- January 23, 2014
EAPL seeks the EU authorities’ help
The politicians representing the EAPL in the Seimas called on the highest EU authorities to take action in defence of minority rights in Lithuania. They appealed to Knut Vollebaek, the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
We quote the whole appeal:
We turn to you in response to the recent situation of national minorities in Lithuania, as we believe that it is unacceptable to violate fundamental human rights, including minority rights, in united Europe. It is unpardonable and intolerable for a country which is a member of NATO and the EU, to prosecute and punish people for using their mother tongue in public.
On 23rd December 2013, the Vilnius District Court imposed a draconian penalty of 13 000 euro on Šalčininkai District Municipality Administrative Director Bolesław Daszkiewicz, for his noncompliance with the obligation to remove bilingual signboards with street names from some of the private buildings in the Šalčininkai district within a month. It seems that the court decision is of purely political nature, and this fact casts a shadow over the system of justice in our country, as in a civilized country, it is unusual for a higher court to double someone’s fine. What is left for us is to lament over the fact that fines are imposed on national minorities’ members for using their mother tongue there, where the indigenous Polish minority constitutes 80 percent of the population. And all of this happens in the European Union member state. We witness victimizing and breaking one of the most basic human rights, that is the right to use one’s mother tongue. The court’s provocative ruling has triggered a wave of discontent and protests, which are going to escalate.
On 14th January 2014, the European Parliament held a semi-annual summary and discussion of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU, during which President Dalia Grybauskaitė publicly lied to the international community and to the representatives of the European Parliament, claiming in her speech that the international organizations’ reports had not found any incorrectness in the Lithuanian treatment of minorities rights. Mrs. President’s words not only surprised, but also shocked us, as they depart from the truth, and are clearly inconsistent with the real situation of national minorities in Lithuania. This is confirmed by the following reports:
1. The Report of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), in which ECRI voices its concern over the abrogation of the 1989 Law on National Minorities, concerning the practice of protecting national minorities. The law was abrogated in 2010. The report emphasizes that it is possible to solve the majority of national minorities’ problems on the basis of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe, ratified by Lithuania in 2000. It also recommends that the Lithuanian government should pass a law on national minorities, regulating their rights in detail.
2. The Resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from 2012, concerning Lithuania’s compliance with the decisions of the Framework Convention, with reference to national minorities’ language rights, lack of laws regulating the protection of minority rights in the country, strengthening the system of consulting national minorities’ representatives in cases regarding them. Resolution CM / ResCMN (2012) 19 on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Lithuania;
3. The Report of the European Network Against Racism, mentioning the aggravating situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania;
4. In February 2011, the Human Rights Monitoring Institute in Vilnius (HRMI) in its Alternative Report based on Lithuania’s Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, emphasized that “Lithuania is characterized by a low level of human rights awareness among decision-makers, public servants, judiciary, media and population, in general. The state has yet to develop an efficient institutional and legal framework for the protection of human rights in Lithuania”;
5. The Report by Freedom House, criticizing the new Lithuanian Act on Education, adopted in March 2011, which forced the students who took their final high school exams (matura exams) in 2013 to pass the same Lithuanian language tests as their fellow students from Lithuanian schools;
6. The Report of Knut Vollebaek, High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, on the situation of national minorities in Lithuania, from May 2012.
The reports are a clear proof of the national minorities’ aggravating situation in Lithuania. We cannot agree with a depletion in our rights, primarily due to the fact that we care about the welfare and better future for our children. We want to raise them according to our culture and tradition, as – together with the mother tongue – they are the most basic value of the nation. The abovementioned reports suggest that President is not fully aware of the problems connected with the national minorities’ protection in Lithuania. What is especially interesting is also the fact that President does not distinguish between the terms “national minorities” and “migrants”.
In our opinion, instead of lying to the international public, which equals ridiculing and discrediting Lithuania on the international forum, and pretending unawareness of the existence of the reports produced by such authoritative international institutions, the highest authorities in the country should speak the truth.
The Law on National Minorities was adopted in January 1991, but it was cancelled in 2010. Since then, the rights of national minorities have not been protected by any national legislation, while international standards, respected in all the EU member states, are not recognized by Lithuania, despite its unreserved ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 2000.
Drawing your attention to the patent discrimination against national minorities, and the violation of human rights in Lithuania, we request that you take instant measures in order to protect the rights of minorities in our multinational and multicultural country.
Members of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania:
Tłumaczenie by Agata Weronika Chrobak w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Agata Weronika Chrobak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.