Human rights allegations against Baltics baseless, says watchdog

Nils Muižnieks, the Latvian who is the current Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe, has dismissed Russian allegations that Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia face discrimination.

Speaking to LTV's Ilze Nagla in Brussels, Muižnieks said Russia's constant sniping at the Baltic states regarding the status of the Russian minority population was baseless.

"There are some accusations that are totally without foundation - such as the idea there is a resurgence or glorification of Nazism. There are no neo-Nazi parties, though of course there have been some isolated cases of anti-Semitism and violence against minorities. But there have been no systemic, racially-motivated murders in either Latvia or the other Baltic states. Of course there are very differing and controversial interpretations of history, but I think it is quite unfair to talk about a rehabilitation of Nazism," Muižnieks said.

Recent attempts to make it easier than ever for children of "non-citizens" to gain citizenship should be acknowledged, he said.

"There are some problems, but there have been many improvements. For nearly 20 years I have been stressing the importance of non-citizens' children's rights. The law has recently been amended, and now almost all children of non-citizens who are born are registered as citizens. This is a big step forward.

However, he did admit that recent debates concerning the use of minority languages in schools had caused him some concern.

"Regarding language, the previous government did cause me some concern when it talked about changing secondary school education so that it was only in Latvian, which completely ignored Latvia's minority obligations under the [European Human Rights] Convention and the Constitutional Court's ruling on minority education."

"Fortunately, I have just read the new government's declaration of its plans and I do not see any mention of a transition to Latvian-only education."

And some surveys showed Russian-speakers living in countries such as Finland felt more discriminated-against than Russian-speakers in Latvia and Estonia, Muižnieks said.

"There are various different ways of measuring discrimination. There are complaints that go through the courts, there is survey data, and analysis of legislation. If you read the survey data - then Russians or Russian-speakers do not feel particularly discriminated against in the Baltic countries," Muižnieks said.

Muižnieks has held the position of Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Right since April 2012.

The Council of Europe (CoE), which is not to be confused with the separate European Union and European Council (despite the fact that they share the same flag), is an advisory international organisation including 47 member states. Its most important function is running the European Court of Human Rights.

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