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Human Rights in Lithuania 2005: Overview

2006 / 05 / 16 Tags: , , , , , ,

On May 16th, 2006 HRMI released the third annual human rights overview. This overview presents the state of political and civil rights and freedoms in Lithuania in 2005. It addresses the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, civil liberties, discrimination, racism and other forms of intolerance, as well as human rights in police activities. The publication offers a separate overview of the situation of vulnerable groups, such as women, children, crime victims, convicts, and the mentally disabled.

The capacity to protect the right to privacy is facilitated through adequate awareness and the manifestation of the meaning of respect for privacy in the public domain. The general public, politicians, the media, law enforcement officers and courts still do not view protection of private life as an imperative and worthy component in the quest for democracy. In this environment, the use of video surveillance, which is largely unregulated, expanded rapidly in 2005.

Inappropriate practices within law enforcement agencies led to widespread abuse of personal data protection, where private information entered the public domain without legal sanction. Wide-spread public use of personal identification numbers created an increased risk. Personal identity theft became an increasingly worrisome issue. Events of 2005 illustrate the need for the establishment of an independent national institution, which would safeguard data protection within its mandate.

Regarding the right to a fair trial, the tendency of political interference in the work of law enforcement agencies and courts became apparent in 2005. Frequent parliamentary investigations led to violations in the presumption of innocence and undermined the efforts by law enforcement agencies to investigate suspected crimes. At the same time, parliament is increasingly hesitant to strip suspected MPs of parliamentary immunity.  Problems related to the lack of independence and professionalism among pre-trial investigators have persisted.

The right to freedom of expression was not sufficiently ensured in 2005. There were attempts by politicians to suppress the criticism from their political opponents by filing cases for punitive measures against them. The fact that the highest state officials regarded such public criticism as detrimental to national interests and appealed to law enforcement agencies for defense was a matter of particular concern.

In 2005, Lithuania made significant progress in improving the legal basis to deal with cases of discrimination and intolerance, which was particularly strengthened by the new Law on Equal Opportunities. However, Lithuania remains one of the most intolerant countries in Europe, with intolerance against ethnic and religious minorities rapidly increasing.

In 2005, children and women remained among the most vulnerable social groups. A matter of particular concern is the scale of violence against members of these groups. The fact that Lithuania has remained a country of source, transit and destination for human trafficking, with women and girls as the most frequent victims, is very troubling.

In 2005, the number of cases of inhumane and degrading behavior by police officers did not decrease. Proper detention conditions for convicted persons, their right to health care and social integration after their release were not guaranteed. The absence of an independent authority that could conduct regular visits to places of detention without prior notice also contributed to the failure to ensure the rights of convicted persons.

Similar to 2004, the rights of crime victims for assistance and support, especially in ensuring legal support and recovery of damages in cases of violent crimes, remained an unimplemented declaration. The right of victims of crime to be informed of the release of a suspect or convicted person from a detention facility has not been implemented either.

In 2005, there were serious violations of human rights in psychiatric institutions. The system of mental healthcare in Lithuania continued to rely on large closed mental healthcare institutions. This approach is in direct conflict with a modern health and social policy which is based on the principle of autonomy of an individual, bestowal of power, and the right to live in the least restrictive environment possible. Due to faulty legal regulation the protection of legally incapacitated individuals continues to be a particularly problematic area.

See the full text of the Overview