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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines report of Lithuania

GENEVA (1 May 2019) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined ninth and tenth periodic report of Lithuania on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Neris Germanas, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said that the Lithuanian Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics contributed to preventing and fighting hate speech in the country.  It organized workshops for social workers, teachers, and institutions interacting with vulnerable groups.  A public information campaign had also been conducted to raise awareness on hate speech.  Prosecutors still faced challenges when they were organizing and conducting pre-trial investigations.  The examination of complaints, reports and statements proved challenging due to a lack of efficient procedures.  The Ministry of Justice, aiming to strengthen the State’s support for the victims of violent crimes, had prepared an amendment to improve the compensation system for damages that was regulated by the Law on Compensation for Violent Crimes.  The draft legislation sought to comply with a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union which instructed the State to make provisions for compensating victims of violent crimes.  At the national level, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour continued to improve legislation on the integration and reception of asylum seekers and refugees.  

In the dialogue that followed, while commending the State party’s efforts to establish a national human rights institution, Committee Experts raised concerns about its funding and ability to perform all its functions.  Furthermore, the Committee had been told that refugees were not properly integrated in Lithuania.  Did the Government plan to require that border agents register all asylum applications and refer them to asylum authorities?  Would it conduct relevant impartial investigations of all cases of alleged denials of entry into the territory and asylum procedures?  Committee Experts also asked if the Government intended to allocate additional financial resources to the improvement and expansion of accommodation and related support for asylum seekers.  Regarding the cases of racial discrimination mentioned in the report, they asked for details about the sentences that had been handed down.  Where did the responsibility for the burden of proof lie for such cases?

In her concluding remarks, Yanduan Li, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, thanked members of the delegation for their answers.  She commended the delegation for its openness, which had allowed a constructive and fruitful dialogue to take place.

Mr. Germanas thanked the Committee for the productive exchange of views.  Reaffirming Lithuania’s obligations to promote and protect all human rights, he stressed that the Government had made significant efforts to uphold them.  The delegation would submit additional information to the Committee in writing.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, said the delegation had been very approachable and friendly, and that had been very much appreciated by the Committee.  The Committee and Lithuania were moving in the direction of results and achieving the common goal of combatting racial discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

The delegation of Lithuania consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Department of National Minorities, Department for Criminal Prosecution and the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will meet in private this afternoon, contrary to what had been initially previewed. 

Report

The Committee had before it the ninth and tenth periodic report of Lithuania (CERD/C/LTU/9-10).

Presentation of the Report

NERIS GERMANAS, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said that this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the entry into force of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  The Convention remained the key international instrument to combat racial discrimination worldwide.  He reaffirmed Lithuania’s strong commitment to uphold its national and international human rights obligations and combat racial discrimination in all its forms.  The Lithuanian Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics contributed to preventing and fighting hate speech in the country.  It notably organized workshops for social workers, teachers, and institutions interacting with vulnerable groups.  A public information campaign had also been conducted to raise awareness on hate speech.  Problems relating to regulations persisted, however.  Prosecutors still faced challenges when they were organizing and conducting pre-trial investigations.  The examination of complaints, reports and statements proved challenging due to a lack of efficient procedures.  The Ministry of Justice, aiming to strengthen the State’s support for the victims of violent crimes, had prepared an amendment to improve the compensation system for damages that was regulated by the Law on Compensation for Violent Crimes.  The draft legislation sought to comply with a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union which instructed the State to make provisions for compensating victims of violent crimes. 

The Law on State-guaranteed Legal Aid, which was adopted on 30 June 2018, stipulated that secondary legal aid, such as assistance by a lawyer, was provided to victims regardless of their financial situation.  On human trafficking, the State continued to develop comprehensive policy with the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the Convention on the Protection of Children against Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.  In addition, diplomats and journalists received training on these issues.  Human rights issues were integrated in the general curricula for primary and secondary education.  A component of the curricula focused on citizenship education aiming to foster the ability of individuals, and society as a whole, to accept global changes and cultural diversity; demonstrate tolerance of different peoples; respect national minorities’ rights; and preserve the national identity in a culturally diverse context.

Lithuania was actively contributing to the international community’s efforts to address the global migration and refugee challenges.  It had supported the adoption of the United Nations Global Compacts on migration and refugees.  At the national level, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour continued to improve legislation on the integration and reception of asylum seekers and refugees.  An action plan for 2018-2019 had been adopted to foster the integration of foreigners into society.  In that context, 32 projects had been carried out.  Since 2015, the State had provided support to 1,279 people under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund 2014-2020.  

Questions by the Committee Experts

YANDUAN LI, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, thanked the head of the delegation for the presentation.  The report included substantial information, which had helped the Committee to better understand the Convention’s state of implementation in Lithuania.   She congratulated Lithuania on the accreditation of their Ombudsman’s Office as a national human rights institution.  In spite of the progress made by the State party in the implementation of its international duties, Ms. Li said she had some questions.

The Committee recommended that the State incorporated all grounds for discrimination in its legal domestic definition of racial discrimination, in compliance with article 1 of the Convention.  She noted that grounds such as “colour”, “descent”, and “national origin” were not mentioned in the relevant laws.  Could the delegation provide more information on the courts’ position on the definition of discrimination?  She asked if there were any relevant decisions or interpretations in that regard.  Turning to the law on national minorities, which expired in 2010, the Committee hoped that Lithuania could inform on the progress of the draft law.  She asked for information on the progress achieved and the State’s plan and strategy.

While commending the State party’s efforts to establish a national human rights institution, the Rapporteur raised concerns about its funding and its ability to perform all its functions.  She asked for clarification on the matter. 

Turning to hate speech, the Rapporteur said some politicians and media outlets were still using strong language in incitement of hatred against vulnerable groups of society.  Anti-migrant, anti-refugee and Islamophobic discourse was used, in particular by some populist parties.  Did Lithuania plan to allocate more resources to fight hate speech.  Concerning hate crimes, there was no specific plan of action dedicated to this issue.  The State party said that training in the field of hatred-related crime investigations was organized for law enforcement officials, the Prosecutor’s Office and judges.  She asked the delegation to comment on reports that only two training sessions were held between 2015 and the date on which the report was submitted, involving 24 officers.  It was not clear if any training sessions had been organized in 2018 and whether any were planned for 2019.  Could Lithuania comment on this. 

On the Roma community, the Committee appreciated Lithuania’s efforts to ensure its integration, as illustrated by its action plans, the Rapporteur stated.  And yet, it had been reported that Roma education rates still differed considerably from the national average.  Further, while education for the general population was increasing, Lithuanian Roma education had only improved at the lowest level, namely primary and basic education.  Could the delegation provide more information on Roma children’s education and the Government’s work to improve it?

The Committee had been told that refugees were not properly integrated in Lithuania.  Did the Government plan to require that border agents register all asylum applications and refer them to asylum authorities?  Would it conduct relevant impartial investigations of all cases of alleged denials of entry into the territory and asylum procedures?  The Rapporteur also asked if the Government intended to provide more financial resources to further improve and expand accommodation and reception support for asylum seekers.

GUN KUT, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, said the adoption and ratification of article 8 of the Convention was very much appreciated by the Committee, as was the State party’s novel approach to reporting.

Another Expert said that it would be useful to include information about national minorities in the core document.  Regarding article 7 of the Convention, Lithuania’s approach to human rights education was commendable and could serve as a model for other countries.  

An Expert asked about the number of cases of discrimination, the sanctions imposed and the remedies provided.  On Roma integration, a European Union report had noted that despite progress, there was still uncertainty regarding the funding of the action plan for the years 2015-2020.  He asked for information about the number of cases relating to discrimination against Roma that were submitted to the Ombudsperson as well as remedies that had been provided.  Could the delegation provide information on the Government’s efforts to combat human trafficking? 

Referring to a study called “Being Black in the European Union,” another Expert pointed out that Lithuania was not mentioned in it.  She asked the delegation to comment on their absence from the study.  Could it provide information on Lithuania’s black population and instances of anti-black racism in the country?

Another Expert said information on pre-trial investigations could not be retrieved from the Office of the Prosecutor’s information system.  Were these technical lapses being addressed?   On the provision of health care to the Roma community, he asked about the effects of not being covered by compulsory health insurance, in particular for those who were not gainfully employed.  Furthermore, the number of stateless people had not significantly decreased in the past few years, he noted.  What could Lithuania do to improve this situation?

Noting that there were numerous national minorities in Lithuania, another Expert asked if there were any represented in the delegation.  Regarding the cases of racial discrimination mentioned in the report, he asked for details about the sentences that were handed down.  Where did the responsibility for the burden of proof lie for such cases?

On stateless people, another Expert asked if the Government was considering the adoption of the international conventions that protected this segment of the population.  Were there any alternatives for the people that were excluded from the compulsory healthcare system?

Replies by the Delegation

NERIS GERMANAS, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said the figures that had been included in the core document were being updated.  

A delegate explained that the first version of the law on national minorities was very broad.  A new generation of lawyers recently started to consider how it could be updated to address the specific needs of particular groups.  Different political parties had their own points of view on this issue.  The Government had been acting as a mediator, maintaining a constant dialogue with national minorities, lawyers and academics.  Under the current law, any group could register as a national minority, even if their community was comprised of just a few members.  The Hungarian community, for instance, only had about 40 members, despite having deep historical roots.  Some human rights defenders believed that every minority group should be granted rights, whereas historical national minorities favoured the establishment of a definite, closed list of national minorities, which would be included in the new version of the law.  While the dialogue on this matter was still ongoing, a first draft of the new law would be drawn up by 7 June 2019.

The delegation said there were people from various nationalities in Lithuania, but not all of them were represented by non-governmental organizations.  Some groups, such as the Polish and Russian communities, could send their children to schools where classes were imparted in their native languages.  As for smaller communities, they had organizations that offered languages schools called “Saturday schools” which were supported by the Department of National Minorities.  

Turning to the Roma community, the delegation said there were about 2,000 of them, the vast majority of whom were Lithuanian citizens.   The Department of National Minorities made significant efforts to prevent Roma children from dropping out of school.  A network of social workers had been working on this issue, along with non-governmental organizations.  A project called “Roma Platform” mobilized active members of the Roma community who, against remuneration, served as mediators between the Roma community and Lithuanian governing institutions.  Efforts were made to address unemployment issues in the Roma communities through adult education; the Department of National Minorities offered distance education in partnership with local municipalities, for instance.  On compulsory health insurance, every child under the age of 18, pregnant women, and people who were employed benefited from it.  Reaching out to people who were not covered, such as people who worked on the black market, was not easy.  The Department of National Minorities partnered with mediators and non-governmental organizations, amongst others, to that end.  It was important to note that everybody had access to urgent medical care.

On hate speech, the Constitution of Lithuania established the principle of non-discrimination and the criminal code forbade discrimination on various grounds, the delegation recalled.  The Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics was building capacity in civil society organizations and liaising with companies like Facebook and Twitter.  It held workshops to provide Lithuanians with the opportunity to reflect on hate speech and the best ways to address it.  An online tool was developed to allow civil society to report hate crimes.  The criminal code defined hate crimes, but also stipulated that other types of crimes could also be considered as such, when aggravating circumstances warranted it.  The Ministry of Justice was working on improving the registration of, and collection of data on, hate crimes.  This work had started following recommendations made by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to that effect.  

The Prosecutor General’s Office had a group of specialized prosecutors dealing with hate crimes.  It also offered training on racism, racial discrimination, hate crimes and hate speech, and prosecutors had been asked to pay special attention to hate crimes and hate speech.  Inter-institutional meetings were being held to work on this issue.  The Prosecutor General’s Office would organize a meeting of the specialized prosecutors with non-governmental organizations to exchange views on challenges faced and identify common goals.  Moving forward, it would continue to implement clear and precise regulation, provide adequate protection to victims and ensure its staff was properly trained. 

The Ministry of Interior would provide training on hate crimes and hate speech to judges, police officers and prosecutors.  

On asylum seekers, Lithuania had improved reception conditions: healthcare, psychological support and social services were provided to them.  On 18 March 2017, the Government had adopted a resolution on alternative accommodation for asylum seekers.  In implementing this resolution, which allowed asylum seekers to stay in apartments rather than refugee reception centres, the Ministry of Interior signed agreements with non-governmental organizations such as the Lithuanian Red Cross and Caritas.  People who had been granted asylum received various services as well as necessities free of charge.  They were also offered monthly benefits.  Furthermore, amendments had been made to relevant laws to ensure the uniform treatment of refugees and people benefiting from social benefits.  Employers who hired refugees or people who had received subsidiary protection status could receive subsidies representing up to 75 per cent of their positions’ costs.  

On statelessness, the Government had ratified the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.  While the number of stateless persons had gone down in Lithuania, the delegation acknowledged that it should be further reduced.

There was no special protection for victims of racial discrimination provided by the current legislation, unless they had also been victims of violent crimes and applied for compensation as such.  The Government had extended the concept of violent crimes and simplified the procedure to obtain compensation.  The amount of compensation offered had also been revised. 

Lithuania had a national action plan against trafficking in human beings.  It sought to strengthen support to persons at a risk of becoming victims of trafficking.  There was also a coordinating commission tasked with addressing this issue, which was comprised of government officials, as well as representatives of international organizations and non-governmental organizations.  Preventive leaflets were disseminated at airports, and other campaigns would be conducted in 2019 to further raise awareness on human trafficking.  Various ministries and governmental bodies had been working to improve inter-institutional cooperation and coordination in addressing this issue.  

Given that domestic workers were not common in Lithuania, no specific provisions protecting them were included in the labour code.  Domestic workers therefore were protected by general provisions pertaining to the relationship between an employer and an employee.

The delegation said that between 2017 and 2019, the budget allocated to the Ombudsperson's Office had increased.  Furthermore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had proposed that the Ombudsperson’s Office join the delegation, but they had declined the offer.

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts

Another Expert enquired about the population decline in Lithuania.  He asked if the Government intended to organize activities celebrating the International Decade for People of African Descent.  

YANDUAN LI, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, asked for more information on the acquisition of Lithuanian citizenship by stateless children born in Lithuania.  The Lithuania legislation contravened international conventions on statelessness.  How did the Government intend to address this issue?

Turning to people of African descent, another Expert asked for statistics on their presence in Lithuania.  Had there been any complaints of racial discrimination against people of African descent?  Had there been any instances of discrimination or racism against black footballers?

Another Expert said that national human rights institutions could not be part of country delegations once they had acquired an A status.  She congratulated the Government for having created the environment in which the Lithuanian national human rights institution could be granted such a status.  Had there been any domestic worker abuse cases brought before Lithuanian courts?

Did the Government have any plans to protect the Karaite community, asked another Expert.

Replies by the Delegation
           
NERIS GERMANAS, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said that after Lithuania joined the European Union, numerous Lithuanians decided to leave the country temporarily.  There were many Lithuanian nationals in London, for instance.  Dual citizenship was forbidden in Lithuania, but a referendum on the issue would be held in the coming months.

Every year, events were organized to celebrate people of African descent.  This year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs would take part in such activities on 25 May.  Regarding instances of racism in football, he said he had no information on the matter.

The Ombudsperson's Office was a constitutional institution, which had been set up to examine individual complaints related to the abuse of power and bureaucratic shortcomings.  Its mandate had evolved and now included promoting human rights and seeking the harmonization of domestic legislation with international conventions in the field of human rights.    

The Department of National Minorities was working to support the Karaite community.  An event had been organized in April to mark the publication of a Karaite song collection.

On stateless children, the delegation said it was a very sensitive situation and steps would be taken to address it.  A proposal to amend the relevant laws were being considered.

Turning to legal aid for victims of terrorism, the delegation said the Government was working to extend the list of cases for which secondary legal aid was provided to victims.

Third Round of Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert asked about the presence of minorities in the prison population.  

Another Expert asked about the burden of proof in cases of racial discrimination and the number of sentences that were handed down in discrimination cases.  Could the Convention be directly invoked before a court in Lithuania?  What was the status of international treaties, such as the Convention, in domestic legislation?

Regarding hate speech, it was a good thing that the Government’s approach focused on fines, said another Expert.  When it came to the media and politicians, who were powerful, it was important that prosecutors and courts were able to do their work without cowing.  Could the delegation provide information about instances where politicians or the media were prosecuted?  This would illustrate that courts and prosecutors were able to discharge their duties.

Replies by the Delegation
           
The responsibility for the burden of proof did not lie with victims but rather with the State.

The Convention’s status in the domestic legal system was established by the Constitution.  It stipulated that international treaties that had been ratified were considered part of the domestic legal system and therefore had force of law in Lithuania.

Concluding Remarks  

YANDUAN LI, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, thanked the members of the delegation for their answers.  She commended the delegation for its openness, which had allowed a constructive and fruitful dialogue to take place.

NERIS GERMANAS, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, thanked the Committee for the productive exchange of views.  Reaffirming Lithuania’s obligations to promote and protect all human rights, he stressed that the Government had made significant efforts to uphold them.  Lithuania valued its cooperation with the United Nations’ human rights treaty bodies.  The delegation would submit additional information to the Committee in writing.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, said the delegation had been very approachable and friendly, and that had been very much appreciated by the Committee.  The Committee and Lithuania were moving in the direction of results and achieving the common goal of combatting racial discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

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