A national human rights institution was established. Levels of statelessness remained high.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
The UN Human Rights Committee welcomed the expansion of the mandate of the Chancellor of Justice to enable it to act as the national human rights institution. However, it expressed concern that the resources allocated may not be adequate for effective funding.
Refugees and asylum seekers
Estonia received 100 asylum applications, the lowest within the European Union.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, recognized Estonia’s commitment to provide effective access to legal aid for asylum-seekers, but identified a number of necessary legislative changes to the Asylum Act. These included recognizing vulnerable applicants’ need for special safeguards and advice, providing timely information on rights and obligations, improving communication with state legal aid providers, allowing for legal representation at all stages of the procedure (notably at first instance), enhancing the capacity of lawyers, and ensuring full translations of asylum decisions.
A draft amendment to the Asylum Act was withdrawn. The draft would have extended the exceptions under which refoulement – the forcible return of people to countries where they are at real risk of persecution – could have been allowed when refugees had been sentenced for certain crimes. Refoulement is always forbidden under international law and standards.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) raised concern about the poor living conditions in reception centres, as well as the acute shortage of housing available for refugees, which has led some of them to stay in reception centres even after they were granted refugee status.
Discrimination – ethnic minorities
Some 76,000 people, around 5.5% of the population, remained stateless, mainly due to their lack of proficiency in Estonian. Non-Estonian speaking minorities, albeit with permanent residency rights, continued to face discrimination in relation to a range of rights including employment, housing, education and health care. The government’s integration development plan ”Integrating Estonia 2020” did not address specific target groups, making it difficult to reach certain minorities such as the Roma.
Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People (LGBTI)
Although the Registered Partnership Act entered into force in 2016, by the end of the year, parliament had yet to pass implementing legislation. The lack of specific provisions led to unequal treatment of same-sex partnerships. In June, however,
the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions in the Aliens Act precluding same-sex registered partners of Estonian citizens from residence permits are unconstitutional and invalid.
Despite the lack of implementing legislation, in September an administrative court decision underscored that same-sex partners who have legally registered their partnership have equal rights to health insurance for stay-at-home parents.
The Estonian LGBTI Association Eesti LGBT Ühing reported attacks aimed at stopping the association from proposing projects for public funding, silencing and marginalizing the LGBTI community, which created a climate of fear among activists and the community.