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22 February 2006

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the second and third periodic reports of Lithuania on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Oskaras Jusys, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, introducing the report, said that Lithuanian legislation prohibited racial and national discrimination, and such discrimination was punishable in the courts. Minorities formed a relatively small, and not always very visible, part of the Lithuanian population. The State, however, recognized that minority groups were a huge asset and had contributed greatly to the country's development, and therefore saw it as its task to make those groups feel at home in Lithuania.

In preliminary remarks, Nourredine Amir, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for Lithuania, recalled that he had found Lithuanian legislation to be among the most progressive that the Committee had ever examined, and that it was a shining example for other countries in this field. The resolution of social problems was not just a matter of time, but also a matter of resources and cooperation, he noted.

During the discussion, which took place over two meetings, Committee Experts also raised further questions on a variety of issues regarding minority groups, including the Roma; racist attitudes in the media; details of pending cases of discrimination before Lithuanian courts; statistics on intermarriage between minority groups and ethnic Lithuanians; how the quota for foreign workers was established; the situation of those without documents regarding access to health care, especially emergency health care; and the definition which Lithuania used for both ethnic and national minorities.

The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the second and third periodic reports of Lithuania, which were presented in one document, at the end of its session, which concludes on 10 March.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it is scheduled to begin consideration of the initial to sixth periodic reports of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CERD/C/464/Add.1).

Report of Lithuania

The second and third periodic reports of Lithuania, presented in one document (CERD/C/461/Add.2), note that Lithuania is a country with only a small minority population, mostly concentrated in its urban centres, particularly in and around the municipality of Vilnius. Some 83.5 per cent of Lithuanians are of Lithuanian ethnic heritage. By far the largest minority group is that of Polish ancestry, which makes up 6.7 per cent of the population. Other ethnicities present in Lithuania include groups from countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Germany. There are also persons of Jewish, Tartar, Latvian and Roma ancestry, which each represent 0.1 per cent of the population.

In the period from 2000 to 2003, following the presentation of Lithuania’s initial report, numerous basic laws have been passed in connection with the implementation of articles 2 to 7 of the Convention, including new codes of civil and criminal law; a new labour code; a new version of the Law on Courts, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of a person’s sex, race, origin, ethnicity, language or on other grounds; a new version of the Law on Education, which ensures equal access to education by all as well as providing for the education in and teaching of the languages of national minorities and the native-language studies of persons belonging to national minorities; and the Law on Equal Treatment, which prohibits any direct or indirect discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, sexual orientation, state of health, race, ethnic origin, religion or opinions and provides instruments for implementing the principle of equal treatment, among others.

As the most disadvantaged social group, the Roma has been the target of numerous social programmes to improve their social situation and to integrate them into the Lithuanian population, as well as to preserve and encourage the practice of their language, customs and traditions.

Presentation of Report

OSKARAS JUSYS, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said the report, which was submitted in 2004, incorporated information from a large number of State and municipal institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations. Lithuania did not have a single body to deal with racial discrimination because that was the task of all State institutions. Lithuanian legislation prohibited racial and national discrimination, and such discrimination was punishable in the courts. Minorities formed a relatively small, and not always very visible, part of the Lithuanian population. The State, however, recognized that minority groups were a huge asset and had contributed greatly to the country's development, and therefore saw it as its task to make those groups feel at home in Lithuania. Lithuania's recent accession to the European Union, one of the basic tenets of which was respect for fundamental human rights, would undoubtedly benefit the situation of everyone in the country, including members of the minority community.

Additional progress had been made since the report was submitted, including the drafting of a new programme to integrate the Roma, the establishment of an Equal Opportunities Ombudsman in 2005, mandated to consider complaints of discrimination on racial or national grounds, and the continuation of assistance programmes for refugees. Mr. Jusys noted that Roma often did not take advantage of the many programmes, such as language classes, provided for them, as it seemed that they did not seek to integrate into Lithuanian society, but rather hoped to move on to richer countries. While legislation existed to eradicate discrimination, attention was also drawn to efforts by non-governmental organizations to implement projects that promoted tolerance, which the Government welcomed. Promotion of tolerance was also part of Lithuania's education programme. The eradication of discrimination was closely linked to the promotion of a culture of tolerance. Laws themselves were not enough; they had to be accompanied by the promotion of tolerance throughout society. The principle of non-discrimination on racial or ethnic grounds was a constitutional principle in Lithuania and one that the State was determined to apply.

Response by Delegation to Written Questions Presented in Advance

With regard to the application of the Convention and other multilateral instruments in the Lithuanian legal system, the delegation stated that in at least one case, an applicant had relied on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination in a situation where racial discrimination was alleged, and that authority had been accepted by the court. That said, Lithuanian courts were inclined to rely mostly on domestic law rather than on the direct application of international instruments, probably because they were simply more familiar with it, given the large number of multilateral treaties to which Lithuania was a party. Noting that there had been no successful criminal prosecutions for racial discrimination in the reporting period, the delegation said that that was because of the difficulty to prove that the act in question was racially motivated. Such crimes, if proved, bore heavy punishments under Lithuanian law, which provided for heavier penalties for crimes with negative motivations. New legislation was being drafted on hate crimes.

The issue of Roma people had been addressed in several different sections of the report, the delegation said. In that regard, it should be noted that the problem of social issues that they faced were only taken up recently, given that it had not been addressed under the Soviet regime, which was when most of the Roma had settled in Lithuania. There were only about 2,500 Roma in Lithuania, but they did not form a homogenous group. Some of them spoke Lithuanian and had been in Lithuania for a long time, while others had not and were not at all integrated into society. Most Roma lived mainly in major urban centres, particularly in and around Vilnius. Despite their concentration in urban centres, however, it was difficult for the Government to engage meaningfully with the Roma as a large number of their leaders had left the country over the past few years. Admittedly, this group probably faced the greatest challenges to integration within Lithuanian society. It was for that reason that the Roma had been targeted for special assistance. In 2000 a five-year programme was launched to help address their situation and the Roma benefited from various social benefits, including financial aid, education for their children and housing. The municipality of Vilnius, in particular, had undertaken a number of initiatives including mobile consultation services for the Roma population that disseminated information on social benefits that were available to them, including subsidized housing. Currently 40 Roma families lived in subsidized housing as a result of that programme.

Regarding social services for minorities and foreigners, the delegation said that all social services were provided for those who were in Lithuania legally. Social services were provided for those who had the status of asylum-seekers and refugees, and those groups benefited from additional social protections and benefits.

With respect to the question raised by the Committee on the ratification of ILO Convention 169, the delegation said that Lithuania did not have any indigenous or tribal peoples, and thus there was no real need to ratify this instrument. Nevertheless, Lithuania ensured the right of all to pursue secondary education in their national language of origin and the accession to the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in education was currently being discussed.

Oral Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Committee Experts

NOURREDINE AMIR, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for Lithuania, began by reviewing the issues the Committee had singled out for attention by Lithuania in the Committee’s previous concluding observations on the initial report, asking whether there had been consultations with minorities on education programmes that targeted them; what was being done to better the situation of Roma, as the most disadvantaged social group; the lack of information on the rights of those temporarily residing on Lithuanian soil, especially asylum-seekers and refugees who had been the subject of discrimination in the past; and the issue of racial statements and the incitement of racial violence by politicians. Overall, he was very impressed by the way in which Lithuania had addressed each of those issues in the present report. He was interested to know, however, with regard to inflammatory racial statements by politicians, why the Ombudsman on Equal Opportunities had neither received any complaints in that regard, nor had any complaints been lodged against civil servants. Indeed, since 1995 not a single case of racial discrimination had been brought before the courts.

Mr. Amir noted that amendments to the law on asylum-seekers made in 2002 sought to address the gap in the legal status of those foreigners on Lithuanian soil, including the provision of temporary assistance permits. In the legislative sphere, numerous new legislative initiatives had been taken, including a new civil code, a new penal code, criminal code and civil procedure. In the administrative sphere, he commended the new administrative body that directed policy on minorities living in Lithuania, the Council of National Communities, as well as the establishment, in 2003, of the Standing Group of Experts, to protect the over 3 million people that made up the minority population.

One issue that had not been addressed by the report, Mr. Amir pointed out, was Lithuania's non-ratification of Article 14 of the Convention, which would allow Lithuanians to bring discrimination complaints directly before the Committee. He urged the delegation to accede to that article. He also noted that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action had not been mentioned in the report.

Overall he considered Lithuania a shining example, not just for Europe, but for the whole world. Their report should be used as a model.

Other experts asked questions on a variety of issues regarding minority groups, including the Roma; racist attitudes in the media; details of pending cases of discrimination before Lithuanian courts; statistics on intermarriage between minority groups and ethnic Lithuanians; how the quota for foreign workers was established; the situation of those without documents regarding access to health care, especially emergency health care; and the definition which Lithuania used for both ethnic and national minorities.

Response by Delegation to Oral Questions

With regards to why the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action had not been specifically mentioned in the report, the delegation affirmed that the obligations and activities to address discrimination that had been outlined in the report were all in line with the Declaration and Programme and that the Government was mindful of the commitments undertaken at Durban. Regarding criticisms of the research techniques employed in drafting the sociological study, "Profiles of tolerance in Lithuania" carried out under the National Human Rights Action Plan, the actual research had been carried out by a private company using its own techniques. None of that, however, should overshadow the benefit of that study. While it was true that there was not a single state authority to address racial discrimination, there were three controllers' offices that dealt with some of these issues, including the Parliamentary Controller to deal with abuse of power by state officials, the Children's Rights Ombudsman and the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman.

Regarding the distinction between national and ethnic minorities, the delegation said the draft law on national minorities defined a national minority as persons belonging to a group which had a national country and ethnic minorities as those that did not, such as Tartars.

Concerning the perhaps vague language in paragraph 19, which dealt with Lithuanian-Polish relations, and which had been construed by experts as indicating tension between the two States, the delegation said that the language may have been vague, but the intention had been just the opposite. It had been meant to show how closely the two States worked together. Indeed, the only outstanding issue between the two States involved disputes between experts on how to write the Polish names in Lithuania and Lithuanian names in Poland, as those countries used different alphabets.

In addition to the programmes that had already been described targeting the integration of the Roma population, the delegation drew attention to a large-scale project that was being planned, in conjunction with the European Union, to address the integration of the Roma into the labour market. Among the technical programmes currently in place to aid the Roma was an education class that was attended by 20 Roma children which would increase their chances of finding employment. A small museum on Roma history and culture was planned. While there was no official data on mixed families in the Roma community, as it was such a small community and had such great interaction with the State, the delegation could state informally that there were 10 such marriages in Lithuania.

With regards to the issue of trafficking in persons, the delegation said Lithuania had a programme to prevent trafficking in persons. There had been amendments to the Penal Code which had widened the scope of the law on this issue and increased punishment for the culprits – now, trafficking in children could be punished by up to 15 years in prison.

Preliminary Remarks

NOURREDINE AMIR, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for Lithuania, recalled that he had already outlined his evaluation of the situation in Lithuania in his initial statement at the beginning of the examination of the report, and that it would therefore be redundant to do so again here. He did want to highlight once again, however, that he had found Lithuanian legislation to be among the most progressive that the Committee had ever examined, and that it was a shining example for other countries in this field. The resolution of social problems was not just a matter of time, but also a matter of resources and cooperation, he concluded.
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