HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS REPORT OF LITHUANIA
11 July 2012
The Human Rights Committee has considered the third periodic report of Lithuania on how that country implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Introducing the report, Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said recent legislative advances included adoption of the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence and the Law on Goodwill Compensation for Jewish Religious Community Immovable Property. Several steps had been taken in recent years to impose severe criminal liability for hate crimes and to introduce more severe penalties for certain racist activities. The State had invested in the modernization of detention facilities and a wider range of alternative sentences to detention. Lithuania had made a very rapid transition from neglect to respect of human rights and had reached substantial results in many areas of guaranteeing human rights.
The Committee noted that Lithuania had achieved much since gaining independence, but expressed concern that the country was regressing in the promotion and protection of human rights. The delegation responded to a number of questions and issues raised by Committee Experts, such as practical progress made in combating domestic violence and human trafficking, the support provided to child victims of abuse and violence and the protection of rights of the vulnerable and marginalized community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The Committee expressed concern about racist hate crimes, neo-Nazi demonstrations and societal attitudes concerning anti-Semitism and the increasing discriminatory attitudes against the Roma despite all the legislative and educational measures. A code of ethics for journalists, legal aid provisions and an inquiry into secret detention facilities were also discussed.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Skaisgiryte Liauskiene said Lithuania would consider all the recommendations it had received and how they could be incorporated into the national legislation.
Zonke Zanele Majodina, Committee Chairperson, in her preliminary concluding remarks, welcomed that provisions of the Covenant could be applied directly but expressed concern about a lack of commitment by Lithuania to reopen the investigation in secret detention facilities, especially as the reports by the United Nations Special Rapporteur and others did in fact provide new facts. It was important to recognize the progress and strides made by Lithuania in the time since its independence, said the Chairperson, expressing confidence that Lithuania would continue to make progress.
The delegation of Lithuania included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will meet in private this afternoon. The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 12 July when it will discuss its working methods.
The third periodic report of Lithuania can be read here: (CCPR/C/LTU/3).
Presentation of the Report
ASTA SKAISGIRYTE LIAUSKIENE, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said Lithuania believed that the best way to achieve human rights protection at a domestic level was through national measures as well as participation in international human rights protection efforts and strengthened engagement with international human rights bodies. In 2011 Lithuania engaged in intense cooperation with international institutions, including presentation of reports to the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review process, the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. In 2010 Lithuania ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocols. There had been several recent changes in Lithuanian legislation since the submission of the report in 2010, most important of which was the adoption of the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence. That law entered into force in December 2011 and aimed to prevent domestic violence, protection and assistance to the victims of violence and sanctions to perpetrators: in the first month alone over 3,000 reports of domestic violence were filed. Another important advance was adoption of the Law on Goodwill Compensation for Jewish Religious Community Immovable Property and the establishment of a Foundation which would support the Jews who lived in Lithuania during the Second World War. Several steps had been taken in recent years to impose severe criminal liability for hate crimes and to introduce more severe penalties for certain racist activities, and to criminalize organizations that discriminated against people or incited discord between different population groups.
Improvements to the field of access to justice and fair trial, included amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Code which aimed to ensure the shortest possible time for trial. New legislation on probation had been adopted which established a risk assessment system for re-offending and also preparation of social analysis. Current detention facilities had been inherited from the Soviet regime and were ineffective and costly. Conditions of detention in some penal institutions and detention centres still did not meet international standards. The Government had made all necessary decisions to improve the situation and reforms were underway which included establishment of a new and more effective probation system and a wider range of alternatives to detention. The State was also investing in modernization of current detention facilities and aimed to reduce their number, applying the principle of having fewer but larger detention facilities that would be more cost-effective. In conclusion the Vice-Minister highlighted the critical importance of human rights awareness in Lithuania’s transitional society and noted that human rights education acquired more prominence in the school curriculum. Lithuania had made a very rapid transition from neglect to respect of human rights and had reached substantial results in many areas of guaranteeing human rights.
Questions by Experts
KRISTER THELIN, Committee Rapporteur for the Report of Lithuania, began by saying that becoming a member of the European Union was challenging because States had to fulfill many conditions; for example the so-called Copenhagen Conditions, at the heart of which were human rights and democracy. Lithuania had achieved a lot since gaining independence in the early 1990s, and was still a country in transition; however it seemed to have regressed recently. The Rapporteur asked what status the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had in domestic law and whether it was directly or indirectly applicable? How did Lithuania practically deal with decisions of the Human Rights Committee and did it equate its decisions with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights?
The Rapporteur pointed out that there was no legal definition of torture in Lithuania’s Criminal Code. Given the lack of a definition was judicial practice understood to apply the torture definition as stated in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture? Was Lithuania considering an amendment to the Criminal Code to encompass the definition of torture? Concerning pre-trial detention, the Rapporteur said he was heartened by progress made since the submission of the report in 2010 and asked whether it was mandatory to reduce an imprisonment sentence by the amount of pre-trial detention served. What reparations were made on acquittal for time suffered in pre-trial detention? The Rapporteur expressed concern over the fact that alternatives to pre-trial detention existed but it seemed that the Government was not using them.
Other Committee Members asked the delegation for more details on progress made in combating domestic violence in practice and how the State’s measures to were financed. Referring to the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence, an Expert asked how that law defined the crime of domestic violence and how it was linked to the Covenant.
An Expert recalled Lithuania’s assurance to the Committee that all persons with disabilities or their representatives had to consent to abortion and that there were no forced abortions for persons with disabilities, and asked what strategies were in place to ensure that the will of persons with disabilities, particularly mental disabilities, was clearly expressed and respected?
Was the standard of proof for hate crimes too high, thus making it difficult to secure conviction, an Expert queried? There was a general impression that the law in Lithuania was in place but societal attitudes concerning anti-Semitism were still alive; an example was seen in the recent anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi marches in Vilnius. Some protagonists of the marches were acquitted on the basis of the right to freedom of expression. The Expert asked how the State Party squared its obligations under the Covenant to protect from racism and racial discrimination and the right to freedom of expression.
Very worrying statistics had been brought to the attention of the Committee which showed an increase in discriminatory societal attitudes against the Roma, despite all the legislative and educational measures. Such discrimination was clearly a major social problem and it seemed that the National Action Plan was insufficiently resourced, didn’t have sufficient accountability triggers, was too focused on Romani culture and was insufficient in delivering basic social services to the Roma.
An Expert asked whether any of the Lithuanian citizens who had served with the German army in the World War II could be considered war criminals and inquired how the modern Lithuanian State related to the Nuremberg trials sentences.
Response by Delegation
In response to comments that the human rights situation in Lithuania was deteriorating, the delegation said that Lithuania had existed as an independent State for 22 years. During the Soviet times human rights had been negligible and at its independence Lithuania had been confronted with new understanding of what human rights were about, which included a number of issues such as freedom of expression, gays rights, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Lithuanian society had matured over the past 22 years and today social awareness of a number of issues had increased.
All the international agreements were part of the Lithuanian legal system and international agreements ratified by the State could be applied directly. Therefore, the courts applied the Covenant directly. That principle also applied to the definition of torture since Lithuania had ratified the Convention Against Torture. The Law on Protection against Domestic Violence prohibited any form of violence in a domestic environment and also provided a very broad description of what a domestic environment was. Women had the right to abortion and free access to contraceptives. In the case of a person unable to make a decision about terminating a pregnancy on her own behalf a Court decision was necessary. There was no data available on forced abortions.
In the last few years the number of hate crimes based on religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation had slightly increased, but it was important to note that 97 per cent of those crimes had taken place on the Internet and included hate messages, insults and other inappropriate comments by individuals hiding behind anonymous nicknames. Incitement to hatred in Lithuania was particularly spread on the Internet and under Lithuanian legislation constituted a criminal act. Cooperation between key stakeholders and with civil society organizations was crucial in finding a balance in protecting the right to freedom of expression and other human rights.
In 2010 there was a total number of 131 criminal cases opened for hate crimes based on religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation; in 2011 the number of cases almost doubled and reached over 200 while so far in 2012 there had been 118 criminal cases of which 37 involved hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation. The police were required to be vigilant, cooperate with society and take active steps to prevent acts of defamation of graveyards and other sites connected with ethnic or religious minorities.
A delegate referred to the Law on Protection of Minors, which regulated against the detrimental effect of any public information and established criteria for all public information, but in said in practice those criteria were hardly applicable because they were indefinite and vague.
Nobody would deny the problems faced by the Roma community in Lithuania or that those communities suffered discrimination and non-acceptance, a delegate said. Non-governmental organizations had provided data that indicated over half of the population of Lithuania said they would not want Roma persons as their neighbours, but that was not particular to Lithuania.
Society and civil society had been working on the issue for 22 years and it was a slow and difficult process, carried out inter alia through the Roma Programme. The Roma minority in Lithuania numbered only 2,000 individuals and the number of those without identity documents was very small indeed. The 2012-2014 National Action Plan for Roma was drafted over a period of four months and had recently been adopted. That Plan was partially influenced by the prevailing austere economic situation in Lithuania, which had caused budgetary cuts and a reduction in resources for State actions. A Working Group would be established to oversee the implementation of actions contained in the Plan.
A number of measures were in place to prevent violence in pre-trial detention. For example ensuring the availability of nurses to check the health of detainees, checking people for injuries and listing any injuries on a card so that it would be clear whether further injuries were inflicted by guards in detention. If a complaint was addressed to a body that was not in charge, that body had a legal obligation to transmit the complaint to the relevant body for examination. Juvenile detainees must be kept on separate premises and in pre-trial detention were held in special cells which took into account their age and the status of their mental development.
Lithuania recognized that its detention facilities did not reach international standards and were overcrowded, however, there were very strict provisions in its Penal Code concerning separate detention of juveniles.
Corporal punishment of children in detention was prohibited and there was a general prohibition of corporal punishment in schools. A draft law on child protection was under preparation which would prohibit corporal punishment and other cruel and ill treatment of children. Children were also protected in domestic environment by the relevant law.
Participation of women in public and political life in Lithuania was very high. The President was a woman, as were over 70 per cent of civil servants.
The justice system in Lithuania provided for separation of criminal and administrative offences which had different procedures, custody rules and involvement of the prosecutor. The Nuremberg trials were part of international jurisprudence and international law; criminal cases brought against war criminals or for crimes against humanity were conduced under the rules of the international law and Geneva Conventions. Since independence some 70 or so criminal cases had been brought against people suspected in participating in genocide against the Jews in World War II, and for war crimes and crime against humanity. Three former officials who had been a part of the Nazi structure had been brought to trial, but harsh sentencing was deemed inappropriate given their age and state of health.
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
In a series of follow up questions, the Committee asked for further clarification on how State programmes would be funded, and for data and statistics on convictions for domestic violence. With regard to the investigation into secret detention facilities, was Lithuania interested in re-opening the investigation in the light of the report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur and a number of non-governmental organizations?
The Committee asked for comments on the concern expressed by non-governmental organizations in Lithuania about proposed legislation that would prohibit gender reassignment.
Response by Delegation
The delegation answered that pre-trial detention was an exceptional measure and Lithuanian courts now followed the Strasburg court practices, including compensation and lenient sentences in cases with extremely long trials.
Concerning the secret detention facilities and the reports by the Special Rapporteur and the European Parliament, there had been no new data and facts that would enable Lithuania to reopen that investigation.
The Government was very conscious of issues surrounding the use of the swastika and other symbols in today’s context, after the great losses the country and its people suffered in World War II.
A delegate confirmed that a draft law had been prepared which would regulate how the consequences of gender realignment surgery would be dealt with and what sort of documents must be presented in order for the individual to receive a new set of personal documents.
Questions by Experts
Experts asked the delegation to provide information about human trafficking which would give a better understanding of the phenomenon and would shed more light on the extent to which Lithuania was a country of origin and destination. Prosecution figures for human trafficking were rather low and the Committee wondered whether there were cases which passed under the radar, which would not be unique for Lithuania. What support was available for victims of trafficking outside of the judicial proceedings and how did the Government tackle the demand side of human trafficking?
An Expert expressed grave concern about neo-Nazi demonstrations and events, and his astonishment about the language used by demonstrators. The events carried out by the National Centre of Lithuania had clearly been acts of racial hatred. The State had a duty and obligation to take necessary measures to avoid such incidences.
Was there a Code of Ethics for journalists in the country and how did the Government guarantee the right to freedom of expression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons?
An Expert referred to a 2008 study of sexual violence against children in Lithuania and asked whether there had been any prosecutions and trials for those offences and what sentences had been meted out.
Legal aid was also raised, specifically how generous was the legal aid system and how did it comply with international standards. The question of legal capacity was decided by courts and it seemed that the person in question did not have the right to legal counsel.
Response by Delegation
In June 2012 the Parliament ratified the Convention of the European Union on Action against Trafficking in Persons and had amended the Criminal Code to give broader powers to law enforcement to bring criminal charges against people who committed an offence of human trafficking and those who exploited trafficked persons as well, a delegate responded
A great deal was being done to raise societal awareness about the phenomenon of trafficking in persons, and much effort was put into training law enforcement officers about the crime.
In addition to access to social services, victims of trafficking enjoyed all rights available to victims of serious crimes, such as the right to anonymity, the right to protection of person and access to free legal aid. A number of other rights were provided too, in particular to juveniles. Human trafficking generally concerned people sold for sexual services rather than for labour. Those crimes were often hidden from view and often the victims did not come forward willingly, which made it difficult to establish official statistics for that crime.
The law on legal protection of personal data was harmonized with the European Union legislation in that regard and applied to video surveillance when private interests were involved. The law gave citizens the right to complain to the data protection inspectorate if they felt their privacy was invaded.
The Code of Conduct and Journalist Ethics in Lithuania was first adopted in 1996 and updated in 2005. There was still no code of conduct for Internet use, apart from individual initiatives by editors. There were no specific measures to promote the ideas of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, as measures applied to all groups equally. The delegation confirmed that homosexual relations were not criminalized in either the Civil or Penal Code.
At least ten individuals who had taken part in racist demonstrations had been convicted on charges of incitement of hatred and sentenced with fines. The highest political offices in the country, including the President and the Speaker condemned the very fact of those demonstrations, but there was no legal mean to prevent them.
The 2006 Law on Social Services provided long-term and free social care for children deprived of parental care. In 2007, there were 556 full time employees who provided such social services and that number grew each year. Around 2,000 cases of violence and abuse against children were registered annually and six per cent of those related to sexual violence. A hotline was established in 2009 which children could call and get advice on cases of abuse and what to do: their calls were immediately transferred to trained social workers who could provide help and assistance.
National and ethnic minorities received direct support from their organizations and via municipal and State authorities. Extra support was provided for ethnic confessional groups, for example Lithuanian Tartars and Jews. Education was provided in minority languages in 120 schools in Lithuania, and State funding per student was 20 per cent higher in those schools than in schools that only taught in the Lithuanian language. The population of ethnic minority groups had remained stable, which showed the adequacy of the support they enjoyed.
Legal aid was compulsory for 20 types of criminal proceedings, for example when a minor was involved or when the possible sentence was life imprisonment. In other cases legal aid was provided upon the assessment of individual’s assets. In 2011, there were over 16,000 requests for legal aid and only 283 of those were refused. The State guaranteed legal aid was available in all phases of criminal, civil and administrative proceedings and was also provided in all requests to declare a person legally incapable. Article 170 of the Penal Code was applied directly in cases of offence of incitement to racial hatred and intolerance. The Penal Code regulated the conversion of a sentence or fine into community work for the public good, or in cases of inability to pay the fine, detention for a period of three months.
The Aliens Act provided for refoulement if a presence of an individual was a threat to Lithuania’s security or to public order. There were four grounds upon which that decision could be taken, and it could only be made by a court. The Act also provided for conditions for non-refoulement, for example when a threat of persecution or torture existed in the return country.
There was a direct link between the provisions of the Constitution, the Penal Code and the Law on Provision of Public Information which concerned the right to freedom of expression, something that was considered a crucial precondition to the development of democracy. That right was not absolute however, and therefore incitement to hatred constituted a criminal act and was incompatible with the right to freedom of expression.
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
The Committee noted in the follow up that the right to freedom of association was not absolute and that States had to take action against demonstrations and rallies when they threatened to violate rights of other persons. What other measures were in place to protect the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; were there intentions to adopt a National Action Plan in that regard, as seen in Brazil?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation answered that Lithuania had a National Anti-Discrimination Programme which covered not only sexual minorities, but all forms of discrimination. That programme aimed to inform the public about the phenomenon of discrimination and its negative impact on society, and also to raise awareness and tolerance in society. The State had provided finance to organizations working on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in order to help them promote that National Programme.
ASTA SKAISGIRYTE LIAUSKIENE, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, in her closing statement thanked the Committee for its time in examining and commenting on the report. Lithuania would consider all the recommendations it had received and how they could be incorporated into the national legislation.
ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, Committee Chairperson, in her preliminary concluding remarks, welcomed that provisions of the Covenant could be applied directly and took note of new laws passed to ensure that the legislation was in accordance with the Covenant. She said it would be useful to have an understanding of longer-term impact on new legislation, which meant the need to develop adequate monitoring mechanisms, particularly for domestic violence and incitement to racial hatred. The Committee noted the Government’s commitment to put legislative framework in place and the problem of persistent negative societal attitudes.
The Chairperson expressed concern about a lack of commitment by Lithuania to reopen the investigation in secret detention facilities, especially as the reports by the United Nations Special Rapporteur and others did in fact provide new facts. The restriction of the right to freedom of assembly had been discussed at length during the session, and selective issuing of permits for demonstrations raised the question about the procedures and duty of State to ensure the protection of human rights. It was important to recognize the progress and strides made by Lithuania in the time since its independence, said the Chairperson, expressing confidence that Lithuania would continue to make progress.
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