Presentation of the Report
VIKTORS MAKAROVS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, said that the delegation was happy to be presenting the combined third to fifth periodic report. Latvia attached high priority to the fulfilment of its international commitments, and to the practical implementation at the national level of the well-established principles of international human rights law. Latvia was aware of what improvements could and should be made domestically, but also appreciated international cooperation and constructive dialogue that helped the country accomplish them.
In line with the new optional reporting procedures, the report was a collection of replies to the list of issues presented by the Committee to Latvia in 2009. The Ombudsman’s Office, as well as national non-governmental organizations, had presented their views on the issues covered by the report. Overall, the report provided details on both legislative and administrative measures during the reporting period aimed at enhancing the protection of individual rights. The Committee was invited to note Latvia’s achievements since the submission of its second periodic report in 2007, such as the adoption of legislative amendments clarifying the definition of the crime of torture as contained in domestic law.
Latvia was considering alternatives to imprisonment, and had allocated considerable resources for improving conditions in the places of detention and imprisonment, both for juveniles and adults. A more detailed regulatory framework for asylum issues had also been introduced; it complied with international mandatory requirements on the availability of legal aid to foreigners, and included changes in provisions related to the accelerated procedure for asylum-seekers. A number of measures were still in progress aimed at strengthening the institutional capacity and independence of the national authorities tasked with investigating torture and ill-treatment.
Particular attention was paid to the effective investigation and enforcement of criminal sanctions to punish the perpetrators of violence against women, children and domestic violence, as well as human trafficking. The report also contained extensive information about psychiatric assistance in Latvia and improvements made with regard to medical treatment methods and the provision of mental health care services.
Acknowledging the important role that the general public and professional communities had in eradicating torture and ill-treatment, Latvia found it of utmost importance to educate both the general public and law enforcement officials on the issues related to the Convention and its standards. Despite the negative impact of the financial crisis and budgetary cuts, the Government was committed to developing and improving the regulatory framework and the administrative practices necessary for the promotion and effective protection of human rights.
Independent monitoring bodies, both national and international, played an important role in identifying issues which needed to be solved and improved. The Ombudsman contributed to the monitoring as well as to the introduction of improvements related to the Convention. The Ombudsman’s activities were aimed at recognizing deficiencies and providing recommendations on necessary positive actions which were duly considered by public authorities. Latvia had accepted the competence of the European Court of Human Rights to examine individual complaints, including those alleging ill-treatment, and the country had a history of effective cooperation with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Questions by the Experts
NORA SVEAASS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the report of Latvia, said that she had had an opportunity to look into Latvia’s developments over time, given that she had been a Rapporteur for the report of Latvia back in 2007.
The definition of torture in Latvia’s legislative amendments did not include some provisions provided for by the Convention, and Ms. Sveaass asked why there was only partial acceptance of the Convention’s definition, including missing references to discrimination or public officials.
The jurisprudence of the Committee was clear that there was no statute of limitation for the crime of torture. The State party report, however, made references to a five-year statutory limitation for committing beating associated with torture or any other kind of torture. Ms. Sveaass asked the State party to reconsider that provision.
Could the delegation update the Committee on the development of the work to combat impunity for torture related crimes and to ensure effective investigation?
There had been complaints that despite the relatively low number of complaints as to mistreatment by police or prison officers, those complaints had not been properly investigated. Could the delegation provide figures on the complaints presented and those investigated?
The Rapporteur commended the important work of the Ombudsman since 2007, which had been broadly covered in the report.
Regarding legal safeguards, were professional interpreters provided for non-Latvian speaking detainees or persons apprehended?
Had there been any cases when forensic doctors had been called upon to examine alleged signs of torture, and could some statistics and information be provided in that regard?
Given that the State party had informed that no amendments had been adopted with regard to the length of pre-trial detention, could a clarification and more information be provided?
On the deprivation of liberty of juveniles, were the detainees imprisoned under the application of compulsory correctional measures to children?
Ms. Sveaass asked about the national legislation and measures taken to deal with all forms of discrimination, and particularly discrimination against the Roma community and ethnic Russians. Could more information be provided about the rights of homosexual citizens?
The number of stateless persons was very high, close to 300,000, the majority of whom had migrated during the Soviet era. Which steps had been taken and were planned in that regard?
While important laws had been passed in the area of domestic violence, Ms. Sveaass wanted to know what forms of protection – shelters and rehabilitation centres – were available for victims of domestic violence. More should also be done in the area of the prevention of human trafficking, which was not criminalized.
What were the procedures for asylum seekers, and was the Istanbul Protocol part of the asylum process? The number of people in detention among asylum seekers, including persons as young as 14, was still rather high. Were asylum seekers detained for irregular entry to the country, and were they given health care services? How differently were asylum seekers and illegal immigrants treated?
Could the delegation provide updates regarding the improvement of conditions of prisons? Had there been any changes regarding the situation of life-serving prisoners?
Regarding the situation in psychiatric hospitals, how was the right of patients and former patients to redress and rehabilitation for any damage caused to their lives and health being exercised? Were there any special services in that respect?
The issue of statute of limitations was also raised by the Committee Co-Rapporteur, ESSADIA BELMIR. The prohibition of torture was absolute and such a crime should not benefit from any statute of limitations. International human rights law and international criminal rights law were quite clear in that regard.
The State party report mentioned the lack of effectiveness of the judicial system in both civil, criminal and administrative procedures. Based on the statistics provided, pre-trial detentions could last as long as 15 to 21 months. The State party should continue to make improvements in that area.
Were guarantees and safeguards being applied in small police stations? The Committee would like to hear more information regarding access to judicial assistance, lawyers and health care. The issue of the insufficient number of lawyers was also a problem.
On the issue of training for judges, magistrates and police officers, could more information be provided regarding monitoring and evaluation of such programmes?
Regarding the behaviour of police towards detainees, how and when were police animals, such as dogs and horses, used?
What was meant by negligence or non-serious offences by minors? Juvenile offenders had to be dealt with in line with the respect of relevant principles.
There was a problem of placing asylum seekers in custody for unlimited periods, where they often would not have access to redress in an effective manner.
Ms. Belmir asked about the national complaint mechanism, which seemed not to be functioning fully. Had the Ombudsman been endowed with the resources necessary to carry out this role?
Minor migrants were in a precarious situation. Those under 14 years of age were often detained together with adults in inadequate conditions. Were they given access to legal counsel? What about the status of children born in detention?
There was a wide array of activities to combat trafficking, for which the State party ought to be commended. Nonetheless, more needed to be done, especially with regard to protecting children.
The State party had provided information on its methods of work when it came to questioning, but was video recording being used with the view of ensuring better protection for both those asking questions and persons being questioned.
Allegations had been made of the use of force outside of the prison system, particularly during demonstrations and towards minorities, journalists and religious groups.
What did the State party mean by “non-national”? The non-nationals reportedly had freedom of movement from and to the State party. Their status had to be clarified.
There were provisions for settlements outside of courts for cases of corruption. Could more information be provided about such procedures and those convicted of corruption?
An Expert asked about the prison infrastructure in Latvia, which was old and in a substandard condition. Were there any plans in place for the construction of new prisons, other than the one in Riga? Had there been any new developments in financing improvements of penitentiaries, other than depending on foreign donations?
Had the problem of violence between prisoners been looked at?
Latvia did not have many life-sentence prisoners, but much was left to be desired concerning their treatment.
Could the standards be improved in police arrest houses, to follow the encouraging example of one of them which had been recently refurbished?
The Expert said that the Ombudsman’s Office did not have sufficient staff or funds to visit all prisons and provide relevant assessments.
What was the rationale behind the State party’s reluctance to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture?
Another Expert asked about the conditions in solitary imprisonment cells. Such cells should be at least four square meters large. The Expert also raised the issue of temporary detention cells, and asked whether there was intention by the Government to increase the size of such cells, in line with recommendations of the Council of Europe anti-torture Committee.
What was the procedure of settlement between victims and perpetrators in serious crime cases, and did that mean avoiding regular courts, which was mentioned in the State party’s report, another Expert inquired.
Were non-nationals who were abroad protected by the country’s diplomatic representations, and could they appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, like other Latvian citizens?
The Expert said that, in terms of asylum, the European Union legislation was applicable in Latvia. Border officials seemed to be the ones making initial decisions on how to process cases in question. Could decisions to grant asylum or refugee status already be made by border officials?
Did victims of trafficking receive adequate protection, and what level of cooperation in that regard took place with neighbouring Estonia?
The Convention provided for an obligation to criminalize attempts of torture, but Latvian legislation did not seem to do so, another Expert noted. What were the penalties for torture per se?
What were the results of surveys and evaluations of police training exercises?
Were there any restraining orders against individuals who had committed domestic abuse? What kind of protection was provided in hospitals for victims of such abuse? Could the delegation provide clarification on whether marital rape as such was criminalized? Were there any shelters for battered women, other than family centres?
Was the Government monitoring and doing anything with regard to sexual violence between prisoners?
Were police forces also trained in Russian, or were there interpreters, given that a large part of the prison population were Russian speakers with possibly low knowledge of Latvian?
Could the delegation provide information on punishments given out for the denial of genocide or war crimes, and how were activities of veterans or advocates who had fought with Nazi troops in the Second World War being treated?
Why had the Government of Latvia rejected the Universal Periodic Review recommendation on the rehabilitation of victims of torture and ill-treatment?
Another Expert noted that discrimination was not mentioned in the State party’s report, which could have severe consequences in the fight against gender-based and domestic violence.
A lot of torture, which today involved mostly electric shocks and water boarding, could lead to post-traumatic stress and traumas, and it did not necessarily need to lead to bodily harm, the Expert commented. Psychological damages could be as bad, and should be taken into consideration for rehabilitation and reparation purposes.
Was solitary confinement applied also to juveniles and persons with mental disabilities? Could the 15-day initial solitary confinement be extended? What was the legal regime to complain against and investigate such cases?
Diplomatic assurances were deemed unreliable – what was Latvia’s position, especially if a person would be at a realistic risk of torture?
What procedures regarding the use of force by police were in place? What was the average time for investigations, and what was the State party’s interpretation of the term “promptly”?
The Expert inquired whether there were provisions for the victims of human trafficking to receive rehabilitation.
What was the condition of the Roma, and was there discrimination against them as a group?
Deaths in prisons were often caused by suicide and drug overdoses. Was the medical care provided able to identify the cases of mental disturbances with the view of preventing suicides?
Responses by the Delegation
VIKTORS MAKAROVS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, thanked the Rapporteurs for their extensive work, which had resulted in a comprehensive set of relevant questions.
On the question of the definition of torture, Latvia had to stress that acts of torture had been criminalized since the adoption of the Criminal Code, which meant that the definition of torture partly had been included in Latvia’s law since 1999. Based on the recommendations of the Committee, Parliament had adopted amendments to the law in 2009 and introduced a separate definition of torture of a general nature. There were now 11 articles of the Criminal Code where specific acts of torture were criminalized providing more severe penalties. Those articles, along with the national definition of torture, provided a systematic approach.
Latvian laws lifted statutory limitations only for the crimes directly included in Rome Statutes, while all other criminal acts were subject to it. The period of time to initiate the case provided in law in most cases was 10 years, which the Government believed was sufficient and gave a victim enough time to inform the authorities and to ensure that the guilty person was brought to justice.
The Criminal Procedure Law currently ensured that the State provided translation to a person accused during all stages of criminal proceedings in the language the person understood. By the end of 2013, a European directive on translations in criminal proceedings would enter into force. The State had allocated approximately two million euros to implement the requirements of the directive.
Pre-trial detention was being applied in fewer cases and for shorter periods. It was one of the 10 compulsory measures which could be ordered by the court during criminal proceedings against the person and which was seen by the law as the last resort. The term “alternatives to imprisonment” was used in cases of punishment. In 2009 there had been approximately 7,000 inmates, and in 2013, the number was around 5,000.
On the issue of pre-trial detention and imprisonment for juveniles, the detention periods were set from 30 days till 12 months, with clear divisions between the period of detention for pre-trial process and for the court sittings. Deprivation of liberty of a juvenile should be applied only in the most severe cases. In October 2013, there were 31 sentenced juveniles and 13 juvenile detainees. The Criminal Law for each criminal offense also provided several alternative sanctions which could be ordered by a judge hearing the case. Monetary penalties could be applied only if juveniles at the time of the court hearing had income on their own.
Comprehensive amendments to the Criminal Code had been adopted and came into force in April 2013 in order to implement the European Union directive on human trafficking. A major change was that victims would not be prosecuted, provided that they had been forced to be trafficked.
The statutory limitation for cases of serious sexual crimes against minors was raised to 20 years. A person who had suffered from domestic violence could file a complaint to the court which in speedy procedure would issue a constraining order. The law also recognized marital rape as a distinct and severe crime.
The death penalty had been deleted from the Criminal Code in 2011.
In 2012, the Ombudsman had started the procedure of accreditation to the Paris Principles. Shortages of funding for the Ombudsman’s office, as well as for public institutions, were a well-known problem. Despite the budgetary constraints, the Ombudsman was better recognized now than before 2009. The law gave the Ombudsman and his office powers to investigate the cases and visit closed institutions. Most of the Ombudsman’s recommendations were taken on board by the authorities. The law also gave rights to the Ombudsman to file a complaint to the Constitutional Court of Latvia if he considered that the law in question did not comply with the Constitution, and this right had been used several times.
In line with international standards, Latvia was striving to ensure the minimum space of four square meters per inmate, and if an inmate was spending most of the time outside of the cell, then the minimum space provided was three square meters per person. A comprehensive audit of living space of all penitentiary facilities had commenced, and a report would be submitted in March 2014, with specific recommendations on how to move forward.
In practice, the officials of prison authorities had sufficient knowledge of the Russian language and were able to use it when necessary.
In order to prevent suicides in prisons, the Prison Administration was implementing a programme of training for prison officials to enable them to recognize early signs of suicide risk.
Inter-prisoner violence remained a top priority of the State party. In every instance when the prison doctor or other official of the prison authority observed that an inmate had sustained injuries, the prison administration was bound by law to initiate an investigation in order to establish the origin of the injuries.
Every child born in Latvia was registered, including children born to mothers who at that time of birth were in a place of detention.
Latvia had taken several steps to improve health care services in places of detention, including work on a policy document concerning a legal framework and the future development of the health care in prisons. Inmates could submit complaints to the Health Inspectorate if they considered that the services of treatment had not been sufficient.
National legislation stipulated that both the person serving a prison sentence and a person in pre-trial detention could appeal against a disciplinary sanction that had been applied to that person.
Latvia had developed a set of rules to ensure that all detainees had access to defense counsels and legal aid. If the person could not afford a lawyer, one was offered from a list of lawyers paid by the State. Latvia had an adequate number of attorneys to meet the existing needs.
The Government had taken a number of measures to deal with the backlog of cases and increase the judiciary’s efficiency. In a joint project with Switzerland, Latvia had received more than 6 million euros to improve the conditions of courts. A sound recording system had been installed in all courtrooms. All final court decisions would be published online as of January 2014. Since 2013, judges had started to be regularly evaluated every five years, with the view of ensuring that the highest standards of professionalism and efficiency were met.
Latvia was working on alternative dispute mechanisms, with the view of resolving more disputes in pre-trial stages; it was supposed to become law in 2014.
Compensation for victims of psychological injuries did not exist in Latvia, but there were provisions for victims to submit requests for moral and financial compensation.
In order to ensure that impunity was combatted in line with the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations, the existing internal inspection office would be reorganized and a new institution would be established. The new institution would be under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Interior, which would ensure that about 20,000 officials of the law enforcement agencies were better supervised. Investigations carried out by the State police started and had to be completed without unjustified delay, and within “reasonable” time.
The number of complaints about possible violations committed by state officials had been growing over the last three years. The number of disciplinary actions had also been increasing. All short-term facilities and patrol cars were now equipped with CCTV systems, but there was still room for improvement of oversight.
Victims of human trafficking were eligible to receive psycho-social assistance, consultations, interpreters’ services and legal services and court representation when needed. Latvia was considered as an origin country of human trafficking. There were no recorded cases of trafficking in children. Latvia had a number of cooperation agreements with neighbouring countries to fight human trafficking and any trans-border crime.
Administratively detained persons were always placed separately from those detained in accordance with criminal procedures. The average duration of stay in police stations in recent years had been four days, while the maximum time a person had spent was 45 days, which had been sanctioned by a court judge.
Conditions of detainment differed from those of imprisonment, but all basic conditions were provided in both cases. Health care services were guaranteed to detainees as they were to prisoners. Those services were provided wherever they were needed, be it at temporary places of detention or in hospitals.
Detainees had rights, inter alia, to invite defense attorneys, use legal assistance provided by the State, and request that persons or institutions related to them be informed.
State police of Latvia had some 22 short-term detention places, in which close to 700 persons could be temporarily held. If all of those facilities were to be filled at once, which was unlikely, each detainee would have around 4,7 square meters of space. The country had not developed a plan to increase the area of detention spaces, but was instead thinking of renovating and closing some of them. There were no solitary cells in those facilities. Men and women were detained separately, and so were juveniles. All rights and obligations were provided to detainees in Latvian, Russian and English, and if the detainee did not speak any of the three languages, interpreters would be provided.
No police animals - horses and dogs – had been used against detainees or prisoners. Police had the right to use such means in exceptional cases prescribed by the law, such as mass disorders, which was very rare in Latvia.
The evaluation of work of any police officer was being carried out every two years.
The level of knowledge of Russian by state officers was at a satisfactory level, but was not provided in police education courses.
All decisions related to asylum status were made by the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs. There was one application for both refugee and subsidiary protection status. Latvia had a reasonable recognition rate, in line with international standards. Special protection was provided to vulnerable persons, such as those with disabilities and victims of sexual violence.
The average period of detention of illegal migrants was two months. The number of detained third country nationals was decreasing, as voluntary departure was being promoted and was taking place more frequently than forced returns. The Ombudsman was entitled to monitoring the entire process and could defend the rights of a private individual in the court if that was in the public interest.
Only persons with severe psychiatric disorders were hospitalized, and the average duration of treatment for such persons in in-patient facilities was 23 days. Following the treatment, patients would return normally to their places of residence with their families. At in-patient wards, first rehabilitation attempts were taken. Patients had the right to lodge complaints with the Health Inspectorate regarding the lawfulness of the treatment; patients could also appeal to the Doctors’ Association.
Questions by Experts
NORA SVEAASS, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the report of Latvia, thanked the delegation for providing answers in great detail.
Ms. Sveaass encouraged the State party to continue to provide exceptional support to vulnerable groups, including children and persons with disabilities.
Were interrogation rooms also under surveillance with CCTV cameras? More surveillance in the system could help decrease intra-prisoner and intra-patient violence, but improving conditions in prisons and mental hospitals would also help make a difference.
How many complaints by mental patients were actually taking place, and how were those complaints dealt with?
Who were considered illegal migrants? When would an asylum seeker become an illegal migrant, Ms. Sveaass asked.
Was there any procedure underway for the nationalization of non-citizens?
Could the delegation comment on the process of the ratification of the Optional Protocol?
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Latvia, commented that there should be no statutory limitations for acts of torture.
Juvenile delinquents should not pay fines as they were not legally competent, Ms. Belmir said. Another Expert asked about the definition of juveniles.
More information would need to be provided on evaluation and effectiveness of training for police and the judiciary.
There had been reports that street children were sold in relatively large numbers – did the delegation have any information on that matter?
Was there a link between suicide and solitary confinement? Were prisoners being given proper medical oversight and treated properly?
Regarding minorities and persons considered as non-nationals, could the delegation provide more details, as the question had not yet been addressed? Was the diplomatic protection of non-nationals provided?
An Expert commented that the area of three square meters per person in solitary confinement was not appropriate. Was something envisioned to change the dimensions of such cells?
Another Expert brought up the issue of punishments for torture. Which sanctions existed for general cases of torture? All acts of torture had to be appropriately punished.
Politicians in Latvia had at times made statements which incited hatred, especially towards minorities and migrants. Could the criminal legislation be amended to combat public incitement to hatred?
Were shelters provided for battered women, an Expert inquired.
Did the delegation have data on the number of torture victims who had been provided with rehabilitation? How were people involved in rehabilitation programmes in practice?
Was the mediation, or out-of-court settlement, also used in cases of torture or rape? How were the proceedings organized in such cases?
Responses by the Delegation
VIKTORS MAKAROVS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, explained the origin of the category of “non-citizens”. While there was no such specific category under international law, the unique history of Latvia had made it necessary. Latvia was continuing the legal personality of the State which had lost its independence in 1940. In 1991, Latvia had granted citizenship to those who would have been recognized as citizens under the 1919 law.
However, the temporary status of “non-citizens” had been introduced for other citizens of the Soviet Union and their descendants living in Latvia. Non-citizens could become citizens, for whom the procedure was simple; almost 140,000 persons had used that opportunity until today, bringing the percentage of the non-citizen population down to 13 per cent.
There was legal protection for such persons – they did not need a residence permit and could not be expelled. They could move freely and return to Latvia at any time. Non-citizens enjoyed full diplomatic protection of the country’s diplomatic network. The right to vote and to work in certain civil service positions were the only differences between citizens and non-citizens. One parent’s consent was sufficient now for a child to receive Latvian citizenship at the time of birth; and children could be registered between the age of 15 and 18 at their own request.
Regarding freedom of speech and assembly, public glorification or denial of genocide or crimes against humanity was criminalized. On numerous occasions, Latvian officials and statesmen had spoken of those crimes, condemned Nazism and paid tribute to the allied forces. Some private commemorations of World War II were taking place, but were far from glorifying Nazism or its symbols.
Latvia had not ratified the Optional Protocol, but that did not mean that a private person could not challenge the State before international institutions. That issue was periodically revisited. Persons could also bring up cases to the Constitutional Court. The Government had so far responded to more than 300 applications submitted to the European Court of Human Rights.
Regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, the national legislation prohibited any discrimination. In 2012, a pride parade had taken place in Riga without major incidents. Training of police officers and raising of public awareness were underway on issues concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
In 2006, a state programme had been adopted to eliminate discrimination of the Roma, and a consultative committee, including members of the Roma community, operated on a regular basis.
Statutory limitations were not lifted only for those cases mentioned in the Rome Statute. The practice had proved that those limitations were sufficient for persons to bring up cases.
Mediation was possible only in cases of less serious crimes. For cases of rape or torture, such options were not applicable.
Under Latvia’s legislation, juveniles were considered as persons up to the age of 18.
The Latvian judicial training centre was in charge of evaluations of trainings for judges, and the judges’ feedback was taken into consideration when preparing future training.
There were no specific rehabilitation programmes for victims of torture, but those victims were covered by general rehabilitation, with the possibility of having tailored rehabilitation plans to meet their particular needs.
Illegal migrants included persons who overstayed their visas, those who had entered illegally, and rejected asylum seekers.
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the delegation could send in writing answers which could not be provided verbally due to time constraints.
VIKTORS MAKAROVS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, expressed appreciation for the Committee’s comments.
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