Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination
20 August 2010
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Estonia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Anne-Ly Reimaa, Undersecretary on International Relations and Cultural Diversity of the Estonian Ministry of Culture, said that in terms of reducing the number of persons with undetermined citizenship, several measures had been undertaken to encourage people with undetermined citizenship to apply for Estonian citizenship. Several campaigns explaining the benefits of naturalization had been launched to raise awareness and motivation among people. In November 2008 the Citizenship and Migration Board prepared a statistical analysis on persons with undetermined citizenship by age group and countries. Priority attention was given to these people in the age group of 0 to 14, with officials of the Citizenship and Migration Board checking the compliance of all children with undetermined citizenship under 15 years of age and in December 2008 they began an information campaign targeted at the parents of these children. The campaign also targeted parents with undetermined citizenship who gave birth to children in Estonia. It was explained to the parents that they could apply for Estonian citizenship for their child under a simplified procedure.
Ms. Reimaa noted that the Committee had raised concerns about the provision of language requirements for the acquisition of Estonian citizenship. Ms. Reimaa said that mastering Estonian demonstrated the wish and will of the applicant for citizenship for integration into Estonian society. Citizenship was a close relationship between a person and a state that was expressed in mutual rights and obligations. Based on the latter, it could be assumed that certain elementary knowledge should be developed in order to create a relationship between the state and a person. It was a principle that Estonian citizenship would be granted to people who had integrated into the State.
In preliminary concluding observations, Patrick Thornberry, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Estonia, noted that Committee Experts spent quite a bit of time talking about the integration strategy, and the question to think about was whether it would be helped by the legal structures in the State and whether it was in harmony with existing laws. There was also a need for a wider dissemination of the Convention in Estonia. He also said that criminal laws could not do all the work of eradicating racial discrimination, so perhaps the conciliation process could be a help in that area. The Rapporteur said he would very much like to see, in due course, a national human rights institution that could take its place in the country in conformity with the Paris Principles.
Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on the office of the Chancellor of Justice and its funding by the State and conformity with the Paris Principles, the status of minority Russian speakers, criteria for the acquisition of citizenship, measures undertaken to address discrimination faced by Roma persons, the persistent problem of people with undetermined citizenship, the need for disaggregated data on ethnic minorities, and the need to revise the criminal code to criminalize hate speech regardless of whether it resulted in a danger to life, health or property.
The delegation of Estonia also included representatives from the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Estonia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the report of Estonia at the end of its session, which concludes on 27 August.
The Committee will next convene in public at 3 p.m. on Friday, 27 August when it will adopt its report and officially close its session.
Report of Estonia
The combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Estonia, submitted in one document (CERD/C/EST/8-9), says that Estonia continues to pay close attention to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms by legislative as well as other measures. Estonia has always condemned racial discrimination and made all efforts to create possibilities for carrying out the policy of elimination of racial discrimination. The fundamental bases for the prohibition of racial discrimination are established by the Constitution. More specifically, the issue of discrimination is regulated in the Equal Treatment Act, the Gender Equality Act, the Wages Act, the Labour Contracts Act, the Penal Code and various other legislation.
The Minister for Population and Ethnic Affairs in cooperation with civil society and experts prepared the new integration strategy for 2008-2013. The Government approved the plan on 10 April 2008. The integration strategy views integration as an important issue which covers the whole society. The purpose of the strategy is to achieve a situation where all permanent inhabitants in Estonia, regardless of their ethnic origin, feel secure, know the state language, share the values enshrined in the Constitution, and are able to participate in social, economic and cultural life of the country. Everyone is ensured the right to maintain and develop their language and culture.
The aim of integration is to strengthen the common state identity of Estonia and develop common understanding of the state among permanent residents of Estonia based on the constitutional values of Estonia as a democratic state governed by the rule of law, as well as on valuing Estonian citizenship and appreciating the contribution of every person to the development of society, while accepting cultural differences. Integration is seen as a two-way process. Successful integration depends on the level of contacts between Estonians and other ethnic groups in Estonia. Until now, integration tended to be a state-level activity where the role of local authorities remained modest. The aim is to highlight regional differences of integration and strengthen cooperation with local authorities. The cornerstone of integration policy is the need to encourage ethnic minorities to participate more actively in social and political life, and more emphasis is placed on equal treatment.
In addition to gender equality related activities, 2007 was the European Year of Equal Opportunities. Estonia’s objective for this year was to raise the awareness of minorities and other population groups about the right to equal treatment and also collect information about the existence of unequal treatment. Focus was on unequal treatment on the grounds of sex, race, ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. Partners and interest groups from all over Estonia were involved in planning and carrying out the activities within the year. The opening conference of the year was focused on the work of equal treatment ombudsmen while the final event dealt with the concept of discrimination.
Presentation of Report
ANNE-LY REIMAA, Undersecretary on International Relations and Cultural Diversity of the Estonian Ministry of Culture, said that in terms of the proceedings conducted by the Chancellor of Justice related to racial or ethnic discrimination, the total number of cases included all proceedings initiated by the Chancellor of Justice, including rejecting an application while providing the complainant with an explanation, but also proceedings initiated by the Chancellor at his or her own initiative. Applications that were directly related to racial or ethnic discrimination had been dealt with by the Chancellor within the framework of the conciliation procedure that was a form of special procedure. In 2007 there were 52 proceedings related to equal treatment, 51 cases in 2008 and 25 cases in 2009. This represented 1.9 per cent, 3.9 per cent and 5 per cent of all cases filed with the Chancellor of Justice respectively.
The Chancellor of Justice had been approached by a number of persons who were imprisoned and who complained that the custodial institution and the Ministry of Justice only accepted documents in the official language and refused to translate the responses provided to the imprisoned persons. The Chancellor of Justice had analyzed the issue of an imprisoned person requiring translation services and found that the rules laid out in the Regulation of the Minister of Justice’s “Prison Internal Procedure Rules” complied with the constitution. The Chancellor of Justice had also repeatedly analyzed the administration practice of prisons and other state agencies in regard to the acceptance of applications filed in Russian and responding to them in Estonian. The Chancellor had established infringements several times and also provided recommendations for amending practices.
Ms. Reimaa said that the allocation of additional resources for the Chancellor of Justice was presently impossible due to the situation of the state budget and therefore providing additional human resources and opening additional offices of the Chancellor of Justice in other areas of the country would not be possible at the moment. The Chancellor of Justice was also of the opinion that making the observance of the proposals of the office mandatory and the exercise of coercive measures was not compatible with the classic role of an ombudsman.
Regarding the National Minorities Cultural Act, Ms. Reimaa informed the Committee that in order to prepare amendments to the act a wide array of representatives of national minorities had been consulted. The amendments were formulated with the aim of eliminating practical obstacles to the activities of cultural autonomies; the current act did not stipulate explicitly that the cultural autonomy bodies were legal entities. This significantly hindered the work of cultural councils of national minorities related to the implementation of the act. The amendments were also intended to detail in the act the procedure for granting the right to act to the cultural autonomy body. The competence, financing and state supervision of the cultural autonomy bodies were also insufficiently regulated in the current act.
Ms. Reimaa said the Government was of the opinion that the rights of national minorities were guaranteed under the current legislation, in particular the constitution, under which everyone was equal before the law and the rights, freedoms, and duties of each and every person should be equal for Estonian citizens and for citizens of foreign states and persons with undetermined citizenship in Estonia. The Government was also of the opinion that, instead of adopting a declarative law providing additional confirmation of these rights, it would be first and foremost necessary to guarantee effective protection of these rights and implementation of the existing legislation. The most important aspect in this was cooperation between national minorities and the State in implementing different programmes.
In terms of raising awareness of the public about anti-discrimination legislation, including the Equal Treatment Act, Ms. Reimaa said the State had undertaken a number of awareness raising campaigns in Estonian and Russian language media and the State provided support for human rights organizations. Police officers, who in their jobs were responsible for the prevention and identification of the illegal activities such as incitement to racial hatred, received special training in recognizing and processing cases of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, or other similar cases of intolerance in the framework of initial training and further professional education. Police officers were also actively engaged in the prevention activities of a more general character so meetings were organized with the members of various target groups who were introduced to various opportunities for fighting crime, including the prevention and identification of illegal activities of extremist groups or persons. Great emphasis was also placed on preventive activities among adolescents.
On the issue of reducing the number of persons with undetermined citizenship, Ms. Reimaa said that several measures had been undertaken to encourage people with undetermined citizenship to apply for Estonian citizenship. Several campaigns explaining the benefits of naturalization had been launched to raise awareness and motivation among people. In November 2008 the Citizenship and Migration Board prepared a statistical analysis on persons with undetermined citizenship by age group and countries. Priority attention was given to these people in the age group of 0 to 14, with officials of the Citizenship and Migration Board checking the compliance of all children with undetermined citizenship under 15 years of age and in December 2008 they began an information campaign targeted at the parents of these children. The campaign also targeted parents with undetermined citizenship who gave birth to children in Estonia. It was explained to the parents that they could apply for Estonian citizenship for their child under a simplified procedure. Counselling had been provided to 618 parents and 441 persons applied for Estonian citizenship for their children as a result (and 404 of these children had already acquired Estonian citizenship).
Ms. Reimaa then turned to the issue of participation in political life based on citizenship. Estonian citizens and European Union citizens permanently residing in Estonia could belong to political parties. Other persons could participate in the shaping of the local policy by using other legal means, including through other citizens’ associations and by taking part in the elections of local government. Estonia was not planning to amend its constitution which restricted political participation rights to citizens.
The Committee had raised concerns about the provision of language requirements for acquisition of Estonian citizenship. Ms. Reimaa said that mastering Estonian demonstrated the wish and will of the applicant for citizenship for integration into Estonian society. Citizenship was a close relationship between a person and a state that was expressed in mutual rights and obligations. Based on the latter, it could be assumed that certain elementary knowledge should be developed in order to create a relationship between the state and a person. It was a principle that Estonian citizenship would be granted to people who had integrated into the State.
With regards to Russian language schools, in Estonia the local government selected the language of instruction for the basic schools and the government financed all schools on an equal basis regardless of their language of instruction. Mr. Reimaa said that in Estonia there were basically two types of schools based on language criterion; schools with Estonian language and those with Russian language. Approximately 19 per cent of pupils attended Russian language schools. Instruction in Estonian was not mandatory in the basic school (grades 1 through 9), while teaching Estonian from the 1st class was still mandatory. The new State study programme included cultural diversity in different subjects, thus the tasks of all teachers, in both Estonian and Russian language schools, included supporting the cultural identity of the students and developing tolerance toward other cultures and ethnic groups.
On the question of educational opportunities for Roma children, Ms. Reimaa said that they had equal opportunities in regard to all educational options with representatives of other nationalities and these children were not subject to any specific treatment. According to data provided by the Estonian Education Information System there were 15 children studying in Estonian schools who had specified Romani as their mother tongue. Seven of these students studied at a school for children with special educational needs. Ms. Reimaa said it was not possible to say at the moment, whether the school for special educational needs was selected by recommendation or voluntarily, but she wished to stress that starting studies in the school for children with special needs could be based only on the decision passed by an advisory committee. The committee included competent specialists of the respective fields and therefore there was no reason to doubt the correctness of their decisions without further facts. The advisory committee could only be approached to evaluate a child with the consent of a parent and its recommendations could only be applied with the consent of a parent.
In order to go beyond the figures, the Ministry of Education and Science supported a survey aiming to determine the schools where Roma students were studying and what was their academic achievement and how did schools support them. The final report of the survey would be completed in December 2010 and the Estonian Association of Northern Roma was involved in the conduct of the survey.
Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts
PATRICK THORNBERRY, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Estonia, noted that Estonia’s citizenship policy was based on the doctrine of the legal continuity of the State; those who enjoyed citizenship in pre-World War II Estonia and their direct descendents were recognized as citizens after the restoration of independence. This approach had had consequences in the areas of citizenship, naturalization and minority rights and generated key structural features of Estonian law, policy and practice in the field of ethnic relations among others. The tremendous upheavals in Estonia associated with the Second World War and the experience of living as a minority nation in the Soviet Union were also factors that had conditioned modern Estonian institutions of law and State.
Estonia had a population of just over 1 million people with a complex distribution in ethnic and linguistic terms. The last figures available came from the 2000 census. Did Estonia take a census every ten years and if so had it taken one in 2010? If so, were there any major population trends identified? The census data from 2000 showed that 70 per cent of citizens were of Estonian ethnicity and spoke Estonian, with Russian as the largest of the other languages and ethnic groups. The number of Russian speakers was larger than the number of ethnic Russians, so should the Committee take this to mean that Russian was used beyond those who identified as ethnic Russians?
The Rapporteur applauded the State’s ratification of Article 14 of the Convention regarding individual communications to the Committee, but noted that Estonia had not ratified the additional protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime regarding acts of a racist and xenophobic nature. Did Estonia have any intention of ratifying this?
Regarding the application of international law in Estonia, Mr. Thornberry noted that the constitution stipulated that generally recognized principles of international law were part of the Estonian legal system and the provisions of international treaties cold be referred to directly in Estonian legal proceedings. To what extent had this Convention been invoked in Estonian courts?
The Rapporteur noted that there seemed to have been few cases of racial discrimination filed with the Chancellor of Justice and awareness of the office appeared to be low. The nature of the office vis-à-vis the Paris Principles had been an item of discussion as well as the fact that there was no office of the Chancellor in largely Russian speaking areas of the country. Mr. Thornberry said that both the Equality Commissioner and the Chancellor of Justice could both benefit from more resources and awareness-raising measures in order to further their work. Perhaps more alignment with the Paris Principles could also be encouraged.
Regarding the Estonian language, which was the official language of the State, Mr. Thornberry said that the institution of the Language Inspectorate deserved some attention. The Inspectorate was empowered to make unannounced visits (by agreement) to public and private employers to assess the knowledge of Estonian by employees. It could impose fines and recommend dismissal of employees whose knowledge of Estonian was not considered up to standard. As may be expected, endorsement of the Inspectorate approach by members of minorities was limited and antagonisms could result. The Rapporteur wondered whether an approach to language containing punitive elements represented a good method of generating respect and affection for the Estonian language, compared to more positive methodologies. Further, while one may appreciate the reasons for the public service personnel to be proficient in the State language, what was the justification for this approach in the private sector?
Mr. Thornberry said that Estonia took a strict view on who qualified as a national minority. Apart from the usual cultural and language aspects, the national minority must also be Estonian citizens and have long-term, stable and continuing ties with Estonia. As far as long-term ties with Estonia were concerned, the Rapporteur said he was interested to know more about what this meant in terms of inclusion and exclusion. What were the resulting differences in the enjoyment of human rights and could they be justified to ensure they did not infringe on non-discrimination principles. What were the advantages of having a cultural autonomy and the disadvantages of not having one?
The Cultural Autonomy Law presented a narrowly focused spectrum of rights. Mr. Thornberry asked whether the participation of Estonia in the Framework Convention on National Minorities suggested the possibility of a broader range of rights. Issues of language, culture, customs, etc. were not explicitly addressed in the Equality Act. Could Estonia envisage a law on minorities to expand from its focus on autonomy and would the State consider a relaxation of the definition of minority and expand the range of rights recognized to approximate current international standards and reduce the potential for discrimination among different groups in society?
Regarding Roma, Mr. Thornberry asked about the overall approach taken by the State party to address issues impacting the Roma. Turning to immigration, Mr. Thornberry asked for any updated information on immigration numbers and the status of Muslims who had been arriving in Estonia from abroad over the last few years.
In terms of hate crime legislation, the Rapporteur asked for a clarification on the criminal code regarding these crimes as well as any police records of racist incidents. There were reports of violence and harassment carried out by neo-Nazis and skinheads against members of minority groups.
The section of the criminal code on hate speech also puzzled Mr. Thornberry because the article of the criminal code stipulated that it punished hate speech if it resulted in danger to life, health or property. Most laws made hate speech a crime in itself, irrespective of whether a result followed from the hate speech. Mr. Thornberry noted that there educational programmes on the Holocaust, but he also pointed out that there had been many Holocaust-denying publications that had sold rather well in Estonia in recent years as well as subtle and not so subtle counter-demonstrations on Holocaust Commemoration Day.
Mr. Thornberry said that undetermined citizenship was a persistent question in Estonia, although the State party’s report said the numbers had been steadily decreasing. People of undetermined citizenship could not vote or run for office. There were language requirements for obtaining citizenship and there were restrictions on the acquisition of citizenship for former military and security personnel.
In terms of asylum seekers and refugees, the Rapporteur said there had been reports of border guards making instant decisions and there was concern about the very low number of asylum applications.
Mr. Thornberry asked the delegation if it could comment on references that had been made regarding a Memory Institute and what the tasks of this institute would be. The Rapporteur said that if the purpose was to examine recent history and try to achieve some reconciliation of interpretations then that was well and good. But sometimes it was better to accept what had happened for good or ill and take that as a starting point and master the past rather than being mastered by it. In relation to historical commissions, it was sometimes the process of engaging in reflection that mattered as much as any result.
In conclusion, Mr. Thornberry said that Estonia was now an independent State with a distinctive presence in the international community. It was not a minority group, but the Rapporteur noted that there were lingering traces of a “minority psychology” in approaches to its multicultural population. He expressed hope that this would diminish over time and that the State could advance to a confident future through expanding its concerns for its citizens in a steadily more inclusive direction.
A Committee Member said that the criminal code’s requirement that hate speech result in a danger to life, health or property could help explain the low number of racial discrimination cases brought because the law limited the scope of the crime by requiring this outcome. The criminal code needed to be amended, including adding a prohibition on racist groups. Could the Convention be directly invoked in Estonian courts? Did the State have an issue with transit migrants and how were they treated?
Another Committee Expert asked the delegation if it could provide disaggregated data on the ethnic minorities in the country in terms of the educational attainment, access to healthcare, employment rates and opportunities and other socio-economic indicators to evaluate the situation of minorities in the State party. The Expert also asked if the delegation could explain why the number of Russians proficient in the Estonian language dropped and to comment on the bronze soldier monument controversy. The movement of this monument seemed to embolden neo-Nazis.
The next speaker referred to reports on the rise of xenophobia by extremist groups and a rise in intolerance, which made the State’s strategies to combat racial discrimination and to promote integration even more important. The Committee Expert said there seemed be a lack of national human rights institutions that met the Paris Principles and this included the office of the Chancellor of Justice and the Expert asked if the State was moving toward full compliance with the Paris Principles for these institutions. On the issue of propaganda and hate speech, the State’s refusal to punish hate crimes was an issue for the Committee and its unwillingness to criminalize hate speech unless it had serious consequences needed to addressed. Could the delegation tell the Committee how many migrants there were in detention? The Expert had also read that the State was promoting conciliation between victims and perpetrators and wanted to know whether this approach was being used in cases of racial discrimination as well.
Another Committee member asked how the State promoted education about minorities as part of its integration strategy. What sort of initiatives did the State undertake to address discriminations facing Roma persons? What was the status of minority women and what measures did the State consider to address the gendered discrimination experienced by women from these communities?
Another Committee Expert asked what was being done about skinheads and neo-Nazis in the country and where was the integration strategy publicized in the country, because it was not available on the country’s website. Also, what did the phrase “e-military” mean?
Response by Delegation
Addressing concerns expressed about the Roma people in Estonia, the delegation said that there were approximately 500 to 700 Roma people in the State with many of them living near the border with Latvia. There might be economic reasons behind the seven Roma children who were in the special needs school there, because the school was free and the students got free lunches. The parents had to agree for the students to go to school there. There were also Roma students who went to regular schools as well but since they were travellers, they missed a lot of school. The Roma originally came to Estonia from Finland so they spoke a language close to Finnish. They had three umbrella organizations that represented their interests and the State was attempting to assess their numbers and needs.
The delegation gave the Committee some historical background that helped explain its commitment to Estonian language acquisition as part of its integration strategy for immigrants. Over the last 15 years, 150,000 citizens had been granted Estonian citizenship, evidence that the acquisition of Estonian citizenship was not that difficult. There were approximately 95,000 people residing in Estonia with Russian citizenship and the people with undetermined citizenship were largely those that wished to keep their options open and had not taken either Russian or Estonian citizenship.
Regarding the State’s integration strategy, the delegation said that all ministries linked their website homepages to issues dealing with integration. Integration was a long term strategy that stressed that integration was a two way process and Estonia was open to adopting best practices from other countries. National minorities were encouraged to practice their culture and the preservation of their culture was supported by the Government. The Government supported many cultural associations, not just groups for the Russian speaking minority. They provided funds for technical costs for these groups and supported cultural forums such as theatres and radio programs. The purpose of these programmes was to promote solidarity and the values of democracy, rule of law, self-determination, and respect for cultural diversity as well as to prevent seclusion of groups and strengthen state identity.
In terms of asylum seekers, the numbers of people who came to the country as refugees, asylum seekers or illegally was quite small. The State supported Sunday schools for different minorities including for Armenian, Jewish, Angolan, Korean, and Russian where students could learn the Estonian language and learn about minority cultures.
The delegation said the Council of Estonian Minorities was a consultative body to the Minister of Culture and represented numerous umbrella minority groups in Estonia. There was also an assembly of young people to help engage young people who could promote activities and take part in different projects in the arena of preservation of language and national culture. There was also a consultative body that represented the needs of immigrants which submitted a report to the Estonian president every year on the status and needs of immigrants. The State also wanted to foster closer cooperation with civil society groups and non-governmental organizations. The Council of Estonian Minorities met four times a year and oftentimes high level government representatives would attend these meetings.
On the question of cultural autonomy for national minorities, the delegation said it was one of the oldest Estonian laws having been promulgated in 1925 when the largest minority groups were Germans, Russians, Swedes and Jews whose numbers exceeded 3,000 people. At the time the law was passed, a medium sized city had about 3,000 people so that was why this number was in the law. The law was abolished during the 1940s during Soviet occupation and reinstated in 1993 after Estonian independence. The bodies established under this act were independent of the government in running their affairs and setting up their activities and they had the status of non-governmental organizations. Every minority group in Estonia could create their own association to meet the educational, cultural and political needs of the community. Members of many of the ethnic groups used Estonian as their language of communication. The Russian community had largely maintained its language, but any of these groups could use their associations created under the cultural autonomy act to teach their language.
The delegation said there was not a great deal of new information to add in terms of the conventions that it had not yet ratified. The State would continue to assess these conventions and consider them on a case by case basis. The delegation informed the Committee that the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had been invoked in 15 cases in Estonia, mostly dealing with former military personnel. There were not many court cases where other conventions had been applied, perhaps this was because lawyers did not feel comfortable applying international law, but this would probably change as they became more accustomed to these laws. In terms of hate speech on the Internet, there had been one case in which a website was found responsible for negative comments posted on its website about a businessman in the comments section and the result was that the sites had now started monitoring comments and removing negative ones.
The delegation assured the Committee that the domestic application of European Union directives made their definition of racial discrimination in line with the laws, although there were concerns expressed by Committee Members that the definition was too narrow. In terms of minority languages, the delegation said that the translation of the definition of a minority language might sound odd in English, but in Estonian it only said that the common language of the State was Estonian and that all other languages were not the official language. In terms of language requirements in the private sector, the delegation said that there were 26 categories of private sector employees who had to meet language requirements and these jobs were largely in the sphere that interacted with the public such as product safety and health and safety areas.
Russians were the largest minority, but there were also Finnish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Belarusians people living there. There had been a Russian party in parliament from 1995 to 1999 with 6 members of parliament, but even then only half of Russians voted for that party and in the last election they did not meet the 2 per cent threshold to maintain a seat in parliament so ethnic identity did not really play in out in politics.
Regarding the Memory Institute, it was created in 2008 to continue the work of the independent historical commission which sought to document the truth of what happened on Estonian soil during occupations when Estonia was not independent. The challenges would arise when the facts had been established and how people would react to that.
In terms of the mosque being built in Tallinn, the building permits had been granted but the delegation was not sure if the funding had been raised for its construction. There was an orthodox church as well as a synagogue that had been built recently so the mosque would be the third big religious building to have been built in Tallinn in the last decade. In terms of publications that denied the Holocaust, the delegation said that these publications had a fringe readership and it was hard to stop their publication because they had to strike a balance between freedom of speech and expression and hate speech.
Estonia was a transit land for migrants, but many of them transited the country legally with passports so they did not keep statistics in these cases.
The Chancellor of Justice was the office that was closest to being in conformity with the Paris Principles. In terms of why it had not sought accreditation as a national human rights institution, the delegation said that the office itself acknowledged that it would probably get a B accreditation because it realized that it did not have a mechanism for interacting with non-governmental organizations. As Estonia was small country, it did not have the resources to create a whole new institution, so it would continue to evaluate the institutions that were already in place and work on bringing them into conformity with the Paris Principles.
The delegation said that the Cyber Defence Centre was established to protect people from online attacks and this may be what the Committee Expert who asked about the “e-military” was referring to.
Further Questions Posed by Experts
A Committee Expert asked for clarification on complaints filed by Russian military retirees who said they were being discriminated against in the country.
Another Committee Expert asked about ethnic versus racial discrimination. For example, the prison population had a disproportionate representation of Russian speaking people. Sometimes there was no intentional discrimination, but the reality was such that some groups had worse conditions than others. The same could be true in employment and it was important to collect this information as it could help the State determine the average incomes of different ethnic groups, their access to education and educational attainment, etc. and use this information to help address disparities between ethnic groups. Could the State receive European funds to help correct these inequities, for the Roma people, for example? Also, had the financial crisis had a disproportionate impact on one ethnic group over another?
A Committee Expert reiterated the need for socio-economic indicators for ethnic groups. The Expert then pointed out that the State party’s report had mentioned the number and variety of churches in the country so what was the role, if any, of these religious organizations in helping to foster inter-ethnic understanding?
The next Committee Member to speak wanted to know more about the independence of the Chancellor of Justice, how the person was appointed to the position and the size of the staff. The independence of a national human rights institution was an important part of an institution’s meeting the Paris Principles and this did not matter if a country was big or small.
A Committee Expert agreed with the previous speaker that there was no need to establish a new national human rights institution in addition to the Chancellor of Justice, but perhaps the office could be strengthened and that would cover any shortcomings in the office. There were a number of cases that had been completed without proceedings. What did that mean? Were the cases dismissed, settled outside of the Chancellor’s office, or settled amicably within the Chancellor’s office?
Replies by Delegation
Responding to those questions and others, the delegation said there was an agreement between Estonia and Russia which stipulated that retired Soviet military personnel living in Estonia who were collecting a pension from one country could not also collect a pension from the other country and these retirees had complained that they were being discriminated against because of their nationality.
The delegation said that it did not have information right now on how different ethnic groups had been affected by the financial crisis. It was true that unemployment was concentrated in the northeast where there was a large Russian speaking minority, but there was also unemployment in the southeast where there were virtually no Russian speaking people.
In terms of day to day discrimination, the State said that all complaints were registered and they were trying to respond to them. The younger people did not find language to be such a barrier and realized that it was useful to speak other languages so there was no discrimination against Russian speakers and the Russian language.
The delegation said that due to European Union directives they had more than 200 indicators that they did research on and last year Ernst & Young had done a very detailed analysis based on this information and the Government was developing an action plan for 2011 to 2013 based on these indicators. Having these measurable indicators made it much easier to evaluate programmes undertaken to address needs in society.
Concerning the roles of churches, the delegation said that the State was trying to involve churches and religious organizations in the dialogue of tolerance and integration.
The delegation agreed that it did not matter if a country was big or small in terms of national human rights institutions; it was just making the point that resources for creating a new institution were limited. In terms of how the Chancellor was appointed, the position was filled by a vote in the parliament and appointed for a period of seven years which could be renewed for a second seven year term and they could only be removed from office due to criminal prosecutions. The delegation said that it felt the Chancellor of Justice met the Paris Principles criteria regarding independence.
According to the delegation, the large number of cases that had been completed without proceedings included all the cases that had been decided amicably by the parties or they had withdrawn the case from consideration or the case had not reached a legal resolution from the office.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
In preliminary concluding observations, PATRICK THORNBERRY, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Estonia, said that he felt the dialogue had been constructive and thanked the delegation for all its answers to Committee members’ questions. Mr. Thornberry said he felt the Committee better understood the background of Estonia and the difficult period the State had been through and they appreciated the sensitivities there. The collaboration with non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the report was appreciated and the State party was encouraged to continue and widen that cooperation.
The collection of data could be difficult, but Mr. Thornberry encouraged this to enable the State to judge the effects of its efforts. More information posted on government websites would be helpful as well. Mr. Thornberry found that the cases of formal, State discrimination had diminished over the years but the Convention was about de facto discrimination and day to day discrimination, so it was not always the State bureaucracy they were talking about but a more widespread discrimination embedded in social processes.
The Committee Experts spent quite a bit of time talking about the integration strategy, and the question to think about was whether it would be helped by the legal structures in the State and whether it was in harmony with existing laws. There was also a need for a wider dissemination of the Convention in Estonia. He also said that criminal laws could not do all the work of eradicating racial discrimination, so perhaps the conciliation process could be a help in that area. The Rapporteur said he would very much like to see, in due course, a national human rights institution that could take its place in the country in conformity with the Paris Principles. Other issues that were raised included the Roma in Estonia, language and the definition of national minorities.
The Rapporteur was very interested in the Memory Institute and he said this kind of process could be quite healing, depending on how the results were received. He expressed his hope that the institute would include various representatives from various sectors so that its conclusions would have significant authority and weight.
ANNE-LY REIMAA, Undersecretary on International Relations and Cultural Diversity of the Estonian Ministry of Culture, in concluding remarks said that the fruitful dialogue with the Committee helped the country in its work. Mr. Reimaa said that the Ministry of Culture was responsible for the work of addressing discrimination because it was used to working with non-governmental organizations and holding intercultural dialogue. Ms. Reimaa thanked the Committee for its time and hoped to report back with positive developments in the future.
For use of the information media; not an official record