Linguistic minorities continued to face discrimination in a number of areas, particularly in the fields of employment and education. Migrants were exposed to harassment by state officials and attacks by extremist groups. Criminal investigations into allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials were dismissed. A human rights organization continued to be harassed by the government.
Discrimination – ethnic minorities
In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, reporting on a visit in September 2007, expressed his concern at the conditions of the Russian-speaking minority. The Rapporteur noted a high level of discrimination particularly in the field of employment, where Russian speakers suffer unemployment rates almost twice as high as among ethnic Estonians. The Rapporteur urged the government to take measures to facilitate the naturalization process of stateless people.
The government started to implement the “New Strategy for Integration of Society (2008-2013)”, which aims at improving knowledge of the Estonian language among those who do not speak it as a first language, providing free language courses for citizenship applicants and for a number of different groups of workers.
"...migrants were subject to discrimination and exposed to racially motivated attacks..."
Workers from minority groups faced regular monitoring of their Estonian language proficiency by the Language Inspectorate, a state agency charged with overseeing the implementation of the Language Act. According to the data made public in 2008, and referring to 2007, around 97 per cent of the teachers in Russian schools and kindergartens checked by the Inspectorate failed the controls. Local media and organizations raised concerns about the discriminatory character of the linguistic requirements.
In June, the government introduced new language requirements for some professions in the private sector.
Racism and discrimination – migrants
In his March report the UN Special Rapporteur on racism noted that migrants were subject to discrimination and exposed to racially motivated attacks, particularly by members of extremist organizations, including neo-Nazi groups. The Rapporteur raised concerns about cases of harassment of migrants by law enforcement officials, particularly by border guards.
In December, the Equal Treatment Act was introduced which included provisions against discrimination in several fields, among them employment and education. In 2007 the EU had formally requested that Estonia reflect the EU Racial Equality Directive in its national legislation.
Excessive use of force
By mid 2008, criminal investigations into allegations of ill-treatment of protesters and other people by law enforcement officials at a demonstration in the capital, Tallinn, in April 2007 were dismissed for lack of evidence by the police and the prosecutor’s office. However, in at least one case the investigation ascertained that people had been ill-treated, but no action was taken as the perpetrators were not identified.
In February, seven people filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that they were unlawfully arrested and detained and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and that the Estonian authorities refused to initiate an investigation into their unlawful arrest and detention.
Human rights defenders
In June, the Estonian Security Police Board published its annual report which made serious allegations against the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights (LICHR), an NGO promoting and defending the rights of those belonging to linguistic minorities. The report stated that the LICHR was used by the Russian Federation to carry out scientific research for propaganda purposes, and accused the LICHR of trying to conceal the specific sources of funding it received from the Russian Federation. These allegations were widely seen as an attempt by the government to misrepresent the LICHR and to undermine its attempts to secure the necessary financial and social support to carry out its work.