Problem of persons without citizenship acute in Latvia, Estonia

STRASBOURG, August 2 (Itar-Tass) — A large number of people in Latvia and Estonia have no citizenship, which is a serious problem for Europe, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg told journalists on Tuesday.

Even those born in Latvia and Estonia, non-citizens are still deprived of the opportunity to vote in national elections, the European ombudsman stressed. However, Hammarberg stated, in recent years the number of those who received passports has grown, and non-citizens got identification documents that enabled them to travel and work.

It should be noted that the situation with Russian-speaking minority in Latvia and Estonia is discussed in Strasbourg not for the first time. Thus, on the sidelines of the summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE this June, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Ombudsman for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Konstantin Dolgov touched upon this issue at a meeting with Hammarberg.

“We intend also in the future to continue using also the Council of Europe venue for discussing issues related to the situation in the field of human rights, especially in Latvia and Estonia,” the Russian diplomat said in an interview with Itar-Tass earlier.

Meanwhile, Hammarberg said in a comment posted on the CE website, in particular, that “having a nationality is a basic human right – so basic that it amounts to a “right to have rights”. The tragedy of persons without nationality gained attention after World War II and a first United Nations treaty was agreed in 1954 on the Status of Stateless Persons to be followed by another convention in 1961 on the Reduction of Statelessness. However, even now – on the 50th anniversary of one of these accords – many people remain without a nationality. Even in relatively peaceful Europe they can be counted in hundreds of thousands. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates the number to be as many as 589, 000.”

“Some stateless people are refugees or migrants, having left their countries of origin. Others live in their home country but are not recognised as citizens. The plight of the stateless, who are estimated to number 12 million worldwide, has received limited attention in recent years and seems to be little understood,” Hammarberg noted.

“Stateless persons are often marginalized. When they lack birth certificates, identity cards, passports and other documents, they risk being excluded from education, healthcare, social assistance and the right to vote. A stateless person may not be able to travel or work legally. As a result the stateless have to grapple with inequality and discrimination – and with a heightened risk of being perceived as irregular. This dire situation was recently described in a report from the Equal Rights Trust, ERT: Unravelling Anomaly: Detention, Discrimination and the Protection Needs of Stateless Persons,” according to him.

“The political developments in Europe after 1989 led to increasing numbers of stateless persons, especially those belonging to national minorities. The breakup of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia caused enormous difficulties for people who were regarded by the new governments as belonging somewhere else – even when they had resided in their current location for many years,” the European commissioner indicated.

According to Hammarberg, “In Latvia and Estonia large numbers of residents remain non-citizens, even if the number of those who have been granted full citizenship has increased in recent years, and others have been provided with personal identity documents which enable them to travel and work more easily. But non-citizens, even those who were born in the country, are still not granted the right to vote in national elections.”

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