About 400,000 people remained stateless, leaving them exposed to various forms of discrimination. Migrants and Roma were victims of discrimination and racially motivated attacks. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people faced discrimination. The authorities called for a review of the law on the abolition of the death penalty.
Discrimination – stateless persons
The Latvian authorities were criticized by the UN and the Council of Europe about the treatment of non-citizens, including stateless persons, the majority of whom were born in Latvia or had lived there for almost their entire lives.
Stateless people continued to suffer from limited or no access to a broad range of rights, including the right to participate in political processes, and the right to employment in the civil service and private sector. Restrictions on property ownership also negatively impacted on their ability to access other rights.
"...Roma citizens and visible minority migrants faced mounting racist violence..."
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), in its third report published in February, noted that “the number of differences between Latvian citizens and non-citizens remains significant as far as some political, civil, social and other rights are concerned.”
In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, reporting on a visit in September 2007, expressed concern about the large number of non-citizens living in Latvia. He urged the government to revisit the existing requirements for naturalization, especially for children of non-citizens who were born in Latvia and elderly people who could enjoy easier access to citizenship.
Racism and discrimination – migrants and Roma
Racially motivated attacks continued and the authorities failed to respond adequately. Roma citizens and visible minority migrants faced mounting racist violence, leaving them under constant fear of attacks.
ECRI and the UN Special Rapporteur on racism expressed concern at the lack of comprehensive national legislation dealing with all forms of discrimination. Law enforcement officials tended to prosecute racist aggression as acts of hooliganism or vandalism, disregarding the racial connotations of the crime.
Both ECRI and the Special Rapporteur noted the use of racist discourse by some politicians and the media, and urged the government to adopt legislation that unambiguously criminalizes all types of hate crimes.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
On 31 May, a Pride march was held in Riga to celebrate the rights of LGBT people. The march was protected by law enforcement officials and no major attacks were mounted against participants. However, a large number of counter-demonstrators engaged in verbal abuse. Prior to the event, derogatory statements were reportedly made against LGBT people by an official in the Mayor of Riga’s office.
Torture and other ill-treatment
In March, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, reporting on a visit in December 2007, strongly criticized the authorities for failing to investigate fully allegations of ill-treatment of detainees by law enforcement officials and prison staff, and improve detention conditions in police stations and prisons. Conditions had been found on some occasions to be inhuman and degrading.
The Committee reported allegations of deliberate physical ill-treatment of detainees by prison staff at Daugavpils Prison and Riga Central Prison. The Committee also received reports of psychological ill-treatment, such as prison staff verbally abusing detainees and threatening to put inmates in cells with other inmates prone to violence.
The Committee expressed particular concern at the allegations of frequent and severe inter-prisoner violence in various prisons. These included severe beating, sexual assault (including rape) and threats. The Committee highlighted the case of a juvenile prisoner in the Šķirotava Prison in Riga who had been repeatedly raped by fellow inmates. The Committee expressed concern that the staff had apparently been aware of the situation, but had failed to take effective steps to protect the minor.
In September several politicians, including the head of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, the Justice Minister and the Interior Minister, called for a review of domestic law on the abolition of the death penalty with a view to reintroducing it. The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed his concern about such statements.