The number of stateless individuals remained high; ethnic minorities continued to face discrimination. Legislative developments to improve LGBTI rights slowed. A government minister attempted to limit funding to NGOs working on equality and gender issues.
In March, the government invoked Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights, enabling partial restriction of several freedoms, including freedom of assembly, for the two-month emergency period in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In May, amendments to the Aliens Act gave police and border guards the right to annul the visa or visa-free period of all non-Estonian nationals if they had lost employment, including as a result of COVID-19.
Five of the 15 ministerial posts in government continued to be held by the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) who spoke out against immigration and LGBTI rights.
In January, Parliament amended the Citizenship Act, easing children’s access to citizenship in cases where at least one of their parents was effectively stateless and the other a citizen of another country. Consequently, 1,500 minors were granted citizenship. However, some 71,000 people, approximately 5.3% of the population, remained stateless. The European Commission noted that Estonia’s citizenship policy “continued to be conservative”.
Non-Estonian speaking minorities, albeit with residency rights, continued to face discrimination in a range of areas, including employment, housing, education and health care. Studies found they experienced greater financial hardship as a consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown than the Estonian-speaking majority.
Human rights defenders
In July, the Minister of Trade, a post held by the EKRE, attempted to halt grants to three human rights organizations working on gender and equality issues: the Estonian Women’s Associations Roundtable, the Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre, and the Estonian Human Rights Centre.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people
Parliament failed to pass legislation to implement the 2016 Registered Partnership Act. A regulation to legitimize gender recognition of transgender people was removed from the new Public Health Act draft. LGBTI organizations continued to face explicit threats from far-right groups.