8 July 202109:16

Human rights situation in certain countries

  • en-GB1 ru-RU1
 

Unofficial translation

 

HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION

IN CERTAIN COUNTRIES

 

 

Report

by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

of the Russian Federation

 

Moscow 2021

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Introduction

ALBANIA

AUSTRALIA

AUSTRIA

BELGIUM

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

BULGARIA

CANADA

CROATIA

CYPRUS

DENMARK

ESTONIA

FINLAND

FRANCE

GEORGIA

GERMANY

GREECE

HUNGARY

ICELAND

IRELAND

ITALY

LATVIA

LITHUANIA

LUXEMBOURG

MALTA

MOLDOVA

MONTENEGRO

NETHERLANDS

NEW ZEALAND

NORTH MACEDONIA

NORWAY

POLAND

PORTUGAL

ROMANIA

SLOVAKIA

SLOVENIA

SPAIN

SWEDEN

SWITZERLAND

THE CZECH REPUBLIC

UKRAINE

UNITED KINGDOM

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

KOSOVO*

__________________

* The name of Kosovo is mentioned in the context of UN Security Council resolution 1244.

 

Abbreviations used in the text

FRA –

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

ODIHR –

OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

CPT* –

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

ECHR –

European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

ECRI* –

European Commission against Racism and Intolerance

ECtHR –

European Court of Human Rights

AC FCNM* –

Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

CEDAW** –

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

CERD** –

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

CRPD** –

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

CAT** –

Committee against Torture

CRC** –

Committee on the Rights of the Child

HRCtte** –

Human Rights Committee

CESCR** –

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

HRMMU –

United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine

CoE –

Council of Europe

HRC –

United Nations Human Rights Council

OHCR –

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

OHCHR –

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

__________________________

* Operates within the Council of Europe

** Operates within the United Nations

 

 

Introduction

This report is a continuation of efforts by the Ministry to draw attention to the human rights challenges facing today’s international community.

One of the most serious problems in this field is the so-called double standard approach to assessing various situations and phenomena. This approach is still heavily used by several countries to escalate confrontation. Despite multiple discussions on and reaffirmations of the principle of universality of human rights at various levels and seemingly general understanding of the essence of the matter, the issue of human rights is still used by some countries to serve their political interests and as a pretext for interference in the internal affairs of independent states in violation of their sovereignty.

In addition, we are witnessing how, despite legal mechanisms existing and functioning within the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe to deny, condemn and prevent the glorification of Nazism, racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, a number of countries openly promote racist ideas and values, with radical nationalists raising their heads. More attempts are also made to divide societies based on ethnicity and language. Against this backdrop, there is a steady increase in xenophobic and racist incidents, and outbursts of aggressive nationalism, chauvinism and other forms of racial and religious intolerance in several countries, with their authorities justifying their lack of response to such manifestations by hypocritically invoking the allegedly absolute nature of the right to freedom of expression. The issue has become so prevalent that experts already indicate structural manifestations of racism and intolerance that permeate all areas of public life in certain States.

The report also reflects how the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted human rights and freedoms in the world, mainly in the context of the measures adopted by States. It refers particularly to the increase in various manifestations of racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, infringement on the entirety of economic and social human rights, and restrictions on the exercise of rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Another cause for alarm is the aggravating human rights situation of national minorities and ethnic groups, including, first of all, with regard to their linguistic and educational rights. The most critical case is the situation of the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic countries and Ukraine that faces systemic pressure and discrimination from national authorities.

Of particular note are the efforts of the collective West to rewrite the history and revise the outcomes of the Second World War, its cynical attempts to whitewash war criminals and their accomplices – those who created and used to implement the theory of racial superiority, or to glorify Nazi collaborators by presenting them as participants in national liberation movements, with relevant subjects being included in general compulsory curricula.

This report covers the human rights situation in individual countries, including those that list themselves among advanced democracies claiming to set standards in the area of protection of human rights, as well as those that associate themselves with the latter. Such countries often try to "export" democratic and human rights standards invoking their universal character, interfere in the internal affairs and actively criticize the human rights situation in dissenting countries pursuing independent foreign policies and asserting their own historical, cultural and religious values and norms.

Based on data from international and national sources, and reports by human rights non-governmental organizations, the research summarizes factual information on human rights violations in the above-mentioned category of countries. It also takes into account recommendations of international global and regional human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies (committees) and regional (particularly European) human rights institutions, in respect of those countries.

We hope that the existing threat to democratic and human rights values will be recognized not only by civil society organizations and scientific experts but also States mentioned in the report, including their legislative and executive bodies. We remain convinced that a formal recognition, especially combined with double standards, will not be enough and that concrete resolute measures are needed, including an unbiased effective monitoring of neo-Nazi and racist manifestations, as well as consistent steps to criminalize and prevent them at the national level. The aggravating human rights situation in certain countries amply proves this.

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Albania

Albania is party to most of the European and universal international human rights treaties. Drawing on these instruments, the Government is taking steps to improve legal protection of its citizens and developing relevant plans and programmes in cooperation with national and international NGOs.

Human rights protection is one of Tirana's top five priorities for launching accession talks with the EU; however, the attempts by the Albanian leadership to reach EU standards have yielded no tangible results so far.

Despite certain positive developments, the human rights situation in Albania remains complicated. The most painful issues, as international experts point out, include human trafficking, law enforcers’ brutality, inappropriate prison conditions, use of hate speech, double standards on property rights, blood feuds, discrimination against national minorities and domestic violence[51].

Such problems are mainly caused by widespread corruption, nepotism, the country's imperfect legal framework and weak judicial system, lack of professionalism among judges and prosecutors, a low level of legal literacy of the population, traditional social mores, high unemployment rate, poverty, which prompt people, especially youth, to migrate outside the country.

In order to put the situation right, Albania is taking steps to reform the justice system. The report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, published in July 2019, assessed positively the adoption of Law No. 76/2016 on amending the Constitution of Albania and a package of seven organic laws that contain provisions guaranteeing independence, impartiality, professionalism and integrity of judges, as well as improved mechanisms of accountability and monitoring of the work of the judiciary. In addition, parliament approved a package of 23 laws covering all aspects of the judicial reform[52].

In the field of combating human trafficking, despite the efforts made at the national level over recent years[53], Tirana still fails to meet the minimum standards for detecting, prosecuting and preventing this type of crime. There are neither witness protection, nor victim rehabilitation and assistance programmes. Albanian organized crime groups remain strong. From time to time, information appears in open sources about newly revealed organized crime groups specializing in human trafficking and operating both in Albania and abroad (Italy, Greece, Kosovo[54], etc.). According to experts, the indicators for the country remain at the level of 2013. Albania has not overcome its negative image as a source and transit country – and in some cases a destination country – for sexual slavery and forced labour, including begging. The primary risk groups include gypsies, children and socially vulnerable segments of the Albanian population. This was indicated, inter alia, by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination following the review of the combined ninth and twelfth periodic reports of Albania in December 2018[55].

The tradition of blood feuds is another persistent problem. According to the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, Public Administration and Human Rights, about 10,000 people (120 families) are involved in these obsolete customs. Today, neither the ombudsman nor religious leaders nor the Coordination Council for Combating Blood Feuds are able to put an end to these practices. The international community has also expressed concern about this phenomenon since many Albanians, including minors and often those who are not involved in blood feuds, seek refuge in Western Europe under the pretext of an impending vendetta.

Repeated violations of prisoners' rights are recorded, in particular the use of physical and psychological violence by prison guards, and scarce access to medical care. Independent inspections revealed numerous cases of overcrowding in correctional labour institutions and unacceptable conditions of detention of persons with mental disorders (July 2019 – Kruja district, August 2019 – Tirana, Gjirokastra, Korca districts).

Human rights monitoring bodies consistently report that there is no freedom of the media in Albania and that media outlets are often controlled by the authorities and show bias, especially in the run-up to parliamentary and municipal elections. The environment of strong political biases and a low level of professional culture in the media has reportedly remained unchanged over the recent 20 years. 

Late 2019 – early 2020 Albanian society has launched an active government campaign aimed at adopting an "anti-defamation package" – amendments to the Law "On Audiovisual Media", which, in particular, would equate the status of online media and official media and introduce fines for publishing inaccurate information. The contents of innovations caused dissatisfaction both within the country (Albania saw massive protests against changes in regulation) and on the part of supranational monitoring bodies. The opinion of the Council of Europe’s European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe), published on June 19, 2020, concluded that the proposed amendments required careful revision. As the experts noted, in their current form, they may negatively impact the freedom of expression, in particular on political issues, in the Albanian sector of the Internet.

Despite the intention stated by the authors of the draft law to extend its effect exclusively to the professional media exercising editorial control over their publications, the submitted text contained no clear instructions in this regard. Thus, bloggers and users of social networks were also covered by the scope of the proposed amendments. At the same time, one of the prerequisites was deanonymization of online media resources, which, in the case of individuals who are not professional journalists, conflicts with their right not to disclose their identity in the cyberspace. In addition, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe expressed doubts about the real extent of independence of the Albanian media regulator and the Complaints Committee, whose powers are expected to be significantly expanded with the adoption of new legislative provisions. Finally, the lack of any reference to the need to proportionately correlate the amount of fines with the financial situation of a particular media outlet so that the implementation of the sanction part of the norms in the draft not lead to its ruin, according to the experts of the monitoring body, is fraught with the development of self-censorship to the detriment of democracy[56]. Due to such harsh criticism and rejection, the initiative was postponed. However, due to these events, Albania was ranked 83rd in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Interfaith relations remain harmonious in the country, but restitution of the property of religious organizations, seized during the years of Enver Hoxha's regime, is still an issue.

The government is regularly criticized over non-observance of the electoral rights of citizens. Most often a "lack" of choice and "coercion" to vote for members of the ruling Socialist Party are meant. In addition, the lists of candidates of the overwhelming majority of parties in all regions of the country indicate non-compliance with the 30 per cent quota for women wishing to participate in the country's political life[57].

The OSCE/ ODIHR June 30, 2019 municipal elections observation mission report recognized their legitimacy and outcome. Nevertheless, the failure to accommodate the interests of the electorate, incompetent work of the CEC and lower-level electoral commissions, lack of an appropriate legislative framework in electoral matters, and that the election campaign was launched against the backdrop of an internal political crisis were subject to criticism.

The heads of OSCE/ ODIHR, OSCE PA and PACE monitoring missions to the April 25, 2021 parliamentary elections, gave a generally positive assessment of the electoral process, noting at the same time the persisting systemic flaws – the "buying up" of votes, active use of administrative resources and budget funds by the authorities during the election campaign, overly confrontational rhetoric up to personal affronts. The reluctance of government to organize voting for Albanian citizens living abroad was criticized. The ban on coronavirus infected citizens from participation in the elections was separately noted.

Despite many amendments to combat domestic violence introduced to the legislation, this problem remains unresolved today: 53% of Albanian women face it. In 2019, over 3,200 women and girls – victims of domestic violence – received assistance from social bodies.

In 2018, number of important amendments were made to the law "On Punishment for Domestic Violence and Emergency Measures to Detect and Prevent this Phenomenon," to ensure gender equality. In addition, the country is implementing its National Strategy for National Protection until 2021, which prioritizes vulnerable families and groups, and improved services to support victims of domestic violence.

The Roma people is the most vulnerable national minority, which is discriminated against in access to employment, education, health care, housing and social support, including during the pandemic. Many members of the community have no identification documents. NGOs, the Ombudsman, Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth are coordinating the implementation of the National Strategy for the Roma and Balkan Egyptians Social Inclusion. However, the results of their activities remain subtle.

Nevertheless, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance registered significant progress in its sixth report on Albania, published on June 2, 2020, as compared to the previous monitoring cycle. A dialogue between the Ombudsman and the National Bureau for Protection against Various Forms of Discrimination, as well as the improved inclusive education, were noted. At the same time, the practical implementation of the decisions made and interaction on this topic between governmental and non-governmental institutions and organizations remain a significant problem[58].

The high level of cultural and religious tolerance that has been established in the country is commendable.

The report by Dunja Mijatović, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, following her visit to Albania (published in September 2018) focuses on the children's rights situation. The document concludes that the situation had improved considerably in recent years, but the country should continue updating its legislation. The report also commends the reforms in the social sectors that were carried out over the first half of 2018 (including the increase in cash payments for socially vulnerable groups  – children and people with disabilities). 

In 2019, the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review also noted a number of positive changes in this area, namely: improved legislation in terms of a better system of protecting children from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect; the adoption of the Children's Criminal Justice Code, which aims to protect minors in conflict with the law; development of a National Action Plan for the Protection of Children from Economic Exploitation[59].

The Commissioner also mentioned the continued limited access to justice by vulnerable groups as another issue. The results of a 2017 UNDP survey showed a high level of popular legal illiteracy, in particular among Roma and a lack of trust in the justice system. According to this survey, many Romas, low earners, persons with little formal education, persons with disabilities, victims of domestic violence and children from residential institutions are victims of discrimination and economically challenged, which leaves them unable to access better quality services. As a result, some do not even attempt to have their legal issues addressed[60].

There are approximately 4,900 stateless or potentially stateless persons in Albania, many of whom are Roma with no identification documents, as well as Roma children or children born abroad and without birth registration. Another group at risk of statelessness are Albanian emigrants who have gone abroad and voluntarily renounced their citizenship and/ or did not obtain citizenship of the destination country[61]. The revised Law on the Status of Citizens excluded the possibility of children receiving the status of a "non-citizen".

In 2018, the Law on the Protection of National Minorities in the Republic of Albania (2017) was amended to stipulate that in areas where minorities made up at least 20 per cent of the population school education would be provided in their native language. 

The aforementioned normative legal act contains declarative provisions aimed at protecting, preserving and developing the cultural identity and languages of national minorities. It defines the personal scope and rights of persons belonging to national minorities. According to the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (AC FCNM), this law is very general and programmatic in nature. In many important areas, it leaves the settlement of specific issues to the Council of Ministers. At the same time, in order to make legislative provisions effective, it is necessary to adopt by-laws in the form of Council of Ministers’ decisions. These decisions were not adopted within the statutory period of six months, which deprived persons belonging to national minorities of access to their rights. Moreover, Council of Ministers’ decisions, being of a subordinate legal status, provide less protection of rights[62].

The Committee noted a lack of progress as regards teaching in or of minority languages. Schools teaching in the Greek language continue to do so in Gjirokastër, Sarandë, Delvina and Korçë, and teaching in the Macedonian language is carried out in Korçë schools. Teaching of the Romani language is limited. The new law on national minorities opens up a possibility for teaching in the languages of all national minorities in Albanian schools. However, restrictive criteria for setting up classes teaching such languages have been formulated in the draft Council of Ministers' decisions[63].

No facts have been registered of prejudice or discrimination against compatriots on the basis of their citizenship or nationality. The conflicts that take place are of a domestic or administrative nature and resolved in accordance with local legislation. The analysis of the human rights situation in the Republic of Albania concludes that it has experienced no significant changes during this period.

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Australia

Australia regularly reiterates its commitment to universal international human rights values, emphasizing the development of democratic institutions, promotion of multiculturalism and equality of men and women, the advancement of children, older persons and persons with disabilities.

The legislative framework for the system of human rights promotion and protection in Australia is formed by the following federal laws: Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, and Age Discrimination Act 2004. In 2010, Australia’s Human Rights Framework was approved, intended to strengthen the control exercised by the executive authorities over the implementation of the corresponding regulations. In 2012, the National Human Rights Action Plan was approved.

However, the relevant United Nations human rights treaty bodies and international non-governmental organizations (in particular, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International) have systematic concerns about the situation in Australia.

After considering the eighteenth to twentieth periodic reports of Australia under article 9 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in November 2017, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted[1], as did the Human Rights Committee (HRCtte) during the consideration of Australia’s sixth periodic report in October 2017[2], the rise in the public and private spheres of the expressions of racial discrimination and xenophobia, increasingly aimed against migrants, notably Arabs, Muslims, and people of African descent, as well as Indigenous Peoples.

For many years, Australia's Achilles heel in the human rights field has been the situation of the Indigenous population (the total number is estimated at approximately 750,000 persons). It is not constitutionally recognized and remains the poorest and most vulnerable part of Australian society. In its concluding observations on the combined second and third periodic reports of Australia, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities noted that the lack of support, poverty and isolation experienced by members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, especially persons with disabilities, cause them to express suicidal ideation.[3]

There are many cases of intersecting and multiple discrimination of the Indigenous population of the continent. Indigenous persons with disabilities, women, and children are in the most vulnerable situation. An example of inequality is, in particular, the lack of culturally suitable support for Aboriginal children with disabilities and their families.[4]

In November 2019, the Committee on the Rights of the Child criticized the Australian Government for the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children disproportionally more often become victims or witnesses of family and domestic violence, including sexual violence.[5]

Since 2008, Closing the Gap government initiative is being implemented to more inclusively engage Aboriginal people in economic and social activities, however, according to the 12th annual report of the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that included this project's status report (February 2020), its results remain unsatisfactory.[6]

The implementation of only two out of the seven goals set out are proceeding as planned – "education" (rate of Aboriginal schoolchildren who have completed grade 12) and "access to preschool education". At the end of 2019, 66 per cent of Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 completed 12th grade, while in 2008 this rate was 45.4 per cent. The percentage of Indigenous Australian four year‑olds enrolled in early childhood education reached 86.4 per cent.

Despite the positive trend in Indigenous school attendance (about 82 per cent in 2019), bridging the gap with Australians of European descent (93 per cent of the educational institutions attendees in 2019) is not moving fast enough. Around 20 per cent of Aboriginal Australians do not meet the minimum reading and numeracy requirements.

Moreover, according to the report, the planned objectives in such areas as increasing life expectancy, reducing child mortality, improving school attendance, increasing literacy rates, and combating unemployment have not been achieved. Furthermore, the deadlines set for the last four goals expired in 2018.

Although mortality rate among the Aboriginal population has fallen by 15 per cent, it has dropped among the non-indigenous population as well, as a result a significant gap remains unchanged. Life expectancy for Aboriginal men is on average 8.6 years less than that for white Australian men. This gradient is 7.8 years for women.

The child mortality gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is striking. According to statistics, average national child mortality rate is 67 cases per 100,000 people, this figure reaches 141 among Aboriginal people. Experts note that high infant mortality occurs, inter alia, due to widespread rheumatic heart disease, caused by unhealthy maternal lifestyles and lack of routine vaccination.

The unemployment rate for the Aboriginal population is about 51 per cent (for comparison, it was 46.2 per cent in 2008). At the same time, the situation in large cities is a little better, with a somewhat lower percentage of the unemployed Aboriginal population.

According to statistical data, though the Indigenous population only amounts to 3 per cent (about 750,000 people) of the total population of Australia, about 30 per cent of Australia’s prison population are Indigenous. Thus, the proportion of Aboriginal prisoners (approximately 13,000 prisoners) exceeds the number of white criminals among the overall non-Indigenous population (about 32,000 out of 24.5 million) by over 13 times.

In order to gloss over obvious public policy failures in this area, in June 2020, the Australian government proposed to establish new goals to lower the percentage of young Indigenous inmates by 19 per cent and reduce the overall number of Aboriginal prisoners by 5 per cent by 2028.

Human rights defenders are also concerned with the failure to implement the initiative on the constitutional recognition of the Aboriginal population by amending the preamble or the text of the Constitution "to symbolically honour Indigenous Australians". On the regional level, several dialogues have been organized that concluded with the National Constitutional Convention on the situation of the Indigenous population (Uluru, 2017). A report with recommendations on the creation in Parliament of an Aboriginal "representative body" was presented to the Prime Minister. However, the ruling coalition has consistently refused to put this issue to a referendum.

Closing the Gap initiative is criticized by human rights actors not only for its inefficiency, but also for listing negative indicators while lacking suggestions for improvement. Experts are also disappointed by the refusal to engage Aboriginal-led organizations, in particular, the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation. The initiative addresses the need to establish decision-making models with wider participation of the local community. At the same time, its main focus is on the need to take into account the appeal from the Indigenous people to the Australian government (2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart that calls for the Aboriginal rights for representation in the country's Parliament to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution). However, the ruling coalition consistently refuses to take action on this initiative.

The plight of Indigenous people in Australia, including political participation issues, lack of protection of their land rights, discrimination in the socio-economic field, disproportionate violence against indigenous women, and the level of Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal system, especially children, was also noted by the CERD[7] and the HRCtte[8]. In addition to the above issues, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), during its review of the fifth periodic report of Australia in May 2017, expressed concern about the high levels of all types of socio-economic disadvantage of Indigenous population, as well as failure to respect the principle of free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples in developing policies on mining operations on the lands traditionally used by Indigenous peoples.[9]

Canberra's migration policy is also criticized by the human rights community. Australia does not provide asylum for refugees arriving illegally and indefinitely holds them in temporary detention centres on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and in Nauru. Poor conditions in such centres, including lack of adequate mental health-care, serious security issues, incidents of violence, sexual abuse, self-harm, as well as the fact that poor conditions allegedly force some asylum seekers to return to their countries of origin were indicated by the HRCtte in October 2017.[10] As of June 2020, about 380 (884 in 2019) people remain in Australian remand centres: about 200 people in Nauru and 180 in Papua New Guinea. 822 migrants voluntarily returned to their homelands.

Resettlement to the United States is proceeding slowly: only 531 people have relocated so far in the framework of the arrangement between Australia and the United States, another 295 refugee applications have been approved (the original number was 1,250 people). Three hundred migrants have been denied entry to the United States. There is no certainty regarding the fate of those recognized as refugees, but not selected under the US quota. At the same time, Scott Morrison’ government continues to stubbornly refuse to conclude an agreement on migrants with Wellington despite New Zealand's willingness to accept 150 refugees.

In December 2019, the Australian Parliament voted to repeal the Medevac Bill passed in March 2019 by the Labor majority that permitted illegal migrants whose health required medical attention to enter Australia. About 200 people who managed to enter Australia this way are now held in national migration centres or detained in hotels.

Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child believe that the best interests of the child are not a primary consideration in asylum, refugee and migration processes. They also criticized the fact that at the moment Australia is not intending to establish an independent guardianship entity for unaccompanied children and is not currently considering prohibiting the detention of children in all circumstances. Furthermore, neither the Migration Act nor the Maritime Powers Act prohibit the return of vessels carrying children who may be in need of international assistance.[11]

Human rights defenders also note the increased number of homeless persons in the country (estimated at 105,000 in 2014), of whom the majority are youth, victims of domestic violence, asylum seekers and indigenous peoples.[12]

Human rights advocates' attention was also brought to the human rights aspects of the counter-terrorism activities of the Australian special services. In particular, they are empowered to detain individuals suspected of terrorist activity for more than 48 hours without charge, conduct surveillance on individuals, and access bank account information, electronic and text messages, computer and telephone devices of citizens without a proper court order.

The House of Representatives is currently reviewing draft amendments to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act (ASIO). If it is adopted, the minimum age of suspects whom the ASIO will be authorized to detain for 24 hours for questioning will be lowered from 16 to 14, its powers to carry out surveillance of citizens with no court order will be expanded as well.

The Telecommunications Amendment Act became effective in 2015, obligating telecommunications companies to retain metadata of Australians' phone calls and electronic messages for two years. In addition, in December 2018, a law came into force obligating electronic messaging services that use cryptographic encryption technology to provide security authorities with information on the correspondence of terrorism suspects.

The Espionage and Foreign Interference Act and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act that entered into force in December 2018 criminalize the reception and dissemination of classified information and oblige individuals and legal entities acting in the interests of foreign States to provide data regarding their operation upon the request of competent authorities. According to human rights activists, all these powers can be used for uncontrolled and unreasonable interference into citizens' privacy. For example, the HRCtte has noted that there is a risk that such emergency measures could, over time, become the norm rather than the exception.[13]

In 2019, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended the Australian authorities to revoke the December 2015 amendments to the Citizenship Act that allow for children under 18 years of age to lose their Australian citizenship if they engage in or are convicted of certain foreign fighting or terrorism-related conduct.[14]

The country's continued impunity of abuse of power by law enforcement officers is criticized by the international human rights community. In particular, the HRCtte has noted that the close relationship between police officers and coroners may compromise the independence of investigations.[15]

Freedom and independence of Australian media outlets was compromised in June 2019 after the federal police raided the home of Annika Smethurst, political editor of newspapers of the News Corp media holding, and the head office of ABC – state-owned media corporation – and seized materials "based on secret government documents leaked to journalists." All accusations against Annika Smethurst were subsequently lifted.

People with disabilities face difficulties in Australia as well. They cannot fully exercise their rights to vote, health, education, family life, etc. For example, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities underlines the segregated education of children with disabilities and insufficient funding for inclusive education in mainstream schools. It has indicated the lack of access to early intervention mechanisms for children with disabilities, the widespread practice of retaining and restraining them in adult settings. Besides, parents with disabilities are more likely than other parents to have their child removed from their care, often on the basis of disability. There are difficulties regarding the accessibility of housing and information and communication technologies.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is criticized, as it still relies heavily on the medical model of disability and does not provide older persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and other categories of people with equal opportunities. Moreover, such factors as procedural difficulties, the lack of publicly available information concerning the system and the lack of service provision in remote areas of the country have a negative impact on its accessibility.[16]

Human rights monitoring mechanisms are concerned with involuntary non-therapeutic sterilization of women and girls with intellectual disabilities and/or cognitive impairment, despite the fact that in its July 2013 report, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs recommended limiting this practice and strengthening the safeguards against abuse. This problem, in particular, has been noticed by the HRCtte in October 2017[17], the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in July 2018[18], and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in November 2019[19]. In October 2019, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also noted reports of forced sterilization, forced abortion and forced contraception among persons with disabilities. Besides, experts are concerned with cases of obliging persons with cognitive and mental impairment to undergo treatment, including through indefinite detention in psychiatric centres, as well as the use of psychotropic medications, physical restraints and seclusion under the guise of behaviour modification against persons with disabilities, including children[20].

Even though the State declares that it is committed to the principle of gender equality, the Constitution of Australia features neither guarantees of such equality nor the general prohibition of discrimination against women. Women in Australia continue to be subjected to forced marriage or female genital mutilation. At the same time, as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women notes in its concluding observations, there is no systematic data collection on the number of women who have faced these issues.[21]

There are some challenges in the safeguarding of the rights of the child. Thus, in November 2019, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed its concern about the persistently high number of minors in alternative care and the remarkable though traditional overrepresentation among them of Indigenous minors. Experts have also noted that children in alternative care have limited access to mental health and therapeutic services.

Another problem is the high rate of violence against minors both in the home and in specialized institutions. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticized the fact that the National Redress Scheme, which was set up for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse, only covers citizens and permanent residents of Australia. At the same time, it does not cover persons sentenced to five years of imprisonment or longer and children who were under eight years of age in 2018.[22]

The age of criminal responsibility remains 10 years. The need to review this norm was expressed by the HRCtte in October 2017[23] and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in November 2019[24]. People with disabilities, Aboriginal persons, and those pertaining to both population groups are overrepresented among minors brought to justice by court decision[25]. According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, children in detention are frequently subjected to verbal abuse, including of a racist nature. Moreover, they often experience cruel and degrading treatment: they are deliberately denied access to water, restrained in ways that are potentially dangerous and many are subjected to isolation. There are cases where children are detained with adults.[26]

Taking into account all of the above, we must conclude that the human rights situation in Australia has significant flaws that require much more attention from the official authorities than they currently receive.

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Austria

Respect for and protection of human rights continues to be among the priorities of the Austrian Government. In general, the situation in this field is considered by experts as meeting international and regional standards. The latter are incorporated into the country’s legislation. The relevant provisions are contained in the Austrian Constitution and in the key normative legal acts that define the foundations of Austrian public order.

The violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms that take place are usually widely covered in the media and generate public backlash supported by numerous non-governmental human rights organizations operating in Austria and monitoring these issues, including through various opinion polls and anonymous hotlines. The NGOs regularly publish reports on the situation in this area and use their Internet portals and social media accounts to expose violations and release their perpetrators’ names often triggering law enforcement investigations into such cases.

The most illustrative in this regard is the promotion of the human rights of migrants, as Austria is yet to overcome the consequences of the 2015 migrant crisis. Despite the overall reduction in the number of migrants, the Austrian social services still come under increased pressure often resulting in isolated cases of overzealous bureaucracy that are criticized in the human rights context.

The official authorities are pursuing a consistent course to reduce the number of migrants with an emphasis on combating their illegal segment. According to statistics from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Interior, the number of applications for refugee status in January-June 2020 decreased by 9.8% to 5.4 thousand compared to the same period in 2019 (at the end of 2019 – by 6.3% to 12.8 thousand). In the second quarter of 2020, the smallest number of applications was recorded (2 thousand), starting from 2001 (most from citizens of Syria (1.7 thousand) and Afghanistan (1.1 thousand)), which was largely caused by the spread of coronavirus infection in the country. After the relative stabilization of the epidemiological situation in June 2020, the number of applications increased to 1 thousand (+ 25% over the same period in 2019). In total, about 200 thousand people applied for asylum in Austria after the 2015 crisis, 118 thousand applications were approved (one of the highest per capita rates in Europe).

The current program of the Austrian government (formed from representatives of the Austrian People’s Party and the Green Party) for 20202024 contains a provision stating that "Austria does not intend to come up with new initiatives on the issue of refugee distribution rules". For its part, the Austrian government will strive to ensure that the asylum application process lasts no more than 6 months. In general, there is a desire to pursue more differentiated policies on migration and asylum issues. For this purpose, the country has established the Federal Agency for Foreigners and Refugees (BFA), as well as an Advisory Council with the participation of representatives of civil society, NGOs and legal experts.

The Austrian government pays great attention to providing assistance in the voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin. In the framework of the government program "Reboot II", refugees leaving Austria are provided with material assistance (2,800 euros) for their early adaptation to the new place of residence. More than 500 repatriates have received assistance over the past three years under a program funded by the EU Refugee, Migration and Integration Fund and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Interior. In 2019, 2,840 migrants returned to their homeland (the majority – to Serbia (309), Iraq (302) and China (197)) with the support of the International Organization for Migration. 85% of the related costs were covered by the BFA. The Austrian human rights organizations Caritas and Verein Menschenrechte Österreich (VMÖ) are actively involved in advising on repatriation issues. In 2019, VMÖ provided expert assistance to more than 3 thousand people.

Human rights activists criticize the authorities’ focus on shortening the time frame for expulsion of rejected refugees, the lack of systemic approaches towards providing legal assistance to migrants, as well as the practice of detaining children under 14 for further expulsion. In May 2018, following its consideration of the initial report of Austria, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances expressed its concern over the introduction of a fast-track asylum procedure at the borders, as well as the lack of clear and specific criteria and/or procedures for assessing the risk of the asylum-seeking person being subjected to enforced disappearance upon return[27]. Experts note an increase (from 1436 in 2015 to 4627 in 2018) in the number of arrests of migrants (for further extradition) compromising the simplified form of expulsion without detention. The practice of restricting the freedom of pregnant and nursing women, migrant victims of persecution and persons with physical disabilities is considered questionable.

Human rights activists believe that the inefficiency of the system of legal protection for migrants is confirmed by the statistics of the Federal Administrative Court of Austria that approved only 15 per cent of all requests for legal assistance from asylum seekers in 2018.

The backlash from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) within the Council of Europe was fueled by the further tightening of family reunification rules for persons granted refugee status under the Asylum Act, which already covered only their spouses and minor children. In accordance with the new rules, the deadline for submitting the relevant application was reduced to three months from the date of recognition as a refugee. In addition to the temporary restriction, the law also enshrines a number of other mandatory requirements: an adequate level of income, the availability of medical insurance and permanent housing. An additional factor complicating the process was the increase in visa processing costs, without which the reunification as such would have been impossible[28].

Conditions in temporary refugee holding centers remain a primary focus of human rights NGOs. Despite steady improvements, they are still deemed insufficient to meet special needs of certain persons (for example, victims of torture, trafficking, gender violence or minors who entered the country unaccompanied by an adult) in many facilities. There is a need to enhance the quality of health services provided to them. Social services still fail to fully ensure interpretation during obligatory interviews with migrants.

As noted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), unaccompanied refugee children over the age of 14 cannot expect to receive support similar to that provided to Austrian children. In addition, legal guardians are assigned to them only after they have been assigned to the reception center of the respective federal province, although this transfer may take some time due to the assessment of the age. It is also a matter of concern that the latter procedure is not always carried out with respect for the dignity and best interests of the child. In addition, despite the possible inaccuracy of the outcomes, it is impossible to appeal against its results[29].

Supranational monitoring bodies are also alarmed by the situation concerning the low academic performance of children of immigrant origin. They are twice as likely as other students to be unable to acquire basic academic knowledge[30]. The reasons for this disappointing result lie in the imperfection of the existing integration mechanisms, poor command of the German language, differences in curricula and the general marginalization of this part of the population.

The Austrian media also regularly publishes information on offences committed by refugees and members of ethnic groups. For instance, according to the Austrian Federal Ministry of Interior, 40 per cent of all suspected perpetrators in 2019 were foreigners.

Hence, there is a certain polarization of public attitudes towards the migrant issue. Opinion surveys (March 2018) reveal that 67 per cent of respondents believe that Austria should help refugees, yet 74 per cent agreed that there is a parallel society of migrants in the country.

The level of integration of foreigners in general and refugees in particular remains quite an important indicator for Austrian authorities and local society. Given the persisting "migrant-phobia", the police observes an increase in the number of violations committed by the Austrians as well, first and foremost against temporary migrant holding facilities (damage to property, arsons etc.). The 2019 Racism Report published by the Civil Courage and Anti-Racism-Work human rights NGO indicates a significant rise in intolerance towards individuals of different racial identity and religious affiliation. In 2019, 1950 violations of human rights of this kind were recorded (the highest rate in recent years, compared to 1920 in 2018), with more than half of them recorded on the Internet. Of the total, only 35% of the cases were investigated; in the remaining cases, given their anonymous nature, no action was taken by law enforcement agencies. There have been 93 new cases of racial discrimination since the country imposed restrictions on leaving home until the end of April 2020 on March 16, 2020, the vast majority (87%) of which occurred on online resources.

The hate on the net remains one of the most acute and controversial topics both in Austrian political circles and among the local public. Recently, the Minister of Justice A.Zadic and the Minister of Defense K.Tanner have become objects of threats on the Internet.

At the same time, it is important to note a number of steps taken by the official government in order to counteract this phenomenon. For example, to simplify the procedure for informing about the use of hate speech on the Internet and the publication of messages of offensive content, a special mobile application "BanHate" was developed for the first time.

One of the most effective methods of combating hate speech is the promotion of counter-narrative. This is done, in particular, by the National Committee of the Council of Europe Campaign "No to Hate Speech", created in 2016. In 2017, after the launch of another project "#makelovegreatagain", it still conducts various actions and events aimed at raising awareness among the population, together with NGOs and government agencies. And in 2018, the Neustart probation service, together with the Austrian prosecutor’s office, launched the Dialogue instead of Hate program, which aim is to develop a constructive response to hate speech by modifying the behavior of offenders[31].

In September 2020, the Austrian government introduced a bill to restrict the posting of hateful content online under threat of penalties. Its scope covered all sites specializing in exchanging messages, photo, video and audio files and having at least 100 thousand users and a turnover of more than 500 thousand euros per year. The package of measures provides for the "responsibility of the Internet platforms themselves" (including Facebook, Google, TikTok, etc.) for monitoring and the obligation to promptly remove "messages of hatred, threats, hate speech". It is assumed that network operators will be required to provide their users with the opportunity to make claims about the presence of hateful content on their online resources. Similar appeals are also allowed to be posted on the website of the Austrian Ministry of Justice. In case of their positive consideration, an Internet platform will have to remove objectionable publications within 24 hours (the fine for non-compliance is up to 10 million euros). If violators ignore court decisions or delay taking action, a fine may be levied from the advertising partners of the online resource that violated the law. Austrian Internet platforms with less than 100 thousand subscribers, online stores, as well as online forums of Austrian electronic media, which are already covered by the national media law, are being withdrawn from the law.

According to human rights activists, the concept of zero tolerance for migrant offenders actively used by the Freedom Party of Austria that is part of the Federal Government of Austria (December 2017 – May 2019) has contributed greatly to the increased number of manifestations of hatred.

For example, in 2018, Austrian Minister of the Interior G.Kickl, belonging to this party, promised to take a tough stance against asylum seekers and revealed the authorities’ plans to "concentrate" all refugees in one place, which, according to some people, was a reference to the Nazi terminology and "a deliberate attempt to provoke society". In 2019, the deputy head of Upper Austria, who comes from the same party, published poems in which he compared migrants to rats[32].

This problem was also highlighted by international human rights monitoring bodies. For instance, in its Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Austria of October 2015, the Human Rights Committee (HRCtte) expressed its concern over the fact that, despite action taken by the Austrian authorities, immigrants, foreigners and ethnic minorities, including the Roma minority, continue to face intolerance and discrimination. The number of expressions of hatred by politicians is growing. There is an increase in the use of hate speech on the Internet and a rise of advocacy of racial or religious intolerance towards migrants and asylum seekers, as well as Roma, Muslims, and Jews[33].

In light of the crisis situation with refugees on the Greek-Turkish border, Profil magazine conducted a sociological survey, according to which 61% of respondents opposed the acceptance of migrants by Austria and other EU countries, and only 31% responded in the affirmative.

Also interesting are the results of a study conducted within the framework of the EU project "Ciak MigrACTION" at the end of 2019 on the quantitative perception of migrants by citizens of Austria and a number of other European countries, which, as it turned out, significantly differs from the real figures. Thus, the Austrians estimated the share of migrants in the country at 35%, although in reality it stands at 16%. 49% described the impact of migration on everyday life as very or rather negative, 20% – as very or rather positive and 29% considered themselves to be neutral. The same 49% believe that migrants pose a threat to national security, and for 11% the migration topic is "the most important personal problem".

The HRCtte also drew attention to the low representation of ethnic minorities in the country’s political and public life, including in the legislative and executive bodies[34].

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also expressed its concern at incidents of hate crimes and attacks on refugees and asylum seekers, including women and girls, in July 2019[35].

At the same time, radical Islamist preachers are promoting intolerance towards all people of other faiths. According to the HRCtte experts, the polarization of public sentiments is manifested, on the one hand, in the strengthening of radicalization and the revival of ultra-right groups inspired by extremist National Socialist ideologies and neo-Nazism, and, on the other hand, in the increased activity of extremist groups, including members of the Muslim community[36].

According to the CEDAW, the decision of the authorities to ban face-concealing clothing in public places has a discriminatory impact on Muslim women residing in Austria and migrant women and girls coming to the country. This legislative provision, according to experts, restricts the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion of representatives of this population group that wears certain religiously influenced clothing, as well as contributes to its social isolation[37].

The criticism was caused by a number of incidents that have occurred since the beginning of the 2019/2020 school year in Vienna’s schools. Since the entry into force in May 2019 of the ban on wearing Muslim niqab headscarves in primary schools until the end of November 2019, 8 cases of violations have been recorded. In all cases, the parents, after receiving legal advice, had to accept the authorities’ decision (in case of refusal, they faced a fine of up to 440 euros). In January 2020, the Austrian Islamic Community filed a complaint with the Austrian Constitutional Court against this restrictive measure, believing that it violates fundamental human rights such as the freedom of religion and the right to parenting.

It is noteworthy that the prohibition itself in the School Education Act is formulated in a general way: students under the age of 10 should not wear clothes covering their heads that reflect religious or ideological beliefs. However, the parliamentary subcommittee on education subsequently issued an explanatory commentary on this, explaining that only those headdresses that hide either the entire hair or most of it are subject to the restriction. Thus, the wearing of yarmulkes and patkas – children’s headdresses of Sikhs – was removed from the law. This makes it even more obvious that this step is directed against Muslim girls, which, according to the ECRI experts, may result in the marginalization of this group of students and negatively affect their exercise of the right to education[38].

Human rights organizations point out the examples of police officers and special forces abusing their powers, which, as a rule, manifests itself in the use of excessive force against detainees. According to the research conducted by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice that analyzed 1,500 police misconduct allegations, only 7 of those cases were referred to court and never resulted in guilty verdicts. In 10 per cent of cases, the complainants themselves faced defamation charges. In 2017, only 9 out of 509 complaints against law enforcement officers suspected of abuse of power filed with the Prosecutor’s Office were investigated, confirming infringements of the law.

Besides, there were cases of racial profiling by police officers of certain individuals on the basis of their physical appearance, color and ethnic origin[39].

In January 2019, two police officers beat a 28-year-old Chechen during a routine identity check in Vienna’s Favoriten-district. Six law enforcement officers who were nearby watched these unlawful actions indifferently. Only after the victim provided video evidence of the incident, a working check was started against the police officers, as a result of which they were temporarily dismissed from their posts. The case is currently being examined by the Federal Anti-Corruption Office.

In its report on Austria, prepared during the sixth monitoring cycle, the ECRI cites data from a study conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Human Rights: 66% of respondents of African descent noted that they were stopped at least once by law enforcement agencies in the last five years prior to the survey; 34% of them considered it racial profiling. This is the highest figure among the EU member states.

In addition, according to the ECRI, despite the legal prohibition on racial profiling in Austria, only two cases in which this issue was raised have been resolved in court so far. There is also no data on the consideration of complaints of such treatment by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Austria, despite the fact that the topic of racial profiling is within its competence[40].

Human rights activists criticize the policy of the country’s leadership to gradually reduce budgetary allocations aimed at supporting the poor. In particular, as a result of the reform of the social security system, there has been a significant reduction in payments (by 35-40%) for this category of persons, about 20% of which are refugee status holders. This measure is expected to primarily affect 66 thousand representatives of this social group out of 230 thousand beneficiaries of basic assistance. The most significant cut-backs will hit families with a large number (more than 3) of children (a decrease of the country average from 2,084 to 1,350 euros), as well as individuals who are not proficient enough in German. The payments to single refugees are expected to be reduced from 863 to 560 euros. Experts believe that at the end of the day, this reform will have the most impact on the welfare of children and minors residing in Austria.

The dissatisfaction of specialized NGOs is also caused by the tough position of Chancellor S.Kurz in favor of "the consistent deportation of foreigners who have committed offenses in the country and whose refugee status has been canceled", as well as the problem with the illegal transportation of migrants to the territory of Austria (a series of similar cases occurred in January-February 2020, as a result of which at least 50 refugees were brought into the country).

The migrant reception is also associated with the phenomenon of human trafficking. According to the CEDAW, Austria is a destination and transit country for trafficking in women and girls for purposes of sexual exploitation (95 per cent) and forced labor. Besides, the Committee expressed its concern over the fact that while the number of investigations and prosecutions of traffickers increased (with 63 arrests for trafficking and 75 arrests for cross-border prostitution in 2017), the sentences imposed on traffickers by the courts of the State party are too lenient, despite article 104 (a) of the Criminal Code providing for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment[41]. The HRCtte also noted with concern the insufficient identification of victims trafficked[42].

At the end of August 2020, the Vienna parliament called for the admission of 100 children from refugee camps located on the Greek islands. In a joint statement of three parties (Social Democratic Party of Austria, the Green Party and the NEOS party), which supported this idea, it is emphasized that "with the onset of the coronavirus infection pandemic in Europe, the conditions of stay of children, many of whom have lost their parents, in the resettlement camps have become even more unbearable". Despite such appeals, the Austrian federal government maintains a fundamental intent not to allow immigrants into the country, with which most of the population agrees.

In the run-up to the Vienna parliamentary elections in October 2020, human rights defenders criticized the situation with the provision of general suffrage for foreigners: almost 1/3 of the city’s population with migration roots, according to the current Austrian legislation, cannot vote due to the lack of these persons of Austrian citizenship. Minister for the European Union and Constitution K. Edtstadler explains this state of affairs by the fact that "citizenship ... is the completion of a successful integration process and full identification with Austria", noting that citizens of other EU countries "have the right to vote in local elections in Austria", and this approach only applies to persons from third countries.

The "migrant" Party of Social Austria of the Future, through an official request to the Austrian Constitutional Court, launched a campaign for the recognition of minority status for Turks and ethnic groups of the former Yugoslavia residing in the country, who are said to have made a great contribution to the economic, social and cultural development of the country. Minister for Women and Integration S. Raab strongly rejects such initiatives, believing that "there is a clear distinction between migrants and ethnic groups", and "the desire of some migrant communities to recognize them as an ethnic group is absurd and unjustified".

Human rights defenders are also concerned about the situation of the Muslim population in Austria. According to the report of the Viennese society "Dokustelle Wien" on discrimination against Muslims living in Austria, the number of cases of Islamophobia reached 1,051 in 2019 (540 in 2018), including 760 cases related to the spread of hate messages in the media space, 118 – insults, 79 – damage to property, 43 – unequal treatment. Muslim men have been harassed more often than women (105 out of 192 cases), but mostly on social media. Women have been victims of discriminatory attitudes in real life.

In this regard, the results of a social survey given in the EU Agency for Fundamental Human Rights Report for 2020 are very illustrative: 45% of respondents who took part in it are sure that Muslims should not have the same rights as "all other residents of Austria"[43].

The situation with the purchase of a house in the Weikendorf community (Lower Austria) by a large Palestinian family in March 2019, where local residents and the city administration expressed disagreement with its acquisition and tried to prevent the family from moving to a new place to live, caused a wide resonance. An appeal against the purchase of the said property was filed by the local authorities with the Lower Austria Administrative Court; after several months of proceedings, the legality of the transaction was confirmed by the Austrian State Register.

According to the "integration barometer" of the Austrian Integration Fund, the attitude of Austrian citizens towards the Muslim part of the population is deteriorating every year (62% of 1,000 respondents rated their life together with Muslims as bad). The last time this figure was as high was during the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015. For Austrian citizens, the problem of the spread of radical Islam is the second most important after the topic of global warming. At the same time, the situation with the integration of refugees in schools and workplaces worries 58% of respondents.

According to a study commissioned by the Austrian National Council in early 2019 on the spread of anti-Semitism in the country, about 10% of the population support anti-Semitic attitudes. According to the Austrian Institute for Empirical Social Research, anti-Semitism is more prevalent among Turkish and Arabic speakers. 10% of respondents agreed with the statement "if the state of Israel disappears, then peace in the Middle East will be established", while more than 70% of the Arabic-speaking population and 50% of the Turkish-speaking population agree with this thesis. According to a study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Human Rights, 24% of Jewish respondents consider anti-Semitism to be a very serious problem in Austria, while 49% consider it a relatively serious problem[44].

The results of a joint study by the NGO "Forum Against Anti-Semitism" and the Jewish Community of Vienna showed that the number of incidents with anti-Semitic overtones is increasing every year: it increased to 550 in 2019, that is, by 10% compared to 2017 (503). A noticeable increase in the number of incidents was recorded at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when the Jewish population was accused of spreading COVID-19. Among them prevail: abusive treatment, primarily in the online space (239 cases), damage to property (78), attacks (6), which, as a rule, were committed by right-wing radicals or representatives of the Islamic world.

In April-May 2019, the Vienna open-air exhibition dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust was attacked three times by vandals. In October 2019, a member of the Jewish Community Council was attacked in Vienna by a local motorist, who allegedly, while shouting anti-Semitic insults, hit the victim in the face several times. In August 2020, with a difference of several days, unknown assailants attacked the president of the Jewish community of Graz E.Rosen and also painted graffiti on the walls of the city synagogue and smashed its windows.

During the working meeting of Austria’s Minister for the European Union and Constitution K.Edtstadler with E.Rosen, which took place in the wake of the incidents, a draft "road map" for combating anti-Semitism was discussed. In addition to adopting a National Anti-Semitism Strategy in the future, they agreed to establish a special unit within the Federal Chancellor’s Office to monitor such violations and maintain closer coordination with the country’s Jewish communities.

In accordance with the decision of the Austrian government, from September 1, 2020, Jews deported from the territory of Austria during the Second World War (more than 100 thousand people) and their descendants can apply for Austrian citizenship without the need to renounce the existing one (dual citizenship is granted in Austria only in exceptional cases). According to the authorities’ estimates, more than 50 thousand applications are expected in the first stage. The head of Austria’s Jewish community O.Deutsch called this decision "not a gift, but a formal elimination of injustice".

According to a study by the SORA Institute (one of the leading private institutions for the study of social sciences in Europe) on the classification of types of discrimination in Austria, harassment is most common in the workplace, and, as a rule, foreigners become the target. In the course of the survey (about 2 thousand people aged 14 to 65), the experience of discrimination and unequal treatment in the sphere of labor, health care and education was recorded. Almost half of all respondents (43%) experienced harassment at least once in each of the surveyed areas. Persons with a migratory background or Islamic religious affiliation experience discrimination twice as often (62% and 78%) than persons without a migratory background (37%) or with a Christian faith (39%). People with low social status claim to be subjected to discrimination twice as often as people with affluence.

The complexity and fragmented nature of anti-discrimination legislation remains a problem specific to the Austrian legal system. The reason for this lies in the division of competence between the federal government and the provinces. Differences between the Equal Treatment Law and the laws of each province, which provide different degrees of protection depending on the grounds of discrimination, lead to legal uncertainty and confusion in the application of regulations[45].

In March 2020, the CRC welcomed the measures taken by Austria to combat hate speech and expressions of neo-Nazism, racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, such as the creation of special units in prosecutors’ offices to investigate incidents of incitement to hatred and the inclusion of issues of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in the curricula of Austrian schools[46].

Another persisting social issue is the gender gap. The CEDAW noted in July 2019 that the gender pay gap (19.9% in 2017) is one of the highest in the European Union. The Committee believes that it adversely affects women throughout their working life and in terms of their pension benefits. It is evidenced by the fact that the average pension level for women is about 40 per cent lower than that for men. Besides, according to the CEDAW, despite the relatively high employment rate among women between 15 and 64 years of age (68%), almost half of them (47.5% of employed women) are currently holding part-time positions, predominantly owing to family responsibilities[47].

The state also faces certain difficulties in ensuring children’s rights. Thus, in 2018, the Austrian Constitution was amended, according to which the exclusive powers to provide children and young people with social protection were transferred to the federal provinces. In this regard, the CRC, in its concluding observations following the consideration of Austria’s 6th periodic report, expressed concern that this could lead to inconsistent implementation of legislation, as well as to fragmentation and inconsistency in the realization of children’s rights[48].

In the face of the fight against the spread of coronavirus infection, the Austrian government had to take a number of measures to restrict the exercise of certain fundamental rights. So, for example, the right to peaceful assembly can currently only be realized if the number of people participating in the event is reduced to 6 people when it is held indoors or 12 people when the event takes place in the open air, not counting the organizers, any staff involved and children. With regard to the right to freedom of religion, the practice of religious worship can be carried out without hindrance. At the same time, the number of persons entitled to attend the funeral was gradually reduced: as of September 18, 2020, up to 500 people could take part in the ceremony, and already on October 22, 2020, this number was reduced to 100 people[49].

In the context of the steps taken by the Austrian government to contain the spread of infection, the attention of human rights organizations is drawn to the legality of such measures. As a result of the consideration by the Austrian Constitutional Court of more than 70 appeals against the imposed restrictive orders of the federal authorities, measures to restrict access and use of public spaces and public transport, which were allowed only in special cases (professional activities, emergency care, walks); the duty of citizens to explain to representatives of the security forces the reasons for being in a public place; and the decree according to which a number of small shops (shops with less than 400 square meters of retail space, construction supermarkets with garden centers) were allowed to resume work two weeks earlier than larger ones were declared illegal and by that time canceled.

The human rights foundation Amnesty International Österreich has criticized the ban on leaving the house; the impossibility of observing social distance by disabled people and elderly people who need help from social workers; poor accessibility of distance learning for migrant children; discriminatory actions on racial and ethnic grounds on the part of police officers during control activities. It is noted that cases of domestic violence against women and children increased during the period of "home quarantine".

At the same time, in the context of the fight against COVID-19, the amendments to the legislation on special leave for parents to fulfill their responsibilities for caring for children in the event of the closure of educational institutions deserve a positive assessment. The previous regulation was criticized by both the Austrian Trade Union and the NGO "Volkshilfe", as it left its provision to the discretion of the legislator. Under the new rules, the ability to miss work to fulfill family responsibilities has become an inalienable right of the employee.

Another positive step was the introduction of a short-term employment scheme during the coronavirus epidemic. It allows workers whose working hours have been reduced due to the implementation of the imposed restrictions, to receive 80-90% of the net income they originally had[50].

To summarize, the human rights situation in Austria in 2020 can be characterized as stable and generally assessed as favorable. However, the authorities’ failure to address a number of deep-rooted issues stemming from the migration crisis continues to be a matter of concern. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant difficulties in the human rights sector.

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Belgium

Although Belgium is a party to the major international human rights treaties and the promotion of the relevant high standards is declared as one of the State's key priorities, violations of the universally recognized rights and freedoms are reported there on a regular basis. Thanks to the activity of the media and national and international human rights organizations, such facts are usually made public, but authorities do not always take measures to remedy the situation.

The state has several sectoral human rights institutions with different mandates, including the Inter-federal Center for Equal Opportunities (Unia). At the same time, in 2019, a law was adopted to create the Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. In this regard, international monitoring bodies are concerned about coordination between the new institution and the existing ones[64]. The institute's mandate at the federal level is still limited and does not have the authority to receive individual complaints.

Furthermore, the Flemish government has decided to create its own institute against discrimination in Flanders and to withdraw in 2023 from the Partnership Agreement governing the creation and operation of Unia. According to experts, this would result in the Inter-Federal Center losing some of its resources and making the system of human rights promotion and protection even more complex[65].

The Flemish authorities also continue to oppose the ratification of the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities[66]. Belgium has not signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. At the same time, the situation in this area is far from perfect. The Association for the Francophonie in Flanders NGO points out that the Walloons residing in the north of the country are discriminated. In particular, they have limited access to social housing; French-speaking cultural associations cannot apply for funds from the region, document flow at the level of local authorities in the vast majority of communes is in Dutch, which contravenes constitutional provisions on linguistic freedom.

Representatives of the Roma minority are in a particularly difficult situation. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), in its concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Belgium in March 2020, noted the shortcomings in the implementation of the national strategy for the integration of Roma people and the absence of specific measures to combat discrimination against members of this community. Experts were critical of the increase in forced evictions and the simultaneous absence of relevant aggregated data at the federal level, as well as the lack of adequate protection of caravans as a place of residence[67].

Earlier, the Inter-federal Center Unia also expressed its concerns about a large-scale operation "Strike" on 7 May 2019, as part of an investigation into a large car fraud scheme. It involved a raid on parking lots with 90 caravans seized. As a result, the people living there were left homeless. According to representatives of the center, the measures taken by law enforcement officers were excessive and had a negative impact on families with children, older persons and people with health problems[68].

In its report on Belgium within the sixth monitoring cycle, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) under the Council of Europe noted a trend toward the increasing marginalization and impoverishment of Travellers. The document also notes the insufficient numbers of transit and long-term sites in the country[69].

In May 2021, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted that poverty and social exclusion of Roma people, especially children, remained a pressing problem. This group has a high unemployment rate compared to the rest of the population. Few of them have health insurance.

CERD also stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic had had an extremely negative impact on the already precarious enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights by Roma and Travellers[70].

In its 2020 Fundamental Rights Report, FRA noted the difficulty of Roma accessing education. In addition, Roma children continue to be overrepresented in special educational institutions[71].

The situation with regard to extremism, racism, xenophobia, neo-fascism, and antisemitism has not only failed to improve, but tends to worsen. Experts observe that recently marches by nationalists and neo-Nazi groups have become more frequent (the latest peak was in December 2018 – January 2019). There are more and more cases of illegal use of Nazi symbols, especially in Flanders.

An illustrative example is the installation of a monument to Latvian legionnaires of Waffen-SS in Zedelgem (West Flanders) by local authorities in cooperation with the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia in September 2018. The monument is installed at the place of the former British PoW camp where Latvian legionnaires of Waffen-SS were detained after World War II. In response to the complaint by activists of the Belgian Federation of the Russian-speaking organizations to the leadership of the Commune, Zedelgem’s burgomaster Annick Vermeulen said that the monument had been installed to honor the "historical ties" between this Belgium town and Latvia, and to "retain memory of former legionnaires just as human beings" and to "promote Modern Art".

The Human Rights Committee (HRCtte) in 2019 and the CERD in 2021 reported concerns about the fact that Brussels had not yet adopted a national or inter-federal action plan against racism. In addition, Belgian law still does not contain provisions declaring organizations that incite racial discrimination illegal. Nor does it contain any provisions banning parties that "seek to curtail freedom" or de facto organizations that promote racial discrimination[72].

Meanwhile, the climate in relations between various ethnic and religious groups in Belgian society is deteriorating. Tolerance is particularly difficult to achieve in schools where teachers have insufficient knowledge and skills to prevent any manifestations of discrimination and xenophobia[73].

The issue of wearing headscarves at school in Belgian society is still a source of heated debate. The decision to completely ban them in institutions of higher education has been reversed by the Council of State, which has decided that such a measure should be applied in a selective manner and that it should be justified by the specifics of the institution itself. Nevertheless, according to ECRI, there have been no practical consequences of the verdict: institutions of higher education (whether official, independent, subsidized, confessional or non-confessional) still have internal regulations that prohibit the wearing of religious symbols.

In their most recent report, the Commission's experts recommended that the authorities ensure that decisions taken by schools and higher education establishments regarding the wearing of religious symbols or clothing should respect the principle of lawfulness and be free of any form of discrimination[74].

In turn, the HRCtte criticized the law governing the wearing of full veils in public. The fact that it imposes a fine or imprisonment as a sanction evidences a disproportionate infringement on the freedom to manifest one's religion or belief. In addition, the Committee is concerned about the prohibition against the wearing of religious symbols at work, in certain public bodies and by teachers and students at public schools, which could result in discrimination and the marginalization of certain persons belonging to religious minorities[75].

At the same time, among other problematic aspects, ECRI cited the lack of an independent body in the country with competence to deal with discrimination based on language even though its creation is provided for in the law.

Meanwhile, the HRCtte noted that this type of discrimination manifested itself, inter alia, by impeding access to housing or social benefits without the provision of effective remedies[76].

There is a high rate of unemployment and employment in lower-status jobs among people of African descent. This category of the population is subject to racial discrimination not only in employment, but also in education and housing. People of African descent are also underrepresented in administration, the media, cultural settings, the scientific community and academia[77].

The arrest of a Congolese migrant woman in Liège in March 2021 sparked another wave of public discontent and resulted in a demonstration in defense of people of African descent under the slogan "Black Lives Matter. The woman accused the police of racism and violence. A spontaneous protest that began peacefully ended in clashes with police[78].

Earlier that year, a similar incident took place in January in Brussels, where riots broke out after a 23-year-old man of Guinean origin was killed in a police station. He was arrested after he refused to provide the officers with documents and tried to run away. At the station, he felt unwell, lost consciousness and died[79].

The 2020 Report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights highlighted the problem of ethnic profiling in Belgium with reference to a research conducted in June 2019 by the University of Antwerp. According to it, young people with an ethnic minority background are three times more likely to be stopped by the police than other citizens. The study concludes that this practice undermines trust in law enforcement among this population group[80].

CERD is also concerned about the risk of abuse in practice based on the interpretation of the term "reasonable grounds" that is used in the Police Functions Act, in connection with the powers of police officers to carry out identity checks[81].

Disaggregated data on hate speech and hate crimes do not allow for identifying specific cases of antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Gypsyism, Afrophobia or anti-Asian hatred. It also does not accurately portray the specific problems faced by different groups of victims[82].

There has been an increase in manifestations of antisemitism. Most cases are reported in Brussels and Antwerp. The most frequent are insults of Jews in public places, vandalism (exposing of the swastika, nationalist stickers on buildings of the Jewish Museum and the Documentation Centre on the Holocaust and Human Rights), written and verbal threats, and antisemitic rhetoric on the Internet. In 2018, Belgium saw at least one judicial sentence for denying the Holocaust.

CERD also pointed to the numerous racist hate crimes reported since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting people of Asian origin in particular. There has been an increase in the use of hate speech, particularly antisemitic and Islamophobic speech, as well as the hardening of rhetoric against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers on the Internet and social networks.

Migration crisis consequences are deeply felt. The primary grievance of human rights defenders to the Belgian authorities in this area is the inadequate detention conditions for asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and their families. Often potential refugees have to be housed on the street. Thus, a makeshift tent camp still exists in the Maximilian Park in central Brussels. The situation was further exacerbated at the end of 2018 by the temporary introduction of a quota of 50 applications per day. This practice has been criticized by a group of Belgian human rights NGOs, including the Human Rights League and Doctors Without Borders.

As the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights notes in its 2020 report, the capacity to accept new refugees remains very limited. The vast majority of centers for asylum applicants reached or exceeded full capacity[83]. According to experts, this is caused by a funding gap in specialized services and a shortage of trained personnel.

For persons who are staying in the country without proper legal justification and have suffered a criminal offense, reporting to a police station may result in arrest for immigration control purposes. This state of affairs is contrary to the principle of prohibiting the criminalization of victims of crime[84]. CERD and the CESCR also add that the risk of deportation also negatively affects their enjoyment of basic rights such as the right to education, access to health care, and housing. Illegal migrants must go through many complicated and expensive bureaucratic procedures even to receive emergency care[85].

In addition, labor exploitation of migrants and refugees in the area of intensive low-skilled labor is widespread.

"Intimidation" techniques used by the authorities against those who sympathize with migrants or refugees are a cause for concern. Thus, two journalists, a social worker, and a fourth person faced trial because they had given shelter or otherwise supported migrants[86].

The CESCR notes with concern the continuing practice of detention for reasons related to immigration in the State party concerned, especially the return to the practice of deprivation of liberty of families, pregnant women and migrant children[87].

From August 2018 to April 2019, the practice of placing children in closed centers was used by the authorities. The fact that unaccompanied children are placed in centers for adult asylum seekers was pointed out by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in January 2019. It also mentioned that the incidence of disappearances among unaccompanied children transiting Belgium is high[88].

CERD refers to reports that non-citizens are overrepresented in the prison system in Belgium. However, there is no reliable data on the national or ethnic origin of the persons concerned, particularly with regard to the length of their imprisonment[89].

Migration issues were one of the key themes of the 2018–2019 election campaign. A noteworthy aspect is a wave of conservatory rhetoric from representatives of right-wing parties and nationalist movements, not always in line with Belgian international obligations. Thus, for example, proposals were made on the immediate removal of all illegal migrants, on "clearance" of parks and railway stations, on granting migrants a "special status" that would allow them access to social welfare only after several years of stay in the country. Belgian human rights defenders criticized the discriminatory police instruction that appeared just prior to May elections, calling on school administration to supply to the law enforcement authorities the records on "troubled" teens from migrant environment.

According to ECRI, the integration policy of the Belgian authorities also remains incomplete. By focusing on the acquisition by immigrants of certain skills, particularly language skills, and familiarization with the way of life of the host society, it does not encourage the development of cultural diversity among the population at large, nor does it seek to overcome existing discriminatory practices against migrants[90].

The situation in the protection of the rights of the child is also far from being optimistic. The lack of access by the French-speaking minority to French-language education in the Brussels-Capital region; the risk of school dropout caused by the ban on wearing religious symbols in public educational establishments; irregular attendance at nursery school and regional and socioeconomic disparities; the lack of data on Roma children, including to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures taken to facilitate their access to education; the de facto segregation of children based on their social background and the difficulties faced in schools by children with disabilities[91] – this is by no means an exhaustive list of issues of concern to the monitoring bodies.

Thus, the CRC pointed to the growing trend of radicalization of children and incitement to hatred. Instances of bullying and violence in schools, not only by students but also by teachers, are still widespread in the country. Prejudice and discrimination make it difficult for migrant minors to receive education.

The health of children in Belgium is gradually deteriorating. The CRC experts note that more and more children are exposed to stress, and the problem of suicide among minors is gaining more and more momentum. In this connection, it is pointed out that timely primary psychological aid, which is more effective in the initial stages of psychological problems, rather than common medical therapy and placement into psychiatric institutions, is insufficient.

There has been no progress in the development of inclusive education. Experts noted continued discrimination in education against students with disabilities, as well as an increase in the number of children enrolled in special education institutions in the French-speaking community[92].

In addition, the CRC noted that data on cases of child abuse, domestic violence, are underreported or under-recorded by the authorities, and also drew attention to the problem of sexual harassment in public places[93].

For its part, the CESCR reported concern about the number of children born to Belgian nationals who were still in conflict zones and about their conditions there, in the absence of a clear and fair established procedure for the repatriation of all such children, with respect for the principle of the best interests of the child[94].

National and international human rights defenders express the opinion that Belgian authorities often go too far in their counter-terrorist activity, using issues of fighting terrorism and ensuring security as reasons for limiting freedom of expression and interference in privacy. In particular, there is criticism of the legislative practice of massive supplying by employees of social organizations of personal information about their supervisees to the law enforcement authorities. Data transfer is organized through the "Departments of integrated safety on the local level" created in every Belgian commune. These organizations, bringing together police officers, representatives of district administrations and social assistants, systemize, in particular, information on radicalized elements registered in the district. Human rights defenders insist that such a system might imply violations of Article 23 of the Belgian Constitution, which guarantees equal rights to social protection, access to health care and legal aid.

Since September 2017, social assistants have been obliged to report to the police about any suspicions concerning the relations of their clients with terrorists. But in March 2019 the Constitutional Court canceled this norm as violating the right to privacy.

In 2019, the HRCtte criticized the lack of legal safeguards regarding data collection and processing procedures to prevent and combat terrorism and violent extremism, as well as the provisions of the Code of Belgian Nationality and the Consular Code allowing the deprivation of nationality of a person posing a serious threat to public order or security.

The problem of systematic illegal use of official databases by police officers for personal purposes also remains unresolved.

Incidents concerning abuse of office and use of excessive force against citizens from the part of the police are frequent. In this case, refugees are the most vulnerable group with respect to law enforcement officers. According to estimates by the Doctors Without Borders NGO, about 100 persons out of 600700 migrants housed in the Maximilian Park area in 2018 were subjected to police violence. Both insults and psychological pressure, as well as beatings, were reported.

In 2021, CERD has expressed concern about reported deaths of migrants, asylum seekers, and persons belonging to ethnic minorities at the hands of law enforcement officials. It has been pointed out that such practices are gaining momentum in the context of monitoring compliance with self-isolation measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is noteworthy that cases of racially motivated police violence are investigated as isolated incidents. There is no single consistent and systematic approach to eradicating this problem that, according to CERD experts, suggests the presence of a structural discrimination in Belgium[95].

In May 2019, the parliamentary Committee P that oversees the activity of law enforcement authorities published another report on offenses committed by police officers[96]. The report points out the rising trend in the number of complaints filed with this body: 2,452 in 2010, 2,733 in 2017. According to statistics, in 2017, courts rendered 97 guilty verdicts concerning law enforcement officials, including on charges of theft, drug trafficking, falsification of documents. Disciplinary measures have been taken 531 times.

For its part, the HRCtte notes the disparity between, on the one hand, the number of complaints alleging ill-treatment by police officers filed with the Standing Committee for Police Monitoring and, on the other hand, the number of judicial inquiries conducted by the Police Investigation Service for such acts and of convictions and disciplinary penalties handed down. In addition, experts doubt the extent to which the Standing Committee is independent[97].

One of the most acute problems of Belgian justice is the crisis mode of functioning in penal institutions. The criticisms of independent experts are aimed before all at prison overcrowding. This was highlighted, in particular, by the HRCtte in 2019[98].

By 2018, the penal system of Belgium counted only 35 prisons. 17 of them were in Flanders, 16 in Wallonia and two in the Brussels-Capital Region. According to the information from the General Prison Administration of the Kingdom, published in December 2018, there were 113 inmates per 100,000 residents in Belgium. This rate is one of the highest in Western Europe (it is at 53 in the neighboring Netherlands). Penitentiary facilities designed for an average of 500–600 persons contain up to 700–900 inmates. In some penitentiary facilities, the number of inmates is almost twice bigger than that of planned paces[99].

Earlier it was possible to resolve the problem due to a joint program with the Netherlands where the number of inmates steadily decreased from the mid-2000s. This led to liberation of prison places that could be given in rent to Belgians. But the partnership program was terminated by the end of 2017, as with growing number of migrants the number of crimes and sentences also grew considerably, which posed the same challenge of prison overcrowding before the Dutch government. All the Belgian inmates had to be returned back.

International experts in their reports draw the attention of official authorities to the insufficiency of alternatives to deprivation of liberty[100]. However, it should be noted that from the early 2000s the federal government has been trying to reduce the number of inmates. Under the current Cabinet of Charles Michel the goal was set to the Ministry of Justice to reduce the rate of persons serving sentences to 10,000. Attempts have been made to decrease this number by preventing offenses, rendering lesser sentences for low-level crimes (replacing imprisonment by house arrest with mandatory wearing of an electronic bracelet or by corrective labor). In November 2018, the Belgian minister of Justice, Koen Geens, declared that the goal was achieved and there were less than 10,000 persons detained in the prisons of Belgium. But, as of January 2019, this rate surpassed the established level again and amounted to 10,305 persons.

Another important problem of the penitentiary system in Belgium is the prohibition of carrying firearms for prison staff. Personnel are authorized to carry as equipment only batons, more rarely electric stunning devices, and radio sets. There is a special outfit in case of a prison riot, consisting of a protective suit and a shield. Usually, in the event of an emergency prison staff is charged to block all the exits and to wait for the armed police. All this leads to reduced safety levels in penitentiary facilities, increasing chances for inmates to escape. An illustrative case was reported from the prison near Ostend, when the accomplices of an inmate rented a helicopter in a private firm, flew in it to the prison and took him away directly from the exercise yard. Due to the lack of any defense means, security personnel were unable to act.

As demonstrated by the studies, most prison staff suffer from chronic diseases due to permanent stress, including neurotic disorders and, as a result, overweight. Strikes of prison staff requiring better working conditions are frequent in the Kingdom. In this regard, international monitoring bodies continue to point out to the authorities that such staff strikes have a very negative impact on the situation of prisoners[101].

Other problems highlighted by experts include grave violations of sanitary and epidemiological requirements and fire safety rules[102], lack of access to health care and services for persons deprived of liberty and, at the same time, the use of overmedication in penitentiary facilities, the detention of persons with mental disorders in psychiatric wards of prisons, where the care is insufficient and appropriate treatment is lacking and high suicide rates in detention[103].

CERD has criticized the persistence of trafficking in persons and the significant increase, in recent years, in the number of cases that have been closed without referral to the prosecutor's office. There is a lack of both financial and human resources to effectively combat this phenomenon, including for the detection of specific cases and the protection of victims[104].

The international human rights community expresses a certain concern about the independent functioning of the media in Belgium. According to the Reporters Without Borders NGO, Belgium was ranked 12th in the 2020 press freedom index (for comparison, in 2019 the country was ranked 9th, in 2018 it was ranked 7th).

Attempt to censure the news are reported. In February 2019, the circular of the General Prosecutor's Office entered into force, according to which representatives of the print and audio-visual media have to submit their materials on the work of law enforcement authorities for approval of the spokesperson of the concerned structure. This person has the right, unilaterally and without any explanation, to correct the report, to remove any of its elements or to prohibit its publication entirely.

International monitoring bodies have also identified a number of problems in protecting the right of Belgian citizens to work. Thus, according to the HRCtte, the country has a very low employment rate for persons with disabilities in the private sector, the unemployment and underemployment of young people and people over 55 years of age. In addition, experts are concerned about: the termination of measures to promote employment for persons over 50 years of age; the disproportionate gap in the unemployment rate between different employment categories, according to the level of skill; and the lack of legal recognition for the right to strike[105].

In addition, the CESCR identifies discrimination against women in the economic and social spheres as a concern, especially the persistent wage gap between men and women and the obstacles faced by women in gaining access to decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. There are also difficulties encountered by women, especially women with children, in accessing stable employment[106].

No mass violations of the rights of Russian citizens and compatriots have been recorded in Belgium. Against this background, the case of discrimination against the Russian citizen E.Tynyanskaya, a former citizen of Ukraine, seems unprecedented. E.Tynyanskaya, a native of the city of Sevastopol, had lived in Belgium since 2007. After recognition as a Russian citizen and obtaining a foreign passport as a Russian citizen in 2015, E.Tynyanskaya was deported. E.Tynyanskaya's personal belongings are still in Belgium, but she is not allowed to apply for a visa to EU countries due to her registration at her place of residence in Sevastopol.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a number of flaws in the Belgian human rights record. The most vulnerable to the new disease have been older persons, who have often been denied medical care and institutionalization because they are less likely to recover. This is stated in the information bulletin of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights on the implications of the pandemic for the human rights situation in EU member states, with reference to the information provided by the Special Commission in charge of evaluating Wallonia's management of the COVID-19 health crisis. The guidelines issued by the Belgian Society for Gerontology and Geriatrics were subsequently amended to make it clear that patients should not be refused hospital admission on the grounds of their age.

The right to health of Belgians, especially older persons, has also been subjected to limitations. Studies confirm that only about 19 per cent of people over 65 have been tested for COVID-19, while the figure for other age groups is about 24 per cent. In addition, older persons have difficulty in accessing medical advice. Only 13 per cent of the population in this age group have been able to do so, compared to 28 to 29 per cent of those aged 25-44.

In such a situation, nursing homes accounted for 53 per cent of all deaths due to coronavirus. Following the publication of this data, the official Brussels stated that the statistics included all suspicious deaths and that COVID-19 was actually confirmed in only 10 per cent of cases.

The pandemic has also put people with disabilities in a difficult situation. Physical distancing and other hygiene requirements, in particular, eventually affected the speed of school buses, so that children with disabilities had to spend up to five hours in them every day. The Flemish government is to be commended for having allocated two million euros to fund extra buses. In addition, the authorities in the same region temporarily granted a 25.5 per cent increase in benefits for people with disabilities. This measure was aimed at compensating additional costs incurred when care facilities were unavailable[107].

At the end of March 2021, the Brussels Court of First Instance issued a decision obliging the Belgian State to lift the emergency measures taken in the face of the pandemic within 30 days. The Human Rights League had previously filed a lawsuit to challenge the extension of these measures until 1 April 2021 by a direct ministerial decree without sufficient legal justification. In support of its verdict, the court referred to Article 159 of the Belgian Constitution, according to which courts and tribunals apply rules only if they are consistent with the law. In its view, however, the suspension of classes in schools, restrictions on public and private gatherings, the closing of a number of institutions, and other similar steps taken by the government, and not by the country's legislature, are not consistent with the law on emergency situations with "requisitions or evacuation measure" invoked by the official authorities[108].

In April and May 2021, there were also unauthorized dance parties in Brussels, which were protests against the anti-Covid measures. The police used water cannons, pepper gas and batons to suppress the protests. According to local media reports, one demonstrator lost consciousness during the unrest after he was hit by a water cannon truck[109].

Thus, an analysis of Belgium's human rights record shows that despite the commitment of the official authorities to the ideals of democracy and the rule of law, a number of aspects still require their utmost attention and measures to rectify the situation.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

The human rights situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) remains generally satisfactory. The legal framework that was established in the aftermath of the 1992 – 1995 armed conflict is still deficient. The country's population continues to face challenges related to the ethnic differentiation in society and persistent social and economic difficulties. However, Sarajevo continues to improve its national legislation and implement international human rights treaties and is committed to fulfilling its international obligations in this field.

The implementation of a number of constitutional provisions of BiH (Annex 4 of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Dayton Agreement), as well as human rights laws developed and adopted on its basis, faces certain difficulties due to both the continuing deep discord between the three constitutive peoples of the country (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) and the specifics of activities in BiH by international presences.

This problem was pointed out by the UN human rights treaty. For instance, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) following its consideration of the combined twelfth and thirteenth periodic reports of BiH in August 2018, noted that more than 20 years after the end of the war and the Dayton Peace Agreement, ethnic tensions and schisms persist in the country, impeding legal, institutional and policy progress towards greater societal integration and reconciliation[129].

The case of Sejdic-Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is a vivid practical example illustrating the above-mentioned issues. In 2006, a Roma public figure, Dervo Sejdić, and the head of the Jewish community in BiH, Jakob Finci, filed a complaint against Bosnia and Herzegovina with the ECtHR in order to eliminate discrimination and ensure the right to be elected for the "rest" of the citizens of BiH (not belonging to the three constitutive peoples) for the supreme governing body (Presidium) and the upper chamber of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly. In December 2009, the ECtHR ruled in their favor, ordering BiH to provide for a mechanism allowing national minorities to participate in these state institutions by introducing relevant amendments to Constitution and electoral law. However, the ECtHR judgment has not yet been fully executed, as no agreement has been reached among the leading political forces of the country in this regard. According to a study by the NGO European Academy for Education and Social Research, there are more than 100 laws in BiH with similar restrictive wording.

CERD also noted that the Constitution and electoral laws in BiH, as well as respective acts at entity level still have discriminatory provisions, despite the ECtHR ruling in the case of Sejdic-Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which prevent "others'' from running as candidates for membership in the Presidium and the House of Peoples. Furthermore, the Committee noted with concern the remaining discriminatory provisions in some laws and regulations granting special privileges to the constitutive peoples in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska over others.

In this regard, CERD recommended BiH to take specific measures aimed at promoting a more integrated society based on the values of equality and non-discrimination, and where all citizens take part, irrespective of their ethnic, ethno-religious or national affiliations[130].

According to estimates of the Croatian community, the discriminatory attitude of the Bosniak majority towards the legal rights of the Croatian people is still observed. It is noted that following the general elections in BiH in autumn 2018, Bosnian Croats failed once again to have their legitimate representative in the Presidium. CERD expressed its concern regarding the limited representation of ethnic minority groups in decision-making bodies and public positions at entity and local government levels. However, the number of cases of racial discrimination registered, investigated and brought before both the courts and the Ombudsman is very low[131].

International monitoring mechanisms have expressed concern that hate speech and statements are used in public discourse, both by public and political figures and in the media, including the Internet. This takes the form of nationalistic and ethno-religious discourse against returnees, anti-Semitism, intolerance and attacks against Roma. Only a small number of hate crimes have been effectively prosecuted. CERD[132] and the Human Rights Committee (HRCtte)[133], established under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among others, have drawn attention to this problem.

Another category of vulnerable groups in BiH are returnees and displaced persons who face difficulties in their sustainable reintegration into society, full restitution of their property, and access to the labor market and social benefits[134].

The UN human rights treaty bodies have observed high rates of locating and identifying persons reported missing during the 1992-1995 armed conflict. However, the work in this area is far from complete. For instance, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances noted that the fate and whereabouts of about one third of the 30,000 persons remained unknown. He observed the insufficient budget allocated to the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the lack of sufficient forensic experts to carry out the work in a timely manner[135]. Obstacles to the integration of returnees and internally displaced persons have been previously pointed out by the Human Rights Committee[136].

BiH has a number of streets and educational institutions named after "figures" of modern and contemporary history. In particular, there have been cases of renaming the streets in Mostar, Široki Brijeg and Čapljina (with the majority of the Сroatian population) in honor of the leaders of the Ustasa movement – Mile Budak and Jure Francetić, Ante Vokić and Mladen Lorković. In February 2018, the students of the Faculty of History of the University in Mostar replaced the street signs with the name of Mile Budak on them at night, with the name of antifascist C.Spuzevic, but the removed signs were brought back to the place in the morning.

Due to controversies between Bosniaks and Croats over the administrative structure of Mostar, its city council cannot reach a consensus on street names. In 2018, the Sarajevo school received widespread media coverage as it was named after Mustafa Busuladžić, the bearer of anti-Semitism and fascism ideas during the Second World War. Criticism towards the authorities of Bileća, where a monument to the Chetniks' leader Draza Mihailovic was erected in June 2019, has yet to subside.

It must be noted, however, that within the UN General Assembly, the BiH delegation changed its earlier position of abstaining to voting in vafour when considering the traditional Russian resolution on "Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance".

Education remains an area of concern, as ethnic segregation in this field has not yet been addressed. The practice of "two schools under one roof" is still common, where children of different nationalities study not only under different programs but also on different shifts is still common in areas of the Muslim-Croatian Federation BiH (FBiH) with a mixed population. This is a matter of serious concern to the Council of Europe and the OSCE and require the Bosnian authorities to put an end to segregation in educational institutions.

Many UN human rights treaty bodies have drawn attention to this issue which undermines reconciliation efforts: this was noted by the Human Rights Committee in March 2017[137], the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2018 (the situation in some cantons of Central Bosnia and Herzegovina-Neretva was of particular concern to the committees)[138] and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in September 2019.[139]

It is noteworthy, however, that since 2002, there have been no new cases of opening "two schools under one roof," and there is a trend to further reduce of their number.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child drew attention to broader educational challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In particular, it was pointed out that many schools were not provided with teaching materials and did not have the necessary teaching equipment. In addition, many school buildings lacked heating and sewage systems. Among children from marginalized families, the largest number of dropouts were from schools. In rural areas, preschool attendance was low, largely due to lack of funding.[140]

Educational problems in BiH are often politicized. One example is the debate over the name and language instruction of the Bosniak-Muslim national language in the schools of the Serb entity. The wording used to name the subject in Bosnian-Serbian educational institutions – "the language of the Bosniak people" – is stipulated in the Constitution of the RS and dissatisfies the parents of the students who defend, with substantial political support, the right to study "the Bosnian language". In other cases, the debate is heated by the choice of the adjective "Bosnian" instead of "Bosniak", which is also seen by repatriated refugees as an act of infringement of their rights. However, such an inconsistent position has not been spread to some of the cantons of BiH itself so far. In May 2018, the FBiH Constitutional Court changed the spelling of "Bosniak" to "Bosanski" in official documents and formally restored the constitutional rights of Serbs, the Serbian language, and the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.

In 2019, 130 hate crimes were recorded on the territory of BiH, all of them motivated by intolerance towards persons belonging to other ethnic or religious groups. Only a small number of these incidents were publically denounced by the authorities. The number of prosecutions remains low as well.

Human rights organizations have noted difficulties in ensuring the rights of the country's large Roma community (up to 30,000 persons). It remains the most marginalized group in BiH.

Despite the efforts by local NGOs and the international community, this segment of the population remains under-integrated in the educational process. Only 1.5 per cent of Roma children attend preschool institutions, 69 per cent attend primary and only 22.6 per cent attend secondary school. No effective mechanisms for the social integration of Roma in BiH have yet been found. Despite the freedom of self-determination on the basis of nationality guaranteed by law, as well as the right to organize and convene meetings to express and protect their cultural, religious, educational, social and economic, as well as economic and political rights, the freedom to use symbols, the right to use their mother tongue, including in social and legal relations in those areas where they constitute more than one third of the population, the right to secondary education in the mother tongue in municipalities where the national minority constitutes more than one third of the population (if it is more than one fifth of the population, education in the mother tongue is allowed as an option), in practice these rights and freedoms are not exercised. If, for example, there are enough children of certain ethnic community to attend school in their mother tongue in a particular locality, then another problem arises – the lack of teachers. Many Roma have to express themselves as Serbs or Bosniaks so that their rights are respected. Only three national minorities in BiH have their own facilities where they hold meetings and events.

The situation of the Roma population in the country, in particular the persistent marginalization of the Roma, obstacles to their integration into society, high levels of unemployment, lack of adequate housing and identity documents, difficulties in accessing health care, as well as low school attendance of Roma children and discriminatory attitudes of teachers towards Roma students, were emphasized by the Human Rights Committee in March 2017[141], the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2018[142] and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in September 2019[143].

The status of women in BiH is below the European average in many respects. Despite the existing legislative framework (Law on Prohibition of Discrimination of 2009 and Law on Gender Equality revised the same year), the bodies responsible for gender equality lack functionality and efficiency. Women continue to face unequal treatment, especially in employment. In addition, they are underrepresented in the political life of the State: their number in various levels of government remains small compared to European standards.

The problem of violence against women in BiH was noted by the UN human rights treaty bodies. Thus, in March 2017, the Human Rights Committee drew attention to the inadequacy of protection and assistance measures to victims of violence[144]. In September 2019, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted with concern the protracted process to harmonize legislation on domestic violence in the entities and local administrations on domestic violence[145].

According to the Agency for Statistics of BiH, about 100,000 children are in a difficult family situation, of whom 40,000 live in families with incomes below the minimum subsistence level. Despite the child benefits guaranteed by the Constitution of BiH, in 2018 there were cases of non-payment in the UnaSana, the West Herzegovina and the Central Bosnia cantons of BiH. The authorities hope to solve the problem by adopting a draft law on support to families with children in FBiH at the parliamentary level.

Vandalism against the facilities of all three major confessions (Islam, Orthodoxy and Catholicism) is not uncommon in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In April and May 2019, cases of desecration of the Arnaudija Mosque in Banja Luka and Serbian Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Annunciation in the village of Donje Vukovsko, municipality of Kupres, as well as arson of the Serbian Cathedral of the Birth of Mary in Visoko were recoded. In February 2019, Metropolitan Hrizostom of Dabar-Bosnia informed the Council of Europe Office in BiH on systemic cases of discrimination against the facilities of the Serbian Orthodox Church in BiH.

Persons with disabilities continue to experience systemic social vulnerability: the budget payments they receive are lower than the pensions paid to military veterans and disabled persons affected by the armed conflict of 19921995 in BiH.

No mass violations of the rights of Russian citizens and compatriots were BiH. In 2018, three Russian citizens, including the writer Zakhar Prilepin, were denied entry to BiH, allegedly on the grounds that their "presence in the country threatens security, public order, peace as well as international relations of BiH".

Despite the adoption in recent years of a number of laws aimed at improving the situation with regard to the freedom of the media and the right to freedom of expression, violations of journalists' rights and pressure on media have been recorded in BiH. Most of the local press, radio and television are kept under close supervision by certain national and political elites and receive grants from foreign states. As a result, there is a difference in interpretation of the same events, a biased presentation of the recent tragic past, which is a negative aspect on the way of rapprochement of the Bosnian peoples. All this suggests that free access to information in BiH is not fully ensured.

Significant progress has not, however, been made in regard to BiH's implementation of the Terezin Declaration, which calls on signatory states to make every effort to guarantee the restitution of former property of the Jewish community, property of religious significance and private property of Holocaust victims and other victims of Nazi repression. Relevant legislation has not yet been drafted, despite the fact that the European Parliament described the establishment of a relevant legal framework as a prerequisite of joining the European Union.[146]

In October 2019, the Constitutional Court of BiH abolished the death penalty nationwide. Previously, it had been provided for in the Constitution of the RS, even though it had not been applied for years. No acts of torture have been recorded, and detention conditions are broadly in line with generally accepted standards.

According to the annual report of the official human rights agency of BiH, in 2019, the majority of complaints concerned ineffectiveness of the judicial and administrative systems, in particular failure to meet trial and judgement time limits.

Generally, it may be stated that in many respects the protection of human rights in BiH has been politicized and is becoming a tool in the struggle between ethno-political forces. The country's population is still facing problems of ethnic differentiation as a result of the 1992-1995 armed conflict, as well as aggravating socio-economic difficulties facing the сcountry. However, despite all the existing shortcomings in ensuring human rights in BiH, the situation remains generally acceptable.

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Bulgaria

In the Republic of Bulgaria, human rights issues are under the competence of the Ombudsman as well as specialized state bodies, such as the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, the Personal Data Protection Commission, the National Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men with the Council of Ministers, the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues with the Council of Ministers, the Permanent Commission for Human Rights and Police Ethics with the Ministry of Interior, the State Agency for Child Protection, etc. Draft legislation affecting these topics goes through the parliamentary Commission on Religions and Human Rights. However, the situation in this area remains difficult, and local human rights defenders have documented violations in almost all spheres.

Several nationalist and frankly neo-Nazi structures are conducting their activities in Bulgaria propagating racial hatred, ideas of national socialism and intolerance to national minorities living in the Bulgarian territory, first of all to Roma[110]. Cases of glorification of Nazis and their accomplices are reported.

For example, from 2003 to 2019 Sofia hosted the Lukov March, an annual neo-Nazi torchlight procession in memory of general Hristo Lukov, a Bulgarian World War II Nazi figure and leader of the extremist nationalist organization of the 1930s and 1940s – Union of the Bulgarian National Legions, which supported the alliance with the Nazis. Participants in the march wear military uniforms, nationalist symbols, and slogans with relevant content[111]. A regular march, held on 16 February 2019, was attended by about 200 persons, including foreigners.

Since 2016, Sofia’s authorities have been trying to ban the Lukov March, but its organizers defend their rights in court using the provisions of the Law on Assemblies, Rallies and Manifestations[112]. In 2020, the city administration took unprecedented steps to limit the scope of the event. On 20 February 20, the mayor of Sofia, Y.Fandakova, issued an order banning the torchlight procession in the center of the capital, which was approved by the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of the Republic of Bulgaria. The only opportunity for those wishing to honor the memory of the collaborator was to gather at the site of Lukov's death and lay flowers and wreaths. Similar efforts were made by the capital's authorities in February 2021, as a result of which the Bulgarian neo-Nazis also failed to hold a traditional torchlight procession and merely laid flowers at the memorial plaque on the house where the general lived.

Furthermore, on 10 February 2020, the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office filed a complaint with the Sofia City Court demanding to cancel the registration of the Bulgarian National Union NGO – Edelweiss. However, the story has not progressed so far.

In October 2019, Angel Dzhambazki, a MEP and candidate for mayor of Sofia from the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization party, said in a live broadcast of Panorama on Bulgarian National Television that he fully supported the Lukov March neo-Nazi torchlight procession in the capital.

One can find far-right materials on websites of organizations the Bulgarian National Union (www.bgns.net) and Lukov March torchlight procession (www.lukovmarsh.info). Popular social network Facebook is actively used by nationalists for propaganda and fund-raising. One can find flyers and graffiti with swastikas or SS units logos (Schutzstaffel) on Sofia’s streets. Hitler Mein Kampf, works of Goebbels, as well as other foreign and Bulgarian nationalists and those who deny the Holocaust, e.g. Richard E. Harwood, Alexander Panaiotov, Stankov, and others, are available on the market.

Since 2017, the traditional commemoration of the Bulgarian Nazi collaborator and military pilot D.Spisarevski (held annually since 2006 on December 20 in the village of Dolni-Pasarel, Sofia region), are held in the form of a torchlight procession.

On 21 April 2019, the founding congress of the Fortress Europe neo-Nazi association was held in Sofia, attended by representatives of extreme right-wing European organizations[113]. Bulgaria was represented by members of the Bulgarian National Union. On 30 April 2019 (the anniversary of A. Hitler's death), flyers praising the Nazi leader were pasted up in Sofia's streets and region.

For their part, the Bulgarian authorities have been actually "turning a blind eye" to such events in spite of regular protests of local Jewish organizations.

International monitoring structures expressed their concern over the reports on the increased number of incidents related to hate speech and hate crimes, especially with incidents against minorities groups such as the Turks, the Roma, the Muslims, the Jews, the people of African descent, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. This was noted, in particular, by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination after considering the combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic reports of Bulgaria on the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in May 2017[114], and by the Human Rights Committee after conducting an overview of the fourth periodic report of Bulgaria on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[115].

In October 2019, Bulgarian fans shouted racist slogans and ostentatiously raised their right hand imitating the "Nazi greeting" during the football match of the Euro-2020 qualifying phase between the Bulgarian and English teams. As a result, the Bulgarian Football Union leadership was forced to resign.

Incidents of vandalism in the places of worship also took place. Investigations of such cases rarely resulted in the identification and prosecution of those responsible.

Experts point to insufficient efforts by the authorities to integrate the Roma minority. Its members, including children, are subject to widespread stigmatization and discrimination, which leads to violence and hate speech. This was pointed out, in particular, by the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC)[116].

Special programs have been developed to provide employment opportunities for Roma (National Strategy for Roma Integration 2014-2020, National Strategy for Roma Integration 2012-2020, Human Resource Development 2014-2020). In practice, however, most members of this diaspora do not have permanent and legitimate sources of income.

In its opinion, the ACFC also noted a deterioration in minorities' right to participate in public affairs during the monitoring period. Many organizations representing the Turkish minority as well as many organizations working with Roma either left the National Council or not reapplied to be a member of it, expressing their discontent with its work[117].

The fact that persons belonging to national minorities have not been granted the right to use their native language when interacting with the executive authorities and that no measures have been taken to assess the demand for its use in such situations should be noted with a negative appraisal.

The ACFC also noted that traditional local topographical indications in Bulgaria were not duplicated in minority languages. Furthermore, in 2018, the Stara Zagora local council decided to replace local toponyms of Turkish-Arab origin with Bulgarian translations or neologisms. These facts show that there continues to be a lack of appreciation for the significant symbolic value that such names have for the population as affirmation of the long-standing presence of national minorities as a valued part of society[118].

At the same time, in 2019, aids for teaching Turkish as a mother tongue in grades 1-7 were introduced in schools in Bulgaria. Work to produce materials for the mother-tongue teaching of Armenian, Hebrew and Romani is underway. As regards the media, some news bulletins are published with the support of the National Council for Co-operation on Ethnic and Integration Issues in minority languages. Bulgarian National Television continues to broadcast daily ten-minute news programs in Turkish. In 2015, the first national Roma television channel in Bulgaria was launched[119].

The authorities refuse to enter into a dialogue with persons identifying as Macedonians, who continue to request recognition as a national minority. The same applies to persons identifying as Pomaks. A 2019 judgment by the Sofia Court of Appeal confirmed once again the position maintained by Bulgaria for 20 years now that there is no "Macedonian ethnos" in its territory[120].

A significant decrease in migration flows has not resolved the problem concerning the adaptation of illegal migrants who had previously moved to Bulgaria. Living and sanitary conditions in specialized migrant camps are poor and, generally, do not meet European requirements.

Commissioner for Human Rights in Bulgaria Diana Kovacheva states in her report the negative tendency concerning violation of the rights of the child. It mainly occurs during family conflicts and in the framework of activities of guardianship authorities. There have been acts of violence and unacceptable practices in child-rearing in kindergartens and nurseries. There is an increase in attempted child molestation with the use of social networks. During the consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Bulgaria on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in June 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child pointed also to discrimination concerning access to education and health care against children from ethnic minorities, primarily Roma, as well as children with disabilities, asylum-seeking children, refugee children and children living in remote areas[121].

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) criticized the persistence of child and/or forced marriages, in particular among Roma girls, despite the existence of legislation prohibiting marriage for persons under 16 years of age, following its review of the eighth periodic report of Bulgaria in March 2020[122].

The country's authorities still cannot guarantee the media's rights to freedom of expression. Media representatives are subject to periodic harassment by government officials and attacks by unknown persons. The international organization Reporters Without Borders ranks Bulgaria 112th out of 180 states in terms of press freedom. There is a serious influence of the political establishment on local news agencies, the concentration of major media outlets in the hands of a small group of oligarchs, and facts of dismissal of "inconvenient" journalists by the management of major media holdings.

Human rights activists report domestic and sexual violence against women. However, sexual violence committed within marriage continues to be outside the law, and the per centage of victims seeking help is one of the lowest in Europe. According to the Bulgarian Center for the Study of Democracy, official statistics do not include about 70-80 per cent of cases of violence, while one in four women in Bulgaria becomes a victim of such a crime. In addition, there is a growing trend of severe cases of domestic violence, as well as an increasing number of violent acts against older persons and children.

According to the Protection from Domestic Violence Act, the state has the obligation to provide conditions for programs to prevent and protect against domestic violence and programs to assist victims of domestic violence. In practice, most of this work is done by NGOs. Animus Association, the Bulgarian Gender Research Center, and Demeter Association are all actively involved in this field. They have set up hotlines for abused women and children, are providing urgent psychological assistance, legal and social counseling, as well as shelter to victims.

As CEDAW pointed out in its Concluding Observations, Bulgaria is a source and destination country for trafficking in women and girls for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. In 2018, 64 cases of children and organs being sold abroad by young women belonging to vulnerable Roma communities, owing to poverty were reported. At the same time, there are practically no protection and support services for victims of this crime in the country[123].

CEDAW drew attention to the increasing occurrence of hate speech and sexism in the media, in particular in online social media. Misogynistic statements are also voiced by high-ranking politicians[124].

The problem relating to lower participation of women in the labor market, the persistence of horizontal and vertical occupational segregation between men and women, and the gender-based pay gap are also mentioned. This was highlighted by CEDAW while considering the eighth periodic report of Bulgaria in March 2020[125] and by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights while considering the sixth periodic report of Bulgaria in February 2019[126].

The situation of persons with disabilities remains difficult. Necessary elements of infrastructure are absent in the majority of cities, it is difficult for such people to realize their potential in the labor market, and the state is ready to pay social workers only 200 lev (which is about 100 Euro) per month for an eight-hour work day. Such salaries discourage those potentially willing to ease the lives of people with disabilities.

Experts of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) carried out an ad hoc visit to Bulgaria from 10 to 21 August 2020. It resulted in the publication of a report which harshly criticizes the official authorities' lack of initiative in redressing the inhumane treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals and residents of social welfare centers. They are subjected to corporal punishment, beatings and the use of metal chains as a means of restraint, despite the availability of more modern devices. The CPT notes that this situation is caused not least by the extremely low number of staff in these institutions, which makes it impossible to provide full care and treatment at the appropriate level in accordance with modern standards. At the same time, the CPT noted that some of the non-disabled patients who had signed their consent to hospitalization were, in fact, institutionalized involuntarily. Often these people want to leave the medical facility, but they are de facto held there by force, denying them not only the opportunity to leave, but even just to go outside[127]. Earlier, in March 2020, CEDAW also expressed its concern about deaths, abuse and ill-treatment in psychiatric hospitals and mental health treatment facilities, as well as in social welfare centers[128].

A number of human rights organizations draw attention to the fact that Bulgarian authorities do not comply with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Particularly, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee points to it in its recent report. By December 2019, 169 decisions remained unimplemented compared to 208 as of December 2018. It notes that the majority of them are related to misuse of authority by law enforcement agencies (including fatal cases), to poor detention conditions in detention facilities. BHC experts sharply criticize the procedure for the election of the Prosecutor General, stressing that in practice "there was no choice" as there was only "the candidate close to the party" Ivan Geshev.

There are difficulties in the functioning of religious structures. Spiritual leaders of Islam are also reported to feel that their rights have been infringed upon. Initiatives to build religious schools in order to educate children about Islam and to publish Muslim literature have been ignored at the local level. Amendments to the Religious Denominations Act have significantly limited the sources of foreign funding for religious organizations. Another approved regulation prohibits wearing all kinds of "thick or semitransparent fabric that covers or conceals the face", including scarves, masks, and other parts of clothing, in public places. An exception is made only for those who cover their faces due to their profession or health problems. Everyone else is allowed to wear the burqa and niqab only in religious institutions and at home.

The country also has a number of controversial laws from a human rights perspective, such as the law on combating terrorism, which grants the military and security agencies extremely broad powers during anti-terrorist operations (in particular, the right to enter any residential or non-residential premises; to forcibly evict citizens from the operation area; to use any vehicle for their purposes (except vehicles with special status); to suspend the activities of educational institutions, private security companies, production of chemical, explosive and other dangerous substances, etc.)

Generally, the situation with human rights in Bulgaria has shown no tendency to either deteriorate or improve in recent years. Bulgaria continues to rank last among the European Union countries in terms of the vast majority of indicators related to human rights. At the same time, reports of international non-governmental organizations as well as of local human rights activists stress negative dynamics and absent tangible results of government activities. They believe that measures taken by the government are fragmentary and that existing profound problems in social and economic areas aggravate the situation of vulnerable groups of citizens and "bind the arms" of local authorities.

In addition, the difficult epidemiological situation caused by the COVID19 pandemic allows the authorities to indefinitely postpone addressing the above issues and significantly limit the constitutional rights of citizens under the pretext of combating the spread of infection.

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Canada

The human rights and freedoms situation in Canada continues to show a negative trend. Ottawa continues to present itself as a strong advocate for democracy, but its initiatives are largely declarative and do not produce tangible results. The coronavirus outbreak has made the problems of discrimination against indigenous people, racial and ethnic minorities, and police violence even more pronounced. However, the official authorities have been slow to comply with the recommendations of international universal and regional human rights institutions.

For example, over a period of more than three years, Canada has taken no action to implement the recommendations contained in the 2017 report of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to Canada. The authors of the report called on the authorities to issue an apology and consider providing reparations to people of colour for the years of slavery.[290]

In December 2019, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, visited Ottawa and criticized Justin Trudeau's government for the delay in acting on the findings of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (June 2019).[291] He said that Chrystia Freeland, then foreign minister of Canada, had given no direct answer to his written proposal to create an expert panel to review the results of the National Inquiry's work within the OAS. In June 2020, the government announced that it was postponing preparation of the National Plan because of COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic heightened interracial tensions. This was especially true for citizens of Asian descent. On 8 April 2020, Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, expressed concern about the "outbreak of racism" that followed COVID-19.[292] Vancouver Police report that hate crimes in the city, including abusive language, use of force, and offensive graffiti on buildings, increased twofold in 2020 compared to 2019. A survey among ethnic Chinese (conducted on 15–18 June 2020) showed that one in six respondents had changed their daily schedule to avoid conflict situations in the street. Half of the respondents reported having been verbally abused during the pandemic, and 43 per cent reported having been threatened.[293]

Canadian politicians also contributed to fuelling nationalist sentiments. In April 2020, Conservative MP Derek Sloan, expressing his disagreement with the measures taken by Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, accused her of abetting the People's Republic of China. Notwithstanding the indignation of the Chinese diaspora, which described the act as racist, the MP refused to offer an apology.

The Canadian authorities tend to use lofty rhetoric about the importance of ethnic minorities and First Nations and their heritage to Canada. But in reality, Ottawa shows a clear lack of interest, if not indifference, in solving problems that have persisted for decades.

The situation with Ontario Senator Lynn Beyak has shown how difficult it is to change the attitudes of parliamentarians who openly dislike indigenous peoples. The Canadian Senate has twice suspended her for refusing to remove from her official website letters from citizens supporting the colonial Indian residential school system. The Senate's ethics committee recommended that Lynn Beyak return to the upper house only at the third attempt (after she completed another anti-racism training course) in June 2020.[294]

Racial discrimination is becoming an increasingly common feature of the Canadian society. Members of the African-Canadian community living mainly in the provinces of Ontario and Atlantic Canada are among its main victims. According to an analytical report released in late March 2019, law enforcement agencies apply "curfew" norms to the people of African origin, and they are five times more likely to be stopped on the streets to check documents than representatives of other ethnic groups. Over the recent 12 years, about a third (28 per cent) of the black population of Halifax, the capital of the province of Nova Scotia, have been weekly subjected to police interrogations and unjustified detention without valid reasons (this rate is about 4 per cent among whites). The situation is compounded by the fact that decisions to initiate cases on abuse of power by law enforcement officers are made by the same authorities, which reduces the chances for an objective investigation.[295]

International human rights monitoring bodies have repeatedly expressed their concern over the manifestations of racial discrimination persisting in many areas of public life in Canada. In August 2017, in its concluding observations on the combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic reports of Canada, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) pointed out that adequate anti-racism framework legislation was not yet in place in all provinces and territories in the State party.[296]

Canadian observers argue that the problem of discrimination against racial minorities remains unsolved because Canada does not collect regular statistics "by skin colour" to determine socio-economic disparities in society. On 15 June 2020, the Alberta administration said there was no point in introducing such practices.

In February 2020, Statistics Canada released 2018 data on hate crimes. During this period, the police recorded 1,798 such incidents. Of these, 19 per cent were anti-Semitic and 16 per cent were insults against African Canadians. Two-thirds of the incidents remain undisclosed and are not reported to law enforcement agencies. The Western and Atlantic provinces have seen a rise in crimes (the biggest one is in Alberta, amounting to 8 per cent). Only 31 per cent of cases are effectively investigated.[297]

CERD experts expressed concern that the actual number of racially motivated hate crimes in the country could be much higher than statistics, since not all incidents of misconduct are reported to Canadian law enforcement agencies. The Committee noted that the number of recorded racially motivated hate crimes against Muslims had increased by 61 per cent.[298]

According to a study by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the probability of a black man killed by a police officer is three times as high as that of a white Canadian. Representatives of the Caucasian race, Canada's largest racial group, account for nearly half of the victims in all reported killings. However, given the racial and ethnic composition of the country's population as a whole, it turns out that the per centage is disproportionately higher for two groups – African Canadians and indigenous peoples.[299]

In Canada, racial profiling is common in law enforcement. For example, CERD has indicated that racial profiling by police, security and border officials is common practice in Canada. It has particularly harmful consequences for indigenous peoples, as well as for Muslims, Canadians of African descent and other ethnic minority groups. In addition, the Committee expressed concern over the disproportionately high per centage of incarceration rates among members of minorities, especially black and indigenous peoples. In its opinion, this is also due to factors such as socio-economic inequality, excessive police oversight of certain population groups and racial bias in sentencing.[300]

The prevalence of racial profiling in Canada was highlighted by the UN Human Rights Council Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent in its report to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. With reference to the Ontario Provincial Human Rights Commission's report, "Under suspicion: research and consultation report on racial profiling in Ontario," it is estimated that about 1,500 Ontario residents were racially profiled by the police in their workplaces, educational institutions, hospitals, shopping centres, and the airport. As an example, the report cites a case in which a Canadian woman of African descent was constantly watched in a store by sales assistants, who were not there to offer help, but to see what she was doing. At the same time, sales assistants often ignored her as they skipped over to white buyers. It is also highlighted that most black Canadians can relate to the shopping experience where the teller drops the change into their hand from a height, while somewhat recoiling, and place the change into the hand of the white customers.[301]

A York University research team working on the Ottawa Police Service Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project found that black and Middle Eastern drivers, irrespective of their sex and age, had disproportionately high incidences of traffic stops. Although black drivers represented less than 4 per cent of the total driving population in Ottawa, they were stopped 7,238 times, or about 8.8 per cent of total stops, over a two-year period.[302]

An independent group of experts that investigated detentions by Montreal police between 2014 and 2017 also found systematic bias by law enforcement against certain racial groups. Thus, black and indigenous people are stopped on the streets four times more often than white people, and Arabs are stopped twice as often as white people.[303] In August 2019, the Black Coalition of Quebec, an NGO, filed a class-action suit in a Montreal court on behalf of non-Caucasian citizens saying they were questioned and arrested by police without justification.[304]

The murder of African American George Floyd in the United States on 25 May 2020 sparked a huge wave of protest in Canadian society. Numerous anti-racist demonstrations took place in major cities under the slogan "Black Lives Matter." Justin Trudeau attended a demonstration in Ottawa on 6 June 2020 and took a knee in solidarity with the protesters. In addition, in June 2020, the Prime Minister publicly acknowledged that there was "systemic racial discrimination" in the country. However, some of Canada's top officials disagreed with this narrative. Quebec Premier François Legault refused to accept that there were structural problems related to racism in his province. Brenda Lucki, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), also initially questioned the use of such harsh language in relation to law enforcement, but – faced with criticism and calls for her resignation – she adopted the opposite position.

In 2019, after examining the results of a survey involving 491,000 Canadians, researchers at the University of Toronto found that black people were disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Only 10 per cent of white households are food insecure, while for people of African descent this rate is twice as high, reaching 28.4 per cent.[305] According to an NGO, CAD 25 million allocated in March 2019 by the federal government to support black communities never reached the recipients. Meanwhile, the per centage of African Canadians in federal prisons rose from 4.5 per cent to 9.6 per cent from 2011 to 2020.

A 2019 Canadian Race Relations Foundation study found that indigenous peoples, Africans and Muslims are most widely seen as the targets of discrimination. Roughly one in three indigenous people and one in five African Canadians report being unfairly stopped by police. Only one in five non-white Canadians agreed that their ethnic group was portrayed accurately in the media. About 30–40 per cent say they sometimes consciously downplay their ethnicity. 80 per cent of black people report experiencing discrimination. 73 per cent of white Canadians agreed with this statement.[306]

In November 2019, The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, reported that more than one-third (22 people) of the 61 people shot to death by police between 2007 and 2017 were Indigenous. In June 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged that First Nations people were exposed to violence by provincial and federal police.

As part of the May-June 2020 debate on systemic discrimination, the Canadian media widely reported instances of police brutalizing or killing aboriginal people and people of colour. On 27 May 2020, 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who was suffering from mental illness, fell to her death from her 24th-floor apartment balcony in Toronto while police were in her home. On 1 June 2020, in Kinngait, Nunavut, a police car knocked down an intoxicated 20-year-old Inuit man. He was assaulted while in police custody by another inmate and had to be hospitalized.[307] On 4 June 2020, 26-year-old Chantel Moore was shot and killed by law enforcement officers during a wellness check in Edmundston, New Brunswick (according to the investigation, she had attacked a police officer with a knife). On 12 June 2020, an indigenous man named Rodney Levi was killed by police in New Brunswick. In June 2020, a video was released with Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam being beaten by a police officer in a March incident over an expired registration plate in Fort McMurray, Alberta. On 20 June 2020, a 62-year-old Pakistani man with schizophrenia was fatally shot by a police officer in Peel, Ontario. Journalists estimate that six indigenous people have been killed by police in Canada since April 2020 in Winnipeg, New Brunswick and Nunavut.

There have been instances where the aboriginal people were subjected to barbaric treatment, and not only by law enforcement officers. On 20 December 2019, Vancouver police used force to detain an indigenous man at a bank after he tried to open an account for his 12-year-old granddaughter. In February 2020, Inuit women in Nunavut who reported domestic violence got arrested themselves for drinking alcohol. In June 2020, the Métis Nation of British Columbia asked the authorities to investigate into the reports about health-care staff in emergency rooms allegedly playing a "game" to guess the blood-alcohol level of First Nations patients.

On 15 June 2020, after two years of work, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal published a report claiming that there was a wide-held perception of a culture of impunity within the City of Montreal Police Service as well as indifference regarding complaints of racial violence and discrimination. Moreover, only 7.7 per cent of Montreal police officers and less than 1 per cent of executive officers are non-white (though they constitute 35 per cent of Montreal's population).[308]

According to RCMP internal documents that have been made public, police officers used force more than 20,000 times between 2017 and 2019 – and the number increased 10 per cent over those three years. Officers pointed their firearms at people 5,500 times in those three years, pulling the trigger in 99 cases (of those, 26 died).[309]

Migrant workers often become victims of racism. In October 2019, a Syrian family that owned a restaurant in downtown Toronto had to temporarily close the establishment after receiving xenophobic messages, including death threats.[310]

CERD experts pointed out to the negative developments in ensuring migrant rights in Canada as a whole, which is partly due to the significant number of representatives of this category annually admitted by the Canadian authorities. The authorities continued to practice mandatory detention of stateless persons who "enter the country in violation of the established procedure." Besides, the legislation provides for no limits on the duration of such detention. In addition, there are no effective mechanisms in place to address the legality of detention. There is no adequate medical and psychiatric care in federal and provincial detention centers for migrants, which in some cases leads to deaths.[311]

Migrant children are also detained and often held together with adults. The same problem was highlighted by the Human Rights Committee (HRCtte) in its July 2015 concluding observations on the 6th periodic report of Canada and the Committee against Torture (CAT) in its November 2018 concluding observations on the 7th periodic report of Canada.[312]

In February 2016, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), expressed concern over the persisting socio-economic differences between indigenous peoples and national minorities on the one hand and "non-indigenous" citizens on the other, in terms of access to housing, education and health services. The Committee pointed out that vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, youth, African Canadians, migrants, other national minorities and indigenous people are disproportionately affected by unemployment.[313]

Reconciliation with the aboriginal population, announced as a priority by the ruling Liberal Party, has been pursued superficially or with delay and has failed to improve the socio-economic situation of Indians and Inuit.

Indigenous people living in difficult socio-economic conditions suffer serious illnesses. The most troubled region in this regard is Nunavut, where Inuit have high rates of infant mortality (three times higher than the national average), tuberculosis (50 times higher than the average), and more frequent problems with food supply (eight times as frequent). Inuit earn four times less than white workers in Nunavut. National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, an NGO, Perry Bellegarde noted that the coronavirus pandemic was a serious challenge for indigenous reservations. Indigenous population faced much greater risks than other Canadians because of the higher rates of heart disease, tuberculosis and diabetes.

The current situation with wastewater treatment facilities in the Northern Ontario First Nation reserves remains unsatisfactory, having reached a deadlock. In early April 2019, it became known that the chiefs of the North Caribou Lake First Nation settlement requested the federal government to allocate funds to repair the collector, through which sewage polluted the local lake, the main source of drinking water for the inhabitants of the village. Earlier, CAD 265 thousand had been already pledged for these purposes, but the money never reached the recipients.

In June 2019, two more egregious cases showing the Canadian authorities' negligence of indigenous peoples became known. An extremely high concentration of harmful chemicals that can cause cancer was found in the water supply system of the places of residence of two tribes (Attawapiskat and Eabametung). For a long time, the tribal communities expected the authorities to take measures and provide funding to address these problems and build new wastewater treatment plants, but only recently have the authorities promised to address this issue.

These are not isolated cases. As of 15 February 2020, 61 Indian reservations had long-term sanitary restrictions on drinking water consumption.

In a number of communities, much of the housing stock is in disrepair and buildings are overcrowded (up to 18 people live in one house).

In January 2019, the Ontario reserve of Cat Lake declared a state of emergency in connection with the poor condition of the housing stock. Local residents' shabby "cardboard" houses lacking basic amenities were unable to retain heat for a long time even when heated by "potbelly stoves." As a result, outbreaks of disease occurred among indigenous peoples, including the spread of pulmonary infection. The municipal council urgently asked the provincial and federal authorities to intervene and consider evacuation (in December 2018, CAD 200 thousand were allocated for inspection of 110 houses).

These issues have been repeatedly considered by the UN human rights treaty bodies. In October 2016, CERD expressed its concern about the serious lack of housing in indigenous communities and the lack of access to clean water.[314] In the same year, the CESCR indicated that First Nations people lived in poor housing conditions, including overcrowding, which posed health risks.[315]

Local human rights activists are particularly concerned about the situation of Indian and Inuit children. More than half of the residents in Canada's orphanages are First Nations children (up to 90 per cent in Manitoba), even though they make up only 7 per cent of the total under-15 child population. In September 2019, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) ordered the government to pay compensation (CAD 40,000) to every First Nations child who had been removed from their families and abused between 2006 and 2017. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that 19,000 to 65,100 people are eligible for compensation in a range of CAD 0.9 billion to CAD 2.9 billion.[316] However, the federal government launched a judicial process to appeal the verdict of the CHRT, claiming that there were already enough financial investments in this area.

At the same time, the CESCR's concluding observations noted with concern that there had been a reduction in the already inadequate funds allocated to aboriginal peoples living both in and outside reservations. Experts also emphasized that the situation had been further worsened by jurisdictional disputes between the federal government and provincial governments regarding the financing of indigenous peoples.[317]

CERD, in its turn, noted with concern the unequal distribution of public resources for education and the inadequate funding of mother-tongue tuition programs, as a result of which some groups of children, especially Canadians of African descent and indigenous peoples, do not have equal access to quality education and may find themselves in a disadvantaged socio-economic situation.[318]

Mother-tongue education for indigenous peoples continues to be a significant problem. The HRCtte[319] and the CESCR[320] have pointed out that many of these languages are in danger. A report on the current situation with teaching northern dialects in Nunavut schools emphasizes that, despite the indigenous peoples' inalienable right to receive education in their native language, only 11 institutions in this region offer a set of basic subjects in Inuktitut (one of the main Inuit dialects) – and that only up and through grade 5. Thus, high school students already follow either the English or French curriculum, which significantly harms their national identity. The authors of the report note that the program under development by the government of the territory for employing teachers with the compulsory knowledge of local languages is designed for 10 years and will not bear fruit soon.[321]

In addition, CERD emphasized that black students were disciplined more harshly than other students, which forced them out of learning environments and contributed to the "school-to-prison pipeline."[322] The CESCR also paid attention to this problem in February 2016, emphasizing that African Canadian and indigenous children had lower educational and academic achievements, which led to their high dropout rates at all school levels.[323]

Poverty and vagrancy among indigenous teenagers have become widespread in Canada. In their concluding observations, the HRCtte, the CESCR and CERD noted that less funding was provided for services to First Nations children than for services to children from other Canadian communities. According to the report of the Assembly of First Nations, an NGO, the per centage of low-income indigenous children is several times higher than among the white population of Canada. The highest rates (47 per cent) are among the Indian tribes (in the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, they constitute up to 65 per cent).

Over the past decade, the situation has sharply deteriorated in British Columbia, one of the most economically developed provinces. The situation is also deteriorating in the city of Kamloops and its suburbs (a population of about 300 thousand people, including 84 thousand Indians), where poverty among individuals under 18 reaches 30 per cent. According to experts, there are 7.7 socially disadvantaged children per one thousand people (twice as high as in the whole country), of whom 78 per cent are indigenous children.[324] As a result of lack of money due to parents' inability to support their families, care workers are four times more likely to initiate investigations into their situation and 12 times more likely to remove children from their families. The HRCtte and CERD noted the higher likelihood of First Nations children being isolated from their families, communities and culture and placed in childcare facilities.[325]

The Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on contemporary forms of racism, E.Tendayi Achiume, citing relevant sociology and history studies in her report to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in relation to reparations for racial discrimination rooted in slavery and colonialism, noted that the Government of Canada operated the Indian Residential School System with the goal of assimilating indigenous children by stripping them of their traditions, customs, values and languages. As part of the System, "deliberate and often brutal strategies were used to destroy family and community bonds." Approximately one in three children were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.[326]

The conditions to which disadvantaged young people are exposed in Cananda sooner or later make them drift into crime, as a result of which teenagers get acquainted with the Canadian correctional system.

Another problem is the formal attitude of law enforcement officials toward indigenous people and the unwillingness to investigate crimes committed against them, because in their eyes First Nations people are associated with marginalized groups. This is also largely the reason why most trials are unfair. For the same reason, the per centage of indigenous people in Canadian penitentiary establishments greatly surpasses that of representatives of other ethnic groups.

Poor performance of law enforcement officers in Indian reservations was exposed in the report prepared by the Council of Canadian Academies, an NGO, at the request of Public Safety Canada. The report cites the ignorance of local laws and tribal customs by police officers as the main source of problems. In addition, according to the authors, the lack of dialogue between government officials and local residents entails a lack of understanding and open enmity of the white majority towards representatives of other racial and ethnic groups.[327]

In January 2020, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Dr. Ivan Zinger, issued a news release indicating that since 2010 the indigenous inmate population increased by 43 per cent, whereas the non-indigenous incarcerated population declined over the same period by 14 per cent. The statistics showed that the proportion of First Nations people surpassed 30 per cent (four years before, it was 25 per cent). According Dr. Zinger's estimates, the proportion may reach 33 per cent in the next three years. The numbers are even higher for women, who account for 42 per cent. The proportion of indigenous individuals in provincial prisons increased from 21 per cent to 30 per cent between 2008 and 2018. Indigenous inmates are disproportionately placed in maximum security institutions and are more likely to be placed and held longer in solitary confinement units. In the Western Provinces, the level of recidivism is as high as 70 per cent for First Nations people.[328]

This issue was mentioned by the UN human rights treaty bodies when considering Canada's national reports. For example, in July 2015, the HRCtte expressed concern over the disproportionate number of indigenous people, including women, in federal and provincial prisons throughout the country.[329] In October 2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) noted with concern the rising incarceration rates of indigenous women in federal and provincial prisons.[330] In August 2017, CERD noted that Canadians of indigenous and African descent were overrepresented among persons placed in solitary confinement and that indigenous inmates had the longest average stay in segregation. 50 per cent of indigenous inmate women had reportedly been placed in segregation.[331]

In November 2018, the Committee against Torture noted the inmate population growth. In the Committee's view, this was exclusively driven by increases in the rate of incarceration of members of indigenous peoples and other minority groups, including Asian, Latin American and black offenders, leading to their overrepresentation in the prison population.[332]

Incarceration has a negative impact on the mental health of indigenous people. According to Statistics Canada, in the period between 2011 and 2016, the rate of suicide among First Nations people was significantly higher as compared to that among white and other Canadian citizens. Thus, an average of 24.3 suicides per 100 thousand people occurs among Indians per year (this is thrice as high as among the white population, where this indicator has remained at the level of 8 cases), among Inuit – 72.3 suicides per 100 thousand people (9 times higher). Experts believe that the main reason for this situation is the deep depression suffered by indigenous people, resulting from harsh living conditions.

The HRCtte also expressed concern over prisoner suicides in its concluding observations on the 6th periodic report of Canada.[333]

Manitoba Advocate, an NGO, reports that the Province of Manitoba ranks first in Canada in terms of the number of children held in solitary confinement during investigative activities. Between September 2015 and August 2016, human rights defenders recorded 1,455 facts of youth segregation in Manitoba prisons, among which in 399 cases the confinement period was over 24 hours, with 99 of them lasting more than 15 days (one of the prisoners spent a record 650 days in solitary confinement). As a result, according to researchers, 167 individuals found themselves in these inhumane conditions 498 times – that is, each offender was placed there three times during his or her imprisonment.

It is reported that indigenous people have no representatives in the Canadian local administrations in the territories where they live. Thus, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, in her report to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, pointed out to the lack of representation of the Inuit in the Nunavut administration, which was consequently failing to adequately incorporate and use their traditional knowledge.[334]

In addition, in recent years, the environment protection regulations have been relaxed, including in relation to extractive industry companies.[335] This led to the deterioration of the already unfavourable situation around the indigenous lands, which are damaged by such activities. For example, CERD, the HRCtte and the CESCR emphasized that environmentally harmful decisions concerning resource development that affect the lives and lands of First Nations people continue to be taken without their free, prior and informed consent. In many cases, the only way to resolve problems is to engage in costly, time-consuming, and ineffective litigation.[336] In this context, the CESCR expressed concern over the limited access of victims to remedies and the fact that existing alternative mechanisms for eliminating violations (such as the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor) do not always help achieve a fair resolution of the dispute.[337]

CERD cited an example of the Site C Dam construction opposed by indigenous peoples whose territories, including sacred lands and burial sites, were affected by this project. Construction of the facility was not suspended even after the federal and provincial governments of Canada conducted a joint review of its harmful effect on the environment and the irreversible consequences for First Nations.

Another example is the Mount Polly field development project, which was approved without an environmental impact assessment and consultation with indigenous peoples. CERD noted with concern that the launch of field development led to degradation of water quality, fish resources, and traditional medicines used by tribes living in the area.[338]

Inhabitants of the Canadian Far North become victims of questionable experiments. In May 2019, the media revealed information about a mysterious study conducted in the early 1970s in the village of Igloolik, Nunavut. According to witnesses, at that time 30 local residents were taken DNA samples (a small layer of skin was removed from the palm of the subject) as part of the International Biological Program, supposedly "to study the effect of vaccinations on the health of members of isolated communities." Both the author of the study (Professor J. Dossetor) and the official authorities (Health Canada and Indigenous Services Canada) refused to provide any information to the public.

The situation of indigenous women who face discrimination in a wide range of forms is still a pressing problem. CEDAW noted that First Nations women continue to constitute a large per centage of the marginalized population. A large per centage of them live in poverty and extreme poverty. Traditional problems include poor health, inadequate housing conditions, a low per centage of those having secondary education, and low representation in the labour market. In addition, the Committee noted with concern the disproportionately high unemployment rates among indigenous women and their lower pay as compared to non-First Nations men and women.[339]

The HRCtte[340] and CEDAW[341] pointed out to the persisting discrimination of indigenous women with regard to the transfer of Indian status, preventing them and their offspring from enjoying all the benefits provided in connection with this status.

The international human rights monitoring bodies paid considerable attention to the issues of disappearances and murders of First Nations people. Canadian NGOs specializing in this issue indicate that about 150 thousand people have passed through residential schools for indigenous children. Moreover, upon the death of a child, neither the cause of death nor his or her name and surname were recorded in more than half of such establishments. Therefore, it is impossible to reliably determine the exact number of those dead and missing.

The issue of violence against indigenous women is particularly acute. The UN human rights treaty bodies, including CEDAW, CERD, CAT, the HRCtte and the CESCR, in their concluding observations addressed the issue of disappearances and murders of First Nations women and girls, the importance of investigating such cases and the need to establish a national body for this purpose. It should be noted that the disappearances and killings of indigenous women were investigated by CEDAW in 2013, and a separate relevant report was published in March 2015.[342]

In early June 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (hereinafter referred to as the National Inquiry)[343], established by the Canadian authorities under pressure from international human rights mechanisms, completed its work. Its main finding was that, over the centuries, the Canadian authorities have subjected the indigenous population to systematic socio-economic, cultural and linguistic discrimination based on colonial, ethnocentric, and racist views rooted in that society. And since this is not about the distant mythical past, but about the present-day country, whose laws and state institutions continue to violate the fundamental rights of a fairly large part of its population, the government is encouraged to urgently engage in shaping new social foundations devoid of colonial ideology.

The two-volume publication "Reclaiming Power and Place" (more than 1,200 pages) includes materials and testimonies from 2,380 people, including victims and their family members, experts and elders, collected over three years. Members of the National Inquiry have established that the contemporary "colonial violence" in Canada manifests itself in the form of historical and intergenerational injuries, socio-economic marginalization, inaction of state authorities and the denial of the right to make independent decisions for indigenous women. The testimonies of witnesses suggest that the country continues to register regular and gross violations of indigenous peoples' rights and freedoms, while most human rights instruments, including international ones, are often ineffective or inefficiently applied.

The document focuses on the destruction of cultural heritage and identity of indigenous women, which mainly occurred during the re-education of children in residential schools, where they were physically and sexually abused, and as part of the state policy of forced removal of tribes from new territories annexed by Canada.

The National Inquiry arrived at disappointing conclusions concerning the accessibility of medical services for First Nations women and girls. When seeking medical advice, indigenous women receive poorer service than their white compatriots. Shelters and rehabilitation centers established by Native American NGOs are under-funded. Outrageous practices such as forced sterilization of indigenous women by means of surgical blocking of fallopian tubes existed in a number of provinces until recently. Upon the consideration of Canada's periodic report in November 2018, the CAT cited a class action suit filed by at least 55 indigenous women against doctors and healthcare providers at Saskatoon Public Hospital for applying the fallopian tube ligation procedure without proper consent.[344]

Besides, the National Inquiry issued an appended special supplementary report entitled "A Legal Analysis of Genocide." Based on the collected evidence, it labeled Canada's policy towards its indigenous peoples as "colonial genocide" and called for a broader examination of other international crimes committed by Ottawa, including in particular, crimes against humanity. According to experts, it is not particular historical personalities but Canada as a state that is responsible for the genocide committed against its indigenous population; therefore, in accordance with international law, the government is obliged to consider the provision of reparations to all victims.

The importance of such an analysis that would reveal the truth and allow victims of crimes to be heard was noted by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet following her visit to Canada in June 2019.[345] She also called on the authorities to take immediate action to redress the existing inequality.

Noteworthy is that, at first, prime minister Justin Trudeau yielded to public pressure, accepting the use of the term "genocide" with regards to the Canadian authorities' policy towards part of their citizens.[346] But later, driven by concern about the international legal consequences of such a hasty "open-hearted confession" (particularly in light of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's call for establishing an independent investigative body under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), the head of the cabinet and some of his ministers opted for softer language in public speeches, describing the events in question as a "socio-cultural oppression."

Human rights activists have reported other problems not directly related to the rights of the First Nations, in particular, the disproportionate impact of austerity measures implemented in some provinces of the country on marginalized and disadvantaged groups and individuals. Besides, tougher rules have caused a reduction in the number of the unemployed entitled to employment insurance. The growing number of homeless people, the lack of temporary accommodation centres for such persons and the existing legislative provisions aimed at punishing them rather than addressing the problem proper have been noted. In particular, the CESCR drew attention to this fact in February 2016. The Committee also pointed to the underfunding of housing construction works by the state, which leads, inter alia, to the lack of social housing, an inadequate share of housing subsidies as part of welfare benefits, as well as an increasing frequency of evictions for rent arrears.[347]

Extremist ideas are getting increasingly popular with Canadian society. On 19 June 2020, the UK Institute for Strategic Dialogue published a report entitled "An Online Environmental Scan of Right-wing Extremism in Canada" requested by Public Safety Canada. Researchers have identified 6,660 online resources disseminating far-right extremist ideas, including 6,352 Twitter accounts, 130 public pages on Facebook and 32 Youtube channels. According to experts, the reach among users present on these online platforms in Canada is estimated in millions, with only the US and UK ahead.

Problems in Canada's penitentiary system have been registered. The HCHR and the CAT have noted overcrowding in some prisons, as well as inadequate medical care provided to inmates suffering from serious mental illnesses – which is a particularly grave problem for women's prisons.[348] The CAT also expressed concern over dire conditions in detention facilities. It pointed to ill-treatment of detainees, including prolonged interrogations, sleep deprivation, and abusive strip searches. The Committee expressed serious concern about the use of force incident at the Dorchester Prison, which resulted in the sudden death of a detainee Mathew Ryan Hines on 26 May 2015. The report of the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada published on 15 February 2017 following an investigation into the incident did not relieve the CAT's concerns. Furthermore, the Committee's experts noted with concern an 18 per cent increase in the number of pretrial detainees between 2013 and 2016. A growing number of disabled inmates in federal prisons, including those with mental disorders, was registered.[349]

On 12 March 2020, Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday submitted a report stating the inadequate action taken by the administration of the Archambault Correctional Institution, Quebec, to stop acts of insubordination and harassment within the Regional Mental Health Centre. The document reflects, in particular, facts of discrimination by correctional officers against inmates and medical staff.[350]

In 2020, there was some progress towards ending the practice of prolonged (over 15 days) solitary confinement in federal prisons. In April 2020, the Trudeau government withdrew its appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada against the unconstitutionality of this punishment. At the same time, a class action lawsuit is ongoing at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice regarding a CAD 30 million compensation payment to mentally ill ex-inmates who were kept in solitary confinement in 2009 – 2017.

Experts have registered excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, including during mass protests. The Human Rights Committee noted that such incidents occurred during protests of indigenous peoples, students, events related to social policy, as well as during the G20 summit in Toronto. It noted that complaints of police misconduct were not always investigated promptly, and when those guilty were held accountable, penalties imposed were lenient.[351]

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed decades-old issues in Canada's social protection system for the elderly. Persistent understaffing, poor medical care and lack of medications have contributed to the rapid spread of the new infection across public and private retirement homes (epidemic sweeping across 971 facilities overall). Most shocking were the events at the Residence Herron care facility, where 31 out of 154 patients died within a month. As a result, Canada found itself first on the OECD list of countries with the highest mortality rate among seniors. Their share in the total death toll was 81 per cent (6,000 out of 8,454). [352] Canada's Department of National Defence report on the situation in Ontario's social care facilities, which was released to the media in late May 2020, documented gross violations of sanitary and epidemiological norms and standards of inpatient social and health care.[353]

The situation in Canada is nowhere near perfect in terms of freedom of speech and work of those media that do not fit in the Western mainstream. In 2019, Canada's Global Affairs Department denied accreditation for the Lima Group meeting to journalists from Russian media outlets, including TASS resident correspondent Daniel Studnev already accredited to Canada. Notably, Canadian foreign ministry spokesperson explained this decision by stating that Russian media agencies had not been "kind to the minister" in the past.

The above facts and statistics are indicative of considerable gaps in Canada's current policy in the area of human rights protection and promotion, casting a shadow on a state that is posing itself as a front-line fighter for democracy and the rule of law.

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Croatia

According to the opinion of most of international experts, the Croatian legislation and law-enforcement practice are generally consistent with the international legal obligations of that country in the area of promotion and protection of human rights.

The implementation by the state bodies of the provisions of the national and international rules and regulations in that area is coordinated by the Government Office for Human and National Minority Rights.

The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson monitors the actions of the authorities and assesses the compliance of legislation with international standards. In 2019, its budget was 12.32 million kunas (approximately 123 million roubles), which is 2.53 per cent more than in 2018. In comparison to 2018, the number of staff increased by 10 per cent and reached 51 people.

In 2019, there were 5,009 cases of violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms in Croatia to be considered by the Ombudsperson (in contrast to 5,082 cases in 2018), 2,506 of which were new ones. In the majority of cases (75.5 per cent or 3,753 cases), the basis for their consideration were public appeals and the Ombudsperson's own initiatives. The largest number of violations is related to health protection, discrimination, employment and workplace relations. According to the Ombudsperson, only 26 per cent of the recommendations of his 2018 Report were reported to have been addressed by the relevant public authorities in 2019.

In recent years, the international human rights community has repeatedly pointed to the unsatisfactory situation with national minority rights in the country. For example, the fifth periodic report of 15 May 2018 of the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on Croatia reported on this problem. The document says that Croatia has witnessed an increase in racist public discourse against members of the Serbian and Roma nationality. Moreover, not only extremist groups, but also some politicians use hate speech, especially during election campaigns. Discriminatory statements were made on a daily basis, for example in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in November 2015. Some candidates sought to discredit their opponents by questioning their legitimacy on grounds of national origin. The Commission recommended that politicians should take a firm and public stand against the expression of racist attitudes.[1125]

The FRA's Fundamental Rights Report 2020 presents the results from a public opinion survey organized by the Croatian Ombudspersons’ Office. 501 people aged 18 to 30 participated in it. In the last three months preceding the survey, 96 per cent of them had witnessed someone making offensive comments based on national or ethnic origin, skin colour, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.[1126]

ECRI believes that the media outlets play an increasing role in the dissemination of hate speech and incitement of inter-ethnic hatred. In regional print media, coverage is negative and based on stereotypes against minorities, targeting mostly Serbs and the Roma. The media also facilitated an increase in islamophobic sentiment among the population by describing the arrival of refugees as an "invasion".[1127]

In June 2019, the Council for National Minorities made a statement where it acknowledged that some local media broadcast information aimed at undermining the situation with the national issue in the Republic of Croatia, spreading intolerance and discrimination.

ECRI notes that anonymous comments targeting Serbs and refugees, and abusive language targeting the Roma are a common phenomenon on social media and the Internet in general, as well as in the comment sections of news portals. The website dnevno.hr, for example, that has a rapidly growing audience, repeatedly published racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic material, which resulted in warnings from the Agency of Electronic Mass Communication Media.

The statistics for 2018 also show a growing number of ethnically motivated crimes (against Serbs and Bosniaks, Jews and the Roma). In 2017, Croatia saw an attempt to put on referendum the issue of reducing the number of representatives of national minorities in the Croatian Sabor (national parliament) and limiting their powers over the vote of no confidence in the Government and adoption of the national budget.

According to the Ministry of Justice, from January 2014 to April 2017, 24 cases were filed on the basis of article 325 of the Penal Code (instigation of violence and incitement to hostility), out of which 13 – on the grounds of sexual orientation, seven – national origin, one – ethnic origin, one – religious beliefs, and two – other grounds. 21 guilty verdicts were passed. According to the Ministry of Justice data, as to hate-motivated administrative offences, in 2012 there were 37 cases, in 2013 – 23, in 2014 – 20, in 2015 – 12, and in 2016 – 5. In 38 cases the suspects were found guilty out of the total number.[1128]

The issue of protection of the rights of national minorities in Croatia is addressed in the Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities, as well as the National Anti-Discrimination Plan for 2017-2022, the Operational Programmes for National Minorities for 2017-2020, and the Government Programme for the Protection of the Rights of National Minorities, which is adopted for four-year periods.

In 2019, amendments to the Act on the Election of Representatives of National Minorities were adopted, with the help of which for the first time Russians were elected to local administrations in Primorsko-goranska and Splitsko-dalmatinska zupanijaa (in addition to Medjimurska zupanijaa and the city of Zagreb).

The Government's Plan of Recruitment of National Minority Members to the Executive and the Judiciary, which aimed to increase the proportion of members of national minorities in these areas to 5.5 per cent by 2015, is still not being implemented. In 2019, it amounted to 3.1 per cent of the total number of officials and 3.17 per cent of the total number of law enforcement officers and court staff.

The last census (2011) showed that there were 16,975 Romani people living in the country. However, the real figure, according to Roma officials and a number of researchers, ranges from 30 to 40 thousand, making this ethnic group one of Croatia's most numerous ethnic minorities.

The Roma therefore have a representative in parliament, as well as in regional local governments. The Croatian Government has an Office for Human and Minority Rights. NGO "Romani Union in the Republic of Croatia "Kali Sara" also protects the interests of the Roma.

Nevertheless, this ethnic group remains marginalized and discriminated against. This fact is mentioned in the NGO’s reports and in the National Roma Inclusion Strategy 2013-2020. Among the main reasons for the plight of this category of population are the low level of housing supply, lack of access to adequate healthcare, education, etc.

The implementation of the National Roma Inclusion Strategy 2014-2020 is sluggish. According to the Human Rights Ombudsperson, 69 per cent of Roma children aged 3 to 6 do not attend kindergartens or preschools. Only 31 per cent of the Roma aged 15 to 18 receive secondary education. The issue of eradicating segregation in educational institutions is acute. In the school year 2018/2019, for example, there were 65 classes in Croatian schools with only Roma pupils. According to a report of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), this number is higher than in the previous year.[1129] Specific circumstances of the Roma can be illustrated by the situation in the Medjimurska zupanijaa which has registered 1,622 Roma schoolchildren, 75 per cent of whom are enrolled in general education schools, where the share of Roma children is more than 80 per cent. That is why the Action Plan 20192020 for the Implementation of the National Roma Inclusion Strategy refers to the need to take specific measures to tackle this problem.

Statistics for 2014 show that 27.2 per cent of the Roma live in uninhabitable places: collapsed houses or slums. More than half (about 56 per cent) of the houses are overcrowded. Their inhabitants do not have a bed per family member and live in cramped conditions: on average, there is 12.9 square metres of living space per person (while the established minimum standard is 14 square metres). At the same time, 35 per cent of Roma households do not have access to a source of drinking water inside the house or in the surrounding area. Only a third of Roma homes are connected to a water supply and electricity system. 61 per cent of the Roma do not have access to a toilet or bathroom inside the house. All this leads to extremely unsanitary conditions. Only 4 per cent of households meet European hygiene standards.

Yet another aspect of the disparity in living standards is heating. In the Republic of Croatia, for example, 56 per cent of houses are heated with wood and the rest with gas from gas pipes or cylinders. At the same time, over 90 per cent of the Roma heat the places they live in with wood.

Inequality can also be seen in the level of material deprivation in the population: 69.5 per cent among the Roma group, and 23.8 per cent among the rest of the population. The disparity in extreme material deprivation is even more pronounced: 47.1 per cent versus 12.2 per cent.

The difference in living standards between the Roma in urban and rural areas is more acute. Those living in the latter face a lack of basic amenities in almost 93 per cent of cases. There is also a significant problem of illegal settlements, the exact number of which is impossible to determine. They are not included in the local government's database, which hinders territorial development among other things. This creates uncontrolled landfills and causes environmental pollution.

The Roma therefore live in conditions which are not comparable to the living standards of the rest of the population. Analysts agree that this factor (rather than traditions, religion or language barriers) is the main reason for the marginalization and discrimination of the Roma.

The Human Rights Committee (HRCtte), following its review in March 2015 of Croatia's third periodic report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, expressed concern about the statistics suggesting low level of enjoyment by the Roma and Serbs of their rights when it comes to, for example, access to housing, healthcare, employment and participation in public affairs. It referred to reported cases of racist attacks against ethnic minority groups, particularly the Roma and Serbs, and noted the lack of adequate investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.[1130] The Human Rights Ombudsperson of the Republic of Croatia also claimed that the Serb minority and the Roma were the main targets of ethnically motivated crimes.

However, most violent incidents against the Roma remain unreported due to the limited trust and mutual understanding between the Romani community and the police, and the law enforcement officials’ ethnic profiling practices.[1131]

The events that took place on 1 June 2019 in Cakovec aptly illustrate the actual attitude of the Croatian population towards this ethnic minority. Over 1,000 protesters took part in a mass march against the State support provided to the Roma community living in the city, who called the Roma "thieves and criminals".

The country's leadership and local authorities are making efforts to gradually resolve the "Roma issue". The Commission for Monitoring the Implementation of the aforementioned National Roma Inclusion Strategy 20132020, consisting of the Deputy Prime Minister, 10 specialists from the relevant government agencies, 10 representatives of the Roma minority, and an MP therefrom. Its main objectives are to: systematically monitor the implementation of the Strategy, to produce recommendations and expert opinions, and to propose appropriate measures as an Action Plan on a biennial basis.

The plan for 2019-2020 included, for example, the following housing goals: preparing paperwork for territorial planning in Roma settlements; improving the quality of living in legal Roma settlements; promoting housing integration of the Roma in society, and ensuring adequate living conditions.

It was suggested that the following measures be taken:

1.      construction of family houses in a legal Roma settlement in Darda (funded by a grant of 18,258,823 Croatian kunas from the European Regional Development Fund and the state budget);

2.      support for the planned development of localities populated by the Roma (it is planned to allocate 200,000 Croatian kunas from the budget of the Ministry of Construction and Spatial Planning);

3.      improvement of living conditions of the Roma minority (1,500,000 Croatian kunas from the state budget).

Since measures to improve the living standards of the Roma community are implemented with direct participation of the representatives thereof, NGOs operating throughout the country welcome the course set by the government. However, progress in resolving major problems over the past 20 years has been measured in small percentages, while the main problem, i.e. the division of Roma settlements into "legal" and "illegal" ones, remains at the top of the agenda.

The situation of Roma employment remains unsatisfactory. Official data shows that about 41 per cent of representatives of this ethnic minority are unemployed. A total of 890 representatives of the Roma minority (out of 12,000 living in the country) were officially employed (full-time) in 2018. Therefore, an important step toward overcoming marginalization of the Roma minority was the development of large-scale targeted programmes by national employment agencies and other public entities for career orientation, developing job seeking skills, training, etc.[1132]

The international human rights community has also noted the problems faced by representatives of the Serbian national minority, including as a result of the 1991-1995 armed conflict.

The Ombudsperson for Human Rights is especially concerned about the situation of Serb returnees. According to the authorities and the UNHCR, by January 2017, 134 000 Serbs had returned to Croatia (more than half of those who fled the country before 1995). While the overall conditions conducive to return are positive, ECRI notes that returnees continue to experience problems in accessing rights, particularly in the fields of housing and health care, as well as in issues relating to legal status and access to legal aid. In Slavonia, access by returnees to public services such as electricity, gas and water is intermittent, and no investment into the severely damaged infrastructure appears to have been made for a long time. Returnees have had to assume financial burden while obtaining citizenship or regularizing their residence status.[1133]

Violent are most common in the areas where the majority of Serb returnees now live. There are no official statistics on attacks against people of this nationality. According to the NGO "Serbskoye Narodnoye Veche" (Serbian People's Party), 2019 witnessed 400 offences based on ethnic intolerance against the Serbian national minority (compared to 82 cases recorded in 2014, or 381 in 2018). In its report, ECRI drew the attention to the information on sixteen cases of violence, including attacks against journalists and human rights activists, as well as several incidents of damage to property, mostly concerning bilingual signs featuring Cyrillic scripts, religious buildings and cemeteries. The Serbian Orthodox Church estimated that it suffered 20 incidents of vandalism in 2016.[1134] Croatian Human Rights Ombudsperson, L.Vidovic, in her 2018 annual report, notes an increase in anti-Serb riots and crimes against the Serbian minority. A young Croatian man was beaten in Split in July 2018 because of his tattoo in the Serbian language. M.Pupovac, Croatian Serb leader, was attacked in central Zagreb in September 2018.

During the reporting period, there were cases where management of several museums was dismissed and folklore events banned, when artists from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina confirmed their participation therein. These cases constitute not only manifestations of discriminatory attitude toward representatives of certain nationalities, but also violation of the right to artistic freedom.

Of particular note is the issue of implementing the Law on Use of Languages and Scripts of National Minorities, according to which the language of a national minority is introduced as a second language in those administrative units where members of that minority constitute at least 1/3 of the population. Despite the fact that in July 2019 the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia found the actions of Vukovar’s authorities to be unlawful, when they decided to prohibit the use of the Serbian language in the city; until now the Serbian language (Cyrillic script) has not been used in official documents and on signs, references or addresses. The HRCtte also pointed out in 2015 that persons belonging to national minorities face problems in enjoying the right to use their own languages, particularly those in Cyrillic script.[1135]

The rise of historical revisionism in the form of praising the fascist Ustasa regime further escalated this trend. In December 2013, for example, the leader of the far-right Croatian Party of Rights sent a message to the director of the Jasenovac memorial site with blatantly hateful expressions. The message ended with the Ustasa salute "Za dom spremni" (ready for the homeland). Racist or inflammatory graffiti, featuring Nazi, Ustasa or other symbols, which frequently target members of the Serb minority, is another prevalent form of hate speech in the public domain. Typical messages include "Kill the Serb" and "Serbs should hang". In 2015, the Serbian National Council reported that graffiti inciting violence against Serbs is "still a common phenomenon in the streets of almost all Croatian towns".[1136]

In its report, ECRI regrets the increasing number of revisionist materials in social media. For instance, in 2015, dozens of cases were recorded in which photographs of individuals wearing Ustasa uniform were posted on Facebook.[1137]

Sports events have continued to be the fora for recurrent incidents of hate speech. FIFA has repeatedly imposed fines on the Croatian Football Association and banned fans and players over racist behaviour, again mostly linked to expression of nostalgia for the Ustasa regime, during football matches. In February 2018, players of the Serbian water polo team were attacked in Split.

Representatives of the Serbian national minority and Jewish societies in Croatia have repeatedly expressed their disapproval of the position of state authorities on the issue of increase of revanchist sentiments in Croatian society and the use of pro-fascist and Ustasa symbols. Since 2016, Serbian and Roma national minorities, as well as Jewish communities, have not participated in state-sponsored commemorations in honour of the liberation of the Jasenovac concentration camp and held separate independent actions as a protest.[1138]

In her 2018 report, the Ombudsperson pointed out that it is unacceptable to introduce theology (mostly Catholic) as a compulsory subject in preschools and secondary schools and to include Catholic theology in the list of compulsory subjects for state certification at the end of schooling.

In 2019, according to the international NGO "Reporters Without Borders", Croatia's position in the Press Freedom Index improved slightly compared to previous years; it’s now ranked 64th out of 180 countries
(2018 – 69th, 2017 – 74th).

According to safejournalists, 59 offences against journalists were recorded in 2019, including 29 physical attacks and 21 cases of death threats. In addition, a number of human rights organizations believe that the current law enforcement practice in the country threatens the independence of journalism. According to the NGO "Human Rights House", 1,160 proceedings were brought against Croatian media outlets and their journalists in 2019. In 2018, the Ministry of Culture did not announce a tender for the right to use financial aid from the Media Fund, which operates under the European Social Fund. A number of experts saw this as an attempt on the part of the State to put pressure on the media.

The National Media Strategy, the work on which was suspended in 2015, has not been adopted so far. No uniform regulations for print media have been developed.

However, when it comes to the issue of ensuring the right to freedom of opinion and expression, it is not only the situation with the media that causes concern. The story of the protesters against the installation of a monument to the country's first president F.Tudzhman provoked a public outcry: one of them was arrested for 10 days and received a large fine (December 2018).

Despite the fact that the right to strike is guaranteed by law, the court of Zagreb banned in 2018 the employees of Croatia Airlines from going on strike.

Certain difficulties are observed in the social sphere as well. According to Eurostat data for 2019, 19.6 per cent of Croatia's population is over 65 years old (young people under 14 years old make up 14 per cent of the country's population). 28.6 per cent of Croatian elderly people (over 65 years of age) are at risk of falling below the poverty line, and 64 per cent of people over 65 years old receive pension. For 180,000 citizens, pension payments were less than 150 US dollars (about 11,000 roubles), which is below the subsistence level.

According to the Human Rights Ombudsperson, during 2018 there was an increase in complaints about physical violence among prisoners. Special measures to ensure order in prisons (1,931 cases in 2018, 1,656 in 2017) and means of coercion (56 in 2018, 46 in 2017) have been used with increasing frequency.

There is some concern about the situation of women in Croatia, especially when it comes to employment. The share of women in Croatia's population is 51.7 per cent, and the employment rate among women is 40.2 per cent. And the biggest challenge is unemployment among women in the age group 40 and over. There is also an inequality in wages earned by women and men employed on the same terms (men, all other things being equal, earn 13.1 per cent more than women).

According to the 2019 report of the Croatian Ombudsperson for Gender Equality, during the reporting period it considered 522 cases of violations of women's rights, and 458 complaints were received by the Office of the Ombudsperson in the same year. The complaints were mainly about social security, pensions and healthcare (24.9 per cent), as well as labour relations
(19 per cent). The issues of discrimination on grounds of gender accounted for more than 83 per cent.

There are several programmes in place to address the issue of gender equality in Croatia. The most important of them are: "Building Successful Protection – Changing the System to Combat Violence against Women" for 2017-2019, "Equal Rights – Equal Wages – Equal Pensions" for 2018-2020 and "Towards Gender Equality: Connecting Work and Family Life".

The Commission for the Oversight and Optimization of the Activities of the Relevant Services Dealing with Administrative and Criminal Cases of Domestic Violence has been operating under the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Croatia since 2018. A list of measures for providing psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence has also been developed. Five two-day courses on the topic of domestic violence were held in 2018, which were attended by 178 justice officials and police officers. To boost the implementation of the National Strategy on Protection from Domestic Violence for 2017-2022, a Working Group was established in 2018 to develop a text for a new Protocol on the Treatment of Domestic Violence.

At the end of 2019, the number of people missing from the early 1990s crisis stood at 1,922. At the initiative of the Croatian side, framework agreements on mutual assistance in search operations were signed with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro in 2017. There is also a working group with Serbia.

In its 2019 report, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights cited complaints from individuals who had crossed the EU's external border that they were mistreated in Croatia and pushed back across the border. Non-governmental organization "Save the Children" reported that more than 1,350 children were pushed back across the EU’s borders between January and November 2018, involving violence in almost one third of cases. When the Croatian Ombudswoman investigated the allegations, she was refused access to records on the treatment of migrants at a police station, even though Article 5 of the Law on National Preventive Mechanisms grants the office access to all information about the manner in which persons deprived of liberty are treated. In September 2018, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights addressed a letter to the Croatian authorities, requesting them to investigate alleged incidents of violence against and theft from migrants by law enforcement authorities.[1139]

Reports of abusive behaviour towards individuals detained by the police when attempting to cross the country’s border prompted members of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to undertake a five-day rapid reaction visit to Croatia in August 2020. The delegation visited a number of border police stations, as well as the main reception centres for foreigners in order to examine the conditions of detention and formal pre-removal procedures. In the course of the visit, the CPT also went to see several temporary reception centres and informal migrant settlements in north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina. Asylum seekers, who had been forcibly removed from the territory of Croatia, stay there. The CPT is currently working on a report on the visit containing recommendations for the official authorities.[1140]

Gaps also remain in the arrangement of guardianship for unaccompanied migrant minors. In Croatia, local social welfare centres exercise the role of guardians, but, as FRA notes in its 2020 report, they do not have systematic training to do this adequately. It is common practice, for example, to appoint guardians from the group of people with whom the child entered Croatia, rather than a professional with the relevant expertise.[1141]

Croatian Ombudswoman L.Vidovic demanded an investigation after the media had published a letter from a doctor at a hospital treating patients with coronavirus. It said that the hospital suffered from the shortage of medicines and food.[1142]

On the whole, there has been some deterioration in the protection of human rights in Croatia compared to previous years. The greatest concern is increased intolerance on grounds of nationality, as well as insufficient efforts made by official authorities to meet human rights related objectives.

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Cyprus

The Republic of Cyprus remains committed to respecting the fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the national constitution. It effectively implements provisions of key international legal instruments in this area.

The Parliament's Standing Committee on Human Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women is in charge of domestic human rights policy. The island has a number of specialized monitoring bodies in place, such as Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights, Commissioner for Children's Rights, Office against Racism and Discrimination, and Office for Equal Treatment.

The main problem related to the application of international standards on human rights and freedoms in Cyprus stems from its de facto division into the Republic of Cyprus and the non-government-controlled part of the island, the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC"). This factor makes the full implementation of the right to equality and non-discrimination for all people a challenging task. The lack of visible progress in addressing this issue fuels continuing inter-ethnic tensions.

Many Cypriots are internally displaced persons. Legislation permits them as well as foreigners temporarily residing in the country to move freely from one part of the island to the other through nine official border-crossing points. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) annual report on human rights in Cyprus published in early 2020, notes that this situation severely limits freedom of movement between the two communities.[354] While the number of Greek Cypriots and citizens of third countries moving across the Green Line from south to north has been showing a certain increase, the number of Turkish Cypriots traveling to the southern part has been decreasing lately. Furthermore, on numerous occasions, foreigners, including Russian citizens, were refused entry to the Republic of Cyprus through international border-crossing points (airports of Larnaka and Pathos) because they intended to travel to the "TRNC" territory.

In November 2019, the government of the Republic of Cyprus endorsed amendments to the Code for the Implementation of the Green Line Regulation adopted by the European Council in 2014. According to human rights activists, these amendments limit the possibility of crossing the buffer zone for certain categories of foreign citizens.

The above-mentioned UN OHCHR Report highlights other problems caused by the long-term occupation of part of the island, including, inter alia, mutual property claims between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities that remain unresolved.[355] Several thousand applications are currently under consideration of the inter-community Real Estate Commission. The property issue is further exacerbated due the unilateral decision of the Turkish Cypriot authorities to undertake an inventory of all property located in the closed suburb of Varosha in the city of Famagusta for the purpose of reopening Varosha. This decision has raised concern among Greek Cypriots, who own a large part of property in the area.

As pointed out in UN Security Council resolutions 2398 and 2430, the remaining minefields within the buffer zone and on both sides of it, still pose danger and threat to human lives. The documents therefore call on both sides to allow access for deminers to the said areas and facilitate the demining operations. According to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, there are 47 suspected hazardous areas in Cyprus, covering an area of 1,700,000 square meters, 42% of them within the buffer zone.[356] Despite certain progress achieved on the issue (18 areas were demined in 2019), deminers' access to these areas remains hampered.

The Greek Cypriot community comprises three religious groups whose status has been enshrined in the constitution: Armenians, Maronites, and Latins. According to the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM Advisory Committee), a general atmosphere of tolerance is prevalent on the island, particularly towards these groups. The state supports them in preserving their identity, especially in such fields as education and culture. Representatives of these three religious groups actively participate in political decision-making on issues pertaining to their interests, especially in the parliament of the Republic of Cyprus.

At the same time, the FCNM Advisory Committee has acknowledged the lack of interaction between the state and religious and ethnic communities without a constitutional status. For instance, the Roma living in Cyprus are officially regarded by authorities as belonging to the Turkish community of Cyprus. This hinders their access to certain rights and their possible enjoyment, given that the Roma community remains marginalized in economic and social terms. One of the FCNM Advisory Committee's recommendations to Cyprus therefore was to develop a detailed action plan for the social inclusion of Roma and their overall participation in socio-economic life, to be implemented in close consultation with the representatives of this category of the population.

The Committee has also called on the authorities to consider the establishment of a state institution, with a clear mandate, visibility and sufficient resources, to liaise with relevant entities and address effectively the needs of national minorities, Roma communities, as well as other groups not recognized under the constitution.[357]

The situation with religious liberties in Cyprus has remained stable. Under the Constitution, all religions, confessions and rituals conducted not in secret are free and equal before the law. Orthodoxy is the main religion in the south of the island and Islam in the north. Religious leaders in Cyprus stand committed to pursuing joint dialogue and freedom of religion in the framework of the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden in the Republic of Cyprus.

The practice of annual pilgrimages to the island's Muslim site, Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca, has been expanding. However, in June 2020, there were publications in printed media claiming that on some occurrences non-Muslims had been refused access to the holy site by the mufti of the mosque. Earlier, in 2015, the Human Rights Committee established under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had expressed concern about the undue obstruction of the right to freedom of religion and belief for some minorities, in particular Muslims, due to the limited access to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, as well as about reports of the lack of proper maintenance of Muslim cemeteries.[358]

At the same time, the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights in one of her reports pointed out the need to create an appropriate place of worship for the Muslim community in Paphos during Ramadan. Its absence, according to the authors, may interfere with the right to freedom of religion.

Cyprus has quite an effective social security system in place. In the period of quarantine restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities implemented a large-scale program to support the population, small and medium-sized businesses for a total of 3 billion euros; part of this sum was paid off as social benefits.

While there is no officially established minimum wage in the Republic of Cyprus, there are minimum wage rates for the most vulnerable groups, including migrant workers. At the same time, instances of abuse involving the labor of foreign nationals who arrive in the country illegally (mainly from Eastern Europe, South and South-East Asia) and work in violation of the established work schedule and for low wages, still occur. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – the expert monitoring body on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – stressed in 2017 that migrants were employed to perform mainly unskilled manual job, in particular in such fields as agriculture, livestock and fisheries.[359] Besides, foreign domestic workers, especially women, still face the risk of being subjected to exploitation and abuse. Both the CERD and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) established under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women have pointed to this.[360]

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of migrants. Due to the uncontrolled influx the share of migrants reached 3.8% of the population. The country witnesses the shortage of accommodation facilities and job opportunities as well as the lack of decent living conditions. In April 2020, Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights Maria Stylianou-Lottides called on the interior ministry to improve conditions at two migrant reception centres located in Kokkinotrimithia and Kofinu.

In May 2020, a number of NGOs criticized the leaders of both communities for the situation with a group of migrants who arrived in Cyprus by sea. The group consisted of 175 Syrian refugees who intended to land on the southern coast of the island in March 2020. But because of the coronavirus-related restrictions, the Cypriot authorities did not let them ashore; the boat then sailed away and sank not far off the "TRNC" shore, and the migrants were saved by the Turkish Cypriot coastal guard. The entire group of refugees, in portions, including unaccompanied minors, were forcibly sent to Turkey, even though all 175 persons had expressed intent to apply for international protection. Some of them have relatives living in Cyprus.

In its concluding observations on the combined twenty-third and twenty-fourth periodic reports of Cyprus, the CERD stressed the limited number of reception facilities for refugees.[361] The CEDAW expressed concern about obstacles impeding access to justice for migrant domestic workers, for the fear of detention and deportation while legal proceedings are pending.[362] The Committee against Torture (CAT) – the expert monitoring body on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – drew attention to fact of criminalization and routine detention of irregular migrants, the extended periods of detention of such migrants and the work of migration detention facilities throughout the country.[363]

Among positive developments, one can note the beginning of work, in June 2019, of a specialized judicial body that seeks, among other things, to expedite the processing of refugee applications. In addition, in June 2020, the official authorities announced the launch of a new migration policy, which provides for a significant reduction of the number of related appeals, a fast-track procedure for extradition of persons who have been denied international protection, as well as the construction of a new migrant accommodation centre.

In its concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the Republic of Cyprus, the CAT welcomed information that asylum seekers were no longer detained under the Aliens and Immigration Law. However, the Committee noted with concern that asylum seekers continued to be detained for protracted periods during refugee status determination, including during judicial review of their cases, which reportedly could take up to two years.[364]

The situation in places of detention in general remains stable. The human rights community has not reported any significant complaints of prisoner ill-treatment. The official authorities are taking measures to improve prison conditions, renovating and upgrading prisons. Access to educational opportunities for detainees has also improved.[365]

The civil society in Cyprus continues to develop, playing an increasingly active and visible role in the public debate. The right to freedom of expression and the press is freely exercised in Cyprus, and citizens have been provided with unrestricted access to the Internet. The island's media are largely independent and often directly criticize actions of the country's government and political movements. There have been no recorded cases of persecution of journalists for performing their job. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media continues to participate in the Cyprus Dialogue Project, which involves engaging with professional journalists from both communities with a view to improving the quality of journalism in Cyprus.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased public discontent with social problems and fatigue caused by the imposed restrictions. Since late 2020, the country has witnessed unauthorized rallies organized by anti-corruption activists and opponents of restrictions imposed by the government in response to COVID-19. Mass media have reported incidents when law enforcement bodies dispersed participants in such rallies.[366]

Freedom and transparency of elections on the island is ensured by the possibility of unimpeded presence of international observers. In addition to the Greek-Cypriot community, since 2005 Turkish Cypriots who permanently reside in the territory controlled by the official authorities have been participating in the electoral process. All citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, citizens of EU member states residing in Cyprus as well as Turkish Cypriots have the right to vote and to be elected in elections to the European Parliament (polling stations are deployed only in the southern part of the island).

The population of the island in general freely exercises its right to work. Law provides for everyone's right to engage in any activity, trade and labor that generates income, and to freely enter into agreements. Participation in peaceful assemblies as well as forming or joining trade unions and associations in order to protect one's interests without prior authorization is permitted to people of all professions except police and the military. The right to strike is recognized; its exercise may be restricted whereas it is necessary to ensure security, constitutional order, public order, or maintain the supplies and services that are critical for the life of the population or protection of its rights and freedoms.

The Cypriot authorities have achieved good progress toward ensuring the full enjoyment of rights and freedoms in their territory. However, in its conclusions (June 2019), the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) pays attention to Cyprus's failure to implement two recommendations contained in the Commission's 2016 report on Cyprus. It notes, in particular, that since 2016, the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights of the Republic of Cyprus has not carried out any activities aimed at supporting vulnerable groups, and has not issued reports or recommendations on discrimination issues. The second recommendation pertains to the necessity for the Commissioner for Administration and Human rights to participate in the recruitment of staff appointed to her office. According to ECRI, at the moment, this issue is entirely the responsibility of the Public Service Commission.[367]

There are outstanding issues related to violations of the rights of women, children and persons with disabilities. For instance, according to Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights of the Republic of Cyprus Maria Stylianou-Lottides, discrimination against migrant children who have obtained the refugee status still persists. This entitles them to government support in obtaining accommodation. But this requirement is not fully met.

Law prohibits discrimination of persons with disabilities in such areas as employment, education, political participation, the use of health care and other public services. Yet this category of citizens does not have full access to all facilities. Besides, there are no special institutions in the Republic of Cyprus for people with mental disabilities in need of permanent care. In her report on access to social services for children with disabilities, Commissioner for Children's Rights in the Republic of Cyprus Leda Koursoumba pointed to a number of violations of disabled children's rights.

Although the vast majority of the population of the Republic of Cyprus adheres to traditional political ideas, given the crisis in the negotiations on the settlement of the Cyprus problem, the growing number of migrants on the island and a variety of outstanding social and economic issues, nationalist ideas find some resonance in society. They are disseminated by the far-right National Popular Front party. The party is opposed to migrant workers from developing countries, considering them the core reason for unemployment in Cyprus and a heavier fiscal burden for its native citizens, and supports the deportation of all irregular migrants and introduction of quotas for migrants coming from EU member states.

The situation with manifestations of racism among football supporters is complicated. On some occasions disciplinary sanctions have been imposed on Cyprian football teams by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). The press has reported instances of violence and racist shouting in Cypriot stadiums during national and international matches. Though the government announced its intention to improve work with football fans communities, the latter continue to represent largely uncontrolled groups of aggressive young people with a high prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse.

In May 2017, the CERD expressed its concern over the spread in society of racially motivated verbal abuse and physical attacks by far-right extremist and neo-Nazi groups against people of foreign origin, including people of African descent, as well as against human rights activists and Turkish Cypriots. The Committee also expressed concern over the spread of racist stereotypes and hate speech in society against members of certain ethnic minority groups as well as against Muslim Roma, often inspired by the media. Experts pointed to the lack of legal provisions to prosecute such acts, as well as to the insufficient efforts of law enforcement agencies in this area.[368]

In general, the policy of the Cypriot authorities in ensuring respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens can be commended. Positive developments include continued inter-communal cooperation and progress in locating and identifying missing persons, the opening of two new official checkpoints, and the restoration of several religious and cultural heritage sites. At the same time, due to the lack of effective control of the official authorities in the occupied territory, it is difficult to give an objective evaluation of the human rights situation in the "TRNC." European and universal monitoring bodies remain concerned about the unhindered enjoyment of the right to life and the consideration of the issue of missing persons, the respect for the principle of non-discrimination, freedom of movement, property rights, freedom of religion or belief and cultural rights, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to education.

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Denmark

Denmark has traditionally been at the top of the list of countries with the most effective guarantees of human rights and freedoms. In 2019, the international NGO Freedom House gave Copenhagen a score of 97 out of 100 for this indicator (11th place in the world statistics). The statistics provided by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) also contributes to Denmark's human rights record: between 1959 and 2019, the Court issued a total of 53 judgments against Denmark.

Given these assessments by pro-Western human rights NGOs, it is not surprising that Denmark occasionally tries to politicise human rights issues, especially in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Council of Europe, where Danish representatives often criticise the human rights situation in "unfavourable" countries.

However, despite Copenhagen's self-declared flagship position on human rights protection, the reality is far from rosy, which is proved, in particular, by the findings of the Danish Institute for Human Rights’ (DIHR) annual report on the main problems in the Kingdom's human rights record.

On 1 January 2020, amendments allowing the Kingdom's police to search homes and seize personal belongings, including means of communication, of persons convicted of sexual offences without a court order, entered into force in Denmark.

A bill providing Danish law enforcement bodies with similar powers in relation to those convicted under the anti-terrorism provisions of the criminal law has also been introduced to the Danish Parliament. As an additional punishment for such convicted persons, it is suggested that an indefinite ban on visiting certain places and contacting certain persons should be imposed by a court. The DIHR believes that this is a violation of the right to inviolability of the home, as well as the right to respect for private life and the right to freedom of movement.

Attention is drawn to the revealed in 2020 uncontrolled use of surveillance data on citizens residing in the Kingdom by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) over a three-year period. The transfer of such data to the PET was made without a court order in direct violation of Danish Data Protection Act.

Regarding the violation of the right to respect for private life, the DIHR also draws attention to the reluctance of the Danish Parliament, contrary to the 2016 EU Court of Justice decision, to review the legal provisions obliging telecommunications service providers to collect and store users' mobile and Internet traffic data for law enforcement purposes (the review of such legal provisions has been delayed by the Folketing (the Parliament) for the ninth time since 2011). According to human rights defenders, this leads to extensive indiscriminate surveillance of citizens, most of whom are not involved in the commission of specific crimes.

The right to peaceful assembly has also been restricted. Since the beginning of 2021, the country has witnessed waves of mass protests against the extension and intensification of restrictive measures due to the coronavirus infection. For instance, in late January – early February, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest against increased quarantine due to the rapid spread of the new COVID-19 strain and the authorities' plans to tighten legislation and introduce a digital vaccination certificate ("coronavirus passport" or COVID19 Pas), which is given much importance. The Danish authorities have also approved amendments to the Penal Code, doubling the punishment for an offence based on or linked to coronavirus. The January protests quickly escalated into mass clashes between protesters and security forces. The police detained several people[242]. In March 2021, the protests continued. Around 600 people took part in the protests. They were partly triggered by the harsh measures taken by the Danish authorities against some of the protesters. In mid-March 2021, a court decision was made based on new amendments to the Penal Code: a participant in the protests which took place this January was sentenced to two years in prison instead of one year[243].

Despite public discontent, the "coronavirus passport" has been in force in the country since early April 2021. This certificate is issued to Danish residents over the age of 15 who have already been vaccinated against coronavirus, have tested negative within the last 72 hours or have had the infection between two and twelve weeks ago (due to which they are now immune). According to the Danish authorities' plan, holders of such a passport are free to visit restaurants and cafés serving outdoor visitors, museums, art galleries and libraries. Starting from May, the "coronavirus passport" will also allow the use of other relaxation of restrictive measures. In the first half of April 2021, another wave of protests with several hundred participants began in Denmark[244].

There are a number of problems in the penitentiary sphere. The DIHR has noted a significant increase in the number of cases in which prisoners were placed in solitary confinement for more than 14 days as a punishment for breaches of discipline in prisons. In comparison, in 2015, this measure was applied 7 times, while in 2019, prisoners serving their sentences were placed in solitary confinement for more than 14 days on 705 occasions.

In early 2020, the situation was brought to the attention of the CPT of the Council of Europe, following its visit to Denmark in April 2019. The Committee criticised Copenhagen in general for failing to implement its 2014 recommendations and pointed to the continuing problem of overcrowding in Danish prisons, where two prisoners often have to share a single cell[245].

Representatives of the Council of Europe noted similar shortcomings with regard to the two Danish asylum centres, calling on the Danish authorities to either renovate or close these facilities due to overcrowding and inadequate conditions for rejected asylum seekers.

In 2019, the Danish human rights record was tarnished by the ECHR twice. The first case concerned the repeated refusals by the Danish prison authorities of a person in involuntary isolation[246] to have an independent review of the 2015 medical report, according to which he constituted a danger to society and should remain in involuntary detention. The European Court of Human Rights concluded that Denmark had breached the right to liberty and security of person guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the second case, the ECHR, drawing on the famous 2016 case "Paposhvili v Belgium", found the Kingdom guilty of violating the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in connection with the deportation of a Turkish national suffering from a severe mental illness from Denmark to his home country.

The situation with regard to guarantees of non-discrimination has also been complicated: the Kingdom has been facing an increase in the number of religious and racially motivated hate crimes. Most often such crimes are committed against Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa, as well as against Jews. According to the National Integration Barometer, more than half of Denmark's national minorities face discrimination in everyday life.

Discriminatory attitudes towards migrants persist. This includes the fact that second and third generation migrants have very limited grounds for obtaining Danish citizenship by law. This category of persons, especially women, has little involvement in the labour market[247].

In March 2018, the Danish government led by Lars Løkke Rasmussen submitted a package of measures aimed at eradicating the 'parallel society', a social phenomenon in which a large proportion of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa lead isolated lives, remaining outside the Danish language, culture and legal environment. The programme was called "Denmark without Parallel Societies: No Ghettos in 2030". Its provisions have been implemented in various sectoral regulations in the Kingdom. It is aimed at disadvantaged urban areas, where municipal and social housing make up the bulk of the housing stock, and which, due to the influx of refugees, has become almost entirely populated with migrants. The programme suggests a number of restrictive measures to adjust the national composition of the inhabitants. It also reintroduces the concept of "ghetto", which has been officially used in Denmark since 2011.

Since the ethnic ghetto eradication programme was launched, the Danish law enforcement authorities have been enabled to establish "areas of high criminal liability" in ghettos. It is envisaged that if a person commits a crime in these areas, the punishment imposed by court may be twice the maximum penalty provided for this category of offence in Danish Criminal Code. If the offence is punishable by a fine as a maximum penalty, it may be replaced by imprisonment. As additional policing measures, the Kingdom's Government has also proposed increasing the police presence in the ghettos, including through the deployment of mobile police units. Moreover, a mechanism for the identification and subsequent expulsion of repeat offenders and the most "influential" members of the criminal milieu from the ghettos has been approved.

In 2019, the situation was brought to the attention of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which expressed deep concern about provisions in the Government programme that are contrary to the Danish Constitution and Denmark's international obligations and perpetuate discrimination on grounds such as national origin, social status and residence. In particular, the CESCR regarded as discrimination the categorisation of specific areas as ghettos based on the national origin of the persons living there (the classification of areas as "ghettos" is defined by the proportion of residents from "non-Western" countries) and pointed out the violation of migrants' right to the freedom of residence and the liberty of parents to choose their children’s schools. The combination of such measures, according to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, only results in discrimination based on ethnic origin and nationality, but also further marginalises residents of disadvantaged areas[248].

Moreover, the Committee noted with concern the significantly increased number of homeless persons in the country. According to experts, the shortage of affordable housing in the Kingdom is exacerbated by the growing trend in property acquisition by private investors who, under the 1996 Act on Temporary Regulation of Housing Conditions, are authorized to increase rents up to the "value of the rented dwelling". The CESCR is also concerned at the criminalisation of begging and at the instances of criminalisation of homeless people[249].

The Committee also pointed out to the fact that the number of homeless persons in the State party has significantly increased, and expressed concern at the criminalization of begging and at the instances of criminalization of homeless people.[250]

In 2021, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women drew attention to the feminization of poverty in Denmark. Along with that, the CESCR has expressed concern about the prevalance of violence against women. According to the experts of the Committee, it is women and girls belonging to disadvantaged social groups who are affected the most, with primarily migrants facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

The CESCR also noted persisting gender segregation in the education sector at all levels. In practice, this results in the majority of women and girls choosing a recognised "standard" specialisation with only a low number of women and girls choosing non-traditional fields of study and career paths[251].

A number of legislative initiatives by the Danish Government with regard to foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) who are the Kingdom’s nationals can be singled out. In particular, amendments adopted in 2019 by the Danish Parliament allow for the administrative deprivation of Danish citizenship in absentia of persons who have caused "serious damage to the vital interests of Denmark" by their actions (adopted due to the reluctance of Danes to return and try their FTFs in the Kingdom). In addition, under these innovations, children of Danish FTFs are no longer entitled to automatic Danish citizenship by virtue of their parents' citizenship. This discriminatory provision is counter to Copenhagen's commitment to reducing statelessness (according to Danish counterintelligence officials, 40 Danish children now remain in the former ISIS-controlled regions of Syria and Iraq). Finally, FTFs who are Danish nationals and remain abroad may now be completely denied consular assistance at Danish foreign offices.

With regard to the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Denmark, the report of the Danish Government Commission on Freedom of Expression, published in April 2020, is noteworthy.

The Commission was gravely concerned about the intention of the ruling Social Democratic cabinet to continue combating the spread of "fake news" in the spirit of the Western trend by proposing stronger control of social media and the possibility of forcibly removing "fake" content from social network platforms. It should be noted that such actions by the Danish authorities are fully in line with the general trend in Western countries to take control of the media and Internet and to "cleanse" the space of opinions alternative to those of the Government.

Besides, human rights activists have criticised the increased penalties for threats and insults against Danish civil servants, including against high-ranking officials. Such offences are now punishable in Denmark by a fine of up to 5,000 DKK (equivalent to about 800 USD) or imprisonment for up to a year. It has been noted that the new legislation is vague and therefore there is a risk of penalising citizens who criticise the actions of the authorities in a normal democratic debate, ultimately leading to self-censorship of media and Internet platforms.

Human rights activists also criticise the 2016 amendments to Danish Penal Code that established liability for justifying unlawful violent acts in religious education (the "Imam Act"). In addition to these changes, Danish law has been amended in order to tighten control over preachers, allowing for restrictions on funding for certain religious organisations and banning clerics who justify radicalisation from entering the country.

In general, the adoption of such measures in the context of combating extremism and terrorism is in line with the common European practice, however the practice of their application in Denmark has been criticised by human rights defenders. At the same time, it is noteworthy that similar anti-extremist measures taken by Russian lawmakers have often led to Denmark accusing Russia of the alleged attempts to restrict freedom of expression and suppress civil society.

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Estonia

Since 1990s the Republic of Estonia (Estonia) has been entered in the documents of international human rights organisations among the persistent and systematic violators of the rights of national minorities. The unfavourable position of this category of persons, primarily the Russian-speaking population, as well as numerous serious flaws in the area of ensuring freedom of expression and many other basic human rights refute the statements of the Estonian authorities about Estonia as a country with a developed mechanism of state regulation.

The superiority of the Estonian ethnicity, its language and culture[1256] to other people residing in the country is defined at the constitutional level in Estonia; political, social and economic as well as cultural rights of the non-title population are openly restricted.

Tallinn takes no notice of the numerous recommendations and observations made by such profile structures as the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe, and primarily the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities[1257]. Estonia has not acceded so far to a number of international documents that govern their rights. The international treaties ratified by Estonia, especially the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, are not being fully implemented under formal excuses. The official human rights protection structures are more likely a tool to justify the harsh ethnocratic line pursued by the authorities.

Persisting practice of mass statelessness, including in the form of such category as "non-citizens", is among the most audacious manifestations of the State policy of language- and nationality-based discrimination. As of 1 October 2020, there were about 69 thousand stateless persons in the country (about 6 per cent of the population), the overwhelming majority of which were Russian compatriots and their descendants. Estonia ranks among the first ten countries in the world with the highest number of "non-citizens".

The holders of "gray" passports are significantly limited in their rights, i.e., they can vote in local elections but they do not have the right to be elected. They are not allowed to vote or to stand for elections to the Estonian Parliament or the European Parliament; they are banned from being members of political parties, holding state or municipal managerial positions, serving in the military or police.

In accordance with Estonian law on the Ratification of the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities the non-citizens are excluded from the list of persons covered by this document. They are the only category that falls under the obligatory rule to be registered at place of residence to exercise their social and economic rights. The holders of "gray" passports also face huge difficulties during international trips.

In 1992, stateless citizens were joined by the country residents who did not have citizenship of the first Estonian Republic (1920-1940) or were not descendants of its citizens. The Estonian authorities justified such deprivation of rights by the fact that those citizens or their parents had been "imported" to the country during the time of "Soviet occupation". At the same time Estonia gravely violated the norms and principles of the Treaty on Inter-State Relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Estonia concluded in January 1991, in particular, the provisions of its Article 3 stating that "the Parties shall provide opportunity of obtaining the citizenship of their countries to all permanent residents of the relevant territories in accordance with their freely expressed wishes". The Estonian authorities also failed to provide clear explanations why persons born in Estonia after 1991 were also deprived of their citizenship.

Only starting from 1 January 2016, immediately after the entry into force of the legislative amendments that allowed to award citizenship to the "gray" passport holders’ children born in the territory of the country, the reproduction of "non-citizens" ceased. In June 2018, as a symbolic indulgence the stateless persons were granted an opportunity to attend State-funded Estonian language courses for the purposes of further citizenship examination.

Despite the regular criticism from international organisations, including the UN, the OSCE and the EU (represented by the European Parliament) as well as human rights NGOs the Estonian authorities continuously follow their policy set in 1991 to build a mono-ethnic and mono-language State and deny the said category of citizens a full-fledged civil status unless they pass exams for proficiency in the Estonian language at a high level.

International human rights monitoring mechanisms remain strongly focused on statelessness issue in Estonia. In January 2017, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted the limited nature of amendments to the Citizenship Act and urged the Estonian authorities to fast track the naturalization of children of non-citizens[1258]. As a follow-up to her visit to Estonia (11-15 June 2018), Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner of the Council of Europe for Human Rights, raised the issue of easing conditions of naturalization for persons above 65 and indicated that many older Russian-speaking persons were still unable to obtain Estonian citizenship because of their inability to learn the Estonian language[1259]. In February 2019, corresponding concerns were expressed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (according to the Committee as at 1 January 2019 "non-citizens" amounted to 5.5 per cent of the total population). At the same time the CESCR also criticized the 2015 amendments to the Citizenship Act that were, as it stated, very limited by nature and did not apply to a number of categories of children[1260]. In April 2019, the Human Rights Committee also noted with concern the limited scope of amendments to the Citizenship Act as they excluded certain categories of "stateless" children; the stringent official language proficiency requirements that formed part of the naturalization procedure; the adverse impact of the "undetermined citizenship" status on the right of long-term residents to political participation and recommended to take measures to address the mentioned gaps[1261].

In July 2019, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) issued its final report on the parliamentary elections held in Estonia in March 2019, noting that the Estonian authorities should take steps to further "increase the naturalization rate among persons with "undetermined citizenship", with a view to granting them full suffrage rights".

A certain advance was the entry into force in February 2020 of amendments to the Estonian Citizenship Act that allowed to apply for citizenship under a simplified procedure minors that were born in Estonia, had one parent or grandparent holding a "gray" passport and residing in the country before 20 August 1991, or had one parent who was a citizen of a different State. However, if a minor wishing to obtain the Estonian citizenship is a citizen of a different State the minor should renounce such citizenship beforehand. There are about 1,500 children under the age of 18 living in Estonia and having the right to obtain the Estonian citizenship under the simplified procedure. However, the majority of such children (about 1,300) have Russian citizenship, and under the Russian law a child cannot renounce citizenship and obtain different passport until reaching the lawful age. Therefore, the majority of those who fall under the amendments cannot really benefit from them.

An illustrative fact in this regard is that Estonia has not joined so far key profile international agreements (1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless, 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and 1997 European Convention on Nationality).

The Estonian party disregards the abovementioned observations and recommendations. At the same time the right-nationalist politicians that represent the ruling parties are open in their hopes that the "non-citizen" issue will be solved in a natural way (i.e., due to their reduction, migration, etc.).

Another pressing issue is the infringement of the rights of national minorities, primarily speaking in Russian, to get educated in their native language. The Estonian authorities continue to ignore "The Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities" elaborated in October 1996 at the initiative of Max van der Stoel, High Commissioner on National Minorities.

Russian language has been almost completely forced out of the higher education system. As an example, one can get education in this language only in Russian Philology (Bachelor’s degree) and Slavic Languages and Cultures (Master’s degree) in Tallinn and Tartu Universities. Educational programmes in Russian are still available in Mainor private Estonian Entrepreneurship University and in Estonian Academy of Arts. As a result, no more than 30 per cent of graduates from Russian-language upper secondary schools enter the Estonian higher education institutions compared to 50 per cent of graduates from the Estonian-language schools.

Gradual estonization of upper and professional secondary education (1012 grades) goes on. Today, no more than 40 per cent of subjects of study can be provided in Russian according to the Estonian law. While refraining from aggressive legislative de-Russification steps due to internal political and financial situation the Estonian government pursues its programme aimed at merging Russian- and Estonian-language upper secondary schools within the framework of "optimization". As a result, completely Estonian-language educational institutions emerge without taking into account the interests of Russian-speaking students and their parents (Keila, Tartu, Rakvere, Haapsalu, Viljandi, Kohtla-Järve, Põlva, Võru, etc).

An illustrative example is a merge in 2019 of Russian and Estonian upper-secondary schools in Kohtla-Järve (75 per cent of the city population are Russians) to form a purely Estonian-language State Upper Secondary School without discussing this step with Russian-speaking community. From the very first day in this educational institution the Russian-speaking students faced open discrimination based on language and ethnicity on behalf of the administration and Estonian professors. Similar reforms are scheduled for 2022 in Russian upper secondary schools in Narva (where the Russians account for over 90 per cent of the population).

Basic schools (grades 1 to 9) still preserve the opportunity to teach in Russian up to 100 per cent of the curricular but the "optimization" programme is in stock here too. This process was provided as an explanation in November 2019 when Keila municipal authorities discontinued the activities of the only Russian school in the city regardless the objections from parents and protest actions that they organized to preserve this Russian educational institution.

In February 2021, Tallinn County Court decided to dismiss the appeals put forward by students’ parents and to uphold the administrative court’s decision of 19 August 2020 to deny canceling the decision of Keila authorities to reorganize schooling in the city.

The termination in 1990 of provision of education and advance training courses to Russian-language educational personnel had a highly negative impact on the Russian-language schooling. As a result, the number of Russian-language secondary education institutions has reduced from 96 to 76 over the last decade.

Public activists indicate that the main problem of integration for Russian-speaking students is the inability of the Estonian authorities to ensure over the years of independence a quality State language teaching rather than the low proficiency in Estonian. The Russians neither have enough student books nor teachers. The Estonians are reluctant to go teaching to Russian-language or to upper secondary schools.

Mass media has been very busy recently with brainwashing the public opinion about the "necessity and relevance" of the transition to a "uniform schooling" and "unique educational system" to take care of the Russian population as far as it is reportedly lower from social and economic stand due to its poor knowledge of the official language. It is proposed to cease dividing schools and kindergartens into Estonian and Russian to give place to uniform Estonian-language institutions that would grant options to maintain native languages to students from non-title communities.

Appropriate public statements are accommodated by Estonian officials all the way up to the government of the country. In December 2019, President Kaljulaid announced that they had almost decided to transfer to a uniform Estonian-language system of education. In July 2019, Helir-Valdor Seeder, President of the then-government coalition Isamaa Party, announced that Estonia would soon completely transit to a system of education in Estonian and underscored that the expert discussions were under way to decide how to do this in a more streamlined and efficient manner. There were no consultations with Russian-speaking community.

The activities of the Language Inspection Department (known as the Language Inspectorate before 1 August 2020), a special supervisory and punitive body outside parliamentary and public control, promotes the discrimination of non-Estonians. Its functions are limited exclusively to identifying insufficient proficiency in and use of, the Estonian language and consequently imposing sanctions and fines on individuals and legal entities. The authorities disregard observations concerning the repressive nature and lack of accountability within such Inspection.

Discrimination based on official language proficiency in Estonia was in focus of international human rights review procedures. In August 2014, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerned at the discrepancies between the employment and income levels of the Estonian and non-Estonian population as a result of language proficiency[1262].

In 2015, problems related to discrimination based on language in Estonia was noted by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance that indicated, inter alia, that the Estonian law (in particular, the Equal Treatment Act) did not prohibit discrimination based on citizenship or language, and noted also the extremely complex requirements applied to national minorities when sitting in the Estonian language[1263]. The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities also noted the absence of a constructive dialogue between the Estonian authorities and representatives of national minorities about language-related developments, including the work of the Language Inspectorate[1264].

In January 2017, the CRC expressed concern over the language policy in secondary education, which often prevented Russian-speaking students from acquiring mastery in core subjects. It also noted the discrimination faced by children belonging to ethnic minorities in accessing education[1265].

In February 2019, the CESCR expressed concern over the lack of flexibility in the implementation of the per centage quota for teaching in Estonian in the Russian-speaking upper secondary schools. The CESCR experts believed that it made often difficult for Russian-speaking students in Russian-language schools to acquire mastery in core subjects that were taught in Estonian only and, in the case of vocational schools, led to an insufficient number of qualified teachers capable of teaching the specialized subjects. The situation is further aggravated by Estonian authorities' punitive approach to enforcing the Language Act, including through the mandate and functions of the Language Inspectorate[1266].

In March 2019, Human Rights Committee expressed concern at the impact of the language policies and practices that continued to frustrate the full enjoyment of rights by the Russian-speaking population on an equal basis with the rest of the population of the country. It also supported the CESCR's finding about the lack of flexibility in the implementation of the quota of teaching in Estonian[1267].

The rights and interests of the Russian-speaking citizens are restricted indirectly in social and economic area. Statistics shows that the share of Russian-speaking unemployed is twice as high as in the Estonian-speaking environment. Obvious disproportion is observed among civil servants of which the number of non-Estonians amounts to 3 per cent (while the per centage rate of the non-title population is about 30 per cent). This problem was highlighted in February 2019 by the CESRC which subjected the Estonia's authorities to criticism for the continuous discrimination in all public areas experienced by the non-Estonian-speaking population due to the insufficient proficiency in the Estonian language. The Committee experts believe that this is illustrated by the high unemployment and poverty rates among the non-Estonian-speaking population[1268].

Unequal representation of title and non-title communities in local managerial bodies, especially in Tallinn, remains an outstanding issue. The principle of proportional representation implies that in the Estonian capital that has about 350 thousand voters, one member of the City Council (79 members) should be elected of about 4,430 citizens eligible to vote. However, in accordance with the Local Government Council Election Act 16 deputies are elected to the Tallinn City Council from the largest "Russian" Lasnamae (over 100 thousand voters) compared to 6 deputies from the primarily "Estonian" Pirit (a little over 100 thousand voters). Therefore, it takes about six thousand voters to elect a City Council member in a "Russian-speaking" constituency and only two thousand voters to elect such member in an Estonian constituency.

The low level of participation of non-title nationalities in Estonia’s public and political life was also noted by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[1269].

Although the Estonian authorities have formally envisaged in the Constitution (Article 52) the right to use a second language in local municipalities in those areas where the official language is not the mother tongue of the majority of the population, in practice they have limited the enjoyment of this right in the country's northeast areas inhabited by Russian-speaking minorities.

In accordance with the Estonian Language Act (Part 3 Article 5), only citizens of Estonia can be considered as representing national minority (i.e., Russian citizens permanently residing in the country and "non-citizens" are not taken into account). Therefore, in Narva (where Russians, as we recall, account for over 90 per cent of the population) only 47 per cent of non-title citizens can be found when applying the limiting citizenship criterion.

This issue was raised by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which noted with concern the extremely high threshold applied to minority language groups, which, once reached, made it impossible to use the minority language in communications with local authorities in areas where people belonging to a linguistic minority group resided traditionally or in substantial numbers. It also expressed concern at the disproportionately strict conditions for the use of traditional local names, street names and other public topographical indications in a minority language in areas where people belonging to a linguistic minority group resided traditionally or in substantial number[1270].

Although Estonia ratified the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in late 1990s, it evades the compliance with Article 11 of this Convention obliging its States Parties to recognize national minorities' patronymics, and refuses to enter them in national identity documents issued to ethnic Russians. Furthermore, the Estonian authorities disregard the recommendations on the official recognition of patronymics of the Russian-speaking residents made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In particular, in February 2019, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted that administrative barriers against the use of patronymics in official personal documents, which Estonian authorities put up, restricted certain national minorities from enjoying their right to protect their cultural identity[1271].

A feature that illustrates that Estonia moves in the direction of the police State is the adoption by the Estonian Parliament in May 2019 of the amendments to the National Defense Act to allow the military bodies to review personal data and to secretly follow "suspicious persons". To approve those changes, the parliamentarians got into a tussle with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid who refused to approve the proposed law while referring to the fact that such control in Estonia was exercised by the police department and security police (special service) of the Estonian Ministry of the Interior, and vesting the military with such powers contradicted the Constitution.

Those measures were adopted regardless concerns that had been expressed earlier that very year by the Human Rights Committee about the lack in Estonia of sufficient safeguards against arbitrary interference with the right to privacy with regard to surveillance and interception activities by State security and intelligence agencies and with regard to intelligence sharing with foreign entities[1272].

There are also cases of ill-treatment in prisons, i.e., a sufficient number of facts proves prison abuse in Estonia. Persons deprived of their liberty by law enforcement personnel face problems with access to counsel services. Detainees experience problems with accessing medical or legal services. Medical personnel working in the penitentiary system is not qualified. There is also an issue noted in relation to the distribution of funds allocated to treat patients in prisons. Furthermore, data shows that the personnel that works in prisons resorts to psychological abuse. Detainees claim to stay in disciplinary units beyond the specified time, to be sent there for minor disciplinary offenses, to suffer from disproportionate dehumanizing rigid security measures.

Penitentiary institutions in Estonia remain far from being transparent for public control. Only the Chancellor of Justice and Board of Human Rights Advocates (consisting of 50 members elected and approved under criteria considered controversial by human rights advocates) are vested with such powers.

The Estonian authorities also confirm these trends. Thus, in December 2019, Chancellor of Justice Ulle Madise visited prison in Vira without advance notice to reveal violations of sanitary requirements.

Soaring mortality rate among detainees is an alarming trend. At the same time the number of investigations and prosecutions of the guilty is quite low. The issue was noted by the Human Rights Committee[1273]. The Estonian Ministry of Justice reported that in 2019, 15 detainees died in prisons and hospitals in Estonia to make it twice as much as in 2018. In July 2020, the detained Oleg Lvov who was not allowed, according to his lawyers, to take necessary medications died in Tallinn prison for undisclosed reasons.

Additionally, the Estonian authorities allowed serious violations at the implementation of 2008 Agreement between the Government of Estonia and the United Nations on the Enforcement of Sentences of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Thus, its Article 3 stipulates that Estonia shall only consider the enforcement of sentences which duration does not exceed the highest maximum sentence for relevant crime under the national law. Following the ICTY sentence the Tartu high security prison accepted Milan Martić, last president of the republic of Serbian Krajina (sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment), Dragomir Milošević, general of the army of the republic of Serbia (sentenced to 29 years of imprisonment), and Milan Lukić, commander of the military formation the White Eagles (sentenced to life). However, the fact that the Estonian law provides for the maximum sentence of 20 years (beyond goes a sentence to life) contests the legitimacy of imprisonment in Estonia of Martić and Milošević.

The authorities continue cleaning-up the public and political space of the country to eliminate alternative views in Estonia although the country is regularly nominated to the top positions in global ratings of freedom of expression. To do this, they promote spy mania and anti-Russian hysteria. For these purposes, the Estonian special services apply in practice various techniques to bring pressure upon untrustworthy politicians, public activists, human rights advocates and journalists, civil society activists speaking with a voice different from the official as regards the internal and external politics of the country and its history.

An illustrative example in this regard was an interview given to Delfi information portal on 1 June 2020 by Arnold Sinisalu, Estonian Security Police Director, during which he directly pointed to the "non-loyalty" of the Estonian Legal Information Centre for Human Rights NPO (the oldest organisation in the country particularly involved in promoting legal assistance to Russian and Russian-speaking community) as well as publicly stated that it was undesirable for those who disagreed with violations of rights of national minorities to stay in Estonia.

As one of the tactics applied by special services to exert pressure on dissenters is, inter alia, to launch criminal cases under far-fetched pretexts. Before 2018, for example, criminal proceedings related to the "provision of incorrect data" and "document support" were under way against Alexander Kornilov, editor-in-chief of the compatriot information portals Baltija and Baltnews, named in 2014 KaPo yearbook "Kremlin’s propagandist and agent" (the case was closed after a large fine had been paid). February 2019 saw the entry into force of a court verdict convicting Andrey Krasnoglazov, a prominent Estonian specialist in Russian philology and Director of Tallinn Pushkin Institute NGO, on charges of funds embezzlement and document forgery. In July 2019, Mstislav Rusakov, head of the Kitezh human rights NGO and of the Russian School of Estonia, was detained and interrogated for many hours by the police. A purely civil lawsuit brought against him was linked to internal disagreements in the Estonian United Left Party and used by the security forces to seize all technical data carriers and communication means from him.

At the end of March 2021, it became known about the detention of Sergei Seredenko, human rights defender and lawyer, in connection with a criminal charge brought against him for committing a crime against the Republic of Estonia. Moreover, the Estonian authorities concealed the information about his arrest for almost a month[1274]. The Estonian human rights activists as well as their colleagues from other Baltic countries note that the reason for these actions of the Estonian authorities was the active work of Sergei Seredenko and other Russian activists in Estonia aimed at preserving Russian-speaking education and protecting monuments to Soviet soldiers of the Red Army who died in the battles for liberation of this country from Nazism (including the Night Watch movement). For a long time, Sergei Seredenko performed on a voluntary basis the functions of the "Russian ombudsman" in Estonia. In addition, the Estonian media brainwash the public opinion by providing information aimed at creating a negative impression about the human rights defender. Moreover, many facts of him being under pressure have been deliberately concealed; for example, there is no information about the fact that Sergei Seredenko, who has two higher educations, have been recently forced to work as a janitor at the Maardu High School since he could not get job he was trained in because he was labelled by the security police. Besides, Sergei Seredenko provided free legal advice to human rights defenders and activists of Russian communities in Latvia and Lithuania[1275].

The arrest of Sergei Seredenko gained resonance among the public of the Baltic states. NGOs representing the Russian-speaking community of Estonia, members of the Estonian United Left Party and simply concerned citizens organized several public actions in Tallinn[1276]. Representatives of the Latvian Russian Union (LRU) and other activists also held rallies in support of the Russian-speaking human rights defender in Latvia near the Estonian Embassy in Riga. Member of the European Parliament from Latvia Tatyana Zhdanok who took part in the event noted that two years ago hearings had been organized in the European Parliment on the persecution of dissidents in the Baltic countries. She meant the fates of Algirdas Paleckis, Alexander Gaponenko, Vladimir Linderman and other human rights activists who allowed themselves to freely express their own opinions. Sergei Seredenko also took part in those hearings. According to the member of the European Parliament, the arrest of the human rights defender two years after those hearings in the European Parliament is an indicator that the situation has only gotten worse[1277].

The arrest of Sergei Seredenko was drawn to the attention of Yana Toom, member of the European Parliament from Estonia, who called on the General Prosecutor's Office of Estonia and the KaPo to clarify the situation with the detention of the human rights defender. She believed that the arrest of Sergei Seredenko was "a very bad signal for those who believed that Estonia was an open State based on the rule of law. Many representatives of the Russian-speaking community saw arrogance and disrespect in it. Indeed, it was inconceivable that there would be such deafening silence during the arrest of an Estonian-speaking political activist"[1278].

In the context of the "case" of Sergei Seredenko the Russian School of Estonia NGO called on PACE to pay attention to the persecution of citizens in the country for dissent, and noted the practice of instituting unreported criminal cases against people who somehow disagree with the general "correct opinion"[1279].

The Latvian Russian Union reported on the request sent by the representatives of the Russian community in the Baltic States, the European Parliament, the Riigikogu and the Riga City Council to the Estonian President Kaljulaid with a call to stop politically motivated persecution of human rights activist Sergei Seredenko. Among those who signed the open letter are member of the European Parliament Tatyana Zhdanok, deputies of the Riga City Council Miroslav Mitrofanov, Yakov Pliner, Vladimir Buzaev and Alexander Kuzmin, as well as deputy of the Estonian Parliament Mikhail Stalnukhin[1280].

The Estonian media have established a tough "editorial policy", and in fact a concealed censorship, which does not allow to publish positive or even neutral materials about Russia, criticize the flaws of State policy in the field of inter-ethnic relations, question the concept of "Soviet occupation", talk about the liberation of the Estonian territories from the Nazis during the Great Patriotic War, to cover in a positive way Estonia’s time as part of the USSR, etc.

Russian media are forced to work in Estonia under harsh opposition from the authorities who see them as "hostile propaganda" agents. Since 1 January 2020, the Estonian office of the Russian news agency Sputnik was closed down under the threat of criminal prosecution against the staff to be conducted by the Money Laundering Reporting Office of the Estonian Ministry of the Interior. Labour relations with this media were declared a violation of EU sanctions against Dmitry Kiselev, Director General of the Rossiya Segodnya news agency. Due to these restrictions, 35 employees (three of them being Russian citizens) lost their jobs. These actions were taken despite the fact that back in December 2019, Harlem Desir, then-OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, noted that no sanctions had been imposed on Sputnik agency in the territory of the European Union and urged the Estonian authorities "to refrain from unnecessary restrictions on the work of foreign media, which may negatively affect the free flow of information".

From 20 March 2020, under pressure from State and law enforcement agencies the release of Novosti Estonii daily informational TV show aired on the First Baltic Channel (a franchise of the Channel One Russia) was discontinued.

Few Russian journalists accredited in the country were denied access to official events without explanation. State and municipal officials evade contacts with them under formal pretexts. The Estonian authorities defiantly ignore inquiries and appeals from representatives of the Russian media accredited in the country, such as Interfax, RIA-Novosti, TASS, VGTRK. Journalists do not receive newsletters and press releases from Estonian government agencies, and are not allowed therein. Measures of financial impact are also applied to them. The banking structures refuse to service them (closing of accounts is practiced, unilateral termination of contractual obligations without explanation, etc.) under pressure from the special services.

Estonia routinely abuses the right to deny entry into the Schengen countries to "undesirable" third-country nationals usually using it against undesirable Russian politicians, journalists, historians, publicists, and public figures. Visas are revoked and lengthy bans are imposed. If victims try to protect their violated rights, Estonian courts rule against them citing "national security interests."

This practice became even more restrictive after the adoption, in the autumn of 2017, of amendments to the Entry and Exit Act due to "considerable changes in the current security environment and architecture". Those amendments provided Estonian authorities with legal means of preventing the entry of persons who "there are grounds to believe to be connected, or to have been connected with foreign special services" (certainly, the agencies of NATO countries are ruled out of the latter category).

For example, in March 2018, the Estonian Ministry of the Interior issued an entry ban until 2023 for Konstantin Zatulin, Russian State Duma deputy, who was planning to meet with his constituents living in northeastern Estonia. In February 2019, similar sanctions were imposed on journalists of the Russia1 TV channel Pavel Kostrikov and Elena Erofeeva for filming a report on the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses sect in Tallinn which was considered by the Estonian police as "discrimination on religious grounds." In August 2019, Anastasia Koveza, Sergey Khristenko, Mikhail Pirogov, and Aleksandr Malikov, activists of the St. Petersburg branch of the Young Guard of United Russia Russian public organisation, were banned entry into the Schengen countries for 10 years as a punishment for their participation in the Immortal Regiment march in Tallinn and their contacts with younger compatriots from Estonia. In March 2020, Andrei Zakharov, a journalist from the Russian multimedia information center Izvestia, was denied entry.

Russian citizens who are permanently residing in the country and have criminal records are still being deported to Russia by the Estonian courts on formal grounds of them having a "country of nationality." They do not take into account these people's lack of strong ties with Russia (a place to live, a job, relatives, etc.), putting them in disadvantaged economic conditions.

The Estonian authorities often detain and extradite Russian citizens to the United States at the request of the US law enforcement authorities. For example, in 2020, Russian citizens Andrei Skvortsov and Alexander Grichishkin were extradited from Estonia to the United States on charges of cyber fraud.

Residents of Crimea, including relatives of Estonian citizens, to whom the Estonian Foreign Ministry refuses to issue visas under the pretext of "illegal annexation" of the peninsula by Russia and does not offer an acceptable way out of the current situation, have fallen under the "sanctions" of the Estonian authorities.

In Estonia, neo-Nazi ideas and theories continue to spread with the open assistance of officials. Such a policy lays the foundation for the growing popularity of parties with radical nationalist positions, as well as contributes to the spread of hateful ideology.

This unseemly practice was pointed out by international human rights monitoring procedures. For example, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2014 expressed concern about the absence in the Criminal Code of prohibiting racist organisations, as well as qualifying hate speech and incitement to hatred as a criminal offense. In addition, the Committee is concerned at leniency of the punishment (a fine of 100 euros) imposed in 2011 under section 151 (1) of the Penal Code for commentaries posted on the Internet whose contents were found to have incited hatred and violence[1281].

In March 2019, Human Rights Committee indicated that the Estonian law did not provide for the equal protection against discrimination in all its forms prohibited under the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights in all fields of life. The highest concern of HRCtte was that the Estonian legal framework did not provide comprehensive protection against hate speech and hate crimes due to, inter alia, rather light penalties and strict requirements for such penalties to be applied for the offense of incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination (in such cases article 151 of the Criminal Code requires "danger to the life, health or property" of the victim). At the same time other offenses, 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[1282]. In this context the Committee indicted numerous reports of hate speech, including by politicians and opinion makers, and hate crimes that were not surprising.

The Estonian authorities also continue to implant a distorted interpretation of the joint history of Russia and Estonia mixed with nationalist ideology and Russophobia. The Soviet period that is presented by modern Estonian historiography as the "occupation of 1940-1991," and the events of the Great Patriotic War in the territory of the country, are subjected to the greatest falsifications. On this basis, a myth is built about "freedom fighters" who fought against "Soviet aggressors" in the form of the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS units and security and punitive units to camouflage the glorification of Nazi criminals and their accomplices. At the same time, information about war crimes of Estonian collaborators is hushed up, and first of all, the complicity in punitive actions against civilians, the destruction and torture of concentration camp prisoners and Soviet prisoners of war.

Support for the policy of glorifying the Nazis at the official level in Estonia only intensified as the influence of the far-right Estonian political forces grew. The whitewashing of the Estonian Nazi accomplices is actively and openly encouraged by the leading figures of the right-wing nationalist parties Fatherland and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) that from April 2019 to January 2021 made part of the government coalition.

Monuments of Estonian "forest brothers" are being unveiled with the assistance of nationalist parties. For example, in November 2020, a memorial in the form of a restored bunker of the "forest brothers" was inaugurated in Lääne-Viru County. Plans are being voiced to create similar facilities throughout the country.

At the same time, as a consequence of the escalated Russophobia, cases of desecration of monuments to Soviet soldiers who died in battles with the Nazis in the territory of Estonia are regularly recorded, as well as deliberate actions of the Estonian local authorities to dismantle such memorials. The efforts of the Russian side to clarify such cases are permanently left by the Estonians without meaningful answers.

The widespread indignation of Russian compatriots caused the desecration of the monument to the Soldier-Liberator at the Tallinn military cemetery on 22 June 2019. Unidentified persons attached a leaflet with the image of a skull to the monument. The Estonian police did not bring the perpetrators to justice; it let the investigation of the incident shuffle under the rug referring to the "poor quality of the surveillance cameras".

One of the latest cases of vandalism against monuments to the soldiers of the Red Army occurred on 2 March 2021 in Narva when a memorial (in the form of a T34 tank) erected in memory of the crossing of the Narva River by Soviet troops on 2526 July 1944 during the offensive operation of the Leningrad Front was desecrated. An insulting inscription was put on the pedestal of the monument, which was soon eliminated by the Narva authorities and local activists from among compatriots.

In addition to efforts to directly glorify Nazi accomplices (in August 2020, Raivo Aeg, then-Minister of Justice, held a regular ceremony of awarding the "Oak Wreath of Freedom" to former SS-men, "forest brothers", members of various underground groups that opposed the Soviet authorities, and to the "correct" historians that present the mythology of the Estonian "liberation movement" in an ideologically verified key), the Nazi attributes are in free circulation in the country. Materials are regularly published in which the period of the Nazi occupation is positively covered, the Estonian accomplices of the Nazis and members of the Waffen-SS are glorified, and the period of Estonia's stay in the USSR is defamed (this, in particular, is the focus of the Culture and Life magazine). Also on sale are the books authored by the Nazi activists. For example, in 2019, the second edition of the book by Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf in Estonian by Matrix Publishing House was sold very successfully in Estonian bookstores. Products with Nazi symbols and propaganda materials of the Hitler regime are regularly offered for free sale. This topic was in focus at a souvenir fair on the premises of the Valga War Museum (southern Estonia).

In 2020 – 2021, most of the events that are traditional to the Estonian nationalists and contemporary followers of Hitler's ideology did not take place due to the pandemic restrictions imposed in the Republic. This, however, does not mean that such actions will not resume – probably on a new scale – as the epidemiological situation improves. In particular, the admirers of the Estonian legionnaires of the 20th Waffen-SS (Estonian Legion) Division were unable due to coronavirus restrictions to hold their next gathering in Sinimäe (IdaViru County). It is traditionally attended by officials and members of the Estonian Parliament representing nationalist parties. For example, on 27 July 2019, deputies of the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) from the EKRE and Fatherland parties, representatives of the Ministry of Defense and the Defense League (people's militia), as well as members of ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups took part in this action[1283].

Such attitudes of the authorities contribute to the growth of xenophobic sentiments in Estonia, primarily among ethnic Estonians. Various neo-Nazi groups operate freely (the Odin Wolves unit is the most active in this area). A notable contribution to inciting hatred of migrants is made by EKRE activists that do not hide their racist views. In February 2021, Marika Kallas, head of the conservative faction in the Tallinn City Office, on his Facebook page called the opponents of the transfer of the Memorial to the Liberator Soldier from the center of Tallinn in 2007 and their compatriots who sympathized with them "come in large numbers of human garbage with a Soviet mentality."

Some Estonian mass media constantly issue publications that incite hostility towards immigrants from Africa and Asia, as well as other "foreigners" to fan the threat of "displacement" of the indigenous population. As a result, there has been an increase in cases of public insults and physical attacks against people from Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Increasingly, inter-ethnic and interracial strife spills out on the pages of social networks but in practice the authorities do not take any steps to reduce the degree of inter-ethnic tensions.

Taking into account the fact that the country, by virtue of the corresponding political attitudes of the authorities, remains a very comfortable base for right-wing radical groups, the leaders of international neoNazi structures operate from its territory. For example, in January 2020, the KaPo identified a 13-year-old teenager in Estonia who was one of the leaders of the large international neo-Nazi network Feuerkrieg Division. He actively used the Internet to recruit new supporters, spread anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi ideology.

The reluctance of the Estonian authorities who seek to please the aggressive nationalist forces to take measures to curb the spread of neo-Nazism has attracted international attention. On 30 October 2020, the European Commission notified Estonia of the decision to start proceedings in connection with Tallinn's failure to fulfill its obligations to implement EU legislation. One of the issues was the evasion of the Estonian authorities from criminalizing such obvious manifestations of racism and xenophobia as public justification, denial or understatement of international crimes and the crime of the Holocaust, public calls for violence and incitement to hatred against certain groups (Estonia remains one of the two EU countries where there is no legal prohibition on such activities). In addition, it is noted that Estonian legislation does not take into account racist and xenophobic motives for committing crimes as aggravating circumstances[1284].

A difficult situation remains with the Finno-Ugric peoples of Estonia. Despite the fact that Tallinn regularly accuses the Russian authorities of violating the rights of the Finno-Ugric peoples living in the country, in Estonia itself there is discrimination against the small Finno-Ugric ethnic group Seto (Setu). The Estonian authorities refuse to recognize the Setos as an indigenous people or a separate ethnic group (it is considered only a sub-ethnic group of the Estonian nation), as well as the existence of their own language (included in the southern dialect of the Estonian language, although UNESCO has included the Seto language in the list of endangered languages), writing and literature. It is significant that in the 1999 Estonian census, ethnic Setos were not allowed to identify themselves as a separate ethnic group. The language and culture of the Seto people are consistently being pushed out of the educational environment. Seto representatives face difficulties in promoting the education system in their own language, getting help in the development of writing and literature. It should also be noted that the Estonian Setos themselves, as a solution to their problems, rely not on the Estonian state, but on the development of ties with their relatives in Russia.

There are also difficulties in the field of protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. In April 2021, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in its concluding observations on Estonia noted with concern the low level of socialization of people with disabilities, the persistence of obstacles to ensuring their normal life. There are no mechanisms for communicating socially and politically significant information to persons with disabilities (first of all, we are talking about the deaf and the blind). Their access to the labour market, sports and recreational infrastructure is significantly limited. The level of social protection of elderly people with disabilities is insufficient. In addition, the CRP experts called unacceptable the Estonia’s established practice to isolate people with disabilities as well as noted with concern such phenomena as forced treatment and solitary confinement, "physical and chemical restraints"[1285].

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Finland

Human rights are one of the key topics on both domestic and foreign policy agendas in Finland, and there is an increased focus on ensuring respect for human rights and freedoms, both in the regulatory and legal fields. The country traditionally occupies leading positions in international rankings in terms of ensuring freedoms[1011], rule of law[1012], security and police work[1013], independence of the judiciary[1014] and public administration[1015].

The duty of the state to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms is enshrined in Article 22 of the Finnish Constitution. The Finnish government’s human rights policy is based on two periodic documents: the human rights report (which outlines the main, long-term directions of the state’s activities; the last report was published in 2014) and the state program for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms (contains a list of specific measures in this area).

In Finland, there are sufficient guarantees for the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly. In particular, this right is guaranteed by the Constitution, article 13 of which states that everyone has the right to hold assemblies and rallies and participate in them without obtaining a separate permission. In more detail, the procedure for organizing assemblies is regulated in the Law on Assemblies, which obliges organizers of mass public events to notify the police about the proposed event no later than 24 hours before its start. In cases where the meeting being held does not have a negative impact on public order, notices submitted later than the deadline are also considered valid. The law establishes the obligation of organizers to ensure the observance of order at events and the authority of the police to restrict or prohibit assemblies.

At the same time, the law provides that holding a public event may be prohibited in the event of a violation of the law, threat to security or public order, human health or integrity of property. Violation of the rules for organizing meetings will result in a fine.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is guaranteed in Finland by article 12 of the Constitution, which states that everyone enjoys freedom of speech, which includes the right to express opinions, publish and receive information without hindrance. According to article 6 of the basic law, a person’s opinion cannot be used as a justification for discrimination.

However, the Criminal Law Act stipulates that incitement to hatred that involves the publication or dissemination of information, or the expression of opinions directed against a group of individuals, may be punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to two years. Serious crimes of this nature (for example, calls for genocide and crimes against humanity) can result in imprisonment from four months to four years. Calls for military action during a serious international crisis or the threat of one, which increase the risk of Finland being drawn into the war, may be punishable by imprisonment for a term of one to ten years.

The use or attempted use of violence or threats against the exercise of political rights to express opinions on general issues, to participate in relevant events, or to obstruct the founding of relevant associations or adherence to them may be punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

According to the Law on Coercive Measures, police officers in Finland can detain anyone suspected of an offense for up to 24 hours without a warrant if there is good reason. Under normal circumstances, arrest cannot be applied to a suspect in a crime, minimum sentence for which is less than two years in prison. The law also contains a provision that a citizen cannot be detained if this is unacceptable from the point of view of the nature of the situation or his or her personal circumstances.

Finnish legislation is distinguished by an emphasis on protecting the private and family life of citizens; the Criminal Law Act establishes liability not only for illegal surveillance, which can lead to imprisonment for up to one year, but also for sending text messages and making calls for the purpose of causing harassment (up to 6 months in prison) and dissemination of information that violates the right to privacy (up to two years in prison). Crimes against the honor and dignity of citizens can be punished with imprisonment for up to two years. At the same time, it is specified that charges under these articles can be brought only on the basis of a statement by the injured party.

The right to a fair trial in Finland is determined by Article 21 of the Constitution, which provides that everyone has the right, without undue delay, to be heard in court and to submit a decision concerning his or her rights and obligations to the judicial authorities. The equality of all before the law is also guaranteed by the Constitution (Article 6).

Article 7 of the basic law of Finland defines the right of everyone to personal freedom, inviolability and security, prohibits the death penalty, torture and humiliation of citizens’ dignity. The Criminal Law Act defines torture as the infliction of serious physical or mental harm by a government official in order to obtain a confession, punish, intimidate or discriminate against. Offenses of this nature are punishable by imprisonment for a term of 8 to 12 years. The punishment also applies to representatives of the authorities who allowed the use of torture by subordinates.

The Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman, in addition to the courts of various jurisdictions, provide control over the legality of the actions of government officials and the observance of the rights and freedoms of citizens. The Chancellor of Justice, appointed by the President from among the most respected jurists, is responsible for overseeing the legality of the authorities’ activities, providing the President, government and ministries with legal opinions, and preparing annual reports to the government and parliament. The Ombudsman, elected by parliament, is responsible for overseeing the work of courts and public authorities, as well as preparing annual reports to parliament on compliance with the rule of law and identified gaps in legislation. The Constitution requires the Chancellor of Justice and the Ombudsman to monitor the observance of human rights.

Compliance with legislation in the field of information and personal data protection is monitored by a data protection commissioner, who is appointed by the government for a five-year term.

In the program of the government of S. Marin, adopted in December 2019, the key element of the state of law is a set of legislative norms that ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms. Particular attention is paid to the observance of laws protecting the status of the language and culture of the small indigenous Sami people. In terms of the tasks of maintaining the rule of law, the fight against manifestations of racism and discrimination, including in the field of employment, the gender equality, as well as the implementation of the linguistic rights of citizens in terms of the availability of the proceedings of the state apparatus, police and emergency services are outlined.

To monitor the implementation by the state of its obligations to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the wishes set forth by the Constitutional Committee of the Parliament of Finland in the statement on the government report on human rights in 2014, a system of regularly updated quantitative indicators of progress in various human rights areas is being developed (at the same time, the specific content of these indicators is not disclosed by the Finnish authorities). During the term of the government, it is expected that the project will be financed annually in the amount of 100 thousand euros.

On February 12, 2020, a government group on human rights and fundamental freedoms was formed for the next, third term (until December 31, 2023) to promote human rights activities by improving interdepartmental communication and establishing cooperation within the framework of the activities of the Finnish Cabinet of Ministers. Its permanent membership includes representatives of ministries specializing in human rights issues. The functions of the group also include general monitoring of the implementation of the policy in this area, including the fulfillment by Finland of its respective international legal obligations.

Traditionally, the work of the Finnish authorities to ensure rights and freedoms is satisfactory. At the same time, a number of recent precedents have shown that unresolved problems remain in the field of human rights observance in Finland.

The events of October 3, 2020 were widely covered in the Finnish press, when the police broke up a demonstration of "green" activists, the participants of which blocked the road traffic in Helsinki. The police used pepper gas, more than 50 people were detained (all of them were released on the same day). A wave of condemnation in Finnish society was sparked by footage of the scene, in which police spray an aerosol on protesters sitting on the ground and not offering resistance. The victims also reported severe symptoms of allergic reactions caused by the spray. The police, for their part, pointed out that the demonstrators violated the agreed procedure for holding the event, in particular by blocking traffic, and the use of force was due to the refusal of the protesters to obey the police demands. Against the background of an intensified discussion, during which representatives of left-wing political parties spoke out especially actively, a preliminary investigation was launched into the actions of the police. Having found herself in a difficult situation, the Minister of Internal Affairs M. Ohisalo, representing the "green" party, declared the need for a thorough examination of the case, noting that the use of force should be an extreme measure due to compelling reasons.

Another hot topic is the mass actions of extreme left and extreme right activists, which traditionally take place in Finland on Independence Day on December 6, when citizens are especially active in exercising their right to freedom of demonstration. Events usually take place quite peacefully; the police manage to maintain public order mainly without the use of extreme measures: in 2019, several thousand people took part in demonstrations in Helsinki, while the number of people detained (mainly for disturbing public order) was less than 20.

At the same time, the demonstrations on March 20, 2021 against restrictive measures in connection with the spread of the coronavirus, when about 400 people gathered in the center of Helsinki, the police acted correctly. Despite the fact that some of the organizers violated the rules of public gatherings and many of the participants did not follow the instructions regarding mass gatherings, law enforcement officers did not disperse the audience and detained one person[1016].

At the same time, experts note that, despite the rise in extremist attitudes in Finland in recent years, the police do not have to face organized violence based on political views. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has noted with concern the use of the Nazi swastika in public places in the country in recent years[1017].

Experts point out that a neo-Nazi organization "Northern Resistance Movement"[1018] (Finnish Pohjoismainen vastarintaliike, PVL, NRM; in Finland, its activists operate under the auspices of the group "Forward to Freedom") operates in the country. Among other things, it is noted that, despite the court decision banning its activities, the group continued to organize public rallies and processions at which Nazi symbols were also used, as well as to distribute racist materials. Among other neo-Nazi structures, the organization "Warriors of Odin" is mentioned, which maintains close ties with the Finnish branch of the NRM. Periodically, incidents of a corresponding nature are recorded with the participation of members of the right-wing opposition party "True Finns", which enjoys significant support in Finnish society (according to opinion polls, the structure has a support rating of 17.9%). The leadership of the party "True Finns" itself – at least officially – condemns racism, xenophobia and discrimination in any form, advocating the effective integration of migrants into Finnish society[1019].

Despite the rights of the Sami guaranteed by the Finnish Constitution, experts note systemic shortcomings in their provision. Although experts do not always describe the relationship between the Finnish state and the Sami as "colonization", it is nevertheless recognized that throughout the 20th century, the Finnish government systematically suppressed the Sami language and culture in the process of national formation (although this policy is assessed as milder compared to those in Norway and Sweden). With the adoption of a new Public Education Act in 1947, which made school attendance compulsory for all, boarding schools were built for children, both Finnish and Sami, living in remote rural communities. The Finnish way of life promoted in these schools, aimed at creating "real" Finnish citizens, led to the fragmentation of the identity of the Sami children or contributed to the formation of a sense of being "between" two worlds and the inability to fully integrate into the Sami or dominant Finnish society[1020]. It is noted that the Sami are faced with discrimination in Finland in education and housing, as well as in employment[1021].

The question of the Sami’s ability to use their native language, primarily for receiving medical and social services, is quite acute. The experts also draw attention to the fact that the problem of training a sufficient number of qualified teachers of the Sami languages remains unresolved. The situation with the realization of the Sami’s rights to their traditional lands and traditional sources of livelihood (reindeer husbandry, fishing) is far from being unambiguous.

International human rights monitoring mechanisms, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2017 and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in 2021, have repeatedly expressed concern about the situation of the Sami. In particular, the CESCR, having noted the launch of an online Sami language learning process, pointed out with concern that teaching and learning in the Sami languages is still insufficient, especially outside the indigenous areas. It also noted that the problem of ensuring the opportunity for the Sami to receive services in their native languages, as provided for by the Sami Language Act, has not been resolved. It was also noted that changes in Finnish legislation and ongoing infrastructure and mining projects are actually encroaching upon the lands of indigenous peoples and thus hampering the ability of the Sami to maintain their way of life[1022].

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance also drew attention to the problems of the Sami communities[1023].

In a report for 2020, the international NGO "Freedom House" also notes that representatives of the Sami community stated that it was impossible to implement the rights guaranteed to them in practice. In particular, this is manifested in restrictions on the use of land.

A generally negative attitude towards immigrants from foreign countries persists in Finnish society, which is clearly manifested at the everyday level. Russian-speaking residents of Finland, along with other foreigners, continue to face negative attitudes towards them, including on the basis of language or origin, as evidenced by the results of relevant surveys. The approaches of the Finnish media are also distinguished by a cautious and critical perception of everything connected in one way or another with Russia.

Cases of violations of the rights of migrants, as well as Roma, who face discrimination in such areas as employment, housing and education, are recorded. Representatives of this group, especially women, have been the most affected by the problem of job cuts due to the crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19. Children from migrant families have lower academic performance and also face bullying in schools. Children from Roma families, in addition to the problems noted, also face the fact that they are placed in segregated classes in schools[1024].

At the same time, it should be noted that many experts, as well as monitoring human rights structures, expressed concern about the state of affairs in Finnish schools. Thus, in 2019, the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities pointed out the widespread bullying and increased intolerance not only towards children from refugee and migrant families, but also towards children of Sami and Swedish national minorities.[1025]

Forced seizures of minor children by Finnish social services continue. The contradictions arising on this basis are mainly associated with the peculiarities of the Finnish juvenile justice. The scale of the problem was noted by the CESCR, while expressing concern about the increased incidence of child seizures and the lack of competent social services personnel. In addition, the Committee pointed to the insufficient amount of assistance provided to unaccompanied migrant children. The Committee recommended that the Finnish authorities prioritize efforts to keep children or return them to their families, and ensure that families have access to various forms of parenting support. According to the CESCR, strengthening the capacity of preventive social care services and eliminating the lack of qualified personnel will serve these goals.[1026]

A wide public controversy was caused by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in November 2019, according to which the fact of violation by the Finnish authorities of Art. 2 and 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in relation to an Iraqi citizen who arrived in Finland in September 2019 and applied for asylum was recognized. During the trial, the application was denied and the applicant was forced to return to Iraq in November 2019.

A number of challenges are noted with regard to the empowerment of women. Thus, in particular, experts point out that gender segregation in the labor market persists. The CESCR also noted that although the Finnish social security system provides insurance for caregivers, women still bear the primary responsibility for unpaid care work in the family. The Committee’s experts drew attention to the fact that the reduction in benefits and the freezing of the national pension index in the period 2015-2019 reduced the effect of their payment and most painfully affected those groups of society that were already in a disadvantaged position[1027].

In addition, the problem of violence against women is highlighted, and often this refers to Russian-speaking victims. In 2019, the number of people who called the hotline for victims of violence increased by 25% compared to 2018 and amounted to more than 18 thousand people.

The ECRI pointed out that women in traditional Islamic clothing were attacked in public places. The Commission also noted an increase in the number of attacks on reception centers for migrants and their employees by 30% in 2018[1028].

In September 2019, the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts issued a report on measures to implement the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, in which it pointed out the insufficient level of elaboration of Finnish legislation regarding the definition and delimitation of sexual offenses. In addition, there is a small number of Finnish police personnel (as of September 2, 2019, there were 137 police officers per 100 thousand inhabitants of the country – the lowest figure in Europe), in particular female police officers. There are also remarks about the insufficient elaboration of the training program for police officers in the field of sexual crimes[1029].

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France

France has historically claimed the title of the home country of human rights. The Constitution and the laws of the Fifth Republic reflected the principles enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen back in 1789. To date France is a party to most major universal and regional treaties in this field. Nevertheless, though the real situation in the field of human right is estimated as relatively favourable by many national and international NGOs and human rights organizations, it is characterized by enhancing negative trends.

In particular, the policy of the French Government for combating illegal migration is severely criticized. The situation is particularly difficult in the departments of Maritime Alps and Pas-de-Calais, as well as in Paris.

The Department of Maritime Alps is situated on the border with Italy and is the main route through which the vast majority of refugees and illegal migrants from the Middle East and Africa enter France. In early 2017, observers were sent to the French-Italian border by the NGO Amnesty International, and it was found that the French authorities massively violate the rights of refugees and immigrants when carrying out border control in this part of the border. In particular, refugees are denied the very possibility of exercising their right to asylum. Moreover, the authorities using false pretexts prosecute both administratively and criminally civil society activists who help refugees and immigrants.

In the department of Pas-de-Calais, there was the largest illegal migrant camp (6,500 people) where the conditions of life were unacceptable. 1,600 migrant minors who lived in the camp without relatives or guardians did not receive proper social support from the authorities. On October 24, 2016, the camp was cleared with numerous violations. According to human rights activists, a significant number of migrant minors were left without shelter, food, and medical care during the evacuation. Some human rights NGOs condemn police harassment and abuse of migrants and humanitarian workers observed to date.

In July 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered its judgment in the case N.H. and others v. France, declaring the State guilty of violating the rights of three asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, Russia, and Iran by creating inhuman and degrading conditions for them. The migrants were deprived of due material and financial support and forced to live in the street, without access to sanitary facilities and in constant fear of being attacked or robbed.

Refugees are often deprived of a chance for the resettlement and integration. Under French law, a person who has applied for refugee status to the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons is entitled to free accommodation for three months (the usual time limit for processing applications). In practice, however, applicants for refugee status often join the army of homeless people. They are forced to settle illegally in empty buildings or in illegally established camps.

The NGO Association of Assistance to Persons Having no Documents notes that up to 10,000 people are detained and placed in detention facilities each year at Paris airports (often without the possibility of timely access to lawyers and relatives). The cells are overcrowded and do not meet hygiene requirements and the conditions of detention are degrading to human dignity. According to human rights defenders, the procedure for the repatriation of illegal migrants also remains humiliating.

Human rights activists also point out violations of migrants' rights to family life. The French authorities often refuse to grant visas to their next of kin, thus preventing family reunification. Refugees from conflict zones are sometimes unjustifiably denied the right to asylum, being expelled from the country until all necessary procedures are completed.

80 per cent of migrant children living in squats, emergency housing or temporarily with relatives do not attend school. In the case EUROCEF v. France, the European Committee of Social Rights found that France had violated the right of unaccompanied migrant children to social, legal and economic protection for several reasons: shortcomings in the national shelter assessment and allocation system with regards to unaccompanied migrant children; delays in appointing a special guardian; detention of unaccompanied migrant children in waiting areas and hotels; the use of bone testing to establish the age which is considered inappropriate and unreliable by the Committee; lack of clarity on how unaccompanied migrant children can get access to effective remedies.[1030]

It is noted that social protection services often do not fulfil their obligations to provide such minors with adequate care. In the case EUROCEF v. France, the ECHR declared that the State had violated the article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment, for the authorities had not provided with housing an unaccompanied 15-year-old child evicted from an informal refugee camp in Calais.

France is one of the leaders among UE countries by the number of restrictions on freedom of minor migrants for less than 48 hours prior to their further placement according to the Dublin system. And, though detention of unaccompanied children is not allowed by the law, this measure can be applicable to families with children in extreme cases. In 2019, 276 minors from 113 families were held in conditions of restricted freedom slightly less than two days in mainland France. But most children are being detained in the overseas region of Mayotte – around 3,095 young migrants from 2,241 families in 2019 (for comparing, 1221 children in 2018). Most children come from the nearby Comoro Islands. Most of them are placed together with their families, but sometimes unaccompanied children are arbitrarily associated to accompanying adults. Moreover, according to civil society organizations working in Mayotte, birth certificates attesting that a migrant has not reached majority are sometimes ignored.

It is worth noting that French citizens have been also subjected to such detentions. Thus, on January 6, 2020, the Administrative Court of Mayotte upheld the decision to restrict freedom of a mother with child, though the latter was born in Mayotte and his father was supposedly a French citizen[1031].

Former France's Human Rights Defender Jacques Toubon regularly noted that unaccompanied migrant children in the country constantly face difficulties in exercising their rights to access justice, lawyer, and interpreter. The lack of State care increases the risk that they may be (and often are) subject to human trafficking and all kinds of exploitation, including sexual. What makes the problem worse is that minor victims of trafficking, as well as adults, are considered offenders, not victims, and are treated on the basis thereof. This was pointed out, inter alia, by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.[1032]

The situation surrounding nationals of Chechnya living in France deserves special attention. The number of cases of revoking refugee status from foreigners suspected of radicalization or convicted of disturbing public order with a view to their eventual expulsion to their country of origin increased recently. In 2020 the French Bureau for Refugees and Stateless Persons revoked refugee status from 312 people. Almost a quarter of them are Russians, most are Chechens. It is grossly beyond the similar rate for other ethnic groups. Thus, the Afghans, leading in number among the asylum-seekers in France, have been subjected only to 5 per cent withdrawals.

Human rights community notes that the claims in question often do not present good reasons for revoking refugee status (suspicious posts on social media, contacts with imams suspected of propensity for radical Islam, etc.).

UN human rights treaty bodies, in particular the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[1033], the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[1034], the Committee against Torture[1035] and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women[1036] paid considerable attention to the plight of migrants in France. The experts noted with concern the substandard conditions existing in the reception and accommodation facilities for asylum seekers, poor sanitation and housing conditions in accommodation centres, lack of access to food, clean water, health care, psychological support and legal counselling, and increased risks of violence or exploitation. It was also noted that administrative obstacles which impede access of such persons to social and economic rights reduce the effectiveness of the safeguards put in place as part of the reform of the asylum system.

It is noted that France’s capacities to receive migrants are extremely limited. The great majority of centres for asylum-seekers have already reached their maximum capacity or are overcrowded. In June 2020, around 50 NGOs supporting refugees declared that only a half of those in need received places in reception centres and called upon the authorities to address the lack of resettlement sites[1037].

The French authorities continue abusing counter-terrorism rhetoric to unnecessarily expand the powers and technological capabilities of special services, as well as to limit citizens' personal freedoms. According to the report of the National Intelligence Technology Control Commission, in 2020 around 22,000 people were under surveillance of the security services, more than 8700 of them – on suspicion of being linked with terrorists.

Meanwhile, back in August 2015, information emerged concerning undemocratic and irrelevant mechanisms to create, add to and update the list of persons "representing a threat to the national security of France". It turned out that it includes not only potential or actual terrorists and violators of public order, but also political activists, journalists having alternative positions, organizers of demonstrations. All of them may be subject to information and communications interception or physical surveillance. The procedure for updating the database is bureaucratized. As a result, files on potential terrorists regularly get lost (as in the case of the perpetrators of the January 2015 attacks), while political activists remain in the database almost for life.

Now, the French parliament is considering a bill "On strengthening republican principles" aimed at curbing the spread of Islamist separatism. It introduces measures that seriously infringe on the rights of believers. The document provides, inter alia, strengthening State control over the activities of religious organizations and educational institutions not accredited by the Ministry of Education of France, facilitates procedures for closing places of worship, allows the authorities to close Islamic schools violating republican principles and considerably restricts the possibility of home schooling.

The propositions of the government on "preventing terrorist attacks and collecting information" are also in the process of being legislated; they provide, inter alia, for using artificial intelligence to identify Internet connections of users to extremist sites, as well as exchange of messages with suspicious addressees.

The law "On general security" was adopted in May 2021. It provides for a significant expansion of powers of municipal police, as well as of the list of security officers authorized to get access to security footage, and allows to use drones to ensure public order, locate offenders and save people.

The consideration of this draft law by the National Assembly in early December 2020 coincided with several high-profile scandals concerning police. We are talking about the use of force in breaking up protests and the demolition of migrants’ tent camps, and about beating by law enforcement officials of the dark-skinned producer Michel Zecler while subjecting him to racist insults.

The law On Measures to Strengthen the Fight against Terrorism provides competent agencies with the possibility to increase control over communications, create special information traps and resort to administrative blocking (without a court decision) of websites which are considered extremist by law enforcement officials. The law On Intelligence (Special Services) unprecedentedly expands the powers of the agencies in the field of control over ICT, methods of collecting information and personal data of users (including uncontrolled and mass collection), as well as allow them to set up any kind of surveillance pursuant to an administrative decision.

The Human Rights Committee experts criticized this legal instrument, noting that it allows for surveillance using highly intrusive methods to achieve broad and insufficiently defined objectives, without the prior authorization of a judge and without a proper independent oversight mechanism.[1038]

The law "On strengthening the fight against organized crime, terrorism and their financing, as well as on improving the efficiency of criminal proceedings and the safeguards applied" simplified implementing administrative control and repression measures with respect to jihadists returning from the Middle East, further extended the powers of the law enforcement agencies to conduct administrative searches, and criminalized regular visits to Internet sites that disseminate calls for committing terrorist acts or contain an apology of terrorism.

Human rights defenders note the vague language of the law which, they believe, creates the risk of abuse by the authorities and limits freedom of expression and free access to information.

The law "On strengthening internal security and combating terrorism" adopted in 2017 transferred exceptional measures introduced under the state of emergency regime in November 2015 after terrorist attacks to the sphere of ordinary legislation (with minor changes). Law enforcement agencies on a permanent basis received almost full emergency powers. Almost all terrorism prevention activities have become the prerogative of the executive branch: repressive measures are taken administratively without sanctions by judges.

In late 2018 the NGO Amnesty International published a study on the application by the French authorities to persons who have already served a court-ordered sentence of administrative restrictions on residence and freedom of movement[1039]. Human rights defenders stress that this practice has recently become one of the main tools of the French counter-terrorism agencies. In fact, this is an extrajudicial additional punishment which is constantly being renewed.

On 6 May 2019, the French Government issued a decree allowing the relevant units of the Ministry of the Interior to compare, without a court decision, the files from the police database of persons placed under control to prevent terrorist risks due to signs of their radicalization[1040] and the database of patients of psychiatric clinics and private psychiatrists.

Human rights activists criticize the policy of the Government to increase control over the Internet and various types of telecommunications. Evidence of massive interception of metadata by the French intelligence services without judicial procedure and without the approval of the National Commission on Informatics and Freedoms is constantly emerging. This was pointed out back in 2015 by the Committee on Human Rights.[1041] Mobile telephone operators are forced to informally provide intelligence agencies with unhindered access to the databases and metadata of their clients.

There is a lack of adequate mechanisms to monitor the work of the National Platform of Judicial Interception which enables to receive any information passing through all major digital communications at the national level at any time. The ability of the established six-member monitoring committee (judge, deputy, senator and experts from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Ministry of Culture) to monitor the flow of 5 million requests and 40,000 taps per year (the estimated capacity of the platform) is brought into question.

In this regard, the NGO Reporteurs Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) claimed a violation of press and media freedom and demanded that the confidentiality of journalists' sources of information and their right to work without surveillance be protected and that judges be involved in the procedure of obtaining permissions to establish surveillance.

The malfunctioning justice administration system remains the source of human rights violations. Human right defenders note prejudice against foreigners, unacceptably long processing periods, unfairly severe sentences. Investigations are not impartial. The access of lawyers to accused persons is restricted, as well as to case files, transmitted to the defence by parts and after considerable delay.

The situation in the penitentiary system remains a serious problem. Owing to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, French prisons and detention centres had for years been considered to be almost the worst in Western Europe. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture functioning within the Council of Europe had concluded that "conditions of detention, particularly in national police stations, do not always correspond to the notion of human dignity".[1042]

The Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee expressed their concern in this regard. According to their data, the average prison occupancy rate was 116 per cent in 2014, and higher still in some cities, for example, in Marseilles (147 per cent) and Nimes (219 per cent). Their concluding observations on relevant periodic reports of France note the poor physical conditions of detention, in particular the dilapidated buildings and the lack of proper hygiene and sanitation. Continuing violence among prisoners and ill-treatment of detainees by prison staff were noted. What is more, some prisoners faced obstacles in filing complaints of such violence with the administrative or judicial authorities or with the InspectorGeneral of Places of Deprivation of Liberty. All these factors naturally cause the rise of the already high suicide rate in French prisons.[1043]

Russian citizens have also faced deficiencies in the justice administration and penal correction system. Poor prison conditions, untimely submission of case files to lawyers and their trusties, unreasonably severe measures of restraint and biased approach of the court to the sentence – these are, among others, violations that have been faced by Alexander Vinnik, Ivan Zhirnov, Mikhail Ivkin and Pavel Kosov, as well as Valentin Balakhnichyov and Alexey Melnikov[1044].

The traditional target of criticism of human rights activists is the abuse of authority be French law enforcement officials. In particular, in 2015 the Human Rights Committee noted with concern the ill-treatment, excessive use of force and disproportionate use of non-lethal weapons, especially during arrests, law enforcement operations and forced evictions[1045].

Human rights defenders believe that France frequently violates the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel or Inhuman Treatment or Punishment and note the impunity of French guardians of law. Doubts are roused about the thoroughness of investigations into allegations of violence and abuse of authority by law enforcement officials. In a significant number of cases, there are refusals to initiate criminal proceedings and, where criminal cases do occur, administrative sanctions imposed are often not sufficiently severe or proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.

In 2014, a portal was opened on the website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to report information about police violations. 36 per cent of the total number of cases submitted to court concerned intentional violence not involving the use of weapons, 9 per cent involved theft, 7 per cent involved intentional violence with the use of a weapon, 4 per cent involved disclosure of professional secrets, 4 per cent involved racist or other discriminatory insults, 4 per cent involved falsification of official documents, 3 per cent involved corruption, 3 per cent involved sexual harassment, 2 per cent involved the use of other people's personal data for personal purposes, and 1 per cent involved possession or use of drugs.

As a result of internal investigations and court proceedings, more than 2,070 employees were brought to administrative responsibility (the overwhelming majority (1,917 persons) are officers of the patrol and inspection service). More than half of them got off with a simple warning. Real measures – from temporary suspension to dismissal – were taken against 300 people only.

The impunity of law enforcement officials for excessive use of force is promoted at the legislative level. Thus, complaints about "people in uniform", depending on the structure they belong to, are first examined either by the Inspectorate-General of the National Police or by the Directorate-General of the National Gendarmerie, which delays possible prosecution for many cases of physical violence and connives at ill-treatment.

According to the July 2018 report of the Inspectorate-General of the National Police (Internal affairs department), the use of weapons and means of restraint by French police officers in the performance of their duties has increased. In 2017, the use of service pistols rose by 54 per cent as compared to 2016, the use of Taser stun guns – by 20 per cent, and the use of shock shotguns – by 46 per cent.

The French Ministry of the Interior claims that the reason behind this is the increasing refusal of citizens to obey the demands of law enforcement officers and the increasing number of active (assault) or passive (refusal to obey) resistance to patrol officers and especially to gendarmes.

The issue of freedom of peaceful assembly is becoming more and more pressing. Under the state of emergency, since July 2016 the French authorities have been able to ban demonstrations on the pretext that they are unable to guarantee security because of the high level of terrorist threat. Dozens of actions were banned and attempts to hold such events without permission (in particular as part of the protests against labour reform) were violently suppressed by police using disproportionate force, rubber bullet guns, tear gas and stun grenades. This resulted in a large number of injured among participants, some of them severely. By an administrative procedure, restrictions on the freedom of movement that had been originally introduced as part of the state of emergency regime to counter the terrorist threat were imposed on many activists.

According to various estimates, during the “yellow vests” protests in 2018-2019 more than 14,000 rubber bullets have been fired at the manifestants, around 2500 people got injured by the police. More than 12,000 people were detained. 10,000 of them provisionally imprisoned. About 2000 guilty verdicts were brought in, 40 per cent of them provide for prison terms. Meanwhile more than 300 investigations were opened against law enforcement officials on suspicion of violence. For their part, human rights defenders point out that changes promised by the law enforcement officials in their methods of riot control are invisible in practice.

According to the Council of Europe report on press freedom published in April 2020, France is in the top ten member States for acts of violence or aggression against journalists during manifestations. In this regard, criticism towards Paris is also expressed by the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights and a number of UN agencies. According to professional journalists’ organizations in France, around 200 cases of various discriminatory acts against journalists were observed in 2019 in the country, in particular, physical injuries (including arms and ribs fractures, face damage), intimidation, prohibitions to exercise their profession from police, gendarmes, and judges.

On April 10, 2019, Act No. 2009-290 On Strengthening and Ensuring Public Order during Demonstrations (the so-called "law against rioters") was adopted. Among other things, it changed the degree of severity (with a corresponding increase in the penalty) of the offence of consciously and voluntarily concealing a person's face during demonstrations. Previously, this had been considered a minor administrative violation, and in order to bring a person to responsibility the prosecution had to prove that the person who covered his/her face did so to avoid identification during his/her participation in the riots. With the new law, concealing a person's face became a serious criminal offence. The police were given the right to detain such offenders and place them under arrest. Detainees now have to prove that they had good reasons to hide their faces.

Such concept directly contradicts the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence and actually links the fact of the alleged violation with random circumstances beyond the control of the participants of the demonstration (use of tear gas, the need to protect the head in case of disturbances provoked by other persons, etc.)

The freedom of assembly became even more restricted because of the coronavirus pandemic that broke out in early 2020. In November 2020, protests in major cities of France – Paris, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Nantes, Rennes – organized by representatives of local Catholic communities claiming authorization to hold church services were dispersed by police, and in some cases the manifestants were fined for non-respecting the self-isolation regime in force in France. During the quarantine period, forceful dispersals of “anti-COVID” demonstrations were regular, with indiscriminate and disproportionate use of non-lethals.

The French State Council held that the ban on demonstrations with more than 10 participants is disproportionate and represents a serious violation of human rights[1046].

Restrictions of fundamental rights during the pandemic raised the concern of Commissioner for Human Rights in France Claire Edon. After the renewal of the state of health emergency in the country on October 17, 2020, she published an article calling for improving mechanisms of democratic and judicial control over the sphere of application and the impact of emergency measure[1047].

Until 2018, there had been no official statistics on police killings in France. This topic is periodically raised by various NGOs. Aggregated information shows an uneven increase in the number of such killings since the early 1990s.

In 40 per cent of cases, there is no information on the legal consequences of deaths resulting from the actions of law enforcement officers, in 20 per cent of cases – the investigation is terminated for lack of corpus delicti, in 10 per cent – the court acquits law enforcement officers; in 25 per cent of cases a conditional sentence is imposed, and only in 5 per cent of cases verdicts with real terms of imprisonment are pronounced.

Studies show that the standard portrait of the victim is a 25–30-year-old person of African descent or an Arab from a poor suburb. Typical circumstances of the killing include attempted resistance to arrest or pretrial detention. The most common cause of death is gunshot wounds. It is noted that police officers, even in the absence of a direct threat to themselves or to third parties, hit not the parts of the body in which it is recommended to shoot in order to neutralize the criminal while keeping him/her alive. Often the cause of death is a heart attack or asphyxiation due to the use of special techniques for detention and/or restraint (such as "bending" or "mechanical asphyxiation" that are prohibited in many countries) recognized by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in 2002 as cruel, including due to the high risk of death.

Mistreatment by law enforcement officials of migrants, as well as of French nationals of a non-European phenotype is quite common. They are often subjected to identity checks on spurious pretexts, while the real reason is the race or ethnicity of the person checked.[1048]

According to the Commissioner for Human Rights in France, instructions and notifications addressed to police officers in 2012 – January 2018 even contained dispositions clearly promoting the practice of ethnic profiling. In particular, law enforcement officials were required to identify “dark-skinned and North African groups” and “systematically dislodge homeless and Roma people”.[1049]

Repeated incidents of violence and excessive use of force by police during forced closures of camps, as well as against Roma, were also reported by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee against Torture.[1050]

It should be noted that this is a part of a general increasing trend towards the rise of xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism observed by human rights organizations. According to the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, the level of tolerance in French society has generally been declining since 2010.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture pointed to the increase in racist, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic manifestations, including violent ones, in France, expressing concern that this could lead to the rise of feeling of rejection in some communities.[1051]

In 2020, 11,300 offences committed on ethnic, national, racial, or religious grounds have been recorded, where 5500 are crimes of various gravity. Most of these offences are reported in Paris and in the metropolitan region of Ile-de-France.

The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights notes in its 2018 report that there is a deliberate underreporting of racist attacks in France. Surveys indicate that approximately 1.1 million French citizens have faced threats, violence, or discrimination on national or religious grounds. However, only 6,000 criminal cases were opened in 2017.[1052]

NGOs specializing in monitoring anti-Semitism have noted a sinusoidal dynamic. According to the statistics gathered by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, 389 anti-Semitic manifestations were recorded in 2011, 614 in 2012, 423 in 2013, 851 in 2014, and 808 in 2015. This is quite a lot considering that Jews make up less than 1per cent of the country's population. In 2016, there was a decline in anti-Semitic sentiment – 335 anti-Semitic actions were recorded. In 2017 the decrease continued, although at a slower pace – 311 actions. However, in 2018 there was a new surge of antisemitism: 541 anti-Semitic acts were registered – 74 per cent more than in 2017.

According to the Jewish Community Protection Service in France, in 2020 the number of anti-Semitic incidents decreased by 50 per cent compared to 2019 (339 incidents recorded in comparison to 687 in 2019), but the number of physical attacks on anti-Semitic grounds had hardly changed.

Thus, France holds the leading positions among the EU Member States in terms of the number of anti-Semitic actions. However, in the vast majority of cases, anti-Semitism does not originate from neo-Nazis or the extreme right but come from the Muslim part of the population – the Palestinian diaspora and, more recently, from radical youth belonging to other ethnic groups.

As experts note, the government has not yet managed to stop the spread of Islamist ideas, and the authorities, guided by domestic political considerations, try to show these facts up not as a manifestation of Muslims' dislike of Jews, but as a more global problem of anti-Semitism, thus shifting the emphasis to the need to combat the right-wing conservative movements.

Neo-Nazi manifestations of anti-Semitism in France tend to cause negative social and political reaction. Recent high-profile cases include the desecration with swastika of 96 graves in a Jewish cemetery in Lower Rhine department in February 2019; the demolition and swastika desecration of a stele on the site of a synagogue destroyed by the Nazis; and the swastika poster at the entrance to a kindergarten in Strasbourg.

Meanwhile, the number of hostile actions against Muslims began to decrease after the surge of Islamophobic sentiment against the background of the terrorist attacks in 2015. According to the NGO The Collective Against Islamophobia, Muslim women are most often the targets of aggression, although there are also cases of desecration of cemeteries, cultural centres and mosques, abuse of the Koran, etc.

At the same time, in recent years Islamist radicalism whose ideology is very far from human rights standards, improves its positions in the suburbs of many French cities where migrant families from Muslim countries are concentrated. Local Muslims practise forced marriages, disinheritance of women, polygamy, etc. That said, the possibilities of the authorities to intervene are quite limited.

Discrimination and stigmatization of the Roma is widespread. Racist discourse is often used against this category of population, including by elected politicians, calling for their exclusion from society. The authorities forcibly close informal settlements inhabited by the Roma, often with the excessive use of force by the police. The low level of school enrolment among Roma children and cases of refusal by some municipalities to enrol Roma children in schools under the pretext of the state of emergency are noted. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee against Torture, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted with concern the many problems faced by Roma communities in France.[1053]

There are also manifestations of racism against the title ethnos in France. However, the State is trying in every way to distance itself from the European population's calls to protect it from "black racism".

Cases of violence, humiliation of human dignity on the grounds of racial, ethnic, and religious hatred, and desecration of Christian places of worship are generally ignored or considered ordinary offences by the French authorities. Many human rights organizations, including the NGO SOS Racisme, do not monitor racial crimes against white people at all.

The data on the manifestations of Christianophobia vary greatly. According to the Observatory of Christianophobia, 186 actions were registered in 2014, 273 in 2015, 377 in 2016, and starting from 2017 there has been a significant decrease – 255 actions, and 250 in 2018.

However, according to the official data (in 2019 the Ministry of Internal Affairs provided statistics on this issue for the first time) there were 1063 acts of Christianophobia registered in 2018 and 1052 in 2019.[1054] By the end of 2020 the Ministry had not provided disaggregated data concerning racist offences.[1055]

In 2020, the French Ministry of Internal Affairs created a national anti-hate office for coordinating prevention, data collection and investigation of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, or anti-Christian incidents.[1056]

Human rights activists note that French legislation to combat various types of discrimination does not fully comply with international standards and has certain gaps. These include protection mechanisms against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, religion, or belief in areas such as education, access to goods and services, health care and social protection.

According to experts, French legislation prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols in public places (including the hijab) violates the right to freedom of conscience and religion.

Regarding labour market, the notion of discrimination is not clearly defined in the legislation. Different treatment of people in employment and professional activity depending on their religion or belief is not considered discrimination if it is based on "important requirements related to the nature of the work." Employers, at times abusing the principle of secularism, impose restrictions not provided for in the legislation on the wearing of religious and ethnic symbols and clothing. The fact that there exist numerous cases of discrimination in France in the world of work, including in the public service, was noted by the Human Rights Committee.[1057]

The NGO SOS Racisme undertook a so-called discrimination test in France. The organization’s staff responded to 775 rental offers in Ile-de-France using fictional personal data. The research showed that persons of North African origins and those from French overseas territories or African countries have respectively 37 and 40 per cent less chances to get housing than a person of “traditional French origin”.

It is noted that French real estate agencies have a discriminatory attitude towards their clients of North African origin. In 2019, the ombudsperson conducted a research of the impact of his campaign to raise awareness on this issue. According to its results, the ombudsperson’s activity allowed to reduce the risk of discrimination while accessing housing.[1058]

The situation is aggravated by the tightening of counter-terrorism legislation. In 2016, a law was adopted according to which transport enterprises can request competent authorities to carry out administrative inspections (without the sanction of judicial authorities) with respect to their employees. Enterprises have the right to dismiss "Islamists" (even non-aggressive ones) identified based on the inspection results (that is, this legally establishes a new ground for dismissing an employee). In February 2019, an amendment to this law was adopted already obliging enterprises to dismiss employees identified in such a way or transfer them to other places of work to reduce the risk. A dismissed or reassigned employee has the right to file an application with the court or the Council of State within five days to challenge the decision. According to human rights activists, the new law opens the door to confessional discrimination.

Human rights organizations also note that French laws do not criminalize hatred against certain vulnerable categories (persons with disabilities, immigrants, the least wealthy).

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted with concern the increasing dissemination of hate speech in certain political circles and a number of mass media, which contributes to making racism and xenophobia against foreigners and members of minorities common among the French population. The Committee particularly emphasized that racism was widespread on the Internet despite the measures taken by the State to prevent and punish it, in particular the creation of the PHAROS platform to collect, analyse and process reports of such content.

Furthermore, CERD criticized the existence of ghettos in France, noting with concern that the concentration of certain groups of people of foreign origin or migrants in certain zones may lead to racial segregation, as these groups face discrimination when attempting to find employment, obtain housing, participate in cultural events, seek medical attention, and enter schools.[1059]

There is also a discriminatory attitude towards Russian journalists working in France. During the 2017 presidential election campaign reporters of the Russian media, namely Sputnik France and RT, were not accredited to Emmanuel Macron's campaign headquarters. After his election as President, the French Foreign Ministry did not extend their accreditation despite their compliance with all necessary formalities. The Elysees Palace and the French Foreign Ministry regularly refuse to allow representatives of the two agencies to be accredited for their events. The editorial staff of Sputnik France is disconnected from the newsletters of state authorities. In addition, cases of unduly delayed inspections of Russian journalists by police and border authorities during trips within the EU have recently become more frequent. Journalists from RIA Novosti are particularly often subjected to such checks.

Issues related to family and gender are one of the priorities around human rights protection in France. Since 2012, the country's policy has been aimed at actively promoting LGBT rights in all spheres of public life. This causes rejection in part of the French society, which sometimes results in protests. In 2013, after the adoption of the law on same-sex marriage, the SOSHomophobia Association recorded 3,517 such actions. In the following years, their number started to decrease: 2,197 in 2014, 1,318 in 2015, but then it started to increase again: 1,575 in 2016, 1,650 in 2017, 1,905 in 2018, and 1,899 in 2019.

Meanwhile, the French Constitutional Council denied mayors who opposed the law the right to use the freedom of conscience clause in delegating the registration of same-sex marriages to their deputies. According to several experts, this constitutes a violation of the civil rights enshrined in the Constitution and article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The situation regarding the protection of children's rights in France is ambiguous. There are serious excesses and double standards in law enforcement practice around juvenile justice. However, these issues have so far been ignored by human rights activists.

On the one hand, the French social control bodies that monitor children's rights in the family are known for their almost absurd severity. Given the vague wording used in the legislation, parents can be deprived of parental rights even in case of minor violations. Thus, parents are often deprived of their rights because of their "suffocating love" for their children – this notion can theoretically include almost any action of parents.

On the other hand, the same social control authorities do not care about beggars who sit all day on the street with young children. These children grow up in unsanitary conditions, often engage in petty theft and prostitution at the instigation of adults, and do not receive compulsory education.

The French school and pre-school sex education deserves special attention as it has in fact become a tool to promote the interests of the LGBT community. In 2015, as an experiment allegedly aimed at preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation, the teaching of 'gender theory' was introduced into the educational curriculum of several hundred schools and kindergartens. In practice, however, it appears that relevant neo-liberal attitudes and concepts are being actively promoted among children aged 3-4 years (in particular through fairy tales).

It was attempted to introduce teaching 'gender theory' in all kindergartens and schools at the national level. However, the initiative met resistance from society. Its implementation was suspended (although not completely abandoned). But some consequences remain. For example, at the interview when enrolling a child in kindergarten, the second question after "What is your name?" is "Who are you, a boy, a girl or you do not know yet?". The answers are logged so that teachers can then treat the child in accordance with the child's self-perception.

Another systematic violation of children's rights that does not appear in the reports of Western human rights NGOs is also related to lobbying for the rights and interests of LGBT individuals in family relations. Under François Hollande, same-sex marriages were legalized, and such unions gained the right to adopt children.

Emmanuel Macron's Administration decided to move beyond, and in 2017 included in the draft law "On Combating Sexual and Sexist Violence" a provision fixing the minimum age of minors at which sexual intercourse with them with their consent is not considered defilement or rape and suggested that such minimum age of consent should be set at 15. The High Council on Equality between Women and Men found it acceptable to lower it to 13 years. The draft law sparked strong public outcry. Many independent observers noted that it was actually the legalization of paedophilia. The French Parliament under the pressure of public opinion removed the minimum age provision when adopting the law.

In France, sexual intercourse with a minor is currently criminalized only if it can be proved that violence, threat, coercion, or deception took place. In law enforcement practice, it is not uncommon for persons who have had sexual intercourse with minors to be acquitted. For example, in October 2017, the Jury of the Department of Seine-et-Marne acquitted a 30-year-old French citizen who had sexual intercourse with an 11-year-old girl.

The lack of resources allocated to the realization of State measures against domestic violence announced in 2019 is also condemned. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the number of such cases increased by more than 45 per cent during the pandemic. In July 2020 the National Assembly adopted a law that, on the one hand, increases penalties for perpetrators of acts having led to the suicide or attempt of suicide of the victim, on the other hand, allows doctors to violate doctor-patient confidentiality when they consider that the victim’s life is in imminent danger.

Human rights organizations draw attention to the French authorities' lack of sensitivity to persons with disabilities, especially in the 16-18 age group. They are not sufficiently socially integrated, which is why many of them prefer to move to Belgium when they reach adulthood where the living conditions for disabled people are better. In France, more than 20,000 children with developmental disabilities are not provided with adequate educational opportunities.

The coronavirus pandemic had a grave impact on the respect of the economic, social, and cultural rights. According to the NGO Secours populaire (Popular help), one person out of three lost their income after the first quarantine, and millions of people faced poverty. In 2020, unemployment rate returned to around 9 per cent. The transition of activity of most citizens to remote mode due to the quarantine also led to infringement of their social and economic rights, in particular of their right to work, education, highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The pandemic has also led to an increase in homelessness. According to the study of the French office of UNICEF together with the organization “Federation of Solidarity Actors”, 93 per cent families in Paris having called the hotline with a request to grant them accommodation promptly did not obtain what they needed. On the rest of the French territory 44 per cent of request examined ended with refusals.

Migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees have been the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 threat, in particular those exposed to the risk of poverty and social exclusion. Commissioner for Human Rights in France Claire Edon after her visit in Calais in September 2020 described the migrants’ living conditions as “inhuman or degrading” and stressed that access to food, water and hygiene is difficult in such circumstances. The ombudsperson noted that migrants in Calais don’t have enough masks, and social distance and regular handwashing with soap are virtually impossible to ensure.[1060]

The human rights situation in France's overseas territories raises many questions. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has noted that the legal regime for the use of the ancestral lands held and used by indigenous peoples’ communities since time immemorial does not allow them to lead their traditional way of life. These groups are unable to fully enjoy their right to housing and encounter obstacles in exercising their freedom of movement. There are numerous difficulties as regards access to education, health care and public services, in particular regarding civil status and justice.[1061]

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed its concern at the high level of unemployment in France's overseas territories, in particular Réunion, French Guyana and Mayotte.[1062]

In New Caledonia, land ownership issues relating to the Kanak population have not been resolved.  This community faces difficulties in the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights and is underrepresented in administrative bodies. There are difficulties in gaining access to education in local languages and to Kanak culture for the children of the community. [1063]

A large proportion of the indigenous and tribal population of French Guyana and half of the population of Mayotte lack birth certificates and identity papers, which prevents them from using basic services, including education and health care. That is largely due to the fact that article 55 of the French Civil Code provides for a very short deadline for birth registration, failing which a judicial procedure must be conducted before a court, which may take up to 18 months, leaving children with no legal proof of existence. The difficulty of indigenous peoples' access to health services accounts for high maternal mortality rates in Mayotte and French Guyana.

Dissatisfaction also persists concerning the realization of the right to education. According to Minister of national education Jean-Michel Blanquer, the dropout rate of children from schools oscillates between 15 and 25 per cent in the overseas departments, while in metropolitan France this rate is at 4 per cent.

The overseas departments of France encounter problems related to the negative impact of adverse environmental conditions on people's lives. For example, mercury poisoning of water and grounds because of mining and illegal mining activities in French Guyana has a negative impact on the health of the local population, especially women and girls. In French Polynesia, the authorities take no actions to address the negative impact of French nuclear tests on the health of the local population.[1064]

International monitoring mechanisms regularly noted the deterioration of the situation in the fight against terrorism, the abuse of power by law enforcement officials, the strengthening of the State's control over society, discrimination against various ethnic minorities, as well as problems in the areas of migration (including intra-EU Roma issues) and asylum, and the prison system. In 2016, the Committee having considered the latest periodic report of France noted that the French Government was not listening to the recommendations and was not committed to a constructive dialogue on those issues, but rather introduced reforms that only further exacerbated the human rights situation in the above-mentioned areas.[1065]

Such an attitude towards the recommendations of international human rights monitoring mechanisms shows that Paris does not intend to soften its approach. On several issues, losing cases at the ECtHR is more convenient for France than attempting to change the situation.

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Georgia

The human rights community is still concerned over the promotion and protection of human rights in Georgia. Human rights activists indicate a lack of progress in addressing such issues as regular cases of violation of the rights to freedom of peaceful assemblies and association, freedom of expression as well as the excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies. 

According to the international NGO Human Rights Watch, unemployment and poverty continued to rise in 2020 in the country, which was largely facilitated by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, it is noted that the authorities have repeatedly used this pretext to control the population. Under the pretext of combating the pandemic, parliament gave the government the right to restrict property, economic and labour rights, without declaring a state of emergency. According to Georgian human rights activists, giving the government such a wide range of powers without parliamentary control runs counter the country's constitution.

Concerns remain about the violent actions by Georgian law enforcement agencies, and the issue of police impunity is quite acute. These problems were pointed out by the Human Rights Committee in 2014. By August 2020, the State Inspector Service (established in November 2019) received more than 1,300 complaints of abuse of powers by the police, cases of inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees, as well as other offenses committed by law enforcers. Human rights activists note that only 168 cases were investigated[223].

Popular Defender of Georgia Nino Lomdzharia criticized the actions by law enforcement agencies. In particular, she stressed the disproportionate use of force against participants of June protests, which escalated into anti-government ones, rallies outside the parliament building in November and protests in April in the Pankisi Gorge against the start of construction of a hydroelectric power station[224]. Besides, she noted that in case of the planned power station, the authorities failed to provide enough clarification to locals. Also, not all resources would be exhausted to prevent an escalation of the situation and to resolve the existing challenges peacefully[225].

The present legal system in Georgia is of concern to the human rights community. According to experts, despite some improvements, the jury system leaves no possibility to appeal convictions on the merits of the issues at stake. They also point out to the insufficient legal guarantees to protect the accused within the current pre-trial agreements system, including in relation to abuse and coercion to enter into pre-trial agreements; the low transparency of negotiations of an out-of-court agreement between the accused and the prosecutor and the limited role of the judge and lawyers in this process. This issue was emphasized by the Human Rights Committee in July 2014[226].

The OSCE ODIHR in its September 2019 report on the new procedure of appointment of judges to the Supreme Court of Georgia noted a lack of transparency in certain criteria of that process. It emphasized in particular the lack of clear criteria of compiling the "short lists" of would-be judges and parameters of their ranking and appointment, untransparent mechanism of personal clearance of nominees, as well as different approaches to candidates during the interview, which indeed results in interviews substantially different by duration and content. Another substantial shortcoming is the impossibility to appeal the final decision before the list for approval is presented. In ODIHR opinion, the above aspects seriously undermine the possibility of a legal remedy for candidates who did not pass the selection. The Popular Defender of Georgia also stressed the shortcomings in this procedure[227].

The shortcomings of the judicial system as a whole are also noted. In particular, human rights defenders pay attention to the lengthy terms of consideration of cases. Indicative in this respect is the statistics provided by the Popular Defender of Georgia on the consideration of cases at the stage of appeal and cassation. So, in 2019, out of 1949 cases pending before the Tbilisi Court of Appeal, 481 cases were postponed. Of the 952 appeals filed with the Kutaisi Court of Appeal, 152 were postponed. Out of the 502 cases sent to the Supreme Court of Georgia Criminal Collegium, 26 were completed in violation of the deadlines[228].

The situation remains alarming in the penitentiary system. In January 2020, a report of the Popular Defender of Georgia was published on the inspection by her coworkers of Georgia’s four largest prisons in 2019. In her report, Nino Lomdzharia emphasized the presence of criminal subcultures in prisons noting that feelings of alienation, oppression and coercion of prisoners to contribute to general funds ("common fund") were the main problem in prisons. Cruel treatment of prisoners remains a serious problem, including the frequent placement of prisoners in solitary confinement cells[229]. In addition to the above problems, the Georgian Ombudsman regularly pointed out to such shortcomings of the penitentiary system as inadequate conditions of detention, inadequate medical care and the lack of educational and correctional work with prisoners for their socialization after release[230].

Experts note that once it was the "prison scandal" with the tortures in Georgian prisons and the cruel treatment of prisoners that played a decisive role in the electoral defeat of M. Saakashvili's party, the United National Movement. After the Georgian Dream came to power, a large-scale amnesty was announced in the country, and the number of prisoners was halved. However, the situation in places of detention remains a resonant topic[231].

Problems in the area of media freedom are registered, as the Georgian authorities are making attempts to control journalistic activities. Popular Defender of Georgia N.Lomdzharia in her 2019 report expressed concern about the situation around the Rustavi 2 TV channel, which was closed due to disputes over its ownership, and some employees filed a complaint about violation of their right to work[232]. The "Human Rights Watch" cites the situations with the Public Broadcaster of Adzharia TV channel whose employees protested against the attempts of the new management to introduce censorship of channel's editorial policy (it is noted that the ruling party has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the previous management team), as well as with Mtavari Arkhi TV channel, in respect of which the State Security Service launched an investigation of allegedly deliberately distorted words of the interviewed persons when filming a story about the spread of coronavirus in the Kvemo Kartli region, as the most resonant examples[233]. The Popular Defender of Georgia also drew her attention to the situation around these TV channels, pointing out that the initiated criminal cases are associated with the managers of these media.

The unsatisfactory situation in Georgian schools, in particular, the observance of sanitary and hygienic standards, came to the public attention. In 2018, experts from the office of the Popular Defender of Georgia checked how safe drinking water was and how sanitary and hygienic norms were observed in country’s public schools. The researchers interviewed students and teachers and revealed that the toilets and drinking facilities in schools were faulty, and in some cases poor sanitary conditions were registered. Moreover, 18 schools have no drinking water at all. Also, in many schools, water is only available in the courtyard[234].

International and Georgian human rights NGOs, as well as the Popular Defender of Georgia, regularly express concern about the isolation of small ethnic groups and their alienation from the Georgian "majority". Extremely low remains the representation of members of the most numerous Azerbaijani and Armenian communities in the public and political life of the country, which hampers them to fully integrate into Georgian society. The ban on the establishment of political parties on a territorial basis established by Article 23.3 of the Constitution of Georgia is an obstacle to their participation in public affairs. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has repeatedly issued negative opinions in relation to this constitutional provision.

The lack of knowledge of the state Georgian language is still the main problem of national minorities. After the Rose Revolution, the Georgian authorities introduced a number of laws restricting the use of minority languages and obliging non-indigenous ethnic groups to communicate with government officials in Georgian. Thus, knowledge of the language is mandatory for employment in government bodies, passing a uniform exam in schools, and obtaining licenses for professional activities.

Human rights activists note that the authorities are not creating the necessary conditions for learning the Georgian language. The situation of minorities is aggravated by the lack of effective mechanisms for their legal protection in Georgia. The Popular Defender of Georgia also noted the problems of national minorities, while emphasizing the insufficient measures taken by local authorities in this area, the lack of educational resources, quality textbooks and inadequate specialized retraining of teachers. On the whole, the Georgian Ombudsman admitted that, despite the existing programs for studying the state language, the number of people who know and use it is still small[235].

When ratifying the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities in 2005, Georgia made a number of reservations, according to which the state's obligation to provide ethnic communities with the opportunity to learn the Georgian language was reaffirmed, but the authorities' obligations to preserve the native languages of national minorities were not recognized.

Due to the fact that the participation of national minorities remains low in the political life of Georgia, members of ethnic diasporas express their desire for greater independence in order to independently make decisions in the field of education and culture, to have leverage over country's policy. This issue was highlighted by the CERD in May 2016[236] and the Human Rights Committee in July 2014[237].

Thus, for example, the Armenian community has been raising the issue of autonomy for Samtskhe-Dzhavakheti for a long time, and the Azerbaijanis from Kvemo-Kartli are demanding wide representation in local government bodies, where all main posts are occupied by Georgians. These calls are not supported by the Georgian leaders who regard them as an expression of separatist sentiments. I

Moreover, attacks on the Armenian Apostolic Church have become more frequent in the Georgian media. Since the Law on Free Registration of Religious Denominations was adopted in Georgia in 2011, there have been numerous cases of vandalism against Armenian churches.

The European Parliament and the European Union have repeatedly expressed concern over the situation of national minorities in Georgia. Their resolutions conclude that the protection of non-indigenous ethnic groups remains weak, and since the 1990s, minorities have been subjected to persecution, discrimination, and extortion from the country.

The Consultative Committee of the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities pointed out that national minorities’ participation remained limited in the political, cultural and social life of the country. The AC FCNM also noted that the Georgian society continues to distrust minorities in the context of state security and national development. Therefore, the issues related to the implementation of the rights of language and religious minorities are quite often politicized[238] .

According to the research conducted in 2018 under the auspices of the CC FCPNM 36 per cent of Georgian citizens have a negative attitude to ethnic diversity and 46 per cent – to religious diversity. According to the respondents this diversity "threatens the culture and traditions" (47 per cent), weakens the national unity (17 per cent) and compromises the security of the country (13 per cent). 43 per cent of the respondents believe that the persons belonging to national minorities have no right to publicly express their protest and 39 per cent believe that these persons have no right to be elected, 36 per cent believe that they have no right to participate in decision making on important state issues and 25 per cent believe that they do not have the right of vote[239].

The popular negative perception of national minorities leads to unsatisfactory practical results. The international monitoring mechanisms have repeatedly pointed out to the cases of physical assault against ethnic and religious minorities, xenophobic and discriminatory statements by government officials and representatives of political parties, hatred expressions in the media and Internet and the lack of completed investigations and court prosecution against persons who committed such acts. In particular the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination paid attention to this in May 2016[240], as well as the AC FCNM.

It is regrettable that such a practice is not prevented by the authorities, no systematic measures to prohibit the language of hatred are taken, the xenophobic statements by the politicians are not immediately and unequivocally condemned and on the contrary the discriminatory manifestations are getting stronger with the acquiescence and even the consent of the authorities. Artificial stirring up anti-Russian sentiments in Georgia, and undisguised manipulation of public awareness of the Georgian people for political purposes when the radicals assaulted Russian journalists in June 2019, can serve a vivid example of such manifestations.

There are no signs of improvement in either the situation of the Gypsy community living in an unstable social and economic environment in Georgia, or the problem of Meskhetian Turks repatriation, as Tbilisi fails to comply with its obligations in this area. The international monitoring mechanisms note that during their repatriation to Georgia the Meskhetian Turks face multiple difficulties from a number of limitations and bureaucratic conditions related to the filing of applications (including the requirement to present the archive confirmation of the fact of deportation while most of the archive documents on deportation are kept in Georgia) to a lack of programs of integration of the Meskhetians both from the viewpoint of finance and public outreach. The Monitoring bodies of the Council of Europe (Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance) assessed as insufficient the preparation to the resettlement of the Meskhetian Turks and their integration in the society and in this connection recommended to the Georgian authorities to adopt comprehensive measures both at local and national level regarding the returnees and the hosting population. The experts noted that the Georgian population is still hostile to the Meskhetian Turks. CERD also expressed concerns over the situation of that community[241]. Meanwhile, according to the information of a number of civil society organizations, the Georgian authorities still take no measures to address this issue.

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Federal Republic of Germany

The protection and universal development of human rights is proclaimed one of the central objectives of Germany’s domestic and foreign policy and a criterion for its shaping. Modern human rights standards of the UN and the Council of Europe are generally incorporated into German law. Provisions on human and civil rights and freedoms are contained in the Basic Law (Constitution) as well as in key legislation governing the foundations of German public order. The German Institute for Human Rights (GIHR), established in 2001, operates in Germany as a national institution for the promotion and protection of human rights and is an "A" status member of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.

Yet both the legislation and the law enforcement practice in Germany are able to respond very rigorously to challenges to the foundations of German law and order, if necessary. The German intelligence services possess sufficient powers to intervene with privacy of citizens under the pretext of ensuring national security.

At the same time, human rights issues are actively used by the German authorities as a useful lever for external, often very selective pressure on foreign partners who are unwelcome for various reasons. Official Berlin itself continues to be insensitive to criticism. Human rights violations in Germany itself are rarely and not systematically discussed on the local media scene. Criticism is broadcast mainly by human rights NGOs or specialized mechanisms.

The German National Agency for the Prevention of Torture (NAPP) in its 2019 report criticized the practice of coercive measures in a number of German psychiatric clinics, calling them incompatible with human dignity. This means, in particular, the long-term placement of severe patients in solitary wards with a lack of daylight, furniture (patients have to sit on the floor and eat there) and the absence of any activities in their free time. The practice of fixing (chaining to beds, benches, etc.) violent psychiatric patients, as well as those detained in the customs offices, also raises claims of human rights defenders. The agency noted the lack of readiness of a number of German ministries and departments to cooperate, as well as, in some cases, obstruction of the NAPP mandate implementation in the course of monitoring the activities to deport migrants from Germany[1066].

Expansion of powers of law enforcement agencies is noted. So, in the report for 2019, the German section of the NGO "Amnesty International" indicates that in 2018-2019, most of the federal states of the Federal Republic of Germany adopted new versions of the laws on the police, which gave it additional powers. This refers, in particular, to preventive measures against "persons posing a threat to security" applied including in the absence of specific information about the commission of crimes by such persons: electronic surveillance (including the use of "spyware"), the restriction of freedom to choose a place of residence, the possibility of placing such persons in "preventive" detention. At the same time, the criteria for assigning a person to this category are not clearly formed and the solution to the issue, in fact, remains at the discretion of the police[1067].

Criticism of human rights defenders is caused by the absence in Germany, both at the federal and at the state level, of independent mechanisms for investigating complaints from citizens about cases of illegal actions by the police. In 6 out of 16 federal states, the law still does not provide for the wearing of identification marks by police officers. Human rights activists also point to the expansion of video surveillance in public places in Germany, including the introduction of facial recognition software (Baden-Württemberg and Saxony are cited as examples)[1068].

At the same time, attempts are being made to bring the German normative legal acts in this area in line with the constitution. On May 19, 2020, the Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) adopted a decision according to which the powers of the Federal Intelligence Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (BND) on mass ("strategic") tracking of foreign communications on the Internet, enshrined in the Law on BND, in their current form contradict the basic law of the country, violating the right to privacy of personal correspondence and the principle of media freedom enshrined in it. The court demanded the introduction of a number of additional restrictions on this practice in order to comply with the principle of proportionality. The corresponding changes to the law must be made by the end of 2021. Before their adoption, however, the provisions criticized by the FCC remain in force[1069].

There are a number of problems in the area of ensuring media freedom and independence. The noted continuing decline in media diversity in Germany and the reduction in the number of independent editorial teams that stop working due to financial problems or are absorbed by large media groups seem to be important. The problem of violence against media workers also persists. Thus, according to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, 13 acts of violence against journalists were recorded in Germany in 2019 (22 in 2018), as well as many cases of verbal attacks and threats addressed to media representatives, including on the Internet, the perpetrators of which often go unpunished. A number of cases of obstruction of the press work by the police during mass events were noted[1070]. A continuing decline in the diversity of media in Germany and a decrease in the number of independent editorial teams that stop working due to financial problems or are absorbed by large media groups are noted negatively.

At the same time, there are also cases of censorship for political reasons. Thus, the political "heating" of the issue of Russophobia and sanctions against Russia, carried out by the German media, affected the formation of the corresponding mood in German society and was also used as a tool to restrain Russian-German relations. In particular, in recent years, a campaign to discredit Russian information resources has become systemic in the country. The tonality of the content they produce differs in many ways from the assessments of the German mainstream, which makes it very popular with local viewers. In this regard, the German media have taken a course towards discrediting Russian competitors and positioning them as "the Kremlin’s propaganda weapon". The myth of their "uncleanliness" and "toxicity", the biased and one-sided coverage of events in Germany and attempts to purposefully spread disinformation in order to destabilize the situation in Germany and the EU as a whole are being diligently promoted. At the same time, representatives of German political, business, scientific and public circles, noticed in communication with the Russian media, are often presented as "marginalized" or are stigmatized. Russian media that are most popular among the local population – RT Deutschland and SNA – are under the supervision of the Federal Service for the Protection of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany (engaged in counterintelligence activities). In addition, RT Deutschland continues to refuse to obtain a license to broadcast on German cable networks, citing national legislation.

The pluralism of opinions constantly declared in Germany is often subject to significant restrictions due to the requirements of political correctness. According to a representative sociological survey "Frontiers of Freedom" conducted by the Allensbach Institute for the Study of Public Opinion in 2019, the majority of Germans (78% of respondents) admit that they cannot afford to openly express their own opinions on some sensitive issues without fear of being exposed to social stigmatization. 59% of the respondents emphasized that they allow frank conversations only in a narrow circle of family or friends. Among the most painful topics, an open discussion on which is impossible or significantly difficult, the Germans classify migrants (71% of respondents), Islam (66%), Jews (63%), the Third Reich (58%), right-wing extremism (49%), homosexuality (47%).

Various groups of activists play a prominent role in public discourse in Germany, acting as the self-proclaimed "opinion police". Examples of their activities are actions to disrupt public speeches of "unwanted" speakers. The victims of this tactic were, in particular, the chairman of the Free Democratic Party of Germany K. Lindner, the former president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany H.G. Maasen, and others. Professor of East European History at the Humboldt University of Berlin J. Baberowski, who criticized the migration policy of the German government as excessively liberal, was harshly harassed and boycotted by students.

Germany is very strict in defining the scope of citizens’ right to freedom of assembly. The German police are pretty harsh with the instigators of the riots. One such example is the actions of law enforcement officers during thousands of actions in German cities on June 67, 2020, inspired by the Black Lives Matter campaign. For example, in Hamburg, the police used water cannons and tear gas against aggressive protesters, and then forced 36 "violent" young (partially underage) demonstrators, mostly with migratory roots, to stand with their heads against the wall for two hours, after which they were detained and taken to different areas[1071]. Over 90 protesters were detained in Berlin, while the police used truncheons and service dogs[1072].

German law enforcement authorities violently dispersed mass demonstrations against restrictive measures introduced in connection with the spread of coronavirus infection. These demonstrations have been periodically organized since March 2020 in different cities of Germany and attracted a significant number of participants. So, for example, on November 18, 2020 in Berlin, several protests against restrictive measures were announced at once, timed to discuss the new version of the law on infectious protection of the population, expanding the powers of the Ministry of Health to strengthen restrictive measures. The most massive of these, with more than 4,000 declared participants, was planned outside the Bundestag building, but the meeting place was moved to the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate due to the ban of the authorities. The demonstrators accused the German government of violating their freedoms. The police used water cannons and tear gas against the demonstrators[1073]. In describing these events, the media consistently emphasized that the protesters did not wear masks and did not observe social distance. On the same day, it was stated that about 190 people were detained during clashes with the police[1074]. In later media publications, citing data from the Berlin police, at least 365 people were named[1075].

One of the recent waves of protests took place in Germany on March 13, 2021 and attracted a large number of participants. According to media reports, 2 thousand people gathered for the action in Dusseldorf, 1.5 thousand – in Stuttgart, 1 thousand – in Berlin, 900 – in Kiel, 800 – in Hanover. Several hundred people participated in demonstrations in Dresden, Erfurt, Cottbus and Magdeburg. The protesters demanded that all restrictions that were introduced due to the pandemic be lifted[1076]. In Munich, an action under the slogan "A year of lockdown policy – Enough!" gathered several thousand people. As the number of participants exceeded the allowed limit, as well as due to the fact that some of the demonstrators came without protective masks and did not observe social distance, the police forced the protesters to disperse[1077].

At the same time, attention is drawn to the fact that actions against restrictive measures are more often covered in the German media in a negative way, and the persons participating in them – in accordance with the widespread policy of stirring up a Russophobic background – are ranked among the "supporters of the Kremlin", as well as ultra-right organizations[1078].

The right to freedom of association is also subject to restrictions in Germany. The Code of Taxes and Fees provides for a preferential tax regime only for those NGOs that are recognized as having a "socially useful status". To that end, it is necessary that participation in political activities does not belong to the main areas of their work. In this way, the state limits the ability of NGOs to influence the political agenda in the country, resorting to financial leverage. The hostage of this situation was, in particular, the German branch of the anti-globalization association Attac, which has been in an extremely difficult financial situation since 2014, when the organization was deprived of its socially useful status and corresponding benefits. After a lengthy trial, the Federal Financial Court of the Federal Republic of Germany, as the highest specialized instance, in January 2019 finally confirmed the legitimacy of the 2014 decision. Many human rights activists took the verdict with alarm, fearing setting a precedent for further restrictions on civil society[1079].

The mechanism of verification of NGOs is also used as a lever. In October 2020, it became known about the response of the German Cabinet of Ministers to the request of the Left Party faction in the Bundestag regarding this procedure. The document, in particular, confirmed that NGOs applying for state subsidies are regularly subject to checks by the Federal Service for the Protection of the Constitution (BFF). The inspection mechanism itself has been operating since 2004 on the basis of an internal order of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Verification requests can be made by German federal ministries and departments. It is recognized that inquiries and responses to them may in some cases relate to specific individuals. Organizations are not notified that they are being checked. In 2019, on-demand checks were carried out against 249 NGOs (in 2018 – only 85). Human rights activists express fears that the verification procedure remains non-transparent and the public cannot control what data is transferred within its framework and how it is transferred. It is also noted that civil society organizations are already bound to submit their annual reports to the competent authorities, which are checked in detail for the proper spending of funds, both in general terms of compliance with the statutory goals and in relation to each specific project.

According to a number of human rights NGOs (Pro Asyl, Amnesty International, etc.), Germany does not sufficiently contribute to the implementation of refugees’ right to international protection[1080]. An increasing number of citizens of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are denied full refugee status by the authorities. Of the 184,000 applications for asylum, on which decisions were made by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in 2019, only 45,000 (24.5%) were fully satisfied. 19.4 thousand (10.6%) applicants received subsidiary protection status, 5.8 thousand (3.2%) – deferred deportation. 54 thousand (29.4%) applications were rejected, consideration of the remaining 59.5 thousand (32.4%) was terminated on formal grounds. Thus, the aggregate "protective quota" was 38.3%[1081].

In 2019, 22.1 thousand migrants were deported from Germany. The practice of deporting people to crisis regions, particularly Afghanistan, has been criticized by human rights defenders. At present, persons considered as posing a terrorist threat, convicted of criminal offences and evading identification are being deported there (361 people in 2019)[1082]. Human rights NGOs are also alarmed by the Law on More Effective Implementation of the Obligation to Leave, which entered into force in Germany on August 21, 2019 and aimed at facilitating the deportation of migrants who are denied the right to international protection. In particular, the list of conditions under which it is possible to place such persons in places of detention before deportation is expanding, the time limits for such detention are increased, and the placement of deportees in regular prisons is legalized in the event of a shortage of places in specialized institutions[1083].

Human rights organizations point to the poor detention conditions of asylum seekers in Germany, which primarily affect women and children. A significant proportion of underage migrants do not attend school. Migrant women face restrictions on their privacy, domestic violence and sexual harassment. Access to the labor market is problematic for migrants; exploitation and degrading treatment by employers are not uncommon[1084].

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in 2018 expressed concern that the Residence Law contains provisions requiring government authorities to report on undocumented migrants to immigration authorities. According to experts, this measure may create problems for migrant workers in an irregular situation when receiving medical care. It was also pointed out that the criteria applied to migrants for family reunification were not clear, and that the quota was limited to 1,000 people per month. The CESCR is also concerned about the requirements for unaccompanied minor migrants with refugee status to guarantee the availability of livelihood and housing for the entire family in the event of family reunification. This leads to an increase in the number of refusals and discourages people from applying for family reunification. Experts confirmed that children from migrant families face barriers to education. In addition, the Committee pointed out that, of the approximately 163,000 caregivers in private households in Germany, migrant women represent a significant proportion and expressed concern that they are not protected from exploitation[1085].

At the end of 2019, the German Ministry of Internal Affairs recorded 7.9 thousand crimes against migrants based on xenophobia, of which 828 were violent. 126 torts were directed at the accommodation facilities of asylum seekers. 1.5 thousand cases of dissemination of misanthropic content on the Internet were recorded[1086].

This problem was highlighted by international monitoring mechanisms in the field of human rights. In particular, in its report following the trip to Germany in August 2018, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment calls on the German authorities to refrain from "excessive use of force" when carrying out deportations of migrants, and also to improve the conditions of their detention in penitentiaries before deportation[1087].

The situation in the field of combating racism and xenophobia in the country is a matter of concern. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BSA), the number of politically motivated crimes (officially registered) increased to 41.2 thousand in 2019 (which is 14% more than in 2018); 2.8 thousand torts were committed with the use of violence. About 1,500 people were injured as a result of the attacks. Of the total number of all crimes, 22.3 thousand torts were attributed to right-wing radical organizations (5% more than in 2018), 9.8 thousand – to leftwing organizations (23.7% more), 1.9 thousand – to the carriers of foreign extremist ideologies (this figure has decreased compared to 2018 by 23.7%), another 6.6 thousand have not been identified. 8.6 thousand torts were committed in 2019 on the basis of hatred towards certain groups of the population (5.8% more than in 2018). Of these, 7.9 thousand were motivated by xenophobia (+ 13% compared to 2018; at the same time, this figure became a record over the past 20 years). 950 cases were of an Islamophobic nature (4.4% more). 1.5 thousand cases concerned the dissemination of content containing misanthropic ideas on the Internet. In addition, since 2019, the registration of crimes against persons holding public positions and mandates has been conducted as a separate category; there were 1.7 thousand such cases (more than 600 were committed by pro-government forces, slightly more than 300 – by left-wing forces; violence was used in 89 cases).

In addition, in German police statistics for 2019, over 2 thousand criminal racist torts were recorded (of which 274 were violent), 950 (60 violent) torts were based on Islamophobia, 128 (16) torts were of a Christianophobic nature and 78 (10) – of an anti-Roma nature[1088].

In 2019-2020, a number of resonant crimes with an extreme right-wing background, which resolved human sacrifices, were performed in Germany: the murder of the Chairman of the Administration of the Kassel district W.Luebcke (June 2, 2019), the anti-Semitic terrorist attack in Halle (October 9, 2019; two dead), the racist terrorist attack in Hanau (February 19, 2020; nine dead). As a result of the increase in the number of crimes committed by right-wing radicals, the German authorities currently regard right-wing extremism as one of the most serious threats to the country’s internal security[1089]. Germany’s Minister of Interior H.Seehofer, presenting a report on the protection of the Constitution for 2019, focused on the danger posed by right-wing extremism. He voiced the figure of 22,300 crimes committed in the right-wing extremist environment in 2019, which is 10% more than in 2018[1090].

Significant alarm causes periodically detected cases of dissemination of extremist ideas among law enforcement officers. In September 2020, an investigation was launched in relation to nearly 30 police officers in the federal province North Rhine-Westphalia who distributed right-wing materials in several chats. Most of the persons involved were the staff of one police station in Mülheim an der Ruhr[1091].

In July, a scandal was caused by the publication of information that an investigation was underway in the federal province of Hesse into the sending of letters with threats from right-wing extremists to politicians (mainly members of the Left Party) and journalists. The threatening emails were signed as NSU 2.0, referring to the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU). It became known that the personal data of users were obtained through the computer network of the Hesse police[1092]. Earlier, in February-March of the same year, a disciplinary investigation was carried out against police officers in Aachen. It also became known about the spread of right-wing extremist attitudes among the special forces of the Bundeswehr (in July, one of the division’s companies was even disbanded because of this) and the Federal Service for the Protection of the Constitution.

Similar incidents were also recorded earlier: in 2018-2019, police officers from Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria participated in chats of a similar nature. In addition, the facts of accessing by the Hesse police officers the service database in order to obtain personal data of political and public figures, who then received threats of right-wing extremist content, were also revealed. In 2019, an investigation was launched into the activities of the right-wing extremist cell Northern Cross (Nordkreuz), in which former and current members of the police special forces of the federal province of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern participated. The members of the association organized warehouses for storing illegally acquired weapons and ammunition and distributed right-wing extremist materials[1093]. They also collected data on their political opponents: documents and electronic means seized during searches contain the names and addresses of nearly 25,000 opponents of right-wing extremists living throughout Germany[1094].

Such manifestations have acquired such a large-scale character that the German authorities were forced to pay close attention to them. In early October 2020, the first special report of the Federal Service for the Protection of the Constitution (BFF) on the situation with manifestations of extremism in the security agencies from January 2017 to March 2020 was published[1095]. It analyzes the situation in the Federal Intelligence Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (BND), the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD), the Federal Office for Criminal Affairs, the Federal Police, the police of the 16 federal provinces, as well as the province departments for the protection of the constitution, which employs a total of about 300 thousand employees. The report notes that the German law enforcement agencies recorded 377 suspected cases of the adherence of the employees to right-wing extremist ideas. Of these, 319 cases occurred in the security bodies of the province level and 58 – of the federal level. Of the 58 incidents recorded at the federal level, 23 employees were dismissed as a result of the proceedings. In the Bundeswehr, 1064 cases of adherence to extremist ideology were identified through the military intelligence service. Germany’s Minister of Interior H.Seehofer, also acknowledged the seriousness of the problem, while he spoke out against conducting a study of the spread of extremist ideas among law enforcement officers, noting that this problem was not structural in nature, and suggested instead that a general analysis of the spread of racist attitudes in German society be conducted. However, experts do not share this approach of the German authorities. The edition DW cites the opinion of the professor of criminology at the Faculty of Law of Bochum University Tobias Singelnstein, who pointed out that it is difficult to imagine that such an extensive network of chat groups has not been noticed by the police all these years. In his opinion, it indicates "a structural problem, not isolated cases". The lawyer recalled studies conducted in the 1990s, according to which from 5 to 15% of police officers were inclined to sympathize with right-wing extremist views. However, as T.Singelnstein points out, these studies are outdated, and new ones are needed to understand the current situation[1096]. Experts also point out that the report did not analyze a number of recent incidents, including the sending of threatening emails from NSU 2.0, extremist chat groups of police officers in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Mülheim and North Rhine-Westphalia. It is also noted that the analysis period is too short to give the report sufficient informative value[1097].

A number of other problems in the field of combating manifestations of racism persist in the country. Thus, human rights organizations continue to receive complaints about a discriminatory approach based on external, primarily ethnic and racial, signs of an individual in controlling by the law enforcement agencies of the Federal Republic of Germany (racial profiling). Practice shows that people of non-German appearance are disproportionately subjected to such control[1098]. The courts have repeatedly taken decisions on the contradiction of this approach to the constitutional principle of prohibition of discrimination on racial grounds[1099]. However, this problem has not yet been resolved.

The worsening problem of anti-Semitism in the country is of particular concern to human rights defenders. For the fourth year in a row, police statistics record a steady increase in anti-Semitic crimes in Germany. In 2019, more than 2 thousand of them were recorded (a record level over the past 20 years), of which 73 involved the use of violence[1100]. At the same time, there is no doubt that this is a "visible problem" without taking into account undeclared torts and various "domestic" incidents that are not prosecuted. A more complete view of the situation is provided by the relevant NGOs. For example, the Center for Research on Antisemitism recorded over 880 various incidents involving anti-Semitism in 2019 in Berlin alone[1101]. At the same time, in addition to "traditional" anti-Semitism with right-wing extremist motives (up to 90% of the relevant crimes are attributed to this category by the police), a "new" form of anti-Semitism on the part of the Muslim population, including migrants coming in recent years from crisis regions of the Middle East and North Africa, is increasingly becoming visible[1102].

At the same time, there are a significant number of adherents of extreme right-wing ideologies in the country. According to the Federal Service for the Protection of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, as of January 1, 2019, there were about 24.1 thousand right-wing extremists in Germany[1103], and for the whole of 2019, the number of radicals reached 32 thousand people.

At the same time, there has been a slight decrease in the dynamics of the number of illegal acts committed by right-wing extremists. BFF provides the following data. Compared to 2018 (19,409), the total number of criminal and violent crimes committed by right-wing extremists increased by 9.7% to 21,290. However, in 2019, the number of acts of violence committed by right-wing extremists decreased by 15% compared to the previous year (925 in 2019, 1088 in 2018). After an increase in the number of attacks by right-wing extremists amid xenophobia in 2018, a decrease of 18.6% was recorded in 2019 (627 in 2019, 770 in 2018). The total number of acts of violence motivated by xenophobia also decreased by 15.4% (695 in 2019; 821 in 2018). At the same time, the number of violent offenses motivated by anti-Semitism in 2019 increased to 56 violent acts compared to the previous year[1104].

In addition to activities within the country, German right-wing radicals establish ties with foreign structures that also share extremist views. The German edition Die Zeit published the results of its research on this topic in February 2021. According to the journalistic investigation, the internationalization of extreme right-wing movements is currently taking place, and this trend is increasing. First of all, this refers to the development of a universal extremist ideology, aimed not at "protecting" the indigenous population of a particular country from migration flows, but at "protecting the white race". In practical terms, this trend is also expressed in the fact that a large number of German ultra-right organizations maintain contacts with Ukrainian neo-Nazis and, among other things, participate in the armed conflict in the south-east of Ukraine. Thus, information is provided about the intense activity in Germany of the Ukrainian neo-Nazi association "Azov" and about its cooperation with the German neo-Nazi associations "The National Democratic Party of Germany", "The Third Way" ("The III. Weg"), "The Identitarian Movement", and "The Right" ("Die Rechte")[1105].

International monitoring mechanisms also pay attention to the problems of racism in Germany. For example, the 6th report on Germany by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), presented in March 2020, points with concern to an increase in xenophobia and Islamophobia in German public discourse and an increase in the number of violent right-wing extremists. The persistence of the practice of "racial profiling" by the police and the lack of effective mechanisms to support the victims of this phenomenon are also noted negatively. The ECRI calls on Berlin to intensify efforts to prevent and combat right-wing extremism and neo-Nazism, as well as to create guarantees for the effective prosecution of hate speech on the Internet. The report contains recommendations for the creation of a comprehensive system of independent bodies to counter discrimination at both the federal and province levels[1106].

Attention was drawn to manifestations of racial discrimination during Germany’s third round of the Universal Periodic Review. The final review document on Germany, approved by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018, points to the increased incidence of xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and contains recommendations to address gaps in the protection of migrants from manifestations of intolerance and violence[1107].

The German authorities have been unable to eradicate poverty in the country. According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, the proportion of the population "at risk of poverty" is about 16%, and among minors 20% (over 2.5 million people)[1108]. The number of persons without permanent housing is estimated to be at least 670 thousand people[1109]. Over 1.6 million people regularly visit places where food is distributed free of charge to the poor[1110].

Alarming problems are recorded in the field of protecting the rights of children. According to police crime statistics, in 2019, 13.7 thousand cases of sexual crimes against children were recorded in Germany. Experts point out that this figure may be much higher in reality, which is explained primarily by the fear of victims to seek help. Over the past year, law enforcement officers also identified 12.2 thousand cases of production, distribution, acquisition and storage of pornographic materials involving minors[1111].

The shortcomings of the German system for combating child sexual abuse have been exposed by the recently uncovered three monstrous series of such crimes in the federal province of North Rhine-Westphalia (Lügde, Bergisch Gladbach, Münster). There are dozens, if not hundreds, of criminals and victims; the true scale of pedophile activity has yet to be assessed[1112]. It is also noted that dozens of pedophiles coordinated their actions in closed chats and committed crimes, including against their own relatives and adopted children.

According to a study published in September 2018, in 1946-2014, about 3.7 thousand minors in Germany were sexually abused by Catholic priests[1113]. Victim protection organizations criticize the insufficient, in their opinion, amounts of compensation for moral damage by the church and the slow development of this process[1114].

Problems in the field of women’s rights protection are also recorded. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany, in 2018 over 114 thousand women in Germany were victims of violence by their partners or former partners, 122 of whom were killed[1115]. At the same time, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany recognizes that the real number of those subjected to "domestic violence" can be much higher: studies conducted on this topic show that at least a quarter of women in the country have been in this situation at least once in their lifetime[1116]. Human rights defenders criticize the lack of access to specialized assistance for women in such cases, including the possibility of temporary accommodation for victims of violence to isolate them from their abusers[1117].

Women’s rights organizations are also concerned about the proliferation of forced marriages in Germany. In 2019, the police recorded 74 such cases, but human rights defenders believe that the number of victims is much higher. This practice primarily affects girls from families with migration backgrounds, including minors (32 officially recorded cases in 2019)[1118].

There are still unequal working conditions for men and women. According to the EU, the difference in their average wages in Germany is 21% in favor of males (in this respect, Germany ranks 25th in the European Union, leaving behind only the Czech Republic and Estonia)[1119]. The CESCR also indicated that the wage gap between men and women was 21% in 2018, mainly due to the continuing de facto vertical and horizontal segregation and the predominance of women among persons without stable employment. The Committee also noted that this gap leads to a significant pension gap between men and women – 53%, as well as a disproportionate poverty rate among older women[1120].

According to the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency of Germany, the number of citizens’ applications to this institution due to infringement of their rights in 2019 was 3,580. In 33% of the cases, the applicants complained about discrimination on ethnic/racial grounds, in 29% on gender grounds, in 26% on disability grounds. This was followed by grounds such as age (12%), religion (7%), sexual identity (4%) and worldview (2%). Discrimination is most often felt when looking for work and during the work process (36% of applications), followed by "everyday" discrimination: in shops, catering establishments, in transport, etc. (26%)[1121].

There are a number of problems in the field of social security. Thus, the CESCR pointed out that the level of basic social benefits is not sufficient to ensure an adequate standard of living for beneficiaries and their families. The reason is that the method of calculating the subsistence minimum, based on a sample survey of expenditures of households with the lowest income level, does not take into account some basic expenditures. In addition, the Committee expressed concern about the sanctions imposed on beneficiaries of basic social benefits (Grundsicherung) for job seekers, in accordance with the provisions of Volume II of the Social Code, resulting in a reduction of these benefits by 30100%. The sanctions most affect young people, who are completely deprived of benefits if it is identified that they have violated the conditions established for them (Pflichtverletzung). The CESCR also raised concerns about the fact what constitutes "acceptable" employment that job seekers are expected to accept[1122].

The committee noted the problems with the provision of housing in Germany. Thus, experts pointed to a very high level of rent and its growth, an acute shortage of affordable housing, combined with a decrease in the number of apartments belonging to the social housing fund, as well as a decrease in the already low level of public spending on housing. The CESCR expressed particular concern about the lowest threshold for reimbursement of housing costs in basic social benefits, which in practice leads to the fact that many families in urban areas receiving basic social benefits reduce other basic expenses to pay rent, or in in some cases they are left homeless. In particular, a significant number of households receiving basic social benefits cannot afford to use enough electricity: in 2016 alone, 328,000 such households faced power outages due to unpaid bills. At the same time, the number of people without adequate housing is steadily increasing, reaching 1.2 million[1123].

Human rights defenders draw attention to the fact that the Government of Germany is avoiding considering material compensation in connection with Berlin’s official recognition in 2016 of the genocide of the African Guerrero and Nama tribes during Namibia’s colonial period in the early 20th century[1124].

In Germany, there are isolated cases of prejudice against immigrants from Russia. The main cases of violation of their rights relate to employment, admission to secondary and higher educational institutions, and the solution of social issues. In employment offices, Russian compatriots with a confirmed level of education and experience are often offered low-paid jobs. Court decisions on family law remain painful issues for representatives of the Russian diaspora, when, in the event of a divorce of international couples, children, as a rule, are transferred to a parent who is a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, it is practically impossible to prove the violation of the civil rights of the spouse of a German citizen in court.

In 2020, there were open cases of bias towards Russian citizens on the part of law enforcement and judicial authorities. An example is the trial in Hamburg against a Russian citizen V. Dekanov, who was charged with smuggling dual-use goods into Russia, forging accompanying documents, misleading the customs authorities and participating in collusion with Russian companies purchasing military goods and technologies. According to the lawyer of the Russian, politically motivated pressure could be exerted on the trial due to the sensitivity of the issue and increased public attention to it. As a result, he was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to seven years in prison.

On May 29, 2020, at the request of the United States, a Russian citizen, musician and DJ D. Kasnatschejew, who is permanently residing in Germany, was detained in Berlin, accused by the American authorities of cyber fraud. The Russian categorically denies his guilt. He also reported in November 2020 that the German police, having seized his computers and musical equipment, deprived him of the opportunity to earn money and, as a result, the financial means to further pay for the services of a lawyer.

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Greece

The official authorities of Greece have been actively working to overcome some difficulties in the human rights field caused by the consequences of the financial and economic crisis of 2010-2016 and the influx of refugees and illegal migrants form the Middle East and North Africa. In recent years, Athens have adopted the course towards the modernization of the legislative system taking into account the recommendations of human rights monitoring institutions and EU directives. As a result, all existing Greek regulations comply with international or regional standards. At the same time, in 2020, restrictive measures adopted by the government to address the spread of the coronavirus infection affected the exercise of some fundamental human rights.

The 1975 Constitution of the Hellenic Republic is the basis for the legal regulation of the promotion and protection of human rights. The Constitution establishes the right to respect for and protection of life, honour, and dignity irrespective of nationality and race, language, religious beliefs, or political opinions; right to liberty and security of person; right to the inviolability of private and family life, the home; right to freedom of expression and the press; right to a fair trial; it prohibits torture, cruel and degrading treatment, bodily injury, psychological pressure, complete confiscation of property.

Human rights activists stress progress in the development of relevant legislation aimed to combat racism. Law No. 4285/2014 on Combating Certain Forms and Expressions of Racism and Xenophobia By Means of Criminal Law increased the penalties for incitement to hatred and violence against certain population groups. It is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment and a fine of €20,000. Decisions to close maximum security prisons, to replace imprisonment with house arrest for convicts with more than 80 per cent incapacity and to release on parole persons over 75 years old have been implemented. Amendments to the Greek Nationality Code approved in July 2015 provide that a sufficient basis for the establishment of a strong legal bond of an individual to the Hellenic Republic is the fact of birth and getting primary education in its territory. In December 2019, the Greek Parliament adopted Law No. 4648/2019 that makes it much easier for citizens residing abroad to exercise their right to vote. In particular, it introduced the requirements for organization of voting stations on the basis of Greek foreign missions.

At the same time, Greece has been implementing national action plans on human rights, asylum reform, migration management, social integration of the Roma, and protection of the rights of the child.

The Greek legislation grants the ombudsman extensive powers. Among them are, in particular, the right to independently make decisions to check whether standards of detention of convicts in penitentiary institutions are respected, as well as the right to oversee the work of correctional services.

The Hellenic Republic has been systematically taking measures to create a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities: according to the approved unified building regulations, the developer is obliged to coordinate and guarantee full accessibility of buildings for people with disabilities. Schools need infrastructure, special transport, audiovisual materials, personnel and funding to give children with disabilities access to compulsory secondary education.

Due to the spread of the coronavirus infection and school closures, all teaching materials in Greece are transcribed into Braille code and sound archives to ensure distance learning is accessible for students with visual impairments. In addition, local Educational and Counselling Support Units are tasked with organising remote support for parents of children with disabilities and teaching staff[198].

In spite of the signs of economic recovery observed since 2017, the long-term crisis has led to insufficient demand for highly qualified personnel and, as a result, to a large-scale "brain drain". Since 2010, about half a million people have left the country; most of them are university graduates, 9 per cent of them with academic degrees; 28 per cent at the age of 25–30 years and 35 per cent at the age of 30–35 years. In the first quarter of 2020, unemployment rate was 16 per cent, including up to 35 per cent among young people.

In recent years, migration pressure on Greece has not subsided, unavoidably accompanied with a whole set of human rights issues. This has been noted, inter alia, by the Human Rights Committee (HRCtte) following the consideration in October 2015 and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August 2016. Both monitoring bodies stressed that though the migrant crisis had put a heavy burden on the public system, the authorities had continued to take all possible steps, including reformed the asylum system and opened several new regional offices.[199]

The influx of refugees that started to decline in 2017, resumed in 2018 and increased in 2019. As of mid-2020, the number of migrants who settled in the country exceeded 100,000 people. A significant part of them remain on the islands of the Aegean Sea, where they come from Turkey, primarily on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros (35,000 people), as well as in large camps in the metropolitan area of Attica and in northern Greece.

In the course of the press briefing on 1 October 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees drew attention to the situation in reception centres.[200] Human rights defenders are concerned with their overcrowding, nonconformity with sanitary norms and limited access to quality medical assistance, that became particularly significant during the COVID19 pandemic. The provision of social services to this group of people has been affected by the restriction of movement of refugees living in migrant camps, as well as full or partial restriction of visitors[201].

Migrant children and child asylum seekers face challenges in receiving school education. According to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, only 15 per cent of them have access to educational services. Human rights defenders also criticize conditions faced by underage migrants in Greek deportation centres, where 176 unaccompanied children are still detained under the so-called protective custody regime. However, the reduction in May 2020 of the time children can be detained from 45 to 25 days should be commended.[202]

Violence survivors face difficulties in accessing safety. Temporary emergency accommodations are insufficient and coordination of services is inconsistent.[203]

A report published in early 2019 by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) states that in December 2018, more than 12,500 people lived in tents and containers, which were not adapted to winter conditions, in the reception and registration centers for migrants in the Aegean Sea islands. As of the end of 2018, there were 3,700 unaccompanied migrant children in these centers while there were no more than 1,000 places available in Greece for this category of refugees.[204] According to UNICEF, as of the end of August 2019, there were more than 8,700 migrants, including about 3,000 children in the Moria refugee camp designed for 3,100 people and situated on the island of Lesbos.[205] Médecins sans Frontières noted that over 500 people had been arriving on the island each week. Thus, in early October 2019 the number of refugees there reached 12,600 people. At the same time, the migrant holding facility had clean water shortage, there was no sewage or electricity. After the Moria camp was destroyed in a fire in September 2020, thousands of its residents, including more than 4,000 children, were left homeless and without food and water.[206] Greek authorities decided to construct a new camp near Mavrovouni (planned to be finished by autumn 2021, now consists of temporary accommodation). Human rights defenders have expressed concern over the location of the new refugee centre built on a repurposed military firing range. A survey conducted by Human Rights Watch experts among the residents and staff of humanitarian organizations revealed that ammunition has been found in the camp’s territory. It was also reported that mine clearance was conducted in the presence of refugees. Human rights defenders believe that military firing ranges are generally contaminated with lead from ammunition. This heavy metal is highly toxic to humans when ingested or inhaled. It degrades very slowly, so contaminated sites can remain dangerous for decades. Moreover, human rights defenders reported that there had been plans to turn the firing range into a camp site as early as 2015, however, authorities rejected the proposal for several reasons, including because it had been a firing range.[207]

Detention conditions in migrant reception centers caused concern among experts of the HRCtte in 2015[208], CERD in 2016[209], and the Committee against Torture (CAT) in 2019[210].

After the opening of the border between Greece and Turkey, international monitoring institutions have reported mass returns of migrants to Turkey across the Evros river, sometimes accompanied by violence. For example, individuals testified that they were stripped and made to return across the river in their underwear. In June 2020, Greece’s Supreme Court Prosecutor opened a criminal investigation into these accidents.[211]

Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants of the United Nations Human Rights Council, has expressed his concern over the use of violence against migrants that has led to deaths and injuries, including the death of a Syrian asylum seeker. He has also raised the alarm over an increase in hostility against humanitarian workers, human rights defenders and journalists working at the border and in the Greek Aegean Sea.[212]

Reports of violence against asylum seekers have prompted representatives of Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to carry out a rapid response five-day visit to Greece. Following the visit, the human rights organization published a report, according to which conditions in which migrants are held in some facilities in the Evros region and in Samos island may amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. At the same time, the CPT urged Greek authorities to end the practice regarding the detention of unaccompanied children and families with children in police stations, accommodating them instead in reception centres that meet their specific needs. Besides, Athens were recommended to stop the practice of pushbacks of migrants. The members of the Committee were especially concerned with acts by the Greek Coast Guard to prevent boats carrying migrants from reaching any Greek island. Moreover, a question was raised about a possible participation and role in such operations of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.[213]

Experts point at manifestations of racism and xenophobia against refugees arriving in the country. The Roma become victims of intolerance as well. They regularly face stereotypes and prejudices, have significant difficulties in accessing basic social services such as housing, employment, education and health care, face segregation in education, and are disproportionately subjected to checks of documents and arbitrary arrests by police and other law enforcement bodies. Concerns in this regard were expressed by the HRCtte in October 2015[214] and the CERD in August 2016[215].

In its 2019 report, Athens Racist Violence Recording Network of 35 NGOs noted the rise in beatings caused by ethnic intolerance, as well as desecration of Muslim and Jewish religious sites.

In October 2020, the court of Athens issued a landmark decision to recognize the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party as a criminal organization. A criminal case against the party’s leadership and activists was initiated back in 2013, and the trial that started in April 2015 went on for over five years due to a large number of defendants and witnesses. In September 2019, judges found seven of the accused, including a member of the European Parliament from the Golden Dawn party Giannis Lagos and exMP Nikolaos Michaloliakos, guilty of the July 2013 attack on a community centre that offered free Greek language lessons for migrants. In its latest decision, the Greek court came to the conclusion that the organization was involved in the murder of an anti-fascist activist Pavlos Fyssas and a citizen of Pakistan Shehzad Luqman, as well as multiple attacks on migrants.

In October 2015, the HRCtte[216], and in July 2019, the CAT noted the excessive and arbitrary use of force by law enforcement bodies. The CAT mentioned cases when tear gas had been used against anti-fascist demonstrations in Kerastini in 2013, as well as against migrants who protested against conditions in migration centers in Lesbos and Samos in 2017 and 2018.[217]

The CPT report published in November 2020 draws attention to prison and detention conditions in Greece. Among the mentioned problems are overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, insufficient material and medical care, cases of staff violence, failure to separate persons of different genders, adults and minors, as well as convicted persons and persons held in pretrial detention. The report contains a critical assessment of the conditions of transportation of prisoners, police treatment of prisoners and the method of investigation of similar cases.[218]

No systemic oppression or discrimination of Russian compatriots has been detected. In 2018, Greek central and local authorities took every step necessary for Russian citizens in Greece to exercise their voting rights in the course of the 2018 Russian presidential election, and in 2020 they facilitated the organization of the Russian constitutional referendum.

Against this background there was an alarming precedent related to the detention of the Russian citizen Aleksandr Vinnik in July 2017 on the peninsula of Halkidiki by the Greek law enforcement agencies at the request of the US Department of Justice. He was charged with laundering the proceeds of criminal activity through an electronic cryptocurrency exchange. In spite of the efforts of the Russian side to ensure the priority extradition of Aleksandr Vinnik to Russia, the Greek Ministry of Justice decided to extradite the Russian citizen to France that had also sought to arrest him, then to the United States, and only then to the Russian Federation. Aleksandr Vinnik was extradited to Paris in January 2020.

Moreover, over 40 Russian sailors are kept in Greek penitentiary institutions, accused of smuggling migrants, a serious crime under local legislation, punishable with long prison terms and heavy fines.

Respect of the right to ethnic, cultural and linguistic self-identification of the Muslim population in the Thrace region in north-eastern Greece bordering Turkey has its specific features. The only officially recognized minority (there is no notion of the "national minority" in the Greek legislation) in Greece is the "Muslim" minority, which unites all the representatives of the non-indigenous groups living in Thrace: Turks, Pomaks, Roma, etc. – more than 120,000 people in total. The Muslims of Kos and Rhodes are not officially recognized and, unlike the Muslim residents of Thrace, do not have access to specialized schools.

Concerns that Greek Muslims might be denied the right to self-identification because they are recognized only as a religious minority and not as an ethnic minority had been expressed by the HRCtte[219] and the CERD[220].

There are no discriminatory limitations on political participation and involvement in government administration, representatives of ethnic minorities have free access to them. Some of the country’s northern regions are represented in the Parliament by Muslims. Official positions in some municipalities are held by nationals of the countries of the former USSR.

At the same time, the authorities are taking steps to build new places of worship. In 2016, the Greek Council of State made a positive decision regarding the building of the first mosque in the modern history of Athens which had been a subject of debates for more than 30 years. Its construction was completed in May 2019, the mosque was officially opened on 2 November 2020.[221]

In February 2019, in line with European Parliament resolution on combating anti-Semitism (2017/2692(RSP)), the Greek Government adopted a working definition of anti-Semitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as part of the preparation for Athens’ presidency in the organization in 2021. In April 2019, Dr. Efstathios Lianos Liantis, head of the Greek delegation to the IHRA, was appointed Special Envoy for Combating Anti-Semitism.

In 2018, the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance welcomed the establishment by Greece of a relevant working group pursuant to its 2015 recommendations composed of representatives of public authorities, the Ombudsman, the Greek Human Rights Council, NGOs and trade unions to develop a strategy to combat racism and intolerance. While approving the draft document adopted by Greece in September 2017, the Commission also called for further attention to be paid to the implementation of anti-discrimination measures.

Measures adopted by the Government to prevent the spread of the COVID19 pandemic received a generally calm response by the Greek society without much opposition even though, according to the FRA report for March-April 2020[222], Greece was among the countries with the most restrictions on movement, the organization of meetings, and some aspects of the private life.

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Hungary

To date, the situation with the observance of fundamental human rights and freedoms in Hungary as a whole is in line with the generally accepted international legal standards. International and local human rights organizations constantly monitor the regulatory framework and law enforcement practice, without noticing facts of systematic violation of the rights of citizens. The country respects the rights to freedom of expression, press, assembly, the right to receive and impart information. Gross cases of abuse of office by law enforcement officials are not recorded, and successful work is being carried out to prevent xenophobic manifestations and intolerance on confessional grounds. This being said, the lack of any fundamental, non-politically motivated claims to Budapest can be stated on the part of the UN, OSCE and CE specialized human rights mechanisms.

At the same time, the criticism of the right conservative Hungarian government has got stronger recently from the EC Brussels. The main reason for that is the Hungarian authorities’ independent policy of regulation of foreign-financed NGOs.

The claims of the European structures are caused by the law on non-governmental organizations approved by the Hungarian State Assembly in June 2017 and the requirements contained therein for NGOs to indicate that they are "organizations supported from abroad" in all their publications, printed materials and websites in the event they receive foreign financial assistance in the amount of over 7.2 million forints (about 28 thousand US dollars equivalent). The European Commission has repeatedly stated that the law indirectly discriminates against and disproportionately restricts donations from abroad to civil society organizations and violates the rights to freedom of association, to protection of privacy and personal data enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, also running counter to the EU agreement on the free movement of capital. On February 26, 2018, the European Commission sent a request to the European Court of Justice (EU Court) to start proceedings for its compliance with EU regulations. In June 2020, the Court found the provisions of the law to be contrary to European norms, arguing that they violated the right to free movement of capital, privacy and personal data protection, as well as freedom of association. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reacted sharply to the decision of the EU Court, accusing the EU of gross interference in the country's internal affairs and "liberal imperialism", and again called for the protection of Hungary's sovereignty and cultural identity from the encroachments of the global financial oligarchy headed by George Soros and the Brussels European bureaucracy controlled by it. The head of government stressed that "the citizens of the country have the right to know about every forint that entered the country from abroad, and those who need foreign money should not hesitate to report them."

As before, pro-Western NGOs and appropriately oriented structures condemn the decisive measures taken by Orban's cabinet to close the southern section of the state border in order to counteract the influx of refugees along the "Balkan" route. Especially the EU members are irritated by the stubborn reluctance of the Hungarian side to receive migrants in their country. There are threats from Brussels to impose penalties on Hungary. At the same time, many human rights monitoring structures recognized the large-scale influx of refugees and asylum seekers to Hungary and the fact that this provoked a crisis situation in the country.

Since Viktor Orban came to power in 2010, Budapest has been daily target of attacks on the part of international NGO "Freedom House". Thus, its 2020 report on the state of human rights and freedoms in the world, Hungary, along with Serbia and Montenegro, moved from the group of "democratic countries" to the group of "countries with hybrid regimes" due to alleged "attacks on democratic institutions and pressure on civil society and opposition".

International human rights institutions are also dissatisfied with the situation of the Roma population in the country, the overwhelming majority of which have low social status, allegedly being subject to various kinds of discrimination. The various human rights NGOs regularly note that only one out of four able-bodied Roma is more or less permanently employed. The Hungarian Human Rights Commissioner has repeatedly drawn attention to the deplorable living conditions of Gypsies in his reports and called upon the government to make real efforts to improve the situation in this regard since the Roma are unable, on their own, to break the vicious circle of poverty. He emphasized that over past decades in some parts of the country, primarily in the North-East, in fact, about a hundred Roma ghettos have been formed that are not fully controlled by government and do not facilitate improvement of either living conditions or social adaptation of the Roma people. The Committee on the Rights of the Child[192], Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[193], Human Rights Committee[194], as well as European Commission against Racism and Intolerance[195] and Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (AC FCNM)[196] have drawn attention to the problems of the Roma community.

In addition to the above-mentioned subjects the international human rights institutions have repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with the general state of the Hungarian penitentiary system, the practice of enforcement of punishments, detention conditions in places of deprivation of liberty and in remand centers (prolonged pre-trial detention, overcrowded cells, poor diet and so on). 

It should be noted that the opinions of the international human rights NGOs really look biased and seem to be motivated by the desire of the collective West to punish Hungary for its efforts to pursue an independent foreign policy in line with its national interests. The overall analysis of the situation allows to state that the Hungarian Government is rather responsive to any alarming signals in the sphere of human rights and have made marked progress in the prevention of xenophobia and racism, as well as encouragement of national minorities’ rights to use and study native languages. The positive aspects in the field of wide opportunities for access to the study and use of native languages, including in communicating with the executive and judicial authorities, as well as the efforts by the authorities to provide teaching staff, were highlighted, in particular by the AC FCNM[197].

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Iceland

Iceland portrays itself as one of the world’s human rights champions. The government makes vigorous efforts in this regard within the country as well.

At the same time, a number of government initiatives are controversial. So, in particular, the Icelandic authorities are actively pursuing a neoliberal agenda. In line with this directive, in June 2019, at the initiative of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdottir, the Gender Autonomy Act was adopted, which establishes a mechanism for resolving issues related to gender autonomy. This law recognizes the right to gender neutral, which does not apply to either male or female. Besides, this regulatory legal act establishes that Icelandic names will no longer be gender-referenced, that is, anyone can choose any name, regardless of gender (previously the naming law established that girls should be given female names, and boys – male names)[261].

However, activists who uphold a position opposite to the policy of the State are often persecuted under various pretexts. The case of a radio presenter Pétur Gunnlaugsson, who had to pay a fine for denouncing Icelandic LGBT community having been blasted for "unorthodox" statements in live shows. 

A list of obligatory names that parents may choose for their children is a national Icelandic feature – the country still has a list of 1,800 names and their forms (meanwhile, the obligatory assignment to a foreigner of an Icelandic name when acquiring Icelandic citizenship was abolished already in late 1990s). The Registers Iceland has a designated Name Council. A citizen whose name is different from an approved form, or an applicant who wishes to take a name that is not on the official list, has to face serious problems with civil registration and the issuance of identification documents. Review of the relevant applications by the Council is a lengthy procedure. To protect their rights, citizens have to resort to courts, in some cases – even to the European Court of Human Rights. The most high-profile lawsuits by Icelandic families requesting the authorities to recognize children's names that were not on the approved list, took place in 2013 and 2014.

Human rights defenders note with concern the increase in hate speech, especially against ethnic and religious groups and Muslim foreigners, incitement to racial hatred, propagation of ideas of racial superiority, and the use of racial stereotypes, including in political campaigns and debates, as well as in the media, Internet, and social networks. It is noted that the measures taken by the Icelandic authorities in this area are insufficient. Moreover, penalties envisaged in the Icelandic legislation, are imposed only in cases of serious and repeated violations, which prevents the effective prosecution and punishment of those guilty of the hate speech dissemination.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination highlighted this issue, in particular, in August 2019. The Committee noted, however, that crimes motivated by racial hatred may not be brought to the attention of competent authorities[262].

The manifestations of racism in Iceland were also highlighted by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, which emphasized that anti-Muslim rhetoric had spread in political discourse in recent years. Accusations against Muslims (as well as migrants) of being linked to terrorists, committing acts of aggression and violence were often used in political debates[263].

At the same time, in recent years, manifestations of neo-Nazi activities and the spread of neo-Nazi or hateful ideology have become more frequent in Iceland. Meanwhile, all of them were carried out and coordinated from abroad.

Until December 2019, their participants and performers were citizens of other states. In September 2019, head of the far-right organization Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR), the Swede S. Lindberg, was in Iceland. On September 5, 2019 his supporters held a rally in the center of Reykjavik
(10-15 people participated – several Icelanders and activists accompanying S.Lindberg), distributing leaflets with relevant content[264]. Later, they held several similar actions in other cities of the country[265].

Also, media has information about the opening of a NMR branch in Iceland, which has its own website https://nordurvigi.is. It published accounts of the first action of Icelandic NMR activists distributing leaflets in the center of the Icelandic capital.

In 2020, Icelandic neo-Nazis also attacked the Jewish community living in the country: anti-Semitic posters were distributed near synagogues and Jewish institutions denying the Holocaust and accusing Jews of the cruel treatment of women and paedophilia. Meanwhile, the NMR organized this action not only in Iceland, but also in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. These actions, organized by right-wing radicals during the celebration of Yom Kippur by the Jewish community, caused outrage among international Jewish organizations. In October 2020, director of the S.Wiesenthal Center for International Relations S.Samuels sent a letter to Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdottir expressing concern about these facts (letters were also sent to the leaders of Denmark, Norway and Sweden). The letter noted that with the total population of the country about 364 thousand people. neo-Nazis can hardly remain unknown to the authorities. The Icelandic authorities were called to follow the suite of Finland, which banned the NMR in September 2020, and to take action against the instigators of the anti-Semitic campaign[266].

Having found some problems with the exercise of religious freedoms in Iceland, human right defenders indicate cases of intolerance towards representatives of certain religions. Stories appeared in the media on popular protests against construction of a mosque accompanied by acts of vandalism in a suburb of Reykjavik, and that no guilty were identified or brought to book. Human rights activists also point out that in Iceland, the church is not separated from the state, and the country's Constitution grants privileges to the Evangelical Lutheran Church[267].

Problems are noted in connection with the reception of refugees and migrants in the country. First of all, experts associate the above unrest in connection with the construction of the mosque with the fears of a number of Icelanders that this religious site would contribute to the spread of Islamic radicalism in the country. Human rights mechanisms also mention cases of human trafficking among problems of migrants (this was pointed out by CERD). It is noted that it is people from East Asia and South America who are victims of these crimes in most cases.

In early 2020, against the background of increased activity of extreme right-wing structures spreading migrant-phobia, a number of actions took place to support refugees on the verge of expulsion from the country.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has criticized Icelandic authorities for inadequate financing of police investigating cases of human trafficking, as well as a lack of prosecution for crimes related to human trafficking. CEDAW has also noted a disproportionately high number of migrant women working in the so-called champagne clubs[268].

The ban on torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is generally respected in Iceland. At the same time, there are cases of unjustified police brutality during the detention of individual citizens, detention of juvenile offenders together with adult criminals.

Despite the fact that Iceland has led the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index for the past 11 years and has been called "the world's best place for women" (there are some of the world’s most stringent laws on equality in the workplace and equal pay, as well as high rates for women in health, education, economic opportunity and political representation), domestic and sexual violence remains consistently high, and the judiciary is suspicious of victims.

This negative trend was noted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. However, the Committee expressed concern that a significant number of such cases were discontinued by the public prosecutor's office and the number of convictions was low[269].

A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health on the issue reflected this same trend in the spread of violence against women, especially by partners. The study also notes that incidents of violence are not often reflected in general statistics[270].

During the COVID-19 pandemic in Iceland, as in many other European countries, the number of documented cases of domestic violence increased. Human rights activists, citing data from the Icelandic Police Commissioner, point out that while 38% of murders of women worldwide are committed by a male partner, this figure is 50% in Iceland. At the same time, a large per centage of domestic violence cases is not registered for various reasons, including for fear of further persecution or mistrust of victims towards law enforcement agencies. Sexual violence is also widespread in Iceland. A University of Iceland 2018 survey found that one in four Icelandic women have been raped or sexually abused in their lifetime. At the same time, according to the Icelandic Center for Assistance to Victims of Violence Stigamot, only about 12% of victims actually bring charges[271].

In general, the right to work and equal pay is complied with in Iceland. Lately, the gender pay gap has been significantly narrowed. The Government aims to achieve gender parity by 2022. According to the published statistical data, Iceland is among the top six countries where women are most successful in the working life, moreover, Iceland is number one on the list among Scandinavian countries.

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Ireland

Legislation and enforcement practices in Ireland with respect to the promotion and protection of human rights are shaped in accordance with the Constitution of the country (Articles 40-44), which details all basic provisions in this field. According to the fundamental law of the State, all citizens, regardless of their age, religion, social status, mental or physical condition, shall enjoy equal rights, which the State ensures through the judicial system. Furthermore, as a result of Ireland's membership in the European Union and the Council of Europe, key human rights elements of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU were incorporated into Irish domestic legislation through the enactment of relevant legislation between 2004 and 2014. However, the Irish judiciary authorities continue to rely primarily on domestic legislation rather than on international treaties to address individual cases of human rights violations. According to human rights defenders, this system does not allow Ireland to be considered fully compliant with the standards set by the international community in the field of promotion and protection of human rights.

In general, Dublin's human rights policy is still based on the values and standards of the Western Europe. While positioning itself on the international arena as an active human rights defender, the Irish government is quite sensitive to the critics from other countries regarding violations of those rights in Ireland itself.

As a result, the Irish courts dismiss the claims of its citizens and thus make them regularly appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and other international judicial agencies. According to human rights defenders the majority of complaints concern violence against women, the denial of access to citizenship and employment to migrants.

In 2014, the Commission on Human Rights and Equality was established in Ireland. The scope of the Commission covers a wide range of issues related to the respect and violations of human rights in Ireland. The Commission's offices are functioning in all counties and cities of the country. The annual reports of this body are submitted to the government, Parliament and President who are responsible not only for providing general assessments, but also for elaborating and adopting the relevant responses to all cases of human rights violations identified by the Commission. Moreover, the Office of the Ombudsman is functioning in Ireland.

In 2019, in order to improve effectiveness of human rights activities in Ireland, the Commission developed the three-year Strategic Plan. The document fixes the priority areas, such as: protection of the rights of homeless people (this category includes Traveller people, or nomads and Roma), enhanced struggle against manifestation of racism and discrimination, protection of the rights of migrants, combating violence against women and children; equal rights in employment and wages of all the citizens regardless of their gender, nationality and religion; protection of the prisoners' rights and improvement of prison conditions in accordance with the EU standards.

According to human rights defenders the Plan was developed because positive changes cannot be considered completely satisfactory despite numerous statements by the government about the priority of human rights issues and measures taken in this area. According to the Commission's report and the Irish mass media and international human rights NGOs the most alarming are the situations in the fields, such as the protection of the rights of national and religious minorities, migrants, the Roma, as well as the situation in detention facilities.

First of all, human rights defenders are concerned by the continuing discrimination of national and religious minorities which is fueled by increased dissemination of racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance despite the existing legal framework in this area.

Since 2004, a new version of the Equality Act has been in force in Ireland, which declares equal rights to all citizens regardless of their nationality or religion. The Act prohibits all forms of racism and discrimination in all spheres of social and economic life. The Equality Authority and the Equality Tribunal, as well as the Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office of the Garda, are responsible for the observance and implementation of its provisions. The national NGO Irish Network Against Racism is active in the prevention of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Under Irish law, any case of racism, discrimination and xenophobia (Nazism and neo-Nazism are not mentioned due to their absence) is subject to a review procedure before a court which imposes the penalty. In practice, while considering these cases (graffiti on walls, verbal insults in schools and in the streets), the judgment of the court is limited to administrative penalties in the form of a fine, although it foresees imprisonment. The Equality Act does not prohibit organizations and movements that promote racial discrimination, because the Irish law, which establishes the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association, requires evidence that the organization is such.

The US anti-racist demonstrations in the summer 2020 stimulated the analysis of the situation in Ireland. The Irish president Michael Higgins gave a general assessment stressing that in Ireland, sentiments against migrants and people with different skin colour are gaining momentum and nationalism is beginning to threaten the Irish democratic values. Political leadership and the public started to recognize that refugees, migrants and other groups of national minorities have increasingly come to be seen in some parts of the Irish society as a threat to "the rights of the majority". Under this pretext, some groups of local extremists started active racist and anti-Semitic criminal actions.

According to Racist Incident Reporting System iReport.ie launched by the Irish Network Against Racism in 2020, there were fixed 700 racist incidents (there were 530 cases in 2019), including 159 criminal offences. There was also mentioned the largest increase in the reports about manifestations of racism on the Internet, 334 cases (174 in 2019), including in social networks and on the pages of the respected radio and printed mass media, on Facebook, it is notable that the largest number of such publications was fixed exactly on Facebook (119 cases). It was noted that all this triggers the increase of ultra-right content[252].

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also highlighted manifestations of racism in the Irish society in December 2019. In particular, it mentioned a high number of cases of racial profiling in the Irish police (Garda) and hate speech. There were also noted cases of racist speech and its frequent use by Irish politicians, especially during electoral campaigns. The CERD mentioned in this context that the 1988 Prohibition of Incitement to Racial, Religious or National Hatred Bill turned out to be ineffective in the fight against hate speech, especially that published on the Internet[253].

The CERD noted with concern the significant number of racially motivated hate crimes against representatives of ethnic minorities, mentioning that in these cases there can be seen other signs of discrimination, such as gender and religious affiliation. It was mentioned that the existing Irish criminal law does not provide for corpus delicti where racial hatred would be the main cause, these circumstances are also not detailed as aggravating. According to CERD experts this leads to incorrect registration of such crimes, because their racist motives are systematically not taken into account during criminal proceedings. In the context of escalated far-right rhetoric and increased number of racially motivated hate crimes against groups of ethnic minorities, the Committee also indicated the absence of legal norms prohibiting racist organizations in the country[254].

Human rights defenders still greatly concern about the Muslim community which has been steadily growing (more than 70, 000 people). According to the 2019 Report of the Commission on Human Rights and Equality and the 2019 Report of the Immigrant Council of Ireland the number of manifestations of racism against Muslims in general remains at the same rather high level, about 40 per cent of Muslims in Ireland officially stated that they had been subjected to violence (verbal attacks or physical acts of aggression) at work, in educational institutions, in everyday life on the grounds of their religion. However, experts of the indicated human rights agencies mention that in fact, the real figure is considerably higher, there are about 80 per cent.

The most vulnerable part of the society includes migrants and refugees from Asian and African countries. Ireland committed to accept 4000 people under the programmes of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and of the European Union. Of all these people, the Irish government accommodated about 1100 people, mainly from Syria. In accordance with the government's plan the refugees are accommodated in special reception centers (as a rule, these are hotels leased by the government) where they wait for all the documents necessary for the stay in the territory of Ireland. However, the excessively protracted legalisation procedures led to the situation where the vast majority of refugees have to live in such centers for a long time and thus causing discontent of the local community. In 2019-2020, some of such places were set on fire that led to victims among refugees in certain cases. This triggered a wave of protests with the demand to reconsider the current procedures of receiving refugees. The new coalition government of Ireland formed in June 2020, committed to eliminate the centers and elaborate new procedures of receiving and accommodating refugees.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[255] and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance[256] drew attention to the difficult situation of migrants in Ireland. In this context there was mentioned the following: prolonged consideration of requests for international protection, unreasonable delays in obtaining work permits, prolonged detention of migrants in bad conditions in the reception centers, as well as cover-ups of deaths in these centers. There was also mentioned the dissemination of hate speech against migrants published in the mass media, including the main Irish mass media.

The ECRI, with reference to the 2017 study, noted with concern that 40 per cent of migrants working on fishing boats stated that they faced racially motivated insults and abuse at work. The EU MIDIS II study showed one of the highest rates of hate-motivated persecutions among migrants and their descendants from Sub-Saharan Africa[257].

The situation with such category of persons as "travelers" (or nomads),which also includes the Roma and homeless persons, also raises concerns. According to Irish human rights defenders the 2017 official recognition of such people as ethnic minority has not changed the general situation. Currently, more than 25,000 of these persons (about half of the total amount) still live in poverty. Between 30 and 50 per cent of prisoners of both sex in Irish detention centers are representatives of this group of society. The general public and human rights defenders of Ireland admit that the effective solution to the "travelers" issue has not been found yet, which is explained primarily by their culture hardly compatible with the sedentary lifestyle and socially useful work.

This issue also came to the attention of international universal and regional human rights monitoring mechanisms, first of all, to the CERD and the ECRI. In particular, it was mentioned that the travelers and the Roma, along with people of African descent, are disproportionately becoming victims of racial profiling by the police, as well as constitute the majority of prisoners. It is exactly this vulnerable group of people that is subjected to racist rhetoric in the mass media and on the Internet. These ethnic minorities are poorly represented in the Irish public sector and political positions at all levels. They have restricted access to social housing, face serious discrimination and inequality in renting in private sector and, as a result, are at greater risk to become homeless. It is noted that the 2002 Housing Act is used by the local authorities to justify forced evictions of travelers. Moreover, the local authorities demonstrate a reluctance to fully use budgeted housing funds allocated to these people. The rate of unemployment among travelers and the Roma is extremely high, their children are barely enrolled in schools. All representatives of this group of the population are in a very bad health condition.

Forced involvement of minor female refugees in pornography and prostitution represent another problem. In 2019, the Irish law-enforcement authorities identified 27 cases, but human rights defenders believe that the real number of such episodes is three-four times higher.

The problem of involving children in pornography remains quite acute. The Irish law-enforcement authorities and human rights defenders have mentioned a steady increase in the cases of involvement among minors.

The CERD indicated racially-motivated abuses in the Irish mother and baby homes, including racial discrimination during the adoption procedure, as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuses which mostly affect children of mixed racial origin.

A specific issue related to violence against women is the historical abuses, ill-treatment of women and girls in the Magdalene Laundries (or shelters). Despite the adoption of the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act of 2015, the Irish authorities have not been able to conduct independent, thorough and effective investigations that meet international standards in respect of all allegations of abuse, mistreatment or neglect of women and children in the Magdalene Laundries, which would make it possible to determine the role of the State and the Church in the alleged violations. Concerns about the scale and systemic nature of forced labor practices that took place under State patronage from 1922 to 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries have been repeatedly expressed by virtually all UN human rights treaty bodies, noting the need to investigate outrageous abuses. The investigation of the relevant violations had been the subject of particular concern of the Committee against Torture, which requested the Irish authorities in May 2019, to take steps to investigate the abuses and provide redress to the victims of those shelters (it should be noted that this request was made by the Committee after receiving the Irish authorities' report on the implementation of the Committee's recommendations in this regard in February 2017).[258]

The problem of torture or inhumane treatment in detention facilities still needs to be addressed. According to the 2019 Report of the Commission on Human Rights and Equality about half of the penitentiary facilities of Ireland are overcrowded, calls of public activists demanding the authorities to provide a detailed report have been ignored since 2016 (the last analysis on this subject was submitted at that time).

Human rights defenders do not mention any serious violations of civil rights and freedoms in Ireland. In this area, official Dublin has been criticized by local and international public opinion for being overly liberal in its treatment of certain organizations and individuals who freely disseminate extremist and racist content in the electronic media under the guise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and for having used complex and highly specific Irish legislation to rebut the charges in court. The Government refuses to take decisive action against such entities (ban, closure), giving priority to the freedom of expression on any issue, excluding direct incitement to violence.

However, the Irish authorities took decisive actions in respect of protesters against coronavirus-related quarantine restrictions which are quite longer than in other European countries. According to mass media protests in downtown Dublin in late February 2021, were going on under reinforced presence of the police and led to clashes. Law-enforcement officers used batons against protesters after an object which looked like a firework had been thrown at one of the officers. 23 persons were detained[259]. On March 6, 2021, there were protests in different parts of the country involving a considerable number of participants. Thus, the journalists reported about 400 – 500 people gathered in the center of a district in Cork. RTE channel informed of arrests in Cork, Kerry and Kildare: at least 4 protesters were detained for violating the coronavirus restrictions, in particular, for unsubstantiated movements beyond their district of residence[260].

At the same time, Ireland is evaluated mostly for the progress in the protection of the rights of people with non-traditional sexual orientation. In practice, this led to aggressive incorporation of neo-liberal values and approaches, especially among children and the youth. Thus, Ireland was the first in Europe (2015) to legalize same-sex marriages. The Gender Recognition Act of the same year allows to officially register the change of name and gender on the basis of self-determination and without the need for medical intervention or assessment. In 2016, detailed guidelines "Being LGBT in schools" were adopted under the pretext of preventing homophobic and transphobic bullying and supporting LGBT students. The adoption of the LGBT+ National Youth Strategy by the Ministry of Children and Youth Affairs is justified by the same reasons. In fact, these documents and other relevant papers are aimed at promoting the relevant "values" and lifestyle among youngsters.

There is still a tendency to spread negative attitudes towards Russia in the public sphere. The Irish branches of international human rights NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Frontline Defenders, are active in this area. At the same time, there have been no cases of explicit discrimination of Russian journalists.

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Italy

The Italian Constitution guarantees a wide range of civil and political rights and freedoms, which are enshrined therein as the "fundamental principles": acknowledgment by the State and strict respect of human rights exercised on a personal or collective basis. All Italian citizens are equal before the law without any distinction as to language, sex, race, or religion. Everyone is granted the possibility to take part in political, economic, and social life of the country. The Constitution also obliges the State to provide free nine-year education to the citizens.

In accordance with Article 1 of the Constitution, "Italy is a democratic Republic founded on labour." The Constitution guarantees the right to establish trade unions and protect the interests of workers (Art. 39) and strike for this purpose (Art. 40). As of June 2020, the per centage of unemployed among active population was at 8.8 per cent. This rate is traditionally high among Italian youth (15 to 24 years) – 27.6 per cent.

According to the data published in June 2020 by the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), by the end of 2019, 4.593 million people in Italy (7.7 per cent of the population) lived in absolute poverty. In comparison, as of year-end 2018, this rate was at 5.034 million (8.4 per cent of the population). The number of relatively poor was 8.8 million (14.7 per cent of the population).

Italy pays special attention to the protection of women's rights. The government takes measures to increase the representation of women in the governing bodies of ministries, agencies, and State-owned companies. At the same time, there are a number of problems in this area. Italian human rights organizations report conflicts between employers and female workers who are required to sign resignation letters, usually due to pregnancy. Even though a law criminalizing domestic violence and other forms of violence against women was adopted and entered into force in 2014, the number of such crimes remains high. This problem was highlighted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2017.[281]

As reported by the Department for Equal Opportunities (operating within the Italian government), the helpline for women subjected to violence or harassment received 15,300 calls in 2019. Experts note that in most cases women prefer not to contact law enforcement authorities or support centres. Therefore, the real situation may be quite different from official reports. The situation with domestic violence against women has worsened in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and the epidemiological restrictions that have been imposed. In 2020, the number of calls to the helpline set up by the Department for Equal Opportunities at the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Italy increased by 79.5 per cent as compared to 2019, in which 21,290 people called the 1522 number. As of 30 October 2020, the number of calls reached 26,477.

According to ISTAT statistics, the number of murders of women is decreasing. In 2016, 149 cases were reported, 123 in 2017, 133 in 2018, 111 in 2019, and 112 in 2020.

Article 6 of the Italian Constitution provides that "the Republic safeguards linguistic minorities by means of appropriate measures." Specialists in constitutional law explain the absence of the term "national minorities" in the Constitution by the fact that "language, not nationality or ethnicity, is the defining instrument of identification for foreign-language and multi-language communities in need of protection." The unified framework defining the linguistic policy in the country is set forth in the 1999 Law on the Rules on the Protection of Historical Linguistic Minorities. The State recognizes 12 linguistic minorities (2.5 million persons in 14 regions of the country) established as ethnic communities within their linguistic areas.

However, the Law only refers to those ethnic groups that have historically lived in the areas that form part of present-day Italy. In this context, the rights of the large Roma community in the country are virtually ignored, which has repeatedly drawn criticism from the Council of Europe[282] and universal human rights mechanisms.[283]

Italian human rights defenders are also concerned about prison overcrowding (although the situation has improved compared to 2019). By 30 June 2020, as reported by the Italian Ministry of Justice, the prison population stood at 53,579 against the capacity of 50,501.

Concerns have also been raised about the freedom of the media in Italy. According to the 2020 report of the international NGO "Reporteurs Sans Frontières" (Reporters without Borders), Italy ranks 41st out of 180 on this indicator. There have been reports of threats and attacks against journalists in relation with their professional activities from mafia and neo-fascist groups (to date, 20 Italian journalists are protected by the police).

Certain concerns have been raised about the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Italy, like most European countries, has a notification procedure for holding public events. Organizers of such events inform municipal authorities and/or local law enforcement agencies about the planned event in advance. The Italian legislation stipulates that, to hold an event in a public place (street, square, etc.), it is necessary to notify the authorities, which may deny the request for reasons of public safety.

The 1947 Constitution of the Italian Republic, unlike the fundamental laws of many other countries, does not contain articles concerning the state of emergency. However, Article 77 of the Constitution provides that "the Government, in case of necessity and urgency, adopts under its own responsibility a temporary measure" with the force of law. When the coronavirus situation in the country grew critical in 2020, the Italian authorities invoked this provision in the face of the objective need to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Thus, the first decree-law of the President of the Council of Ministers of Italy No. 6 of 23 February 2020, adopted at the time of the rapid spread of COVID-19, in addition to the state of emergency, provided for "a ban on any kind of gatherings or any other activities, including cultural, entertainment, sports and religious events, in public spaces or private premises, even in places closed to free access." This and subsequent decrees of the President of the Council of Ministers imposed other restrictions on the constitutional rights of citizens – in particular, the freedom of movement within and outside the country.

Tough restrictive measures introduced by the Italian authorities sparked massive protests. For instance, after the Italian government imposed further restrictions in late October 2020 to contain the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, unauthorized massive protests took place in many major cities. Police fired tear gas against protesters, who in turn threw rocks and bottles at administrative buildings.[284]

In early April 2021, another wave of massive protests swept through the country. The protest was led by owners and employees of restaurants and other catering establishments, tourist stores and fitness centres, demonstrating against the ongoing restrictions that had brought their businesses to a halt or significantly constrained them. The media reported clashes with police and the use of pyrotechnic devices.[285]

Currently, Italy is grappling with migration-related issues, although in the last century these did not pose a problem. On the contrary, until the 1970s, the authorities were concerned about the mass departure of Italians from the country and for a long time did not regulate foreigners entering the country. The first legal acts introducing individual regulations in this field (for example, provisions on migrant family reunification, tourism and training) were adopted in the 1980s. As migration flows intensified in the 1990s, Italy adopted stricter rules for entering and staying in the country. On the coast of Italy's southern Puglia region, temporary refugee centres were created, which formed the basis for the current system of migrant reception facilities (First Reception Centres, Identification and Deportation Centres, Asylum Seekers Accommodation Centres, etc.). Throughout the 2000s, Italy continued to develop normative legal acts regulating this sphere in order to maintain the balance between the number of migrants entering the country and the demand on the Italian labour market, to simplify the procedure for their identification and to create a single database.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, Italy basically became the main "staging post" on the route from Africa to the more prosperous countries of Europe. There was a significant upsurge in illegal migration. The increased number of migrants contributed to an escalation of migrantophobic rhetoric in political discourse, which was highlighted with concern by the ECRI.[286] Experts observed the lack of effectiveness and the insufficiency of the existing financial, organizational, and regulatory tools to counter this phenomenon. The situation was aggravated by the absence of an effective and harmonized EU policy in this area. From 2012 to 2017, several attempts were made to carry out migration reform in the country, which – for various reasons – proved unsuccessful.

Significant changes in Italian migration legislation were introduced during Giuseppe Conte's first cabinet in 2018–2019. At the suggestion of Matteo Salvini – Vice-President of the Council of Ministers, Minister of the Interior and leader of the League party, two laws on security were adopted, including one on fighting illegal migration, which, in fact, severely restricted the rights of migrants in Italy.

Now, the arriving migrants must stay in First Reception Centres until their identity and citizenship are identified. If these data cannot be identified, migrants are relocated to Identification and Deportation Centres, where the maximum period of stay was extended from 90 to 180 days. The system of humanitarian protection with regard to the reception of refugees was reorganized and tightened: residence permits on humanitarian grounds were no longer issued. Instead, a number of special residence permits for six to twelve months were introduced – for victims of natural disasters, domestic violence, or labour exploitation as well as for medical and social protection reasons. The list of crimes (sexual violence, drug trafficking, theft, inflicting serious injury on public officers, etc.) for which an asylum seeker loses his or her status and is subject to immediate expulsion from the country has been expanded. The procedure for obtaining citizenship has become more complicated: the period for consideration of an application has been extended from two to four years, and the application fee has been raised. The authorities have been given extended powers to revoke citizenship – now they can revoke citizenship of anyone who have committed terrorism-related crimes and pose a threat to national security (within three years from the entry into force of the sentence).

The Italian Minister of the Interior has been given the authority, upon approval by the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport and upon notification of the President of the Council of Ministers, to restrict or prohibit the entry, transit passage and anchorage of vessels in Italian territorial waters based on national security concerns or violation of national laws by the crew. This provision is aimed particularly against numerous NGOs involved in rescuing migrants at sea. In case of failure to comply with the directives, the master of the vessel is subject to an administrative fine of 150 thousand to 1 million euros. The vessel itself may be seized or confiscated as an additional punitive measure. Sanctions for aiding and abetting illegal migration have been tightened, and wiretapping and monitoring of correspondence of persons suspected of committing these crimes are allowed for preventive purposes. In case of resistance or violent actions against an Italian navy vessel and its crew members, the offenders are subject to mandatory arrest. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a Repatriation Fund to facilitate the return of illegal migrants from countries that are not members of the EU and the Schengen Agreement.

These legislative measures have been criticized by the international community, moderate forces inside the country, and human rights organizations. Leaders of the Democratic Party, who opposed these laws, expressed concern that this approach could eventually exclude migrants from the Italian legal framework and increase the number of "illegals." The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy stressed that the measures taken run counter to several international treaties, including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It was also pointed out that rescuing people at sea is an international obligation, which means it is illegal to refuse to do so. The Committee on the Rights of the Child also called on the Italian authorities to take measures to ensure that rescuing migrants is not considered a crime.[287]

Giuseppe Conte's second cabinet, which took office in September 2019 and included the Democratic Party, has repeatedly announced its intention to repeal the "Salvini laws," but no concrete decisions have been made so far. The only exception was a number of decrees on the partial liberalization of the migration regime. In the context of labour shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Italian Minister of Labour and Social Policy (at that time, Teresa Bellanova) proposed a simplified procedure for legalizing irregular migrants, whose number, according to estimates by the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), currently stands at about 600,000 people (533,000 in 2018). By comparison, according to ISTAT, as of 31 December 2019, a total of 5.3 million foreign citizens resided permanently in Italy (8.8 per cent of the country's population). The largest diasporas are: Romanian (1,207 thousand), Albanian (441 thousand), Moroccan (423 thousand), Chinese (300 thousand) and Ukrainian (239 thousand).

International mechanisms also drew attention to the difficult situation of migrants who stayed in the country. Many of them work in the agricultural sector, which is characterized by harsh working conditions and low wages. They become victims of racial discrimination and exploitation. One of the main reasons for such treatment is reportedly the geographic location of migrants' countries of origin. For example, following a visit to Italy from 3 to 12 October 2018, the Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Urmila Bhoola, noted that, as of 2017, 16.9 per cent of all workers in agriculture were migrants, and in some Italian regions migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia almost entirely replaced migrants from the European Union (mostly from Southern Europe).[288] Hilal Elver, the Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on the right to food, also pointed to this range of problems in 2020, noting that irregular migrants are mostly employed in the agricultural sector. Referring to Italian social services, she pointed out that legally employed migrants make up 35 per cent of the workforce.[289]

The "national unity" government, led by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, which took office in February 2021, proclaimed a "balanced and humane policy toward migrants," which would respect basic human rights and ensure the rescue of migrants in Italian territorial waters. At the same time, given that the problem of illegal migration continued to exacerbate, the Italian government decided to take action on the following three tracks: strengthen cooperation with Libya and Tunisia, bring the issue of providing assistance to Italy in this matter to the level of the EU, and speed up the development of a new EU-wide system for the reception and distribution of migrants.

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Latvia

The human rights situation in the Republic of Latvia remains unfavorable. The ruling coalition formed following the October 2018 parliamentary elections proceeds with its policy to build a mono-ethnic state model. The Russian-speaking population of the country is still regarded as a foreign destabilizing element. As a result, the official authorities' nationalist policy is accompanied by numerous national minority rights violations.

The main human rights challenge in Latvia is the fact that a considerable portion of the Latvian population live without citizenship. According to the Central Statistical Office, as of early 2020, the number of "non-citizens" reached 10.4% of the population, or 197,800 persons. According to the Office of Citizenship and Migration of the Latvian Interior Ministry, they account for 12% of the population, or 216,700 persons. For a long time, the official authorities in Riga have taken no meaningful steps to address this problem, limiting their efforts to various "cosmetic" embellishments.

However, upon the entry into force on 1 October 2013 of amendments to the Law of the Republic of Latvia on Citizenship, 90% of children of "non-citizens" were finally given a political and legal bond with their state.[369] Besides, on 1 January 2020, the Law on the Termination of the Granting of the Status of a Non-citizen to Children Born after 1 January 2020 entered into force, finally putting an end to the "reproduction" of this status.

However, potential changes are more like a symbolic gesture and will have no effect on the situation of more than 200,000 already discriminated persons. The issue of newborn "non-citizens" is not a big challenge. In 2020, this status was only granted to 31 children (27 children in 2019, 38 children in 2018, 51 children in 2017, and 47 children in 2016). The total number of minor "non-citizens" in the country is less than 5,000. There are no grounds to expect the complete elimination of mass statelessness in Latvia in the nearest future.

"Non-citizens" are still refused a range of social, economic and political rights. Latvian human rights activists currently list 84 differences between their status and that of a citizen (for comparison: in 2004, there were 61 differences), including 47 restrictions in the professional sphere (against 25 in 2004). In particular, "non-citizens" are not entitled to hold positions in state, municipal and military service, to be judges, prosecutors, etc. They are also prohibited from founding political parties, participating in court proceedings as assessors, entering into transactions to purchase land and real estate without the consent of municipal authorities, etc.

The unfavourable situation with naturalization has been reflected in official statistics: the rate of obtaining citizenship has been slowing down every year. In the 2017 through 2019, it dropped to just 915, 930 and 808 persons, accordingly, and reached a record 725 in 2020. For comparison: 19,169 persons were naturalized in 2005, and 2,213 persons in 2012. If the current domestic political context remains as it is, this trend may increase. Today, the reduction in the number of "non-citizens" is caused by the natural decline and out-migration of this category of population.

The survey conducted by the Office of Citizenship and Migration of the Latvian Interior Ministry in 2019 confirms that this category of population is not interested in naturalization. Only 24% of the respondents expressed willingness to be naturalized (against 35 per cent in 2016). About a quarter of all participants stated that they were contend with their status or too busy to engage in the process of obtaining citizenship. The situation is partly explained by the fact that 48% of "non-citizens" are over 60 years old.

It should be noted that the naturalization procedure involves, in addition to passing special examinations in the Latvian language, obtaining an official "acknowledgement" of the fact of the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union from the applicant.

Civil society organizations representing the Russian-speaking population in their work pay much attention to the issue of "non-citizenship". In particular, the Latvian Human Rights Committee systematically engages with international human rights institutions, the diplomatic corps in Riga, and other relevant entities in this area. In February 2020, it also coordinated the filing of complaints with the European Court of Human Rights against the education reform that is underway in the country. Such activities arouse suspicions of local authorities and annually find their way to final reports of the State Security Service (former Security Police). The work of the Fund for the Support and Protection of the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad, which provides direct financial assistance to this and other interested entities, is strongly disapproved of.

At the European level, the issues of mass statelessness in Latvia and Estonia were discussed in 2017 and 2018 by the relevant committees of the European Parliament (EP) on the initiative of European MP Tatjana Ždanoka and former European MP Andrey Mamykin, who succeeded in securing 20 thousand signatures of EU citizens in support of a petition to grant "non-citizens" the right to vote not only at municipal elections but also at the EP elections. In April 2018, following the vote within the EP Committee on Petitions, it was decided to send letters from European parliamentarians to Latvian authorities expressing concern over the situation with "non-citizens". In April 2018, the Minority Safepack Initiative launched by the Federal Union of European Nationalities NGO (with Tatjana Ždanoka's active support) collected more than a million signatures required for its further consideration by the EU structures.

Active steps taken by the Latvian authorities on the language issue with a view to shaping a monolingual society are also being subjected to criticism. According to the conclusions of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM Advisory Committee), the language policy pursued by the country's leadership has the effect of diminishing the space for the use of languages of national minorities.[370] In fact, the country's ongoing comprehensive education reform aims to eliminate bilingual schools and end the use of the Russian language at educational institutions of all levels. At the same time, according to the reports of the Central Statistical Bureau for 2017, Russian is the second most widely spoken language in the country, its speakers representing 37.7% of the population of the Republic of Latvia (with 61.3% speaking Latvian).[371]

The amendments to the Education Law and the General Education Law adopted in April 2018 provide for the full transition to the use of Latvian as the language of teaching in secondary school (in grades 10 to 12) and an increase in the number of lessons taught in Latvian to 80% in basic school (grades 7 to 9) starting from the 2021/2022 school year. Since the 2019/2020 school year, the final state assessment has been conducted exclusively in Latvian in basic schools and since the 2017/2018 school year in secondary schools.

Attempts of the public concerned to secure the revision of the reform have failed. On 23 April 2019, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia ruled on a lawsuit against the amendments to the Education Law filed by the Saskaņa Party, announcing the education reform to be in line with the national constitution. In response to the controversial ruling, parents of Russian-speaking pupils, with support from the Latvian Human Rights Committee and the Parent Community in Latvia,[372] filed a significant number of complaints with the European Court of Human Rights (131 of them were registered).[373]

All the aforementioned measures to transfer education to instruction in Latvian are being implemented by the authorities without consideration for the pupils' views. The survey conducted by the "Latvijas Avize" newspaper among Latvian schoolchildren has shown that most of them consider Russian a tool for improving their competitiveness that opens up employment opportunities in many countries.

According to the sociological research organized by the "Spectrum" online magazine and conducted in July and August 2020 across the country by SKDS Public Opinion Research Centre with support of the Embassy of the Netherlands and the Embassy of Sweden in Latvia, 84% of respondents representing the Russian-speaking population want to retain their belonging to the cultural space of the Russian language. 88% of respondents consider it important to be entitled to education in their mother tongue.[374]

The FCNM Advisory Committee has pointed to the fact that the education reform pursued by the Latvian authorities puts pupils belonging to national minorities at a distinct disadvantage in terms of academic performance, which, in turn, may affect their ability to successfully integrate into social and economic life[375].

For all the seriousness of the situation, teachers and the administration at schools teaching national minority children have no say on the issue of further organization of the educational process and advisability of the reform. Changes introduced to the Education Law in 2015 and 2016 compel them to express loyalty to the state under threat of dismissal.

Pre-school education is also being subjected to considerable reformation. On 1 September 2019, Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No. 716 of 21 November 2018 on pre-school education entered into force. The document provides for the use of Latvian as the main medium of communication when playing with young children. Human rights activists report that there had been no consultations with representatives of national minorities and human rights activists involved in minority rights' protection efforts before these measures were developed. Attempts by Russian-speaking human rights activists to challenge this decision in court have failed.

The authorities have announced their intention to ensure the full transition of pre-schools to instruction in Latvian. On 14 May 2020, the Saeima adopted amendments to the General Education Law, which aim to make it mandatory for all municipal pre-school institutions to provide the possibility of teaching in Latvian language starting from 2021.

These new developments have put at particular risk small Russian-language pre-schools which would simply lack resources to implement both programs. The requirement imposed on them to open Latvian-language groups is thus fraught with complete de-Russianization. Further difficulties arise because pre-school employees are mostly of pre-retirement age and have no or very poor command of the state language.[376]

On June 19 2020, the Constitutional Court of Latvia ruled that the introduced provisions were in line with the constitution. In this regard, as of December 19, 2020, 46 complaints were filed with the ECtHR, three of which have already been registered and are now pending.[377]

Private educational institutions also came under the scrutiny of the authorities. On 4 July 2018, the then president of Latvia, R. Vējonis, approved amendments to the Law on Higher Education which affected the possibility for citizens to benefit from services offered by private universities and colleges with Russian-language curricula. New enrollments were terminated starting from 1 January 2019. However, this ban was lifted on 11 June 2020 by the ruling of the Constitutional Court. The document also set 11 June 2020 as the deadline for the official termination of the challenged provisions. Shortly before that date, the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science suggested introducing amendments to the draft law that allegedly met the requirements set out in the aforementioned ruling. The main adjustment provided for permitting university education, beside Latvian, in the official languages of the EU and countries with which Latvia had relevant treaties, but the share should not exceed 20% of all students. It was also decided that academic tests and examinations would be conducted solely in the state language. The document did not specify any differences in terms of regulation for public and private institutions of higher education. The proposed amendments were urgently approved in two readings.

At the same time, in November 2019, the Constitutional Court of Latvia ruled that the transition to instruction in the state language in private national minority schools was in line with the country's fundamental law.

On 2 July 2020, the Latvian parliament passed the Law on International Schools, granting these institutions the right to instruct only in the EU and NATO countries' official languages.

In January 2020, the members of the Saeima from the National Alliance proposed a full transfer to the state language in election campaigning, but the idea gained no support. On 7 May 2020, a new Law on Administrative Penalties for Offences in the Field of Administration, Public Order, and Use of the Official Language was passed. This piece of legislation imposes administrative liability for "showing serious disrespect for the state language," concluding employment contracts with employees who do not speak Latvian, the unwillingness to ensure the use of the state language at work. It also provides for control of compliance with regulations on the distribution of information: printed advertising materials distributed among Latvian citizens must be in Latvian only, unless the citizen has expressed consent to receive the materials in other languages as well.

In 2017 and 2018, the members of the Saeima from the National Alliance repeatedly proposed legislative changes to compel workers in the services sector to use solely the state language and prohibit election campaigning in Russian and re-broadcasting of Russian channels in the Latvian territory.

The Russian-speaking population also faced discrimination on the grounds of language during the pandemic. Detailed information on the disease in the Russian language was only made available after people living in Latvia began to express mass discontent in social media, and members of the opposition Saskaņa Party raised this issue in parliament. Furthermore, after schools were locked down, the majority of school assignments under the new system were disseminated in Latvian, making learning difficult for national minority pupils. The "Tava klase" education channel, which was specifically created to provide support in distance learning during the lock-down, also broadcasted programs in the state language only.

In accordance with the Law on the State Language, it is only possible to refuse to use Latvian in dealing with state authorities when contacting the police, medical institutions and rescue services to report an emergency situation. At the same time, Latvian is the only language used by municipal authorities regardless of the per centage of the population belonging to national minorities. All this hampers access to public services for elderly residents who were not taught the state language. The latest census revealed that 40.2% of Riga residents claimed Russian ethnicity, and, according to the same source, 55.8% of Riga residents and 60.3% of residents of the Latgale region spoke Russian at home.

The Latvian Human Rights Committee's report on the language policy of Latvia, inter alia, expresses concern about the uneven level of support provided to the Riga Russian Theatre and especially to the bilingual Daugavpils theatre in comparison to main Latvian-language theatres. Discrimination against the Russian national minority is thus gradually spreading to the field of culture.[378]

The consistent policy of de-russification also manifested itself in the abolition of language quotas for radio and television broadcasts by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia on June 5, 2003. Article 32 of the Electronic Mass Media Act stipulates that national and regional electronic and television media broadcast 65% of all programs, except advertising, in Latvian language. In 2014, the Saeima adopted amendments to the act. They provided for the transition to broadcasting in the state language of the vast majority
(50 out of 67) commercial radio stations starting from January 2016. However, following a wave of protests, amendments were introduced into these provisions, postponing their entry into force until 2017 and reducing the number of "affected" channels to 37. New legal provisions obliged radio stations to fill at least 90% of their weekly airtime with their own content, most likely in order to limit re-broadcasting of foreign products. To ensure compliance, a fine of 2,100 to 10,000 euros was introduced into the Code of Administrative Violations for breaking license conditions. The FCNM Advisory Committee considers that conditions laid down in the aforementioned legislation breach the Framework Convention by going beyond licensing requirements and unduly interfering with private broadcasters and thereby limiting access to mass media of persons belonging to national minorities.[379]

On 11 June 2020, new amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Act were adopted. These provide for the increase in content broadcasted in the official languages of the EU and EEA while limiting the share of Russian-language programs in major packages of cable television operators to 20%.

In political life, groups that position themselves as fighters for the rights of the Russian-speaking population have been systematically subjected to serious pressure. In June 2018, T.Ždanoka, European MP and Latvian Russian Union co-chair, was denied the right to participate in the Saeima elections based on the Law on Elections, which bans persons who used to be members of certain Soviet organizations (such as the Communist Party and others) after 13 January 1991 from participating in elections.

Shortly before that, in March 2018, criminal proceedings had been initiated against T. Zhdanok, V. Linderman and six other organizers of the All-Latvian Parent Community. In April 2020 the proceedings were terminated due to the lack of corpus delicti, but in June 2020, the investigation was resumed in relation to V. Linderman.

In July 2019, a criminal case was initiated against the organizer of the "Total Dictation" event in Riga, Alexander Filey, on charge of the "public glorification and justification of the genocide committed by the USSR on the territory of Latvia".

Criminal proceedings are underway against Yuri Alekseyev, leader of the Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress for his comments in mass media that ran counter to the official Latvian interpretation of the Soviet period in history.

On 3 April 2020, the City of Riga Vidzeme Disctict Court satisfied a lawsuit of the State Revenue Service of Latvia to terminate the activities of the All-Latvian Society of Veterans, which united more than two thousand pensioners. On 6 October 2020, Russian war veteran Vladimir Norvind, chairman of the organization, was deprived of his residence permit, and as early as October 10 he was violently expelled from the country, despite a sudden deterioration of his health and that of his spouse, who had Latvian citizenship.

On 17 August 2020, a Latvian court convicted a representative of the Russian-speaking diaspora, O. Burak. The sentence is currently being appealed by the defense.

On 17 December 2020, human rights defender A.Gaponenko was sentenced to one year of suspended imprisonment and two years of probation supervision for criticizing the glorification of Nazism persistently promoted in Latvia.

The already mentioned language proficiency requirements have often been used as a pretext for terminating the powers of elected local members. One such case concerns Ivan Baranov, Balvi City Council member, whose mandate was terminated on the grounds of the insufficient command of the Latvian language.

Mayor of Daugavpils Rihard Eigim was fined in October 2017 for insufficient command of Latvian. He was asked to improve his Latvian language proficiency within six months, after which time he was to take a new exam.[380]

These practices illustrate that the opportunities for Latvian citizens who are not native speakers to hold public and municipal posts are being reduced.

Furthermore, requirements for a certain level of proficiency in Latvian are applied to 3,600 professions listed in appendices to Cabinet of Ministers Regulation 733 of 7 July 2009 on the Level of Proficiency in the State Language and the Procedure of Testing the Level of Language Proficiency for Professional Duties and Duties of Office for Receiving of Permanent Residence Permit and Obtaining the Status of Permanent Resident of the European Community, and State Fee for the State Language Proficiency Examination, including gravediggers, shepherds, stable workers and bus drivers.

In April 2021, Latvian President Eglis Levits called on the government to promptly end "discrimination" wherever the knowledge of the Russian language is unreasonably required in the labor market.

The Latvian authorities have also engaged in a fierce struggle against the dissenting media. Among the most illustrative examples are the suspensions of the RTR-Planeta TV channel broadcasting in 2014 and 2016, and the Russia-RTR channel in February 2019 for three months pursuant to the decision of Latvia's National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP). The reasoning behind the decision was that assessments of the events in Ukraine voiced in news and analytical programmes of the channel differed from the official interpretation of those events by Riga; the Council found that the channel's assessments contained "incitement of hatred and call to military action."

On 18 June 2019, the NEPLP approached the Saeima asking to adopt amendments to the Law that would allow to restrict transmission of TV programmes from any countries in the territory of Latvia if they violate the set limitations, i.e. if they contain calls to violence or incitement of hatred, discrimination against any person or a group of persons, calls that jeopardize public order, including national security and defense, etc. According to the Council, this would help effectively ensure protection of Latvia's information space.

In November 2019, the NEPLP banned the broadcasting of nine Russian TV channels that are part of the "National Media Group" private media holding group. The formal reason behind blocking was that one of its beneficiaries is a Russian entrepreneur Yu.Kovalchuk included in the EU sanctions list "for undermining the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine." The website "Baltnews.lv," which belongs to the "Russia Today" International News Agency, was also blocked under a flimsy pretext.

In March 2020, after pressure had been put on the "Baltijas Mediju Alianse" media holding group, the Russian-language news service of the "First Baltic Channel" was shut down in Latvia and broadcasting of daily news programs and media personalities' own was discontinued.

Furthermore, the "First Baltic Channel", "Radio Peak", and "Baltcom", as well as some other Russian-language media outlets, are being fined, allegedly, for "illegally retransmitting Russian content" and publishing interviews with Russian politicians.

In August 2020, the Society Integration Foundation deprived the "Today" newspaper and the portal "BB.lv" of financial assistance provided as part of support during the coronavirus crisis. Both media outlets were accused of disseminating fake news, including on the COVID-19 pandemic.

In November 2020, the NEPLP announced the full transition to broadcasting in Latvian of the only multilingual channel "LTV7." It stated that it was planning to preserve a certain portion of content in national minority languages available on the online platform.

In February 2021, the Latvian media regulator suspended the retransmission of 17 Russian TV channels, including "Ren TV Baltic", "NTV Mir Baltic", and "RTR-Planeta." The re-broadcasting of the "Rossiya RTR" channel was banned for a year.

It should be noted that, according to the European Commission, this new Russophobic attack should be regarded as a proportionate and reasonable measure, consistent with European law, against a media outlet that has violated the prohibition on broadcasting incitement to violence or hatred.[381]

On 31 March 2021, the NEPLP blocked "RT in Russian", "ntv.ru", "rus24.ru" and "teledays.net" websites, which provided online access to Russian televisions channels, allegedly for the reason of illegal dissemination of programs involving content that "may violate copyright laws, have a negative impact and be directed against Latvia and its citizens."

Russian and Russian-speaking journalists are being subjected to pressure. On 24 February 2020, the reporter of the "Izvestia" newspaper A.Zakharov was detained at Riga International Airport, and his multiple Schengen visa was cancelled on request of the Estonian authorities.

On 10 June 2020, with reference to recommendations of the Latvian state security agencies, the Latvian Foreign Ministry refused to extend accreditation to D. Grigorova and A. Chagaev, employees of the VGTRK Riga office.

Searches and interrogations were carried out by the Latvian State Security Service on 3 December 2020 targeting prominent Russian-speaking journalists and Russian-language community activists who closely cooperate with Russian news outlets "Baltnews" and "Sputnik Latvia" as freelance authors, which caused public repercussions. Seven representatives of mass media were accused of violating the EU sanctions regime in view of their cooperation with the RT media group. On 14 April 2021, five more journalists were called in for questioning to be presented with the status of a suspect.

On 18 February 2021, the Latvian authorities put on Latvia's list of personae non gratae Russian journalist Vladimir Solovyev, whom the Latvian foreign minister had accused of "glorifying Nazism".

Lately, the National IT Security Council has intensified efforts to maintain Russophobic sentiments in the society. On the initiative of its superiors, in February 2020 it began distributing materials containing expressly anti-Russian propaganda. These publications accused Russian news agencies and public officials of deliberately disseminating disinformation on the COVID19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences for European countries. At the same time, the publications described the sanitary and epidemiological situation in Russia as dire and the measures implemented by its leadership as ineffective. Against this background, there have been occasional news reports repeatedly blaming the Russian-speaking part of the Latvian population for non-compliance with the restrictions imposed by the government of the country to curb the coronavirus.

Earlier, in Autumn 2017, amendments to the Latvian Law on Associations and Foundations had been adopted, providing for a simplified procedure of shutting down organizations under the pretext of posing a threat to national security and public order. The true purpose of these changes is not being concealed: according to representatives of the National Assembly, "in case of violations they would allow to suppress the activities of Kremlin-funded non-governmental organizations."

International human rights organizations have more than once drawn the attention of the Latvian authorities to the human rights issues in the country, particularly with regards to the situation of national minorities.

Several dozen recommendations and proposals of this sort have been issued in recent years, with structures of the UN Human Rights Council, Council of Europe, and OSCE, as well as the CoE and OSCE Parliamentary Assemblies engaged in this work.

In 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern over the education reform as well as the issue of "non-citizens." Experts recommended that that Latvia take measures to ensure that its language policy and laws do not create direct or indirect discrimination of the population.[382]

In May and August 2019, CERD experts tried to request detailed information from the Latvian government about the ongoing reforms in education, and the situation in pre-school education in particular. However, the Latvian authorities never provided an answer as to how discriminatory the new regulation would be in respect of national minorities in terms of their access to education.

In March 2019, OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Lamberto Zannier paid a visit to Latvia. He gave cautious assessments to the education reform and expressed concern about the problem of mass statelessness; he welcomed, in particular, the legislative initiative of president Raimonds Vējonis to grant automatic citizenship to children of "non-citizens."

In September 2019, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteurs on the right to education, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on minority issues, and on contemporary forms of racism sent a letter to Latvian prime minister K. Kariņš expressing concern about the increasing use of the state language in pre-schools. According to the Special Rapporteurs, the exclusion of the native language from the educational process would infringe on the right to education, and such regulations should only be introduced after consultations with representatives of national minorities, which had not been the case.

In October 2019, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović in her statement on language policy once again stressed that the 2018 education reform in Latvia could lead to a de facto transformation of bilingual education into a system where only native language and culture lessons would be given in the language of the national minority.

Besides, in 2019, international agencies raised the issue of the "democracy deficit" observed in Latvia. In January 2019, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights made public the materials following the last Saeima elections in the Republic of Latvia. According to the organization, about 227,000 adult "non-citizens" could have taken part in the voting. Latvia was invited to enhance the involvement of the population in political processes by increasing the naturalization rate, inter alia, by facilitating the citizenship acquisition procedure and increasing the number of free Latvian language courses.

ECRI in its regular report[383] indicated that it would follow with particular attention the process of establishing a unit within the State Police tasked with reaching out to vulnerable groups, as well providing for the automatic recognition of citizenship for children born to "non-citizens."

ECRI further recommended that Latvia focus on the rights of Roma, refugees, and investigate allegations of racial discrimination in the health sector.

In December 2019, the CAT also welcomed progress achieved by the country in addressing the issue of statelessness. However, experts expressed concern over the fact that the law on the automatic granting of citizenship to children born to "non-citizens", does not apply to all "non-citizen" minors, and called on the Latvian authorities to take additional measures to facilitate the naturalization and integration of "non-citizens" into society.[384]

In January 2020, OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Lamberto Zannier addressed a letter to speaker of the Saeima Ināra Mūrniece regarding the amendments that envisaged the obligation of local governments to open Latvian groups even in Russian pre-schools, upon demand. He stressed that this might lead to reducing educational opportunities for children from national minority families and pointed to the need for prior consultations with all stakeholders.

On 18 June 2020, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe) published an opinion on the education reform in Latvia. The Commission found that increasing the proportions of the use of Latvian in educational programs for national minorities was legitimate as its ultimate goal was to raise the proficiency of all pupils. However, in experts' opinion, the question of introducing Latvian as the main language in pre-schools should be reconsidered, because acquiring proficiency in minorities' own languages was crucial for preserving their identity as well as linguistic diversity within the Latvian society. Private schools should also be granted the right to implement educational programs in minority languages, which they have been refused so far.

In March 2021, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) noted that the country had a growing trend towards prejudice and discrimination against individuals and groups based on language, religion, national or ethnic origin and lacked comprehensive anti-discrimination policies and legislation. The country was criticized by the CESCR for difficulties in accessing health care and social welfare services, as well as education and employment, faced by national minorities, with "non-citizens" being the most affected by unemployment. Amendments to the Education Law and Cabinet Regulation No. 716 of 21 November 2018 were found by the CESCR discriminatory and creating undue restrictions on receiving education in and learning of minority languages in both public and private pre-school and primary education institutions.

Speaking of the problems faced by national minorities in Latvia, it should also be remembered that the country is not a signatory to the European Charter for Regional Languages of 5 November 1992 and ratified the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) only in 2005. In so doing, it made two reservations restricting the application of the Convention provisions that allow national minorities, in areas of their compact settlement, to communicate with administrative authorities in their native languages and use them in topographical indications. Besides, the additional declaration adopted by the Latvian parliament when ratifying the FCNM specifically stipulates that "non-citizens" are not subject to the Convention, i.e. Riga does not regard them as members of national minorities.

On 3 March 2021, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia. The document notes that the state is failing to fulfill its obligations under the Convention by restricting the opportunity to receive education in native languages, violating the rights of the non-Latvian population to fully participate in the cultural, economic, social and political life of the country and prohibiting the use of national minority languages in dealings with regional and municipal authorities.[385]

The Great Patriotic War veterans living in Latvia continue to face discrimination. Unlike the "Forest Brothers," who were recognized as national partisan fighters and many of whom had served in Waffen-SS volunteer legions during the war years, WWII veterans are not entitled to pension supplements or a social package. In January 2018, the Law on the Status of WWII Participants was adopted, virtually bringing Soviet Army soldiers on the same footing with legionnaires who had fought for the Nazis. The decision on granting benefits to holders of this status is up to local governments.

These measures are absolutely in the spirit of the consistent policy pursued by the highest-level Latvian authorities to falsify history with a view to covering up their own unsavoury history of cooperation with the Nazis. In 2019–2020, the campaign to "desovietise" and to "denigrate" the heroic deeds of Red Army soldiers continued to gain momentum. On 16 January 2020, the Saeima released a statement "On the 80th anniversary of the occupation of the Republic of Latvia and the unacceptability of the distortion of the history of the Second World War." In particular, this piece of writing contained a call "to pay attention and to take a critical view of the attempts by state officials of the Russian Federation to rewrite the history of the Second World War and to justify the illegal annexation and occupation of Latvia." The statement "On the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the need for a comprehensive view in Europe and on a global level," adopted by the Saeima on 7 May 2020, followed in the same vein.

The bill to demolish the Monument to the Liberators of Riga from the German Fascist Invaders in Riga's Victory Park is still under consideration in the country's parliament. The dismantling of this monument would violate the Russian-Latvian intergovernmental Agreement of 30 April 1994 on the Social Protection of the Military Pensioners of the Russian Federation and Members of Their Families Residing in the Territory of the Republic of Latvia.

Earlier, the monument to Soviet submariners of the Baltic, which had been maintained by community activists from the association of sailors and local residents, was demolished in violation of the provisions of the said agreement. The government real estate agency that carried out the dismantling reported that the monument had fallen into pieces during the works and could not be restored.

Starting from 1 January 2020, the wearing of uniforms of totalitarian regimes, including those of the Soviet Army, during processions and pickets was officially banned. Besides, on 5 June 2020, amendments were approved to introduce administrative liability for the wearing of the USSR military uniform and symbols during public and festive events, both for participants and audience.

In September 2020, Latvia's Saeima approved a bill banning the use of the St. George's Ribbon in the first reading.

The glorification of Latvian Waffen-SS legionnaires and attempts to portray Hitler's henchmen as "freedom fighters" remain a key element supporting the idea of the "Soviet occupation" and the "patriotic upbringing" of the youth.[386]

In April 2021, a group of deputies from the National Alliance submitted to the Saeima a bill on penalties for publicly displaying military equipment of the USSR and Hitler's Germany for more than 30 days. Only museums are excluded from the scope of its application. This means that if the proposed bill is adopted and comes into force, these provisions will pose a threat to the monuments to Soviet soldiers and officers that have elements of weapons.

Every year on 16 March, former Waffen-SS legionnaires march the streets of Riga, joined by members of extreme right-wing parties. Official Riga presents these neo-Nazi demonstrations as "peaceful events", claiming they are in line with democratic standards.

In 2020, despite complaints from international human rights organisations and an address by 38 members of the European Parliament to the Latvian authorities calling them to condemn and ban the glorification of Nazism in the country, the Riga City Council authorised the 16 March demonstration of SS legionnaires. It was only the state of emergency declared due to the threat of the spread of COVID-19 that forced the administration of the capital's municipality to reverse its decision. However, even in such circumstances, individual venerators of Latvian SS men laid flowers and wreaths, one of which was in the form of a Latvian Legion chevron, at the Freedom Monument.

In 2021, due to the epidemiological situation no demonstrations were held either. Two years earlier, however, legionnaires held their march in the centre of Riga without impediment. It was attended by parliamentarians from the National Bloc and the prime minister's adviser on demographic policy. At the same time, the Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee was denied the right to organize full-scale "reciprocal" events on that day. Despite the timely submission of relevant requests, the venue of the picket of Great Patriotic War veterans and former prisoners of Nazi concentration camps was changed from that near the Liberation Monument (which was the destination point of the march in support of the legionnaires) to a more remote location, allegedly "for security reasons."

Marches of former Waffen-SS legionnaires are severely criticized by the international community. European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) established under the auspices of the Council of Europe has repeatedly expressed concern in its reports about ceremonies in commemoration of Latvian Waffen SS legionnaires held annually on 16 March. ECRI has pointed to the fact that parliamentarians from the National Alliance party, which is part of the ruling coalition, had been seen attending these ceremonies. The Commission experts have repeatedly made recommendations to the Latvian authorities to condemn all attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen-SS and collaborated with the Nazis, as well as to call on MPs to abstain from attending such commemoration ceremonies.[387]

But instead of taking measures to combat neo-Nazism, the country's government is working to provide supporters of this ideology with a legal basis for their activities. Thus, President of Latvia Egils Levits put forward an initiative to declare the 17th of March the day of remembrance of the national resistance movement to commemorate the "patriots" who had allegedly fought against the "occupation regimes."

By contrast, the attitude of the Latvian authorities towards celebrating Victory Day on 9 May and those who celebrate it is completely different. As a result of restrictions due to the epidemiological situation, all mass events for that day in 2020 were canceled. However, it was not forbidden for residents of the Latvian capital to come to Victory Park and lay flowers at the Monument to the Liberators of Riga individually. This caused an outburst of indignation among the "patriotic" public in general and on the part of Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš personally, who demanded explanations from Minister of the Interior Sandis Ģirģens about the way the police worked on 9 May. Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks went as far as to suggest that those who had come to pay tribute to Red Army soldiers should not receive treatment for COVID-19 but instead should be made to pay for the treatment of "those that had been around." Sandis Ģirģens responded by saying that "the order does not distinguish between nationalities nor does it divide people into those who have the right to lay flowers and those who do not, and respects each person's own motivation for laying the flowers. Especially when people come to commemorate their deceased relatives." At the same time, the minister added that he himself had laid flowers at the Freedom Monument on 4 May to commemorate the restoration of Latvia's independence.[388]

In 2021, it was prohibited to lay flowers at the monument for everyone under the pretext of epidemiological safety. Riga's residents were offered to leave flowers by a special fence erected by the police.

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance pointed out in her report to the 38th session of the Human Rights Council that the annual report by the Public Order Police Department for 2016 issued in April 2017 contained an entry stating that informal celebrations of Day of Victory over Nazi Germany posed a threat to national security.[389] There are no indications that the Latvian authorities will change their approach any time soon.

Shortly before Victory Day in 2020, a series of acts of vandalism was committed against memorials to Red Army soldiers in the country. A memorial plaque was taken down from the monument to the pilots of the First Guards Aviation Regiment of the Baltic Fleet Air Force in the settlement of Skulte. In Valmiera, vandals poured paint over the memorial erected on the common grave of Soviet soldiers in the centre of the city. The fact of desecration of this monument was noticed by Russian embassy officials while visiting common graves of Soviet soldiers to lay the flowers.[390] Finally, on 24 February 2021, a 76mm gun mounted on a Soviet memorial to liberators was stolen in Jēkabpils.

At the same time, Latvian officials make regular public statements justifying accomplices of the Nazis. For example, on 2 March 2020, Latvian Minister of Justice Jānis Bordāns attended a meeting in the Viļaka Municipality to commemorate the "Forest Brothers" on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the events near the Stompaku swamps – an operation to destroy Latvian underground resistance carried out by Soviet state security agencies. Former Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis also attended the event. Later, Jānis Bordāns expressed his views regarding the event on his Facebook page by publishing a eulogy to ringleader Peteris Supe.

Another example is the statement delivered by Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks at an event held at the legionnaires' cemetery near the More settlement on 27 September 2019 on the occasion of "the 75th anniversary of defense battles against the Red Army." In his speech, he referred to SS legionnaires as the pride of the Latvian state and its people and spoke of the need to honour their memory. His fellow party member, Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce supported the views of the Defense Minister, saying that he did not see any problem with calling Latvian legionnaires heroes.

Latvian-language mass media serve as a tool of promoting the government policy. Thus, they regularly publish materials on the eve of 16 March aimed at ensuring the "right" public perception of this date and associated events. Their authors recall the "humiliations which befell Latvians because of the USSR" and counterpose the 16 March celebrations to the 9 May remembrance events held in Riga by "the Victory symbol imposed by the occupants," referring to the Monument to Soldiers – Liberators of Riga in Pārdaugava.

In the meantime, the Latvian authorities are trying to instill reverence for the memory of Nazi collaborators at the European level. On 23 September 2018, at the initiative of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, a monument was unveiled in Zedelgem, Belgium, in honour of Latvian Waffen-SS legionnaires who had been placed in the local POW camp at the end of WWII.

There are other ways in which Latvia attempts to falsify history. Thus, in February 2019, the Prosecutor General's Office of Latvia decided to drop criminal proceedings against Herberts Cukurs[391] in relation to his possible involvement in the extermination of Latvia's Jewish population during World War II. However, shortly thereafter, on 16 September 2019, following an appeal by the Council of Jewish Communities, the trial was reopened with the explanation that the previous finding had been made "prematurely, without using all the investigative and procedural steps provided for in the Criminal Procedure Law to obtain and verify the evidence." Another prosecutor on the case was appointed.

The policy of encouraging neo-Nazism and xenophobia pursued by the official authorities cannot but have a negative impact on the general level of tolerance towards different population groups.

In 2016, the Latvian Centre for Human Rights (LCHR) conducted a survey among members of 11 NGOs and migrants as well as foreign students studying in Latvia about their experiences of discrimination. Almost 68 per cent had fallen victim to hate incidents or discrimination and 33 per cent had witnessed or heard about such cases. 13 per cent of the respondents had been victims of an attack or an attempted attack or had heard that someone else had fallen victim to such attacks. According to the respondents, hate incidents had been motivated by a victim's race (36 per cent), ethnic origin/xenophobia (25 per cent), language (22 per cent) or religion (6 per cent). At the same time, NGOs and members of minorities told the experts that victims of hate incidents often preferred not to report such cases to the police due to doubts as to the willingness or ability of the law enforcement agencies to investigate these cases properly.[392]

Over 40 per cent of third-country nationals reported having experienced discrimination in situations such as interaction with public authorities and police, in health care institutions, at border crossing points as well as in the street and public transport.[393]

No serious ethnic clashes between Latvians and members of national minorities have been recorded. According to the authorities, racism is definitely "not a central issue" in Latvia. These claims are contradicted by public opinion surveys, according to which about 26 per cent of Latvians between 18 and 60 years of age said they had encountered racism and discrimination. Furthermore, only 20 per cent of Latvian citizens have no prejudice against people of other nationalities.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has noted that the Latvian legislation contains gaps in terms of the prohibition of racial discrimination and public expression of or incitement to hatred and insults based on race, language, religion or ethnic origin.[394]

The ECRI has also pointed to an increase in Islamophobic rhetoric in public and political discourse in Latvia. In the context of discussions about Latvia's accepting EU quota refugees, further Islamophobic comments were observed, equating refugees to terrorist threats and targeting migrants in general. Outrageous examples include the case of a Latvian entrepreneur who used the Internet for inciting racial hatred against persons of African descent, claiming he was prepared to shoot them, as well as comments of other Internet users calling for the burning of Muslims.[395]

There have been repeated instances of anti-Semitic remarks on the Internet, threats against the Jewish community school, vandalism and desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Riga. Latvian media reported that the Jewish cemetery in Rēzekne had been vandalized four times in August and September 2017.[396]

According to an opinion poll conducted by the SKDS research centre in 2019, about one in three people per 1005 residents in Latvia do not want to work together with Roma (33%), Afghans (30%), Pakistanis (29%), Syrians (26%) or Africans (25%).[397]

In its latest report on Latvia, the ECRI also noted that the country lacked comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial discrimination. Among other things, it pointed out that there were no provisions prohibiting the mass distribution, production or possession of written, graphic or other materials aimed at humiliation of dignity of a person or a group of persons on the grounds of race, language, religion, national or ethnic origin, and establishing responsibility for public insults, defamation or threats on the aforementioned grounds.[398]

No cases of torture and inhumane treatment, including in places of detention, have been recorded in the country. The Committee against Torture (CAT), in its concluding observations on Latvia's sixth periodic report of 5 December 2019, was generally satisfied with the country's initiatives aimed at revising its legislation. However, it also pointed to gaps regarding the definition of torture as a separate criminal offence, penalties for such acts and the establishment of a statute of limitations.[399]

In addition, CAT expressed concerns over the treatment of persons deprived of liberty. In practice, detainees in Latvia do not enjoy all basic legal guarantees and do not receive all the necessary information, including due to insufficient knowledge of the national language. The impossibility to ensure proper conditions for detainees remains the biggest problem (and this is acknowledged by the local authorities), owing to the fact that none of the current prison buildings was built specifically for this purpose, and 6 of them (there are a total of 9 prisons in Latvia) are over 118 years old. There are currently 3.4 thousand people imprisoned or detained in Latvia.[400]

The situation of vulnerable groups in Latvia (children, women, elderly, persons with disabilities) has not received any serious criticism from international human rights institutions. However, the level of pensions in Latvia is one of the lowest in the EU, and 52.5 per cent of retired people are at risk of financial insecurity. According to the latest available information from the Central Statistical Bureau, 434 thousand persons (22.9 % of the population) were at risk of poverty in 2018, with the largest share registered in Latgale (40.4%), a region where the Russian-speaking population has traditionally been predominant.

According to the concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted on 10 March 2020 following the consideration of Latvia's report, the country made certain progress in implementing reforms to improve the legal status of women. However, it noted that discriminatory gender stereotypes persisted in Latvia and expressed concerns over the situation of marginalised women and women from ethnic minorities. In this context, CEDAW stressed the need to raise awareness among women of their rights and remedies available to them and to develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure equality between men and women in all areas, including in political life and the labour market.[401]

The rapid spread of СOVID-19 has become a serious challenge to the Latvian healthcare system. Patients seeking help at medical institutions have faced a multitude of problems: a lack of beds, especially in intensive care units, poorly qualified staff and absence of the necessary equipment. Inadequate training of health workers has resulted, among other things, in limited diagnostic capabilities and disproportionately long testing times.[402]

To sum up, it should be noted that human rights issues in Latvia are extremely politicized and a large proportion of its population suffers from unprecedented discrimination on the grounds of nationality. It is noteworthy that non-citizens in Latvia are not just restricted in the exercise of a number of fundamental rights but they are not even recognized as holders of such rights by virtue of the fact that Riga excludes certain groups of people from the scope of application of the FCNM. On top of that, the glorification of Nazism and the rewriting of history – the blasphemous activities of the political elites – only serve to further divide the Latvian population and facilitate the rise and spread of intolerance among the public. All of this is hardly compatible with the high ideals of democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights – the universal values to which Latvia regularly declares its commitment.

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Lithuania

No significant changes have been observed in the human rights situation in Lithuania since the previous similar report was prepared. Vilnius has still not made any effort to eradicate or at least alleviate the problems such as the rise of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism in the country, restrictions on the rights of national minorities, violation of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, etc.

The lack of real independence of the judiciary is one of the key shortcomings of the country's state system which calls into question its commitment to the values of democracy and the rule of law. The judgment of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania made on 31 March 2021 on the fabricated case concerning the events of January 1991 in Vilnius confirmed yet again that administration of justice in Lithuania revolves around politics. The Court extended the terms of imprisonment of 14 out of 67 persons[403] whom the District Court of Vilnius had earlier found guilty of "war crimes and crimes against humanity." Most sentences were passed in absentia, but two Russian citizens who happened to be under the Lithuanian jurisdiction, fell victim to the state's repressive policies. This refers to Gennady Ivanov[404] and Yury Mel (their prison sentences were increased from 4 to 5 years and 7 to 10 years respectively). The latter was held in custody at the Vilnius detention centre for five years, from the moment of his arrest in 2014 until his conviction, despite repeated requests by the defence to change the pre-trial restraint on account of the defendant's poor state of health. These actions are inconsistent with generally accepted procedural practice.[405]

Initially, the seven-year pre-trial restraint was counted as part of the sentence imposed by the court of the first instance, which expired on 12 March 2021. However, Mel was not released from custody, which was cynically justified by the fact that he was a foreign citizen and could therefore allegedly escape from a possible harsher sentence.

Moreover, in 2019, authorities transferred him to a cell for those found guilty of violating criminal law, ignoring a reasonable request to transfer him to a zone intended for former civil servants.

The trial of Yury Mel highlighted all the deficiencies of Lithuanian justice. The trial proceedings grossly violated not only the national legislation but also international law. Specifically, the "independent and impartial court" disregarded universal human rights norms, such as the prohibition of retroactive application of laws, the principles of presumption of innocence and adversary procedure. Besides, the cause-and-effect relationship between the actions of the servicemen who carried out their orders and the deaths of civilians was not proved.

Such a blatant instance of punitive justice, which is both a consequence of Russophobia and yet another impetus for its further spread, is hardly the only one.[406]

Another high-profile case – concerning the events at the Medininkai border checkpoint in July 1991 – resulted in the conviction of a former police officer of the Riga Special Purpose Police Unit of the Soviet MIA, Konstantin Nikulin. The alleged premeditated murder of seven persons and attempted murder of one person was punished with life imprisonment and a fine of 650,000 euros, despite the fact that the version of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania that was in force in 1991 provided for a ten-year statute of limitations for charges under Article 129 (Murder), which had expired long before the first instance court heard the case.

Yet in June 2016, the Court of Appeal of Lithuania granted the request of the Lithuanian Prosecutor General's Office to reclassify the offence as a "crime against humanity"[407], thereby giving retroactive effect to the criminal law. This decision was subsequently upheld by the court of cassation. In July 2017, Konstantin Nikulin's lawyer filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

In 2020, Mr. Nikulin, who had been awarded a third-group disability status by the Main Bureau of Medical and Social Expertise of the Leningrad Region, requested to be transferred from a high-security unit to a less strict one. The administration of the Pravieniškės prison colony refused to grant the request – the same as it had done in the case of Nikulin's requests for medical diagnostic procedures in view of increased stomach pains.

In December 2018, Nikulin filed an application with the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation for his transfer to Russia in accordance with the Russian-Lithuanian Treaty on the Transfer of Persons Sentenced to Imprisonment of 25 June 2001. However, the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice stated in March 2020 that "the transfer of convict Konstantin Nikulin is not possible."

Another example of a criminal case fabricated for political reasons in Lithuania is the campaign of persecution and intimidation launched in late 2018 against a group of Russian and Lithuanian citizens by the main intelligence service of Lithuania – the State Security Department – under the trumped-up charges of spying for Russia.

The main defendant in the criminal case is Algirdas Paleckis, a well-known Lithuanian politician, who had visited Russia's Republic of Crimea and did not share the official government position as to the aforementioned proceedings in relation to the January 1991 events in Vilnius. He was arrested and kept in detention from October 2018 until April 2020. Later, the Court of Appeal of Lithuania changed the detention to another pre-trial restriction measure – intensive supervision and payment of a €50,000 bail with seizure of personal documents. Court proceedings on his case are currently ongoing. In May 2021, the Prosecutor's Office asked the court to sentence Algirdas Paleckis to nine years in prison.

The Lithuanian media, referring to the information from the Prosecutor's Office, claim without offering any evidence that Algirdas Paleckis and businessman Deimantas Bertauskas were recruited by a Russian citizen, former commander of the Alpha Group of the 7th KGB Directorate of the USSR Mikhail Golovatov. They allegedly met with him and two Russian FSB officers and received instructions to gather information in the Lithuanian territory, in particular on the judges and prosecutors who handled the "13 January" case.

Two other Russian citizens – publicist and historian Valery Ivanov and searcher and head of the Forgotten Soldiers NGO Victor Orlov – attracted the attention of the local law enforcement agencies. Although no charges of espionage were brought against them, they were both made aware that they were being persecuted for dissent and public demonstration of pro-Russian sentiments. At the same time, another charge was fabricated against Valery Ivanov – of illegal possession of firearms in connection with the broken starting pistol found during the search. In June 2020, he was banned from leaving the capital for two years and ordered to stay at his place of residence during night hours by a judgment of the Vilnius District Court.

In addition, the rights of Russian citizens working in the media are regularly restricted, usually under the pretext that they allegedly pose a threat to the country's national security. In particular, this refers to Galina Sapozhnikova, who was declared persona non grata in 2015, Pavel Zarubin, who was deported with his camera crew in March 2016, and Marat Kasema, who was banned from entering the country for five years in 2019.

In January 2020, Lithuania deported Yulia Shatilova, a correspondent for the Zvezda TV channel (her Schengen visa was revoked by Latvia), who was going to do a news story about a campaign waged against monuments to Soviet liberators and how the remains of Red Army soldiers are not allowed to be reburied in the country.

Besides, journalists from a number of Russian media outlets (RIA Novosti, RT, Channel One and Channel Five) were not allowed into the building of the Vilnius District Court when it pronounced its judgment in the case concerning the events of 13 January 1991.

The Human Rights Committee (HRCtte) expressed concerns over the fact that the Department of State Security, in its annual assessment of threats to national security, published lists of names of associations, news agencies, journalists, human rights defenders and others, without specifying any criteria or motivation for such publication.[408]

In February 2021, the RTC threatened to suspend the Russian RTR-Planeta TV channel from broadcasting after its Vesti news programme of 13 January 2021 featured a story dedicated to the January 1991 events in Vilnius. In April 2019, the Lithuanian Seimas granted the RTC the power to suspend the broadcasting of foreign TV channels without a court ruling.

Earlier, in October 2020, the RTC had already made a decision to initiate the procedure to suspend free-to-air reception of the channel in the country. Back then, it was done under the pretext that a talk show broadcast on 17 September 2020 allegedly contained calls for war, promoted intolerance and national discord.

In July 2020, following example of the Latvian regulator, the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission (RTC) banned seven TV channels of the Russia Today group from broadcasting in the country, based on the erroneous conclusion that the media holding company was allegedly run by Dmitry Kiselev,[409] against whom the European Union had imposed so-called "personal sanctions." These actions by Vilnius drew criticism from, inter alia, the Reporters Without Borders NGO. According to its experts, to restrict broadcasting on the grounds that Dmitry Kiselev was under the sanctions regime in itself constituted an abuse of that regime. Moreover, none of the restrictions imposed against him involved the closure or banning of the media. NGO members noted that freedom of speech could not be ensured by arbitrarily banning media outlets on flimsy legal basis.[410] At the same time, the decision to place a ban on Russia Today was supported by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius, who proudly recalled that "Lithuania started introducing restrictions on Russian media seven years ago."

In January 2019, the RTC stated that the First Baltic Channel of Lithuania and NTV Mir Lithuania disseminated "false, defamatory and hatred-inciting information about Lithuania and Lithuanian partisans." REN TV Baltic and TVC are also sanctioned by the regulator, and the Sputnik.Lithuania news portal was once temporary blocked as well.

In March 2020, shortly before the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, a number of public figures involved in the preparation of the holiday also faced repression under the pretext of a criminal case of espionage; among them are Ella Andreeva, a member of the Klaipėda City Council representing the Titov and Justice public electoral committee; Alexei Greičius, chairman of the Juvenis youth organization, and Tatyana Afanasieva-Kolomiets, organizer of the Immortal Regiment in Vilnius.

In October-November 2019, the Lithuanian special services started putting pressure on Donatas Shultsas, chairman of the Union of Human Rights Observers in Lithuania, and Giedrius Grabauskas, chairman of the Socialist People's Front of Lithuania, who called for ending the politically motivated prosecution of Algirdas Paleckis and Yury Mel. A case was initiated against Mr. Shultsas for preparing, together with Laima Plungienė and Romas Plungė, a petition to the Supreme Court of Lithuania indicating that the actions of the two judges might have been illegal. The human rights defender was found guilty and had to leave the country.

On 22 October 2019, Mr. Grabauskas' apartment was searched as part of the criminal proceedings instituted against him, which also had to do with "insulting" the "Forest Brothers" in the media and inciting hatred against them. On 1 December 2019, the human rights defender was detained at the Vilnius airport by border guards. He arrived there after attending the twelfth session of the UN Human Rights Council's Forum on Minority Issues, where he spoke of the practice of initiating politically-motivated criminal cases in Lithuania.[411] In fact, the human rights defender was persecuted for his participation in the UN event. The search lasted for about one hour. Having found no prohibited items, the Lithuanian border guards had to let Giedrius Grabauskas go. After the Kaunas District Prosecutor's Office decided in March 2020 to subject him to a forensic psychiatric examination, the human rights defender had to leave Lithuania.

Initiatives by the authorities to restrict freedom of expression for those who point to the involvement of Lithuanians ("Forest Brothers") in Nazi crimes against Jews are also of concern to international monitoring bodies, in particular the HR Committee. In its concluding observations on Lithuania's fourth periodic report, it noted the practice of listing the names of such persons in the annual reports of the State Security Department of Lithuania and the Second Department of Operational Services under the Ministry of Defence of Lithuania ("military intelligence") and the lack of information about the criteria for such listing and its justification.[412]

Additionally, Article 170-2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania has been in force since June 2010, providing for criminal prosecution of persons who publicly express disagreement with the interpretations of the terms "aggression", "genocide" and "occupation" officially accepted in Lithuania in relation to the USSR.

In May 2019, the court imposed a fine of 12,000 euros on Vyacheslav Titov, member of the Klaipėda City Council representing the interests of Russian-speaking voters, for being vocal against glorification of one of the leaders of the "Forest Brothers", Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas. (In October 2019, the fine was reduced to 10,000 euros). His words were considered an "insult to the memory," "incitement to hatred" and "denial of Soviet occupation."[413] The Chief Electoral Commission of the Republic of Lithuania, in turn, prematurely terminated his deputy's mandate in November 2019.

In January 2019, writer Marius Ivaškevičius faced public harassment for mentioning the involvement of the "Forest Brothers" in the massacres of Jews in his novel "The Greens". Although the then President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, publicly defended the writer and the Prosecutor General's Office of the Republic of Lithuania found that his acts did not constitute a crime, he still received death threats via the Internet, and the Lithuanian Union of Political Prisoners and Deportees accused him of defamation.

In April 2020, the Kaunas District Court sentenced Giedrius Sharkanas, a journalist and human rights activist, to 10 months in prison for "public denial of the Soviet occupation." He was ordered to remove articles that "deny or grossly downgrade the crimes committed by the USSR against the Republic of Lithuania or its residents" from the website he was administering. The judicial panel found that Sharkanas had "distorted historical facts and actions of the partisans ("Forest Brothers") in the fight against the Soviet occupation and its significance for Lithuania," and "blatantly denied the act of aggression carried out by the USSR against Lithuania on 13 January 1991, as well as serious and particularly serious crimes committed during the aggression."

In the same month, Lithuanian law enforcement agencies searched the home of journalist Vaidas Lekstutis, confiscating his computer, mobile phone and other data storage devices. He is being charged with incitement to hatred and defamation for publications on his website – bukimevieningi.lt – concerning the crimes of the "Forest Brothers" and pedophilia among the Lithuanian authorities.

Law enforcers and a number of other Lithuanian citizens are actively engaged in the intimidation and persecution of those who "dissent" and attempt to accuse the authorities of human rights violations, including journalists Aurimas Drižius and Vladimiras Klopovskis, anti-fascists Birutė Dilpšienė, Henrikas Jodiška, Laima Plungienė and Romas Plungė, Lithuanian Socialist People’s Front activist Agnė Grigaitytė and others. In addition to arrests and imprisonment, the most common repressive measures against all those who dare to speak up for human rights in Lithuania and against the glorification of Nazi accomplices include searches, interrogations, open threats from local special services and harassment in the media.

Against this backdrop, independent human rights defenders are concerned about the decision of the European Court of Human Rights of 12 March 2019 in the case of Drėlingas v. Lithuania, which upheld the sentence given by the Lithuanian court to Stanislovas Drėlingas, a former KGB officer who participated in the 1956 operation to apprehend Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, one of the "Forest Brothers" leaders, and his wife (later, the gang leader was executed by shooting in accordance with a Soviet court decision). Official Vilnius interprets this ECtHR ruling as recognizing that the Soviet authorities’ campaign against the "partisans who fought for the freedom of Lithuania" constituted "genocide of the Lithuanian people."[414]

At the same time, the Government of Lithuania basically admitted its responsibility for the violation of the rights of Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi national, by declaring that it would implement the ECtHR judgment in the case of Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania. Specifically, the court awarded the payment of compensation of 130,000 euros to the plaintiff, who had been kept in the secret prison of the CIA in the country’s territory in 2005–2006.

The UN human rights treaty bodies pay close attention to this case and implementation of the ECtHR judgment. In particular, with regard to this case, the HRCtte pointed out in July 2018 that Lithuanian authorities had not conducted a full and comprehensive investigation into the involvement of public officials in human rights violations within the framework of counter-terrorism operations, including secret detention. While noting the intention of Vilnius to implement the said ECtHR judgment, the Committee noted with concern that public officials in Lithuania denied its binding nature.[415]

In February 2019, the ECtHR transmitted to the Lithuanian side the complaint of another citizen of Saudi Arabia, M. A. Adam alKhasawi, in which he accused the country's authorities of torture and restriction of liberty in the CIA special prison within the framework of the counter-terrorism program in 2005-2006.

Besides, among the most serious concerns raised by the HRCtte is the lack of progress in the implementation of the ECtHR judgment in the case of Paksas v. Lithuania.[416] The Council of Europe demands that Lithuanian official authorities submit a monthly progress report on the issue. Several attempts made in 2018-2019 by the ruling coalition in the Seimas to adopt the necessary amendments to the Lithuanian Constitution pursuant to a Strasbourg court ruling did not gain support as they failed to obtain the necessary 90 parliamentary votes (out of 141).

In addition, there remains the threat of complete exclusion of the former president from the country's political life as a result of a fabricated criminal case of influence peddling. Paksas is accused of having promised, for a bribe of 15,000 euros, to influence a building inspector in the matter of issuance of a commissioning permit for the Norfa retail chain store in Prenai, while serving as the leader of the Order and Justice party in 2015. From the moment the criminal case was initiated, the politician regarded it as a way of reprisal against him, completely denying his guilt. In April 2020, the Vilnius District Court acquitted Paksas; however, in May 2020, the Lithuanian Prosecutor General's Office filed a motion with the Court of Appeal requesting it to overturn the verdict as illegal and unfounded and review the case or issue a new indictment. In October 2020, Paksas was sentenced to three years of suspended imprisonment.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), in its report on the elections to the Lithuanian Seimas of 11 October 2020, once again notes that, contrary to the ECtHR decision, politicians whose mandate in the Seimas has been revoked as well as those who have been removed from office through impeachment are still disqualified from running for office. The document also notes that the limitation of suffrage rights of incapacitated people in Lithuania is inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ODIHR recommendations. The document also criticizes the ban on running for office placed on judges, military personnel, certain categories of public officials, detainees, and persons with a second citizenship. Besides, it points to a lack of legal guarantees for ethnic minorities' parties to receive free airtime in minority languages on television.[417]

Issues related to the protection and promotion of the rights of national minorities are also highly politicised. Since the 1989 Law on National Minorities was abolished in 2010, efforts to develop new comprehensive legislation to protect minorities have not been successful. This was noted by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in its concluding observations of June 2019.[418]

The Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (AC-FCNM) notes that the authorities' efforts to mitigate the negative effects of assimilation policies on minority language learners are insufficient. The 2011 Law on Education established Lithuanian as the only language of instruction in all schools and introduced uniform state language examination in grades 10 and 12. That created significant difficulties for children belonging to national minorities; the eight-year transition period started in 2012. Students of national minority schools who took this exam for the first time in 2013 had received 818 fewer hours of Lithuanian language instruction than their Lithuanian-speaking peers. At the same time, the level of minority language knowledge is not taken into account in final exams. It is only the results of examinations in the Lithuanian language, mathematics and one foreign language (usually English) that matter, while Polish or Russian can only be taken as an optional exam. Consequently, students from national minorities, who had lower final exam results, found themselves at a disadvantaged position in terms of access to higher education, as compared to Lithuanians. At present, the results gap is narrowing. Nevertheless, minority schools remain concerned as the end of the eight-year transition period is drawing nearer.[419]

The number of hours of the Lithuanian language lessons, as well as methodological guidelines and teaching materials, still have not been sufficiently adapted to the needs of children from families that mostly speak minority languages. Many first graders start learning the state language basically as a foreign language and are overloaded by the requirements of the uniform curriculum.

The situation remains difficult in the areas with a significant number of residents belonging to national minorities – Šalčininki, Trakai, Vilnius (Polish), Švenčionys (Russian and Polish), Klaipėda and Visaginas (Russian). Serious problems persist in rural areas.

The negative political and information background around the problem of education in the languages of national minorities in Lithuania has led to constant speculations about ideological influence of Russia on the Lithuanian population, to interrogations of teachers of Russian schools by the State Security Department in connection with trips of their students to Russian summer camps, as well as proposals by certain Lithuanian officials to close these educational institutions.

There is still a problem with authentic spelling of names in documents. The Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania provides that forenames, surnames and names of localities are to be written in documents in accordance with the Lithuanian language rules. This contradicts Article 11 of the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. According to the AC-FCNM, the right to use a personal name in a minority language and to have it officially recognized is a central linguistic right, closely linked to personal identity and dignity.[420]

As a result, persons with foreign names (mainly Russian) face legal problems and have to defend their rights in court. At the same time, the Constitutional Court decision of 27 February 2014 gives a broad interpretation of the possibility of spelling personal names in non-Lithuanian characters in identity documents.

As a consequence, decisions of local government officials on the use of languages in interactions with administrative bodies and the spelling of personal and topographic names in minority languages are in the legal grey zone.[421]

The public debate on the issue is presently focused on persons who have acquired Lithuanian citizenship by marriage and children born in "mixed" marriages. In accordance with the decision of the Lithuanian Supreme Administrative Court of 2016, the surname and forename of a child born in a Polish-Lithuanian marriage may be written in both Polish and Lithuanian transcriptions. Unfortunately, draft laws submitted to the country's parliament do not take into account the needs of third-country citizens or persons belonging to other national minorities.

There has been absolutely no progress in the issue of using minority languages in topographical indications and private signs in areas with high proportions of national minorities. According to Articles 17 and 18 of the Law on the State Language, all public signs must be made in the Lithuanian language, with the exception of the names of organizations of ethnic communities.

In the Šalčininki district, the head of administration was fined 43,000 litas for allowing the use of street signs in the Polish language. A similar situation occurred in Vilnius, where the municipality started putting up street signs in foreign languages (English and Icelandic), as well as in national minority languages (Polish and Ukrainian). The AC-FCNM pointed out that the refusal to put up in areas traditionally inhabited by national minorities topographic signs in the languages of those minorities violates the obligations of the States Parties to the FCNM under its Article 11.[422]

Some municipalities allow citizens to submit written applications in national minority languages. Thus, the administration of the Šalčininki district allows applications to be drawn up in Polish and Russian, the Vilnius district – in English, Russian and Polish. Applications to the Visaginas district administration can be made in any language spoken by a civil servant.[423]

Among other human rights problems, international monitoring organizations note the existence in Lithuania of deeply rooted prejudices against vulnerable and minority groups, especially migrants, Muslims, Roma, and Jews. This has resulted in the widespread use of hate speech, particularly in the media, including Internet platforms, and in the political discourse.[424]

For instance, the AC-FCNM noted with concern that the media often refer to the ethnicity of alleged perpetrators if they are not Lithuanians, which often provokes a public debate leading to increased negative attitudes towards the minority group concerned. According to the Committee experts, the police should not disclose information about the ethnic origin of alleged offenders.[425]

Nevertheless, the number of reports of both hate speech and hate crimes received by the competent authorities remains low.[426] Moreover, the concepts of "colour" and "desent" are not listed among the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Law on Equal Treatment and in the Criminal Code of Lithuania.[427] That is what probably accounts for the fact that the specifics of such offenses are not always taken into account when they are registered and investigated.[428]

Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania, most victims of hate crimes do not believe that the perpetrators will receive any punishment for their actions.[429]

The AC-FCNM in its submissions has cited a case where an anti-Semitic statement was made by the Ombudsman for Academic Ethics and Procedures. It should be noted that the Speaker of the Seimas and the Lithuanian Prime Minister reacted immediately to this incident by publicly condemning it. In March 2018, the Parliament voted by a qualified majority to remove this person from office. Members of the Jewish community in Vilnius also shared their concerns with the AC-FCNM about the safety of their buildings, noting that they would like to have more public support in this regard.

Lately, there has been an increase in manifestations of anti-Semitism in Lithuania. Thus, the Chairperson of the Jewish community in Lithuania, Faina Kukliansky, received anonymous threats, and swastikas and other offensive symbols were displayed or depicted in front of Jewish buildings and synagogues. In February 2020, Ms. Kukliansky filed a complaint with the police in connection with anti-Semitic insulting remarks made against her in the Seimas during a commemorative meeting on the occasion of the anniversary of the events of 13 January 1991 in Vilnius.

In January 2021, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a member of parliament representing the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats party, Valdas Rakutis, said that "there was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves." The statement provoked an extremely negative reaction from officials and the public both internationally and in Lithuania itself, which forced Rakutis to resign as Chairman of the Historical Memory Commission and make a speech in the Seimas, publicly admitting he had been wrong and apologising to his colleagues.

Roma are still the most vulnerable group. The HRCtte, the CERD and the AC-FCNM noted with concern the persistence of discrimination against the Roma, particularly in the exercise of their rights to housing, health care, employment and education. Roma continue to suffer from social exclusion and are disproportionately affected by poverty.[430]

Action plans to integrate Roma into the Lithuanian society adopted for the periods of 2012–2014 and 2015–2020 were supposed to somewhat remedy the situation. The objectives formulated therein included, among others, the improvement of the situation of Roma women and the establishment of intercultural dialogue. According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the most recent document provided for 18 measures to achieve the desired effect. In 2019, however, the funding was only enough to implement five of them.[431]

The implementation of the Action Plans is supervised by the Department of National Minorities. In 2016, it reported that the share of Roma not having completed primary school decreased from 11 per cent in 2011 to 8 per cent in 2015. Over that period, the Lithuanian Ministry of Education created a network of teachers in schools attended by Roma children. However, the number of teaching assistants, social workers or mediators hired to support Roma in schools did not increase, despite the need clearly expressed by the community.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) working under the auspices of the Council of Europe commended the adoption by the municipality of Vilnius of a programme for the integration of the Kirtimai Roma community for 2016–2019. The difficult housing situation in the settlement is planned to be addressed in two ways: by providing its Roma residents with social housing or by subsidising rental costs for those who find alternative accommodation. Social housing accommodation was provided to six families in 2016, four families in 2017, and two families in 2018. In 2018, four more families moved into a municipal dormitory. Priority in the provision of social housing was given to families with a large number of children. 46 families (four in 2016, 18 in 2017 and 24 in 2018 – a total of 119 persons) benefitted from the rental subsidy scheme. Each family member received 72 euros to cover the cost of their new accommodation.[432]

According to the Roma Community Centre, after the illegally built houses in the Kirtimai Roma settlement in Vilnius were demolished, the authorities made no attempt to engage in dialogue with those affected by the demolition and did not provide them with any legal information. The Vilnius Division of the State Territorial Planning and Construction Inspectorate and the Ministry of the Environment did not offer the affected any alternative housing either, which eventually forced the Human Rights Committee of the Lithuanian Parliament to step in. Subsequently, the government asked the Vilnius Inspectorate to continue implementing the municipal Roma integration programme after 2019.[433]

In the opinion of the AC-FCNM, the deep-rooted prejudices and negative attitudes towards Roma in the Lithuanian society have manifested themselves in a number of incidents over the recent years.

Following the murder of a girl in early 2017, the media widely reported that the suspected perpetrators belonged to the Roma community, which provoked an anti-Roma public discourse.

Another example is a tour of the Kirtimai settlement organized by the Vaiduokliai agency, entitled Extreme Walk in a Roma Settlement. The tour advertisement included a recommendation not to carry any jewellery or money because it could be stolen. Having examined the case, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman found a violation of the Law on Equal Treatment and instructed the agency to change the information about the tour in order to prevent the negative stereotypes about the Roma community from being perpetuated in the public mind.

In 2017, a shop put up an anti-Roma advertisement which could be interpreted to mean that Roma would not be served in the shop. The Equal Opportunities Ombudsman had to look into this situation as well.

At the end of 2016, police officers raided the Kirtimai Roma settlement, damaging houses and using violence against minors. Lawfulness of the police action is under question.[434]

The AC-FCNM and CERD also shared concerns about the unsatisfactory conditions created in the foreigners' registration centres and the unreasonably long periods of detention of migrants (up to 18 months).[435] Besides, CERD highlighted their insufficient capacity in terms of providing adequate accommodation for newly arrived asylum-seekers, in particular families with children. In addition, the country fails to take into account the special needs of applicants, in particular women and girls, who are not provided with safe places to stay.

Many asylum seekers are denied entry to the state's territory or denied access to asylum procedures, including the services of a lawyer. Those who have managed to remain in Lithuania still face difficulties in terms of fully integrating into the society and suffer from prejudices and discrimination in access to housing.

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has criticised Lithuania for failing to prepare its health system for an emergency. In particular, the delay in the preparation of COVID-19 tests, inadequate training of medical staff and lack of beds and equipment in hospital facilities have been noted. Persons living in residential social care institutions have been adversely affected by the introduction of a ban on visits.

On a final note, it should again be stressed that the government's straightforward policy of falsifying history and whitewashing the memory of the "Forest Brothers" directly affects the degree to which Lithuania actually adheres to the values of democracy and the rule of law, especially in terms of respecting and ensuring the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Any attempts by historians, journalists and human rights activists to express a viewpoint contrasting with the official position end in persecution and trials. Suspicion of espionage in favour of Russia may also trigger repressive measures. The promotion of Russophobia has resulted in discriminatory attitudes towards Russians and Russian-speakers and the displacement of the Russian language from various spheres of public life. The situation of other national minorities, who still do not have their legal status enshrined in the legislation, is not much better. The grave situation with the public use of hate speech and widespread prejudices in the Lithuanian society adds to the list of problems.

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Luxembourg

The government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg places emphasis on ensuring the compliance with the international obligations undertaken by the State to promote and protect human rights and freedoms and with relevant legislative norms in law enforcement practice, as well as on eliminating the remaining gaps in the field of human rights.

Luxembourg has the Inter-ministerial Committee on Human Rights (established by the government in May 2015) that monitors the fulfilment of the human rights obligations by various relevant authorities of the Grand Duchy on the basis of consultations with national human rights agencies and civil society. Leadership functions are performed by a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their capacity of a Special Envoy for Human Rights. They also represent the nation at international meetings and conferences on the subject.

There are many human rights institutions and international NGOs operating in the country (including Amnesty International and others) that coordinate their work with Luxembourg's Consultative Commission on Human Rights. This body was established in 2000 with its competence, organizational structure and financing methods set out in the act of 21 November 2008. The Consultative Commission on Human Rights has the same status as the Ombuds-Committee for Children's Rights, the Mediator of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the National Commission for Data Protection and the Centre for Equal Opportunity.

There is a number of government bodies to address many forms of intolerance: the Ministry of Family Affairs, Integration and the Greater Region, National Reception Office and the Integration Department, The Ministry for Equal Opportunities, the Centre for Equal Treatment, Ombuds-Committee on the Rights of the Child, Inspectorate of Labour and Mines, etc.

Despite Luxembourg's human rights achievements, it faces criticism from many human rights institutions, including the CoE's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, for gaps in the system protecting people from possible xenophobic incidents. For example, the national Criminal Code does not consider racism an aggravating circumstance in a crime. In addition, the country's legislation lacks provisions banning and declaring illegal any organization that incites racial discrimination[436], however, the Criminal Code of Luxembourg provides for the persecution of legal persons in such cases. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised similar concerns. Furthermore, experts point out that the Act of 28 November 2006 on equal treatment does not include the criteria of national origin, colour or descent[437].

Opinion polls on combating discrimination, including pan-European ones (for instance, the Being Black in the EU survey conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2019), show that Luxembourg ranks among the bottom three countries on a number of indicators. For instance, out of almost 6,000 respondents from 12 countries, more than 50 per cent of black Luxembourgers experienced various kinds of harassment because of their skin colour, while in other countries the average is 39 per cent. More than half of respondents from Luxembourg faced difficulties when looking for work.

A number of experts still observe a certain anti-Semitic sentiment among the public in Luxembourgian. According to Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission Coordinator on combatting Antisemitism, who visited Luxembourg in May 2019, 13 anti-Semitic incidents were registered in 2019, a significant number given the small size of the Jewish community in the Grand Duchy (1,500–2,000 people).

The prevalence of anti-Semitic incidents and Islamophobia in the Duchy, as well as the persistence of discriminatory stereotypes in the media and on the Internet that might generate prejudice against certain groups were pointed out by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2014[438] and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2018[439].

The integration of refugees remains a challenge. Many human rights activists point out that refugees’ basic allowance is not enough to get by and their employment opportunities are limited. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted with concern that requirements in vernacular language represent a barrier to employment and education for refugees and immigrants[440].

Another human rights challenge in Luxembourg is to provide adequate working conditions for migrants; according to human rights defenders, violations can amount to a modern form of slavery or human trafficking. Even though the Duchy is habitually placed among countries with the best state of affairs in this regard, in practice the situation is quite different. There are no objective statistics regarding violations of labour standards. The legal norms related to the responsibility of the employer are excessively flexible with low penalty fees and lax prison terms. There are no sanctions in place for giving false testimony on social insurance of an employee or avoiding declaring a labour contract. All of this offers opportunities for abusive labour practices (the workweek reaching 70 hours in far in excess of the 48-hour limit).

The Consultative Commission on Human rights of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg appointed as National Rapporteur on trafficking in human beings acknowledges the efforts of the government in this field. However, according to the Global Slavery Index, around 100 persons living in the Grand Duchy are in modern slavery.

In 2020 Luxembourg Refugees Council, a pressure group, accused the Immigration Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg of violating the rights of refugees claiming that its officers had intimidated refugees on a number of occasions. Allegedly, the officials tried to discourage the refugees from applying for international protection.

The registration procedure for refugee families arriving to the country where one record to the name of the head of the family is created and spouses and children are added to it thus contributing to possible discrimination is also a matter of concern.

Another sensitive matter for the authorities of the Grand Duchy pertaining to fundamental democratic rights and freedoms is the discrimination on grounds of nationality. As of now, more than 283,000 out of 591,000 permanent residents of Luxembourg are from other European countries, and in some regions of the country, especially in the capital, the ratio tends to shift towards foreigners (presently, the proportion of them in the capital reaches 70 per cent). Luxembourgian human rights activists working with foreigners regularly emphasize the differentiated treatment on the local labour market. Besides, local human rights activists repeatedly brought to the attention of the authorities the need to implement measures to integrate foreigners who make up half of the permanent residents of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg into the country's political life, especially in light of the consideration being given to enabling non-Luxembourg nationals to vote. However, the 2015 referendum revealed that 78 per cent of Luxembourgers strongly opposed such an initiative. On 8 March 2017, the Luxembourg nationality act was adopted to facilitate the acquisition of the Luxembourg nationality by naturalisation, however, it is impeded by the requirement to pass a Luxembourgish language exam. The failure to resolve this pending issue is regularly criticised by the UN and CoE human rights mechanisms.

In 2019, CoE's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance declared that the Duchy had fulfilled its recommendations to enact a new national action plan on integration. The document was adopted by the Council of Government of Luxembourg on 13 July 2018. It is based on two areas of action – reception and social support of applicants for international protection, as well as integration of all non-Luxembourgian residents in the territory[441].

Human rights defenders are concerned about brutal treatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. According to General Police Inspectorate statistics, over 20 per cent of the 75 of internal criminal cases against police officers in 2019 were related specifically to incidents of brutality during detentions and further handling of persons in temporary confinement.

The government of the Grand Duchy actively promotes same-sex marriages and LGBT values in the country. For example, the fundamental amendments to the family law (the act of 1 January 2015, allowing for same-sex marriages, as well as a series of amendments introduced to the Civil Code in 2016 on recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions and acts of the adoption of children by same-sex parents registered before the family law reform) claimed by the government as one of its major achievements caused a stir in the Luxembourg society that mainly adheres to traditional Catholic values. In line with this policy, the government decided to replace the religion and moral education with a single course on social values, including basic human rights and freedoms.

Despite significant attention paid by the Luxembourg authorities to the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, a number of major issues have been noted in this field, such as low employment rates of persons with disabilities in public and private sectors, their assignment to specialized workshops for work (instead of creating a suitable environment for them in regular workplaces), the legislative and practical definition of disability solely based on the classic medical approach, and lack of administrative liability for employers who refuse to fulfil their responsibility to provide "reasonable accommodation" to persons with disabilities. The Centre for Equality is deemed to lack the resources to fully implement its mandate. The absence of disability discrimination cases testifies to a lack of awareness among this group regarding available human rights remedies.

Watchdogs point out that people with disabilities mostly work for specialised working shops and equal employment is often unavailable due to a lack of disability-inclusive environment. At the same time, the 2020 Report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights gives a positive assessment of the recent amendments to Luxembourg’s labour code providing for individualised assistance to ensure full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace. The new provisions establish support services to help individuals in the process and facilitate the creation of disability-inclusive workplaces[442].

Gender equality in Luxembourg is yet to be achieved. According to the 2020 Gender Equality Index published by the European Institute for Gender Equality, Luxembourg's score is as low as 44.8 points out of 100.

Uneven representation of both sexes in public service and in leadership positions in companies is a most clear representation of the differences in the social position of men and women in Luxembourg. The Ministry for Gender Equality has prepared an action plan to address the situation. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has pointed out disproportionately high rates of part-time employment among women, especially with children, and the fact that this form of employment was primarily offered in low-paid jobs. There is a 17.8 per cent gender gap in full-time employment, with 36.1 per cent of women being engaged in part-time employment[443]. The low number of children between the age of 3 and school age in childcare facilities is another factor contributing to the imbalance[444].

Domestic violence remains a challenge, which has aggravated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic measures. According to human rights activists, the Luxembourg government has not developed a comprehensive approach to solving this issue. The statistics of the annual police reports confirm the existence of serious problems in this area, as well as the imperfect legal protection mechanisms.

High commendation was given to Luxembourg’s initiative to prevent secondary victimisation of women, who have suffered from domestic violence. In March 2019, the Duchy began an individual case-by-case approach to deciding on special protective measures in court hearings. For the first time, in a case of domestic violence, the first instance court for criminal matters decided on a special measure that allowed the victim to testify and answer judges’ questions via video link in an adjacent room, to avoid contact with the offender[445].

Most comments referred to the protection of children's rights. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights draws the attention of the authorities to the deteriorated situation in the Grand Duchy, with the per centage of children that are at high risk of falling below the poverty line or being marginalized increasing over the last decade and reaching 23 per cent. The Committee on the Rights of the Child indicated a lack of official statistics on violence against children and expressed its concern over the violence among children on the Internet and at school. According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, migrant girls and adolescents are among those most affected by bullying and violence in school settings[446]. According to CEDAW, girls from migrant backgrounds are most affected by bullying in educational institutions[447].

Human rights activists are also concerned with excessive powers given to Luxembourg’s juvenile justice bodies that can place a child in a special regime facility (even the one located in another country) for misbehaviour or dangerous behaviour. The Luxembourg law enforcement agencies are criticised for the possibility of a child being kept in solitary confinement for up to 10 days. Despite reiterated recommendations, juveniles are still being placed in the State Penitentiary. This was mentioned, in particular, by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.[448] Human rights activists led by former Commissioner of the Council of Europe for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks found outraging the regulation to extend the permitted period of detention of minors and members of their families (referring primarily to migrant families) in remand centres from 72 hours to 7 days adopted in September 2017.

Following the decision by the Government Council of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg of 7 July 2017, an inter-agency committee was established comprising child protection actors, relevant ministries and services. This committee will decide based on the best interests the child in each particular case whether illegal minor migrants should be returned and removed in compliance with Article 10 of Directive 2008/115/EC or granted permission to stay in the country.

In addition, the UN and CoE human rights bodies emphasize numerous legal gaps in the domestic legal system of Luxembourg with regard to the sexual exploitation of minors, notably the lack of a clear definition of child pornography and child prostitution. The methods used during refugee registration to determine whether a child has reached the age of majority (where there is doubt as to whether a refugee is telling the truth about their age, the authorities conduct a bone marrow test and take a photo of the refugee's genitalia) are strongly criticized, including by the Consultative Commission on Human rights of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Human rights activists argue that the method is highly non-indicative from a medical point of view, causes moral injury and is demeaning to human dignity.

In addition, the UN and CoE human rights bodies emphasize numerous legal gaps in the domestic legal system of Luxembourg with regard to the sexual exploitation of minors, notably the lack of a clear definition of child pornography and child prostitution.

An alarming situation was observed in the field of protection of personal data, where "concerns for national security and the fight against crime" resulted in increased interference by intelligence services and law enforcement agencies in the private life of citizens. According to a 2020 report by DLAPiper, a law firm, in the preceding year Luxembourg recorded the seventh-highest number of personal data breaches per capita in the EU. This data is consistent with the observations of the 2017 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights report. The package of counter-terrorism measures that was adopted in 2015 and allows for house searches around the clock, extends the permitted period of detention from 24 to 48 hours, and authorizes telephone tapping and Internet activity monitoring was noted. Luxembourg fully implements new Regulation (EU) 2016/679 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal (in force since 25 May 2019). To normalize the situation, the authorities annually increase the funding and staffing of the National Commission for Personal Data Protection (from 2.5 million euros in 2017 to 4 million euros in 2019). For 2020, the budget will amount to a record 7.6 million euros.

This issue has its implications as regards the freedom of the press in Luxembourg. In recent years, the press corps has come under pressure from the authorities, including prosecution on defamation charges, for refusing to disclose their sources of information on numerous occasions. A major shock of 2018 was the government-initiated campaign (including searches, interrogations and veiled threats made against publishing houses) against journalists from Radio 100.7 after the ChamberLeaks scandal that had revealed that the website of the Chamber of Deputies had had a vulnerability allowing third parties to access confidential documents.

The topic of protecting personal health data has taken on a special resonance against the backdrop of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The public and human rights activists have engaged in a heated discussion about how ensuring epidemiological security throughout the country, at a time when emergency regime is imposed, should be balanced against respecting the principles of medical confidentiality and privacy, especially in the context of contact tracing apps. The VHL National Ethics Commission called on the country's government to take the observance of human rights and freedoms very seriously, despite the extraordinary circumstances.

The emergence and spread of a new coronavirus infection in 2020 exacerbated some of the pre-existing human rights concerns. These include, for example, the lack of adequate and affordable housing. The analysis of calls to the COVID-19 hotline set up by Caritas, a vulnerable groups charity, has confirmed that providing the population with affordable rental housing remains one of the most pressing challenges to crisis settlement, as housing prices continue to rise, even amid the pandemic[449].

Another effect of the pandemic was a rise of the unemployment rate. According to the AHRH, the number of unemployed under the age of 30 in the period from August 2019 to August 2020 increased by a third. Employment opportunities for older people have become even more scarce. A study by Idea Foundation has shown that the current crisis may have long-term and dire consequences for the career prospects of older persons and will only exacerbate the already existing issue of their long-term unemployment[450].

Human rights activists express their concern at the overcrowded local penitentiary institutions, namely the Schrassig prison, which is the only closed prison in the country (with a capacity of 600 beds) and the penitentiary centre in Givenich (with a capacity of around 100 beds). Despite the severe shortage of prison places, no new units are built. The prison conditions in the facilities in question, especially in pre-trial detention cells, are reportedly good, however, there is still a problem of overcrowded cells.

According to the UN experts, in order to further improve the human rights situation in the country, Luxembourg should ensure timely reporting to the UN human rights treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Committee.

A separate analysis should be carried out regarding the reservations made by Luxembourg to various provisions of fundamental international human rights treaties. Such reservations relate to the interpretation of a number of rights and freedoms as absolute, that is, allegedly not subject to any restrictions. This is primarily about the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right to freedom of assembly and association. For example, article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights declares that "any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law". By its reservation Luxembourg, in effect, refuses to take necessary legislative measures for the practical implementation of the said provision, for the reason that this would contradict the right to freedom of expression.

Nevertheless, for the time being legislation and law enforcement practices in Luxembourg mostly meet the standards set in universal and regional European treaties in this area and despite certain problem points in the country’s human rights dossier, the situation remains fairly stable.

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Malta

As part of the Western community and a member of the European Union, Malta positions itself as a staunch advocate of democratic freedoms and human rights. However, Maltese and foreign experts point to a number of human rights problems, many of which are of a long-term and systemic character.

In recent years, the issue of freedom of expression and the media has come to the fore in Malta in the light of the killing of well-known journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017, who covered acts of corruption in local government circles and was under pressure from the authorities (at the time of her death, 42 libel suits had been filed against her and some of her property had been arrested). Despite the detention of three alleged perpetrators of the crime, the inquiry into the case has been suspended.

The stalled inquiry was an important factor behind a wave of protests against corruption in late 2019. Thousands of people took to the streets demanding not only an efficient investigation but also removal of a whole number of important political figures, including prime minister Joseph Muscat. As a result he was compelled to leave office on 13 January 2020.

In December 2019, eight journalist organizations published an open letter calling out the Maltese authorities on continued intimidation of reporters. The authors singled out two cases, both related to reporting on the investigation into the high-profile murder.

In the first case, a group of journalists was illegally detained after they took part in a press-conference at the Auberge de Castille following a an emergency cabinet meeting, where the decision was made to deny presidential pardon to businessman Yorgen Fenech, a suspect in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. After the prime-minister made his official statement on the issue, the security locked the doors and prevented the press from leaving the room until the politician left the building.

On a different occasion, security officers in Parliament attempted to confiscate the mobile phone of a Times of Malta journalist, as chaos broke out following the detention of the businessman.

The authors of the letter condemned the actions of the authorities and urged to fulfil Malta’s international commitments by securing the safety of reporters performing their professional duties and providing their access to information of public interest[451].

In 2020 and early 2021, due to the restrictions enforced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the activists were unable to hold large-scale anti-corruption manifestations, but even so they found ways to put their message across through small-scale demonstrations.

For example, in November 2020, to mark a year since the beginning of the protest movement, civil activists put up banners featuring faces of politicians who had resigned, as well as sitting ministers, who had chosen to "live in denial" and turned a blind eye to blatant corrupt practices[452]. However, in a matter of hours not a trace of the protest was to be seen. All the banners were removed by unidentified persons. The authorities deny their involvement in the incident[453].

On 1 March 2021, another demonstration took place outside the Parliament of Malta in support of a fair trial of the protracted case. The protestors, around 200 people, were seated behind barriers, in keeping with social distancing COVID mitigation measures, some carrying banners reading "Malta suffocated by the mafia octopus" and "Corruption killed a journalist". Organisers used the octopus metaphor to refer to corrupt politicians, business people and those who "have their tentacles in all of Malta's institutions"[454].

In October 2020, the editor-in-chief of the Maltese publishing house MediaToday Saviour Balzan noted that the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia had a most negative impact on the work of journalists, provoking the development of self-censorship among them.

In June 2019, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution based on a report of the Dutch MP Peter Omzigt on this case, which stated that the principle of the rule of law in Malta was "seriously undermined" due to the "extreme weakness of the system of checks and balances".

According to a report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (March 2019) on impacts of the 'Panama Papers', Malta was among the countries where the scandal led to regress with regard to freedom of expression[455].

The decriminalization of defamation in 2018 was an important legislative step. However, it still constitutes a civil offense, so media outlets and their representatives still have to bear the burden of frequent litigation.

The so-called SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation) procedure, in which a plaintiff brings a libel suit in the U.S. courts, which threatens the defendant with significant financial costs, is often used in recent years as a way of putting pressure on the local press. As a result, many local publishers being at the risk of prosecution are forced to remove materials undesirable to applicants from their websites. However, during the development of a new Media Act (in force since May 2018), the government refused to integrate measures aimed at protecting the members of the press from SLAPP.

According to the report of the OSCE Observation Mission on the early general elections in Malta in June 2017 (published in October 2017), editorial independence is negatively impacted by the political parties' ownership of a number of media outlets, and the local Broadcasting Authority cannot be perceived as an impartial body[456].

The above facts are reflected in the relevant indexes compiled by various international NGOs. In particular, according to annual review made by Reporteurs Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) NGO , Malta once again lost its positions by falling down from 65th in 2018 to 77th place in 2019 (in 2017, 45th place; and in 2010, 16th place)[457]. According to Freedom House NGO, Malta maintained its free Press Freedom Status in 2019, but lost its points once again compared to 2018 (Aggregate Score declined from 92 to 91)[458].

In June 2020, Malta’s broadcasting authority ordered the state-owned Television Malta (TVM) not to broadcast journalists' questions to government officials at press conferences live. This measure was allegedly aimed at eliminating possible bias in the coverage of events. The regulator’s decision caused a mixed reaction in society, especially after TVM, in keeping with the order, interrupted the airing of a press conference on Malta's response to the spread of coronavirus infection. In particular, the Institute of Journalists of Malta condemned the order, calling it an act of censorship[459].

In recent years, in the context of 'Panama Papers', a number of corruption scandals, as well as the country's passport-for-sale scheme (granting citizenship in exchange for investment), Malta has come under fire from abroad due to the poor performance of the local judicial and law enforcement systems and significant shortcomings in observing the rule of law, transparency and good governance principles. The delegations of the European Parliament visiting the country, inter alia, have repeatedly pointed out the lack of any reaction from the authorities to obvious cases of corruption at the highest government levels. In May 2018, the European Commission called upon Valletta to strengthen the fight against corruption and money laundering. In December 2018, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe) made recommendations to Malta[460].

Human rights defenders take issue with the Maltese judicial system on excessive delays in the handling of cases, many of which are human rights related. This was highlighted, in particular, by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council[461].

Violation of the rights of irregular migrants proceeding mainly from Africa and the Middle East continues to be a significant issue in the Maltese human rights profile. This is illustrated by the fact that Malta has lost a number of cases brought by this category of citizens before the European Court of Human Rights in recent years. The Human Rights Committee drew attention to manifestations of racism and xenophobia against migrants, including cases of violence on such grounds, as well as discrimination against them in accessing the labour market, housing and services[462]. In its report, the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention of the CoE on the Protection of the Rights of National Minorities noted that the above mentioned factors might hinder integration of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees into Maltese society[463].

Generally, such persons can apply only for low paid positions; there is no established system of their qualifications recognition. They may also face difficulties in pursuing an education or reuniting with their family. There is limited access to social security for people with forms of international protection other than the refugee status. Between 2015 and 2018, Malta saw a number of mass rallies for improved living conditions for migrants.

The issue of accommodation for refugees has become even more pressing due to a spike in applications. Asylum applications in 2019 almost doubled compared with 2018. However, Malta was hardly prepared as no new reception facilities had been put in place over the previous years. Increased arrivals led to overcrowding, riots and arbitrary detention. The authorities placed many new arrivals, including unaccompanied children, in the Safi barracks – the country’s main immigration detention facility, which was used as an initial reception centre. It soon became overcrowded, with serious hygiene and other issues. The largest open reception centre, in Hal Far, hosted 1,200 people. In October, a riot there led to the temporary suspension of food distribution and the arrest of 107 people, including unaccompanied children[464].

The watchdog has noted that refugees remain the most vulnerable group in Malta, facing isolation and a relatively low level of interaction with the local population. This is indicated in the reports of the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published in May 2018 and 2019. The Commission has repeatedly noted Malta's lack of implementation of recommendations relating to the protection of the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers, including those relating to the granting of citizenship through naturalisation. Many immigrants with no legal status complain about low wages and exploitation of unregistered employment. It is being argued the policy excluding beneficiaries of subsidiary protection from the right to family reunification is unduly restrictive[465].

The Human Rights Committee has previously pointed out long periods of detention of migrants arriving in Malta (up to 18 months for irregular migrants and up to 1 year for asylum seekers). There were cases of illtreatment and excessive use of force, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, by police officers at detention centres for migrants[466].

Vulnerable groups, including young children with their parents and unaccompanied minors, find themselves in an especially difficult situation. They are being detained in very poor conditions and held together with unrelated adults[467].

In effect, Malta has returned to the policy of detaining all those who arrive by sea, including children. In 2019, some 885 people, who claimed to be minors – including 80 girls – arrived in Malta irregularly by sea. Most of them – 775 – arrived unaccompanied. The Ministry for Home Affairs indicated that only about 130 of those who had claimed to be unaccompanied children were confirmed to be children after completion of age-assessment procedures. Virtually all of them were detained at least for a week, but some for months. In most cases, the authorities justified the deprivation of liberty on public health grounds under Article 13 of the 1908 Prevention of Disease Ordinance, which allows detention for up to 70 days. They held many unaccompanied children in Safi together with unrelated adults.

The court overturned six detention orders on appeal, but lawyers stopped challenging them, as the authorities did not offer any accommodation to the persons released[468].

In 2014, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) included Malta in the list of nine States to work on the Beyond Detention 2014–2019.

In September 2020, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) made an ad hoc visit to Malta focusing on conditions of immigrant detention, including families with young children and unaccompanied minors. In their follow-up report, the CPT called on the Maltese authorities to urgently change their approach to hosting refugees in detention centers and ensure that they are treated humanely and with dignity.

Overall, the CPT found an immigration system that was struggling to meet its obligations under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the European Convention on Human Rights). In their report, the CPT concluded that the living conditions, lack of due process safeguards, treatment of vulnerable groups and some specific COVID-19 measures were so problematic that they might well amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

The carceral design of detention centres such as Hermes Block and the Warehouses at Safi Detention Centre remained totally inappropriate: large rooms crammed with beds, no privacy, and communication with staff via locked doors. Migrants were generally locked in their accommodation units with little to no access to daily outdoor exercise and no purposeful activities. Other deficiencies included a lack of maintenance of the buildings (especially the sanitary facilities), insufficient personal hygiene products and cleaning materials and an inability to obtain a change of clothes.

Moreover, there was also a systematic lack of information provided to detained persons about their situation, compounded by minimal contact with the outside world or even staff[469].

Nils Muižnieks, the then Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, called on Valletta in a letter to the Maltese authorities sent in February 2018 to take appropriate measures in order to protect and integrate migrants and to address the problems of their detention, resettlement, accommodation, family reunification and labour exploitation. He also noted the shortcomings in the work of the local Refugee Appeals Board.

Another pending issue in Malta is the reform of the guardianship system. The relocation of unaccompanied children had been put on hold until the Minister for Family and Children’s Rights produced interim care orders for them. The orders assigned temporary guardianship to the Director of the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers. A new guardianship law is needed in order to ensure a separation between guardians and staff responsible for the reception of asylum applicants, says the report[470].

The apparent presence of racist, xeno- and Islamophobic sentiments in the Maltese society is a significant problem, which is mostly connected with the phenomenon of illegal migration. The existence of these issues was yet again confirmed in the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Malta held in November 2018.

In particular, there were manifestations of racism and xenophobia against migrants, including racial violence and discrimination during access to employment, housing and services.

In 2019, several high-profile incidents put racism on the political agenda in Malta. On 6 April, a man from Ivory Coast was shot dead and two other Africans were seriously injured. It is believed to be Malta’s first racially motivated murder. Two soldiers were arrested for their alleged involvement. This prompted the Maltese President and the armed forces to release press statements condemning the murder and warning of the "dangers of racist, xenophobic, and extremist discourse". In addition, the Commander of the Armed Forces launched an internal investigation. Its tasks include finding out whether these were two individuals acting alone or there may be other xenophobic groups or tendencies within the Armed Forces of Malta[471].

Even though hate crime cases are relatively uncommon (still, no data are collected systematically either on the prevalence of racially motivated crimes or on the number of cases relating to incitement to racial hatred)[472], a Hate Crime Unit has been created within the Police, providing specialised assistance and support to victims of hate crime [473].

A public awareness campaign was also launched, with the aim to target hate crimes motivated by racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia, amongst others.

A recent study by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities finds that 38 per cent of immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa who were interviewed felt discriminated against because of their skin colour. In relation to employment, 20 per cent of immigrant respondents said that they had experienced discrimination on account of their ethnicity or background when looking for work in the 12 months preceding the survey. Another 15% stated that they had experienced discrimination in the workplace[474].

According to the surveys conducted in May 2018 and 2019, more than 70 per cent of the Maltese population admit that the country faces the problem of racism. About 46 per cent of the respondents feel a threat from other cultures, while 45 per cent think that there are too many migrants in Malta.

According to ECRI, social media in Malta are rife with offensive and racist content, and the local population has a generally negative attitude to migrants. There is still no systematic data collection on the number of reported incidents of racist hate crime, including hate speech, investigations carried out or prosecutions and sentencing.

According to a 2018 Eurobarometer survey, Malta had the highest level of online hate speech, mainly against migrants, among member states of the European Union[475].

Another study cited by ECRI showed the need for enhanced efforts to promote religious tolerance and non-discrimination in Maltese schools, observing the negative portrayal of non-Maltese communities in certain teaching materials and a general lack of references to other religious and cultural celebrations in the curriculum[476].

What is more, some Maltese political and public figures have been reported to use xeno- and Islamophobic rhetoric.

In November 2018, Hon Claudio Grech, an opposition Nationalist Party Member of Parliament, in a TV interview compared the situation at one of the open centres for housing migrants with the film Planet of the Apes and for this reason was criticized by media and other politicians.

In May 2019, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stated that he did not want a situation where "foreigners were comfortable and the Maltese broke their backs." He said that he would prefer that the local youths get the skilled jobs as doctors, managers or teachers, with foreigners working "in the sun". Later, under pressure of the media and the public, the Head of Government made a public apology for his words.

In April 2019, Adrian Delia, Leader of the Opposition, stated that Malta was "being taken over by outsiders", because the country's economy had become overly-dependant on foreigners. He also noted that the "clans of lowquality foreigners" residing in Malta were "frightening children and making society poorer".

In May 2019, Maurice Mizzi, one of the prominent local businessmen and Icelandic Honorary Consulate in Malta, said that illegal Muslim migrants should be stopped from entering to the island republic which he wanted to remain "Catholic". According to him, at the moment, there are too many Muslim multi-member families coming, which will "eventually" result in them "taking over" Malta.

In December 2017, the Maltese authorities adopted the first-ever National Migrant Integration Strategy, together with an Action Plan. The Ministry for European Affairs and Equality later set up an Integration Unit in charge of implementing the Strategy, and a specific inter-ministerial co-ordination body and a consultative forum, which includes organisations representing migrants. The Action Plan foresees in particular the provision of Maltese and English language classes to applicants, the training of cultural mediators to be deployed in public services, and research to assess the integration needs of vulnerable groups[477].

Concerns have been raised with regard to Malta’s approach to fulfilling its obligations under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The official position of the government is that there are no such minorities in the country. Consequently, there is no need to respect and observe their rights.

Importantly, the states parties to the FCNM have the obligation to ensure that all individuals and groups, whose situation can be improved by the Convention, are aware of their right to self-determination, are able to use it freely and know that the treaty applies to them. Also, all stakeholders should receive sufficient information about the scope of the FCNM. However, this document has never been translated into Maltese or published in the country even in the English language.

The Advisory Committee further notes, regarding the right to self-identify freely, that the Maltese authorities do not offer the option, when collecting data through population censuses, to answer questions on ethnic affiliation, while such data would be very useful to better understand the cultural diversity of the population, provided such questions are non-mandatory and open-ended[478].

The Maltese Government is regularly criticized for its inadequate policy in combating trafficking in persons. Human rights defenders point out that the so-called trafficking incidents (in particular forced labour and sexual slavery) were occurred or are persisted in Malta. The most vulnerable groups are representatives from South-East Asia, China and Eastern Europe, as well as women from Central and Eastern Europe.

In November 2017, a Maltese and a Chinese national were detained on charges of forced prostitution and trafficking. In March 2018, eight Maltese and foreign nationals engaged in a trafficking scheme involving workers from Southeast Asia working for local cleaning services companies were arrested in Malta.

In 2014, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT), a monitoring body created under the Optional Protocol on the Prevention of Torture to prevent and eliminate torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment of detainees) noted weak points in the legislation aimed to make these bodies fully independent and effective in line with national prevention mechanisms. A lack of clearly defined role and powers of the relevant bodies prevents them from exercising the full range of the required functions[479].

The Maltese Government is subject to regular criticism for alleged violations of the rights to privacy. In recent years, the press has repeatedly quoted the Facebook reports, according to which the Maltese authorities sent the largest number of requests in the world (in terms of per capita) to this social network in 2013-2018 asking to disclose personal data.

Furthermore, there are persisting problems related to vulnerable groups. According to the World Economic Forum Report, Malta is gradually improving its position in the Global Gender Gap Index, ranking 84th out of 156 in 2021 (in 2020 – 90th out of 153, in 2018 – 91st out of 149). Statistics show a persisting disparity, inter alia, in employment (women's employment rate is much lower than men's), wages (women earn on average 11 per cent less), as well as in politics, education and health[480].

In March 2019, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat publicly acknowledged the problem of gender equality by stating that women were most at risk of poverty.

In the 2019 Gender Equality Index of the European Commission, Malta was among the five "lagging" EU countries. In the 2020 index of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), Malta was ranked 15th in the EU with 63.4 points out of 100[481].

In October 2018, following the consideration of the initial report of Malta, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities expressed its concern that certain legislative acts in place were not in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly the Mental Health Act, which allowed involuntary detainment and non-consensual psychiatric treatment of persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities. The watchdog also noted the continued practice of hospitalisation of such persons without their consent[482].

The Committee also expressed concern that persons with disabilities remained deprived of their legal capacity and that the Personal Autonomy Act, which is now at the draft stage, might make the situation even worse by introducing such concepts and mechanisms as "safeguards", "codecision-making" and "representation agreement".

Malta continues to face certain challenges in the area of children’s protection, human rights advocates say. In November 2014 and in June 2016, the Human Rights Committee[483] and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations Human Rights Council[484] expressed their concern that children between 16 and 18 years of age continued to be tried as adults and that they were subject to criminal laws and tried in ordinary courts in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was recommended that Valletta should keep persons under the age of 18 separate from adults in correctional facilities and detention centres. Children of different ages shall be also held together in residential establishments. In May 2019, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted with concern the continuing cases of sexual abuse of children committed within their family and/or by persons in their circle of trust. According to the Committee experts, there is a relatively high risk of sexual exploitation of children in the country in the context of travel and tourism[485].

In October 2016, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture expressed concern about the practice of placing minors with problematic behaviour in closed psychiatric institutions and recommended that more humane procedures be introduced to prevent such cases.

Despite the reference to Catholic traditions of the Maltese society in certain domestic political matters, including in health matters, the authorities are simultaneously making efforts to inculcate the neoliberal values. In particular, over the past five years, same-sex civil unions, marriages and adoptions have been permitted, and a law banning conversion therapy and provisions allowing citizens (including children) to choose and define for themselves their sex and to indicate their gender in documents by the letter "x" ("neutral third sex") have been adopted. In this context, the terms "mother", "father", "husband" and "wife" have been removed from local legal and regulatory practice (and replaced by terms "parent" and "spouse"). Work is under way to empower transgenders and homosexuals.

Finally, in the context of human rights situation, attention should be given to the difficulties that the official authorities and the population of the country had to face due to the unpreparedness of the Maltese health system for the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Human Rights, a lack of beds, especially in intensive care units; insufficient trained staff; and shortages of appropriate equipment were noted in Malta.

At the same time, the government has announced large increases in the budget allocated to healthcare, including to ensure availability of rapid testing[486].

In general, despite Malta's attempts to bring its human rights profile in line with modern European democratic standards, the current human rights situation is still far from perfect.

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Moldova

In Moldova, fundamental human rights and freedoms are generally respected. The Moldovan authorities make efforts to align the state of affairs with the existent legal framework by making use of the extensive inventory of non-governmental human rights organizations. At the same time, the issue of discrimination of Russian-speaking citizens persists, albeit to a lesser degree, since the removal of the oligarch president Vlad Plahtoniuc and his nearest circle, with whom the omnipresent corruption turned law into a tool to seize competitors’ businesses and influence political opponents. The process of "deoligarchisation", which started in June 2019 has proved troublesome and may take years to accomplish.

Compared to previous years, 2020 saw a gradual improvement in the area of human rights. With the arrival of the new administration, free from the influence of Vlad Plahotniuc, noticeable progress in freedom of expression and assembly has been achieved, the practice of putting administrative pressure on journalists, including illegal wiretapping, has been scrapped. Resonant criminal cases against members of the opposition have been closed; former political opponents of the infamous oligarch have been freed from imprisonment. At the same time, after the change of power in 2020, other human rights concerns have been raised.

The situation around the status of the Russian language is especially alarming. Under Article 13 of the Constitution of Moldova, "The State shall acknowledge and protect the right to the preservation, development and use of the Russian language and other languages spoken within the territory of the State". However, precedence was given to the decision of the Constitutional Court of 4 June 2018 declaring the 1989 Law on the Functioning of Languages in the territory of the Moldavian SSR "outdated and useless". This fundamental legal act defined Moldovan as the state language, while also acknowledging Russian as a means of international communication.

The then-ruling social democrats (the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, PSRM) and the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) did not rush to address the language issue. One of the reasons for the delay was PSRM’s avoidance of confrontation with their accidental partners – the pro-Europeans from DPM – to get the ruling alliance through the difficult pre-elections period. Largely, the Moldovan leaders limited themselves to statements about the "priority of resolving complex economic issues before proceeding to address the issue of the Russian language, which has the status of a means of inter-ethnic communication". In this context, Article 13 of the Constitution of Moldova was cited.

In December 2020, at the end of his term Igor Dodon signed the Law "On the Functioning of Languages in the Republic of Moldova", which was elaborated on his suggestion after the Constitutional Court pronounced the namesake 1989 document outdated. The old law conferred to the Russian language the status of a language of inter-ethnic communication and provided that all official documents and names of government institutions shall be indicated in Moldovan and Russian. At the same time, the President approved amendments to national law to allow Russian news, political opinions and talk shows to be broadcast again in Moldova (banned since 2018 on the pretext of tackling propaganda; although it has been many times noted that before the ban the majority of Moldovans watched Russian TV channels broadcasts).

However, in January 2021, a month since the adoption of the law on the functioning of languages in Moldova, the Constitutional Court on the appeal of the Action and Solidarity Party[487] ruled that the law was unconstitutional, thus denying the status of a language of inter-ethnic communication to the Russian language.

In this context, it is no surprise that the Russian-speaking population faces discrimination at the national level. Public officers often refuse to communicate in Russian or accept applications made in Russian; language conflicts among people often occur. The Inter-Ethnic Relations Bureau and the Bureau for the Prevention of Discrimination, state authorities designed to deal with such situations, shun from their functions citing a lack of powers. In 2017, the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed its concern with the situation of the Russian-speaking population noting that since the 2012 amendments to the law on identity documents, the national passport system had failed to fully recognize the names of persons belonging to ethno-linguistic minority groups, particularly Russian minorities[488].

In addition to the violations of rights of Russian-speaking population, there remains unresolved the issue of combatting corruption in the judicial and improving prison conditions. Relevant facts are documented in the reports of the Information and analysis human rights centre of the Coordinating Council of the Russian Compatriots of the Republic of Moldova, as well as reviews by international human rights organizations, including the 2019 Report of Amnesty International.

The situation in Moldova’s judiciary and law enforcement bodies is a serious concern. The rise of these issues is attributed to the "legacy of Plahotinuc’s appointees in the justice system", which allegedly remains a hotbed of corruption. As a counter-measure, a complex reform aimed to amend the Constitution and cleanse the judiciary has been initiated in Moldova. The efforts are made in close cooperation with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and western "development partners", however, its progress leaves much to be desired due to clanship and corporatism in the judicial and prosecutorial systems.

The ailing "justice" in Moldova is manifest in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Moldova without fail receives one of the largest numbers of complaints among the Council of Europe member countries
(523 complaints in 2020). In total, over 1,100 applications from Moldovan citizens are awaiting consideration. In February 2020, ECtHR ordered Moldova to pay to former shareholders of Gemenii trade centre a record sum of 1.5m euros in compensation of lost profit as the country lost a case related to illegal occupation of land outside the trade centre by Plahotniuc’s cronies. Additionally, the Court ordered to return approximately half of the facility and land, which had been appropriated illegally from the shareholders (otherwise Moldova will have to reimburse the 2.1m euros price of the real estate). At the same time, the Moldovan government promotes legislative initiatives aimed to bring to justice those judges whose decisions led to appellations to ECtHR resulting in Moldova’s loss.

Legal circles in Moldova, for their part, note violation in the area of law enforcement. They draw attention to the fact that the principle of legal certainty is routinely disregarded – local judges habitually interpret norms at their own discretion regardless of existing best practices. Cases of reconviction have been noted, when a person undergoes several punishments for one criminal act. Excessive powers of the prosecutor and, conversely, restricted powers of defence lawyers remain a serious concern, as the adversarial principle is undermined. It has been pointed out that such discrimination results in the majority of cases in Moldova ending in conviction. Financial imbalance is another sensitive issue, as judges’ salaries are significantly lower than those of lawyers and supervisors are and the risk of corruption persists.

The imbalance within the judiciary is closely interrelated with the practice of using penitentiary institutions to pressure persons under investigation, mainly by way of incarceration, often on little or no grounds. Records have been made of cases when detainees are kept on scanty rations of food and water, unreasonably placed in solitary confinement, set up by jailhouse informants in order to obtain confessionary evidence. Moldovan human rights defenders draw attention to inhumane detention conditions in prisons, however, it is noted that the situation has somewhat improved over the past year. Above all, this relates to investigating cases of treatment amounting to torture and convictions of the guilty.

Massive public outcry was caused by the case of Andrei Braguta, who was detained for resisting the police after he was stopped for speeding in August 2017. He was thrown into a cell in a detention centre, where he was brutally beaten by cellmates. The prison security did not intervene to stop the beating and let him lie on the floor without help for about three hours after the incident. Braguta died two weeks into his imprisonment from bilateral bronchopneumonia. The Prosecutor’s Office of Moldova established that Braguta’s cellmates acted with the acquiescence of the prison officers, two of whom were convicted as a consequence.

Human rights defenders also note the systemic nature of violations of social rights of Moldovan citizens, above all, the right to work and equal pay. People of retirement age, who have lost the right to work on long-term contract after reaching the age limit, are compelled to negotiate fixed-term employment contracts. The link between employers and higher education institutions is virtually lost, resulting in a situation where young professionals end up in low-skilled, low paid jobs. In 2017, the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights pointed out a persistent gender pay gap that leads to broader gender imbalances in calculation of social insurance, including pensions. The Committee raised concern that pensions and minimal wages in Moldova were below the living wage, while the minimum wage in the state sector had not been reviewed since 2014[489]. In 2020, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also drew attention to the above mentioned issues, including the remaining vertical and horizontal occupational segregation, the gender gap in job compensation and pension benefits. Prevalence of discriminatory dismissal of older people was noted with concern, as well as the limited access to social protection for women belonging to disadvantaged groups, such as Roma women and rural women, was noted with concern)[490]..

It is also being noted that amid the COVID-19 pandemic social problems have hit Moldovan society hard. In violation of labour law, employees were denied compensation and forced to take unpaid leave.

Traffic in persons remains to be one of Moldova’s pressing issues. According to the Global Trafficking Data Centre, the country ranks third in the world in terms of the number of victims – 10,000 people (27 per cent of them are children aged nine to 17).

Russian citizens may also face difficulties in Moldova[491]. In particular, complaints were have been made about the use of torture against Russians in places of confinement, violations of the criminal procedure legislation, as well as inadequate conditions of detention. There have been cases of unfair treatment of Russian citizens by Moldovan border control authorities. A number of statements by Russian citizens about "political persecution" from the Transdniestrian authorities have also been recorded. There are records of specific cases when Russian media representatives were prevented from performing their duties in Moldova. In particular, mention must be made of an incident in 2020, when Valery Demidetsky was threatened with prosecution by the Party of Action and Solidarity (Maia Sandu) on charges of "interference in the electoral campaign on the side of pro-Russian forces.

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Montenegro

According to the estimate of the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms in Montenegro (Ombudsperson), human rights violations in the country consist in non-observance by certain government agencies of deadlines for administrative procedures prescribed by law when dealing with Montenegrin and foreign nationals. Consideration of cases is often delayed, and a large number of appeals are dismissed altogether by government institutions. There is also lack of specialists dealing with them. In order to address these shortcomings, the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms has been suggesting year after year that more human and financial resources should be provided and analysis of "dismissed" cases undertaken.

At the same time, according to the Ombudsperson's report for 2019, the number of complaints about the work of public administration and administrative services is gradually decreasing (in 2018 – 303 complaints, in 2019 – 266). The same applies to citizens' complaints to the judiciary (in 2018 – 141 appeals, in 2019 – 93). Complainants' discontent was mainly caused by the duration of execution and review of the decisions.

In contrast, the Office of the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms in Montenegro still has a high rate of complaints. During the reporting period, it stood at 96 per cent of 840 appeals, 31 of which were postponed from 2018. At the same time, there were 76 applications less in 2019 compared to the previous year.

Of 809 cases received by the Office of the Ombudsperson in 2019, 657 were prepared on the basis of individual complaints (including from 25 citizens of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Sweden, Great Britain, Luxembourg and Germany), 69 were initiated by the Ombudsperson, 36 – following the examination of complaints from groups of citizens and legal persons, 22 were from non-governmental organizations, 23 from children and 2 from anonymous complainants. Most of them were related to the activities of public administration and administrative services (266), the rest were related to the work of public services (216), courts (93), the police directorate (55), local self-government bodies and municipal and administrative offices (43), prosecutors' offices (27), authorities dealing with administrative offences, as well as actions of economic organizations, other legal entities, entrepreneurs and individual citizens (113).

Challenges persist in Montenegro's penitentiary system. However, a slight decrease was recorded in 2019 in the number of complaints from individuals held in detention facilities. Their complaints were mainly related to inadequate medical care, ill-treatment, discrimination and unlawful court decisions against them.

The situation with the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights in Montenegro remains below world standards. A significant number of citizens continue to live below the poverty line. There is no significant progress in addressing the issues of employment, wage increase, or housing conditions. All this, according to the Ombudsperson's report, negatively affects the overall economic and social situation in the country. The situation of the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled, and the Roma remains particularly difficult.

The right of citizens to a healthy environment is also violated due to improper implementation of the urbanization-related rules and regulations, construction and spatial planning, as well as recycling and disposal of industrial and household waste.

There has been a slight improvement in ensuring children’s rights. However, there are still many problems in this area: the judiciary often do not pay due attention to the important role of minors in the cases they handle, and guardianship authorities do not always use their powers to resolve situations involving abuse of children's rights by parents. Violence against minors still occurs in Montenegrin society. However, the guardianship authorities often respond inadequately to these challenges. The problem of overcrowding in certain educational institutions has remained unsolved. The number of minors living in institutional care remains high. Children from families of marginalized groups continue to face a significant risk of separation and institutionalization. This has been pointed out, among other things, by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.[1143]

Violence against women, including gender-based killings, is prevalent. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted with concern in July 2017 that this phenomenon is socially accepted, in particular among the Roma community. The legal minimum age of marriage is only 16 years and there is a high prevalence of child and/or forced marriages within the said ethnic group. That the unemployment rate among women is disproportionately high, in particular among women belonging to minority groups. All these factors make Roma women and girls, as well as refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking. In addition, facts of collusion of law enforcement officials in cases of human trafficking have been repeatedly noted.[1144]

There are a number of challenges faced by the healthcare system. For example, the practice of sex-selective abortions persists, particularly among the Roma. The authorities make only limited efforts to identify such cases and do not prosecute and sanction the perpetrators of such crimes.[1145] There are recorded cases of health service providers charging informal fees, thereby restricting access to medical care for children living in poverty. At the same time, there are declining rates of immunization against childhood diseases.[1146]

No single ethnic group makes up the majority of the population in Montenegro. Montenegro recognizes the Albanian, Bosniak, Croat, Roma and Serb national minorities, who each are represented by a National Minority Council. There is a good legal anti-discrimination framework, including rules and regulations guaranteeing the implementation of minority language rights which have recently been reviewed, and the ombudsperson institution.[1147]

The right to education in one’s own language in public institutions is guaranteed by Article 79 of the constitution of Montenegro. The Law on General Education grants the right to have the history and culture of minority communities included in the general curriculum. For that purpose, 20 per cent of the curriculum is "open content". However, the Ministry of Education has little oversight into how this 20 per cent is used. In terms of teaching in and of minority languages, Albanian language education is provided in areas where Albanians make up the majority of the local population, and in Podgorica. There are a number of bilingual schools teaching in Albanian and Montenegrin languages, but this does not indicate that students receive an equal numbers of hours of teaching in each language. Some pupils take Albanian as their language of instruction, whilst others take Montenegrin, generally depending on their ethnic background (a local dialect of Serbian). This creates two separate streams of monolingual education, although students with Montenegrin as their language of instruction may take Albanian as an elective subject, and for classes with Albanian as the language of instruction the learning of Montenegrin is compulsory.[1148]

Disagreement on the restitution of religious property is negatively affecting inter-religious relations, leading to discord between some religious communities. One notable example was in Svac, where the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) attempted to hold a service on the site of the ruins of a medieval church owned by the State. The SRC claims to own the site, but local Albanian protestors prevented the metropolitan from holding the service. Ulcinj’s authorities reported that the site had been closed since 2015 for preservation work.[1149]

There are also other examples when ministers of the "Montenegrin Orthodox Church" (unrecognized schismatic entity) and the SOC attempted to hold services in religious premises in Cetinje and Podgorica, to which both churches lay claim, on 1 and 8 October 2017. As a result, the police intervened and in both cases the Montenegrin Orthodox Church held its services outside the premises and the Serbian Orthodox Church inside.[1150]

The Law on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and the Legal Status of Religious Communities was intended to clarify the issues of relationship between religious communities.[1151] Adopted in December 2019, the Law contained a number of controversial provisions (including in relation to property disputes), from the point of view of the SOC. It provoked mass protests from worshipers from January to October 2020 in Montenegro, Serbia and Republika Srpska, part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and resulted in a change of power in the country. In December 2020, Parliament of Montenegro adopted amendments to the Law to exclude articles related to the property of religious communities. In early January 2021, M. Djukanovic, President of Montenegro, sent them back for review because of "complaints about voting quorum" and "legal issues regarding the mandate of two members of parliament".[1152]

Racist incidents have also been reported in the country. In August 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination pointed out that hate speech was sometimes used in Montenegro by politicians and public figures against some ethnic or ethnoreligious groups, in particular during pre-election campaigns. Such rhetoric was widely used in the media, including the Internet, in the form of insults and derogatory language among in particular Serbians and Montenegrins. Hate speech is criminalized, but there is no due monitoring of social media by the authorities because no agency has such a mandate.[1153] There were reported cases of racist violence at sporting events, which often targeted the Roma.

In its report on Montenegro for the fifth monitoring cycle, the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) recommended that the official authorities put in place a system for collecting disaggregated data in order to provide a coherent, integrated approach to dealing with cases of intolerance. ECRI concluded in 2020 that this recommendation had not been implemented: despite the existence of national regulation obliging all public authorities to collect information on incidents of discrimination, there was no uniform approach to the processing of the data received. Nevertheless, the Commission took positive note of the development of a Rulebook to streamline data records among institutions, and the establishment of a new working group, with the support of the Ombudsman’s Office and the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, whose immediate task was to work on the alignment of data records collected by the Police Directorate.[1154]

At the same time, the Montenegrin authorities carry out, in cooperation with international organizations and partners, data gathering on so-called "ethnic distance" and on the public’s opinion towards certain minority groups. This data demonstrates intolerance towards the Roma, but also the numerically small Jewish community. Between 2010 and 2017, social distance between the national groups increased. Due to the persisting negative attitudes towards and prejudices against the Roma, they continuously face numerous difficulties in the areas of employment, housing, healthcare, education and birth registration.[1155]

The Council of Europe's Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC) pointed out that problems persist in several parts of the country (Ulcinj, Herceg Novi, Tivat, Bijelo Polje, Roshaj and Plava) related to poor living conditions and provision of adequate housing for displaced Roma, often due to their living in informal settlements and a lack of basic sanitation.[1156]

However, the ACFC noted a significant improvement in the situation of the Roma, especially displaced persons. The Konik camp is officially closed, with new durable housing being constructed at the site – although a few families still were not rehoused. Problems persist with the provision of healthcare in Konik, since the medical centre on site was closed. Despite the efforts of the authorities, the social situation in the Konik area, in particular with regard to reproductive health and drug abuse, is a concern.

As regards access to education, in 2016-17, 104 Roma children attended pre-school in Montenegro, accounting for 0.55 per cent of the overall pre-school population. In 2017-18, this had increased to 190.[1157]

The Roma typically demonstrate low attendance rates not only in pre-school, but also primary and secondary education in comparison to the rest of the population, as well as chronic school dropout and absenteeism. Many minors are begging and living on the streets, and become victims of trafficking and economic, sexual and other forms of exploitation.[1158]

However, according to the ACFC, the number of Roma children dropping out of school is gradually decreasing, although it is still higher than the national average. In Bijela Gora and Ulcinj, for example, minors from this national minority are not enrolled in the existing education system. At the same time, Roma children in Montenegro are entitled to free textbooks and to scholarships for secondary school and university education.[1159]

One of the ECRI's recommendations was to institutionalize and increase the nubmer of Roma mediators in pre-school and primary education to ensure attendance and reduce the risk of dropout. According to the experts of the monitoring body, Montenegro has fully met its obligations in that regard. There is an opportunity now, for example, to receive vocational training and a professional qualification, namely "Associate in the social inclusion for Roma and Egyptians in the field of education".

According to the Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma and Egyptians in Montenegro 2016-2020, the budget of the Ministry of Education has been earmarked to finance 20 such mediators, with 18 already employed as of September 2019.[1160]

The situation with the employment in the Roma community is also disappointing. According to the aforementioned Strategy, in 2015 (the most recent figures given) 95 per cent of them were considered to be "persons without occupation and qualifications" and 83 per cent unemployed.[1161]

There are stateless persons in Montenegro. The problem is most acute for the Roma, especially those who came from Kosovo as refugees. According to government figures from 2017, there were seven persons who had requested travel documents for stateless persons in Montenegro. Subsequently, field verification led by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Government, identified an estimated 145 persons at risk of statelessness.[1162] These included 20 Serbs because the Serbian law on travel documents has been applied restrictively. Serbs who had fled to Montenegro during the conflicts in the 1990s were not granted passports unless they had a Serbian ID card. Hence they were unable to obtain their Serbian passport, and were equally unable to access status of foreigner with permanent residence in Montenegro, since, to be granted permanent residency as a foreigner in Montenegro, a passport from the state of origin is needed. This group of persons must therefore register permanent residence in Serbia in order to apply for a Serbian ID card, to then obtain a Serbian passport to be able to claim a right to reside in Montenegro, which is not always possible for practical and legal reasons.[1163]

The challenge facing Montenegro in investigating enforced disappearances during the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia is still big. According to data provided by the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) in its concluding observations on the country's initial report, the fate and whereabouts of 61 out of the 72 individuals reported missing remain unknown. The monitoring body also noted that the new commission on missing persons, established in February 2015, has been active and resolute in fulfilling its mandate.

The CED has, in turn, criticized the lack of effectiveness of proceedings for the war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. This leads, for example, to the acquittal of most of the defendants, the disproportionate leniency of sentences, and only few of the high-level perpetrators being held accountable. This situation raises questions about the adequacy of measures taken by the State to fight impunity.[1164]

The relatives of disappeared persons are in a vulnerable position. Due to the shortcomings of the legislation of Montenegro, it neither recognizes them as victims of enforced disappearance nor regulates many of their rights. A proceeding to declare a missing person dead must be initiated in the court in order for them to benefit from their pension rights. In view of the continuous nature of enforced disappearance, the CED considers there to be, in principle, no reason to presume that a disappeared person has died so long as his or her fate has not been determined.[1165]

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in its concluding observations on Montenegro's initial report in September 2017, noted a range of challenges in ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities. These include: irregular financial support for organizations of persons with disabilities; the absence of a comprehensive accessibility strategy; insufficient measures to ensure personal mobility; insufficient availability of mass media for persons with disabilities in accessible and usable formats, lack of media for persons with disabilities in accessible and usable formats; the absence of comprehensive legislation for quality, inclusive education; and the exclusion of persons with disabilities from public life.[1166]

The issue of guaranteeing the right to freedom of opinion and expression remains ambiguous. Despite the fact that last year saw no complaints to the police from media workers about threats to their lives or serious bodily injuries, the situation in this area, according to a number of international bodies, remains extremely grave. There is no progress, for example, in the investigation into a high-profile crime, an attack on O.Lakic, a journalist of one of the leading opposition publications "Vijesti", as well as political pressure by the Montenegrin authorities on the main media company in the country "Radio and Television of Montenegro". In its 2019 report, non-governmental organization "Reporters Without Borders" in its World Press Freedom Index moved Montenegro from 103rd to 104th position among 180 countries, which may indicate an unsatisfactory situation in this area.

Restrictions imposed by the country's official authorities to combat the spread of the coronavirus infection were largely in line with the country's international legal obligations and were calmly received by the population. The Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms in Montenegro condemned the publication of the list of coronavirus infected persons on social networks and warned that the epidemiological situation must not lead to distrust in the data protection standards. In this context, he called for a quick, efficient and effective investigation into the matter. Yet another measure taken by the Protector with regard to the pandemic was that he issued a statement to the media, where he stressed that the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression did not cover cases of dissemination of false information about COVID19. The latter, in his view, should be criminalized.[1167]

Following the human rights monitoring in 2019, the Ombudsman generally noted in his report that there had been some progress in achieving a number of objectives. His office managed, for example, to ensure thorough examination of applications and to strengthen international co-operation with foreign human rights agencies. This, in turn, contributed to the harmonization of the office's work with international law and an increase in the number of cases considered in line with the standards of international supervisory organizations, as well as to the admission of the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms to the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions.

Some progress should also be noted in improving Montenegro's legal framework. This has led, among other things, to the introduction of a new data system on human rights protection issues, reduction in the time for processing complaints to 60 days, and increased interaction between government agencies and non-governmental sector in developing and implementing policies in various areas.

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Netherlands

The Netherlands make significant progress in human rights, most of the violations recorded in the country are not systematic or large-scale.

However, there are still areas of human rights concern in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The situation with illegal migrants and asylum seekers, discrimination against various minorities, the use of the citizens' personal data by the government agencies are highlighted the most. The issues, such as human trafficking, bad conditions in prisons, etc., persist in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom.[492]

These issues were indicated, in particular, in the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council (2017)[493], in the Report of the Commissioner for Human Rights (the report following his visit to the Netherlands in 2014[494] and the letter of 2016[495]), as well as in reports of universal international and regional convention bodies (including the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee against Torture, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the EU Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings), national human rights agencies (the National Ombudsman, the Ombudsman for Children, the Institute for Human Rights), non-governmental human rights organizations and mass media.

The cases of discrimination against ethnic, national and religions minorities, including legitimate and naturalized migrants, continue to be registered in the Netherlands. Various statistical data indicate the increasing number of complaints of discriminatory treatment, particularly on the basis of race. At the same time, most experts admit that it is impossible to assess the real level of discrimination due to the complicated and disguised character of this phenomenon.

These problematic aspects of the Dutch anti-discrimination policy were highlighted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (in 2019), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (in 2015), special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as by European human rights monitoring mechanisms. The CERD highlighted the tense situation with the minorities in the Netherlands, in particular, discrimination against Jewish and Muslim communities. As a separate issue, the Committee mentioned Black Pete, the Dutch Christmas character "reflecting negative stereotypes and the feelings of people of African descent". The high level of racist rhetoric in the mass media of the country and on the Internet supported by a number of the right-wing politicians[496] and their activities, was also underlined. These political forces also attack civil activists speaking out against racism. Such actions are welcomed by some regional politicians[497].

The ECRI also pointed out to the increased xenophobic and racist rhetoric in public and political discussions in the Netherlands. At the same time, it was mentioned that this ideology is used not only by the right-wing parties, but also by some moderate politicians and officials who do not hide their racist beliefs. This ideology was also realized in practice (for example, the opening of websites for reporting complaints over workers from Romania, Poland and Bulgaria in 2012, regarding asylum seekers in 2015).[498]

A truly xenophobic statement by the Dutch minister of foreign affairs Stef Blok that provoked a widespread reaction in 2018, that "there are no peaceful multicultural societies and it is genetically determined that man can not connect with unknown people",[499] is a good example of such practice.

According to the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance E.Tendayi Achiume pointed to the danger of spreading racist ideas in the Dutch society caused by increased nationalist populist rhetoric in the country in recent years. In her statement following her visit to the country in early October 2019, she highlighted the high level of polarization in the political life of the Dutch society with its widespread inflammatory language and intolerance. The expert also mentioned that the society is adhered to a stereotype that a truly citizen of the Netherlands is a man of western origin, whereas other racial and ethnic groups such as people of African and Asian descent, even when they hold full citizenship and have done so for multiple generations, are characterized as not really or not fully Dutch[500]. E.Tendayi Achiume said that race, ethnicity, national origin, religion and other factors determine who is treated fully as a citizen.

here are also cases of racial profiling practices by law enforcement officers. Representatives of ethnic minorities are mostly subjected to document examination and detentions. According to experts poor control over activities carried out by law-enforcement authorities facilitates such abuses. A 2016 study commissioned by the Dutch government showed that the police used the practice of preventive detentions considerably more often in respect of ethnic communities, in 40 per cent of cases their actions did not have objective and reasonable grounds.

The Human Rights Committee[501] and The UN HRC Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism pointed out racial profiling in respect of ethnic minorities by the Dutch police.

A 2019 survey carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that 61 per cent of persons of North-African origin or their descendants in the Netherlands were subjected to checks by the Dutch police, respondents pointed to ethnic profiling as the reason for such actions. According to a 2014 study by the International Institute of Social Studies of the Netherlands 33 per cent of the respondents of Turkish and Moroccan origin, 25 per cent of persons from Suriname and 20 per cent, from the Caribbean countries, who had some contacts with the police the previous year, pointed to the discriminatory treatment. Moreover, respondents of North-African origin reported being treated with blatant disrespect during police checks, two times more often against respondents of European descent. Such negative practice contributes to increased mistrust to the actions of the Dutch authorities and, in particular, to the police efforts. This, in its turn, leads to the fact that representatives of these groups consider it pointless to go to law-enforcement authorities in case of racism[502].

In October 2019, 20 Dutch civil society organizations representing the interests of ethnic minorities submitted complaints against the police. In particular, they indicated ethnic profiling and unwillingness of law-enforcement leadership to act on complaints on the identified violations.

Following the visit to the Netherlands from 27 March to 5 April 2019, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed also pointed to the ideas of a "superior" Dutch national identity and stigmatization of certain communities that continue to spread in the public discourse. He noted that the "Dutch values" are increasingly being referenced in public policy debates and are often used to implicitly define behavioural norms. In this context, Islam and "Dutchness" or the "Western European way of life" are commonly characterized as being incompatible Calls from political parties, for example, for Muslims to recognize and assimilate into the dominant Dutch or European culture are not uncommon. He believes that this may lead to further polarization of confessional communities The Special Rapporteur was also concerned about the attempts to regulate religious practices of these communities by law. The draft legislation which attempts to limit funding from "unfree countries" used to "buy undesirable influence" and "abuse Dutch liberties"[503] was also mentioned among other things.

In the context of recent revelations of collaboration between the Dutch authorities and the Nazi during the Second World War (including assistance of some municipal authorities to identify undesirable persons and transportation of the Jews, the Roma and representatives of other "inferior races" to the Nazi concentration camps via the Dutch railway company "Nederlandse Spoorwegen") and actions to pay compensation to the victims of the Holocaust and their families, it is worth mentioning the fact, identified by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, that representatives of the Jewish community are quite skeptic about willingness of the Dutch authorities to combat anti-Semitism. He also noted that the majority of respondents underscored the inability of the Dutch police to recognize anti-Semitic insults and, sometimes, to accurately define anti-Semitic incidents.

In 2018, the Dutch law-enforcement bodies recorded 275 cases of hate anti-Semitic crimes. These were primarily acts of vandalism, verbal insults and email threats. Recently, there has been noted an increasing number of Holocaust denials on the Internet. There were also cases of anti-Semitic slogans used by fans during sporting events.[504]

Anti-Muslim sentiments are quite widespread in the Netherlands. They are not decreasing though, despite government-led policy and programmes on this issue. In accordance with official statistics 88-91 per cent of hate crimes recorded by the police are committed against places of worship and members of the Muslim community (192 incidents in 2017 and 197, in 2018 against 439, that is almost two times less than those committed in 2015). Studies show that Muslims rarely report such incidents. At the same time, Muslims are often depicted as terrorists in the Dutch mass media. Party for Freedom, which won 13.3 per cent of places in the Parliament during the last parliamentary elections, has chosen this community as its main target. Its leader Geert Wilders has publicly stated that he considers Islam as the biggest problem in the Netherlands. On the eve of 2017 parliamentary elections, the party's activists also called for closing all mosques in the country[505].

The UN HRC Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, E.Tendayi Achiume highlighted increased Islamophobia in the Netherlands and pointed with concern to quite tolerant attitude of the society, including human rights defenders, towards Islamophobic sentiments[506].

The human rights defenders remain concerned by harsh measures used by the Dutch authorities towards asylum-seekers and illegal migrants (including, first of all, excessively frequent detentions of such persons, as well as minors, refusals to provide them with the necessary medical assistance, poor flexibility of the system of residence permits, poor enforcements of the rights of rejected asylum-seekers who are subject to deportation (in particular, in respect of persons from Afghanistan).[507]

In 2018, the Committee against Torture pointed to the problematic aspects of treatment of illegal migrants and asylum seekers, such as careless consideration of asylum claims, prolonged detention in special centers and harsh conditions in them.[508] There were attempts to improve detention conditions for migrants at the legislative level (this initiative appeared at the end of 2017). However, the human rights NGO Amnesty International highlights that these special centers still look like prison. The special centers are overcrowded (according to the information there were 27,000 people there by the end of 2019), the competent authorities lack staff to consider the migrants' claims, etc.[509] The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights indicated that consideration of asylum claims is limited to 8 days for all, but it is preceded by a standstill period of ten months Given the increasing number of asylum seekers, the latter are settled not only in reception centers, but also in the places not adapted for the use as temporary asylums. The coronavirus pandemic worsened this situation. The Human Rights Committee has also indicated the same problems noting with concern long waiting time for the decisions on a considerable number of asylum and reunification claims.[510]

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance pointed to a number of problems regarding treatment of migrants. In particular, it was indicated that the burden of migrants' integration is shifted on themselves, at the same time, the migrants are subjected to sanctions for not implementing these measures (failure at exams). Moreover, individual integration measures aimed at ensuring specific needs of the most vulnerable groups were eliminated. The ECRI considers that this policy led to discrimination and exploitation of migrants, as well as to the fact that children of migrants and the Antilleans constitute the principal part of students in specialized educational institutions. The ECRI also indicated that the majority of migrants does not know where to go if their rights are violated or for a consultation. They are subjected to checks by the Dutch police considerably more often than European looking people. The level of unemployment among migrants is much higher.[511]

The UN HRC Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief[512] and on contemporary forms of racism[513] also pointed to the discrimination of migrants.

At the end of May 2019 the Dutch media[514], with reference to the competent authorities, reported that the Netherlands had become a trans-shipment point for those seeking to reach Great Britain through continental Europe. Expert say that intensification of such an activity is explained by withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

There are still concerns about inhumane treatment of the Netherlands of illegal minor migrants, they strongly criticize the lack of flexibility in the system of amnesty (residents permits in case of their forced long-term illegal stay in the country). The Ombudsman for Children has repeatedly noted that the practices used by migration authorities to consider children's applications for reunification with their parents who came to the Netherlands illegally, restrict children's rights and interests enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[515]

It is also reported[516] about the increasing number of stateless persons in the Netherlands (mainly, due to the newborn babies). The main reason for this is the lack of the Dutch citizenship of their parents. Expatriates from the former USSR constitute a large part of this category. Experts note that the entry in the passport "nationality unknown" was introduced as a temporary solution for those whose nationality could not be established. The authorities are still failing to find the best solutions to this problem. Experts do not exclude that the new measures in this area will ultimately complicate the process of obtaining the status of stateless persons.

There has been no solution to the main problems that face representatives of the Roma community: poverty, unemployment, social isolation. The rate of the Roma who have education is low in the Netherlands. Roma children have poor knowledge of the Dutch language, they almost never attend preschool institutions, in secondary school, they constitute, along with migrants, the main part of the students attending specialized schools. Moreover, in primary and secondary education absenteeism and drop-outs are quite often among representatives of these groups.[517]

The activities by the Dutch State authorities to collect and process personal information on its citizens despite the existing special mechanisms monitoring the compliance of the right to privacy, established in conformity with the EU standards the Dutch Data Protection Authority and the Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services, raise a lot of issues with regard to the protection of the right to privacy. The latter, in particular, confirmed the fact that the Dutch intelligence and security services transferred large amounts of private information to their foreign partners.

Due to the adoption of a number of legislative acts, intelligence services expanded their capabilities to trace contacts of their citizens. The powers of intelligence and security services to carry out total surveillance and wiretapping, as well as intercept communications of persons, who were not specified, if they are "related to the relevant case" (a rather vague criterion), were legalized. However, the legislation does not provide for any adequate safeguards against abuses by security agencies, the provisions on human rights guarantees in the context of the use, storage and deletion of the data on private communications are not enough for that. The Human Rights Committee[518] expressed its concern with regard to the mentioned legislative norms.

According to the government statistics there are about 22,000 – 26,000 cases of wiretapping fixed annually in the Netherlands, wiretapping via Internet is also increasing. The human rights defenders express concerns that these figures are higher than those of other European countries. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights[519] confirmed the fact of wiretapping of journalists by the Dutch intelligence services.

The fact of surveillance over journalists by NCTV, collection of their contacts and other personal information, got the attention of the public. The NGO Reporteurs Sans Frontieres indicated that mass data collection by security services has repeatedly breach journalists' confidentiality, the confidentiality of their sources of information is still under threat. Moreover, the Dutch populist politicians have repeatedly attempted to discredit a number of respected media outlets, including the state broadcasting company NOS, in order to depict them as sources of fake news.

The abuses by the Dutch Land Information Maneuver Center (LIMC), a defence ministry unit, which has been actively collecting data from open and closed sources in the territory of the country, evoked a strong media response. The journalist investigation published by a well-known national newspaper NRC Handelsblad indicated that supporters of yellow vests and Viruswaarheid movements have become a focus of attention of this structure. In addition, the intelligence services expressed a particular interest to De Andere Krant (one of the largest newspapers in the country) which is known for its criticism of investigation into MH17 crash which is far from being impartial.

At the same time, there are examples where community activists have made successful efforts to recognize such practice illegal. For example, in early 2020, the court delivered a decision to prohibit the use of the SyRI (System Risk Indication) software used by the the Dutch government to control social security systems and detect potential welfare frauds. The lawsuit was filed by the Dutch Lawyers Committee on Human Rights (NJCM) NGO. The court found that this programme violates the right to privacy.[520]

The human rights agencies are concerned about the criteria for the use of force during law-enforcement activities, they consider that these norms are not compliant with the international standards of necessity and proportionality and the requirements about when firearms may be used.[521]

The practice shows that the police use rather harsh measures against protesters. For example, at the end of January 2021, mass demonstrations against coronavirus-related restrictive measures started in the Netherlands. At first, these demonstrations were peaceful, their participants respected public order and received support from individual opposition politicians. Experts even recognized these demonstrations as the largest mass protests in the Netherlands in the last 40 years. However, following stricter measures, including introduction of a curfew, protests became more aggressive and led to clashes with the police. Batons, water cannons and tear gas were used against protesters. Law-enforcement bodies started mass detentions and then persecuted the instigators one by one. According to Reuters about 500 people were detained[522].

Another wave of protests took place in the Netherlands in mid- March 2021, on the eve of the parliamentary elections, and also led to clashes. The police used batons and water cannons to disperse the crowd. About 20 protesters were arrested in the Hague. Several persons were beaten by police dogs after they refused to obey the demands of law-enforcement bodies. The Dutch police reported that during arrest, the police fired a warning shot after the protesters kicked the police dog and threatened its handler.[523]

The abuse of anti-terror legislation used to achieve short-term goals was also criticized both by the European human rights mechanisms and by international NGOs.

Human rights defenders note with concern that the Dutch authorities are increasingly using administrative measures that do not provide for good guarantees for judicial review or appeal. Concerns were also raised about amendments to the Law on citizenship (Law on temporary administrative counter-terrorism measures) providing for deprivation of the Dutch citizenship in the interests of national security and if the person is suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, in other words, on the basis of assumptions rather than the fact that the crime has been committed. The fact that just over a dozen of people have been deprived of citizenship since the entry into force of the relevant provision on the citizenship (this decision is often challenged in courts) does not lift concerns.[524] This was highlighted by the Human Rights Committee, the UN HRC Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, as well as Amnesty International NGO.

The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism also indicated that citizenship-stripping legislation of the Netherlands disproportionately affects Netherlanders of Moroccan and Turkish descent and thus aggravates stereotypes of terrorism by associating terrorism with people of certain ethnic and national origins.[525]

In the Netherlands, as well as in other European States, there are still tensions with regard to returning foreign terrorist-fighters, their wives and children. The Dutch are leading efforts to establish a tribunal for foreign terrorist-fighters to bring justice in the Middle East region (primarily, in Iraq and the Syrian territory outside the control of official Damascus). By early 2020, an agreement on the administration of justice against the ISIS members had been reached, but then stalled because of the spread of coronavirus. Such an approach has raised many questions and, first of all, regarding the legislation and the body to bring justice. Experts expressed fears that in the context of this process, the Netherlands could ensure human rights, in particular, the rights to fair trial. It was also indicated that by organizing such trials, the Hague postpones in the long term the resolution of the very problem related to the Dutch supporters of the Islamic State terrorist organization (prohibited in Russia).

In general, the return of the children of the ISIS combatants remains a serious challenge for the Netherlands. It is reported that at least 170 children of Dutch origin remain in the Syrian Arab Republic (mostly in camps).

At the same time, the Dutch approach to this complicated issue is quite different from that of other States. Official Hague not only closes the eyes on violations of the rights of their compatriots, but also tries to deprive them of the Dutch citizenship, if possible.

Moreover, the Netherlands decided to legitimize this policy with appropriate judicial practice. In 2019, the Hague Court reversed the lower court's decision to return 23 women and 56 children from Syria and ruled that the government did not have any commitments to these people. According to the verdict the final decision rests with the cabinet of ministers and represents an issue of political expediency, rather than that of the law. In June 2020, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands reaffirmed such a solution and put an end to the case. In this context, human rights defenders indicate that the authorities are clearly not willing to return the people who, in their opinion, could be further radicalized and call for active measures.[526]

The cynical attitude of the Dutch authorities towards its citizens, expressed in concerns about the destiny of individual human rights defenders and activists in foreign countries, was confirmed in early April 2021, by the decision of the Hague Court of Appeal which upheld the decision of the Netherlands to refuse repatriation of the Dutch national staying in a refugee camp in the North of Syria. However, the court acknowledged that this woman, suffering from a severe disease and seriously injured, is held in harsh conditions, she does not receive enough food and water. Her return was considered impossible because in order to do so, it would require to send Dutch experts to Syria, that is "absolutely out of question in the context of risks to their life and security". Another aggravating aspect is that the Netherlands does not have any formal ties either with Syria's official government, or with the groups controlling the North of the country.

The protection of the children's rights is also significantly challenged. In December 2020, there was a big scandal in the country. The tax office falsely labeled more than 20 thousand Dutch parents as frauds and cheats with childcare benefits after the Parliament of the Netherlands had presented investigation on this matter. It turned out that the wrongly accused parents had to return the state benefits for the period 2013-2019. In some cases they had to pay back tens of thousands Euro. At the same time, the parents were deprived of the opportunity to appeal this unjust decision. The Investigative Committee Chairman Chris van Dam said that these accusations affected more than 20,000 working families. Some parents found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, other families broke up. The Dutch government had to resign already in midJanuary 2021 because of the scandal.[527] Some parents filed lawsuits against members of the Dutch Parliament, including the finance and economic affairs ministers. The government announced a 30,000 Euro compensation to each family.[528] The scandal also triggered further criticism of the Dutch authorities about racial profiling, because the majority of those wrongly accused families belonged to migrants. The government was also blamed for trying to protect the officials involved in this case.

Paedophilia and child pornography represent a serious problem in the country. In 2019, the paedophile group Martijn disbanded in 2014, announced its plans to establish its own political association. At the same time, according to the investigation carried out by RTL, the Dutch broadcasting company, despite the dissolution, this group Martijn is still active, its members have not disappeared anywhere. While preparing this investigation, the company's journalists were collecting information on this community undercover in the closed group for several months.[529]

Mistrust of the Dutch society to the government-led actions on combating this phenomenon led to increased activist movements against paedophilia. Its participants track themselves suspicious activity on dating sites by creating fake teenager accounts. Those who tried to meet the minors in private were forced to surrender to law-enforcement authorities. Such meetings often lead to beatings, about 250 cases are known.

Statistical data confirm that there are manifestations of paedophilia in the country. In 2019, the NGO Internet Watch Foundation indicated that 89 per cent of all known sites containing child pornography and child abuse were detected in the European countries. The organization identified 71 per cent (93,926) of such sites in the Netherlands. This is two times more compared to 2018, when the Dutch servers hosted 47 per cent of the known sites containing child pornography[530].

Earlier, the National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence Against Children Herman Bolhaar criticized the Dutch authorities for the piecemeal approach to combating these phenomena and indicated, inter alia, the absence of resolute measures to stop the dissemination of such materials in social networks[531].

At the same time, statements against LGBT individuals, as well as any statements that can be interpreted as directed against LGBT community, receive immediate feedback from authorities. The situation that happened with the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education and the Media Arie Slob is illustrative in this regard. In early June 2020, during thematic debates in the Parliament, he defended the conservative Protestant school that suggested the pupils' parents sign a document stating that "homosexual lifestyle is unacceptable". In particular, he said that religious schools can make such requirements to the pupils' families, because all participants of the education process share this view. The Dutch legislation guarantees equal protection of both conservative religious segments of population, and LGBT individuals. The politician was subjected to public harassment for voicing such an opinion. Moreover, upon the calls of the Dutch NGOs, the Public Prosecution Service launched an investigation with regard to his statement[532].

The problems in the functioning of the Dutch guardianship agencies have been highlighted in the press reports lately. The Ombudsman for Children drew attention to a number of serious gaps[533]: the Dutch guardianship authorities (Bureau Jeugdzorg) make superficial judgments with regard to the situation with a child, as well as one-sided interpretations of perceptions made by individual observers, they mix up the facts and unverified information in their reports that can lead to serious mistakes, up to making ungrounded decisions to remove a child from a family.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child also stressed that the Netherlands should ensure equal enjoyment of rights by all children in all parts of the Kingdom, including an effective system of monitoring child euthanasia (the legislation admits euthanasia for children older than 12), protection of children from corporal punishment, etc. Experts expressed concern about the increased child abuses, in particular abandonment and domestic violence, as well as sexual abuse of children in residential schools and within the foster care system[534].

The situation with human rights in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands remains alarming. There were corruption scandals on Sint Maarten and Curaçao where some former ministers and acting parliamentarians and other public figures were accused of corruption, illegal activity, including that related to human trafficking, and other abuses. In March 2016, the former prime-minister of Curaçao Gerrit Schotte was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison.[535]

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor persist on Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about abortions that are prohibited by law on Sint Maarten, its Criminal Code criminalizes the provision of information or services related to abortions.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that neither Curaçao nor Sint Maarten has any law or other regulations on asylum matters. It also said that Aruba has not adopted a legislation to implement the 1967 Protocol to 1951 Refugee Convention.[536]

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New Zealand

The human rights situation in New Zealand remains reasonably good. However, little progress has been made in addressing certain structural problems, in particular racism and discrimination.

According to the 2018 census, indigenous people make up 16.5 per cent of the New Zealand population. This group has traditionally benefited from a number of state preferences under the Treaty of Waitangi.[537] Although it is not legally binding, the New Zealand government has historically respected its implementation.

However, while there has been some progress in the Government's implementation of relevant reforms to protect Maori rights, a number of issues remain unresolved. For example, to date no concrete steps have been taken to elevate the status of the Treaty of Waitangi to constitutional law. As a result, the decisions of the Waitangi Tribunal are not binding. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted in August 2017 the lack of progress in implementing the recommendations of the 2013 Constitutional Advisory Council on the Treaty of Waitangi. In addition, proposals for discussion on a number of constitutional models were put forward by the independent Maori initiative Matike Mai Aotearoa, but they have not been considered by the New Zealand authorities yet.[538] In March 2018, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) indicated the need to ensure meaningful participation of Maori in decision-making processes that affect their rights, including land and water rights.[539]

Structural discrimination against Māori persists. For example, the large number of Maori inmates (over 50%) has become a scourge in the New Zealand prison system and is a major concern for the government. At the same time, the total number of people in custody has increased to about 10,000, leading to overcrowding in custodial facilities which are designed for 9,000 prisoners. In this regard, the authorities have announced the Maori Pathway plan worth 98 million New Zealand dollars as one of the main measures to reduce reimprisonment.[540] In addition, inadequate prison conditions and a lack of adequate health care services, including mental health care, were noted in a number of prisons. There was also an increased incidence of inter-prisoner violence and prisoner assaults on guards. The most notable example was the unrest at Mount Eden private prison.[541] The Human Rights Committee (HRCtte) pointed in this regard that policies of privatization of places of detention can have a negative impact on the effective management of prisons and on respect for and promotion of prisoners' rights.[542]

The Committee against Torture (CAT) criticized in 2015 that imprisonment is still disproportionately applied to indigenous populations. The CAT noted that Maori, who make up only about 15 per cent of the state's population, make up 45 per cent of those arrested and over 50 per cent of those imprisoned, with over 60 per cent of women prisoners being Maori.[543] The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) quoted more precise figures indicating that 65 per cent of women prisoners were Maori women.[544] Concern about Maori and Pasifika being disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system was also expressed by the HRCtte.[545] CERD noted that Maori were overrepresented as offenders in rates of arrest, prosecution, conviction, imprisonment and re-imprisonment.[546]

The unemployment rate for Maori and Pasifika, particularly women and teenagers, remains the highest – 7.7 per cent as compared to 3.9 per cent for New Zealanders of European descent, while life expectancy is significantly lower, by an average of seven years. This was highlighted by the HRCtte[547] and CESCR[548], among others. There are gaps in the provision of basic education and health services.

CEDAW in July 2018 also pointed out the persistence of discrimination against Maori and Pasifika in the labour market, with high unemployment rates among this category of population, particularly among women. Furthermore, the persistent gender pay gap disproportionately affects women in low-paid jobs, including those belonging to ethnic and cultural minorities.[549]

CERD noted that Maori and Pasifika had poorer health outcomes than other population groups in the country, including with respect to life expectancy, mortality and disability. Indigenous people face significant barriers in accessing basic health services. Negative differential compensation is maintained for Māori health workers.[550] In psychiatric hospitals, the practice of isolating patients to punish and discipline them is common, with many isolation victims being held alone for more than 48 hours. It is Maori who are the most frequently subjected to isolation.[551] CESCR criticized the New Zealand authorities for the fact that this ethnic minority has higher rates of chronic diseases and experiences higher disability rates and is negatively overrepresented in suicide and mental health statistics.[552]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child pointed to persistent structural and systemic disadvantages faced by Maori and Pasifika children in New Zealand, which negatively impacts their health, survival, development and education.[553] CESCR noted the disproportionate numbers of Maori and Pasifika children and children with disabilities living in households with incomes below the relative income poverty line.[554] This situation results in these minors being more likely to enter the public care system: for approximately 40 years, about 100,000 children were in care, the majority of whom were Maori children.[555]

UN human rights treaty bodies expressed concerns about the problems faced by Maori in education. For instance, CERD noted low levels of conversational Maori language proficiency, although Maori language education has increased in recent years.[556] CESCR was also concerned about the limited number of Maori or Maori-speaking teachers, which further reduces the accessibility of Maori language education. The Committee also criticized the persistence of disparities in education, whereby Maori and Pasifika students, particularly at secondary school and university levels, achieve lower outcomes than those of European background and experience higher rates of stigma and disciplinary measures at schools.[557]

The authorities have so far failed to find a comprehensive solution to the above-mentioned problems. At the same time, some experts tend to see their source in "excessive" attention to this group of population, resulting in a kind of a "vicious circle" when the expansion of the many forms of state assistance already available (including material assistance) has the opposite effect, leading to increased resentment against "Maori-favoritism" on the part of the government among the population of European descent. In fact, this has the effect of treating the rights of indigenous people under the Treaty of Waitangi as a restriction on the rights of other New Zealanders (business matters, appointments, including the presence of a Maori quota in Parliament, etc.).

The problem is mutual: Maori feel that their rights are infringed and demand more attention from the government, while the rest of the population points to the fact that it is primarily the indigenous people who are the main source of domestic racism because they consider other people as "strangers".

These concerns have been recognized by the New Zealand authorities. They were mentioned, in particular, by Justice Minister E.Little during New Zealand's Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council in January 2019.

Moreover, the issue of racism in the country also has a broader context. New Zealand has one of the highest levels of ethnic diversity in the OECD, with more than 200 ethnic groups speaking more than 160 languages. The number of immigrants increases each year by approximately 50,000 people, most of whom come from China and India. In addition, the country receives 1,000 refugees per year on the basis of the quota in force.[558]

The issue of racial discrimination came to the fore in the aftermath of the March 2019 sectarian attacks on Christchurch mosques. Human rights activists point out that the attacks highlighted the problem that had been brewing in New Zealand society for years, as it was after these events that numerous examples of it emerged in the public arena and that residents and authorities themselves openly acknowledged the problem and started speaking about it.

Shortly after the tragedy, New Zealand's Film and Literature Classification Authority banned distribution and possession of the manifesto The Great Return – a text published by the perpetrator of the mass shooting of Muslims, B.Tarrant, on his social media pages. It justifies the killing of certain groups of people, defines the places where it is allowed to carry out such attacks and the methods that can be used, and promotes hatred against multiculturalism and migrants. The attacker also used Facebook and Twitter to broadcast the mass massacre online.

These developments have naturally spawned an initiative to improve national legislation to combat hate speech. Currently, the Human Rights Act and the Harmful Digital Communications Act constitute the regulatory framework for countering such rhetoric. These acts criminalize public insults and threats against a group of people based on skin colour, racial, ethnic or national origin, when such statements or threats are aimed at inciting hatred or enmity, expressing contempt or mockery towards the said group of people. It is also punishable to refuse to delete messages from social networks which aim at stigmatization or contain personal derogatory information about someone. The penalty is a fine of up to 7,000 New Zealand dollars or imprisonment for up to three months. In addition, the Human Rights Act envisages civil penalties for a substantially identical offence that does not include intentional incitement to hatred. In this case, the affected individual has the right to lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission to protect his or her rights.

It was originally intended that the Cabinet proposals to improve regulation would be released as early as the end of 2019, but it was subsequently decided to delay drafting the amendments until after the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques of 15 March 2019 was published to take into account the recommendations set out therein.

One of them was to amend the Crimes Prosecuted under Fast Track Procedure Act and the Crimes Act by introducing hate crimes therein.

Regarding the current regulation penalizing hate speech, the Royal Commission felt that the current wording lacked certainty: the terms "enmity", "contempt" and "mockery" were too vague and had to be replaced by the unambiguous word "hatred".

In addition, the authors of the said report actively engaged during the investigation with the Muslim community who spoke openly about the existence of racism and discrimination in New Zealand, and about the fact that they were often perceived and treated as terrorists. They also reported fear of becoming a victim of a hate crime or a terrorist attack or of being the target of hate speech. In this regard, representatives of the Royal Commission stressed the lack of social cohesion in the country and the need to develop it, in particular by stimulating public debate on the subject.[559]

Equally important in terms of countering hate speech was the recommendation that police should review the way they record complaints of criminal behaviour to systematically record cases where there is a hate motive, and train law enforcement officers to detect "bias indicators" in order to identify potential hate crimes and record such motives in a way that facilitates the further use of Section 9(1)(h) of the Sentencing Act.

The Cabinet's final proposals provide for including hate speech offences in the Crimes Act and increasing the prison term to three years and the fine up to 50,000 New Zealand dollars, recommend being more specific about what constitutes hate speech and using stricter definitions, as well as expanding the list of social groups against whom hate speech can be used (Maori, any other national or religious minority groups, etc.).[560]

However, the proposals submitted by the Cabinet are only the first step in drawing up new regulations and have not yet been formalized into a full-fledged bill.

According to the most recent official social survey (2017), 16.5 per cent of New Zealand-born people have experienced racism, compared to 25.7 per cent among immigrants. The most common incidents include bullying in society (including on the internet), problems in employment or when renting a place to live, as well as in the service sector.

UN human rights treaty bodies have criticized the lack of statistical data on prosecutions and convictions for racist hate speech and racist violence in New Zealand. This has been highlighted, inter alia, by the HRCtte (underlining the lack of a comprehensive national strategy to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, including racial and religious hatred)[561] and CERD[562].

CERD also noted with concern the many complaints of discrimination on the basis of race, including over 400 complaints relating to employment or pre-employment discrimination, human trafficking and harassment sent to the Human Rights Commission in recent years.[563]

The HRC also referred to the practice of racial profiling against Maori and people of African descent by New Zealand law enforcement agencies.[564]

CESCR noted persisting stigma and discrimination against Maori and Pasifika children in schools.[565]

As in many other countries, the rapid spread of COVID-19 has triggered another wave of racist and xenophobic incidents in New Zealand. This time they targeted people of Asian and especially Chinese descent. They have been the most frequent targets of "hate speech", including in the cyber space, being insulted and accused of being responsible for the emergence and spread of the infection. According to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, of more than 250 complaints related to the coronavirus, 34 per cent related to racial discrimination.

At the same time, members of the Chinese community argue that the pandemic crisis, while contributing to intensifying intolerance towards them in society, was not the root cause. Despite their presence in New Zealand for over 150 years, the Chinese are perceived in the public mind as "eternal migrants" and are subject to racial profiling. [566]

To combat discrimination, the New Zealand Government has Ministers for Ethnic Communities Affairs, Maori Development, Crown-Maori Relations, and, outside the government, Ministers for Pacific Peoples and Phanau Ora Maori Social Policy. There is a Human Rights Commission and a Government Commissioner for Race Relations. Furthermore, the Government is in regular contact with the five major ethnic organizations that are consulted on its social policy: Multicultural New Zealand, the China Association, the Central India Association, the Federation of Islamic Associations, and the African Community Forum.

At the same time, despite the challenges Wellington faces in combating discrimination, the creation of a highly inclusive political landscape should be seen as a significant achievement.

In particular, 46 per cent of the new New Zealand government sworn in in autumn 2020 is made up of women (8 out of 20 cabinet ministers). About a quarter of the politicians are Maori, including foreign policy chief N. Mahuta.

The level of freedom of expression in New Zealand is quite high, according to the NGO Reporters Without Borders. In 2021, the country ranked 8th in the world rankings, up one position from 2020. Nevertheless, it is noted that independence and pluralism in the media are often undermined by the desire of media groups to cut costs in order to make more profits at the expense of quality journalism. In particular, human rights activists are concerned about the editorial integrity of the leading New Zealand news portal Stuff following the takeover of its owner Fairfax Media by Australian giant Nine Television Network in July 2018. The portal's budget, like that of other Fairfax Media-owned media outlets, has since been significantly cut. The situation could have been even worse if the Trade Commission had not blocked another planned merger, between Stuff and New Zealand Media and Entertainment, which owns the country's leading daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald. As a result of this high level of media concentration, only smaller online publications were able to provide fully independent reports and viewpoints.

At the same time, the economic viability of many media outlets was severely threatened by the coronavirus crisis, which led to the loss of almost 700 jobs in the media sector. In February 2021, the government announced that it would allocate 55 million New Zealand dollars to the media over three years to ensure the survival of "public interest journalism".

In terms of legislation, journalists continue to demand changes to the Official Information Act, which impedes the work of journalists by allowing government bodies to respond to information requests for an extremely long period of time and even allows them to demand payment for the information provided. Despite government promises, this reform was postponed again in January 2021.[567]

Domestic violence affects 12 per cent of New Zealanders, predominantly women, each year, amounting to more than half a million people. However, experts believe these figures may be higher because such cases are not always reported to the police. Following the high-profile brutal murder of British tourist G. Millan in Auckland in December 2018, fifty New Zealand's most influential women signed an open letter calling on the government to take strong measures to protect women's rights.[568] Concerns about high levels of violence against women were raised by CAT in April 2015[569], the HRCtte in March 2016[570] and CESCR in March 2018[571]. CEDAW noted with concern in July 2018 the continuing high levels of gender-based violence against women in New Zealand. According to the Committee, one in three women is physically or psychologically abused by a partner during her lifetime.[572]

Human rights activists are particularly concerned about the problem of "child poverty". According to recent estimates, the number of children living in families with incomes below the subsistence level is increasing and is already about 200,000.[573] The government is planning a number of measures in this regard, including the adoption of the Child Poverty Reduction Act.

The human rights community has drawn attention to problems of overly broad powers of law enforcement agencies in New Zealand. In particular, it indicates that oversight and accountability in the intelligence service remains fragmented and the oversight role of the judiciary in this particular area is limited.

In the existing legal system, the Government Communications Security Bureau has very broad mandate. In New Zealand, the existing judicial authorization process for the interception of communications is also quite limited, with no statutory requirement to obtain authorization for the interception of communications of non-New Zealanders.[574] In addition, CAT noted that the mandate of the Independent Police Conduct Authority prevents it from fully investigating and prosecuting those responsible for violations.[575]

In summary, the human rights record of New Zealand has not changed substantially since the last similar report. Discrimination against certain groups, in particular indigenous Maori people, remains a major problem. Concerns include high rates of family violence, high rates of Maori prisoners, poorer socio-economic conditions, and inequalities in the labour market. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation by provoking a surge in xenophobia against people of Chinese and Asian origin. Improvements in legislation designed to counteract hate crime and hate speech are expected to help rectify the situation, but the development of solutions has been rather slow so far.

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North Macedonia

In the second half of 2019-2020 the human rights situation in North Macedonia was significantly affected by the domestic political processes related, above all, to the adaptation of the authorities and society to the new conditions of coronavirus pandemic, as well as the prolonged preparations for the early parliamentary election.

In the Democracy Index 2019, compiled by the British research organization Economist Intelligence Unit, North Macedonia was ranked 77th among 167, one line up compared to 2018, but remaining in the category of hybrid regimes characterized by a high level of corruption, absence of independent judiciary, electoral legislation violations, limited civil society and other deficiencies. Among human rights issues are also noted the violations of labor rights, ethnicity and gender-based discrimination, hate speech, inefficiencies in the work of the penitentiary system.

These deficiencies appear against the backdrop of the country’s overall complicated socio-economic situation. Income inequality among the population continues to grow with almost a quarter of the population still living in poverty (as of 2016). The existing tax system is ineffective and the social security system does not cover the most disadvantaged and marginalized individuals: their access to social benefits is limited owing to the complicated procedure and eligibility criteria (while the level of these benefits is insufficient)[694].

As a major blow to the public trust in the justice system in 2019 came the detention of the former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) Katica Janeva. In June 2020, the court found her guilty of abuse of functions and participation in corruption schemes. The official was sentenced to seven years in prison. The verdict put an end to the work of the Special Prosecutor’s Office created in 2015 to investigate cases of top-level corruption, but in fact became an instrument of blackmail and persecution of the opposition.

In September 2019, the cases administered by K.Janeva and her staff were referred to the Office of the Prosecutor General of North Macedonia. Although work on several of them was interrupted, including due to expiry of the statute of limitations and various procedural impediments, some processes were concluded. In March 2020, in particular, the guilty verdict was pronounced in the so-called "Transporter" case regarding public procurement violations: former mayor of Bitola, member of the now opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) V.Taleski was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment.

In February 2020, a new round of court hearings began regarding the events in North Macedonia’s Parliament on April 17, 2017. In the indictment of the Prosecutor’s Office appeared former speaker T.Veljanoski, former transport minister M.Janakieski, former education minister S. Ristovski and former secret police chief V.Atanasovski (all from the ranks of the VMRO DPMNE party), that, according to the prosecution, facilitated the storming of the parliament, thus, endangering the constitutional order and security of the State. Due to the restrictions introduced in March 2020 because of COVID19 pandemic, the trial has been temporarily suspended.

Earlier, in September 2019, the Skopje Court of Appeal upheld the conviction sentencing seven people, convicted for the attempted murder of the president of the Alliance of the Albanians, Z.Sela, to an imprisonment ranging from 10,5 to 13,5 years.

In March 2019, a court in Skopje delivered the following judgement in the case of violations in course of the parliamentary election of 2014. Sasho Mijalkov, former Head of the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence of the Ministry of Interior, was sentenced to three years of prison, Menduh Tachi, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, to three years and two months, Bedredin Ibrahimi, former member of the State Electoral Commission, to four years and six months of prison. However, the above-mentioned persons remain free.

In October 2018 – January 2019, criminal proceedings were used with the aim of exerting political pressure on opposition members of Parliament during the process of making amendments to the Constitution by virtue of the Prespa Agreement on changing the name of Macedonia. At the same time, criminal cases against those MPs who agreed to support these amendments were dismissed or they were acquitted.

In this respect, there is a persistent opinion in society about a selective approach of the judiciary, aimed at, as they believe in North Macedonia, to discredit the former government of the VMRO DPMNE party and present the now ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia as the power that turned over the so-called dark page in the country’s history.

According to a survey conducted in June 2020 by the International Republican Institute (USA), among the state and public structures of North Macedonia courts and the Prosecutor’s Office enjoy the least public sympathy: they are, in one way or another, not trusted by 79 and 73 per cent of the population, respectively.

The UN treaty bodies on human rights, including the Human Rights Committee (HRCtte)[695] and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)[696] drew attention to the fact of undermining of the significant principle of the independence of the judiciary. There have been incidents of political interference into legal procedures, dependence of the judiciary on the government, particularly with regards to appointment of judges, their promotion and disciplinary measures against them. Access to justice is restricted with legal expenses being too high, as claimed by human rights activists, which makes it impossible for socially vulnerable groups of people to go to court[697].

Up to the moment when the state of emergency was lifted on June 23, 2020, the deadlines for most judicial proceedings were suspended, including the filing of criminal and administrative complaints and appeals, initiation of proceedings before the Constitutional Court, issuance of decisions to apply preventive measures (upon detentions for no more than three years).

In 2016, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern about the prevalence of corruption in North Macedonia, among other things manifested in widespread bribing during provision of goods or services and just a few acts of prosecution by virtue of the Law on Prevention of Corruption (adopted in 2002), especially when it comes to high-ranking officials[698].

Human rights organizations regularly denounce in North Macedonia cases of violations of rights of detained persons. As early as in 2015, the Human Rights Committee paid attention to the unsatisfying state of penal institutions in North Macedonia, including their poor conditions, overcrowding and security concerns[699].

In April 2020, there were reports of unacceptable sanitary and hygienic conditions of detention in the Kumanovo prison where the convicted found themselves without access to tap and drinking water, as well as the possibility of regular change of clothes and bedding. August 2018 witnessed the case of discrimination against female prisoners at Idrizovo correctional facility who were deprived of access to telephone communication with their families.

As of April 2020, the number of inmates in North Macedonia was 2,175 people (with prison capacity being 3,022 people), i.e. 104,2 persons per 100,000 citizens, which is 28 per cent less than the previous year. Average period of imprisonment is 14 months. Despite the fact that North Macedonia is in the European top by the number of persons aged over 65 held in penal institutions (their share is 9,1 per cent), it is among the very few countries without a single case of COVID-19 infection registered within the penitentiary system.

There are isolated cases of abuse of power by the law enforcement officials. In November 2019, in the city of Kumanovo, occurred an illegal detention of a woman that was taken without any explanation to a police station where she was beaten by one of the law enforcement officers after having refused to put her signature on a blank piece of paper.

The Human Rights Committee also criticized the government of North Macedonia for excessive authorities of special services, among other things, used against political opposition activists and journalists [700].

Another issue of the human rights dossier in North Macedonia are the limitations in terms of the freedom of the press. For instance, experts of the Human Rights Committee expressed their concern about the selective approach to the distribution of state funds between various mass media agencies, as well as the lack of independence of the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services (the state body responsible for television and radio broadcasting) presumably as a result of appointment of government representatives to the Agency. It is also noted that journalists are spied on from time to time, they receive threats and become victims of assaults and arrests[701].

The referendum of September 30, 2018 on changing the name of the country and its accession to NATO and the EU revealed a number of shortcomings of the electoral process in North Macedonia which directly affect electoral rights, as well as the right of the local people to take part in political life and governing of the country. Experts heavily criticized the financing of the government's propaganda campaign. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe indicates that it is unacceptable to allocate state funds to conduct information campaigns (it was the government of North Macedonia that resolved to make the allocation) and a unilateral campaign in favor of only one of the possible answers.

Despite the fact that the referendum was declared void by the State Electoral Commission due to the insufficient turnout (36.84 per cent of the necessary 50 per cent) and the resolution put to the referendum was declared "unadopted", the government preferred to ignore the will of the people and continued the policy aimed at changing the name of the country and joining NATO.

Inter-religious relations in North Macedonia remain tense. In terms of everyday life this is expressed, for instance, in disregard for appearance of representatives of different confessions. Thus, in September 2018 the staff of a public catering facility in Skopje refused to serve a woman wearing a traditional Muslim head-dress (hijab). Following an inquiry into the incident the Commission for Protection against Discrimination confirmed the fact of discrimination based on religion. In March 2019, a similar episode in respect of persons of the Roma origin was registered in the city of Prilep.

Quite often religious discrimination coincides with acts of intolerance on ethnic grounds. While the most disadvantaged part of the population of North Macedonia still are Roma[702], many of whom continue to lack identification documents (about 700 people) and ownership certificates to the housing they occupy, lack access to educational and medical services, the employment market, live in the poorest ghetto-like areas. Such places are often overcrowded, with sanitary conditions below minimum standards and poorly developed infrastructure.

Outside Skopje, only 16 per cent of Roma households are equipped with internal toilet facilities, 50 per cent are not connected to the sewage system, 58 per cent have access to tap water only outside the house/apartment, 10 per cent completely lack sources of both drinking and tap water. 53 per cent of living premises have damp problems. 63 per cent of Roma live in hard-walled buildings, 29,5 per cent live in dilapidated or prefabricated facilities, 7,25 in shelters made of improvised materials (metal sheets, cardboard, plastic, polyethylene, etc.). An average Roma household consists of five persons. More than half of them have less than 5 square meters of living space.

Closing the gap in housing quality of the Roma and non-Roma population is one of the key focuses of the state Roma Inclusion Strategy 2014-2020. However, despite the fact that the issue is under special control of the Government since 2005, there has been no significant progress in the field to date.

By 2021, the authorities were scheduled to construct 32 residential complexes (1,700 apartments) all over the country for accommodation of the disadvantaged categories of citizens. At the same time, according to the experience gained in recent years, Roma get not more than 15 per cent out of such accommodation: in 2018 out of 842 social apartments they got only 118, and previously, in 2014-2016, they were provided with 5 apartments out of 111.

In the Strategy it is also scheduled to legalize no less than 70 per cent of Roma housing constructed, for the most part, illegally. However, about 30 per cent of facilities still lack legal status, 20 per cent are undergoing registration.

Among other goals of the Strategy is the urbanization of the Roma areas, including the development of full-blown urban infrastructure, as well as prompt registration of the Roma-owned buildings and plots of land with the State Immovable Property Cadaster. However, state bodies continue to experience significant difficulties on both fronts.

The inefficiency of measures of the authorities is indicated, among other things, the European Commission’s North Macedonia 2019 Report that stresses that one of the main shortcomings in the implementation of the Strategy is poor control over the public funds allocated. According to the Commission experts, most of the elaborated measures to resolve housing issues of Roma have remained on paper. Their settlements remain not included in existing urban plans and social housing is allocated among them by a leftover principle[703].

A clear illustration of the situation of the Roma community in North Macedonia is the issue around the spontaneous settlement that appeared at the foot of a city fortress in the center of Skopje. As a result of the clearance operation by the authorities in 2016, the houses located there were dismantled without new housing provided to their inhabitants. Only by November 2017, 112 persons were accommodated with related institutions of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. Meanwhile, about 50 persons still remain in their improvised dwellings, basically, without access to communal services.

The Gypsy rights protection organizations operating in the country (the Avaya Civic Initiative, Association for Gypsy Democratic Development "The Sun", Romalitico Institute and others) interpret the abovementioned situation as evidence of failed performance of North Macedonia to provide the Roma population with housing. The demands of the activists include updating the normative framework affecting Roma, in particular, the elaboration and adoption of laws on social housing and persons without civil status, as well as updating of the law on the legalization of illegally erected buildings. Despite their harsh criticism towards the authorities, human rights defenders take into consideration the gaps in funding of corresponding projects for objective reasons. Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of funds allocated in 2020 for the implementation of the Strategy was revised downwards: by 50 per cent at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, by 26 per cent at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, by 12 per cent at the Ministry of Education and Science.

Certain measures are being taken to provide the widest possible integration of the Roma minority into the country’s social and political life. FRA’s 2020 Report notes several significant anti-discrimination provisions in the Macedonian legislation. Thus, North Macedonia adopted a new law on primary education, which explicitly prohibits discrimination, encourages interethnic integration and envisages educational mediators for Roma children from socially vulnerable families. A similar mediation procedure for Roma exists in the field of healthcare, facilitating them access to medical institutions and services. North Macedonia prepared a draft Law on Persons not registered in the birth registry, which could affect many Roma. The draft law allows those without identification documents or birth certificates to register as citizens. In addition, FRA reports about the drafting of legislation dedicated to the issues of non-citizenship and the lack of official documents. This act, if adopted, will allow persons without identity documents or birth registries to register as citizens. North Macedonia has a revised operational plan for active programs, employment measures and labor market services for 2019. It includes measures encouraging employers to hire Roma, supporting Roma entrepreneurship and improving skills[704].

Nevertheless, the degree of social integration of the Roma community members remains low. According to the authorities, only 500 Roma children attend preschool establishments, 250 Roma students attend institutions of higher education.

An illustration of the neglect of the Roma minority could be the incident that occurred in February 2020 in Skopje: a Roma man was ill-treated on public transportation by conductors who, despite his ticket, forced him off the bus.

UN human rights treaty bodies have also stressed the problematic situation of the Roma community in North Macedonia. Thus, the Human Rights Committee noted the low participation of Roma individuals in public life, caused inter alia by the biased attitude of the society towards them. The experts also reported cases of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly against Roma and members of other minorities[705].

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August 2015 stated that Roma are the most affected by poverty, material deprivation, unemployment, are subject to social exclusion and ethnic profiling by the police officers. They face segregation in the field of education. There are registered cases of several schools, including in Bitola, that refused to enroll students from this national minority. The experts also noted that most children living in the streets also come from the Roma community. Moreover, citizens belonging to Roma communities are often prevented from leaving the country on the grounds that they would apply for asylum in the European Union countries[706].

The issue was similarly described by the CESCR and CEDAW. Thus, CESCR noted the structural discrimination of the Roma community in a number of spheres of public life, their low socio-economic status, high levels of unemployment, poverty, low life expectancy. The Committee experts also noted the discrimination of Roma in the sphere of education, stressing that the level of academic performance declined at both primary and secondary levels. The Committee experts also noted that a disproportionately high number of Roma children continue to be classified as persons with psychological disabilities and, consequently, are overrepresented in special schools and special classes in mainstream schools[707].

In November 2018, CEDAW noted the marginalization and de facto exclusion of Roma from the educational, healthcare, employment systems, which increases their risk of becoming victims of trafficking and exploitation. According to the Committee, Roma women suffer from particularly severe, multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination[708].

Human rights organizations monthly report up to several dozens of instances of hate speech based on ethnicity, race, religion or other origin, predominantly among young people. 214 hate speech incidents were reported to the online platform "Hate speech" in 2019 (compared with only 84 in 2018)[709].

The situation worsened with the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic: in March-May 2020, against the background of the severe restrictions introduced by the authorities that further aggravated the psychological climate in society, the number of such manifestations grew into the size of hundreds. Hate rhetoric was based mainly on the rejection of other people’s ethnicity (about half of all the cases), their political views, social status. There were also manifestations of hostility towards North Macedonian nationals that had contracted the coronavirus infection: trying to stigmatize them as posing a threat to the society, certain individuals began making their personal data publicly available.

FRA’s Fundamental Human Rights 2020 Report mentions the amendments made to the Criminal Code of Macedonia, introducing hate crime as a separate criminal offence[710].

The feud between fan groups of Macedonian and Albanian football clubs persists. The Ballistet group of ultra supporters of the football club Shkendija (Tetovo) remained the most hostile, prompt to violence and manifestations of extreme Albanian nationalism. An illustrative incident occurred with the participation of the Albanian group Shvertseri (Skopje), in November 2019, that wrought havoc in the Macedonian National Theatre and caused substantial material damage when celebrating their 30th anniversary. At the same time, Macedonian fans are also prompt to radical manifestations. In June 2019, members of the Komiti football supporters group, celebrating the victory of the Vardar handball club at the European Tournament, chanted: "Death to Shqiptars!", "Good Shqiptar is a dead Shqiptar" [711].

July 2018 witnessed the murder of a representative of the Komiti football supporters group. In the view of human rights organizations, this incident is directly connected with the feud between fan groups of Macedonian and Albanian football clubs caused by interethnic strife. The coverage of the event was accompanied by the surge of nationalist rhetoric in social media from both sides.

In addition, international human rights monitoring mechanisms stated a significant number of difficulties faced by women in North Macedonia.

Experts registered an inadequately low level of economic activity and employment among women, in particular from the Roma and Albanian communities, and a high level of unemployment among them, as well as the prevalence of women at unskilled/underpaid stations and posts[712].

Besides, women in North Macedonia face certain obstacles with regards to land tenure and its inheritance. This issue especially affects those women who live in rural areas of the country due to gender stereotypes and the traditional practice of joint land property recognized in favor of men[713].

It is noted that access to education by girls from ethnic minority groups has been obstructed. A high rate of girls has been recorded to have ceased to attend school, including primary school. Among them, the highest number is that of women and girls living in rural areas, as well as Roma females[714].

At the end of 2019, attention of the human rights defenders was drawn to excerpts from a local sociology textbook for high school students, published on the Internet, that contained a number of controversial statements about the role of woman in society, such as: "If a woman stays at home, she has no opportunity to commit criminal acts." The authorities received a demand to withdraw this textbook from circulation as imposing patriarchal attitudes and commission the preparation of a new one instilling in young people the values of equality.

Multiple acts of violence against women have been witnessed, specifically against women from ethnic minorities. However, relevant authorities do not register all incidents besides underreporting as stated by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)[715] and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)[716].

According a survey, almost half of the female population of the country (48 per cent) agree that domestic violence is a private matter, three out of ten women (28 per cent) believe that violence against women is often provoked by the victim. Only a small proportion report cases of ill-treatment to the police or other authorities. The reasons for such a situation are: sense of shame, financial dependence, lack of information, lack of trust to support services, fear and lack of understanding of what should be considered violence. 45% of women in the country who have ever had a partner say they have experienced psychological, physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner[717].

Since March 2020, with the introduction of a curfew that in individual cases lasted several days, the problem aggravated. Meanwhile, according to reports of human rights organizations, in most cases there was no efficient response from the police and social services to the appeals of victims.

There were records of cases of sexual harassment against women in the MIA bodies. The most difficult situation happened at a police station in the Skopje neighborhood of Gazi Baba where in November 2019 systemic abuses of that nature were revealed.

Still persist child and forced marriages, despite legislation prohibiting marriage for those under the age of 16 and the safeguards in place for marriage involving children between 16 and 18 years of age. The problem is particularly relevant for women in the Roma and Albanian communities[718]. Human rights defenders note that this practice remains without adequate responses from the authorities[719]. Also persists the practice of "buying" child brides, largely affecting girls in situations of poverty and social exclusion, in particular in remote areas[720].

According to experts, North Macedonia is a country of transit and destination for trafficking in women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. However, the number of victims who have been identified remains low. Persons guilty of human trafficking do not face prosecution.[721]

There have been no records of biased attitude towards or discrimination against Russian nationals in North Macedonia on grounds of citizenship or nationality. As a rule, emerging conflicts are domestic by nature and are successfully settled in accordance with local legislation.

Disputes concerning family relationships, particularly partition of property and definition of rights to rear common children, remain most heated. It was a typical situation when, in January 2019, M.Kunovskaya, a Russian national, attempted to divorce her husband I.Kunovsky, a national of North Macedonia, and he prevented her from keeping in touch with D.Kunovksaya, their underage daughter.

The declaration of state of emergency in North Macedonia on March 18, 2020, with severe quarantine restrictions, including the introduction of curfew and the suspension of work of many private companies, aggravated the problems related to employer-employee relations.

From March to May, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee recorded 170 cases of labor rights violations that affected over 2,700 people. According to human rights defenders, a number of employers abused the state of emergency utilizing it for unlawful termination of employment contracts, coercion to the dismissal, reduction or non-payment of wages and social security contributions.

In individual cases employers failed to observe the pandemic-related health regulations, provide employers with the necessary personal protection equipment. In particular, in May, as a result of gross violations of the new rules for transporting personnel to work, an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred in a Štip textile factory causing the spread of infection all over the municipality.

Examples of infringement of the rights of workers concern not only to the pandemic period. In December 2019, workers of a Delčevo textile factory faced the non-payment of overtime and worklife allowances, as well as the absence of measures to protect workers on hazardous production sites. During February 2020, former employees of Ohis chemical company in Skopje held protests on three occasions demanding the unpaid salaries for 11,000 workers for periods ranging from eight months to two years.

Still widespread was the unjustified termination of employment contracts with pregnant women, possible, according to the law, only in case of gross violation by the employee of her job description and only with the approval of the State Labour Inspection and trade union organization.

At the same time, it is praiseworthy that, in order to protect citizens from the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, the Government approved three packages of measures for the amount of 550 million euro (5,5% of GDP). In April and May, in particular, EUR 235 were paid to each employee of the private companies affected by the crisis (about 250,000 people), as well as to workers in the field of sports and arts. The authorities allocated EUR 125 monthly to households employed in the informal economy. Companies receiving state support from April to July were prohibited from firing employees. There was a delay in interest payments on loans, a program of preferential credits for businesses, suspension of enforcement and insolvency proceedings for companies. In order to boost internal demand for domestically produced food and national tourist services the consumers were provided direct financial support.

By all means, an important step is also the introduction of a minimum guaranteed allowance in the country for poor households and the provision of public health insurance for those unable to obtain it themselves[722].

During the state of emergency in North Macedonia from March to June 2020, the government was granted special powers that allowed it to temporarily replace the Parliament dissolved in February 2020 and adopt the necessary legislative decisions to combat the pandemic, including limiting the freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and the right of citizens to worship. This measure attracted the attention of human rights defenders that pointed at the reduced accountability of the government to the population, hindered access of the citizens to accurate and complete information about governmental activity.

Meanwhile, this problem manifested itself before the pandemic as well. Thus, in late 2019 it was discovered that out of 120 draft laws that the Government submitted to Parliament for consideration, 94 were not published in the Macedonian National Electronic Registry of Regulations. According to the human rights defenders, due to this fact the general public and the interested parties lacked access to the legal information and the participation in the elaboration of laws.

Despite the North Macedonian request to the OSCE ODIHR about sending a mission of observers to the early parliamentary election that took place on July 15, 2020, the Office, on the grounds of unfavorable epidemiological situation in the country limited itself to form only a small assessment mission of nine experts. The latter arrived in Skopje on June 19, 2020, and stayed in the country until July 23, 2020. Their focus was on the following: preparation of the list of voters and registration of the candidates; electoral campaign and its media coverage; resolution of election-related disputes and other areas of work. Observation of the voting process and counting of ballots were not part of the mission. Thus, according to human rights defenders, the lack of full-fledged monitoring by the OSCE ODIHR reduced the transparency of the electoral process and allowed the current government to make much more use of the administrative resource, especially in the Albanian areas of the country.

Summarizing the general overview of the human rights situation in North Macedonia, it should be noted that the effort of the official authorities to resolve long-standing issues is often insufficient and does not lead to their resolution. The coronavirus pandemic that has marked the human rights situation around the world only sharpened those difficulties that the population of North Macedonia had already been facing. For example, this is the case for the widespread practice of domestic violence and social vulnerability of the disadvantaged groups of the population, in particular Roma. It could only be hoped that in the future North Macedonia would achieve at least minimum human rights standards, having eliminated all the existing obstacles in the way.

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Norway

Norway proclaims the promotion and protection of human rights as one of the key priorities of its state policy. However, the perception of the country as a "model" in this field is not always true. Human rights defenders are concerned about discrimination of migrants; an increase in hate speech; the impunity of law enforcement agencies and security services; the use of coercive methods in the psychiatric and social spheres; the actions of guardianship agencies to remove children; and the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence. Yet, through a system of cooperation between the state and state-funded civil society institutions, the Government is taking steps to remedy the situation.

The state has an extensive network of human rights institutions and several national ombudspersons: the Ombudsman for Civil Rights, the Ombudsman for Children, the Ombudsman for the Military, the Ombudsman for Equality and Anti-Discrimination, the Health and Social Services Ombudsman[576]. Complaints from citizens about discrimination by public authorities are handled by the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Commission. The Ombudsman for the Elderly became operational in autumn 2020. Since 2015, the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution (NIM) has been functioning under the Storting (the Parliament) as an independent national human rights institution.

Recently, Norway has often been criticised for its refugee policy.

For instance, there are continuing concerns about restrictions on the rights of unaccompanied migrant minors aged 15-18. This problem has been highlighted, inter alia, by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child[577] and the Committee against Torture[578] as well as by the Norwegian Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research in its report "A Safe Place to Wait"[579]. The document also notes significant disparities in the situation of children in reception centres, including in the provision of medical services, and highlights the lack of adequate nutrition and sleeping facilities in some cases.

In response, the Norwegian authorities have proposed legislative amendments aimed at regulating responsibilities for the custody of such children. However, the NGO Save the Children estimates that the proposed changes would not improve their situation in practice, but would in fact only perpetuate a differential treatment of the two groups of children – those under 15 years of age and those after 15.

In March 2018, the UNICEF presented a report which provided an analysis of Nordic country responses to asylum-seeking children and noted that underage asylum seekers in Norway (there were 1,055 of them in 2017) receive limited social and health care, and do not have full access to kindergarten or complete secondary education.

Human rights defenders are also concerned about the methods used by the migration agencies to verify information on the applicants. According to the Institute for Social Research (ISF), the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) often relies only on information obtained from social media when taking decisions to revoke residence permits for foreigners due to providing false information. Human rights defenders believe that such information cannot be considered fact-based and one cannot proceed from it when taking such important decisions as the revocation of a residence permit.

On 26 November 2018, the NRK state television and radio broadcasting company reported that being revoked of a residence permit, refugee minors are often denied the right to attend schools. A proposal by the Socialist Left Party to introduce legislative amendments which would allow all refugee minors to attend schools was rejected by the Parliament.

It is to be commended that, since 2018, families with children have not been sent to the Trandum Immigration Detention Centre[580]. In January 2019, in its report on Norway, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) under the Council of Europe once again criticised the accommodation conditions at the Centre, calling the systematic practice of handcuffing and strip-searching "clearly disproportionate and unacceptable". The Committee urged the Norwegian authorities to introduce a time limit for the detention at Trandum of migrants who have served a prison sentence and are subject to an expulsion, to put an end to the detention of minors at the Centre, which "although less frequent, but still occurs", as well as to improve the communication possibilities of those held at the Centre with the outside world (e.g. to allow them to use their mobile phones)[581].

The tough migration and integration policy of the Government often results in the discrimination of migrants, including on the labour and housing markets, as well as by the police and the child welfare service Barnevernet.

The media periodically report on the social dumping of foreign workers, especially those from Eastern Europe and the Baltics[582].

According to a research conducted in Germany, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands and Norway, Norwegian Muslims are 30% less likely to be called for job interviews than applicants with Norwegian names[583].

The Walk Free Foundation's Global Slavery Index 2018 report notes that approximately 9,000 people in Norway are "slaves who are exploited in the labour market". The document reports on the migrants who are paid low wages, live in uninhabitable housing, work 12 hours a day, and work "under the influence of threats or deception by their employer"[584].

According to the research conducted in March 2018 by the University of Agder (Southern Norway), Norwegian women with immigrant background are systematically discriminated in the labour market (in 25 per cent of cases their CVs are not even considered by an employer).

According to the Norwegian Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, people with foreign last names are 25 per cent less likely to be invited for a job interview than those having Norwegian ones.

The largest Polish diaspora (about 150,000 people), comprised of mostly labour migrants working in the construction and service sectors, points to the discrimination in the labour market. It has been observed, for example, that as soon as a native Norwegian joins the construction site, the general working conditions change for the better. The Polish people also experience biased attitude on the part of the guardianship authorities. The reasons are poor knowledge of the Norwegian language, social and cultural differences and poor integration into Norwegian society.

At the same time, the authorities are taking steps to overcome discrimination in the labour market. The Government has adopted the Integration Strategy 2019-2022 aimed at ensuring equal treatment of migrants in working and social life. In April 2019, the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation announced that a number of public authorities would consider the CVs of job applicants anonymously in "test mode". In January 2020, the Government announced its intention to consider the need for a special law against "modern slavery". A law aimed at making it mandatory for businesses to inform the public about the state of human rights and working conditions at all stages of production is under preparation.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has in its turn criticised the Norwegian family reunification procedure. In particular, it has been noted that the administrative fee charged to refugees wishing to be reunited with their families is the highest in the world (NOK 10,500/1,000 USD[585]), and the notion of family members only includes spouses and children under 18[586].

In addition to general negative trends, attention should also be paid to individual, high-profile cases of violations of refugees and asylum seekers rights in Norway.

In particular, the story of the Iranian national L. Bayat, who applied for asylum in 2009 on the grounds that she had been sentenced to 80 lashes in her home country for drinking alcohol, is illistrative in this respect. In 2017, she was expelled from Norway, while her husband and a child were left in the country, because the evidence concerning the sentence that she presented to the judicial authority were deemed insufficiently convincing. She was only allowed to stay in Norway after the sentence was enforced in Iran[587].

In June 2019, the Abbazi family (a mother and three children aged 22, 20 and 16), who had been living in the country since 2012, were also expelled. The formal reason was that the woman was not a single mother with no male relatives in Afghanistan. The brutality of the police officers who came to the Abbazi's house in the middle of the night, as well as the fact that the mother was ill and unconscious at the time of the eviction, caused legitimate public outrage. Later, the authorities allowed all four to return to Norway. In March 2020, the children received a temporary residence permit, while their mother was ordered to leave the country by 30 August 2020.

The Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers believes that the UDI has illegally refused to review the cases of 95 Afghan refugees, so-called "October Children"[588]. In November 2017, the Storting adopted a regulation obliging Norwegian migration authorities to reconsider all cases involving single asylum seekers from Afghanistan. A total of 395 applications were accepted for review. As a result, 95 young people were rejected, citing the fact that they had applied after the deadline of 2 May 2018.

Under pressure from a number of parties and humanitarian NGOs insisting that Norway should take on additional responsibility for hosting refugees, in June 2019, five parentless children with Norwegian citizenship were brought into the country from Syria and in January 2020 – two children (one of whom is seriously ill) together with their mother, a Norwegian citizen of Pakistani origin who had joined the Islamic State. However, in the spring of 2020, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice deemed it irrelevant to participate in the redistribution of refugees from the Greek island of Lesvos referring to the dire situation in the country due to the coronavirus.

The country is facing an increase in hate speech, including on the Internet. Manifestations of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are not uncommon.

According to a 2019 report by the Oslo Police Department, there has been a 58% increase in the frequency of hate speech since 2016, and the number of statements targeted at those practising Islam has increased by a factor of 1.5.

In January 2020, the Supreme Court of Norway convicted for the first time the use of hate speech on social media, electing a suspended sentence of 24 days in prison as the penalty.

Following consideration of Norway's combined 23rd-24th periodic reports in December 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted that racist and neo-Nazi organisations had become more visible in the country and that "Norway has not declared illegal and prohibited organisations that promote and incite racial hatred, in line with its obligations"[589]. However, the official authorities, when commenting on the Committee's findings, in fact justified the unimpeded activities of extreme right-wing organisations referring to the fact that it is not the organisations themselves that are prohibited by the Norwegian Penal Code, but rather the unlawful acts they commit.

According to law enforcement agencies[590], there are several right-wing groups embracing the ideas of national and racial exclusiveness in Norway. However, the Norwegian far-right representatives are rather scattered with no more than 50 active members.

The Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) registered in Norway in 2011 but coordinated from Sweden is believed to be the most organised nationalist group. Its ideology is based on the belief in "the global Jewish conspiracy" and its supporters consider themselves "national socialists". Its activists participate in the neo-Nazi demonstrations (mostly in Sweden and Finland), put up posters, and distribute flyers. They do it publicly and do not conceal their identities, they avoid clearly violent methods of combating (although they do not fully abandon them "if needed"). Like political parties, the NMR organises "educational" events, youth summer camps, "family" events, and celebrations. 

Other existing right-wing groups are mostly marginalised and are "branches" of the European organisations, such as PEGIDA, The Soldiers of Odin, Stop Islamisation of Norway, Norwegian Defence League, Fatherland Party, Norwegian People's Party, Stop Migration, White Electoral Alliance, Norwegian Patriots, Democrats, the Alliance parties. At the same time, international ideological movements, such as identerians ("the new right wingers") and "the alternative right-wingers", are getting more popular in Norway (especially among the young people).

At the same time, it can be stated that due to historical reasons[591] the potential of the national-socialist ideology in Norway is low. The attitude of the Norwegian society to the manifestations of neo-Nazism is by and large negative. The authorities prevent any form of glorification of the Nazi movement and former SS members, including Waffen-SS.

An incident involving the burning of a copy of the Koran by the right-wing organisation Stop the Islamisation of Norway which took place in Kristiansand in August 2019 evoked a wide response. For security reasons, the police intervened in the action. Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr and State Secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jens Frølich Holte "distanced themselves" from the actions of the nationalists, calling them provocative, but, at the same time, qualifying them as a legitimate manifestation of freedom of expression. Mass protests were held in Pakistan against the inaction of the Norwegian authorities. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry called for bringing the instigators to justice and for preventing such actions in the future.

On 10 August 2019, right-wing radical Philip Manshaus killed his 17year-old half-sister of Chinese origin before breaking into the Al-Noor mosque in the Oslo suburb and firing several shots to "spread fear among Muslims" (no casualties). The investigation found that Philip Manshaus was "inspired" by a terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019. During the trial, the accused gave the court a Nazi salute before taking a seat next to his defenders. Members of the Asker District Court board unanimously found him guilty, sentencing him to 21 years in prison.

At the same time, as a result of Islamisation caused by the migration inflow of population and stronger anti-migrant sentiment, the population's attitudes towards certain religions have been deteriorating in general and the religious legislation in particular has been tightened. For instance, in June 2018 the Parliament endorsed the amendments to the Law on Education of 1998, which introduced a ban on wearing face-covering headgear for kindergarten staff and teachers and professors at schools and universities during the lectures.

Meanwhile, an Action Plan to Combat Discrimination and Hate against Muslims is currently being drafted, and the Government's Action Plan against Racism and Discrimination on the Grounds of Ethnicity and Religion was presented in December 2019.

The poll results presented in the report by the Norwegian Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research "Attitude to Discrimination, Equality and Hate Speech"[592] show that 25 per cent of Norwegians consider representatives of certain races "more cultured", 39 per cent believe those coming from Somalia will never become "true Norwegians", 22 per cent say the same about Swedes, while 16 per cent say that about black people. 33 per cent of the respondents fear of passing by a group of Muslim-looking people, 35 per cent believe that a woman wearing a hijab cannot expect to be treated equally. 38 per cent of the respondents would not like to have Gypsies as neighbours and 16 per cent say the same about Muslims.

Surveys conducted by the Center for Holocaust Studies in 2017 showed that 75 per cent of Norwegian Jews fear discrimination and hostile actions; 8.3 per cent of respondents display prejudice against Jews, among Norwegian Muslims this figure is 28.9 per cent.

The situation with exercising the rights of the indigenous people of the country, the Sami, who compactly live in three Northern counties – Finnmark, Troms, and Nordland – is complicated. In June 2019, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation of Norway submitted a report on the state of the Sami language, culture and social life to the Storting[593].

The report revealed numerous negative trends in the Sami community which have not yet been overcome by the authorities. Thus, the population in the areas of compact settlement of the Sami remains relatively stable[594]. However, the proportion of older persons in these areas is higher than in the rest of Norway and the population is maintained due to the inflow of migrants of non-Sami origin[595] (the population has doubled since 2011). The pure Sami population is expected to keep declining up to 2030.

Among the Sami, especially among men, the per centage of persons who have received higher education is lower than national average. The same trends are applied to the secondary education (not all of the Sami people complete their education).

The level of violence in the Sami community is high. Surveys show that up to 45 per cent of Sami have at some point been subjected to violence (compared to 29 per cent in the rest of Norway).

Figures showing the level of Sami discrimination in different spheres are even worse – according to Sami sources, it is 10 times higher in comparison with the discrimination of the Norwegian population (35 per cent vs 3,5 per cent). Sami face negative attitude on social networks and in the media.

A separate chapter of the report is devoted to the state of and trends in the development of the Sami language[596]. The report states its weaker positions as the languages are gradually being eroded by the Norwegian "inclusions". The report also shows that linguistic problem affects social sphere, for instance, health care, social care, etc. Even in Sami areas, there is a lack of correct diagnosis of diseases due to insufficient training of medical staff in using professional terminology in the Sami language.

Concerning the situation on the whole, human rights defenders note that although the authorities make significant efforts to "redeem themselves" in the eyes of Sami and national minorities (Kvens/Norwegian Finns, Jews, Forest Finns, Gypsies/Roma, Tater/Romani) that became "victims" of Oslo policy on their assimilation, recently, violations of Saami rights have not been uncommon, especially in connection with industrial projects in their traditional territories.

According to the 2019 NIM report[597], the protection of Sami rights is most relevant in light of the construction of industrial facilities in traditional reindeer grazing areas. In particular, in February 2019, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries of Norway decided to allow the mining company Nussir to mine copper in the Kvalsund municipality (Finnmark county) and dump the waste into the fjord. Sameting President Aili Keskitalo believes that such production poses a threat to reindeer husbandry and marine environment.

The Norwegian authorities also refused to suspend the construction of the wind park conducted by the state company Statkraft on the Fosen Peninsula (Trøndelag county, the area of the traditional Sami reindeer husbandry) while the Norwegian Reindeer Husbandry Directorate in the South Fosen was considering the case, even though the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed its concerns about the situation during the consideration of the combined 23rd/24th periodic reports of Norway[598] in December 2018.

The case of reindeer herder Jovsset Ante Sara, who was forced to transfer some of his herd to other reindeer herders in autumn 2019 due to the 2013 decision by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food to reduce the number of reindeer in Finnmark, received a lot of attention. Jovsset Ante Sara has unsuccessfully tried to appeal against the authorities' decision in the national courts. His complaint is currently being considered by the Human Rights Committee.

The NIM reports[599] have repeatedly noted that representatives of national minorities, especially women and children, are still facing the manifestations of discrimination. Gypsies feel disadvantaged on the housing and labour markets, they complain about the lack of opportunities to study their native language. For Jews, statements inciting to hatred and other manifestations of anti-Semitism are the main problem. Kvens/Norwegian Finns face difficulties with getting education in their native language and with a lack of published media in it, while Forest Finns have difficulties with the preservation of their culture on the whole.

On the other hand, Norway takes certain measures to support the languages, cultures and ways of life of national minorities. In 2018, the Storting set up a Commission to investigate the "Norwegianisation" (or assimilation) policy that was practiced towards Kvens/Norwegian Finns and Sami, which is due to submit a report on this issue by 1 September 2022. In February 2020, public hearings on amendments to the Sami Act aimed at enshrining in a separate chapter the responsibility of the authorities to consult with the Sami Parliament on issues related to the indigenous people, were completed.

On 12 May 2020, the Norwegian Ministry of Culture submitted a draft Language Act to Parliament. It should be noted that the current legislation has already suggested a more detailed determination of the position of the Sami languages in relation to the Norwegian language. However, it is the first time they will receive an official clarified status of "indigenous languages" at the national level. The draft Act emphasises the equal status of the Norwegian and Sami languages. Kven, Finnish, the Gypsy language and Romani will receive an official status of "minority languages". It is also suggested that the Norwegian Sign Language (unlike the International Sign Language) be established as a "state sign language".

Experts and representatives of relevant NGOs agree that the document is "positive" in this respect. The new requirement to use an accessible, 'non-bureaucratic' language in law-making and communication with the public, which takes into account the target audience of the document, is also welcomed. According to the authorities, this regulation should increase public awareness of the Norwegian legislation and help with the digitalisation of public services and the transition to electronic document management.

In Norway, there occur manifestations of negative attitude to the immigrants from Russia.

Russian origin can be the ground for the denial of admission to military service to the citizens called up for duty, ignoring employment application forms, unreasonable searches, detentions and deportations, and abusive treatment in public places[600].

In September 2018, due to the excessive suspiciousness of the Storting administration, Mikhail Bochkaryov, an employee of the Executive Office of the Federation Council, was arrested in Oslo on an unsubstantiated charge of espionage. The Russian citizen was released in October 2018. In April 2019, his case was closed "for lack of evidence"; however, no apologies were made.

The Oslo-based video blogger, Iranian citizen Farhad Mohammedi Injeh, convicted in Russia in 1996 for aircraft hijacking (hiding under the nicknames "FarhadStream", "FarhadShow", "FarhadBlog", "FarhadBlogLive"), continues his activities by inciting ethnic hatred, promoting fascism and mocking Russian national symbols.

Recently, the human rights community has criticised the police, as they use and store private personal data.

The 2018 NIM report notes that in June 2018, the Communication Control Committee which oversees the police, drew the attention of the Norwegian Ministry of Justice to the systematic violation of the rules on the disposal of data obtained through operational actions to control communications (such data was stored longer than it should be). NIM believes that illegal data storage contradicts the Constitution of Norway and Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms[601].

On 4 March 2019, Aftenposten newspaper reported that during the exercise with the use of false base stations (devices for interception of phone calls), the police illegally collected information from the mobile phones of passers-by. In particular, they caught IMSIs which make it possible to identify the SIM card owner. The collected data was stored in the police data base for a year.

Intelligence services also come into the focus of human rights defenders.

In December 2019, the Norwegian Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Security Services submitted a special report on the unlawful collection and storage of airline passenger data by the Police Security Service (PST/Counterintelligence). It is noteworthy that the Commission had made observations in this regard as early as 2014, which were never taken into account.

The 2019 NIM report reiterates the authors' serious concern about the draft Military Intelligence Act (in April 2020, it was submitted to the Parliament). Its major innovation is to grant the intelligence service the right to collect and store data crossing the country borders. Human rights defenders have made a number of claims about the document: it contradicts the state's international human rights obligations (in particular, it undermines the "protection" of trusted relationships between representatives of certain occupations, such as lawyers communicating with clients, journalists receiving information from "sources"); it introduces "mass surveillance" that threatens the legal security of citizens; it does not provide an opportunity for independent control (formally, it will be exercised by the Norwegian Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Security Services, but in fact it will be exercised in consultation with the military intelligence itself, "selectively" and without the right to impose sanctions).

In its 2019 report, the Norwegian Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Security Services criticized PST for keeping "records" of MPs belonging to one of the "friendship groups" with foreign parliaments (presumably with Russia). According to the Committee, such actions undermine legal security and are fraught with consequences for the whole society. President of the Storting Tone Wilhelmsen Trøen believes that illegal registration of persons for political reasons by the intelligence services is a threat to democratic values.

The NIM report also notes the excessive use of isolation as a measure to influence prisoners, as well as coercive methods, particularly in the case of mentally ill offenders[602].

In his report of June 2019 on isolation in prisons, the Civil Ombudsman notes that Norwegian authorities do not comply with international human rights standards in this area, causing serious harm to prisoners. The document contains statistics showing that 20-40 per cent of prisoners in the Oslo Prison are isolated for at least 22 hours a day. The prisoners also have to wait for medical assistance for an unreasonably long period of time[603].

Concerns about the frequent use and excessive duration of isolation as a disciplinary measure against prisoners were also expressed by the CPT in January 2019 following another round of monitoring[604].

At the same time, a series of brochures on isolation containing recommendations for prisoners, their loved ones, prison staff and lawyers was published in 2019. In 2020, a unit for particularly violent offenders suffering from mental illness was set up. The Directorate for Correctional Services has developed a plan of measures to reduce the "negative consequences" of isolation. In 2021, it is planned to elaborate a system for registering the use of coercive measures in prisons, which will allow to keep systematic statistics in this area.

The rights of mentally disabled patients are still violated. These include the use of mechanical measures to restrain patients without due registration of reasons, the addition of drugs to food without notifying the patient about it, "treatment" with electric current, no opportunity to go for a walk in the fresh air in the territory of a hospital, etc. Facts of unjustified and unlawful use of coercive treatment methods in 2017-2018 are cited, among others, in the Civil Ombudsman's 2019 report.

The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombudsman checked 112 cases of coercive measures (restriction on food, use of personal items, physical restraint, locking doors, etc.) against 32 persons with mental health problems in Hedmark in autumn 2019. It found widespread use of such methods, inadequate monitoring of their use and an incorrect assessment of the possible consequences.

In autumn 2019, the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombudsman checked 112 cases of coercive measures (restriction on food, use of personal items, physical restraint, locking doors, etc.) against 32 persons with mental health problems in Hedmark. As a result, he revealed the widespread use of such methods, inadequate monitoring of their use and an incorrect assessment of possible consequences.

In February 2020, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, submitted a report on the inspection carried out in October 2019, expressing concern about the increasing use of coercive measures and the "outdated" guardianship system, which often resulted in adults being placed in custody without their consent[605].

The Norwegian Government is currently considering a law to limit the use of coercive methods by social and health care institutions (the results of public hearings on the relevant draft law have being processed since December 2019).

There are still serious complaints from human rights defenders against Barnevern care authorities regarding the excessive number of child removals, the discriminatory approach towards children of non-Norwegian origin (with a population of 5.3 million, more than 15,000 children with whom Barnevern works are of foreign origin), poorly qualified staff, and the high level of violence against foster children. An illustration of the poor state of affairs in this area is the fact that between 2019 and March 2020 alone, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled 6 times in favour of children with disabilities. The European Court of Human Rights found Norway in breach of Article 8 of the ECHR in "child" cases on 6 occasions between 2019 and March 2020 alone.

Human rights defenders remain seriously concerned about the activities of the child protection service Barnevernet due to the excessive removal of children, discrimination against children of non-Norwegian origin (with a population of 5,3 mln people, more than 15 thousand children in charge of Barnevernet are of foreign origin), inadequate qualification of staff, and high level of violence against adopted children. The poor state of affairs in this area can be illustrated by the fact that between 2019 and March 2020 alone, the European Court of Human Rights found Norway in breach of Article 8 of the ECHR on six occasions related to children.

The 2019 NIM report on the human rights situation in Norway recommends that the authorities consider the removing of a child from a family as a temporary measure, while the main aim of the child protection service should be to facilitate family reunification in the future. Judicial authorities deciding on the future of children should assess the decisions taken from a human rights perspective. The report also notes the need to enhance the competence of the guardianship personnel[606].

A survey conducted by the NGO Change Factory in 2018 among 55 teenagers in the care of the Norwegian child protection service revealed that all of them had been subjected to coercive actions by the Barnevernet's staff, which in many cases resulted in children's serious mental problems.

According to a November 2019 report by Deloitte commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Norwegian schools sometimes also use coercive methods against students without justification (not only in cases when there is a threat to their life or health). For example, "naughty" students are kicked out of class, mobile phones are taken away, etc. In this context, the Norwegian Ministry of Education intends to develop rules on the use of "coercion and force" in kindergartens and schools for the first time.

The Adoption Act of 2017 as well as the amendments to the Child Protection Service/Barnevernet Act providing, among other things, for the opinion of minors to be taken into account and for custody personnel to cooperate with parents and return children to them when "the interests of the child do not conflict with this", are also intended to strengthen the rights of a child. In addition, now there is a Strategy to Improve the Competence of Guardianship Personnel for 2018-2024. A new Child Protection Service/Barnevernet Act is planned to be elaborated (the results of public hearings are currently being processed).

Other legislative innovations include amendments denying parents the right to access their children's medical records kept by a psychologist or psychiatrist. Meanwhile, according to the Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, 22 children with mental health problems who are under the care of the guardianship authorities do not receive adequate medical care, and 16 of them live in isolation[607].

Another pressing issue in the Norwegian human rights record is the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence, to which children, the elderly and the indigenous Sami people are particularly vulnerable. The need for the authorities to take active measures to remedy the situation as soon as possible was highlighted in the 2019 NIM report on the human rights situation in Norway[608] and in a separate report on the rights of older people submitted in March 2019. The two documents expressed concern not only about violence, but also about forced medical care, malnutrition and misuse of medicines, limited access to information and communication services, and age discrimination in recruitment.

According to estimates by the NGO Amnesty International, despite increasing reporting of rape to the police, only 14,3 per cent cases result in decisions in favour of the victim while other cases are closed for lack of evidence. 

In February 2019, several Norwegian media, in particular, the NRK state television and radio broadcasting company, Aftenposten and VG newspapers, reported that surveys among military personnel revealed a high level of violence in the Norwegian Armed Forces. Of the 8,805 people interviewed, 24 women and 20 men were raped, 123 persons experienced an attempted rape, 35 persons were forced to "unwelcome conduct of sexual nature". Meanwhile, only two such incidents were reported to the law enforcement authorities over this period.

In March 2019, the Norwegian government adopted the 2019-2022 Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Rape. The opposition Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party have repeatedly proposed a law banning non-consensual sex, however, this has not been supported by a parliamentary majority.

In October 2019, a free 24-hour hotline for victims of violence, supported by the NGO Crisis Centre Secretariat, was launched with financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Justice. In December 2019, the annual Ministry of Justice Award Ceremony for Contribution to Combating Domestic Violence was held at the profile conference in Kristiansand.

The rights and freedoms of residents of Norway have been subjected to certain restrictions as a result of official containment measures aimed at preventing a dramatic increase in the incidence of COVID-19.

In March-April 2020, there was a temporary ban on overnight stays at cabins located outside the communes of permanent residence. Violators were fined about $1,600 or imprisoned for 10 days. According to Adele Mestad, director of the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution, this restricted such basic rights as the right to freedom of movement, the right to respect for private life and the right to peaceful enjoyment of one's possessions.

In April 2020, a special phone app was launched to track cases of coronavirus infection, however, it was installed voluntarily. Experts do not rule out possible leaks of personal data provided by users. Moreover, representatives of a number of professions that are bound by an obligation of non-disclosure (lawyers) or the protection of "sources" (journalists) experienced problems with its use.

According to the report of a government-established expert group on the assessment of the situation of children at risk during the pandemic (prepared in April 2020), overly restrictive measures on social services, police stations and hospitals (primarily introduced at local level), as well as the redistribution of medical staff, have left many children and young people without assistance[609].

The extradition of an Iraqi national, Najmaddin Faraj Ahmad, known as Mullah Krekar[610], from Norway to Italy on 26 March 2020, caused a public outcry. His lawyer, Brynjar Meiling, noted the "inhumanity" of the authorities which extradited his client who was "at risk" due to his age (63), diabetes and high blood pressure, to Italy at the height of the epidemic there.

Concerns about possible abuse by official authorities have also been raised due to the adoption of the so-called Coronavirus Act, which gives the Government the power to enact bylaws without parliamentary approval.

In 2019, mass violations of legislation regulating social security benefits due to misinterpretation by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration were revealed. The agency had assumed that the recipients had to be in Norway in order to receive benefits, whereas according to the EU insurance distribution directive incorporated into Norwegian law, the movement of citizens within the European Economic Area does not affect their entitlement to social benefits. As a result, about 2,000 beneficiaries who had travelled abroad had required to return their benefits and at least 80 had been unfairly prosecuted for "misappropriation of funds", with at least 40 having served prison sentences. The 2019 NIM report fairly notes that if citizens have been convicted and imprisoned without sufficient legal basis, it is "serious and contrary to human rights requirements"[611].

The authorities have apologised to the victims and the erroneous decisions are being reviewed. Two independent commissions have been specially set up to clarify all the circumstances of the case and to deal with complaints in cases of refusal to pay compensation.

In September 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd, visited Norway. In his report submitted in March 2020, he recommended that the Norwegian authorities abandon fossil fuel exploration and infrastructure development and ban the most environmentally damaging forms of oil and gas extraction[612].

In December 2018, the Government's "A Society for All" strategy for the equality of persons with disabilities for the period 2020-2030 was issued, and in December 2019, an Action Plan for the Equality of Persons with Disabilities for 2020-2025. Since 2013, an Act Prohibiting Discrimination on Grounds of Disability has also been in force.

In November 2019, the Ministry of Culture announced the establishment of a Commission on Freedom of Expression, whose mandate includes assessing the current situation in Norway in this area and the feasibility of new measures in the areas of countering the spread of fake news and hate speech.

As a final observation, it should be noted that despite the existence of human rights violations by Norway, recognised by relevant national and international institutions, in general, the human rights situation in the country is regarded as good.

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Poland

Over the last few years, the human rights situation in Poland has tended to deteriorate; xenophobia and intolerance against migrants are on the rise in Polish society, and the Polish authorities have restricted freedom of expression as part of a campaign to rewrite history. Polish and international human rights NGOs attribute this to the Law and Justice (PiS) national conservative party coming to power in October 2015 and its reforms.

Among other things, this has a direct impact on the national human rights institution. For example, in September 2020, the deadline for the election of a new Commissioner for Civil Rights was missed due to the reluctance of the Sejm (Poland's lower house of Parliament) to approve the nominee of the incumbent Ombudsman Zuzanna Rudzińska-Błuszcz, who at the time had already been supported by over 1,000 Polish non-governmental organizations. The Polish media attributed the situation to the ongoing confrontation between the ruling PiS party and the incumbent Ombudsman for Citizen Rights Adam Bodnar (in office since 2015), who openly accused the authorities of worsening the situation in the human rights field.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression and to peaceful demonstrations is regularly violated in the country. In fact, the authorities openly persecute participants in protest movements. For instance, in 2019, dozens of opposition activists were subjected to criminal or administrative proceedings for their participation in peaceful protests. That was highlighted in particular by the human rights NGO Amnesty International in its annual report published in April 2020.[613]

It has also been reported that on 8 June 2020 law enforcement officers searched the home of a Polish national, confiscated her computer, tablet and telephones and then convoyed her, handcuffed, to a police station. The reason for her detention was her posting of information posters at bus stops, according to which the Polish government had allegedly manipulated the statistics concerning the spread of COVID-19. Polish police officers did not allow the detainee to contact a lawyer. According to human rights defenders, since 2016 the mentioned citizen has been actively involved in public protests in support of women's rights and has been engaged in providing legal assistance to participants of the protest movement in Poland.[614]

In November 2020, a trial began against three female activists accused by the Polish authorities of "insulting the feelings of believers" under Article 196 of the Polish Criminal Code for producing posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a halo in rainbow colours symbolizing the LGBT movement. According to the Polish Prosecutor's Office, on 29 April 2019, the individuals posted the posters in public places in Płock (including on portable toilets, rubbish bins, a transformer, road signs and building walls). They face up to two years in prison for these actions.[615]

International human rights institutions are concerned about Poland's increased powers of law enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance and wiretapping of citizens' personal contacts (under the Anti-Terrorism Act of June 2016 and the January 2016 amendments to the 1990 Police Act and several other regulations). In particular, concerns have been raised about the possibility of excessive and unjustified State interference in the private life of citizens.[616] Following these changes, there have been repeated cases of surveillance of opposition politicians and public figures by the law enforcement agencies. For example, the Polish media reported that as part of the Sejm and Rekonesans police operations, the police followed participants in the 1621 July 2017 protests.[617]

At the end of October 2020 – January 2021, there were mass protests in the country over the 22 October 2020 decision of Poland's Constitutional Court, which ruled unconstitutional the norm allowing pregnancy termination in the case of fatal birth defects. The organizers of the actions made use of a provision in the Law on Assemblies that allowed for the organization of "spontaneous" demonstrations, thus circumventing the then-imposed strict limitations on the number of participants in assemblies (no more than 5 people). In order to contain the hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens who took to the streets of the cities, the authorities deployed numerous law enforcement forces. In the course of the aforementioned events, a significant number of violations of the rights of Polish citizens were observed.

There were recorded cases of police officers beating detained protesters, refusing to provide them with a medical examination of their injuries and forbidding them to contact their relatives or lawyers. For example, on 30 October 2020, police forcibly detained representatives of the pan-Polish trade union Workers Initiative (Inicjatywa Pracownicza), who were on their way to a protest rally in Warsaw. They were released a few hours later, but no record was made of their detention and no explanation was given as to the reasons for their detention.[618] On 10 November 2020, the police did not allow representatives of the Polish National Preventive Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture to visit the human rights defender, who was kept in the detention centre of the Warsaw VI district police commandant's office. After the activist's release, it emerged that the police had used force against her during her detention and had also taunted her, hinting that they might take her away to an unknown destination.[619]

In October 2020 a report on the results of an unscheduled visit to Poland in September 2019 by representatives of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was published. The document noted numerous cases of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers during detention or initial interrogation of persons who were already under control or were not resisting. Concurrently, concern is expressed about the lack of any progress with regard to respect for the rights of detainees, including the right to access legal and medical assistance.[620]

In March-May 2020, due to the spread of coronavirus infection in Poland, a regime of self-isolation was imposed. The government monitored the movement of citizens and collected their personal data through a smartphone app, which drew criticism from human rights activists. High fines were levied against violators. The Polish public felt that the measures taken by the authorities to support the population during the pandemic were insufficient. Despite the ban on public gatherings imposed in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, anti-government demonstrations took place in the capital in mid-May. Hundreds of demonstrators protested against violations of their civil rights as well as against what they saw as insufficient financial support provided by the government to Poles in the context of the coronavirus crisis. The police dispersed the demonstration with tear gas. Several people were temporarily detained.[621]

In the spring of 2021, the country saw the third wave of the pandemic with a high daily increase in cases similar to that witnessed during the second wave in autumn 2020. At the end of March 2021, Polish authorities introduced new restrictive measures, which the Polish media called a lockdown. That decision provoked new demonstrations. A mass protest took place in the main streets of Warsaw under the slogan "We are united by strength". The protesters demanded freedom of expression, the right to freedom of movement and assembly, the ability to conduct business and access to medical procedures.[622]

Warsaw is waging an intensive campaign to rewrite history, to deny the decisive contribution of the Red Army to the defeat of Hitler's Germany and to eliminate the Soviet/Russian memorial legacy in Poland. In line with this logic, the decisive role of the Red Army not only in the liberation of Poland, but also in saving the Polish people from physical destruction by the Nazis is obscured. The thesis about Poland as the main victim of "two totalitarianisms" and equal responsibility of the USSR and Hitler's Germany for the outbreak of World War II is promoted (even a relevant resolution of the Polish Sejm was adopted for this purpose). That said, the main emphasis was put not even on the attack of the Third Reich on Poland on 1 September 1939, but on "the Soviet attack on Poland" on 17 September 1939, which, de facto, resulted in final loss of independence and division of the Polish State.

At the same time, efforts are being made to glorify the members of the Polish anti-Soviet and anti-communist underground of 1944 – early 1950s, the "cursed soldiers", as heroes of the "national liberation" struggle.[623]

As a result, under the guise of "preserving the memory of those who fought against communism", the cult of persons who were guilty of their collaboration with the Nazis, war crimes and the killings of civilians is openly promoted. In recent years, Polish nationalists in Hajnówka (Podlaskie Voivodeship) (most of the town's inhabitants are ethnic Belarusians, many of whom fell victim to collaborators during World War II) have organized "cursed soldiers" memorial marches on 23 February, where they glorify their leaders Romuald Rajs ("Bury") and Józef Kuraś ("Ogień")[624]. Attempts by the town authorities and public activists to prohibit the march were invariably unsuccessful (the court overturned the relevant decisions of the town authorities, citing the law on public assemblies).

The country's top leadership has also been involved in campaigns to glorify collaborators. For example, in August 2019, in Warsaw, under the patronage of Polish President Duda, representatives of the legislative and executive authorities and the Polish Armed Forces took part in a commemoration of the formation of the Świętokrzyska Brigade of the National Armed Forces[625].

On 28 February 2021, Consul of the Republic of Poland in Brest (Belarus) Jerzy Timofiejuk took part in an unofficial event dedicated to the memory of the "cursed soldiers", which was organized by representatives of Polish-related NGOs and youth organizations, including the Brest Forum of Polish Local Initiatives. The Brest Prosecutor's Office opened a criminal case on glorification of war criminals.[626] The Belarusian authorities were outraged by those actions of the Polish consular officer, which violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and suggested that the consul leave the territory of Belarus.[627] Warsaw called these actions of the Belarusian authorities unjustified.[628]

The activities of private Polish structures add further impetus to the distorted picture of history. For example, in September 2020, it became known that the Polish company DDay Miniature Studio, which produces figurines of soldiers of the First and Second World Wars, presented a new collection of figurines "Red Storm over Europe". It depicted Soviet soldiers as marauders. The appearance of that collection caused outrage among the Russian public.

"Seemingly harmless toys, but they add extra touches to the distorted picture of history that the West paints. They are on a par with the 2019 European Parliament resolution, the publication of wall calendars with pictures of the leaders of the Third Reich, the mockery of monuments to Soviet warlords and liberator soldiers in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the irresponsible statements of political leaders," said Alexander Shkolnik, Deputy Head of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and director of the Victory Museum in Moscow.[629]

The situation is also aggravated by the periodic appearance of products with Nazi symbols or works of the Nazis. For instance, January 2021 saw the second edition of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf published in Poland (the first was published in the early 1990s) under the guise of an academic edition. This fact aroused indignation in Poland itself. In an interview to Zvezda TV channel the head of the KURSK association Jerzy Tyc said that the publication of Hitler's banned autobiography Mein Kampf in Poland is a crime and mockery, stating the intention of his organization to appeal to the competent Polish authorities on the issue. He noted that Poles willingly buy the book, bragging about that on social media.[630] The two-volume book contains 5,000 commentaries by experts and historians.[631] The book is decorated in the colours of the Nazi symbols. The entire print run of two thousand copies was sold out almost as soon as it went on sale. Afterwards the owner of the XXL publishing house, which had prepared the Polish version of the book, announced that they were thinking about printing more copies. In addition to that, Polish law does not allow withdrawal of the book from circulation. For example, in Poland, public advocacy of fascism is punishable by imprisonment, but the Polish prosecutor could intervene only if the book Mein Kampf were sold by an organization propagating Nazi ideology. XXL publishing house is not such an organization.[632] According to media reports, the authorities of Bavaria Federal State, which formally owns the copyright to the book, are making efforts to combat attempts to publish Hitler's works abroad. Bavaria's foreign ministry is assisting in this. German diplomatic representations in countries where Mein Kampf is to be published are examining ways to prevent the appearance or distribution of the book. Similar action is reportedly being taken in this case.[633]

In addition, the Polish authorities have been waging a "war" against monuments and memorials of gratitude to Soviet soldiers in recent years. These actions are presented as the implementation of the law "On the Prohibition of Propaganda of Communism or Other Totalitarian System" of 1 April 2016 (with subsequent amendments).[634] In accordance with its provisions, monuments to Soviet liberators are removed from public space as "symbolizing communism" or "propagandizing" this system. This is done not only through demolition, but also through their depersonalization (i.e. removing references to the Red Army soldiers in whose honour the monuments were erected) or changing their appearance and nature. In 2020 and the first half of 2021, around two dozen monuments in the country were destroyed in that way. Thus, Poland continues to violate its international obligations arising from the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Poland on Friendly and Good-Neighbourly Cooperation of 22 May 1992, the intergovernmental agreements on cooperation in the fields of culture, science and education of 25 August 1993, and on war memorials and places of memory of victims of war and repression of 22 February 1994.

This policy of official Warsaw to glorify Nazi henchmen has led to an increase in the number of extremist and nationalist organizations in the country. The Polish mass media quoted the data that the special services know about 200 "dangerous neo-Nazis" and the number of neo-Nazi movement activists is estimated at about 600-700 persons. At the same time, the Polish non-governmental organization Never Again (Nigdy Więcej) referred to the figure of several thousand fans of fascism and Nazism and more than 10,000 people under the influence of this ideology.[635]

There are several dozen nationalist organizations active in Poland, which maintain links with kindred structures in other European countries. Among the largest associations officially registered in Poland are the National Radical Camp (ONR), the All-Polish Youth and the National Movement (RN)[636]. Their members maintain close contacts with nationalist organizations in Europe and advocate Poland's exit from the EU, a return of Polish society to traditional values and a harsh migration policy.

The ONR held regular firearms training and hand-to-hand combat sessions for Polish youth in special camps until 2019.[637] Radical nationalists from Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary also took part in them. Some of them were subsequently expelled from the country by the Polish Internal Security Agency because of their involvement in extremist and terrorist organizations. That said, such actions are often cited by the Polish authorities as examples of a preventive fight against neo-Nazism.

The ONR activists maintain contacts with Belarusian nationalists who promote the idea of a "common Polish-Belarusian historical heritage" and Polish foundations that promote Polish traditions, culture, history and language in Belarus. Members of the ONR create communities in social networks, in which they urge residents of the western regions of Belarus to indicate their Polish origin in all official documents.

With regard to Ukrainian nationalists, the Polish right-wing forces have diverging positions. Most of them (ONR, All-Polish Youth) do not cooperate with Ukrainian radicals due to contradictions on historical issues (including glorification of Ukrainian Insurgent Army fighters in Ukraine).[638] At the same time, there are different attitudes within the country towards certain groups. Some of them have been accused of collaborating with the Russian secret services, which allegedly use nationalists to incite Polish-Ukrainian hatred.[639] While in the case of other organizations, there is evidence of their active co-operation with Ukrainian radicals, including participation in the events on the Kiev Maidan in 2014.[640]

Polish nationalists (ONR, NR, All-Polish Youth) have created an extensive network of Internet portals (including nczas.com, wolnosc24.pl, narodowcy.net) with a total number of approximately 12 million monthly visits and social media communities (mainly Twitter and Facebook with approximately 1.8 million followers) and use that to spread their ideas and influence within the country, as well as for antiEU propaganda and promotion of extreme right-wing ideas abroad (in Germany, France, the Netherlands, etc.).[641] For example, the European media have accused Polish nationalists from the NR of creating and sponsoring the far-right French Internet portal France Libre 24[642], which is sympathetic to France's National Rally and discredits the EU's migration and climate policy.

A PR agency Cat@Net, run by NR members, spreads misinformation about migrants' crimes against Europeans and the failure of EU migration policy through an extensive network of Internet bots. Such projects are financed by the High Time Foundation[643], which operates mainly out of private funds. According to media reports, the Polish agency 6S Media, which produces video content for Polish nationalist Internet news portals and is used, inter alia, to spread misinformation, is also associated with the NR.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed particular concern about racist organizations in Poland in August 2019.[644]

The continuing climate of intolerance, racism and xenophobia was also pointed out by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in January 2020. It was also noted that representatives of national minorities believe that the reaction of both local and central authorities to expressions and acts of violence by extremist groups is insufficient. In their view, the attitude of Polish authorities towards a particular ethnic group depends on Poland's relations with the countries concerned.[645]

Since 2018, Poland's National Prosecutor's Office has stopped publishing statistics on crimes motivated by racial and other intolerance, arguing that such documents contain information for internal official use only. According to a number of human rights defenders, this is done in order to cover up the sharp increase in such crimes. In August 2019, the Committee against Torture, citing a report on a survey on the nature and scale of unreported hate crimes prepared by OSCE ODIHR and the Office of the Ombudsman, expressed concern about Warsaw's serious underreporting of official statistics on hate crimes and called on it to take measures to address this situation and to combat discrimination on racial, national and other grounds.[646]

In November 2019, the Polish human rights NGO Never Again presented its own annual report (without relevant statistics) on hate crimes committed in 2019, mentioning state and nationalist media – such as TVP Info, Republika Television, Mysl Polska, Radio Maryja and several others – as venues for spreading chauvinistic and anti-Semitic views. In January 2019, amidst the harassment of the opposition mayor of Gdańsk Pawel Adamowicz by such media, a high-profile tragedy took place – the murder of the mayor by a mentally unstable citizen of Poland.

A shadow monitoring study on the use of hate speech on social media, prepared by Never Again in cooperation with OpCode, noted that a serious problem in Poland is not only the spread of hate speech on social media platforms, but also the lack of response to such manifestations by media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Statistics show that most messages about hate speech on social media are left unanswered and not properly evaluated by companies, and that such content is not removed.[647]

In March 2021, the advocacy group announced a partnership with Poland's largest advertising platform OLX (owned by South African technology corporation Naspers) to track and remove from sale racist, Nazi, fascist and anti-Semitic content. It is reported that in the first weeks of the partnership, OLX, acting on the recommendations of the NGO Never Again, removed over 600 offers of neo-Nazi products, including Hitler signs and SS badges, as well as anti-Semitic publications.[648]

Since the National Conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in October 2015, public nationalist statements by prominent people who hold such views have increased. According to the NGO Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia, Dariusz Matecki[649], a member of the Wrocław City Council from Solidary Poland, has about 40 social media accounts, mostly on Facebook, through which he criticizes opponents of PiS, opposition-minded Polish judges and non-governmental organizations and posts anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic content.

Provocative manifestations against the Belarusian national minority continue. On 23 February 2020, in conjunction with the "Cursed Soldiers’" Day, national radicals once again held a march in Hajnówka (Podlaskie Voivodeship), where a significant number of Orthodox Belarusians live, whose ancestors were victims of the Polish anti-communist underground in the postwar period, despite protests from local residents.

On 9 February 2020, seven locals in Torun beat up five citizens of Belarus, Poland, Russia and Ukraine for speaking Russian. This incident is largely a consequence of the Russophobia cultivated by political elites in Polish society.

It should be noted that the intention of the nationalist structures in Poland to hold an event in honour of the "cursed soldiers" in Hajnówka in February 2021 was not fully realized: social activists reserved all possible dates and places where it could take place for alternative events.[650] Nevertheless, the nationalists organized a motor rally from Hajnówka to the nearby village of Narewka, with the laying of flowers at the "cursed soldiers'" memorial sites along the way.[651]

The plans of Polish nationalists to hold another march in Hajnówka were strongly condemned by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. In a statement by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry it was noted that "right-wing radical events in areas densely populated by ethnic Belarusians in Poland are an open and cynical insult to the memory of the victims of the "cursed soldiers" gangs and undisguised pandering to the glorification of Nazism.[652] Particular indignation is caused by one of the so-called heroes – captain Romuald Rajs, who 75 years ago commanded the attacks on the villages inhabited by the Belarusians near Bielsk Podlaski. "On his conscience are hundreds of dead and wounded civilians whose only fault was that they were Belarusians," reads the statement.[653]

Due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Poland, aggression against East and South-East Asians has increased. In May 2020, the NGO Never Again published a report listing the most egregious cases. For example, on 28 February 2020 in Warsaw, wedding dress shop assistants refused service to two female customers from Indonesia for fear of being infected. On 1 March 2020, in Wrocław, priest Leonard Wilczynski said during a service that "the Chinese are unclean, they eat bats and dead fetuses". On 8 March 2020, a group of locals in Wrocław beat up a Polish citizen of Chinese descent who had lived in the country for 25 years and is a well-known chef in the city.

There is still a high level of anti-Semitism in Poland. According to the Polish Ministry of the Interior and Administration, the level of anti-Semitism in the country rose significantly from 30 recorded incidents in 2010 to 179 in 2018, before dropping slightly to 128 incidents.[654]. It should also be noted that the fact that anti-Semitic attitudes are spreading in the country is acknowledged in Polish society itself. According to a 2018 study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights on "Experiences and Perceptions of Anti-Semitism", the poll on discrimination and hatred against Jews in the EU indicated that 89 per cent of Polish respondents of Jewish origin considered racism in the country a "very big problem". About half of those surveyed said they had encountered some form of anti-Semitism in the past five years. 70 per cent of non-Jewish respondents said that "Jews have too much power in Poland". Alongside that, they admitted that the level of anti-Semitism had significantly increased over the past five years. At the same time, Poland has the highest level of distrust in the actions of the authorities in this area: 91 per cent of respondents considered the efforts of the Polish authorities to combat anti-Semitism insufficient and ineffective.[655] According to a study by the NGO Anti-Defamation League, the proportion of the population recognized as anti-Semitic in Poland is as high as 48 per cent.[656]

These indicators are manifesting themselves in practice. Anti-Semitic rhetoric was heard during the campaign leading up to the 2020 presidential election. In July 2020, the leader of the ruling PiS party Kaczynski in an interview to a Polish Catholic newspaper accused Duda's opponent, Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, of supporting the idea of paying Polish Jews compensation for property lost during World War II.[657] The criticism was picked up by Polish state TV channels. Experts point out that such tactics were aimed at gaining the support of extreme nationalists and pointed out the danger of such a step.[658]

Vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and religious sites also continues. In late January 2021, for example, unknown persons painted swastika signs and SS runes on the walls of a Jewish cemetery in Auschwitz near the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which had been created on the site of the infamous concentration camp.[659]

International human rights organizations have expressed concern about the situation of Roma in Poland. For example, in August 2019, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted the continuing harassment of this ethnic group, the low primary and secondary school attendance of Roma children, their underrepresentation in higher education, as well as discrimination in employment. The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities also expressed similar concerns about the situation of Roma.[660]

The situation has been confirmed by public opinion monitoring. According to a poll carried out by the Polish Centre for Public Opinion Research (CBOS) in February 2021 on attitudes of Poles towards other nationalities and ethnic groups, 42 per cent of Polish citizens dislike Roma. A negative attitude towards Arabs was expressed by 46 per cent of respondents. The CBOS stresses that sympathy towards Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews (43 per cent, 47 per cent and 38 per cent respectively) prevail over dislike (negative attitude was expressed by 26 per cent, 17 per cent and 29 per cent of respondents). Compared to March 2020, the level of dislike for natives of Arab countries decreased by 9 per cent, Belarusians by 8 per cent, Russians and Ukrainians by 7 per cent, and Jews by 1 per cent.[661]

A survey conducted for the World Economic Forum by the international company Ipsos also in February 2021 showed that 32 per cent of Poles believe that the spread of the coronavirus has had a negative impact on national minorities. Almost half of those surveyed indicated that during the pandemic members of these groups experienced more discrimination in various areas of life, including social services (52 per cent), education (47 per cent) and employment (56 per cent). At the same time, 31 per cent of respondents belonging to ethnic minorities mentioned restrictions in access to work, 29 per cent and 31 per cent had difficulties in education and social security respectively.[662]

On 13 October 2019, parliamentary elections were held in Poland, which the OSCE observation mission assessed positively overall. At the same time, some concerns were expressed about the bias of the state media in favour of ruling party candidates, the highly polarized society and the prevalence of a "narrative of intolerance".

In August 2019, the Committee against Torture criticized the amendments to the Polish Criminal Code hastily adopted by the Sejm in May 2019 aimed at dehumanizing criminal law, and called on the Polish side to guarantee legal compliance for those in need of international protection. Furthermore, the CPT noted that Warsaw continued to drag out the investigation into the involvement of Polish officials in torturing detainees in secret CIA prisons on Polish territory, which had been dragging on since 2008.[663]

The situation around the presidential elections (initially scheduled for 10 May 2020, the first round was ultimately held in late June and the second in early July 2020) was highly controversial. The PiS rushed them through despite restrictions imposed by the authorities as part of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus infection. To that end, a bill on postal voting was introduced in the Sejm (lower house of parliament) in early April 2020. In this regard, the OSCE/ODIHR drew attention to the problems of organizing elections under that scheme. Doubts about the possibility of holding fair and free elections in a pandemic environment were also expressed by the Vice-President of the European Commission Věra Jourová and representatives of the PACE.

As part of the campaign to rewrite history in Poland, any dissent is suppressed, representatives of social movements, journalists and politicians are persecuted and subjected to pressure. Since 2015, repressive measures have been taken against Russian citizens: the Polish authorities have expelled Russian civil society activists for allegedly waging a "hybrid war" against Poland and have also placed some of our political scientists on lists of persons whose entry into Schengen countries is undesirable.

For example, in December 2015, the correspondent of RIA Novosti Leonid Sviridov was forced to leave the country as the Polish authorities had accused him of unauthorized activities (without specifying their nature or presenting evidence), depriving him of his journalistic accreditation and his residence permit in Poland.

Since 2016, members of the Night Wolves motorbike club, which annually organizes an international motorbike rally in May to commemorate the day of victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War, have been banned from entering Poland.

In October 2017, Russian historian Dmitri Karnaukhov was expelled from Poland, having been accused of "activities contrary to Polish interests" (no explanation had been given by the authorities). In addition, at Warsaw's initiative, Russian political analysts Oleg Bondarenko and Alexei Martynov were banned from entering the Schengen zone for three years in late 2017 and early 2018.

In May 2018, Russian women Ekaterina Tsivilskaya and A.V.Smirnova were detained in Poland and expelled from the country on charges of participating in "hybrid warfare against Poland" and the activities of two "network organizations". Both Russian citizens were activists opposed to the elimination of the Soviet/Russian military and memorial heritage. In October 2018, it became known that two more Russian citizens, I.A.Stolyarchik and O.Rotkhstein, were expelled from Poland for similar activities, allegedly because they posed a "security threat" to the country.

The fight against dissent also affects Polish citizens. From May 2016 to May 2019, social activist and leader of the unregistered Zmiana party Mateusz Piskorski was in pretrial detention on suspicion of espionage in favour of Russia and China. Although Mateusz Piskorski was released from custody on bail of 200,000 zlotys (about 54,000 USD), his trial, which began in the autumn of 2018, continues and he is restricted in his freedom of movement and public activities.

The spread of Russophobia sometimes reaches the point of absurdity. In May 2019, a wide response was given to an incident concerning the ban by the director of the World War II Museum in Gdańsk Karol Nawrocki on the performance of the Soviet front song Dark is the Night by Polish musician Piotr Kosewski during the nationwide "Night of Museums" event.

As a result of the 2016 reforms, the government imposed tight control over state-owned media, with some 140 "disloyal" journalists dismissed as part of "personnel purges". This blatant pressure on the media could not be ignored by the Western human rights NGO Reporters Without Borders: in its press freedom ranking, Poland fell from 18th place in 2015 to 62nd in 2020. At the same time, there has been repeated evidence of the Polish authorities and pro-government media attempting to vilify Polish journalists and bloggers, who have visited Russia in recent years, within the framework of the press tours organized by the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund. They have been declared "agents of the Kremlin" in Poland for their independent opinion different from the mainstream and suspicions of spying for Russia have been raised against them.

The issue of paedophilia is acute in Polish society. For example, according to official data, about 1,300 children were victims of sexual abuse in 2017. In March 2019, the Polish Catholic Church published a report according to which between 1 January 1990 and 30 June 2019 there were 382 reported cases of paedophilia among clergy, with 362 incidents investigated and 20 with no data available.

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Portugal

The government of Portugal pays great attention to the human rights dimension in its internal and external policies.

This is reflected in the annual documents of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The NHRC is an inter-institutional body whose mission is to develop a unified approach to human rights issues and to coordinate the actions of public authorities and relevant NGOs. In addition to coordinating the work of the various ministries, the Commission is responsible for producing and publishing materials on national and international practice in this area and for promoting the relevant agenda in the society.

The steps taken to face the migration crisis are a good example of Lisbon's commitment to promote and protect human rights. For example, Portugal has expressed its willingness to accept an additional 5,800 migrants from Italy and Greece in addition to the EU quota of 4,486, as well as another 1,010 refugees under a new voluntary resettlement programme from Turkey and other third countries to the EU. In 2018-2019, more than a hundred people attempting to reach the continent via the Mediterranean route were moved into the country at the initiative of the official authorities. However, official statistics from the Ministry of Interior show that not all refugees arriving in Portugal stay. Many (around 40 per cent) try to leave the country as soon as possible and move on their own to EU Member States with a more favourable system of social subventions distribution (Germany, France, Great Britain).

However, human rights monitoring bodies have pointed out shortcomings in this area. In particular, the practice of temporary detention, which is common in European countries, including for unaccompanied children and migrant families with children, is wide spread in Portugal.[664]

The Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) was concerned that a significant number of children born in Portugal to migrant families were not granted permanent residence permits and were at risk of expulsion together with their parents. The main reasons for this situation are insufficient knowledge of the Portuguese language, lack of support in accessing education, problems in the home environment and, consequently, disadvantage at the labour market, decline in income and unfavourable conditions for the next generation.[665]

The Foreigners and Borders Service was also heavily criticized in a December 2019 publication The White Paper of the Jesuit Refugee Service. According to its data, this body is the main obstacle to the integration of refugees in Portuguese society. This is due in particular to the quadrupling of statutory deadlines for asylum applications and the "chaos" of the decision-making system, which, according to the authors, constitutes a "systemic, institutional and organizational" violation of migrants' rights.

At the same time, as an example of good practice, Portugal is the only EU Member State extending the custody of unaccompanied children to the age of 21 (exceptionally to 25), rather than the age of majority as in many other countries.[666]

Domestic violence and violence against children continue to be among the problematic aspects of the human rights file. According to statistics published in the June 2020 Internal Security Report, there were 24,793 such incidents recorded by law enforcement agencies in 2019, an increase of 2,370 (or 10.6 per cent) compared to 2018. There were 35 victims of this crime during the reporting period. In addition, there were 27 assassination attempts. According to a report by the NGO Women's Alliance Alternative and Response, 531 women have lost their lives as a result of domestic violence in Portugal over the last 15 years.

In view of the persistently unfavourable trend, in January 2018, the Portuguese government adopted a decree establishing an infrastructure for reception, emergency medical and psychological care and temporary accommodation for victims of domestic violence.

According to a study conducted among 4,938 children and young adults between the ages of 11 and 20 by the NGO Women's Alliance Alternative and Response, 58 per cent of respondents who are or have been in a romantic relationship have been abused by a current or former partner. Sixty-seven per cent consider some types of aggressive behaviour acceptable, such as psychological violence, violence in social media, and controlling how the other half dresses or behaves.[667]

The widespread domestic violence in the country was pointed out by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) following its review in November 2014 of Portugal's 4th periodic report.[668]

Abuse of power by law enforcement forces (Public Security Police, National Republican Guard and Foreigners and Borders Service) and prison guards continues to be widespread. In particular, it is noted that there were 772 related complaints in Portugal in 2017, of which only 102 were subject to disciplinary measures or criminal proceedings. Human rights defenders also draw attention to the long periods of pre-trial detention (from 6 months to one year), which are primarily caused by the inefficiency of the judicial system, lack of personnel and lengthy administrative procedures. Other problems in the penitentiary sphere include the cohabitation of juvenile and adult prisoners, as well as convicts with persons under investigation, the denial of legal assistance and contacts with relatives to these persons, and problems in further social rehabilitation.

It is indicative that many crimes committed by law enforcement officers, especially those motivated by racial hatred, go unpunished. According to a study by the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra "Combating racism in Portugal: an analysis of public policies and antidiscrimination law", in the last 10 years 75 per cent of cases of racism against members of security forces were left unprocessed and were archived. Thus, only less than 30 per cent of them were referred to the Prosecutor's Office for further examination. However, not a single one has resulted in an actual conviction.

On the other hand, the difficult physical and psychological working conditions of Portuguese police officers and National Guardsmen have been one of the main causes of suicide among law enforcement officers. A report released in March 2020 by EuroCOP (a confederation of police unions from all EU Member States) notes that 149 agents have resorted to suicide since 2000, putting Portugal at the top of the EU for this indicator.

In December 2019, Portugal was visited by a delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) operating within the Council of Europe. The group of experts inspected 11 penitentiary establishments run by the Ministry of Internal Administration and the Ministry of Justice in order to verify the implementation of the recommendations made following the 2016 working mission.

The CPT's report notes that prison overcrowding in the country stands at 110 per cent. From 2010 to 2017, the number of prisoners increased by 20.6 per cent to more than 14,000.

The worst overcrowding is in Setúbal (200 per cent), Porto (180 per cent), Cascais (160 per cent) and Lisbon (150 per cent). Also, the situation has not improved in cities such as Paços de Ferreira and Linhó, where, according to human rights NGOs, inadequate conditions of detention persist.[669]

It should be noted that the Portuguese authorities have taken steps to partially unload prisons as part of the response to the spread of coronavirus infection. For example, on 9 April 2020, President Rebelo de Sousa approved a law prepared by the government “On the introduction of a special procedure for early release and granting amnesty to those guilty of non-serious offences according to the Penal Code”. The Portuguese Ministry of Justice estimates that this measure could affect between 1,700 and 2,000 prisoners.

The human trafficking problem remains acute and even continues to acquire new forms. According to the official statistics of the Human Trafficking Monitoring Centre, in 2018, 203 people were identified as potential victims of human trafficking, 168 of whom were Portuguese or foreigners who had been enslaved on Portuguese territory and 35 were Portuguese nationals trafficked abroad. Notably, according to official statistics from the Foreigners and Borders Service, only 86 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2019, a 45 per cent increase from the previous year. However, local media, citing sources within the service itself, point out that this figure is untrue and scaled down by several orders of magnitude. This, in their opinion, shows the complete incompetence of the Portuguese migration authorities. It was noted that about 9.5 per cent of the cases of trafficking in human beings were related to sexual slavery. The main countries of origin of trafficking victims were Moldova, Angola, Romania, Brazil, India and DRC. The practice of using Portugal as a transit point for children and adolescents from Africa to enter the Schengen area and subsequently resell them to exploitative clients in France and Germany continues unabated.

The widespread human trafficking, particularly against Roma, Muslims, people of African descent and migrants, was highlighted by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) following its review of the combined 15th to 17th periodic reports of Portugal in late November 2016.[670]

The stereotype attitude and prejudice with regard to Africans and persons of African origin, Gypsy community, migrants and Muslims have been noted in the Portuguese society in general. The hatred statements and racist conduct against persons belonging to these minorities have been recorded, among other things, in the sports field, in the media and in the Internet.

There are no statistical data on the number of incidents related to instigation of hatred in the Internet but the report of the ECRI points to hundreds of messages in the ultraright Internet forums aimed at incitement to hostility against the aforementioned groups. Only few media moderate the comments before their publication on their site and filter out those that contain the language of hatred.[671]

Human rights activists note that there are no programmes in the country directly aimed at addressing the problems of persons of African descent. Among other concerns they fear that discriminatory and stereotype illustrations regarding them may be contained in the school textbooks.[672]

According to the report of the ECRI the level of unemployment among the persons of African origin is much higher (33 per cent in 2015), they get jobs not corresponding to their qualification three times more often and earn on average 103 euro less per month. Quite often representatives of this part of the Portugese population work without signing employment contracts, fraught with the risk of exploitation. Very few of them hold public offices.[673]

Some persons of African origin were relocated in the framework of social housing construction programmes started in the 90s. However, in practice this led to territorial segregation since the main construction sites were located far from the city centers. Alongside that, the migrants who arrived after the 1990 census which constituted the basis of those relocation programmes were not included into them and continue to live in the slum settlements and the areas with low quality housing under permanent threat of forced eviction without a prior notice and without the possibility to receive legal remedies and decent housing from the authorities.[674]

The CERD and the CESCR noted that the Gypsy community of Portugal confronts discrimination practically in all areas of life. A large number of its representatives live in unsatisfactory conditions, in unofficial settlements in barrack-type premises or tents quite often in the remote areas practically without access to drinking water, sanitation, electricity and transport. Moreover, many Gypsies have no right to social housing in the framework of the special Resettlement Programme since the applicants were determined on the basis of census of informal gypsy settlements conducted in 1993.[675] As a result, many of them continue to live in shantytowns or several families in one apartment quite often without access to electricity or sanitary and hygienic services.[676]

Such living conditions are one of the reasons why the prevailing majority of Gypsy children living in this area drop out from school after the fifth year – 1012 years old – and cannot obtain professional education.[677] The Committee on the Rights of the Child[678] and the CESCR[679] also expressed concerns with the low indicators of Gypsy children enrolment in schools. Many of them continue to be enrolled in the segregated schools or classes and many of them are discriminated against. Engagement in traditional activity for Gypsy families such as street trade is becoming increasingly complicated due to introduction of stricter legal regulations.[680]

According to Eurobarometer 2015, 64 per cent of the 1,005 people surveyed in Portugal believe that discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is widespread in the country, 65 per cent – on the basis of gender identity, 32 per cent – on the basis of religion and 30 per cent – on the basis of gender. 19 per cent responded that they would feel uncomfortable if Roma people were their work colleagues, 12 per cent said the same about Muslims, 8 per cent about people of African, Jewish or Asian descent.[681]

A 2019 parliamentary study on racism highlighted the need to build relationships of trust between different groups in society, especially with the younger generation of national minorities. The document, for example, recommends the recruitment of police officers of African or Roma origin.[682]

A major study on discriminatory practices in Portuguese judicial proceedings was launched in 2018 by the Research Centre for Justice and Governance of the University of Minho, in cooperation with the Anthropology Research Network. The first results of the project, called "Inclusive Courts", were published in June 2020 on a specially created, freely accessible internet portal.[683] The study focused on some 650 court decisions by local courts since 1976. As a result, it became clear that judges often use unflattering and negative descriptions of certain social groups in procedural documents. For example, epithets such as "poor beggars," "filthy", "subsidy addicts," and "traitors" are used in relation to Roma. Some ironic comments are included in the texts of decisions regarding members of religious minorities, particularly Muslims. As part of the project, a series of interviews with judges and prosecutors is planned in order to get a better picture of the extent of the problem. The initiative has reportedly already received positive feedback from public authorities, including the Supreme Council of Magistracy, the Superior Council of Public Prosecution and the Judicial Studies Centre under the Ministry of Justice.

Nationalist, far-right and neo-Nazi groups (including the National Renewal Party) use hate speech aimed at inciting inter-ethnic hatred, primarily online. In November 2016, police arrested 20 people for hate speech as well as attempted murder and armed robbery. All are alleged to be members of the Hammerskins, an association that spreads the ideology of "white supremacy".

The ECRI pointed out concerns that some law enforcement officials are sympathetic to extremists and sometimes even join extremist groups.[684]

In 2020, Portugal, like other countries, faced the challenge of ensuring human rights in the context of a rapidly spreading coronavirus infection. The country's medical system was unprepared for the surge. According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, hospitals often did not have enough beds to accommodate all those in need, especially in intensive care units, not all medical facilities had the necessary equipment, and staff were insufficiently trained.

At the same time, the authorities made efforts to prevent a shortage of staff in the health sector. In particular, the labour legislation was amended to facilitate the recruitment of new staff as quickly as possible and to make shortterm employment easier.

Special attention was paid to the issue of the spread of infection in nursing homes. A preventive testing programme was in place in the country to detect the illness of staff members in institutions with 50 or more residents (for Lisbon and Porto, 30 or more).[685]

From July to December 2020, the NHRC organized a series of virtual events, Dialogues in Times of Pandemic, focusing on human rights in the new context of living with the need for self-isolation and opening up the fundamental principles of personal data protection.

By 2020, the European Court of Human Rights had issued 354 judgments against Portugal, 270 of which found violations of at least one article of the European Convention on Human Rights. Traditionally, much of the litigation against Portugal at the ECtHR has involved bureaucratisation and slowness of justice.

It can thus be stated that the Portuguese authorities continue to face the following challenges in the promotion and protection of human rights: human trafficking; abuse of power by law enforcement forces; inadequate prison conditions; torture and other ill-treatment; violence against women and children; and racial discrimination.

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Romania

In general, the situation regarding the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Romania has been satisfactory. According to the Romanian Ombudsman’s Annual 2019 Report, the total amount of appeals and complaints continues to decline: during the reporting period there were 7738 personal appeals of citizens, 10979 postal petitions and 6205 phone calls (in 2015 there were 15428 personal appeals, 7968 phone calls; 13699 and 7770 in 2016, 10763 and 6849 in 2017, 9271 and 6512 in 2018, respectively).

Most concerned the issues of free access to justice (2202 appeals in 2019, 2333 in 2018), interaction with government authorities (1375 and 1637 cases), the right to private property (1054 and 907 cases) and the protection of children’s rights (1021 and 341 cases).

At the same time, there is a number of problems primarily related to manifestations of discrimination. The National Council for Combating Discrimination, acting under the control of the Parliament, notes increasing complaints concerning discrimination of the Romanian population on various grounds. There were 822 complaints in 2018 (822 in 2018, 682 in 2017, 842 in 2016). Most complaints concerned social inequalities (386 in 2019, 302 in 2018, 258 in 2017, 314 in 2016) and the rights of persons with disabilities
(87 in 2019, 81 in 2018, 74 in 2017, 83 in 2016).

Several reports from multilateral universal and regional human rights monitoring mechanisms, as well as from local human rights NGOs indicate that domestic violence against women is a serious social problem in Romania.

The situation in the field of the rights of persons with disabilities is complex. According to official data, more than 760,000 people with disabilities are registered in Romania, and more than one third of them still have difficulties in employment.

The Constitution and national legislation of Romania prohibit inhuman treatment and corporal punishment towards suspects and persons under investigation. However, the media and human rights NGOs continue reporting cases of ill-treatment and use of force towards civilians from law enforcement officials.

Anti-Semitism, racism, fascism and other manifestations of xenophobia are prohibited by the law (Government Decree No. 31/2002 and Law No. 107/2006) and criminalized in Romania. The Law No. 217 on amending and supplementing the Government Decree No. 31 of 2002 on prohibition of fascist, racist and xenophobic organizations and symbols, as well as promotion of the cult of persons guilty of crimes against peace and humanity, entered into force in 2015.

In July 2018, the Law No. 157 on certain measures to prevent and combat manifestations of anti-Semitism, stipulating imprisonment from 3 months to 10 years for promoting anti-Semitic rhetoric and involvement in corresponding organizations, entered into force. A number of local NGOs opposed the adoption of the act on the grounds that it basically overlaps with current legislation in the field.

Despite the elaborated legislative norms, the Romanian Federation of Jewish Communities, the NGO "Centre for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism in Romania" and the National Institute of Holocaust Studies named after Elie Wiesel continue to report manifestations of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism and nationalism.

The issue of increased interference by intelligence services and law enforcement agencies in the private life of citizens is also becoming alarming in Romania. In recent years, there is a sharp increase in the number of court authorizations for wiretapping and interception of electronic messages. In February 2018, the Constitutional court of Romania recognized as illegal the use of evidence obtained by the Romanian Information Service (counterintelligence) on the basis of court authorizations for wiretapping on criminal cases not related to crimes in the field of State security. Earlier such evidence was transmitted to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau where cases were initiated on economic, official and corruption crimes.

The representatives of the Romanian civil society are concerned about the activities of the authorities to strengthen controls on the funding sources and expenditure of NGOs. In July 2019, the Law No. 129 on preventing and combating terrorism, that included not only the requirements of the Directive (EU) 2015/849 on anti-money laundering and terrorist financing, but also provisions surpassing them, entered into force. According to the law, civil society organizations must submit to tax authorities personal data of beneficiaries of targeted public events.

There are also issues of addressing corruption in Romania. The report of the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published in 2017 classified current Romanian legislation in this field as disparate, fragmented, containing many "grey zones" and creating conditions for contradictory interpretations. It is stressed that the country does not have a comprehensive policy for respect of the rights of national minorities and its implementation varies depending on condition in separate regions. The report notes persisting negative attitude towards ethnic Hungarians (1.3 million people or 6.5 per cent of the total population) and Roma (more than 620,000 people, i.e. 3.3 per cent of the total population, moreover, according to unofficial data, the size of the community is up to 2 million people).

As another issue in the field of human rights in Romania persists the non-observance by the authorities of minimum standards for civil society participation in the legislative process. Despite the Guidelines of the Council of Europe on civil participation in political decision-making, only a limited number of legislative initiatives pass this procedure in Romania.

There are problems, traditional for Romania, regarding the observance of the rights of convicted persons. Measures taken by the government to improve detention conditions in correctional and penitentiary institutions of Romania and to settle the issue of prison overcrowding do not give satisfactory results.

The indicated shortcomings were confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in April 2017. Thus, the ECtHR delivered a pilot judgement on the complaint of a group of Romanian inmates, having determined that their detention conditions violate the European Convention on Human Rights, and having indicated the systemic nature of the problem requiring the adoption of measures by the Romanian authorities to solve it. The Court found that the rights of the applicants guaranteed by Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) had been violated, as the inmates were held in overcrowded cells requiring repairs, in poor sanitary conditions, and were given low quality food. The ECtHR came to the conclusion that such a situation of prisoners in Romanian penitentiary institutions is one of the results of the general structural dysfunction of the Romanian penitentiary system[686].

To date, more than 28,000 people are detained in penitentiary facilities with the capacity of 19,000 places. Thus, the recommendation of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) on occupancy rate of 4 m2 per inmate is not respected. In several prisons problems are reported with heating, adequate ventilation and light level, food (each convicted person is allocated a little over four US dollars per day) and medical service. To solve these problems in March 2016 the Government adopted a series of legal acts regulating the issues of conditions of detention in prisons. The following April a governmental program was adopted until 2023 on improving the conditions of detention and expansion of prisons. However, the issue has not been fully addressed.

Problems in interethnic relations persist in Romania. Human rights defenders underline the unsatisfactory state of affairs with the rights of Roma in Romania, especially with their access to labor market, education and healthcare. In fact, the Roma community faces systematic social discrimination.

This most socially disadvantaged ethnic group in Romania constitutes, according to 2011 census, about 2,9 % (621,000 people). Most experts coincide that the actual number of this national minority is much higher and constitutes about 8,6 % (1850,000 people). Experts explain such a difference in numbers primarily by the unwillingness of the Roma to indicate their nationality in order to safeguard themselves from the manifestations of intolerance and discrimination by the society and local authorities.

The main body determining the policy of protection of the Roma rights and their social integration is the National Agency for the Roma established in 1997. Its responsibility is to monitor the situation regarding the observance of the rights of this ethnic group within the framework of Romania’s National Roma Inclusion Strategy[687], propose amendments to the legislation in the field, control the implementation of the provisions of Romanian and European legal acts aimed at protecting the Roma rights, etc. At the same time, the absence of a comprehensive system on collecting data on discrimination against various social and ethnic groups, including the Roma community, as well as the unwillingness of the Romanian authorities to classify legally problematic situations based on ethnicity won’t allow to evaluate in full measure the violations of the Roma rights.

Despite almost no mention of the facts of discrimination against Roma in the media, their existence is indicated by the stereotypes and prejudices persistent in the Romanian society regarding this national minority. Experts of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted that antiRoma sentiment is common in Romania. According to the 2015 survey conducted by the National Anti-discrimination Council (CNCD), Roma were perceived by the Romanian society as the fourth social group causing most intolerance after the persons with HIV, drug addiction and disabilities. The CNCD 2019 Report notes that out of 904 investigations during the reported period 48 concerned cases of discrimination based on ethnicity, mainly affecting Transylvanian Hungarians and Roma.

Hateful language is prevalent in traditional and social media towards Roma, the Hungarian minority, the Jewish community and Muslims[688].

The Romanian officials in various capacities allow themselves occasional attacks against Roma and other national minorities. Over the past few years, the former president T.Basescu and prime minister M.Tudose, a number of mayors and county council chairpersons were seen promoting xenophobic and racist rhetoric. In 2019, proceedings for the speech of one of the deputy chairpersons of the Save Romania Union party, A. Hobjila, who declared the need to get rid of Roma in the heart of Botoşani city at any cost, in the context of its reconstruction, caused a wide resonance in Botoşani county. The remark of the official, basically calling for the forced relocation of Roma, was considered by the CNCD as discriminatory and degrading human dignity, and its author was fined EUR 2000.

A significant number of the Roma minority members in Romania still suffer from poor living conditions without the access to tap water (about 60 per cent) and with the outhouse in the back (about 74 per cent). In addition, human rights organizations note that the Roma living in undesignated areas are at risk of forced relocation.

Thus, a report by the National Roma Council basically recognizes cases of forced relocation of this ethnicity members in Alba and Constanta counties. In this context, human rights defenders draw attention to a large number of illegal Roma settlements the residents of which are at risk of forced evacuation, as well as the absence of a systematic list of such areas at the local level.

In addition, the Roma community members experience difficulties in obtaining identity documents. In such cases the police write a residence report on the grounds of which applicants may only obtain a provisional identity document. Many Roma also lack documents confirming residence or housing tenure.

The Romanian authorities have problems with fulfilling their obligations to ensure the right to quality education for all categories of the population, in particular Roma. In this context, there is a problem of discrimination and segregation of Roma children in schools.

To the problems faced by the Roma communities in Romania drew attention the Human Rights Committee[689] and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women[690], as well as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)[691] and the Consultative Committee of the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities (CC FCPNM)[692].

The National Anti-Discrimination Council (CNCD) continues to report cases of racial intolerance among politicians and officials in various capacities. In January 2020, the mayor of Târgu Mureș D. Florea attracted attention with hate speech toward the local Roma.

Numerous violations of the rights of the Hungarian national minority in Romania are also traditionally mentioned. Among the most pressing issues are the use of the Hungarian language in State institutions in areas with high concentrations of Magyar (Székely Land) and secondary and higher education in their mother tongue. Incidents have also occurred at sports events. Thus, for example, ECRI noted a match in Bucharest in 2017 during which the fans of one of the teams chanted anti-Hungarian slogans[693].

The Romanian authorities continue persecutions for the use of the flag of the Székelys (Romanian Hungarians) and impose fines for performing the Hungarian anthem at mass events. Pretexting optimization of budgetary spending, the government of Romania pursues its policy of withdrawing several courses in Hungarian from education plan in the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Târgu Mureș, in spite of the fact that the Law on education grants to the Magyar access to higher education in this university in their mother tongue.

Recently, the president of the Romanian Union of Ciscarpathian Ruthenians M. Lauruk repeatedly drew attention to strengthened pressure from the Romanian authorities. This means several incidents with unfounded persecution of the activists of the organization for their pro-Russian position. Bucharest shows indulgence to forced Ukrainization of the Ruthenian national minority. This was compounded by blatant cases of inaction of the authorities regarding hostile takeovers of property and business assets owned by Ruthenians.

Separate claims to the Romanian authorities are made by the Russians-Lipovans in Romania and the Ciscarpathian Ruthenians and concern the possibility of education (from primary to full secondary) in their mother tongue. It is reported that for the children of the Russians-Lipovans teaching of their mother tongue is stipulated only as an optional subject, while most national minorities have access to primary education (grades 1-9) completely in their mother tongue.

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Slovakia

In general, the situation with fundamental human rights and freedoms in Slovakia is rather stable and evolves in line with European trends. The action taken in the area by the authorities does not raise serious criticisms by the national monitoring mechanisms. International cooperation in the field of promoting and protecting human rights constitutes one of the priorities of the country´s foreign policies.

At the national level, the leading role in ensuring the rights of the population is played by the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights. It should be noted that currently the Centre does not yet fully comply with the Paris Principles, adopted by the UN General Assembly resolution regarding the establishment and operation of national human rights institutions. According to the experts of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the legislative reform proposed by the Government to improve its normative framework did not receive the necessary support in the National Council of the Slovak Republic[723]. And the Report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on Slovakia indicates that the Centre does not have all the competences it should have, and it is not sufficiently independent[724].

While it should be noted with appreciation that in 2019 the budget of the National Centre was increased by 40 per cent and that its personnel also increased with seven additional employees[725].

The situation of the most vulnerable groups (minors, women, older persons, persons with disabilities) is generally satisfactory. The Government is giving priority to measures aimed at improving the living conditions of these population categories.

At the same time, a number of problems remain in the socio-economic sphere. Gender equality has not yet been achieved, despite all the measures taken by the authorities in this regard. Violence against women is still widespread in the country, including harassment and domestic violence. Moreover, the country's health sector demonstrates systemic weaknesses due to the poor quality of health facilities, gaps in geographical coverage of health-care services and lack of qualified medical personnel[726].

In its concluding observations following its consideration of the first report submitted by Slovakia, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) noted the lack of accessibility for persons with disabilities to public information and communication, including in relation to transport, as well as the inaccessibility of public broadcasting of warnings about natural disasters and emergencies for this category of citizens. There is also insufficient affordability of mobility aids and appliances[727]. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), quoting the report of the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities in Slovakia to the National Council, states a lack of reasonable accommodation to enable inclusive education for children with disabilities[728].

A high number of children with disabilities continue living in institutions[729]. The Committee is also concerned that there is a significant lack of early intervention and early diagnosis services in the health, social and educational areas and its concluding observations also state that financial support for families with children with disabilities requiring early intervention is insufficient.[730]

Among other things, the Committee recommended to ensure that persons with disabilities are better protected from violence, in particular from involuntary commitment and treatment procedures without their free and informed consent. The Committee especially noted inhuman or degrading treatment through the use of physical, mechanical and chemical restraints, and the use of isolation and seclusion for persons with psychosocial disabilities[731].

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic threatened the enjoyment by the disabled persons of the right to fair and just working conditions. FRA quotes the Slovakian Office of the Commissioner for people with disabilities that reported cases of people with disabilities being dismissed for not coming to work as they had to self-isolate [732].

The human rights situation of Roma people remains the most pressing issue for Slovakia. This ethnic minority is the second largest in the country. According to the Slovak Statistical Office, the total Roma population in the country is 106,000 (2 per cent of the population). However, their actual number is significantly higher. As of 2019, it amounted to over 417,500 (about 9 per cent of the population). This ethnic group has been and remains the most discriminated against in the labor market, education, healthcare and housing. In November 2017, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about the situation of the Roma people and their continuing structural discrimination in Slovakia[733].

In June 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) noted with concern that the Slovak authorities were using police raids in Roma settlements, aimed at gaining the support of the neighboring non-Roma population, with excessive use of force and ill-treatment resulting in police injuring the Roma minority representatives, including children[734].

A prominent example was the news, widely covered by the national media, on the alleged beating by the police of five Roma children who violated quarantine regime on April 27, 2020 in Krompachy settlement. This situation became the focus of the Union of Gypsies in Slovakia, as well as the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities and the Slovak National Center for Human Rights that called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and personally the head of police to conduct a thorough investigation of the case. The president of Slovakia Z.Čaputova, who had regularly advocated for the rights of minorities and addressed the issue on numerous occasions during her electoral campaign, and the Council of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Human Rights, Minorities and Gender Equality called for "consistent respect of human rights and freedoms during state of emergency in the country". To date a preliminary police check is underway, and no decisions have been made.

In its report on Slovakia, prepared within the framework of the sixth monitoring cycle, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) stated that the investigations into police brutality are not thorough enough. At the same time, the Commission stated that Slovakia had managed to put an end to large-scale police operations in Roma neighborhoods. It was also noted that in the country the use of body-cams is promoted as a means of preventing violent acts by the police[735].

The segregation of Roma children in educational institutions provokes the sharpest criticism. Slovakia is condemned for the excessively high per centage of Roma minors enrolled in separate classes or special remedial schools. According to statistics, almost 90 per cent of students in those schools are Roma children. The Slovak Ministry of Finance, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, issued a report mapping the segregation of Roma pupils. It finds that Roma pupils, especially those from marginalized communities, are seven to eight times more likely to repeat a school year – and eight times less likely to enter university.

To improve the situation, in June 2015, the National Council of Slovakia approved an amendment to the Act on Upbringing and Education, setting up legal mechanisms for the protection of children who came from a socially disadvantaged environment.

In 2019, the Slovak Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport organized 60 two-day seminars for 1,211 teachers and school staff on desegregation. They led to the development of 117 desegregation plans for schools.

Starting from September 2021, Slovakia introduces compulsory preschool education for all 5-year-old children. This initiative aims to increase the preschool participation of Roma[736].

However, the situation has remained largely unchanged. Most cases of Roma children segregation are found in the Eastern Slovakia Region (Stara Lubovňa, Medzilaborce, etc.). The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) highlighted this problem. In particular, the Committee pointed out that there were gaps in providing education in all mother tongues of national minorities. For example, courses in some languages are offered only as electives. Moreover, amendments to the Law on Schools led to the shut-down of a number of small educational institutions providing education in minority languages[737].

In addition, the Bulletin of FRA on fundamental rights implications of the pandemic provides data from a survey carried out by the Institute of Educational Policy in Slovakia showing that almost 50,000 children – mainly from poor localities, many of them inhabited by Roma – did not participate in distance learning at all during the first wave of the pandemic[738].

International experts are concerned about the isolation and displacement of Roma communities to the outskirts of cities and towns, which leads to the formation of mono-ethnic enclaves – "sieges". Roma people are also deprived of land ownership rights and suffer discriminatory treatment, especially women, in medical facilities. Still little has been done to compensate past victims of forced sterilization[739].

In October 2019, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in addition to the above-mentioned problems faced by the Roma population in Slovakia, pointed out that the Roma, especially those living in segregated settlements, did not have permanent access to clean drinking water[740]. Moreover, Roma people often become victims of human trafficking, although the number of such cases is decreasing. According to the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights, the National Program to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings (2019–2023) currently includes 30 persons (in 2017, there were 45), mostly Roma from the Eastern Slovakia Region.

National and local authorities give priority to solving Roma issues. The Government has adopted a comprehensive Roma Integration Strategy until 2020 (updated in February 2017), appointed a commissioner for Roma issues and implemented numerous programs aimed at involving and integrating members of this minority in public life. One of the most striking examples is the project for the "Horehronie" Multifunctional Centre in the village of Valaská-Piesok (Central Slovakia Region), where opportunities have been created for education, training, employment, participation in sports and cultural events for the Roma people and other socially disadvantaged groups. In settlements with large Roma communities, special "Roma civil patrols" have been introduced to monitor public order together with the local police. Special health centers have been established in Roma enclaves. Significant funds are allocated each year to projects in that area, including from euro funds.

However, no radical change in this area has been achieved so far. According to the monitoring of the Roma Inclusion Strategy conducted by the Slovak MIA, in 2019 the former government of P.Pellegrini put into practice only 26 measures of the 121 contained in the document to support this population group.

In 2020, FRA expressed its concern regarding the insufficient protection of Roma from the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, due to the self-isolation regime introduced by the government, many representatives of this national minority lost their sources of income, and their underage children (about 60 per cent) lost access to education. According to Agency estimates, under the pretext of countering the spread of COVID-19, the discrimination of the Roma population intensified and the persecution continued in Slovakia and a number of other European countries.

The country's judicial system is frequently criticized. Every year, the representative of Slovakia to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) reports a persistent problem of protracted trials in Slovakia. There have been cases of prolonged detention of persons without charge. In 2019, judgements were rendered in four cases (three in 2018).

In 2019, 445 lawsuits were filed with the European Court of Human Rights, mostly by individuals, concerning violation by Slovakia of the provisions of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, of which 297 were dismissed for various reasons and judgments were rendered only in nine cases (eight in 2018, twelve in 2017).

At a time of migration crisis, Slovakia's harsh migration policy causes particular concern and is criticized by international human rights monitoring bodies. For example, in 2019, 232 asylum applications were submitted to the country's competent authorities and to this date only nine have been granted (in 2018, 178 applications were submitted and 5 granted). To date, Slovakia has accepted only 30 migrants applying for temporary or permanent residence in the country, out of a mandatory quota of 902.

Some key measures for inclusive integration of migrants have not been implemented, such as the introduction of free Slovak language and integration classes. In particular, schools are not using the funding made available for the teaching of Slovak to children of migrant origin. Migrants also experience difficulties in finding housing and places in kindergartens. Muslims encounter major problems in practicing their religion[741].

The issue of racial intolerance has been repeatedly raised in the Slovak media space, especially among radically-minded youth and usually as a reaction to another hate crime. Among such high-profile cases was the murder of Henry Acorda, a citizen of the Philippines, in the center of the Slovak capital in June 2018. A citizen of Slovakia, who is a right-wing extremist, was sentenced to six years in prison for committing this crime. The appeal filed by the prosecutor to impose stricter punishment was denied by the court.

CERD also noted issues of racism in the Slovak society in 2017[742]. Thus, the Committee experts expressed concern about persistent hate speech in the media and on the Internet, the use of racist political discourse among politicians against ethnic minorities, particularly Roma, Muslims and non-citizens. Court proceedings in cases of racial discrimination continue to be excessively lengthy, thus impacting negatively on effective access to justice for victims[743].

It is noted that a great many hate crimes go unreported to the authorities, partly because victims do not trust the police[744].

Slovakia started a national project in 2018 to improve victims’ access to support services. In 2019, it established eight contact points for victims in different regions. Contact points provide specialized assistance, legal counselling, social and economic counselling, and psychological assistance to all victims of crime[745].

The Committee also remains concerned that, despite the measures adopted to combat extremism, activities by extremist organizations to incite racial discrimination continue to take place. Meanwhile, participation in organizations or activities that incite and promote racial discrimination is not recognized as an offence in the criminal legislation[746].

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted with concern that a general atmosphere of hostility towards persons considered to be alien as opposed to the majority of the population – minorities, Roma, Muslims and migrants – persisted in the country and that there were numerous instances of hate speech caused by this hostility. According to the Committee's experts, such an atmosphere contributed to the erosion of tolerance in society and led to violations of the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups. The CESCR also voiced criticism against Slovakia for its failure to provide effective judicial protection to victims of racial discrimination, especially Roma, migrants and asylum-seekers[747].

In its sixth report on the situation in the field of combatting intolerance and racial discrimination in Slovakia, published in December 2020, ECRI noted an escalation in hate speech against other groups, particularly Jews, Muslims, migrants, Roma and black persons. Traditional and electronic media outlets disseminate and amplify this hate speech by overrepresenting negative themes and showing inappropriate images. Very little hate content is removed from the Internet[748].

In June 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that incidents of different forms of hate speech against vulnerable groups, such as the Roma, Muslims, including children, are increasing[749].

That year a member of an extreme right political party "Kotleba-People's Party Our Slovakia" M. Mazurek made racist remarks about Romani people on a radio program. In particular, he spoke about the alleged "inadaptability" of ethnic Roma in association with the committing of vandalism and violence, insulted them, and also alleged that Islamic migrants are associated with danger. A first-instance court found him guilty and fined him EUR 5,000.

On appeal in September 2019, the Supreme Court of Slovakia increased the fine to EUR 10,000. The politician also lost his seat in Slovakia’s Parliament[750].

It’s not the first incident of hate speech by the Kotleba members. Their repeated interventions aimed at inciting inter-ethnic discord resulted in a motion from the Prosecutor General to dissolve the party[751].

Slovakia has been repeatedly criticized for violating the rights of journalists. The most notable case was the murder of Jan Kuciak, a Slovak journalist, editor of the popular internet news portal "www.aktuality.sk", and his girlfriend on 25 February 2018. The Slovak police managed to ensure effective investigation into the case. The perpetrators were sentenced to 15 and 23 years of imprisonment, and legal proceedings against the intermediary and instigator are still underway.

The increasing level of threats against Slovak journalists in a weakened rule of law environment was underlined by the European Parliament on 28 March 2019. At the end of 2019, the international non-governmental organization Reporteurs Sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) ranked Slovakia 33rd in the World Press Freedom ranking (35th in April 2019), whereas in 2016 the country was ranked 22nd.

In general, it can be stated that Bratislava is taking consistent steps to remedy existing problems. However, no significant progress has been made in resolving them.

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Slovenia

The situation with the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Slovenia is, on the whole, in line with the universal human rights standards. The Government is making efforts to fulfill its international obligations in this area.

Systematic action is being taken to address existing issues, including in view of the recommendations of relevant international monitoring mechanisms.

To a certain extent, the relevant specifics of the human rights dossier were influenced by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as by the rise to power in Ljubljana in March 2020 of the new Government (right-wing to replace center-left).

Just like in a number of other States, COVID-19 containment measures caused waves of public protests in Slovenia. During protests, cases of excessive use of force by the police against the participants were recorded. Thus, the most prominent case of police violence occurred during an anti-government protest on October 9, 2020. Several civil society organizations sent a letter to the head of the police asking to take the necessary measures. They also submitted a complaint to the Ombuds body, which announced that it would investigate.

In addition, Slovenian NGOs sought to raise awareness about the vulnerability of homeless people amid new restrictions on movement and night-time curfews. They called on authorities not to penalize homeless people for staying out beyond the curfew[752].

Due to the pandemic, there were also cases of violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Thus, it is known that Slovenian officials refused to respond to journalists regarding the measures taken to limit the spread of the virus. In addition, after a media investigation exposed extensive political interference in the procurement of personal protective equipment, the government reacted by proposing changes to media legislation[753].

The Slovenian media reported cases of age-based discrimination in the implementation of measures to combat the pandemic. In particular, persons aged over 65 were not allowed to make purchases after a certain hour. Moreover, some older persons that contracted COVID-19 in nursing homes had no access to hospital treatment[754].

Human rights defenders complain about the state of the penitentiary system. Slovenia is criticized for overcrowded prisons, poor sanitary conditions and understaffing. Organization and provision of work for all the prisoners who can work and want to do it remains a weak point.

In March 2016, the Human Rights Committee (HRCtte) recommended Slovenia to bring the conditions of detention in line with the provisions of this multilateral agreement and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The Government of Slovenia was invited to consider building new prisons and strengthening practices of alternative penalties to custodian sentences, such as electronic monitoring, community services, etc.

The public community and human rights institutions criticize the legal procedure in Slovenia, in particular, delays in courts, as well as limited access to free legal assistance in criminal matters.

As a positive achievement should be considered the adoption in 2017 of the Collective Actions Act, regulating the institution of class action, including its filing procedure and arrangements for compensation. According to Slovenian human rights defenders, it should facilitate access to justice for many and allow the victims to receive fair compensation in cases of mass damage, and will also provide respective procedural safeguards to prevent unfair treatment. In particular, it is important for all those persons unable to access free legal aid and do not have the means for a lawyer.

That year the Slovenian government approved amendments to the Human Rights Ombudsman Act in Slovenia broadening the mandate of the Ombudsman and establishing the legislative basis for obtaining A status under the Paris Principles. Human Rights Ombudsman Council was established in 2018. It is a consultative body functioning on the basis of the principle of professional autonomy and consisting of a president and sixteen members (seven representatives of civil society, three representatives of science, two representatives of the Government, as well as the Commissioner for Information, representatives of the Parliament).

The year of 2019 was marked by the establishment of a special internal division, Center for Human Rights, which has the mandate to promote human rights, education, organize consultations on the subject, prepare analytical papers on selected issues, as well as cooperate more closely with the civil society. In addition, an institute of children’s advocates, Child Advocacy, was organized within the Office of the Ombudsman to protect the rights of children.

The reaccreditation of the Slovenian Ombudsman was planned for March 2020, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the session of the Subcommittee on accreditation that was to address the issue was postponed.

Both international (the Council of Europe, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, etc.) and national human rights agencies were criticized for amendments to the Aliens Act adopted in January 2017, which allow to restrict the admission of migrants and close national borders in case of migrant inflows critical to the security of Slovenia. The human rights defenders see the main gap of the document in the lack of individual approach to asylum seekers.

In April of that year, the Human Rights Ombudsman in Slovenia submitted a request to the Slovenian Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Act. In June 2017, representatives of the Court informed that the request would be given priority consideration. However, there were no proceedings on the case.

Still pressing are the shortcomings indicated by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2015 in the field of protection of the rights of migrants, such as: the shelters are overcrowded and do not provide adequate medical care, sanitary conditions, psychological support and legal counselling[755].

FRA’s 2020 Report, with reference to the Slovenian Ombudsman, states the existence of the practice of forced return of people, caught entering Slovenia irregularly without having applied or unable to apply for asylum, being returned to Croatia without any procedural sa