View Adopted: 2021.10.18
The author, whose mother tongue is Russian, was elected as a deputy to the Balvi Municipal Council in 2013. He was interviewed by the Latvian State Language Centre to verify his language skills at the level required by the Law on the status of members of city councils and municipal councils. It was established that the author's language knowledge failed to meet the statutory requirement, and he was given six months to obtain the required language proficiency in Latvian, for which financial resources were provided by the municipality. Since the author failed to pass the required language proficiency examination, the State Language Centre submitted a request to the Latgale Regional Court for the revocation of his deputy mandate. The author further submitted that he had been discriminated against and that the interference was not prescribed by law, as the required level of language proficiency for deputies is set out only in a regulation.
On March 23 2016, the Latgale Regional Court affirmed the decision of the Balvi District Court. The author filed a cassation appeal before the Collegium for Civil Cases of the Supreme Court of Latvia, which was denied. On 18 January 2017, the author applied to the Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the relevant parts of article 4 of the Law on the status of members of city councils and municipal councils. The Consitutional Court refused to admit the complaint on the grounds of inssuficient legal substantiation. The author the submitted a new complaint to the Constitutional Court, which again refused to examine the complaint on 10 May 2017. However, due to prior commitments he was unable to attend his language proficiency examination on 14 August 2017, and expected a rescheduling of his examination at the time of filing his complaint.
The Committee considered that the author's claim concerning the Consitutional Court's justification does not rise to the sufficient level of substantiation in view of the fact. Therefore, the author's claims under article 14 (1) should be declared inadmissible.
The Committee declared the communication admissible insofar as it concerned the author's claims under article 25, read in conjunction with articles 2 (1) and 26, of the Covenant, in particular those related to the mandate that he gained in 2013 and was deprived of by the decisions of the Balvi Disctrict Court of 11 November 2015 and of the Latgale Regional Court of 23 March 2016.
The Committee noted that the obligation in domestic law for members of the Municipal Council to have an adequate command of the official language pursued a legitimate aim. Every State has a legitimate interest in ensuring that its institutional system functions properly. The Committee, while being mindful of the author's argument regarding the alleged non-justificability of the circumnstance that the impugned requirement applies to elected members only and not to candidates, noted that the grace period of six months benefited the mandate holders concerned and justified the differentiation.
However, the Committee also noted that the author was unable to repeatedly stand for election, conclude his first two terms and, as regards his mandate under-review, was given the opportunity to improve his language skills for which funding was allocated by the municipality. In view of these circumnstances, the Committee could not conclude that the procedure for the revocation of the author's mandate was not based on objective and reasonable criteria and concluded that violation of article 25, read in conjunction with article 2 (1) and 26 of the Covenant, could not be established.
Committee member Furuya Shuichi issued a dissenting opinion. The State party argued that the language requirement applies to all members of the Municipal Council and is equally binding to all citizens of Latvia, in the light of the author's claim under article 26 of the Covenant. According to the Committee's jurisprudence, however, the violations of article 26 may result from the discriminatory effect of a rule or measure that is neutral at face value or without intent to discriminate, and such "indirect discrimination" breaches article 26 when a rule or measure dispproportionately affects certain persons to the extent that it is not justifiable on objective and resonable grounds. Therefore, requiring the author, whose mother tongue is Russia, to posses a certain level of proficiency in Lativian, in order to maintain his position as a deputy of the Municipal Council constitutes a violation of his rights under article 26 of the Covenant.
The Committee member also made note of the crucial fact that the author has been elected four times and has continued to hold the office of deputy since 2005, which clearly demonstrated that a certain amount of the local population had recognized and supported the author as a representative of the local community. The author's removal admittedly disregarded the will of those voters supporting him. In addition, the State party did not provide any specific and concrete example to demonstrate that the author's inssuficient proficiency in Latvian casued any problems or difficulties in carrying out his mandate as a deputy of the Municipal Council for more than 10 years. The Committee member therefore concluded that the removal of the author from the Municipal Council, owing solely to his insufficient language proficiency, was not based on objective and reasonable grounds, and was in violation of article 25 of the Covenant.
18 April 2022