GENEVA (17 August 2023) – UN human rights experts* today expressed grave concern about new legislation that appears to eliminate minority language education.
“Recent legislative amendments appear to severely restrict education in Estonia’s minority languages by making the transition to Estonian-language education compulsory for all pre-school and school institutions, including those operating in a minority language or bilingual institutions,” the UN experts said.
The “Act on Amendments to the Basic School and Gymnasium Act and Other Acts (Transition to Estonian-Language Education)”, adopted by the Estonian Parliament on 12 December, introduces restrictive and potentially discriminatory measures affecting the rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities in education.
The legislation reportedly allows “language and cultural studies” for minority children whose mother tongue or native language is not Estonian only under certain conditions, as part of these specific classes and for a short period of time.
“In other words, minority language has been effectively eliminated as a medium of instruction,” the experts said.
They expressed particular concern about how the new provisions could affect members of the Russian linguistic minority, who make up a significant proportion of the country’s population. Despite protests from Russian-speaking parents and children, a number of Russian-language schools have reportedly been closed in recent years.
“By eliminating minority language instruction in pre-schools and schools, the new law severely restricts minority language education in Estonia, in contravention of international human rights instruments,” the experts said.
The UN experts have been in contact with the Estonian Government regarding these issues.
* The experts: Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, and Ms. Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on education.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page - Estonia
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