RIGA, Latvia, November 13, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --
Ban Ki-Moon orders Latvian Government to act on stateless 300,000
On the eve of a visit to the Latvian capital city of Riga, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called upon the Latvian Government to reform its citizenship laws to end the problem of mass statelessness in the country.
At present, 300,000 stateless Russians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles and Jews living in the country are unable to vote due to the country's citizenship laws. So-called "non-citizens" cannot form political parties, run for political office or vote in national, local and European elections, and their rights to free movement, employment and ownership of land are limited. More than 33 categories of employment are barred to non-citizens - including most public offices, the military and the police force.
The Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress - a public non-governmental organization - campaigns for reforming citizenship laws to widen access to the democratic process and raise awareness on the situation at a pan-European level.
Commenting on the issue of mass statelessness following an approach from the Non-Citizens' Congress, Ban Ki-Moon through his spokesman issued a statement: "The Secretary-General encourages the Government [of Latvia] to engage with civil society to follow up on the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review, as well as those of special procedures and treaty bodies, in a holistic manner, and in this context, step up its efforts to address the issue of non-citizenship in the country."
Elizabete Krivcova, the spokesman of the Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress said:
"We greatly welcome the UN Secretary General's timely intervention into this debate.
"14% of the Latvian population, or 300,000 people, are presently "non-citizens". These people are denied the right to vote, hold certain jobs or work freely across the EU.
"The Latvian political system is profoundly undemocratic. It is simply wrong that in the year 2013 a European Union member state continues to have an institutional set up that facilitates and promotes power by one ethnic group at the exclusion of all others.
"Despite numerous protests and the advice of many international organisations, very little progress has been made on this issue in more than 20 years. At the current rate of naturalisation it would take 100 years to remove the status of non-citizens.
"We call on the Latvian Government to heed Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's words and bring about urgent reforms to our country's outdated and discriminatory citizenship laws."
About the Latvian Non-Citizens Congress
During the lifetime of the USSR, the Soviet authorities dispatched a large number of Russians and other non-Latvians to Latvia (at the request of the country's Communist Party) to fill job vacancies, especially for post-war reconstruction. Many of the descendants of these workers remain in Latvia today.
In the years immediately preceding the collapse of the USSR, the Russophone minority in Latvia constituted a much larger percentage of the population than any comparable migrant group in any European country. When Latvia re-gained its independence in 1991, only 52% of its population was ethnic Latvian. 37.2% of the population were ethnic Russians, with substantial Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian, Jewish and Roma communities also found in the country.
With Latvia's Declaration of independence in May of 1991, the 1919 citizenship law was officially reinstated - leaving the non-ethnic Latvian half of the population effectively stateless. Later that year, the Latvian Parliament passed the Resolution "On the Renewal of the Rights of Citizens of the Republic of Latvia and Fundamental Principles of Naturalization" which divided the residents of Latvia into two major categories: Latvian citizens (approximately two thirds), and Latvian non-citizens (approximately one third).
Latvian citizenship was only provided to pre-war citizens (pre-1940) and their descendants - a situation that still leaves 300,000 people unable to vote today.
In order to draw attention to the plight of "non-citizens", a group of activists from a broad spectrum of Latvia's ethnic minorities have held alternative elections for a Non-Citizens' Parliament.
While recognising that the body has no formal power to decide Latvian government policy, the aim of the Shadow Parliament is to provide a representative body that will become an effective channel for civil participation of "non-citizens" and ethnic Latvians concerned with ensuring a vibrant and unified political debate in the country.
SOURCE The Latvian Non-Citizens’ Congress