Estonia: Committee concerned about discrimination and treatment of minorities

Human Rights Committee's 125th session - March 2019

Photo credit: The Independent

On 4 and 5 March 2019, the Human Rights Committee reviewed Estonia’s fourth periodic report on actions the State has taken to implement the ICCPR. The State’s delegation began the review citing improvements the government has made on gender equality and addressing violence against women.

The Committee was most concerned about discrimination in Estonia, in particular against LGBTI persons and the Russian-speaking minority. The Committee also discussed the rights of persons with disabilities, conditions within detention facilities, juvenile justice, corruption and trafficking.

The webcast is available here: part 1 and part 2.

"The Committee expressed concern about discrimination and stigmatisation of minorities, including, including racist and xenophobic remarks made publicly by State officials."

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Treatment of minorities

The Committee expressed concern about discrimination and stigmatisation of minorities, including, including racist and xenophobic remarks made publicly by State officials. The Committee inquired into the status of the implementation of their previous recommendations to fully integrate the Russian-speaking minority, noting that they have low participation in the labour market. 

Estonia expressed that the biggest challenge for minorities to integrate into the labour market is the language barrier. Therefore the State aids people from linguistic minorities in language learning and helps to create jobs in regions where Estonian is not widely spoken. There are also campaigns for employers about polylingual and multicultural workspaces to increase the employment of residents who do not speak Estonian. Mobility support was also established to increase employment opportunities and is free to new employees.

Hate speech and hate crimes

The Committee expressed concern about the lack of a comprehensive legal framework to provide protection against hate speech and hate crimes, in particular on the grounds of  sexual orientation and gender identity. The Committee also expressed concern that other acts such as the public denial, justification or condoning of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes or hate propaganda that is racist or otherwise inciting to discrimination, are not prohibited by law. While welcoming the measures taken to combat hate speech and hate crimes, including the creation of web constables to identify and react to online hate speech, the Committee remained concerned about reports of hate speech, including by opinion makers and politicians, and hate crimes. While noting that data on hate crimes has been collected since autumn 2016 and that IT support was introduced to better categorise incidents motivated by hatred while registering criminal complaints, the Committee regretted the lack of specific data on the number of complaints regarding hate speech and hate crimes, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and on their effective investigation and prosecution.

Gender-based violence and gender equality

The Committee expressed concerns about the prevalence of violence against women, including domestic and sexual violence. It also raised that the prosecution rate remains low and underreporting is high due to safety concerns associated with the lengthy process for obtaining restraining orders against perpetrators and the unavailability of emergency restraining orders. The Committee demanded information on measures the government has taken to encourage victims of domestic violence to file complaints.

The State delegation replied that the Criminal Code was amended in 2015 to address violence against women, information campaigns have been organised under the National Strategy for Preventing Violence programme for the period 2015–2020, and the police and medical staff have received thematic training. Victims are also afforded access to support services. Four hospitals provide medical and psychological help to victims of sexual abuse. It was the opinion of the State that their domestic violence laws and awareness-raising campaigns are effective.

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

By 29 March 2021, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:

Hate speech and hate crimes

  • Ensure effective protection against hate speech and hate crimes, both in law and in practice, in accordance with articles 19 and 20 of the Covenant and the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on freedoms of opinion and expression
  • Revise the penalties and the threshold for the offence of incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination under article 151 of the Criminal Code
  • Include gender identity among the prohibited grounds for hatred motivated offences provided for in articles 151 and 152 of the Criminal Code
  • Recognise hate motives, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as aggravating circumstances for all offences
  • Prohibit by law the public denial, justification or condoning of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes or hate propaganda that is racist or otherwise inciting to discrimination
  • Conduct regular awareness-raising activities among the public at large aimed at promoting mutual tolerance, respect for diversity and countering hatred; ensure continuous training on hate crimes for law enforcement officials, border guards, prosecutors and judges; and expanding the number of web constables as planned
  • Investigate hate crimes effectively, prosecuting suspected perpetrators where appropriate and, if convicted, punishing them with appropriate sanctions; and providing victims with adequate remedies

Non-consensual psychiatric treatment

  • Put in place comprehensive procedures for seeking consent for the administration of psychiatric treatment and ensure that non-consensual psychiatric treatment may only be applied, if at all, in exceptional cases as a measure of last resort and when absolutely necessary to protect the health or the life of the person concerned or to prevent injury to others, provided that he or she is unable to give consent, and for the shortest possible time under regular independent review
  • Guarantee effective access to judicial review of decisions related to non-consensual treatment, consistent with articles 9 and 14 of the Covenant, including by ensuring that relatives and any other legal representatives of the patients are sufficiently informed about the procedure for requesting the termination of coercive treatment pursuant to section 403 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Refugees and asylum seekers

  • Fully respect the principle of non-refoulement by ensuring the right of asylum seekers to lodge asylum applications at border-crossing points or in transit zones is effectively guaranteed in practice and consider in that regard establishing an independent monitoring system at border crossings in cooperation with UNCHR, as appropriate
  • Provide for free legal aid, in suitable cases, to applicants for asylum at the border to ensure the exercise of their right to appeal in practice
  • Consider including adequate safeguards in the Criminal Code to ensure that individuals exercising their right to seek asylum are released from any criminal liability for illegal entry or stay
  • Ensure that any legislation adopted following the further consideration of draft law 472 SE or similar legislation clarifies the term “danger to the community of Estonia” in accordance with the principle of legal certainty and complies fully with the Covenant, particularly with the principle of non-refoulement
  • Enhance the training of border guard officials and immigration personnel to ensure full respect of the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees under the Covenant and other applicable international standards

The next report of Estonia is expected by 29 March 2025.

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