On 26 May 2005, the Saeima (the Latvian Parliament) ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe (the Convention). The term “national minorities” not being defined in the Convention, the Saeima decided that this term, in the meaning of the Convention, shall “apply to citizens of Latvia who differ from Latvians in terms of their culture, religion or language, who have traditionally lived in Latvia for generations and consider themselves to belong to the State and society of Latvia, who wish to preserve and develop their culture, religion or language”.
When defining the concept of ‘national minorities’, Latvia relied on definitions by the States Parties to the Convention, adding an important element – unless specific exceptions are prescribed by the law, “persons who are not citizens of Latvia or another State but who permanently and legally reside in the Republic of Latvia, do not belong to a national minority within the meaning of the Convention as defined in the declaration submitted by Latvia, but who identify themselves with a national minority that meets the definition contained in the declaration, enjoy the rights prescribed in the Convention”.
Upon ratifying the Convention, the Saeima also adopted two declarations stating that Latvia regards as binding - Paragraph 2 of Article 10 and Paragraph 3 of Article 11 of the Convention governing the spheres of use of certain minority languages provided they do not contradict the Satversme (Constitution of Latvia) and other laws and regulations effective in the Republic of Latvia and governing the use of the official language. Senior officials of the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and other countries have welcomed the ratification of the Convention. The ratification has also been received positively both at the bilateral and multilateral level in international organizations.
On 3 March 2021, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted a resolution on the implementation of the Convention by Latvia.
The resolution welcomes positive developments achieved by Latvia in the field of societal integration, including:
· providing support to adults for learning Latvian language, as the result of which, more than 90% of respondents whose first language is Russian know Latvian;
· broad support for national minorities’ cultural events, which has promoted the preservation and development of their cultural identities;
· a varied media environment with broad and diverse content of traditional and electronic media in languages spoken by national minorities;
· support for national minority education programmes: Latvia continues providing funding for national minority education in seven languages (Russian, Belarusian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish or Ukrainian); in addition, funding for minority education programmes has increased over recent years given the increased cost of educational process and the needs of schools with small numbers of students;
· diminishing the number of non-citizens, for instance, by making the naturalisation process easier for various groups of society as well as granting Latvian citizenship to all new-born children.
At the same time, Latvia has received a number of recommendations on ensuring a more effective enjoyment of minority rights, for instance, encouragement to continue with the integration policy, promote effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in public affairs, step up efforts to prevent discrimination against Roma, and improve Roma youth access to education. These recommendations are of an advisory nature.
The adoption of the resolution concluded the third monitoring cycle under the Convention. The Government will continue its dialogue with the Council of Europe during the next cycle of monitoring the implementation, which will begin upon the submission of the national report in the autumn of 2021.
The full text of the Resolution on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia is accessible here.