25 March 2004
Human Rights Committee Takes Up Lithuanias Second Report on Compliance with Covenant on Civil, Political Rights
NEW YORK, 24 March (UN Headquarters) -- The Human Rights Committee this afternoon began its consideration of Lithuanias second periodic report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, hearing about the recent steps taken by the Government to help the countrys Roma people overcome grave disadvantages, as well as its efforts to ensure equal opportunities between mean and women and to prevent violence against women and children.
Sarunas Adomavicius, Under-Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, introduced Lithuanias report and said that during the past two years the Parliament had ratified a number of human rights treaties, with the Government opting for an open and proactive approach to all human rights issues. During last years major legal reforms, Lithuania had witnessed the adoption and entry into force of six codes -- including new Civil and Criminal Procedure codes. That had been an extremely important step in bolstering the countrys legal and penitentiary systems and in bringing legislation into line with the highest human rights standards.
Most of the Committees experts seemed troubled by the conditions of the Roma -- a people facing serious challenges throughout Europe as they struggled to preserve their unique heritage and tried to play a larger role in the national life of their home countries. On Lithuanias efforts to counter discrimination against the Roma, Mr. Adomavicius said that, although the population was very small -- just over 2,000 -- two years ago, the Government had adopted a national Programme for the Integration of the Roma (2000-2004). That initiative covered welfare, health care and preservation of their culture.
Another major focus was ensuring adequate education for Roma children. To that end, two pre-school classes had been organized for 60 Roma children last year and, among other things, the first textbook in the Roma language had been published. Stanislav Vidtmann, Deputy Director-General of the National Minorities and Emigration Department, added that Roma children were not segregated from others and that following pre-school, they entered the public school system. Special activities had also been targeted for Roma teenagers. He also noted that several television shows created to counter cultural stereotypes and foster tolerance had aired throughout the country.
On domestic violence and violence against women, Mr. Adomavicius highlighted Lithuanias National Equal Rights Programme, which had been approved last year. It envisages improvement of the legal framework, particularly the development of the legal grounds under which an offender could be isolated from a victimized family, development of a network of crisis centres, support to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field, and disseminating information on domestic violence to local communities.
He said that two years ago, an Immediate Action Plan for the Prevention of Violence Against Children had also been approved and, subsequently, regulations governing State institutions and law enforcement authorities had been revised to bolster protection of childrens rights. Despite the attention given to those issues, he said statistics from a 2001 survey had shown that some 82 per cent of female respondents over 16 years of age had been subjected to some form of violence in their homes. Other data had shown that 1,134 cases of violence against children had been registered in 2002, 8 per cent of which concerned sexual abuse. These are very high numbers, he acknowledged.
The Committee will reconvene tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. to continue its consideration of Lithuanias second periodic report on compliance with the Covenant.
The Human Rights Committee met this afternoon to begin its consideration of Lithuanias second periodic report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
That report (document CCPR/C/LTU/2003/2), which covers the human rights situation in the country between 1997 and 2002, includes information on the essential amendments to Lithuanias legislation and the subsequent changes that have taken place. Spurred by the desire to get rid of the countrys Soviet-modeled regulatory framework, the Government has backed an intensive slate of legal measures to help reinforce rights-based principles in Lithuanias laws.
According to the report, between 1998 and 2002, a Civil Code, Criminal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Labour Code and Code on the Enforcement of Sentences, were among the new measures adopted. The period also witnessed the emergence of a system of administrative courts and the abolition of the death penalty. The Constitutional Court, active since 1998, has been an important guarantor of those new laws and continues to ensure that presidential decrees and other legal acts or decisions are consistent with the Constitution, as well as international human rights norms. For the past five years, Lithuania has also begun harmonizing its legislation with guidelines set by the European Union, the report adds.
On Lithuanias implementation of specific objectives of the Covenant, the report states that the countrys Constitution guarantees equal rights between men and women (Article 3) in all areas of life. In 2000, the Government established the Commission for Equal Opportunities, which includes representatives of all ministries and two State departments - six men and 12 women, in all. The report also notes that in 1999, the Seimas, or Lithuanian Parliament, had approved the establishment of the Ombudsmans Office for Equal Opportunities, to investigate complaints about discrimination and sexual harassment, among others.
On Lithuanias efforts to address its problem with trafficking in human beings -- particularly women and illegal immigrants (Article 8) -- the report says that the Government has upgraded its law enforcement measures in those areas, and, with the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has focused on destroying criminal enterprises engaged in trafficking, prostitution and the abuse and commercial exploitation of children. A major programme on the Control and Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings and Prostitution (2002-2004) was also under way.
Introduction of Report
SARUNAS ADOMAVICIUS, Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said the Government had opted for an open and proactive approach in addressing all human rights issues. Since September 2002, the Human Rights Committee had examined two individual communications against Lithuania and decided that the country had violated articles of the Covenant. Lithuania had upheld the Committees decisions, taking appropriate measures at the domestic level in order to give full effect to the Committees views.
Last year, he said, Lithuania had witnessed a major development in the reform of its legal system. The adoption and entry into force of six new codes had been an extremely important step in fostering the countrys legal and penitentiary systems and bringing legislation in line with the highest human rights standards. The new codes had introduced a modern concept of victim protection and a humanized system of punishments.
He said the new Criminal Code provided a more liberal and flexible punishment policy with shorter custodial periods and the possibility to more widely apply suspended and non-custodial sentences. A new Code of Criminal Procedure was expected to accelerate procedure and achieve more efficient criminal justice. The Code of Enforcement of Punishments improved conditions for serving penitentiary sentences, reinforced the protection of inmates human rights and freedoms and increased the legal possibilities to apply conditional release to a wider range of prisoners.
The new Civil Code and the Code of Civil Procedure accomplished the reform of civil law in Lithuania, he said. Both aimed to strengthen the protection of human rights and freedoms and ensure the effectiveness of legal remedies for breaches of those rights and freedoms. The new Labour Code created more flexible conditions for social dialogue and corresponded to the new economic realities in Lithuania. The Code explicitly forbade discrimination in the labour market on any grounds.
He said that amendments to the constitution and to the Law on Municipal Elections provided non-citizen permanent residents with the right to vote and to seek election to municipal councils. The Law on State-guaranteed Legal Aid set up a comprehensive regulatory framework and organizational infrastructure to guarantee free legal aid for socially disadvantaged people in the criminal, civil and administrative cases.
Also adopted, he said, were the following programmes, which were being implemented through the joint efforts of government institutions and NGOs: the National Programme for Control and Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings and Prostitution 2002-2004; the National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2002-2004; the Programme for the Roma Integration into Lithuanian Society 2002-2004; and the Immediate Measures of Prevention of Drug Addiction and the Spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in Custody and Correctional Institutions.
Lithuanias Response to Written Questions
Mr. ADOMAVICIUS then gave an executive summary of replies to the list of questions submitted by the Committee. He said that the relationship between national legislation and international law in Lithuania was based on the monistic principle, which meant that international treaties such as the Covenant, which had been ratified by Parliament, were directly applicable within the Lithuanian legal system. According to existing laws, damage caused by the unlawful action of institutions of public authority were compensated by the State.
He went on to say that the Parliamentarian Ombudsmans Office had been established in 1994. That branch investigated individual complaints concerning abuse of office by State and government officials or institutions, as well as local government institutions and military institutions. The Ombudsman received about 2,000 complaints a year and, in 2003, the Office took up 28 matters for investigation by its own initiative. Also, members of Parliament referred 219 complaints to the Office. Throughout 2003, the majority of complaints dealt with the restoration of property rights and other land management issues. Some 26 per cent of the complaints concerned the actions of correctional officers, and 13 per cent concerned the actions of police.
The Parliamentarian Committee on Human Rights considered draft laws dealing with relevant issues, he continued. It was also the main institution in supervising the Governments implementation of the National Plan on Human Rights. Moving on to other issues, he said Lithuanias counter-terrorism strategy had been adopted in 2002 and had been carefully considered to ensure that it conformed to international human rights norms. The measures aimed to shore up the national anti-terrorist legal framework, identify and protect possible terrorist targets, reinforce anti-terrorist related intelligence and identify terrorist funds or assets.
He next drew attention to a number of other advances, including the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in 1999. That Office was an independent public institution answerable to the Parliament, and during the past year it had received 72 complaints and opened, at its own initiative, investigations into 34 cases alleging direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of sex or age. Regarding the countrys efforts to counter discrimination of the Roma people, he said that two years ago the Government had adopted a national Programme for the Integration of the Roma (2000-2004).
That initiative dealt with four major issues, including education, welfare, health care and preservation of the Roma culture. He said that another major focus had been to ensure adequate education for Roma children and help them integrate into Lithuanian society. To that end, two preschool classes had been organized for Roma children last year and, among other things, the first textbook in the Roma language had been published. Special activities had also been launched for teenagers.
Turning to domestic violence and violence against women, he highlighted Lithuanias National Equal Rights Programme, approved last year, which focuses on those issues. The programme envisaged improvement of the legal framework, particularly the development of the legal grounds under which an offender could be isolated form the victimized family, development of a network of crisis centres, support to NGOs working in the field, and disseminating information on domestic violence to local communities. He added that the Crisis and Information Centre for Men, which worked with offenders, had recently been established.
Further, in 2002 the Government had approved the Immediate Action Plan for the Prevention of Violence Against Children, he said. Subsequent to that plans adoption, regulations governing State institutions and law enforcement authorities had been revised to bolster their support for and protection of the rights of children. He stressed that, even in light of all the work being done in the field, statistics following a 2001 survey had shown that some 82 per cent of female respondents over 16 years of age had been subjected to some form of violence in their homes. Other data had shown that 1,134 cases of violence against children had been registered in 2002, 8 per cent of which concerned sexual abuse. These are very high numbers, he acknowledged.
Mr. ADOMAVICIUS wrapped up his summary with an overview of Lithuanias efforts to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in prisons, by both inmates and law enforcement officers. He said the countrys new code for the enforcement of punishments helped ensure safer conditions for prisoners and encouraged good behaviour among convicts.
MAXWELL YALDEN, expert from Canada, asked whether the position of Ombudsman gave the power to bring actions before the courts, and, if not, why not? More details were needed about the activities of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman with respect to the private sector. How often had it been possible to make changes to private sector practice? How would the Ombudsmans activities work against discrimination? How would all the new laws mesh together to discourage discriminatory behaviour with respect to labour practices?
Noting that the integration of the Roma was a very grave question across Europe, he said it was clear that they were at the bottom of the pole in all areas of civic life. They were also the victims of discrimination every day.
ROMAN WIERUSZEWSKI, Committee Vice-Chairman and expert from Poland, asked whether the legal system had special procedures to incorporate the decisions of international bodies. What happened if the proposals of the ombudsmen were not recommended? Was there any recourse to the courts? What kind of investigations were involved and to what extent was there equality in protecting the rights of all people?
MARTIN SCHEININ, expert from Finland, asked why the information on terrorism had been presented to the Human Rights Committee instead of to the Security Councils Counter-Terrorism Committee.
He asked what was being done to facilitate the establishment of an independent investigation mechanism. Was the Government developing community service as an alternative to imprisonment in order to reduce the number of detainees? What was being done about the apparent lack of sex education in schools and elsewhere, with its alarming consequences for the young? Those issues were important to the lives of young men and women.
The expert from Japan, NISUKE ANDO, also wondered about the status of cases remaining open in the Ombudsmans Office and asked for further information in that regard. He also wanted to have more information on the Lithuanian Constitutional Court. Who was supporting that bodys decisions and the actions of its judges?
PRAFULLACHANDRA NATWARLAL BHAGWATI, expert from India, also wondered about compensation being paid for unlawful acts by judges, particularly in the High Court. On other matters, he asked if there was any systematic attempt underway to find out whether existing laws or those inherited from the previous regime were compatible with international norms?
MAURICE GLELE AHANHANZO, expert from Benin, also expressed concerns about the disquieting situation of the Roma people, in wider Europe as well as Lithuania. He wondered about the levels of Roma participation in the various levels of Lithuanian society. He particularly wanted more information about the Governments plan to ensure the education of Roma Children. Were the Roma children taught in the same classrooms as other children or were they kept separate? He also asked for more information on Lithuanias effort to return properties belonging to Jewish families.
RAFAEL RIVAS POSADA, expert from Colombia, asked for more information on the Governments efforts to compensate victims alleging violations of their rights, particularly such violations allegedly committed by State officials. Was there direct settlement between the parties and the State? Did it involve arbitration of reconciliation? What procedure set the amount of compensation?
FRANCO DEPASQUALE, expert from Malta, wondered if the decisions handed down by Lithuanias various ombudsmen were just recommendations or had the force of law. If those decisions had legal implications, how were they reconciled with the decisions handed down by national courts? How were they enforced?
STANISLAV VIDTMANN, Deputy Director of National Minorities and Emigration, addressed the question of unemployment among the Roma, saying that the community was very small in Lithuania, with about 2,000 members. The first stage of their integration covered only about 450 people living in Vilnius, the capital. The Department of Statistics had not collected data about unemployment among Lithuanias various ethnic groups, but it was higher among the Roma than among other peoples. The second stage of the integration programme was under preparation.
He said there were no segregated schools for Roma children. All children attended public schools, but two preschool centres were located in the Vilnius Roma centre, where they learned the Lithuanian language before joining the public schools.
Regarding discrimination, he said that in 2002 and 2003 Lithuanian public radio and television had run programmes to discourage stereotypes about the Roma community. Next year, national television would establish Roma programming, but at the moment there were no Roma journalists.
On the proportion of Roma people in public life, he said a large part of the community was not well educated and their participation in public life was very limited. However, NGOs would be more active in the future, and community leaders would participate more actively in public life.
JANAS VIDICKAS, Deputy Director of Migration, said it was expected that a draft law on citizenship would be adopted this year. A law adopted in September 2002 regulated the acquisition of citizenship by children. Children could become Lithuanian citizens by birth, naturalization, or other grounds as provided for under international treaties. In addition, a child with one native-Lithuanian parent and one who was stateless or of unknown nationality would be granted citizenship. A child found in the national territory whose parents were unknown would also be granted citizenship.
VYGANTE MILASIUTE, Ministry of Justice, said that in 2000 the constitutional court had examined the compatibility of capital punishment with the constitution and determined that it was incompatible. In cases where extradition was requested to countries where capital punishment existed, extradition was refused.
She said that since the restoration of Lithuanias independence, legislators had aimed to create laws that were modern and compatible with international human rights standards. The Covenant was in no way inferior to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and its provisions were examined with a view to their reflection in Lithuanian statutes.
About who decided whether the highest court had issued a mistaken decision, she said international procedures could be employed. Decisions by such bodies as the European Court of Human Rights or the United Nations Human Rights Committee were always taken into consideration and the complainant was always awarded compensation if the international body so decided.
On non-judicial procedures for paying damages resulting from the unlawful acts of State institutions, she said the person claiming damages could decide to make the claim to the Ministry of Justice. Following consultations, they could reach agreement without going before a court.
Regarding existing legislation on victims of discrimination on grounds of gender, she said the Civil Code provided that a person sustaining damages could claim pecuniary damages or non-pecuniary damages if that right was specified under any other law.
AUDRA PLEPYTE-JARA, Head of the Human Rights and NGOs Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the seven-member Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights investigated all laws and draft legislation concerning fundamental rights to determine whether they were compatible with international norms. The Committee also oversaw the work of the offices of the various ombudsmen and would take up individual complaints if an ombudsman requested further assistance.
* *** *