation.

Among other things, representatives of a number of political elites spoke out against the ban on the orange-black ribbon, including the former President of Moldova Igor Dodon, socialist deputies and a number of representatives of expert circles. They took part in the celebrations dedicated to the Victory Day and defiantly put on the Georgian ribbon, for which they were fined.

Despite the persecution by the authorities, in 2022, about 37 thousand people took part in the events organized on the occasion of 9 May throughout Moldova.[753]

In 2023, the situation began to take on increasingly threatening forms. So, in April 2023, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova adopted a decision giving grounds for the open use of the Georgian ribbon as a symbol of memory of fallen soldiers during the Great Patriotic War. At the same time, the Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, Igor Grosu, followed by representatives of the law enforcement agencies, made explanations about the nothingness of this decision in a specific case. It, according to them, does not repeal the current law and all citizens who put on the ribbon will be held accountable. In 2023, the police wrote out protocols on administrative offences at the memorial “Eternity” during the festive event. More than 50,000 people took part in the celebration despite threats from the authorities. This state of affairs revealed a real split in society and prompted the regime to take active countermeasures. In particular, on 24 May 2023, legislative initiatives were submitted to the Parliament to rename the Victory Day on 9 May by the pan-European Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in the memory of the fallen in World War II, which is planned to be celebrated on 8 May.

Over the past years, in Moldova, on the territory of which there are more than two thousand monuments to soldiers-liberators, there have been a number of problems with the safety of these monuments. Thus, due to financial reasons, local and central authorities do not maintain all monuments in proper condition; in particular, they do not carry out regular repairs. At the same time, initiatives are being discussed to transfer a number of monuments, including the “Eternity” and “Sherpeni Bridgehead”, to the jurisdiction of local governments. If implemented, this measure will allow facilitating the procedure of decision making in case of the transfer, destruction or elimination thereof.

However, there is another situation when local authorities take decisive measures to give the memorials the proper look, as was the case with the restoration of the monument to the Red Army soldiers in the village of Tomai in 2021. In addition, before the celebration of the 78th anniversary of the Great Victory, with the financial support of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova, the military monuments-burials with the ashes of Soviet soldiers were opened in the villages of Năpădeni and Condrătești, Ungheni District, as well as in the village of Miciurin, Drochia District.

Nevertheless, there are alarming facts of desecration of Soviet memorials in the country. The acts of vandalism throughout the Republic in relation to such monuments have become more frequent, especially after the start of the special military operation by the Russian Federation in February 2022. Despite the relevant provisions in the legislation on punishment for vandalism, no one has ever been held accountable for such crimes in Moldova. Law enforcement measures as regards the previously opened cases on the known facts of causing harm to the monuments of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War did not yield any results.

Along with the attacks on the monuments to the Soviet liberator soldiers, with the assistance of the official authorities, leadership of the Party of Action and Solidarity and support from outside, the memorial objects are being built in Moldova aimed at whitewashing the Romanian accomplices of Nazism. At the expense of external sponsors, the monuments to the Romanian military are being constructed, and the cemeteries of Romanian soldiers who fought on the side of Nazi Germany undergo modernization. Besides, there are also the cases of changing the idea of memorials. Thus, for example, in October 2021, in Chisinau, the Spring of the General Pavel Ion Georgescu monument – erected on the site of the monument of 1937 to commemorate the brotherhood of the Russian and Romanian Armies during the First World War – was re-constructed. The authors of the new monument present it as a tribute to the memory of those who was allegedly “harassed and killed by the Soviet NKVD in 1940 in the basement of the building of the former Italian Consular Office after the annexation of Bessarabia from June 1940 till July 1941.”

In 2022-2023, the practice of opening monuments to the accomplices of the Nazi continued with the involvement of the soldiers of the Guard of Honour. At the same time, the Ministry of Defence of Moldova refuses to render military honours during the ceremony of reburial of the remains of the Soviet soldiers found during search operations. It has also become systematic to reconstruct and erect memorials in memory of the “heroes of the Romanian army” that occupied in 1941 the territory of the modern Moldova. Among the latest acts is the opening of such memorable places in March 2023 in the village of Lăpușna, Hîncești District, and in April 2023 – in the village of Tsyganka, Kantemirov District.

The ideology of racial or ethnic superiority is not yet widespread in Moldova. However, pro-Romanian radicals in the Moldovan information space manifest themselves more clearly than supporters of Moldovan statehood and strengthening relations with Russia. The unionists freely propagate their ideals, demanding the unification of Moldova with Romania and accusing Russia of occupying the country. At the same time, in the context of the anti-Russian line pursued by the authorities, Russian-speaking residents, primarily from among Russian compatriots, in many cases feel constrained, afraid of “once again aggravating the situation.”

In addition to the infringement of rights of the Russian-speaking population and efforts of the authorities to re-write the history, there remains unresolved the issue of combatting corruption in the judicial system and improving conditions of imprisonment. Relevant facts are documented in the reports of the Information and analysis human rights centre of the Coordinating Council of the Russian Compatriots of the Republic of Moldova, as well as reviews by international human rights organizations, including the 2019 Report of Amnesty International. After the advent of Maia Sandu, such references became impractical to the Western supervisor. As a result, the country started to gallop up the various ratings of the “democracy” of the States.

At the same time, the situation in Moldova’s judiciary and law enforcement bodies is still of serious concern. The rise of these issues was attributed before to the “legacy of Plahotinuc’s appointees in the justice system”, which allegedly remains a hotbed of corruption. As a counter-measure, a complex reform aimed to amend the framework law of the country has been initiated in Moldova. However, despite the regular positive reports of the Moldovan leadership in the European chancelleries on the ongoing reforms in the field of justice, progress was hardly noticeable due to the clanship and corporatism inherent in the judicial and prosecutorial systems.

The problems of the “Moldovan justice” are prominently manifested through the European Court of Human Rights (EctHR). Moldova is consistent in ranking first in terms of the number of complaints received by the instance among the member states of the Council of Europe. A total of over 1,100 applications from Moldovan citizens are pending consideration.

At the same time, the Moldovan government promotes legislative initiatives aimed to bring to justice those judges whose decisions led to appellations to ECtHR resulting in Moldova’s loss.

Legal circles in Moldova, for their part, note violation in the area of law enforcement. They draw attention to the fact that the principle of legal certainty is routinely disregarded – local judges habitually interpret norms at their own discretion regardless of existing best practices. Cases of reconviction have been noted, when a person undergoes several punishments for one criminal act. Excessive powers of the prosecutor and, conversely, restricted powers of defence lawyers remain a serious concern, as the adversarial principle is undermined. It has been pointed out that such discrimination results in the majority of cases in Moldova ending in conviction. Financial imbalance is another sensitive issue, as judges’ salaries are significantly lower than those of lawyers and supervisors are and the risk of corruption persists.

Active “politicization” of the judicial system in Moldova is also observed. An example is the fabricated criminal cases against opposition leaders – former President Igor Dodon, vice-chairman of the Shor Party Marina Taruber, former Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoyanoglo (originally Gagauz).

The imbalance within the judiciary is closely interrelated with the practice of using penitentiary institutions to pressure persons under investigation, mainly by way of incarceration, often on little or no grounds. Records have been made of cases when detainees are kept on scanty rations of food and water, unreasonably placed in solitary confinement, set up by jailhouse informants in order to obtain confessionary evidence. Moldovan human rights defenders draw attention to inhumane detention conditions in prisons, however, it is noted that the situation has somewhat improved over the past year. Above all, this relates to investigating cases of treatment amounting to torture and convictions of the guilty.

Human rights defenders also note the systemic nature of violations of social rights of Moldovan citizens, above all, the right to work and equal pay. People of retirement age, who have lost the right to work on long-term contract after reaching the age limit, are compelled to negotiate fixed-term employment contracts. The link between employers and higher education institutions is virtually lost, resulting in a situation where young professionals end up in low-skilled, low paid jobs. In 2017, the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights pointed out a persistent pay gap between women and men that leads to broader imbalances in calculation of social insurance, including pensions. The Committee raised concern that pensions and minimal wages in Moldova were below the living wage, while the minimum wage in the state sector had not been reviewed since 2014.[754] In 2020, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also drew attention to the above mentioned issues, including the remaining vertical and horizontal occupational segregation, the gender gap in job compensation and pension benefits. Prevalence of discriminatory dismissal of older people was noted with concern, as well as the limited access to social protection for women belonging to disadvantaged groups, such as Roma women and rural women, was noted with concern).[755]

Russian journalists and activists are also being harassed by the Moldovan security services, and this trend continued until 2022. For example, in October 2020, Head of the TASS Office in the country Valery Demidetsky received threats of prosecution on behalf of the SDP party on charges of “interference in the electoral campaign on the side of pro-Russian forces.” In July 2022, journalist of the Russia 24 TV channel Olga Armyakova aroused increased interest among some Moldovan politicians due to the fact that she interviewed former President of Moldova Dodon. At the suggestion of members of the SDP party, the intelligence service of Moldova initiated a check against the journalist, as a result of which it was decided that the “propagandist” from Russia had violated the provisions of the government decree on accreditation of foreign journalists.

Of special concern are the actions of the Moldovan authorities as regards the Russian citizens arriving to the Chisinau airport. On a regular basis, a particularly close check of passengers with Russian passports is recorded. There are cases of refusal to enter Moldova by the border control service, including Russian officials.

It should be noted that the Moldovan authorities took rigid measures to prevent any dissidence in the country. Thus, the state of emergency introduced on 24 February 2022 (initially for a period of 60 days and subsequently repeatedly extended) provided for a number of restrictions, including a ban on mass socio-political events of any kind. This, however, does not prevent the organization, starting from the end of February, of the protests near the Russian Embassy in Chisinau, which impede the normal functioning of the Russian diplomatic mission, and the holding of the “European Moldova” action of many thousands on the National Assembly Square on 21 May 2023, as well as the summit of the European political community 1 June 2023 with over 40 heads of state and government.

In other words, one gets the impression that the Moldovan authorities, – trying their best to move the country along the path of the European integration, are doing it in a very original way (leaving aside Ukraine) – not by raising the standard of living of the population and democratizing the country but by rolling back even from the available achievements in this field.

 

Netherlands 

The Netherlands could qualify for the top positions among the countries ranked high in the area of human rights protection, especially as far as most of the violations registered in the country are not regular or large-scale.

However, among the areas of concern from the viewpoint of human rights protection in the Kingdom of the Netherlands in focus is the situation with illegal migrants and asylum seekers, discrimination against various minorities and use of the citizens’ personal data by the governmental agencies. Such issues as human trafficking, poor imprisonment conditions, etc. persist in the Caribbean part[756] of the Kingdom.

These issues were pointed at, in particular, in the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council[757], in the Report[758] of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe after visiting the Netherlands as well as in the documents of various convention bodies, including the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings, national human rights agencies (National Ombudsman, Ombudsman for Children, Institute for Human Rights), non-governmental human rights organizations and mass media.

The human rights communities continue to be concerned over the inhuman character of the Dutch policy as regards asylum seekers and illegal migrants, such as excessive imprisonments thereof, including minors, inefficient protection of the rights of foreigners in prisons, absence of necessary medical care, insufficient flexibility of the system of issuance of residence permits as well as low-efficient system of protection of the rights of those subject to deportation who were refused asylum (especially from Afghanistan).[759]

The Committee against Torture in its concluding observations on the seventh periodic report on the Netherlands pointed at the problematic aspects of treatment of illegal migrants and asylum seekers such as unfair consideration of applications for asylum, as well as long terms and conditions of detention in specialized centres.[760] The discrimination of migrants was also in focus of the HRC Special Repporteurs on freedom of religion or belief [761] on contemporary forms of racism.[762]

The attempts to improve the quality of migrant detention in those centres were made at the legislative level. However, the Amnesty International human right NGO indicates that the regime in those institutions is still similar to that in prisons. The reception centres are overcrowded; there is a shortage of personnel in the competent agencies to consider the migrants’ applications, etc.[763] The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights has indicated that the timelines for the consideration of applications for asylum is limited to eight days for all, although, it is preceded by approximately a 10-month waiting period. Due to the increased number of asylum seekers the latters are accommodated in the reception centres as well as in the temporary shelters that do not fit the purpose. The coronavirus pandemics even aggravated this situation.

The same circle of problems was also the matter of concern of the UN Human Rights Committee that highlighted specially the long waiting periods as regards the decisions on a significant number of applications for asylum and family reunification.[764]

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) also noted a number of issues related to migrant treatment. In particular, the attention was drawn to the fact that the burden of charges for the integration of migrants was shifted to the migrants themselves with the simultaneous sanctions imposed for the non-implementation of those measures (for example, for failing the exams). Besides, individual integration measures aimed at certain most vulnerable groups were lifted. The result of such policy, according to the ECRI, is the discrimination and exploitation of migrants as well as the fact that the children of migrants and of the immigrants from the Antilles make the core of the students of the specialized educational institutions. The Commission also pointed at the fact that most migrants do not know where to go in case their rights are being violated to to obtain advice. They are repeatedly checked by the Dutch police. The unemployment level among migrants is higher.[765]

The Dutch media[766] – with reference to the competent authorities – published the information about the Netherlands being the “gateway” for those wishing for the Great Britain through the continental Europe. The experts named the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU as a reason for such activities being intensified.

The situation with the refugees and migrants has been aggravated amids the Ukrainian crisis.

In summer 2022, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Red Cross and various NGOs were critical in relation to the Netherlands refugee reception centres, while highlighting bad conditions of housing and absence of sufficient amount of food.

Due to the overcharged system, the authorities forced the municipalities to provide assistance in accepting and accommodating the refugees from Ukraine. The parliamentarians had to interfere with the situation to bring into question the presence of legal grounds for such “enforcements”.

As it goes from the report of the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Belarus for 2022, among the most resonating cases of human rights violations in certain countries of the world in March 2022 the problems came to light with the absence in the Netherlands in general of the sufficient number of places to accommodate the refugees from different countries of the world as well as with the discrimination of the refugees from other countries as compared to the Ukrainians. At Ter Apel’s asylum centre as well as in a number of temporary housing centres in various parts of the country there are 37 thousand refugees, including 15 thousand being from Ukraine. At present, this centre is already overcrowded and misses beds. The asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries spend their first nights in chairs or on the floor.

In this context, the report quotes Jaap Velema, Mayor of Westerwolde, where Ter Apel is based. In particular, he said that “[l]ocal authorities in the Netherlands are using double standards when it comes to providing accommodation for refugees. It is great that my colleagues in other council areas are queuing up to provide housing for tens of thousands of refugees from Ukraine. But it is shameful that no other local authority at all has offered to provide care for refugees from other countries.”

According to this report, Koen Schuiling, Mayor of Groningen, made a statement in the same spirit by saying, in particular, “[i]t is understandable that people are keen to house Ukrainians but people from other war zones, such as Syria and Afghanistan, have the same rights. However, the situation in Ter Apel, is insupportable and inhumane.”

Human rights communities continue to express concerns over the attitude towards minor illegal migrants in the country; widespread criticism is heard that the system of “amnesty” provision to them, i.e. the issuance of residence permits in case of necessitated long illegal stays in the country, is not flexible enough.

The Ombudsman for Children repeatedly emphasized that the approaches of migration authorities to considering the applications of children on reunification with parents who left for the Netherlands restrict the rights and interests of the children, provided for in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. There are questions as well as regards the procedures for considering the applications in asylum provision made by children who arrived to the Netherlands unaccompanied (it takes many years).”[767]

The cases of discrimination against ethnic, national and religions minorities, including legitimate and naturalized migrants,[768] continue to be registered in the Netherlands. Various statistical data indicate the significant number of complaints of discriminatory treatment, particularly on the basis of race. At the same time, most experts admit that it is impossible to assess the real level of discrimination due to the complicated and disguised character of this phenomenon.

The national law misses the recognition of racial discrimination as an aggravating criminal factor. The corresponding law was submitted to the parliament in January 2021 but has not been adopted so far.

These problematic aspects of the Netherlands’ anti-discrimination policy were highlighted by the UN Human Rights Council, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as well as by European human rights monitoring mechanisms.

Thus, in November 2021, the CERD highlighted the continuous tense situation with the minorities in the Netherlands[769], and pointed, in particular, at the discrimination against Jewish and Muslim communities. It also expressed concerns over the racist tone heards everywhere in the mass media and over the spread of racist-style statements and threats in the Internet.[770]

As a separate issue, the Committee mentioned Black Pete, the Dutch Christmas character, by describing it as “reflecting negative stereotypes experienced by the people of African descent as a slavery artefact.”

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance also pointed at the increased xenophobic and racist rhetoric in public and political discussions in the Netherlands. In its fifth report on the Netherlands, the ECRI mentioned a number of unsolved problems in the governmental policy related to combatting intolerance in the society in general (tough requirements to the integration of foreigners, discriminatory and xenophobic statements made by some politicians and journalists as regards the Islam, Muslims, migrants, LGBTI representatives, etc.).[771] At the same time, it was mentioned that this ideology is used not only by the right-wing parties but also by some moderate politicians and officials who do not hide their racist beliefs. This ideology was also realized in practice (for example, the opening of websites for reporting complaints over workers from Romania, Poland and Bulgaria and regarding asylum seekers[772]).

A truly xenophobic statement by former minister of foreign affairs of the Netherlands Stef Blok that provoked a widespread reaction, that “[t]here are no peaceful multicultural societies and it is genetically determined that man can not connect with “unknown people””, is a good example of such practice.[773]

After pointing to the deficiencies of the Dutch legislation in the area of combatting racist and xenophobic statements, in 2021, the CERD initiated a procedure to consider violations committed by the Netherlands (along with Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland and Sweden) from the viewpoint of incorrect inclusion of the provisions of the Framework decision of the Council on combatting Racism and Xenophobia[774] into its national legislation. In particular, it was noted that the said States incorrectly interpret the criminal liability for certain forms of the language of hatred which incites to violence or hostility as far as a public silence, denial or blunt underestimation of international crimes and of the Holocaust do not fall under the definition of national laws.[775]

The CERD called on the Netherlands, among other things, to make the norms of the civil, administrative and criminal laws tougher and to ensure full independence of the competent authorities in this area.

In 2021, it was confirmed that the recommendations were not implemented by the Kingdom.[776]

The Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also sensitized the problems of the policy of the Netherlands in the area of combatting discrimination.

The results of various studies testify that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands adheres approximately to the same level in general.

According to the data provided in the annual report of the Centre on Information and Documentation on Israel (Centrum Informatie en Documentatie Israel, CIDI) in 2021, there were 183 anti-Semitic incidents[777] recorded in the Netherlands (to compare, in 2020 – 135 and in 2019 – 182). Increases and decreases depending on the year rely usually, according to the authors, on the military operations of Israel. Besides, there are numerous cases of anti-Semitism in the Internet. The Dutch police and Prosecutor’s Office inform that over 30 per cent of applications related to discrimination, registered and considered in 2021, were claims of antisemitism.[778]

According to the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, E.Tendayi Achiume, published in July 2020, in the Netherlands, despite the “good laws”, there are many difficulties with their practical application. There is a danger of racist ideas being propagated in the Dutch society due to the nationalist populist rhetorics being on the growth recently in the country; there are obvious problems related to combating terrorism (because of the procedure of deprivation of citizenship). The government is encouraged to “[r]emediate socioeconomic gaps between racial and ethnic minorities and ethnic Netherlanders” as well as improve educational system.[779]

In her statement at the end of the visit to the country in early October 2019, E.Tendayi Achiume emphasized the highly polarized political sphere of life of the Netherlands’ society. The expert also noted that the in the public mind, there is a popular stereotype of perceiving a real citizen of the Netherlands as a person of European origin, while people from the African or Asian region, even if they have Dutch citizenship and do not live in the country in the first generation, are still perceived as an alien element.[780] According to the Special Rapporteur, this is expressed in the fact that race, ethnicity, national origin, religion and other factors determine who is treated fully as a citizen.

The racial profiling practices by law enforcement officers continue to be registered in the country. Representatives of ethnic minorities are mostly subjected to document examination and detentions. According to experts poor control over activities carried out by law-enforcement authorities facilitates such abuses. Along with that, the police used the practice of preventive detentions considerably more often in respect of the representatives of the ethnic communities, in 40 per cent of cases their actions did not have objective and reasonable grounds.

The Human Rights Committee[781] and the UN HRC Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism pointed out racial profiling in respect of ethnic minorities by the Dutch police.

In October 2019, twenty Netherlands’ civil society organizations representing the interests of ethnic minorities submitted complaints against the police. In particular, they indicated ethnic profiling and unwillingness of law-enforcement leadership to act on complaints on the identified violations.

Following the visit to the Netherlands from 27 March to 5 April 2019, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed also pointed at the ideas of a “superior” Dutch national identity and stigmatization of certain communities that continue to spread in the public discourse. He noted that the “Dutch values” are increasingly being referenced in public policy debates and are used to implicitly define behavioural norms. In this context, Islam and the “Dutch” or the “Western European way of life” are commonly characterized as being incompatible. Calls from political parties, for example, for Muslims to recognize and assimilate into the dominant Dutch or European culture are not uncommon. He believes that this may lead to further polarization of confessional communities. The Special Rapporteur was also concerned about the attempts to regulate religious practices of these communities by law. The draft legislation which attempts to limit funding from “unfree countries” used to “buy undesirable influence” and “abuse Dutch liberties”[782] was also mentioned among other things.

The issue of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism manifestations in the Metherlands has been resolved so far, including due to the insufficient legislative ban on such illegitimate actions.

Taking into account the importance of this subject, the Kongdom has taken recently some additional measures. In such a way, starting from 1 April 2021, the national coordinator on anti-Semitism started working and the position of the national coordinator on the discrimination and racism was created. In 2019-2021, special funds were allocated to the projects in the area of combatting anti-Semitism: to set up relevant institutions (capacity-building), raise awareness, etc.[783]

At the legislative level, this issue is regulated, first, by the general provisions of the Dutch Criminal Code (CC). Article 137 of the CC criminalizes any public offence – written, oral or image-like – of the group of persons based on race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or psycological deficiencies, and its Article 137(d) provides for the responsibility for “incitement to the hatred or discrimination” on a broad range of grounds.

In the context of recent revelations of the new facts of collaboration between the Dutch authorities and the Nazi during the Second World War (including assistance of some municipal authorities to identify undesirable persons and transportation of the Jews, the Roma and representatives of other “inferior races” to the Nazi concentration camps via the Dutch railway company “Nederlandse Spoorwegen”) the skepticism of the representatives of the Jewish community as regards the readiness of the Dutch authorities to fight against anti-Semitism as well as to take actions to pay compensation to the victims of the Holocaust and their families, identified by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, attracts attention. The Special Rapporteur also noted that many of the respondents underscored the inability of the Dutch police to identify anti-Semitic insults and, sometimes, to accurately define anti-Semitic incidents.

Recently, there has been noted an increasing number of Holocaust denials on the Internet. There were also cases of anti-Semitic slogans used by fans during sporting events.[784]

Anti-Muslim sentiments are quite widespread in the Netherlands. This was in focus as well of UN HRC Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, E.Tendayi Achiume who highlighted the increased Islamophobia in the Netherlands and pointed with concern at quite tolerant attitude of the society, including human rights defenders, towards Islamophobic sentiments.[785]

After the beginning of the special military operation of Russia in Ukraine, on the tip of local mass media and strict anti-Russian speeches of the government, in rusophobic and discriminatory towards Russian citizens sentiments started to manifest in the Netherlands (anti-Russian statements and publocations, threats of physical harm, including towards children); cases of physical aggression took place. Employees of the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands regularly receive letters containing threats aimed at their family members.

The Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots in the Netherlands records numerous cases of anti-Russian statements and publications on its website. Social networks distribute information that contain the “lists of addresses where Russians live in the Netherlands” and is usually complemented by threats. The representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora are noticed to participate in such activities.

Besides, the law enforcement authorities, Dutch government and mass media prefer to conceal the manifestations of the Nazi ideology in Ukraine. Thus, for example, in the Nieuwsuur program of the TV channel of the NOS Dutch broadcaster on 23 March 2022, a journalistic story was shown about the Azov battalion, in which the authors of the report, although they admitted that this structure propagated openly the Nazi ideology and used Nazi symbols, justified the radicals by saying that Ukraine supposedly had no other choice.

There has been no solution to the main problems that face representatives of the Roma community: poverty, unemployment, social isolation. The rate of the Roma who have education is low in the Netherlands. Roma children have poor knowledge of the Dutch language, they almost never attend pre-school institutions, and in secondary schools, they constitute, along with migrants, the main part of the students attending specialized schools. Moreover, in primary and secondary education absenteeism and drop-outs are quite often among representatives of these groups.[786]

The activities by the Dutch State authorities to collect and process personal information on its citizens despite the existing special mechanisms monitoring the compliance of the right to privacy, established in conformity with the EU standards the Dutch Data Protection Authority and the Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services, raise a lot of issues with regard to the protection of the right to privacy. The latter, in particular, confirmed the fact that the Dutch intelligence and security services transferred large amounts of private information to their foreign partners.

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency comments that due to the amendments the Intelligence and Security Services Act 2002 expanded intelligence capabilities in terms of surveillance. Due to the adoption of a number of legislative acts, intelligence services expanded their capabilities to trace contacts of their citizens. The powers of intelligence and security services to carry out total surveillance and wiretapping, as well as intercept communications of persons, who were not specified, if they are “related to the relevant case” (a rather vague criterion), were legalized. This is seen as a direct threat to the right to privacy, freedom of expression and principle of non-discrimination. At the same time, there are no adequate safeguards against abuse, and the provisions on human rights safeguards in the context of the use, storage and destruction of private communications data are insufficient.

The Human Rights Committee expressed its concern with regard to the mentioned legislative norms.[787] Quite a number of corresponding criticisms are found in various documents of the NGOs.

According to the published government statistics there are about 22,000 – 26,000 cases of wiretapping fixed annually in the Netherlands, IP-wiretapping via Internet is also increasing. Human rights defenders express concern over these figures overcoming the corresponding data in other European countries and over the fact that wiretapping can be carried out in violation of the rights of citizens. In 2012, the European Court for Human Rights stated the violation by the Dutch intelligence of the journalists’ rights through wiretrapping.[788]

The fact of surveillance by the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) over journalists, collection of their contacts and other personal information, got the attention of the public. The NGO Reporteurs Sans Frontieres indicated that mass data collection by security services has repeatedly breach journalists’ confidentiality, the confidentiality of their sources of information is still under threat. Moreover, the Dutch populist politicians have repeatedly attempted to discredit a number of respected media outlets, including the NOS state broadcasting company, in order to depict them as sources of fake news.

At the end of 2020, the investigation conducted by the NRC Handelsblad revealed the illegal personal data mining by the Land Information Manoeuvre Centre (LIMC), Defense Ministry of the Netherlands. In focud of the Centre were the citizens that were sceptical about the governmental measures to curb the coronavirus infection as well as representatives of the Dutch “yellow javkets”. Later, in May 2021, former Defense Minister Anna Beyleveld excused for what her subordinates had been doing.

In addition, the intelligence services expressed a particular interest to De Andere Krant (one of the largest newspapers in the country) which is known for its criticism of investigation into MH17 crash which is far from being impartial.

In April 2021, another investigation conducted by the NRC Handelsblad revealed that the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCCS) had been illegally mining date about citizens for years. The ready‑made dossiers were shared with the Ministry of Justice and Security, national police, General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) as well as foreign intelligence services. The publication of the scandalous materials was followed by threats directed against the authors of the investigation on behalf of one of the former NCCS officials.

At the same time, there are examples where community activists have made successful efforts to recognize such practice illegal. For example, in early 2020, the court delivered a decision to prohibit the use of the SyRI (System Risk Indication) software used by the the Dutch government to control social security systems and detect potential welfare frauds. The lawsuit was filed by the Dutch Lawyers Committee on Human Rights (NJCM) NGO. The court found that this programme violates the right to privacy.[789]

As it goes from the report of the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Belarus for 2022 on the most resonant cases of human rights violations in certain countries of the world, there is a “national consultative office” opening in the Netherlands for the universities and scientists to turn to on the issues of “academic freedom and spying.” Officially, the office will provide “consultations on the issues of international cooperation” but “focus on the cooperation partners from non-free countries.” It is obviously said about the official introduction in the Netherlands of the censorship for all higher education institutions, their heads, scientific councils and professors in the area of international cooperation with the partners from the countries considered as “non-free” by the employees of this agency. In 2023-2024, the national list of research areas and high risk programmes for cooperation will be established within which it will be required to submit reports to the office and check partners.

The human rights agencies are concerned about the criteria for the use of force during law-enforcement activities. The human rights defenders consider these norms being not compliant with the international standards of necessity and proportionality and the requirements about when firearms may be used.[790]

The practice shows that the police use rather harsh measures against protesters. For example, at the end of January 2021, mass demonstrations against coronavirus-related restrictive measures started in the Netherlands. At first, these demonstrations were peaceful; their participants respected public order and received support from individual opposition politicians. Experts even recognized these demonstrations as the largest mass protests in the Netherlands in the last 40 years. However, following stricter measures, including introduction of a curfew, protests became more aggressive and led to clashes with the police. Batons, water cannons and tear gas were used against protesters. Law-enforcement bodies started mass detentions and then persecuted the instigators one by one. According to Reuters about 500 people were detained.[791]

Another wave of protests took place in the Netherlands in mid-March 2021, on the eve of the parliamentary elections, and also led to clashes. The police used batons and water cannons to disperse the crowd. About 20 protesters were arrested in The Hague. Several persons were beaten by police dogs after they refused to obey the demands of law-enforcement bodies. The Dutch police reported that during arrest, the police fired a warning shot after the protesters kicked the police dog and threatened its handler.[792]

Similar situation took place also in November 2021.[793]

As it follows from the report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus for 2022 on the most resonant cases of human rights violations in certain countries of the world, the brutal actions of law enforcement officers during the dispersal of peaceful protests became the reason for criticism of the Netherlands by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, who strongly condemned the police brutality. On 3 January 2022, in two social media posts, he shared a video of police violence during protests against the country’s COVID-19 measures. One of the incidents caught on video has been called “one of the most heinous examples of police brutality since George Floyd.”[794]

The problems with the legislation in the field of combating terrorism in the Netherlands have raised concern with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. A lot of criticism is heard also from the NGOs in this regard.

Thus, according to the NGO Amnesty International, there is an increasing use of administrative measures by the government in its policy to combat terrorism, which do not provide for good guarantees for judicial review or appeal. There have also been many concerns about the laws on temporary administrative (counter-terrorism) measures and the amendments to the Citizenship Law regarding the deprivation of Dutch nationality in the interests of national security. They provide for the possibility of applying measures of administrative control to any person who is recognized as a potential threat to national security, and depriving him of Dutch citizenship. In addition, there are concerns that these laws contravene due process standards and restrict personal freedoms on the basis of mere assumption, not established fact, of a crime.

In total, since the introduction of the relevant law, a little more than ten people have been deprived of their citizenship by force (such a decision is often challenged in court), however, according to the former Minister of Justice Ferdinand Grapperhaus, about a hundred people may fall under the law.[795] The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism also indicated that citizenship-stripping legislation of the Netherlands disproportionately affects Netherlanders of Moroccan and Turkish descent and thus aggravates stereotypes of terrorism by associating terrorism with people of certain ethnic and national origins.[796]

Besides, in the Netherlands, as well as in other European States, there are still tensions with regard to returning back home the foreign terrorist-fighters. The Dutch are leading efforts to establish a tribunal for foreign terrorist-fighters to bring justice in the Middle East region (primarily, in Iraq and the Syrian territory outside the control of official Damascus). By early 2020, The Hague tried to reach an agreement on the administration of justice against the ISIS members – the Syrian Kurds but the issue got stalled because of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2022, Minister of Justice Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius stated that such an initiative is absolutely unviable.[797]

It should be noted that in 2019, The Hague Court reversed the lower court’s decision to return 23 women and 56 children from Syria and ruled that the government did not have any commitments to these people. According to the verdict the final decision rests with the cabinet of ministers and represents an issue of political expediency, rather than that of the law. In June 2020, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands reaffirmed such a solution and put an end to the case. Therefore, at present, each such case is considered by the competent authorities separately (for example, by a court decision, as in February 2022).

In general, the return of children of ISIS fighters from Syria remains a particular problem for the Netherlands. About 200 children of Dutch origin are reported to remain in the SAR (mostly in camps). Former Minister of Justice Ferdinand Grapperhaus insisted on the impossibility of returning minors, while human rights organizations call for action.[798]

At the same time, the Dutch approach to this far from simple problem stands out from the rest of the States. The official Hague not only closes its eyes to cases of violation of the rights of its compatriots and refuses to help them, but also tries, if possible, to deprive them of Dutch citizenship.

In December 2020, there was a big scandal in the country. The tax office falsely labelled more than 20 thousand Dutch parents as frauds and cheats with childcare benefits after the Parliament of the Netherlands had presented investigation on this matter. It turned out that the wrongly accused parents had to return the state benefits for the period 2013-2019. In some cases they had to pay back tens of thousands Euro. At the same time, the parents were deprived of the opportunity to appeal this unjust decision. The Investigative Committee Chairman Chris van Dam said that these accusations affected more than 20,000 working families. Some parents found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, other families broke up. The Dutch government had to resign already in mid‑January 2021 because of the scandal.[799] Some parents filed lawsuits against members of the Dutch Parliament, including the finance and economic affairs ministers. The government announced a 30,000 Euro compensation to each family.[800] The scandal also triggered further criticism of the Dutch authorities about racial profiling, because the majority of those wrongly accused families belonged to migrants. The government was also blamed for trying to protect the officials involved in this case.

A wide range of problems in the Netherlands exist in the field of children’s rights.

The Dutch guardianship authorities give rise to serious criticism. The Ombudsman for the Rights of the Child regularly draws attention to a number of serious shortcomings: thus, the Dutch guardianship service often does not adequately and comprehensively assess the situation of the child, interprets the subjective testimonies of individual observers one-sidedly, mixes facts and unverified reports in their reports, which can subsequently lead to serious errors, up to making unreasonable decisions to take the child from the family.

There are problems in the field of establishing the status of children born to stateless persons. Thus, in December 2020, the Human Rights Committee found that the Netherlands violated the rights of a child by registering an “unknown nationality” in his civil status records, as this made it impossible for him, under Dutch law, to be registered as a stateless person and therefore to receive international protection as a stateless child.[801] In general, difficulties remain with the assignment of Dutch citizenship to the children of stateless persons.[802]

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child drew attention in early 2022 on persistent problems in the field of protection of children’s rights, including in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom.[803] The system of monitoring child euthanasia (legislation allows the euthanasia of children aged 12 to 18 years), protection of children from corporal punishment, etc., is also criticized.

The experts expressed concern about the increase in the number of cases of child abuse, especially child neglect and domestic violence, as well as sexual abuse of children in boarding schools and in the foster care system.[804]

Paedophilia and child pornography represent a serious problem in the country. Mistrust of the Dutch society to the government-led actions on combating this phenomenon led to increased activist movements against paedophilia: its participants track themselves suspicious activity on dating sites by creating fake teenager accounts. Those who tried to meet the minors in private were forced to surrender to law-enforcement authorities. Such meetings often lead to beatings, about 250 incidents are known.

Statistical data confirm that there are manifestations of paedophilia in the country. In 2019, the relevant NGO investigations registered 89 per cent of all known sites containing child pornography and child abuse in the European countries with 71 per cent of such sites identified in the Netherlands.[805]

Earlier, the National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence against Children Herman Bolhaar criticized the Dutch authorities for the piecemeal approach to combating these phenomena and indicated, inter alia, the absence of resolute measures to stop the dissemination of such materials in social networks.[806]

Neo-liberal “values” are forcibly instilled in children. The provisions of the new Civic Education Law oblige elementary and secondary schools to teach children “respect for diversity, including religion, beliefs, ethnicity, gender, disability and sexual orientation.”[807]

Statements against LGBT individuals, as well as any statements that can be interpreted as directed against LGBT community, receive immediate feedback from authorities. The situation that happened with the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education and the Media Arie Slob is illustrative in this regard. In early June 2020, during thematic debates in the Parliament, he defended the conservative Protestant school that suggested the pupils’ parents sign a document stating that “homosexual lifestyle is unacceptable”. In particular, he said that religious schools can make such requirements to the pupils’ families, because all participants of the education process share this view. The Dutch legislation guarantees equal protection of both conservative religious segments of population, and LGBT individuals. The politician was subjected to public harassment for voicing such an opinion. Moreover, upon the calls of the Dutch NGOs, the Public Prosecution Service launched an investigation with regard to his statement.[808]

The situation with human rights in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands remains alarming. There were corruption scandals on Sint Maarten and Curaçao where some former ministers and acting parliamentarians and other public figures were accused of corruption, illegal activity, including that related to human trafficking, and other abuses.

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor persist on Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about abortions that are prohibited by law on Sint Maarten; its Criminal Code criminalizes the provision of information or services related to abortions.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that neither Curaçao nor Sint Maarten has any law or other regulations on asylum matters. It also said that Aruba has not adopted a legislation to implement the 1967 Protocol to 1951 Refugee Convention.[809]

Besides, the NGOs note problematic aspects in the area of refugees’ reception and accommodation (for example, those from Venezuela).[810]

It is confirmed as well in the report of the Republic of Belarus for 2022 on the mosr resonant cases of human rights violations in different countries, according to which on Curaçao the human rights are violated with direct participation of the government of the Netherlands, and the refugees from Venezuela are not treated properly. Human rights activists have identified at least eight cases of illegal deportation of minor children without their parents. Torture was also recorded in the detention centre in Koraal Specht. After an uprising in a prison, the Venezuelans were called one by one to the bathroom and beaten out of the camera vision.

In March 2021, it became known that the Sint Maarten Parliament filed a complaint against the actions of the Netherlands with the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, accusing The Hague of neo-colonialism, racism and numerous human rights violations. The UN is also invited to consider the situation around the violation of the right of this entity to self-government. According to the leadership of Sint Maarten, the Netherlands is infringing on their autonomy against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and the devastating consequences of the hurricane: a condition for the €30 million financial assistance is the creation of a supervisory board that oversees how reforms are carried out in Sint Maarten. In addition, it is noted that more funds are allocated for education and health care in the European part of the Kingdom during the COVID-19 epidemic than for the same purposes in the Caribbean part. According to a statement from the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, such a move by Sint Maarten came as an unpleasant surprise.

On 19 December 2022, Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte apologized on behalf of the government to the former colonies, recognizing the impolite role of the colonial authorities in the “ugly, painful and shameful” system of slavery. Sint Maarten’s Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs did not accept the apologies. Curaçao protesters urged to discuss the content of “repentance” and the question of possible reparations. Speaker of the Parliament of Suriname Marinus Bee previously said that the Kingdom was guilty of “genocide of the indigenous population, as well as the exploitation of people of Asian descent” and was obliged to start negotiations on an apology and payment of reparations. In Curaçao, former Prime Minister Susanne Camelia-Römer and Minister of transportation Charles Cooper also pointed out that the Netherlands still retained a colonial mentality. Cooper emphasized that his people “did not ask, but demanded an apology”, and the struggle for freedom begun in 1795 “continues at the present time.”

A number of Indonesian parliamentarians and public figures also repeatedly called for monetary compensation from the former metropolis for the damage caused, including the return of cultural property removed from here.

On 17 February 2022, the Royal Institute for the Linguistics, Geography and Ethnology; the Netherlands Institute of Military History and the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies presented the results of the joint work “Independence, decolonization, violence, and war in Indonesia, 1945-1950.” The study was conducted since 2017 by order of the government. The report cites the facts of the regular use of torture by the Dutch military during the suppression of the guerrilla movement in Indonesia, the detention of prisoners in inhuman conditions, extrajudicial executions, burning houses and villages, mass arrests and neglect of civilian casualties. The kingdom did not burden itself with the rule of law, considerations of justice and ethics, and the Dutch judges turned a blind eye to cases of rape and murder in Indonesia.

 According to historians, the politicians in those years were influenced by the widespread patriotic sentiments among the Dutch population, fuelled by a sense of their own superiority, as well as absence of any criticism from the public and media.

 

New Zealand

During the reporting period, New Zealand made little progress on a number of structural issues, most notably racism and discrimination.

According to the 2018 census, indigenous people make up 16.5 percent of the country’s population. For this population, the Treaty of Waitangi[811] created a number of governmental preferences. However, the Waitangi Tribunal’s rulings are still not enforceable, and this legislation has never been elevated to the level of constitutional law. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted in August 2017 that the recommendations made by the Treaty of Waitangi Constitutional Advisory Council in 2013 have not been carried out. Additionally, the independent Maori initiative Matike Mai Aotearoa has put up suggestions for discussion on a number of constitutional models that the New Zealand authorities haven’t even looked at.[812] The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) placed a special focus in March 2018 on the need to give Maoris meaningful access to decision-making processes affecting their rights.[813]

According to surveys in 2021, about 93% of autochthonous respondents had experienced some form of intolerance and social injustice because of their race.[814]

For example, Maori people are much more likely than white New Zealanders to be the subject of police interest. However, it is important to note that the proportion of indigenous people in the judiciary and law enforcement systems is low: 10% and 11%, respectively.

As of June 2021, indigenous persons comprised 53 percent of the total prison population and 46.5 percent of inmates serving community sentences. According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 65% of female prisoners in July 2018 were Maori women[815]. In 2015, the Committee Against Torture (CAT) condemned the practice of disproportionate use of imprisonment against indigenous people.[816] Concerns about the disproportionate representation of Maori and Pacific peoples in the criminal justice system were also raised by the HR Committee[817] and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).[818]

Compared to the national average of 70%, the Maori participation rate in overall employment is 68%. Unemployment rates among Māori and Pacific Islanders, especially among women and teenagers, remain the highest: 7.7% versus 3.9% among New Zealanders of European descent (data as of June 2021), and life expectancy, by contrast, is significantly lower, averaging 7 years. This issue has been raised, in particular, by HR Committee,[819] CERD,[820]CESCR,[821] CEDAW,[822] and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).[823] Experts attribute this state of affairs to the fact that Maori people are more likely than others to have difficulty accessing basic health services.

Probably for the same reason, the greatest number of people with chronic illnesses and disabilities is recorded among them. While people with disabilities in general are twice as likely to be living in poverty as the general population, Maori people with disabilities are already three times more likely to be living in poverty, according to the CRPD’s concluding observations from the review of New Zealand’s combined 2nd and 3rd periodic reports, published in September 2022.[824]

According to statistics, members of this group account for a disproportionately high share of suicides and mental illnesses.[825] Meanwhile, the practice of isolating patients in psychiatric hospitals to punish and discipline them is common. Most frequently, this procedure is carried out on Maori people.[826]

The ongoing structural and systematic disadvantages that Maori and Pacific children in New Zealand experience that have a negative impact on their health, survival, development, and education have been brought up by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.[827] They are especially more likely than their peers to reside in households with earnings that are below the poverty line,[828] which puts them at a higher risk of entering the state foster care system: 100,000 children mostly Maori, have gone through it in the last 40 years.[829]

UN human rights treaty bodies have expressed concern about the problems faced by Maori in education. For example, CERD noted that there was a low level of native language proficiency among them, although in recent years the number of Maori language learners had begun to increase.[830] CESCR was also concerned about the limited number of Maori teachers or Maori-speakers, which further reduces access to Maori language education. The Committee was also critical of the continuing educational gaps between Maori and Pacific indigenous students, particularly at the secondary and tertiary levels, which resulted in lower achievement rates than children of European descent and greater stigmatization and disciplinary action in schools.[831]

The authorities have so far failed to find a comprehensive solution to the above problems. At the same time, some experts tend to see their source as “excessive” attention to this population, which results in a kind of “vicious circle,” in which the expansion of the many forms of assistance already available from the state (including material assistance) has the opposite effect, leading to increased dissatisfaction among people of European descent with “Maori favoritism” on the part of the government. In practice, the Treaty of Waitangi provision granting indigenous peoples’ rights is seen as a limitation on the rights of other New Zealanders (commercial affairs, appointments, including a Maori quota in Parliament, and so on).

Moreover, the problem is mutual: the Maori feel that their rights are infringed and demand more attention from the authorities, while the rest of the population points out that the manifestations of domestic racism come primarily from the indigenous residents, who consider others as “invaders.”

These issues have been acknowledged by the New Zealand authorities. The issues were mentioned by Justice Minister Andrew Little, among others, during the Universal Periodic Review process by the United Nations Human Rights Council that assessed New Zealand in January 2019.

The issue of racism in the country should also be considered in a broader context. New Zealand has one of the highest levels of ethnic diversity in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) region, with more than 200 ethnic groups speaking more than 160 languages. The annual increase in immigrants is about 50,000, most of whom come from China and India. At the same time, the country accepts 1,000 refugees annually on the basis of the current quota.[832]

The issue of racial discrimination came to the forefront after the March 2019 terrorist attack on the mosques in Christchurch. Shortly after the tragedy, New Zealand’s Film and Literature Classification Authority banned distribution and possession of the manifesto The Great Return, a text published by the perpetrator of the mass shooting of Muslims, Brenton Tarrant, on his social media pages. He justifies the killing of certain populations, defines the places where such attacks are allowed and the methods that can be used, and promotes hatred of multiculturalism and migrant policies. In addition, the assailant organized online broadcasts of the mass murder.

New Zealand’s current regulatory framework for countering hate speech is the Human Rights Act and the Harmful Digital Communications Act. These acts criminalize public statements and threats against a group of people based on color, racial, ethnic, or national origin when such statements or threats are aimed at inciting enmity or hostility, expressing contempt or ridicule toward a specified population. It is also punishable to refuse to remove posts from social media that are intended to harass or contain derogatory personal information about someone. The sanction for this act is a fine of up to NZ$7,000 or imprisonment for up to three months. In addition, the Human Rights Act contains a provision for civil liability for a virtually identical offense that does not include an element of intentional incitement of discord. In this case, in order to protect his rights, the aggrieved person has the right to file an appropriate complaint to the HR Committee.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry report on the terrorist attacks on the mosques in Christchurch was released in March 2019. One of its recommendations was to amend the Justice On The Fast Track Law and the Crimes Law by enshrining hate crimes in the law.

The Royal Commission believed that the current rule that punishes the use of hate speech lacked clarity; the words “dislike,” “contempt,” and “mockery” were too ambiguous and should be swapped out for the unequivocal word “hate.”

In addition, the report actively engaged with the Muslim community during the research, who spoke out about prejudice and discrimination in New Zealand as well as how they were frequently mistaken for terrorists and treated as such. They also reported fear of being subjected to a hate crime, being a victim of a terrorist attack, or being the target of hate speech. In this regard, representatives of the Royal Commission stressed the lack of social cohesion in the country and the need to develop it, in particular by stimulating public debate on the subject.[833]

Equally important in terms of combating hate speech was the recommendation that police review the way they record complaints of criminal behavior in order to systematically record cases with a hate motive, and that law enforcement officers be trained to identify “indicators of bias” in order to identify potential hate crimes.

UN human rights treaty bodies have criticized New Zealand’s lack of statistical data on prosecutions and convictions for racist hate speech and racist violence. The HRCttee[834] and the CERD,[835] in particular, have called attention to the lack of a coherent national strategy to address racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other kinds of intolerance, including racial and religious hatred.

CERD also noted with concern the many complaints of discrimination on the basis of race, including more than 400 complaints concerning discrimination in hiring and employment, human trafficking, and harassment filed with the Human Rights Committee in recent years.[836]

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has been criticized since the Immigration Act 2009 forbade complaints about immigration determinations from being made to the New Zealand Human Rights Committee.[837]

The HRCttee also mentioned the practice of racial profiling against not only Māori but also people of African descent, common among New Zealand law enforcement agencies.[838]

New Zealanders also perceive members of the Chinese diaspora as “eternal migrants,” despite their presence in the country for more than 150 years.[839] The already intolerant attitudes toward them in society have been exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese and other people of Asian descent were subjected to insults and accusations that they are allegedly responsible for the emergence and spread of infection. According to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, of the more than 250 complaints related to the coronavirus, 34% were on the topic of racial discrimination.

To combat discrimination, the New Zealand Government has Ministers for Ethnic Communities, Māori Development, Crown-Māori Relations, and, outside the government, Ministers for Pacific Peoples’ Affairs and for Social Policy for Māori Whānau Ora. There is a Human Rights Commission, and a State Commissioner for Interracial Relations has been appointed. Moreover, the government is in constant contact with the five major ethnic organizations, who are consulted on its social policies: “Multicultural New Zealand,” the China Association, the Central Indian Association, the Federation of Islamic Associations, and the African Community Forum.

Since the beginning of Russia’s special military operation to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, there have been an increasing number of open manifestations of Russophobia as a result of the global anti-Russian campaign unleashed by the Western media and projected in the local media. Russian citizens and Russian-speaking compatriots living in New Zealand periodically encounter Russophobic attitudes from New Zealanders and members of the local Ukrainian diaspora in various aspects of daily life. At the end of March, 2022, an unknown person made an attempt to set on fire the Russian Embassy in Wellington. A few days earlier, the Russian diplomatic mission had received calls of threat.

The issue of civil rights of the Russian-speaking population has recently been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Ethnic Communities, which was established in July 2021 and will take additional preventive measures in this regard.

According to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, the level of freedom of expression in New Zealand is deteriorating. In 2022, the country was placed 11th in the world rankings, three positions down from 2021.[840] The ambition of media companies to decrease expenses in order to increase revenues at the expense of quality journalism frequently undermines media independence and diversity. Human rights campaigners are particularly concerned about the editorial integrity of the prominent New Zealand news portal “Stuff” following the July 2018 takeover of its owner Fairfax Media by the Australian media conglomerate Nine Television Network. Since then, the portal’s budget, as well as the budgets of other Fairfax Media-owned media properties, has been drastically reduced. The situation could have been even worse if the Trade Commission had not blocked another planned merger between Stuff and New Zealand Media and Entertainment, which owns the country’s leading daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald. As a result of this high level of media concentration, only small online publications have been able to provide fully independent reports and viewpoints.

At the same time, the economic viability of many media outlets was severely threatened by the coronavirus crisis, which led to the loss of nearly 700 jobs in the media sector. In February 2021, the government said it would give $55 million to the media over three years to ensure the survival of “public interest journalism.”

In terms of legislation, journalists continue to demand changes to the Law on Official Information, which impedes the work of journalists by allowing government agencies to respond to information requests for an extremely long time and even allows them to demand payment for the information provided. Despite government promises, this reform was postponed again in January 2021.[841]

According to the New Zealand Human Rights Assessment Initiative, released in June 2022,[842] the country has not fully met its commitments in the areas of education, health, decent housing, food, and employment.[843] At the same time, a study commissioned by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission a year earlier concluded that these rights are not protected in legislation or in national plans and programs, and that the government is not utilizing all of its available resources to remedy the situation. In addition, this work confirms the persistence of serious structural, direct and indirect discrimination against certain social groups.[844]

In August 2021, Statistics New Zealand confirmed a persistent gender pay gap of 9.1% in favor of men.[845] One of the reasons, according to public organizations, is the lack of transparency of employers in determining the salaries of employees, which complicates monitoring by government agencies and NGOs.

Domestic violence affects 12% of New Zealanders, mostly women, each year, amounting to more than half a million people. However, experts believe that these figures may be higher due to the fact that such cases are not always reported to the police. Following the high-profile brutal murder of British tourist Grace Millane in Auckland in December 2018, 50 of New Zealand’s most influential women signed an open letter calling on the government to take strong action to protect women’s rights.[846] Concerns about high levels of violence against women were raised by the CAT in April 2015,[847] the HRCttee in March 2016,[848] and the CESCR in March 2018.[849] In July 2018, CEDAW expressed concern over the persistence of high levels of gender-based violence against women in New Zealand. According to the Committee, one out of every three women is physically or psychologically assaulted by a spouse at some point in her life.[850] The reason for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) concern was that people with disabilities are more likely to experience violence than the rest of the population. It is most common among women and girls with disabilities, including those who are of Maori or Pacific Islander descent.[851]

The problem of “child poverty” is of particular concern to human rights activists. According to recent estimates, the number of families with children living below the subsistence level is growing and is already about 200,000.[852] In this regard, the government plans a number of measures, including the adoption of the Child Poverty Reduction Act.

According to the CRPD’s concluding findings, the administration is experiencing trouble implementing a number of recommendations given by the Committee in 2014. These are primarily the need to expand opportunities for independent living for people with disabilities in residential areas, the prohibition of forced sterilization and forced abortions for women with disabilities, and the repeal of Article 8 of the 1955 Adoption Law, which allows children to be removed for adoption from disabled parents without their consent. Experts have also pointed out legislative flaws, such as the absence of a provision in the New Zealand Human Rights Act of 1993 that specifically defines denial of reasonable accommodation as a form of discrimination. The Committee has noted the large number of complaints received by the Human Rights Commission related to human rights violations on the grounds of disability. At the same time, the timelines for their consideration by both the Commission and the Court for Human Rights Violations remain long.[853]

According to the CRPD, the fact that persons with disabilities are not involved in the decision-making process, including policy decisions, has led to shortcomings in the implementation of the state’s measures to combat COVID‑19 in relation to this category of the population. These include, in particular, lack of timely and easy access to information about the disease and how to treat and prevent it.[854]

Persons with disabilities are overrepresented in the social care and protection system, jails, and juvenile detention facilities. At the same time, they cannot rely on independent legal representation on a pro bono basis. Experts are deeply worried about the use of solitary confinement, isolation, physical and chemical restraints, and other restrictive tactics in detention facilities against people with disabilities, particularly those with psychological and/or intellectual problems.[855]

The CRPD noted serious shortcomings in data and statistics on the situation of persons with disabilities in all areas of life, including health, education, employment and justice, and the lack of disaggregated data, including on the situation of Maori, Pacific indigenous peoples with disabilities, children with disabilities and women and girls with disabilities.[856]

There are also problems in ensuring the rights of asylum seekers. In 2021, New Zealand continued to use detention facilities to house this category of persons, ostensibly for security reasons or uncertain identity status. As a consequence, they were subject to general prison regulations, which tended to curtail their rights. In particular, many were held in prisons longer than legally permitted (28 days), some were subjected to violence, and some attempted suicide.

The human rights community has drawn attention to the problem of overly broad law enforcement powers in New Zealand. In particular, it is pointed out that the system of oversight and accountability in the intelligence service remains fragmented, and the supervisory role of the judiciary in this particular area is limited.

Under the current regulatory system, the Government Communications Security Bureau has very broad authority. New Zealand also has a rather limited judicial procedure for obtaining permission to intercept communications in the complete absence of a statutory requirement to obtain permission to intercept communications of non-New Zealand citizens.[857] In addition, the CAT noted that the mandate of the Independent Police Conduct Authority prevents it from fully investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators in violation.[858]

 

Norway

Norway proclaims the protection of human rights as one of the main priorities of state policy.

The protection of human rights in Norway is provided for in the 1814 Constitution, which in a separate chapter enshrines the rights of protection of the individual, participation in free and secret elections, fair judicial protection, protection against discrimination, protection of personal data, as well as provisions for equal rights and free exercise of religion. Additional guarantees of human rights protection in Norway are regulated by the 2017 Law on Equality and Anti-Discrimination, the 1999 Law on Strengthening Human Rights Positions in Norwegian legislation, and the 1967 Law on the Activities of Public Institution (defines mechanisms for handling complaints of Norwegian citizens about human rights violations in public institutions).

Norway has an extensive network of human rights institutions and a number of national ombudsmen for civil matters, children’s rights, the military, equality and non-discrimination, patients’ and social service users’ rights, and the rights of the elderly.[859]

Discrimination complaints filled out by citizens are processed by the Discrimination Commission. Since 2015, Stortinget (parliament) has affiliated Norwegian National Human Rights Institution (NIM) acting as an independent human rights organization.

While in recent years the Norwegian authorities have assessed the human rights situation in the country as relatively trouble-free, the fact that human rights violations take place in Norway is recognized by relevant national and international institutions.

The government, in cooperation with state-funded civil society institutions, regularly takes measures to improve the human rights situation in the country. Despite this, human rights activists are concerned about the actions of guardianship authorities to remove children; discrimination against migrants; an increase in hate speech; the impunity of law enforcement agencies and special services; the use of coercive methods in the psychiatric and social spheres; the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence, etc.

The NIM’s 2021 report on the human rights situation in Norway notes interference with human rights and freedoms as a result of restrictive measures imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic; human rights violations by guardianship authorities; excessive use of isolation and other coercive methods against arrestees and prisoners in Norwegian prisons; violation of rights of single refugees aged 15-18; “pressure” on indigenous rights, and so on.

To contain the spiral of the coronavirus pandemic caused by the spread of the Omicron strain, official authorities have imposed additional anti-covid restrictions, which have drawn the ire of human rights activists.

In March-April 2020, there was a temporary ban on overnight stays at villas located outside places of permanent residence. There was a fine of about $1,600 or 10 days in jail for violators. According to Ola Mestad, Director of Research at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, such basic rights as the right to freedom of movement, the right to respect for private life, and the right to freely enjoy one’s property have been restricted.

The most serious interference with human rights and freedoms, according to NIM’s 2021 report, was the restriction on the number of guests (during certain periods of the Oslo pandemic, you could not invite more than two people to your home) and the requirement of isolation for those entering the country in a “quarantine” hotel.

NIM was seriously concerned that some decisions by central and local authorities were taken without proper assessment of their consequences. For example, the consequences of school closures in terms of protecting the rights of children exposed to violence and regional restrictions on visits to social care institutions have not been fully assessed.

In April 2020, a unique phone app was released to track cases of coronavirus infection; however, download was optional. Experts do not rule out the possibility of leaks of personal data submitted by users. Furthermore, there were issues with its implementation in a number of professions involving the obligation of nondisclosure of information (lawyers) or the protection of “sources” (journalists).

According to the April 2020 report of the government expert group on the situation of “at-risk” children during the pandemic, overly restrictive measures for social services, police departments, and hospitals (particularly at the local level), as well as medical personnel redistribution, have left many children and adolescents without assistance.[860]

On March 26, 2020, Najmudin Vahid Faraj Ahmed, better known as Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi citizen, was extradited from Norway to Italy. This caused a significant impact.[861] His lawyer, B. Mehling, noted the “inhumanity” of the authorities who sent his client, who is in a “risk group” due to his age (63), diabetes and high blood pressure, to Italy at the height of the epidemic there.

Concerns have also been expressed regarding probable abuse by official authorities in conjunction with the passing of the so-called Coronavirus Act, which grants the government the authority to pass regulations without parliamentary approval.

There are still serious complaints about the Norwegian Child Protection Service (Barnevernet), including an excessive number of child removals, discriminatory treatment of children of non-Norwegian descent (out of a population of 5.4 million, more than 15,000 children cared for by Barnevernet are of foreign descent), poorly trained staff, and high levels of violence against foster children.

In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) completed seven cases involving the practice of Norway’s child welfare agency Barnevernet removing children from troubled families and placing them with adoptive parents. Within these cases, Norway was found guilty six times and acquitted once. Barnevernet was involved in all of the instances that included violations of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which ensures respect for private and family life.

A large-scale review of Barnevernet’s work (conducted in 2021-2022 by Norwegian Board of Health Supervision (Helsetilsyn) and the governors) found irregularities in 80 of the 90 inspected care facilities in Norwegian municipalities. According to the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) on April 1, 2022, among the shortcomings identified were: low staff qualification; unprofessional assessment of the situation in the families; refusal to consider the child’s opinion; and failure to provide complete information to parents and children.

According to an investigation conducted by journalists of Aftenposten daily newspaper, children under Barnevernet Child Care who have serious mental illnesses do not receive the necessary medical care and required treatment from the state. According to the publication, between 2021 and 2022, 261 children in the Barnevernet system cumulatively moved more than 2,000 times (that is, just under 8 moves per child) from one care setting to another, changing region of residence, school, and environment. At the same time, many of the children have serious mental illness and disorders (autism, personality disorder, depressed state of mind, etc.). During an exacerbation, they receive only emergency care in psychiatric wards and are returned to institutions of care, which often simply transfer the “difficult” teenagers to another boarding school.

The NIM’s report on the human rights situation in Norway recommends that the authorities treat the removal of a child from the family as a temporary measure, while the primary goal of the child welfare authorities should be to facilitate family reunification in the future. Judicial bodies that make decisions about the fate of children must assess them from a human rights perspective. Among other things, it notes the need to improve the competence of employees of the guardianship authorities.[862]

According to information posted on the NRK Nordland Public Broadcasting website on September 8, 2022, 74.4 percent of children’s cases were handled late in 2021 due to staffing problems and high turnover at the Barnevernet Child Care Services in Nordland. Currently, there are about 40 such cases on the waiting list. However, there is no reaction from the authorities of the country.

In order to strengthen children’s rights, the 2018-2024 Strategy to improve competence of child welfare services staff is currently in place.

According to a Deloitte assessment commissioned by the Directorate of Education in November 2019, Norwegian schools sometimes utilize forceful measures against students without justification, not just in circumstances where their life or health is in danger. For example, “naughty” kids are kicked out of class, cell phones are taken away, etc.

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as well as statements aimed at inciting hatred or hostility, including those posted on the Internet, are not uncommon. According to the report “Attitudes towards Jews and Muslims in Norway in 2022” by the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies, 14 percent of the population think that Jews are a threat to Norwegian culture and society; 71 percent of Jews surveyed had to conceal their origins for fear of a negative attitude. About 30 percent of the population is hostile towards Muslims, and 36 percent of Muslims surveyed share a negative perception of Jews.

In March-April 2022, Lars Thorsen, head of the right-wing organization Stop Islamization of Norway (SIAN), staged several Quran-burning actions in front of Muslim mosques in Oslo and Sandefjord. According to Klassekampen daily newspaper of April 27, 2022, the police did not investigate Lars Thorsen, citing the fact that “the burning of the Koran is not a manifestation of hatred against specific people.”

According to the regular report “The most resonant cases of human rights violations in certain countries of the world – 2022,” published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, in April 2022, another anti Muslim organization SIAN, held a demonstration in Sandefjord (about 90 kilometers south of Oslo), where they also held a Quran-burning ritual. Between 300 and 400 people opposed the action. There were numerous conflicts with police, during which force was used against demonstrators, including the deployment of tear gas.

According to the annual Integration Barometer report (presented in June 2022), 54 percent of Norwegians consider Islam incompatible with the fundamental values of their society, 47 percent are skeptical of Muslims, and 56 percent take a negative stance on marriage to those who practice Islam.

According to the 2019 report of the Oslo Police Department, since 2016, the amount of instances of hate speech increased by 58 percent while the number of statements directed against those who profess Islam went up 1.5 time.

According to the Norwegian Commission for Freedom of Expression Report (submitted August 2022), the number of police reports of hate speech based on race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender/sexual orientation has increased significantly in recent years (from 189 to 324 in 2016-2020).

According to a 2021 study by the Norwegian Media Authority (Mediatilsynet), 25 percent of Norwegians aged 16-20 have experienced an “online hate” manifestation during the year on the Internet.

In January 2020, the Norwegian Supreme Court for the first time convicted a defendant of using hate speech on social media, electing to impose a 24-day suspended sentence of imprisonment.

According to law enforcement authorities,[863] a number of radical right groups confessing ideas of national and racial exclusivity operate in Norway. However, the Norwegian far-right is rather fragmented, with no more than 50 active members.

The most organized nationalist group is considered to be the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), registered in Norway in 2011, but coordinated from Sweden. Its ideology is based on the belief in a “worldwide Jewish conspiracy,” and its supporters consider themselves “National Socialists.” Its activists participate in neo-Nazi demonstrations (mainly in Sweden and Finland), hang posters, and distribute leaflets. Simultaneously, they act publicly and do not conceal their identities, avoiding obviously violent tactics of conflict (though they do not rule them out “if necessary”). The NRM plans “educational” activities, youth summer camps, “family” events, and celebrations, much like political parties do.

Other active right-wing radical groups are largely marginalized and represented by “branches” of European organizations such as PEGIDA, Soldiers of Odin, Stop the Islamization of Norway, Norwegian Defense League, Fatherland Party, Norwegian People’s Party, Stop Migration, White Electoral Alliance, Patriots of Norway, Democrats, Alliance. The New Right and the Alternative Right are two global ideological movements that are becoming more and more well-liked, particularly among young people.

At the same time, we can state that, for historical reasons,[864] the potential for the popularity of National Socialism ideology in Norway is low. The attitude toward neo-Nazism in Norwegian society is generally negative. The country’s authorities do not allow any form of glorification of the Nazi movement and former members of the SS, including the Waffen SS.

The August 2019 incident in Kristiansand in which participants in a demonstration organized by the right-wing organization Stop the Islamization of Norway set fire to a Quran caused a wide response. For security reasons, the police intervened in the action. Minister of Justice Jøran Kallmyr and Jens Frølich Holte, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, “distanced themselves” from the actions of the nationalists, calling them provocative, but at the same time qualified them as a legitimate manifestation of freedom of expression. Mass protests were held in Pakistan against the inaction of the Norwegian authorities. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry called for the instigators to be brought to justice and to prevent similar incidents in the future.

On August 10, 2019, Philip Manshaus, a right-wing radical, killed his 17‑year‑old stepsister of Chinese descent before breaking into the Al-Noor mosque in the Oslo suburb and firing several shots there to “spread fear among Muslims” (no deaths). The investigation found that Philip Manshaus was “inspired” by the March 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. During the trial, the defendant gave the court a Nazi salute before taking a seat next to his defense attorneys. He was unanimously found guilty by Asker and Bærum District Court panel, sentencing him to 21 years in prison.

Domestic and sexual violence is widespread in the country, to which children, the elderly, and members of the indigenous Sami people are the most vulnerable.

According to a report by the Office of the Auditor General (presented June 9, 2022, to evaluate government efforts to counter domestic violence), there were 3,729 reports of domestic violence by police in 2021, more than 15,100 “signals” of violence against children were received by care authorities, and about 1,700 Norwegian adults who were victims of domestic violence were temporarily housed in crisis centers. One in four people killed in Norway is a victim of domestic violence.

According to Minister of Justice and Public Security Emilie Enger Mehl,[865] the government has taken the report’s findings and recommendations very seriously.

The need for the authorities to take active measures to improve the situation as quickly as possible was stated by NIM in its report on the human rights situation in Norway,[866] as well as in a separate report on the situation of the rights of older people. In two documents, the authors voiced concern regarding not only violent crimes but also forced medical treatment, poor nutrition, drug abuse, restricted access to information and communication services, and age discrimination in employment.

According to the NGO Amnesty International, despite the increased number of rape reports to the police, only 14.3% of cases are ruled in favor of the victim and the rest are closed due to lack of evidence.

The opposition Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party have repeatedly proposed a law banning non-consensual sex, but it has not received the support of the parliamentary majority.

In October 2019, a toll-free 24-hour hotline for victims of violence, supported by the NGO Crisis Center Secretariat, was opened with funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Justice. In December 2019, the annual Ministry of Justice Family Violence Award ceremony was held at the Profile Conference in Kristiansand.

Claims are made against intelligence agencies in connection with the use and storage of private information.

On January 1, 2021, the new Law on Military Intelligence entered into force (Chapters 7 and 8 entered into force on January 1, 2022). Due to protests from human rights activists, it was agreed to postpone the implementation of Article 7, paragraph 3, which governs decisions regarding providers’ duty to create circumstances for access to electronic communications. NIM recommended that the government conduct a comprehensive legal assessment of the provisions of the Act relating to the collection and storage of electronic information crossing borders for their compliance with international legal obligations of Norway, including in light of the ECHR decisions of May 2021, which found the mass collection of electronic data by the intelligence services of several European states to be illegal. If necessary, it is supposed to make changes, agreeing with Parliament.

Human rights activists note the excessive use of isolation and coercive methods in prisons, especially in relation to mentally ill prisoners, poor prison conditions for women, prolonged trials due to lack of staff and underfunding of the judiciary.

The 2021 NIM’s report identified regular strip searches of pretrial detainees, the use of coercive measures against mentally ill detainees, unacceptable treatment of refugees at the Trandum National Police Immigration Detention Centre, and problems with access to medical services for those serving prison sentences as the most pressing problems in this area.

According to the information of July 15, 2022, broadcast by Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – NRK, prisoners suffering from mental disorders are placed for long periods of time in a solitary confinement cell and strapped to their beds. Mental health care is not provided in full, and there is no possibility of referring inmates to psychiatric hospitals for treatment.

Since December 2021, the prison has recorded 18 attempts by mentally ill inmates to harm their own health or commit suicide.

According to State Secretary Hans-Petter Aasen, the government takes the problem of using coercive methods in prisons seriously, including with regard to mentally ill prisoners. In order to improve the situation in this area, the authorities allocated 50 million crowns in 2022 and another 100 million crowns are planned for 2023.

Norwegian Ombudsman for Civil Affairs Hanne Harlem’s report 2021 draws attention to the failure to respect the rights of juvenile children when they are detained and arrested. There is mention of police abuse of the arrest procedure, unjustified placement of minors in police cells (allowed only in exceptional cases), and failure to provide information to detainees in a form that is accessible and understandable to them, including in their native language for children who do not speak Norwegian or English.

Representatives of Norwegian human rights structures draw attention to the fact that the conditions of detention in the country for women prisoners are worse than those for men. Because of the insufficient number of women’s sections in prisons, many women are not able to meet their children because they are serving their sentences too far from home (by law, they are entitled to meet their children once a week).

According to Aftenposten newspaper of April 19, 2022, most of the female convicts are held in Bredtveit Prison (east of Oslo; built in 1918), several of them in small rooms with poor ventilation. Ex-drug addicts, convicted violent offenders, and mentally ill inmates are subjected to excessive use of isolation. There is no separate female doctor in the prison.

According to the same newspaper (Aftenposten) of May 19, 2022, June 9, 2022, and June 28, 2022, the county governor of Vestfold og Telemark denied M. Evensen free legal aid to appeal the compensation payments due to an erroneous court decision. In 2017, a woman was convicted of “misappropriation of funds” and sentenced to prison because the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) misinterpreted welfare benefits legislation. M. Evensen considers the compensation in the amount of 70 thousand crowns (about $7 thousand) for prosecution and 61 days of imprisonment (the amount of compensation payments in Norway has not been indexed since 2004) unfair. M.Evensen has no money to pay for a lawyer; she is ill with cancer and receives a modest disability allowance by Norwegian standards. However, there is no reaction from the authorities.

The Norwegian authorities continue to be criticized for respecting the rights of refugees.

Five parentless children with Norwegian citizenship were brought to Norway from Syria in June 2019 and in January 2020 as a result of pressure from a number of parties and humanitarian NGOs demanding that Norway should take more responsibility for hosting refugees. Along with their mother, a Norwegian citizen of Pakistani heritage who has joined the Islamic State, they have two kids, one of whom is severely ill. In the spring of 2020, however, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security deemed it irrelevant to participate in the redistribution of refugees from the Greek island of Lesbos, citing the grave situation in the country due to the coronavirus.

Yasin, an Afghan asylum applicant (in Norway since 2015), was ordered to leave Norway by the Norwegian migration authorities on January 25, 2022 owing to a lack of grounds for granting refugee status and on the grounds that “Afghanistan is a safe country.” Yasin has a wife and daughter in Norway (both have residence permits). He and his family members belong to the Hazara ethnic group, which was persecuted by the Taliban.

In January 2022, authorities ordered Iranian refugee Amir Hussein Hussainzadeh (in Norway since 2010) to leave Norway, despite the fact that he had converted from Islam to Christianity while living in Norway and that his return to Iran was therefore unsafe. In 2018-2020, only 35 percent of the 110 Iranian “converts” were granted asylum in Norway.

Since March 1, 2022, Norwegian authorities resumed the deportation of Afghans who had been denied asylum in Norway, temporarily suspended after the Taliban came to power.

The 2021 NIM report draws attention to violations of the rights of single refugees aged between 15-18, who are subject to different rules compared to refugee children younger than 15 who are in institutional care. In this regard, the government was recommended to adopt amendments to legislation that would equalize the rights of refugee children under and after the age of 15.

However, according to the NGO Save the Children, the proposed changes will not improve their situation in practice, and will in fact only reinforce a differentiated approach to the two aforementioned age groups of children.

The NRK Troms og Finnmark broadcasting company reports that according to the August 26, 2022 survey “Attitudes towards Sami and Other Minorities” conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights, 11 percent of the population in northern Norway have a negative view of ethnic minorities. This is four times the national average. About a third of the population supports the most stereotypically negative statements about the Sami and Kven people/Forest Finns.

Human rights activists note that despite the considerable efforts made by the authorities to “atone” for the Sami (who live compactly within the borders of the three northern provinces: Finnmark, Troms, and Nordland) as well as ethnic minorities (Kvens/Norwegian Finns, Jews, Forest Finns, Gypsies/Roma, and Tater/Romani) who have become “victims” of Oslo’s assimilation policies, there have recently been frequent violations of Sami rights, who have regularly voiced discontent, particularly over industrial projects in their traditional lands.

For example, in 2014, the state-owned company Statnett began construction of the Ofoten-Hammerfest transmission line, which runs through the Sami reindeer herders’ land (the Sami petition to suspend the work was rejected in the court of first instance). The Directorate of Water and Energy, which reports to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, stated in September 2022 that the construction of the line’s final section (Skaidi-Hammerfest) would have far greater consequences for reindeer husbandry in the region than had been predicted when the concession was granted in 2012.

In 2014-2015, against the objections of Sametinget (the Sámi Parliament), the local population and environmental organizations, the relevant authorities approved a plan for Nussir’s copper deposits and the deposition of rock dumps in Repparfjord. Samis insist that the production poses a threat to reindeer herding and traditional coastal fisheries in the region. According to a report commissioned by Sametinget in September 2020, the number of reindeer could be halved as a result of the project, herd routes would be blocked and, in the worst case, half of the reindeer herding farms would be forced to cease operations. Other expert assessments point to the negative impact of waste deposition in Repparfjord (one of the main fjords where a significant population of wild salmon has been preserved) on its ecosystem.

Appeals to the authorities’ decision were filed by Sametinget, the Society of Hunters and Fishermen of West Finnmark, the Norwegian Society for Nature Conservation and the NGO Nature and Youth, but the Council of State headed by the King rejected them on the grounds that Nussir’s activities would not have “unacceptable and irreversible” consequences for the environment, it would take the best interests of reindeer herders into account, and would also bring substantial economic benefits. For the past few years, Sámi activists, together with environmentalists, have been protesting against the construction of Nussir and conducting an information campaign to “scare off” investors from the project.[867] Copper production at the respective deposits is scheduled to start in 2024.

The construction of a wind farm complex by Fosen Vind (commissioned in 2021) on the Fosen peninsula in the province of Trøndelag caused a public outcry. According to reindeer herders, the wind farms construction has stripped them of a third of the traditional winter pastures in the region. In June 2020, the second-instance court confirmed that construction permits had been issued on legal grounds, but ruled that Fosen Vind should pay 89 million krona to the Sami. ($10.4 million) On October 11, 2021, the Supreme Court of Norway ruled in favor of the Sami, stating that their right to practice cultural traditions was violated during the construction of two of the six wind farms. The court also recognized the decisions on issuing licenses to “Fosen Vind” as invalid.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy (responsible for issuing the relevant permits) is currently analyzing the court ruling to determine the next steps for wind farms that were completed and already operating at full capacity at the time of the ruling. According to officials, the Supreme Court’s ruling concerns the potential effects of wind turbines, not the current situation. The main goal in this regard is to preserve both types of economic activity in the region while minimizing their negative impact on each other.

The Sami insist that the wind turbines must be dismantled and the affected natural areas must be reclaimed to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision. This position is shared by the Sami Policy Council of the ruling Labour Party. The Sami Parliament believes that there is no legal basis for the government’s process of evaluating the future of wind farms, and fears that the authorities are trying to “stall for time” by avoiding the execution of the court decision.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy submitted proposals to the Sami for a future action plan for reindeer farming in the Fosen region in the fall of 2022, and a series of stakeholder consultations were initiated. There is no information about their practical results as of December 2022.

In January 2022, a draft of an updated coastal zone management plan for Tromsø, northern Norway, including 18 new aquaculture areas, was submitted for public consultation. In his review, the Sami parliament of Norway noted that the construction of aqua farms at most of the proposed sites is contrary to the interests of traditional Sami fisheries. The final version of the plan after the public hearings has not been published at the time of this report.

Examples of the government’s consideration of Sami interests include the authorities’ refusal in 2016 to build a wind farm complex in the Kalvvatnan area on the border of Trøndelag and Nurland, the granting of a license to resume gold and copper mining at the Bidjovagge deposit, which the Swedish company Arctic Gold wanted (the Sami reindeer breeders of Kautokeino opposed it).

The Sami reindeer breeders also note the discrimination due to the monopolized agricultural industry, which is controlled almost entirely by the Nortura meat-processing concern. In particular, it is forbidden to slaughter reindeer by traditional methods (they have to use mobile slaughterhouses “Nortura”) for sale.

Due to the expansion of protected areas in Norway, traditional grazing lands often fall within their boundaries, making it difficult for the Sami to use motorized transport when grazing reindeer.

In 2017-2019, the case of reindeer herder Jovsset Ánte Sara who was forced to transfer some of his herd to other reindeer herders due to the decision made by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in 2013 to reduce the number of reindeer in Finnmark, received a wide response. Jovsset Ante Sara unsuccessfully tried to appeal the decision of the authorities in the national courts, filed a complaint to the Human Rights Committee (as of December 2022, no decision on the complaint No. 3588/2019 has been taken).

Some experts call attention to the need to protect the rights of coastal Sami, including their fishing activities, and to take their special indigenous status into account in the allocation of fishing quotas.

The Sami, especially men, has a lower percentage of people with higher education compared to the nation’s average. The same is typical for secondary education (some Sami never finish their studies).

Violence runs rampant in the Sami’s community. According to surveys, up to 45 percent of the Sami have ever been exposed to it (compared to 29 percent of the population in the rest of Norway).

The indicators describing the degree of prejudice against this group of people in numerous fields are even worse. Sami sources indicate a 10-fold increase in discrimination among the Norwegian population (35 percent vs. 3.5 percent). The Sami sometimes face negative attitude in social and regular media.

The position of the Sami language is weakening,[868] and its gradual blurring with Norwegian “impregnations.” The report also notes that native speakers of the Sami language are few. The language issue also has an impact on the social sphere-health care, social care, and so on. Even in areas with a high concentration of Sami inhabitants, there is a shortage of competent disease diagnosis due to insufficient training of medical personnel in the use of professional terminology in the Sami language.

In February 2020, a public hearing was completed on amendments to the Sámi Law, aimed at adding a separate chapter on the obligation of the authorities to consult the Sámi Parliament on matters concerning the indigenous people.

The Sami population is projected to continue declining until 2030.

Despite the absence of specific discrimination against Russian citizens, Norwegian authorities continue to foster a climate of mistrust and prejudice toward Russians as part of the ongoing buildup of anti-Russian attitudes.

In the spirit of spy mania and suspicion, the Norwegian intelligence services urge fellow citizens to be “vigilant in their contacts” with Russians, to report to the competent authorities all suspicious circumstances concerning colleagues at work or neighbors. There are cases of pressure on our compatriots, including diaspora activists, by the local counterintelligence service (interested in relatives in Russia, contacts with the Russian embassy, and even encouragement to renounce Russian citizenship).

Against the backdrop of the events in Ukraine, there have been cases of Russophobia, pressure at work, harassment and insults, and denial of service to Russian citizens.

According to the newspaper Verdens Gang of March 30, 2022, E.A. Kasin, a Russian woman, living in Norway, was refused an appointment with a doctor at the Jeloy Fysioterapi Clinic, Moss. The doctor inquired about her attitude toward the events in Ukraine and President Putin and stated that he “will not serve a patient who does not condemn the war in Ukraine.” Commenting on the case, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in the media that “it is unacceptable that Russians are denied medical care in Norway because of the war in Ukraine.”

According to a July 10, 2022 report from the NPG (one of Norway’s main organizers of exhibitions and concerts) refused to hire Julia Filippova, who has Russian citizenship, as an interior designer on the basis of her Russian origin. The Russian woman filed a complaint with the Discrimination Commission (Diskrimineringsnemnda). The Equality and anti-discrimination Ombud B.E. Ton, called the incident a violation of Norwegian law, which prohibits discrimination against citizens on the grounds of their ethnic or national origin.

According to a March 15, 2022 report from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – NRK, 12-year-old Latvian-born Maria Falkenhaugh was attacked by an unknown person (causing severe bruising) while speaking on the phone with her mother in Russian, who ran away shouting “damn Russian” in Norwegian.

The removal of children from Russian citizens living in Norway by the Norwegian guardianship authorities remains a controversial issue (as of February 2022, the Russian Embassy and Consulate General in Kirkenes are overseeing 26 such cases; the number of children removed was 52). At the same time, the number of children taken away has decreased in recent years. The emerging trend hinges on parents’ higher awareness about specifics of local legislation in protection of children’s rights, and on an increased willingness to rely on legal consultations.

The peak of removals was in 2015 and 2016, when 19 and 24 children, respectively, were forcibly removed by the Norwegian guardianship service. The most frequent reason of children being taken away from the families is the use of corporal punishment. In March 2019, the ECHR received a complaint from the Russian national A.S.Gaisulganov, whose wife, who lives in Norway, had her four sons taken away by child protection authorities in 2015.

There continue to be cases of denial of security clearance to enlisted Norwegian citizens of Russian origin.

According to a March 22, 2022 report from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – NRK, a man named Haakon (the real name has not been disclosed; he was born in 2002 and has Russian origin) was not granted clearance in 2021 after several months of training at a military school due to his “ties with Russia and the possibility of him being pressured, which may be detrimental to national interests.” His mother immigrated from Russia more than 26 years ago, before he entered the college he gave up his Russian citizenship.

Compatriot K.Foulsen (born in 2001; mother is Russian, father is Norwegian) was dismissed from military service in 2022 after being refused admission on the grounds of “his family’s ties to Russia.”

The Norwegians are generally diligent in their implementation of the recommendations of international human rights bodies, striving to maintain a reputation as “frontrunners” in the field of human rights.

In 2017-2020, Norway “reported on its compliance with international human rights obligations” to the following UN treaty bodies: The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All of them identified shortcomings and sent their recommendations to Norway.

In April 2019, in response to the 2015 national report, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also submitted its recommendations, stating, among other things, that Norway had not incorporated into national law the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which had been ratified in 2013.

On May 20, 2022, Norway submitted its ninth periodic report to the Committee against Torture on the implementation of the obligations set forth in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In February 2019, a national report is submitted to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. Norway received 241 recommendations, 176 of which were approved in full and 22 in part. In August 2019, Norway submitted an addendum to the report responding to the recommendations.

In 2020, Norway also reported to the Council of Europe on a number of conventions.

The goal of the Norwegian government is to ratify all significant international conventions for the protection of human rights with the fewest possible reservations. Norwegians, however, have yet to sign the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, the 1973 Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of Apartheid, and the 1990 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Furthermore, Norway refuses to sign the optional protocols on a communication procedure to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities regarding communication processes.

In a 2016 communication to the Storting, the government cited the “vague” wording in the texts of the aforementioned optional protocols as justification for its refusal to ratify them. According to the authorities, there is too much “discretion,” which may make it difficult to interpret the provisions of the conventions when taking into account specific complaints. The matter of protocol accession has been put “on hold,” and Norwegian authorities “will monitor” the practice for a possible future revision of the decision.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is dubious about the European Convention of 1996 on the Exercise of Children’s Rights, stating that acceptance would result in “a narrowing of the democratic space for national maneuvering.” At the same time, they agree that the majority of the document’s provisions have already been adopted into national legislation.

A wide range of steps are being implemented on all fronts to implement the international recommendations.

The revised Barnevernet Act (came into effect on January 1, 2023) was passed on June 18, 2021, taking into consideration the ECHR’s conclusions in its judgments against Norway that the removal of a child is a temporary measure and the main goal is family reunification in the future. In addition to strengthening parents’ rights to communicate with their children who have been taken away from them, the law stipulates stricter requirements for the training of custody personnel, justification of their decisions, and enshrines a number of guidelines for the work of custody bodies, including taking into account racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious affiliation.

Amendments to the Criminal Code that shield members of sexual minorities from hate speech came into effect on January 1, 2021.

In June 2021, the government unveiled its 2021-2024 Action Plan Against LGBT Discrimination, “Safety, Diversity, and Inclusion.”[869] Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store officially apologized on behalf of the government to LGBT persons for persecution by the authorities on April 21, 2022, the 50th anniversary of Norway’s repeal of prison sentences for homosexuality.

The Norwegian government stated its desire to adopt the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into national law in the government’s Platform for Action for the legislative year 2021–2025.

Work continues in accordance with the government’s action plans against racism and religious and ethnic discrimination (2020-2023), discrimination and hatred against Muslims (2020-2023), and anti-Semitism (2021-2023).

The Commission on Freedom of Expression, which was established in 2019 to analyze the existing situation in Norway in this area and the feasibility of additional measures to combat the spread of fake news and hate speech, published its findings in August 2022. It is specifically suggested to clarify the definition of “discriminatory and inciting hatred and hate speech” under Section 185 of the Criminal Code.

In April 2021, the Penal Code was amended to prohibit forced marriages. The Marriage Act was amended by Parliament in June 2021 to make the age requirements for marriage clearer. The Action Plan to Combat “Negative Social Control” and Honor Related Violence (2021-2024) and the Action Plan to Combat Domestic Violence “Freedom from Violence” (2021-2024), each containing a specific part for the Sami, are presented in July and August 2021, respectively.

A revised Victims of Violence Compensation Act was passed in June 2022, taking effect on January 1, 2023. The Corporate Transparency Act went into force on July 1, 2022, mandating enterprises to inform the public on the state of human rights and working conditions.

The government’s “Society for All” agenda for 2020-2030 on the rights of individuals with disabilities was released in December 2018. In December 2019, the Plan of Action to Achieve Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities for 2020-2025 was released.

Comprehensive measures are being implemented to support the languages, culture, and way of life of the Sami and national minorities. The Norwegian Parliament formed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2018 with the responsibility to investigate the impacts of “Norwegianization” and mistreatment of Sami, Kvens, and Finnish ethnic minorities and to propose possible “reconciliatory” measures. The Commission is to report the results of its work by June 2023. On January 1, 2022, the law “On Languages” came into force, confirming the status of the languages of ethnic minorities.

The country’s authorities are taking certain steps to overcome discrimination in the labor market.

The goal of the government’s integration policy is to guarantee that immigrants have equal rights in the workplace and in society. For 2019-2022, Norway implemented a new Integration Act on January 1, 2021, with the goal of swiftly integrating migrants and refugees into Norwegian society and economic life.

At the same time, in some areas Norwegians are reluctant to implement international recommendations. In its comments to the 23rd and 24th periodic reports on Norway (submitted on November 2, 2017), The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is concerned that “racist and neo-Nazi organizations have become more visible in social media and through demonstrations” and that “Norway has not, in accordance with its obligations, declared illegal organizations promoting and inciting racial hatred.” Commenting on the findings, the Norwegian authorities pointed out that Norway, in accordance with the Criminal Code, prohibits illegal actions, not organizations.

There are no plans to introduce the concept of “race” into the 2017 Norwegian Law “On Equality and Prohibition of Discrimination,” because, as the authorities believe, the issues of race discrimination are already addressed as “ethnic discrimination.” There are no plans to establish a dedicated police force to combat and investigate hate speech incidents. The Russian recommendation to the UN Human Rights Council in this regard was rejected. The Norwegians point out that the only relevant special unit in Oslo “gives recommendations” to colleagues from other regions.

Oslo refuses to remove its objections to Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in defiance of the advice of the UN Human Rights Committee and the Rights of the Child. The rationale is straightforward: putting juvenile criminals in special prison sections (of which there are two in the country, each with eight beds) is “not always in the best interests of the child.”

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Belarus) 2022 report on the most prominent instances of human rights abuses in several nations, Norway continues to suppress environmental activists who oppose the growth of the nation’s oil and gas industry. In August 2021, police forcibly dispersed an Extinction Rebellion demonstration outside Norway’s Ministry of Oil and Energy. The police operation was accompanied by arrests of dozens of people who occupied the premises of the Ministry. Another 29 protesters were arrested for blocking one of the city’s main streets.

 

Poland

Xenophobia and discrimination, notably along racial and religious lines, were still prevalent in Poland throughout 2021-2022. There were cases of harassment and assaults of people from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

In keeping with Warsaw’s campaign to rewrite World War II history and deny the Red Army’s essential contribution to Nazi Germany’s defeat, the authorities are actively working to erase the Soviet/Russian memorial heritage in Poland. During the years 2021-2022, Polish authorities continued to implement the Act of April 1, 2016, with subsequent amendments,[870] prohibiting communist or other totalitarian system propaganda, on the basis of which monuments to Soviet soldiers-liberators are removed from public space as symbolizing or propagandizing this system. Initiatives to demolish Soviet monuments are also put forward by Polish authorities at various levels, in addition to the Institute of National Remembrance (a state institution that directs Polish historical policy and serves as the primary source of inspiration for the campaign in the nation).

Most of the memorials to Soviet soldiers on Polish soil were destroyed between the late 1990s and the present; by 2022, just a few of the 561 monuments remained. But now, even these memorials that are still standing risk being destroyed.

In light of this, Poland is in breach of its international commitments made under the May 22, 1992 Treaty on Friendly and Neighborly Cooperation, the August 25, 1993 Intergovernmental Agreement on Cooperation in the Fields of Culture, Science, and Education, and the February 22, 1994 Intergovernmental Agreement on War Cemeteries and Sites of Memory of Victims of War and Repression.

In 2021, there were four cases of illegal demolition of Soviet monuments by the Polish authorities (between January and October 2022 – 18), of which the Russian side became aware. There could be more, because the Polish media do not cover such incidents.

Since late February 2022, the Russophobia propagated by the Polish authorities has been reflected in the already active “war” against monuments and memorials to Red Army soldiers who died during the liberation of the country from Nazism during World War II. Since the beginning of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, the number of acts of vandalism of Soviet memorials and graves in Poland has increased dramatically. As a rule, vandals write Nazi and Ukrainian neo-Nazi symbols, obscene words, and also splash monuments with paint. Three incidences of desecration of Soviet monuments and 37 acts of vandalism at Soviet military graves in cities and towns around the country were documented between January and October 2022: Rawicz, Poznań and Gniezno, in Wielkopolskie Voivodeship, Sandomierz in Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, Żary in Lubusz Voivodeship, Warsaw, Radom, Garwolin and Mińsk Mazowiecki in Mazowieckie Voivodeship, Katowice and Chorzow in Silesian Voivodeship, Wrocław, Lubań, Wałbrzych, Kąty Wrocławskie, Świdnica and Bolesławiec in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Gdansk and Tczew in Pomeranian Voivodeship, Kołobrzeg and Koszalin in West Pomeranian Voivodeship, Glinka (Toruń district) in West-Pomeranian Voivodeship; Szczucin and Wadowice in Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Krosno in Podkarpackie Voivodeship, Flysy in Lublinsky Voivodeship, Elbląg, Lubawa, Wronki village in Warmińsko-Marusian Voivodeship, three in relation to monuments (Olysztyn in Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship, Głubczyce in Opolskie Voivodeship, Węgków) and three in relation to monuments (in Olsztyn, Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship, Głubczyce, Opolskie Voivodeship, and Węgrzce village in Lesser Poland Voivodeship). Some memorial sites (in Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, Tczew were repeatedly desecrated.

It is known about at least 18 cases of demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers – among them sites in the settlement in Chschowice-Folwark (Opolskie Voivodeship), Garnzarsko (Lower Silesia Voivodeship), Międzyblocze (Wielkopolskie Voivodeship), Biały Bór (West Pomeranian Voivodeship), Dąbrowa Górnicza (Silesian Voivodeship), Bobolice (West Pomeranian Voivodeship), Glubchitsy, Buczyn[871] and Brzeg (Opolskie Voivodeship).[872] The demolition of the memorials was broadcast live on local television.

Under the banner of combating “Soviet propaganda” and the formation of a “correct” history of World War II in Poland, the merits of “underground heroes” – “cursed” (or “unbroken”) soldiers[873] in achieving the freedom and independence of postwar Poland – are glorified, including at the state level. Parallel to this, a cult of “fighters against communism” tainted by Nazi collaboration, war atrocities, and civilian killings is being fostered. For example in August 2021, a memorial event was held in Warsaw to commemorate the founding of the Brygada Świętokrzyska (Holy Cross Mountains Brigade), a division of the National Armed Forces.[874] The ceremony was organized by the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression. It was attended by representatives of the authorities and state bodies.[875]

Confirmations that fighters of the Polish Armia Krajowa committed numerous murders of Soviet civilians can be found in archival documents.  The Russian FSB revealed additional archive records towards the end of October 2022, including a reference to terrorist activities performed by Polish gangs on the territories of Belarus and Lithuania in 1944 and from January to April 1945. The document, created in early May 1945, details nearly 70 terrorist assaults and killings performed by Polish militants against Soviet citizens – not only military personnel but also government officials, business managers and employees, and instructors.[876]

After the Russian Federation launched a special military operation to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine and protect civilians in Donbas, unprecedentedly intense and deceitful, even by Polish standards, anti-Russian propaganda was unleashed in Poland, fueling a Russophobic outburst on an unprecedented scale. This campaign is largely initiated and encouraged by the Polish government and most national media.

The Polish officials are distinguished for their utmost anti-Russian attitudes, and they publicly advocate the need to destroy Russia and Russian culture. Well-known in this respect are the statements of March 30, 2022, by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that Russophobia in Poland has become mainstream and the call of April 4, 2022, by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Culture and National Heritage Piotr Gliński that Russian culture should be removed from the public space.[877]

In their Russophobia, the Polish authorities flagrantly violate the generally accepted rules of diplomatic communication and the norms of professional ethics. Western counterparts have recently grown more active in similar unsuccessful efforts, most commonly from unofficial parties, with the intention of “enticing” Russian ambassadors and high-ranking government officials to their side with promises of personal rewards. On October 3, the Russian ambassador to Poland, Sergey Andreev, was summoned to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the conversation, a senior member of the Polish Foreign Ministry openly provoked the head of the Russian diplomatic mission by proposing that he publicly criticize the Special Military Operation of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine and distance himself from our nation’s overall foreign policy in exchange for some sort of “support” from the Polish government.[878] In response, Sergey Andreev advised the Polish diplomat not to waste his time and outlined his position on the events in Ukraine.

As part of the campaign to rewrite history, all dissent is suppressed, and representatives of social movements, journalists, and politicians are persecuted and pressured. Ekaterina Tsivilskaya and Anna Smirnova-Tyts, two Russian women who spoke out against the “war on monuments” and were jailed and expelled from Poland in May 2018 on charges of participating in a “hybrid war against Poland,” remain barred from entering the country. In 2017, Russian historian Dmitry Karnaukhov was expelled, and in 2018. – Two other Russian citizens, I.Stolyarchik and O.Rothstein, were expelled (allegedly because they posed a “threat to the security” of the country). On the initiative of the Polish authorities, two Russian political scientists, O.V.Bondarenko and A.A.Martynov were banned from entering Schengen countries in late 2017 and early 2018.

In 2021, the Polish authorities prolonged the entry ban into the Schengen area (until December 2025) for “waging aggressive propaganda and damaging the image of Poland,” to journalist of the “Russia Today” news agency Leonid Sviridov. In addition, in March 2021, correspondent Yevgeny Reshetnev of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) was denied entry into the country for five years, allegedly for conducting activities “outside the scope of journalistic activity.”

In the context of the large-scale information war against Russia launched by the Polish authorities after the start of a special military operation to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, the Polish government censored the Polish segment of the Internet in May 2022. At the initiative of the Internal Security Agency, several Russian and Polish Internet portals were blocked for “spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda” (ria.ru, lenta.ru, pl.sputniknews.com, rt.com, dziennik-polityczny.com, myslpolska.info, wicipolskie.pl, wolnemedia.net, xportal.pl, wrealu.pl) and banned five Russian channels (Russia Today, RTR-Planeta, Soyuz TV, Russia 24 and ORT-1) and one Belarusian channel (Bel-24).

Domestically, Russian citizens in Poland experience issues getting residence and job permits, as well as being refused service in grocery stores, pharmacies, beauty salons, and other establishments. Piotr Wawrzyk, Deputy Foreign Minister, stated in August 2022 that the Polish Foreign Ministry was preparing a position that would allow it to refuse visas to Russian citizens without breaking Polish law or EU principles.

Radical and nationalist groups reportedly continue to operate in Poland. According to the Polish non-governmental organization Nigdy Więcej (Never Again), there are several thousand followers of fascism and over 10,000 people under the influence of this ideology in Poland. Supporters of radical ideology are organized into a number of nationalist organizations that maintain relationships with “kindred” structures in other European countries. A report on right-wing extremism in the EU, published by the European Parliament in May 2022, notes that the distinctive feature of Polish nationalist movements is the presence of a religious (Catholic-nationalist) element.[879] Back in August 2019, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) raised specific concern regarding racist organizations in Poland.[880]

Radicals in Ukraine and Poles have a history of working together, as seen by their participation in the 2014 events on Kiev’s Maidan.[881] It is also no secret that during combat operations in the Donbass, including this year, Polish mercenaries joined the ranks of Ukrainian neo-Nazi battalions.

It should be emphasized that Poland hosts public gatherings with anti‑Semitic overtones that are nationalist and neo-Nazi in nature. For instance, on July 11, 2021[882], nationalist organizations staged a rally in Jedwabne, and participants carried banners that read, “We do not ask for forgiveness for Jedwabne.” The demonstration was organized to protest against the claim that Poles could bear some responsibility for crimes against Jews. R.Bonkevich, the leader of the “Independence March,” put a wreath at the victims’ memorial, but in his address, he demanded “truth, investigation, and exhumations.”[883]

On November 11, 2021, the “Independence March,” organized by the nationalist movement of the same name, was held for the eleventh time as part of Independence Day celebrations in Warsaw. Demonstrators burned the German flag and a portrait of Donald Tusk, the leader of the liberal opposition movement, Civic Platform.[884] The march also took place in Kalisz (Wielkopolska Voivodeship), where police apprehended three organizers who burnt a copy of the Statute of Kalisz, the General Charter of Jewish rights, which secured Jewish rights in the 13th century. On December 3, 2021, all three were released on bail.

On March 1 2022, in Hajnówka [885] (Podlaskie Voivodeship) nationalist groups organized the seventh March in Remembrance of the Cursed Soldiers, in memory of Romuald Rajs (Bury). On the same day, in Przemyśl (Subcarpathian Voivodeship), not far from the border with Ukraine, far-right football fans organized patrols to “cleanse the city” [886] of refugees of Middle Eastern, Asian and African origin who had crossed over from Ukraine. Police reported that three citizens of India had been attacked.[887] According to the OKO.press website, an Israeli journalist also reported that he had been attacked.[888]

On May 31, 2022, the five-year trial of six Polish citizens celebrating Hitler’s birthday in 2017 ended. Protesters wore Wehrmacht uniforms and carried Nazi emblems. The court concluded in this case that the action was public Nazi propaganda. The organizer of this event was sentenced to one year and four months in prison.

On November 11, 2022, Polish nationalists conducted a new “Independence March,” which typically draws several hundred participants.[889] The mayor of the capital, Rafal Trzaskowski, has repeatedly spoken out against the march, claiming that the organizations behind it have all the “signs of fascism.” However, as in 2021, his efforts have typically been thwarted by the Polish government.[890] Violence was mostly averted at this year’s nationalist march, but anti-Ukrainian and anti-European shouts were heard, according to Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.[891]

According to the media, this march has become one of Europe’s greatest gatherings of far-right groups in recent years.[892]

A worrying scenario with symptoms of anti-semitism has been reported throughout Poland as a whole. On June 24, 2021, the Polish Parliament approved changes to the Code of Administrative Proceedings, which was suggestive in this regard. With these changes, it is now impossible to appeal an administrative decision 30 years after the court’s ruling was made. The innovation concerns, among other things, proceedings on property lost during and after the war (nationalized or escheat).[893] The actions of the Polish authorities attracted criticism from the foreign ministries of Israel and the United States and also sharpened domestic debates, once again confirming the existence of strong antisemitic attitudes. On June 30, 2021, the nationalist organization All-Polish Youth, which does not support the restitution demands of the Polish Jewish community, said on its Twitter page that it held a protest action in front of the Israeli embassy in Poland, throwing construction debris there and placing the inscription “Here is your property” on it[894].

In April 2022, the far-right media group Magna Polonia reprinted “Meet the Jew,” an antisemitic book that depicts Jews as a “parasitic tribe.” This book, written by the Polish publicist and conservative T.Jeske-Hoinski, was first published in 1912. The nationalist publication Media Narodowe, on its YouTube video-hosting channel, discussed this book with one of the leaders of Magna Polonia, Przemysław Holocher. This is not the first time the publication has published such content. His YouTube channel features more than one video with antisemitic content and relevant titles (e.g., “This Jew Still Hurts Poland,” “Ruining the Polish Academy by Jews,” and “[President] Duda Will Return Poland to Jews?!”).[895]

It is also worth noting that such nationalist structures are funded directly by the Polish authorities. Thus, Media Narodowe is produced by the Polish Association “March of Independence,” which organizes the annual nationalist march of the same name in Warsaw on November 11, Independence Day. In 2021, the organization received a grant of 1.3 million zlotys (equivalent to 280,000 euros) from the “Patriotic Fund,” created by the government and overseen by the Ministry of Culture. Media Narodowe also won a grant of 198,000 zlotys from the National Institute of Freedom (an organization established by the government in 2017 to help civil society) for the years 2021 and 2022.[896]

At the same time, Polish authorities deny the obvious public criticism of the cultivation of nationalist associations. In a statement published in response to an inquiry by the newspaper Rzeczpospolita concerning an antisemitic book distributed by Media Narodowe, the Polish Ministry of Culture pointed out that all applications for grants from the Patriotic Fund are evaluated by experts according to appropriate criteria and solely on the basis of the content of the applications themselves.

It should also be highlighted that such acts by the authorities are not supported by the majority of Poles. For example, after learning about the funding to the “Independence March” Association, more than 160 public figures in Poland signed an open letter to the Polish Minister of Culture urging him to “stop financing fascism.[897]

The rise in antisemitic sentiment is being noted both domestically and by international human rights organizations. According to the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration, antisemitism in the country increased from 30 reported events in 2010 to 179 in 2018, before declining to 128 incidents in 2020[898] and 111 in 2021.[899] It is also worth noting that the fact that antisemitic sentiments are spreading in the country is recognized in Polish society itself. According to a 2018 EU Fundamental Rights Agency study titled “Experiences and Perceptions of Anti-Semitism,” which was based on a poll on discrimination and hatred against Jews throughout the EU, 89 percent of Polish respondents of Jewish descent believe racism in the country to be a “very big problem.” About half the respondents stated that they had experienced antisemitism in some form or other over the last five years. 70 percent on non‑Jewish respondents believed that “Jews have too much power in Poland.” They also admitted that the level of antisemitism had significantly increased over the last five years. At the same time, Poland has the highest level of distrust in the actions of the authorities in this area: 91 percent of respondents considered that the efforts of the Polish authorities to combat antisemitism were insufficient and ineffective.[900] According to research by the NGO Anti‑Defamation League, up to 48 percent of Poles have antisemitic views.[901]

During 2021 there were several attacks on Jewish memorial sites. Unknown individuals painted SS runes and Swastika symbols on the walls of the Jewish cemetery at Auschwitz, next to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which was constructed on the site of the notorious concentration camp, at the end of January.[902] Three teenagers vandalized 67 gravestones in the Jewish cemetery in Bielsko-Biala (Lesser Poland Voivodeship) on June 26. The burning of a copy of the Statute of Kalisz, during a nationalist march in Kalisz on November 11 in honor of Independence Day is one example of antisemitism in action.[903]

Jon Minadeo Jr., an American citizen and the leader of an organization of aggressive anti-semitic provocateurs who spread antisemitism in several American states, organized an offensive action at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on August 27, 2022, taking a photo with an antisemitic poster and then posting it on his social media account. According to media reports, he was arrested. While in Poland, Minadeo also shared videos of himself raising his hand in a Nazi salute and insulting an Asian man.[904]

Antisemitic comments were not uncommon on Polish television. In June 2020, a similar incident was reported. Adam Bodnar, the Commissioner for Civil Rights, requested the National Radio and Television Council’s chairman to look for hate speech and antisemitism on June 23, 2020, when journalist Rafał Ziemkiewicz spoke on TVP Info’s “W tyle wizji” show. He blamed the Jews themselves for the Holocaust in it, saying that “it was other Jews, the Jewish police, based on lists drawn up by the Jewish Judenrat,[905] who were in charge of it all.[906] They put the Jews in wagons, captured them, and escorted them out of the ghettos.” According to the National Broadcasting and Television Council, Ziemkiewicz’s viewpoint did not contravene the “Law on Broadcasting and Television” of December 29, 1992.[907]

In Poland in recent years there has been an increase in manifestations of xenophobia and intolerance against certain groups of society. In 2018, the Polish public prosecutor stopped publishing statistical data on crimes motivated by racial or other intolerance, on the grounds that the data in such documents was reserved for internal use by state agencies. Many rights groups suspect that the true reason for this decision is to hide a rapid growth in the number of crimes of this type.

These trends are confirmed by sociological research data. According to a survey on Poles’ attitudes toward other nationalities and ethnic groups performed in February 2021 by the Polish Center for Public Opinion Research (CBOS),[908] 42 percent of Poles despise the Roma. 46 percent of respondents acknowledged having a bad opinion of Arabs. The CBOS highlights the fact that sympathy for Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Jews (43 percent, 47 percent, and 38 percent, respectively) outweighs hatred (26 percent, 17 percent, and 29 percent of respondents express a negative attitude). Compared to March 2020, the level of hostility towards Arabs (by 9 percent), Belarusians (by 8 percent), Russians and Ukrainians (by 7 percent), and Jews (by 1 percent) has decreased.[909]

In February 2021, the European Commission found that Poland had violated EC law when implementing into Polish law the provisions of Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of 28 November 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. The Commission observed that only when such crimes were committed against Poles are they subject to criminal culpability for denying and endorsing international crimes including the Holocaust.[910] In connection with this failure, the Commission has, since 2018, sent three requests to the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, calling on him to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat hate crime. However, the representative of the Polish government responsible for equality issues responded with a letter setting out the position of the Ministry of Justice, which is that Polish law contains all the necessary guarantees.[911]

Following its evaluation of Polish information regarding the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern over the ineffectiveness of measures to prevent racist speech and incitement to violence un April 2021. As a result of the impunity for intolerance, stigmatization, discrimination, or even encouragement to violence, CERD found that the environment is favorable for hate crimes. The Committee emphasized that the information given by the Polish authorities regarding the implementation of the recommendations was unsatisfactory and urged Warsaw to include information in its upcoming periodic report on how it ensures the efficacy of the measures it has taken to combat racist speech and incitement to violence, including measures to outlaw organizations and parties which promote racial discrimination.[912]

Earlier, in August 2019, the Committee against Torture expressed concern about Warsaw’s serious under-reporting of official statistics on hate crimes and urged it to take action to rectify the situation as well as to fight discrimination on racial, national, and other grounds, citing a report on a survey on the nature and extent of unreported hate crimes prepared by OSCE ODIHR and the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights[913].

In January 2020, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities also pointed out that a climate of intolerance, racism, and xenophobia persisted in the country. Additionally, it was reported that representatives of national minorities think local and national authorities have not responded appropriately to words and violent acts committed by extremist groups. They feel that the Polish authorities’ attitude to any given ethnic group is conditioned by Poland’s relationship with the country in question.[914] This concept appears to be supported, among other things, by the circumstances surrounding Russian citizens in Poland as mentioned above.

The situation remains difficult with the Roma facing discrimination in employment, rental housing, banking services, and social and educational services (especially the low attendance of Roma children, especially girls, at primary and secondary schools is frequently cited). Three committees have brought up these problems in recent years: the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2019, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities[915], and the Committee on the Rights of the Child drew attention to the clashes between Poles and Roma in Melec and also noted that the town of Maszkowice lived in inadequate housing conditions the Committee on the Rights of the Child in September 2021.[916] In its 2022 report, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights drew attention to the clashes between Poles and Roma in Melec and also noted that the town of Maszkowice lived in inadequate housing conditions.[917]

Migrants and asylum seekers in Poland are discriminated against. The conclusions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus report “The most resonant cases of human rights violations in some countries around the world” 2022 confirm this.[918]

Human rights organizations have criticized Warsaw for its categorical refusal to let asylum seekers pass and provide them with medical, legal, and other assistance in the context of the crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border that began in the summer of 2021 and was associated with attempts by people from the Near and Middle East to enter EU territory. The brutal treatment of refugees by Polish border guards has become public. From September to November 2021, Polish authorities imposed a state of emergency in the border zone with Belarus in 183 settlements of Podlaskie and Lubelskie voivodeships. This area was temporarily closed to public events, visitors who did not live in the emergency area, and picture and video recording by Polish law enforcement officials. Representatives of the media, public and humanitarian organizations, and independent observers were not permitted to enter the emergency zone. From December 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration of Poland issued an order prohibiting non-residents from remaining in the designated territories, but media entry was permitted under certain conditions.

At the same time, human rights organizations disregard Poland’s damaging involvement in the migration issue, as well as Polish border guards’ excessive treatment of unlawful migrants. It also doesn’t evaluate the steps Warsaw has taken to erect a wall along its border with Belarus, ostensibly to keep out illegal immigration, or the catastrophic environmental damage these actions have already caused and will continue to cause (a significant portion of these constructions pass through the Bialowieza Forest, the largest primeval relic forest area in Europe).

According to Human Rights Watch, between June and October 2021, at least 13 migrants died in the area near the border.

It should be noted that there were preconditions for such a situation. The Polish Border Guard has frequently turned down requests for international legal protection from foreigners wanting to enter the country in recent years. This practice was applied to Russian citizens, among others.

Human rights groups point out that Poland disobeys its commitments to safeguard asylum seekers on a global scale. The 2013 Law on Foreigners and the 2003 Law on Granting Protection to Foreigners in Poland were both amended by the Polish government in August 2021. Now, if a foreigner crosses the border unlawfully or arrives from a nation where he was not in danger, his claim for refugee status or political asylum may not be taken into consideration. Russian and Belarusian immigrants are also included in this group. Additionally, these revisions give the border service the authority to remove migrants right away if they try to enter Polish territory without passing through official checkpoints.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) took note of the dire humanitarian situation at the Polish-Belarusian border, as well as the Belarusian-Lithuanian and Belarusian-Latvian borders (it is reported that by the end of 2021, 28,000, 8,000, and 4,000 migrants would not be allowed into Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, respectively), as well as the legislative changes adopted by Warsaw allowing for the expulsion of migrants.[919] According to data provided by FRA, the largest numbers of incidents involving the “expulsion” of[920] illegal migrants were recorded in Poland, Croatia, Greece and Hungary.

Felipe González Morales, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. who visited Poland and Belarus in July 2022 to research the issue, also brought attention to the difficulties faced by migrants at the Polish border. He mentioned in his statement following the visit[921] that Polish border guards actively practice expelling migrants, preventing them from entering the country, rejecting asylum requests, and using force against refugees. Both women and children face similar attitudes. Among others, Felipe González Morales noted that the expulsion of migrants was carried out by Polish border guards in such a way that it would not be noticed by Belarusian border guards. The time of day and weather conditions are not taken into account. He also pointed out that Polish border guards officially record only the first case of detention and expulsion of illegal migrants. If such persons are detained repeatedly, their detention as well as their expulsion is no longer recorded in any way. It is impossible to acquire accurate data on the number of migrants and the number of times they are expelled from Polish territory because one individual may be expelled from Polish territory many times.

The Special Rapporteur underlined that some migrants are vulnerable to expulsions and linger along the Belarusian-Polish border, which passes through Bialowieza Forest. According to him, building a five-meter high fence with barbed wire on the border between Poland and Belarus will not deter migrants from trying to enter Polish territory; rather, it will only put them in more danger and worsen the humanitarian situation there.

Polish society treats immigrants differently depending on where they are from. In particular, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, spoke about double standards with respect to refugees. Although the Special Rapporteur noted that the situation regarding the reception of Ukrainian refugees in Poland was generally favorable, he also drew attention to the disparity in the way that Polish authorities treated Ukrainian citizens and immigrants from other countries, including migrants who had come from Ukraine and requested asylum there. The Special Rapporteur was forced to highlight the differences in how migrants are received. As a result, it was discovered that Ukrainian people in Poland were primarily housed in private houses of Polish nationals, rather than in official institutions for foreigners. To receive Ukrainians, Polish authorities deployed primary reception, food and medical care points. They were given free rail and bus travel across Poland and even to neighboring nations.[922]

The status of migrants attempting to enter Poland via Belarus, the most of whom are from North Africa and the Middle East, is markedly different. In addition to the obstacles to crossing the Polish border described above, those migrants who do enter Polish territory are often held in specialized closed centers for foreigners run by the Polish Border Guard Service. The living conditions there are unsatisfactory.

Polish officials acknowledge the dire situation of such institutions. Hanna Machińska, Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Poland, speaking in February 2022 before the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, reported a “humanitarian disaster” in closed centers for foreigners on Polish territory. According to her, the conditions at such centers are worse than in prisons: 25 people are crammed into one room, with only around 2 square meters per person (the standard in Polish prisons is 3 square meters), and the restrooms are hundreds of meters away in the street. There is a low level of medical and psychological care. Asylum seekers also face difficulties due to their lack of knowledge of the language and the absence of translation support.

Civil society organizations have also confirmed cases of discriminatory treatment of refugees arriving from Ukraine. In its report, the NGO Never Again noted racially motivated violence against black Ukrainian refugees, attempts at extortion and fraud under the guise of assistance, cases of denial of assistance to refugees due to nationality, religion (Orthodoxy), preventing Ukrainian children from accessing education, and cases of xenophobic gatherings and manifestations, including in places of religious worship.[923]

Despite a slight improvement in the severity of the situation with migrants on the Belarusian-Polish border in Poland, incidents of racism by border guards against refugees from the Middle East and North Africa region have been documented. Consequently, on November 8, 2022, Belarusian border guards discovered a foreigner who had been battered by Polish law enforcement on their border. The individu