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Human Rights in Lithuania 2016-2017

Human Rights Monitoring Institute presents overview “Human Rights in Lithuania 2016-2017.” It is our 9th overview which is the only periodic assessment of the human rights situation in Lithuania conducted by 17 independent experts from various fields.

 


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Update to the Council of Europe on the execution of L v. Lithuania judgment

Today, the National LGBT* Rights Organization LGL and the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) informed the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe about the process of executing the judgement in the case L. v. Lithuania.

The civil society organizations’ have commended the Government’s efforts in introducing comprehensive procedures for legal gender recognition and medical gender reassignment with the view of addressing the continuing systematic violations of transgender human rights in Lithuania. Nevertheless, LGL and HRMI are of the position that close supervision by the Council of Europe’s institutions shall prevail until the legislative and policy measures are fully in place.

Progress on the national level

In their briefing, the civil society organizations acknowledge that in the period of March-June, 2017 the Lithuanian authorities, namely – the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson, have been taking concrete steps with the view of eliminating the continuing systematic violation of the right to respect of private life under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECtHR) for transgender individuals in Lithuania.

Currently, HRMI and LGL sit in the working group drafting the law on legal gender recognition. The working group was established by the Ministry of Justice.

Furthermore, in two ground-breaking decisions of 7 April 2017 and of 2 May 2017 the Vilnius City District Court addressed the legal gap on gender reassignment by granting legal gender recognition for two transgender men without the requirement for the irreversible gender reassignment surgery.

Establishment of the administrative procedure is mandatory

Nevertheless, the satisfactory execution of the L. v. Lithuania judgment requires the establishment of the corresponding administrative procedure for legal gender recognition, which would enable transgender individuals to change their identity documents in a quick, accessible and transparent manner without the necessity of applying before the national courts.

The civil society organizations welcome the Government’s efforts to establish such procedure and invite the Lithuanian authorities to strictly follow the legal standards established by the domestic courts throughout the legislative process.

Information prepared by LGL.


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Lithuania Criticized After ECHR Ruling on Russian ‘Homosexual Propaganda’

“The judgment is an important precedent in the European context. Lithuania’s anti-propaganda law, which is similar to the Russian one, is still in place, while the European Commission refuses to step in,” said Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veld (Vice-President of the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights), commenting on the June 20 European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of Bayev and others v. Russia.

This is the first time that the Strasbourg court admitted that Russian laws prohibiting “public activities that aim to promote homosexuality among minors” are contrary to freedom of expression and the principle of non-discrimination.

ECtHR condemns Russian homophobia

In the Bayev case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) drew attention to the consensus in Europe on the right of individuals to openly identify themselves as members of the LGBT community. The court disagreed that there is a conflict between “family values” and the recognition of homosexuality.

According to the court, many same-sex couples live in line with – not in opposition to – “family values”: they want to get married, adopt kids and become parents.

Although most Russians currently are against same-sex relationships, any situation where the rights of a minority are dependent on approval from the majority would go against the values of the Convention.

The fact that minors see the applicants’ campaigns, and are subsequently introduced to the ideas of diversity, equality and tolerance, can only be treated as a plus for social cohesion.

Finally, the court found that Russia was unable to provide a convincing explanation of how information about homosexual relationships could harm juveniles, morals, or public health.

LGBT rights violations in Lithuania

According to the Lithuanian Law on the Protection of Minors Against the Detrimental Effects of Public Information, any information that promotes a concept of marriage and family other than the one stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania or in the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania is harmful to minors.

This provision has been repeatedly criticized by the international community. It was already used three times to ban information related to the LGBT community, including Baltic Pride videos and a book of fairytales about same-sex couples.

“Lithuania is having no regard to human rights, which are at the heart of the European project. This is unacceptable. It is time for the European Commission to protect the rights of all Lithuanians, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex Lithuanians. They should ensure that this case law is also implemented in the EU context,” said MEP Sophie In’t Veld.


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New standards to combat discrimination – changes in business, public sector and society

Project goal: To raise the level of general knowledge and awareness around the principles of equal opportunities and mitigation of discrimination in the workplace, under the Equal Opportunities legislation in the private and public sectors, as well as general civil society.

Time period 2017 04 05 – 2020 04 05
Applicant
(Coordinator)
Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson
Partners Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Lithuanian Gay League
Project goals and tasks  

1. To raise competences of the public sector, business, and civil society representatives in the field of discrimination mitigation.

The aim is to improve general knowledge and raise awareness on the subject of reducing discrimination in the public, private, and civil sectors. The project’s target group includes present and future members of the labour market, trade union representatives, representatives of workplace dispute analysis institutions, human resource specialists, individuals in leading industry positions, employers, employer unions, non-governmental organizations (NGO), working in the field of equal opportunities and human rights protection. Interested individuals will have the opportunity to improve their knowledge utilizing online training courses, enterprises will be able to apply the knowledge of equal opportunities to their framework, NGO representatives will raise their competences in the fields of advocacy, communication, and fundraising.

2. To guarantee the ease of access to information for vulnerable groups. 

As Lithuania is integrating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the access to information becomes an integral tool that is of the highest importance in order to ensure an individual’s abilities to, in a certain field, make informed decisions, and to understand the true will of individuals in key questions. Because there is no standard of access to information in a language approachable to everyone in Lithuania, discussions will be organized with customers, executive officials, and methodical recommendations will be presented on how to transfer a standard into the framework of public service providing institutions. The standard will be presented throughout the course, and an informational piece will be released with the recommendations.

3. To raise civil society’s knowledge on principles of non-discrimination.

The third project’s objective will be focused on regional Lithuania. During the project, informational events will be organized with at least 700 people, that will range from theatrical events, exhibitions, photographic competitions, and discussions. News publications will be ensured both in local and regional press, focusing on non-discrimination and diversity. General knowledge will also be raised on a national level. This campaign will be composed of two parts: 1) civil society is informed about the problem, 2) provision of tools in order to enable to solve problems related to discrimination. These activities will be mostly directed at general society, therefore, events will be open and participants will not be counted, though special events will be organized for at least 180 people.

Projektas vykdomas pagal 2014–2020 metų Europos Sąjungos fondų investicijų veiksmų programos, patvirtintos Europos Komisijos 2014 m. rugsėjo 8 d. sprendimu Nr. C(2014) 6397, 7 prioriteto „Kokybiško užimtumo ir dalyvavimo darbo rinkoje skatinimas“ įgyvendinimo priemonę Nr. 07.3.4-ESFA-V-426 „Diskriminacijos mažinimas“.

 


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Will We Overcome Apathy Towards Transgender Concerns in Lithuania?

Updated on 2 May 2017

Lithuania is dragging its heels when it comes to implementing legal protections for transgender people, an issue one politician in the country bluntly said was not a priority.

A decade has passed since the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued its judgment in the case of L v. Lithuania, but nothing has been done during this time to protect the rights and dignity of transgender individuals in Lithuania.

No access to treatment

According to Natalija Bitiukova, the deputy director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, transgender persons wishing to change their sex still have no access to the requisite treatment in Lithuania, including hormonal treatment, genital reduction and even general surgery. There is a lack of legal regulation concerning these procedures.

While the right to change your sex was included in the 2002 Civil Code, there was no hurry to pass the Law on Gender Reassignment. In 2007, the ECtHR obliged the state to fix this legal gap.

Unfortunately, the Law on Gender Reassignment has still not been adopted and the procedure remains unregulated in any legislation.

Carla Lewis, flickr.com

The long road to changing your ID

Individuals who change their sex abroad face obstacles when trying to get new ID at home.

For the official records to be changed, transgender individuals in Lithuania have to go to court. For example, on April 10 the Vilnius City District Court ordered the Civil Registry Office to officially register the sex change of a person who had partially completed gender reassignment treatment.

According to Bitiukova, the current situation, where people undergo gender reassignment treatment abroad but then are unable change their documents by simply visiting the Civil Registry Office upon returning home, is unjust. In cases like these, the Lithuanian courts often also award damages for non-material loss.

The current system for changing personal records and documents also fails to meet international standards, since it’s not accessible, fast or transparent.

Furthermore, it should also be possible to register a sex change without undergoing gender reassignment treatment. It is believed that there are roughly 200 transgender people in Lithuania, out of which only about 50 would like to submit to medical treatment.

In its April 6 judgment in the case of A.P., Garcon and Nicot v. France, the ECtHR held that any requirement to undergo gender reassignment treatment in order to legally change one’s sex goes against the European Convention on Human Rights.

Transgender issues not a priority

This March, the government finally showed some initiative by instructing the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice to draft legislation that would allow gender reassignment.

According to Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, the government can no longer ignore the long-standing complaints from international institutions concerning the repeated violation of transgender rights.

Unfortunately, the ministries seem to be taking their sweet time. The minister of health, Aurelijus Veryga, claimed that he didn’t quite understand what it was that the government ordered him to do, and that it wasn’t clear what specific legislation was required. However, after meetings and discussions with HRMI and Lithuanian Gay League, the minister seems to have changed his mind, and agreed, that at least some of the procedures should be regulated.

Meanwhile, Agnė Širinskienė, the chairwoman of the parliamentary Committee on Health Affairs, doesn’t seem to care about the problems of transgender people at all. According to her, this issue is not a priority for the health system.

It seems that the vast majority of politicians and institutions still treat the woes of transgender individual with marked indifference, or try to avoid the problem altogether.

Let us hope, however, that the determination of Mr. Skvernelis will be enough to break through the apathy.

Information by the HRMI, lrt.lt, lgl.lt


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Gay Couple Case Gives Lithuania’s Highest Court a Chance to Strengthen Rights Protections

The Constitutional Court will have a say on whether migration authorities discriminated against a gay couple wishing to live together in Lithuania.

For over a year now, one particular gay couple, a Lithuanian man and a citizen of Belarus, has been trying to convince the Lithuanian authorities and courts that they have the right to family reunification.

In December 2016, this legal conundrum took a new turn: the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania agreed to examine whether the provisions of the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens were in line with the country’s Constitution.

Married, but not a family?

The story here dates back to September of 2015, when a Belarusian citizen married to a Lithuanian man applied to the immigration authorities for permission to live together with his spouse in Lithuania. The couple had officially married in Denmark that same year.

The Law on the Legal Status of Aliens does not officially prohibit the reunification of same-sex couples. Foreigners may obtain a residence permits on the basis of family reunification if they are married to or in a partnership with a Lithuanian citizen. The law does not specify that the marriage must be between persons of the opposite sex.

However, the migration authorities rejected the application, pointing out that the same-sex marriage was not permitted under Lithuanian law, and therefore the couple’s marriage could not be given legal recognition in Lithuania.

According to the authorities, this would be deemed as family reunification, and as such there would be no legal grounds for issuing the permit. On appeal, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court took a similar stance.

Is it constitutional?

The case eventually reached the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania (SACL), where it was examined by an extended panel of judges. In its ruling, SACL touched on several important aspects, namely, the applicability of EU law and issues concerning constitutional law.

The court ruled that EU law, specifically Directive 2004/38/EC (the so-called “Free Movement Directive”), could not be applied to the particular circumstances of the two men.

The plaintiffs had not been residing in another EU country for a significant length of time, as it is understood within EU law, and their brief visit to Denmark for the purposes of registering their marriage was not sufficient to engage the provisions of the directive.

However, in the court’s view, the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens of the Republic of Lithuania does not ensure that persons who are living together for the purposes of creating a family relationship, but whose marriage is not recognized under national law, have the same guarantees as others.

This, the court believed, breaches the principle of equal treatment, disproportionately interferes with private life and is contrary to constitutional jurisprudence concerning the definition of the family.

In light of these considerations, SACL deferred the matter to the Constitutional Court for clarification.

What can we expect?

Back in 2011, the Constitutional Court controversially ruled that the Constitution recognized families that came about as a result of something other than marriage, based on “stable emotional attachment, mutual understanding, responsibility, respect, co-parenting and similar ties, as well as a voluntary decision to assume certain rights and obligations which form the basis of motherhood, fatherhood and childhood within the meaning of the Constitution.”

The ruling made no mention of same-sex unions, which means that now the Constitutional Court has the opportunity to clarify its earlier interpretation.

Should the Constitutional Court decide to follow the arguments put forth by the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania, it is likely that its ruling will significantly strengthen the legal protection afforded to same-sex couples in the country.

A similar issue arose before the European Court of Human Rights last year. In the case of Taddeucci and McCall v. Italy, the ECtHR ruled that treating homosexual and heterosexual couples differently within the context of immigration (issuing residence permits to foreigners in cases of family reunification) violates the right to respect for private life and the prohibition to discriminate, as provided for in the Convention on Human Rights.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Spano (Iceland) pointed out that “the impossibility in Italy at the material time for same-sex couples to acquire marital status or other legal recognition of their relationship could not, under any reasonable interpretation of Article 8 taken in conjunction with Article 14 of the Convention, have made their relationships any less worthy of being treated as constituting a family unit within the particular context of immigration proceedings.”

Although the Supreme Court of Lithuania made no reference to Taddeucci, it is likely it will play a part in the forthcoming Constitutional Court ruling.

Natalija Bitiukova, Deputy Director, Human Rights Monitoring Institute


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Public opinion poll (2016)

On October 19-26 the public opinion poll on the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania was  carried out by “Spinter tyrimai”, a market research company. The poll, commissioned by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, is primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

Results of 2016 poll: 

According to Lithuanians, the most-violated right in 2016 was the right to fair trial. This follows the trend of 2012 and 2014. The right to privacy was the second-most violated right, while the right to participate in political life had the least amount of violations associated with it.

Sufficient info

There was a slight increase in the number of people claiming that they have enough information on human rights, with as much as 63% indicating so in this year’s survey, compared to 52% in 2012 and 60% in 2014.

Those claiming that there was enough information on human rights were most likely to be 18-45 years old, having attained the highest level of education, belonging to the highest income bracket and living in urban areas.

The number of people knowing where to go in the event of a rights violation has also been growing steadily. In 2016, more than half (57%) of respondents claimed that they knew which institution to go to when their rights are violated, compare to 54% in 2014, 52% in 2012 and 49% in 2010.

Rarely defend their rights

Going by the results of the survey, one in five Lithuanians has had his or her rights violated. Nevertheless, only 7% of all respondents claiming that their rights had been violated took steps to remedy the issue.

As was the case in previous years, the main reason for the reluctance to defend one’s rights is the lack of trust in institutions that are meant to remedy breaches. As much as three fourths of those that claimed a rights violation but failed to do anything about it said that they didn’t believe that going to an institution would help.

The survey revealed that when people did go to an institution when their rights were violated, they most often went to the police or the prosecutor’s office (36%), followed by NGOs and the courts.

Mentally disabled face greatest discrimination

Respondents were also asked to opine which social group faced the most discrimination in Lithuania. The situation remains unchanged for the sixth year running, with the mentally disabled being named the most discriminated social group. They got 5.68 points (compared to 5.03 points in 2014), with the elderly coming in second (5.40) and persons with physical disabilities settling on third place (5.21).

This year, the survey also included refugees as a possible social group. Their vulnerability was rated fairly highly, scoring a little over 5 points (5.02). Those aged 26-35 and urban residents were more likely to claim that refugees were discriminated against.

 


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Fairy Tale Author Scores First Victory Against Lithuania’s LGBT* Censorship Law

Neringa Mikalauskienė, author of the fairy tale collection “Amber Heart,” won her first battle – the courts will now have to re-examine whether fairy tales with homosexual characters can be considered harmful to minors, or whether they simply promote tolerance for gay people.

The Supreme Court of Lithuania quashed the judgments of the Vilnius District Court and the Vilnius Regional Court, returning the case for retrial.

A target of censorship

The case that eventually wound up in the Supreme Court dates all the way back to the beginning of 2014, when the publisher of “Amber Heart,” the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, ceased all publication and publicly denounced the collection of fairy tales as “biased homosexual propaganda.”

In a subsequent opinion, the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics concluded that the fairy tales were harmful to children up to the age of 14 and promoted a different understanding of what constitutes a family to the one enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

After Mikalauskienė (who writes under the pen name Neringa Dangvydė) filed her claim in court, the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences came out saying that it had no obligation to distribute a book they themselves published, even though the Ministry of Culture had awarded a grant for publication. The university eventually relented and agreed to resume distribution, but gave the book an “N-14” (14 and above) rating.

Mikalauskienė said that the rating was offensive to her as a specialist in children’s literature and established that information about homosexuality could be considered harmful.

Lower courts: no discrimination

The Supreme Court held that it was in fact the duty of the lower courts to assess whether “Amber Heart” could harm minors or whether it merely promoted tolerance for different sexual orientations.

The three-judge panel noted that the lower courts’ refusal to examine certain claims of Mrs. Mikalauskienė, namely that distribution was suspended due to discrimination based on sexual orientation, was unreasonable.

The Court also took a dim view of the fact that the lower courts did not themselves examine the book’s contents, relied solely on the opinion of the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics, failed to assess whether the opinion was reasonable and whether such a restriction would be proportionate with respect to minors. The Court also held that the burden of proof regarding discrimination was unreasonably shifted to the writer.

Retrial

“My book contains both happy heterosexual and happy homosexual families. Therefore it’s more about promoting tolerance for different sexual orientations and showing that responsibility, respect for one another and loyalty are values shared by all,” said Mikalauskienė when the decision was made public.

“When the appellate court re-examines the case, it will have to determine whether there were grounds for restricting the publication of “Amber Heart,” whether the restrictions chosen by the publisher were proportionate and whether the publisher, by suspending publication, did not discriminate against the author,” said attorney Akvilė Bužinskaitė, who helped draft the claim together with lawyers from NGOs.

The case will now be returned to the regional court, where the book’s ultimate fate will be decided.

manoteises.lt

 


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Ultraconservative Assisted Reproduction Law Crushes the Hopes of 50,000 Couples

Lithuanian MPs gave in to the pressure of religious groups, passing a new law on assisted reproduction that bans progressive fertility treatment methods and crushes the dreams of thousands of couples across the country.

The long-awaited law on assisted reproduction was meant to help people cover the costs for fertility treatment by making public funding available.

It was seen as the only chance for those who could not afford the services of private fertility clinics to finally access treatment.

The country also had an obligation to regulate the use of assisted reproduction technologies under EU Directive 2004/23/EC, which sets out the standards for the safe use of human tissues and cells. In 2014, the European Commission started an infringement procedure for the state’s failure to do so.

What came out after the Parliament voted, however, was met with shock and disbelief. Not only did the new law fail to make the treatment more accessible for everyone, despite their income or family status, it also effectively banned the currently applied methods of treatment that are employed by private clinics under a more liberal 1999 order by the health minister at the time.

Limits access, bans donors

According to the new law, assisted reproduction is allowed only when infertility cannot be treated in any other way or without the real prospect of success.

It will be accessible to registered partners and married couples only. Since registered partnership is not legalized in Lithuania, the law effectively limits access to married heterosexual couples.

The law provides for artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization (IVF), but explicitly bans the use of gametes from third party donors. That is, the donors of gametes can only be spouses or registered partners. For oncological patients whose reproductive system was affected by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, this takes away their only chance to have children of their own.

Furthermore, the law bans preimplantation genetic diagnosis for the purpose of selecting an embryo unaffected by a disease. This prevents people suffering from genetic diseases from selecting only a healthy embryo and avoiding transmission of the disease, leaving abortion on medical grounds as the only option for an unhealthy foetus.

Bans freezing of embryos

The legislators did not stop here – they also banned freezing of embryos and restricted embryo creation to “the number intended to be implanted into a woman’s uterus at a time.” This number cannot exceed three.

Such provision implies that, for the purposes of “protection of embryos,” all created embryos, which cannot be more than three, must be implanted into a woman‘s uterus, even the lifeless ones.

Apart from being tremendously degrading to women’s dignity, these requirements severely limit the chances of fertilization, increase the possibility of unwanted multiple pregnancies and cause direct harm to women’s health.

Since the embryos cannot be frozen, each time fertilization fails, women would have to undergo physically and psychologically painful hormonal stimulation and chirurgical intervention to produce new gametes.

All this goes against established medical science, the latest developments and best practices in the field, which are based on creating sufficient number of embryos to enable selecting the ones with the most chances of survival. Selected embryos that are not used are stored in case the procedure fails to bring the results so that the woman does not have to undergo painful procedures again.

‘Detrimental to lives and health’

“The flaws of the law on assisted reproduction have no other basis than dogmatic church ‘science’ and are detrimental to the lives and health of Lithuanian patients and the welfare of families and society,” almost 60 universities, clinics, individual doctors, and patient rights organizations claim in a public letter asking the president to veto the law.

“After the flawed law comes into effect, to save the health of their patients, Lithuanian doctors won’t be able to provide assisted reproduction services in Lithuania and will have to recommend going for treatment abroad,” state the petitioners.

In the harsh and critical letter, health and other professionals say the law potentially violates the constitutional prohibition to “harm a human being” – a national legal equivalent of prohibition of inhuman treatment. “The protection of an embryo cannot be made absolute at the expense of a woman’s right to health.”

The petitioners also claim the law discriminates by restricting access to treatment to married couples only, violates patients’ rights to health and accessible and quality health services, and unlawfully infringes their right to private and family life, safeguarded under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Tired of pressure

“I feel ashamed before the 50,000 families in Lithuania who have been waiting for this law, and are now left disappointed,” said Minister of Health Juras Požela after the Parliament voted.

Asked of the pressure from religious organizations, the minister said: “Yes, there is nothing to hide, many colleagues acknowledged receiving calls from the church representatives who asked not to vote for the science-based draft.”

According to the minister, priests and bishops held meetings with MPs to discuss the voting because “it was important” for them.

Other MPs also acknowledged enormous pressure from faith organizations. “Lately, it’s getting very difficult to legislate,” complained Antanas Matulas, one of the few conservative MPs who voted against the faith-based draft.

“It became the norm that before each voting on a more significant law, MPs’ electronic mail boxes are flooded with hundreds and thousands of letters of the same kind. Threatening letters were also flooding in before the adoption of the law on assisted reproduction,” claimed Matulas.

All is not lost

“If such law had been in effect earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to have my twins,” said Ieva Drėgvienė, chairperson of Blood, an association that unites oncohematological patients, during a protest held in front of the Lithuanian president’s office.

According to Drėgvienė, people who trust in science and medicine must have the right, in consultations with their doctors, to freely choose the most suitable methods of treatment themselves. “It is not for MPs to decide how to treat infertility.”

On July 4, the president vetoed the law, which will now be returned to the Parliament for reconsideration.


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This Year’s Baltic Pride Parade Was Very Different

Roughly 2,000 people marched down the main street of Vilnius in celebration of equality and in memoriam of the victims of the Orlando attack.

This year’s Baltic Pride March for Equality, for the first time in its history, did not resemble a bona fide warzone. The smiling, waving passers-by, the music, everyone’s high spirits and new people spontaneously joining the procession all helped create the impression that the summer festivities in the city were in full swing – and, at the same time, made a small crowd of people opposed to the event feel very, very uncomfortable.

Public responds to hatred with solidarity

So what led to this turnabout? After all, those who wished to take part in the first Baltic Pride in 2010 had to go to the event in buses escorted by security. The procession took place under heavy police protection, in a fenced-in area away from the city center besieged by furious protesters.

The participants back then were greeted not with friendly smiles, but with smoke grenades, curses and a cross planted squarely in the field. In 2013, following long legal battles with the municipal authorities, Baltic Pride finally took place in the main street of the capital – however, the mood then was far from merry.

The event was not without incident – an MP attacked the procession and had to be dragged away by the police.

The change in attitudes is most likely a result of the wave of solidarity with the LGBTI community in the wake of the Orlando attack. Lithuanian news reports about the tragedy were met with such malice, twisted joy and hatred from anonymous commentators, that even those who, in the past, did not pay much heed to the problems plaguing the LGBTI community couldn’t afford to remain indifferent.

Famous journalists, politicians and other public figures expressed their sympathy for and solidarity with the friends and family of the deceased, condemning the hateful comments and urging people to join the Baltic Pride festival.

‘Thank you for your silence’

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and no fewer than 12 foreign ambassadors expressed their support for the event, and many diplomats from abroad, Lithuanian politicians as well as two Swedish ministers took part in the procession on Saturday.

That being said, Lithuania’s top officials were curiously absent from the event, with the mayor of Vilnius sending his compliments through a pre-recorded video.

However, this did nothing to abate the high spirits of everyone involved, and the Lithuanian LGBTI community, being used to insensitive remarks from all sides –including, on occasion, the authorities – wrote their thanks to the president on a banner: “For your silence, if nothing else.”

The participants also paid their respects to the victims of the heinous hate crime in Orlando by lying down on the pavement to take part in the solidarity action “We Are Orlando.”

Love and prayers won’t suffice

Stuart Milk, president of the Harvey Milk foundation, was moved to mention the tragedy in his introductory speech at the conference that took place on the eve of Baltic Pride.

“I am weary, I am bruised, and a big piece of my heart is broken,” said Stuart, remembering his fallen friends and comrades. “Our love and our prayers are simply not enough. Hate and separation continue to bring forth too much grief, too many stolen lives across the world.”

Following this emotional speech, which brought many to tears, Vice-President of the European Parliament and President of the Intergroup on LGBT Rights Ulrike Lunacek, from Austria, posed a simple rhetorical question: Would the people who so stubbornly refuse to accept the LGBTI community be able to cling to their homophobia after listening to Stuart’s words?

“Would they still be able to talk about us with hatred, would they still bring themselves to violence against us or any other discriminated minority?”

After paying their respects to the victims of the attack, the participants of the conference considered the evolution of legal status for same-sex couples in different parts of the globe, such as South Africa, the US and the member states of the Council of Europe, and discussed the possibility of such legislation in Lithuania.

Of course, it was impossible to avoid talking about the attempts by Lithuanian lawmakers to further curtail LGBTI rights by stripping LGBTI families of constitutional protection –the attendees were urged to sign a petition against this initiative, which will most likely be voted on in the Lithuanian Parliament next week.


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Court Prevents Same-Sex Family Reunion

The court rejected a Belarusian man’s appeal against the Migration Department’s refusal to issue him a residence permit to stay in Lithuania.

In September 2015, a male Belarusian married to a Lithuanian man applied to the Lithuanian migration authorities to be allowed to reside in Lithuania together with his spouse.

The Law on the Legal Status of Aliens does not raise any formal obstacles to the reunification of same-sex spouses — foreign nationals married to Lithuanian citizens are eligible for residence permits on the grounds of family reunification.

The law defines family members as spouses or partners to a registered (civil) partnership agreement, minor children and foster children. The law does not specify that the marriage in question must be between members of the opposite sex.

Diverging opinions

The Migration Department, dealing with an application such as this for the very first time, shied away from making a decision and asked the Ministry of the Interior (responsible for formulating migration policies in Lithuania) to clarify what course of action should be taken in this situation.

The Ministry of the Interior thought that no permit should be issued in this case. In their view, since the Civil Code of Lithuania prohibits same-sex unions, it would be impossible to register them with the Civil Registry. The ministry deemed such registration to be a necessary requirement to obtaining a residence permit, even though the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens itself does not contain any such requirement.

The European Law Department under the Ministry of Justice reached the opposite conclusion — in their view, those who marry an EU national must be allowed to enjoy the rights available to them under Directive 2004/38/EC for the free movement of persons, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or any other aspect.

In the end, the Migration Department rejected the application, reasoning that since the marriage would be illegal under Lithuanian law, it is impossible to claim family reunification. The applicant then appealed to the Vilnius Regional Court.

Having examined the case in a closed session, the above court of first instance agreed with the arguments put forth by the Migration Department and dismissed the appeal of the Belarusian national.

Public pressure

“When it comes to dealing with homosexual issues in Lithuania, public opinion still trumps the principle of clarity and legal certainty,” claimed Natalija Bitiukova, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute.

“This decision infringes upon the applicants’ legitimate expectations. In order to obtain a residence permit, the person in question must meet the requirements set out in the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens and, in this case, all of the requirements have in fact been met.”

According to Bitiukova, while they wouldn’t be recognized as spouses in civil matters, including inheritance law, that wasn’t the point of their application to the Migration Department. “What they in fact asked for was to be recognized as family members for the purposes of obtaining one fairly narrow but nonetheless important right, namely, to be able to legally reside in the Republic of Lithuania. And that is a right that they actually are entitled to under the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens.”


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Publications that degrade women remain unmonitored

Neither law, nor ethics violations have been found after the investigation conducted by The Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics (OIJE) concerning news portal‘s lrytas.lt previously published article „How do you identify a slut?“.

Call them what you want?

 zeminanti

“How do you identify a slut?” asks the anonymous author of an article that appeared on one of the largest Lithuanian online news sites. “Girls only appear decent at first. The truth, however, is different — there are many loose young ladies among them. How do you avoid falling for one of them?”

With no offense spared, the article then proceeds to examine the girls’ purportedly immoral behaviour — how they talk on social media, how they behave at parties and what kind of girls guys should avoid.

“When sober, slut is very serious. But it takes only 15 gm of alcohol and she becomes wildly fun. Such mood swings show that while she is drunk, she is no longer the hostess of herself”.

The article’s authorship states that it was created and published by the news portal lrytas.lt itself.

OIJE: neither law, nor ethics violations found

Human Rights Monitoring Institute was informed about the publication by the concerned reader according to whom this article incites hatred against women. HRMI in turn contacted three institutions: The Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson, The Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics and the Ethics Association for Public Information asking them to oblige the disseminator of the information to remove the humiliating publication.

HRMI‘s appeal stated that the above-mentioned publication is unethical, insults and humiliates women as a social group, deepens gender stereotypes and encourages discrimination, attributing negative characteristics to women because of their gender.

In 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination expressed its concerns over Lithuanian media publications that were degrading to women and stated that monitoring and supervision of such depiction is insufficient.

However, the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson did not accept the complaint –complaints regarding media conduct do not fall under the competence of the Ombudsperson.

The investigation was initiated by The Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics. Nevertheless, The Inspector came to conclusion that “there is no reason to say that the publication disseminated information that would openly despise or offend women as a social group”.

Having found no violations, the Inspector suspended the investigation. Moreover, there was nothing said about the ethics of this publication and its content.

Lack of media supervision

Compared to advertising, the dissemination of humiliating information in the media is practically unrestricted and not being monitored. For instance, director of UAB “Tavlinas” was warned last week by The Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman regarding the advertisement of SALDVA spices which depicted bare woman‘s breasts with the inscription  “For men who like natural …”.

saldva

Ombudsperson acknowledged that this advertisement violated the Law on Equal Opportunities and the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.

According to the Ombudsperson, sexist portrayal of women in advertising of goods promotes gender inequality as it shapes degrading and disrespectful treatment of a woman, who is not attributed to socially significant role in society, but is turned instead into a tool, an object for entertainment and pleasure of men.

However, Ombudsperson in this situation cannot do much as her actions are limited by the law.

The law clearly identifies specific areas of the Ombudsperson‘s sphere of supervision and the media supervision does not fall into this category.

Ethic’s supervisors do not care about women’s rights?

Meanwhile, The Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics does not seem very interested in positive changes in gender equality. There is no initiative to promote positive changes, for example, by proposing to complement The Code of Ethics of Journalists and Publishers with provisions regarding representation of men and women in the media.

Ethics Association for Public Information, the one which drafted the new Code, did not answer to the HRMI‘s appeal although it was clearly pointed out that the Code lacks provisions on gender equality and non-discrimination.

Law on Provision of Information to the Public obliges public information producers and disseminators, journalists and publishers to follow the principles of equality and respect for human dignity, but it remains unclear who should oversee how the compliance with these principles works in practice.

Mėta Adutavičiūtė, Advocacy Officer, Human Rights Monitoring Institute.

 


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Lithuania Criticized by UN Disability Rights Committee

The UN Disability Rights Committee has concluded its review of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Lithuania. Next to the Government’s submissions, the Committee considered the alternative report compiled by NGOs, HRMI among them.

Unfortunately, the findings were grim – little to no progress had been achieved. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is urging Lithuania to abandon the use of inappropriate terminology that was offensive to the disabled in official documents — in fact, some of these terms, such as “disorder” or “deaf-mute,” even found their way into the report submitted to the Committee.

Furthermore, it was recommended that the definition of disability be revised, as it currently did not meet the requirements set by the Convention.

Change of perspective

According to Jūratė Guzevičiūtė, the legal director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, the greatest obstacles to the implementation of the Convention in Lithuania are the attitudes towards disability and the disabled.

“To this day, disability and the disabled are predominantly viewed from a medical perspective, treating the disabled themselves, along with their disabilities, as the main problem. The Convention shifts this to a social perspective – in other words, treating a person’s disability as a social construct arising from the limitations of his or her social or physical environment.”

As Guzevičiūtė sees it, “The problem rests not with the persons or their disability, but with unfriendly environments that have not been adapted to their needs and are full of obstacles. If a person in a wheelchair is unable to access a building, then the problem rests with the lack of access, not the person himself. This is still not well understood in Lithuania.”

Rights violations

In the report, Lithuania was strongly urged to abolish forced hospitalization and treatment without consent. The Committee was also deeply concerned by the human rights violations in closed institutions, namely, in social care homes and psychiatric wards.

It was recommended that the state adopt measures to prevent violence and abuse of the residents of closed institutions, and to ensure that the latter have access to complaint mechanisms when their rights have been violated.

The on-going deinstitutionalization process, which involves gradually closing down care institutions for the disabled and replacing them with services provided by the community, has also attracted some criticism. The Committee was deeply concerned by the absence of some support mechanisms, such as independent living schemes, with disabled children and adults still being placed in residential care.

It was noted that the state has not adopted measures to combat the abuse (sexual or otherwise) of children with disabilities, both within and outside of institutions.

Inaccessible environments

Lithuania received further criticism due to instances of physical, informational and other forms of inaccessibility, and was urged to stop spending EU funds on inaccessible buildings, websites and other such spaces.

The Committee recommended that the concept of “working incapacity” be eliminated, instead working towards better integration of persons with disabilities into the labor market.

The state was also urged to not to restrict the voting rights of the disabled. The Constitution and current voting law do not allow persons lacking legal capacity to vote, and as such it was recommended that they be amended to abolish these restrictions. Unfortunately, the disabled will probably not have their right to vote restored in time for the upcoming Parliamentary election.


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Parliament Considers Draft Law Discriminating Families and LGBT Community

HRMI urged the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs to reject draft constitutional amendments aiming to narrow down the definition of a family to heterosexual marriage.

In 2013, the amendments were initiated by 107 MPs who proposed to define a family as a marriage between a man and a woman or relations stemming from motherhood and parenthood.

In 2011, Constitutional court has held that family cannot stem from marriage only. More important than the form of family relations is their content, that is mutual responsibility, understanding, emotional attachment, and voluntary commitment, therefore family relations can be formed between unmarried people having no children, or single parents and their children, and so on.

European Court of Human Rights has also stated, already back in 1979, that family life cannot be restricted to marriage only and can encompass other de facto family relations. Since then the Court recognized as falling under the concept of family life relations between grandparents and their grandchildren, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and their nephews and nieces, foster and adoptive parents and children.

HRMI urged the Committee to reject the draft law because it aims to discriminate families and deprive some of them of constitutional protection without any reasonable grounds or objective justification.


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Using e-Learning tools in NGO work (completed)


The project aims at strengthening HRMI’s financial independence and sustainability by creating a new product – elearning course on the legal (in)capacity reform in Lithuania


Project period  2016 05 01 – 2016 09 30
Project snapshot
Achievements

 

On-line elearning course “Legal (in)capacity reform in Lithuania: the change of attitude and legal regulation” was developed and launched on the elearning platform www.without-limits.eu. The course consisted of six video lessons supplemented with reading materials and self-assessment tests.

To date, the course was attended by 58 social workers, lawyers, public servants and NGO activists.

 

We are grateful for the financial support to  

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Draft Gender Reassignment Laws Need More Work

Lithuanian Government should improve draft law proposals on transgender rights – claim HRMI and Lithuanian Gay League in their joint submission to the Committee of Ministers.

The submission evaluates the steps the Lithuanian Government took so far to implement European Court of Human Rights judgement in the case of L v Lithuania (2007). The court ruled Lithuania violated the rights of transgender applicant by failing to adopt legal gender reassignment procedures.

The Government prepared a package of draft laws aiming to regulate medical gender reassignment and legal recognition of gender reassignment.

HRMI and LGL drew the Committee’s attention that the proposals of the Government’s task force fall short of the European and international standards in this area. European Council member states are obliged to create quick, transparent and accessible procedures, allowing transgender people to change their name and gender in personal documents.

The Government however suggests that these changes can be made only upon receiving a certificate from an unspecified health institution, and the draft law fails to forsee proceedings or criteria for issuing such certificate. This is only one of the shortcomings of the Government’s proposals.

More on protection of transgender rights in Lithuania – in our Human Rights Overview, accessible in English at: www.pasidomek.lt


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2013-2014: Overview

On June 17, HRMI released its 8th overview „Human Rights in Lithuania: 2013-2014“. The Overview is the only periodic assessment of the human rights situation in Lithuania conducted by more than 20 independent experts. It covers rights of the child, women’s rights, freedom of speech, assembly and religion, prohibition of torture and other fundamental rights. Read the full Overview here.


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Public opinion poll (2014)

Starting in 2004, Human Rights Monitoring Institute began assessing the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania. For this purpose HRMI, in cooperation with the Market and Opinion Research Centre “Vilmorus Ltd.”, carries out a biennial public opinion poll on human rights related questions.

The opinion polls are primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

The poll’s questions cover civil and political rights with an added emphasis on the public’s awareness of instances of discrimination and violations of privacy: the poll participants are asked to indicate the most discriminated societal groups and to determine whether a violation of privacy occurred in given example scenarios.

The findings indicate that the absolute majority (95 percent) of Lithuanian residents who thought that their rights had been infringed did not report said infringement to any institution. However, by contrast, a fifth or more of the respondents have indicated a willingness to defend their rights in previous years (over 18 percent in 2012 and over 22 percent in 2010).

For more statistics see the executive summary (English) of the findings or the read the full findings (Lithuanian only).


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Romanian embassy’s case – gender-based discrimination

“Less favorable treatment of an employee due to pregnancy is considered to be direct discrimination on the basis of gender. And even though gender discrimination is forbidden in Lithuania, quite often we receive information that employers are doing just that. For example, career-minded men or single women are always prioritized; at the interview, a woman is often asked to disclose her marital status and her future family plans, while women that are pregnant or on maternity leave are fired without giving any justified reason for doing so.”

– Jūratė Guzevičiūtė, HRMI Legal Director


Proceedings initiated: 2011

Proceedings closed: 2014

Case in brief: the woman was fired after telling her employer that she was pregnant

Outcome of the case: the woman’s dismissal amounted to discrimination on the ground of gender


Facts of the case:

Mrs. L.S is a person with a schizoaffective disorder. In March 2008, Mrs L.S. started working as an interpreter in the Embassy of Romania, and in May 2008, she signed a work contract and officially started her probationary period. In June 2008, the woman had a serious deterioration of health and was hospitalized. Later the same month Mrs L.S. informed her employer about her pregnancy and received an extremely negative reaction – she was accused of deception and fraud. After having delivered a certificate about her pregnancy to the employer, Mrs L.S. was dismissed the next day without any reason given by her employer.

Legal proceedings:

Represented by the attoney-at-law Diana Gumbreviciute-Kuzminskiene and the Human Rights Monitoring Instititute, L.S. appealed to the court requesting to find her dismissal discriminatory on the grounds of disability (shizoaffective disorder) and gender (pregnancy).

In March 2012, Vilnius Regional Court found that L.S. was discriminated against on the ground of gender and awarded her 3186 EUR  in damages. The case went up to the Lithuanian Supreme Court which upheld the first instance court’s judgment and ordered to reconsider the amount awarded in damages. The court noted that according to the EU Employment Equality Directive the sactions for the violation of a right to equality should be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”. Yet the Supreme Court failed to acknowledge that the applicant suffered from discrimination not only on the ground of gender, but also on the ground of disability.

On 4 September 2014, the Lithuanian Court of Appeal re-examined increased the applicant’s damages award to 14 4481 EUR in pecuniary and 2896 EUR in non-pecuniary damages.

Documents of the case:

Judgment of the Supreme Court (in Lithuanian)

Judgment of the Appeal Court (in Lithuanian)


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Alternative Report to UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 2014

Human Rights Monitoring Institute has submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in order to assist the Committee in assessing Lithuania’s progress when implementing women’s rights, while reviewing Lithuania’s fifth periodic report.

To ensure appropriate protection for victims of domestic violence, to respect the privacy of women and to more effectively combat the trafficking of women and girls – these were the recommendations submitted by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute in its shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

The Committee (which, for the first time, includes a representative from Lithuania, professor Dalia Leinartė) will be examining the periodic report of Lithuania on June 30 – July 18 in Geneva. During this session, the Committee will assess how Lithuania had been implementing the provisions of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

HRMI drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that, even with the adoption of the Law on Protection Against Domestic Violence, women in Lithuania cannot feel safe. The safety measures prescribed by the Law are often not applied, the penal process does not take into account the needs of the victims of domestic violence and police officers do not ensure that victims are sent to specialized help centers and receive due psychological and other assistance.

The state does not pay sufficient attention to another major problem: the trafficking of women and girls. Even though the law was changed during the reported period in order to better tackle this crime, in practice many victims remain unprotected while traffickers continue to evade capture. The scale of trafficking continues to grow, while the average age of its victims continues to decrease. The fact that society and law enforcement bodies are prone to stigmatizing and blaming the victims does not help in fighting this heinous crime.

Legislative initiatives aimed at restricting women’s rights are of the greatest concern. A draft law almost completely prohibiting abortion had been registered in 2013, and it is currently being deliberated in the committees of Parliament. This law would be a major step backward for the protection of women’s rights and would pose a real threat to their health and lives. HRMI expressed great concern over such initiatives and suggested that the Committee makes recommendations to the state to ensure that no similar laws are passed.


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Alternative Reports to the UN Committee against Torture 2014

HRMI submitted alternative report to the UN Committee against Torture in order to assist the Committee in assessing Lithuania’s progress during the 52nd session (28 Apr 2014 – 23 May 2014) in which Lithuania’s third periodic report will be reviewed. Human Rights Monitoring Institute submitted

HRMI has identified severe overuse of pre-trial detention and ineffectiveness of the parole system as two of the most pressing issues in the area of criminal justice, while also noting that the long-awaited prison reform has not yet taken place.

The situation of refugees and asylum seekers is also troubling. Although the Lithuanian legislation provides that asylum seekers are exempt from detention, even in cases when they enter or stay illegally in the country, the practice does not follow this rule. A monitoring visit conducted by the HRMI staff revealed appalling conditions, including disregard of freedom of religion, in the Foreigners’ Registration Centre.

Due to the lack of legal safeguards and specialized services, victims of crime, including child victims and victims of domestic violence, often find themselves in situations amounting to torture and degrading treatment. Victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation also suffer from secondary victimization and stigmatization. “Perpetrators, benefitting from human trafficking, are depicted [in the media] as ‘helping the prostitutes to earn a living’, while crime victims – females involved in prostitution – are portrayed as having only themselves to blame“, the report reads.

In its submission, HRMI stressed that significant developments had taken place since the review of Lithuania’s second periodic report, the most notable being the adoption of the Law against Domestic Violence, which for the first time recognized domestic violence as a violation of human rights and a crime subject to prosecution. Nevertheless, acknowledging the progress in the area of combating domestic violence, setbacks in the implementation of certain obligations Lithuania has under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment should be remedied.

Another alternative report, produced in cooperation with REDRESS, Amnesty International, Reprieve, and Interights, was dedicated to the analysis of the investigation of Lithuania’s complicity in CIA Rendition Program.

 


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Submission to the Committee of Ministers: L v. Lithuania

On 10 December, HRMI together with the Lithuanian Gay League, ILGA-Europe and Transgender Europe submitted the comments to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe regarding the implementation of the L. v. Lithuania case and the general measures recently proposed in the Government’s Action Plan.

The general measures include (i) the elimination of the requirement to lay down gender reassignment conditions and procedures by law and the development of non-legal medical procedures; and (ii) the introduction of simplified procedures for changing entries in official documents, by means of a Law on the Registration of the Civil Acts.

The organizations expressed their concern that the proposal to delete Article 2.27, paragraph 2 of the Civil Code providing for a right, would leave the Lithuanian authorities with no obligation to put in place regulations enabling gender reassignment treatment. Given the hostility towards transgender persons in Lithuanian society, there would be no guarantee that such regulations and medical norms would be developed within a reasonable time, or that they would include coverage of the costs of gender reassignment treatment.

By contrast, the organizations welcomed the proposal for the introduction of simplified procedures for changing entries in official documents, however noting that the adoption of this law would be a first step only.  There would still be the need for subsidiary legislation, and the legal gender recognition will nevertheless remain dependent on the individual first undergoing full gender reassignment treatment.

The submission requested the Committee of Ministers to maintain supervision of the case until all the steps have been fully implemented and to consider monitoring the case under the enhanced supervision procedure.

L. v. Lithuania case concerned  the  failure  to  introduce  implementing  legislation  to  enable  a transsexual person to   undergo   gender-reassignment  surgery   and   change   his   gender identification in official documents. In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights found Lithuania in violation of Article 8 of the Convention and ordered authorities to pass the required subsidiary legislation within three months of the judgment becoming final, and failing that, to pay the applicant €40,000, to finance, at least in part, the necessary surgery abroad. The Lithuanian authorities took the latter route.  Some 12 years after the adoption of the Civil Code, and 6 years after the Court’s judgment, this legislative gap has still not been addressed.

Update

In February 2014, the Department for the Execution the ECtHR Judgments informed the Lithuanian Government‘s Agent that, as proposed in the submission by the HRMI, LGL and others, the Department is currently considering moving L. v Lithuania case to the enhanced supervision procedure. The Department indicated the lack of medical services for transsexuals and a failure to abide to the principle of legal certainty as key problems in the implementation of L. judgment.

On 21 March, 2014 the Government submitted the updated Action Plan which the Committee of Ministers will consider during the June meeting. After considering Government’s proposed measures, it will decide whether to start monitoring the case under the enhanced supervision procedure.

Information from the 2013 report by the Agent of the Lithuanian Government before the EctHR.

Submission is available here.

Government’s Action Plan can be accessed here.

Judgment in L. v. Lithuania case is available here.


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Struggling for Gender Equality: sharing Lithuanian and Bulgarian experiences (2013)

Eastern Europe Studies Centre released a study on the impact of gender equality and protection against domestic violence laws in Lithuania and Bulgaria. HRMI experts have contributed to the case study and hope that the study will be useful for NGOs in Russia and Belarus, struggling for gender equality and better protection of women’s rights.

In the study, the Lithuanian and Bulgarian experts explore the laws on gender equality and protection against domestic violence in their home countries. The authors provide an overview of the situation before the adoption of the laws, look into the drafting and adoption process, talk about the remaining challenges and lessons learned. The experts put forward suggestions and recommendations for decision and policy makers, experts, and NGOs from the countries which are yet to introduce their own gender equality and protection against domestic violence laws.

Full study in English and Russian.


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2011-2012 Overview

Human Rights Monitoring Institute presents the seventh overview of human rights in Lithuania (in Lithuanian). It is a unique report on the human rights situation in Lithuania in the period of 2011-2012. An English summary of the overview is also available.


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Public opinion poll (2012)

Starting in 2004, Human Rights Monitoring Institute began assessing the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania. For this purpose HRMI, in cooperation with the Market and Opinion Research Centre “Vilmorus Ltd.”, carries out a biennial public opinion poll on human rights related questions.

The opinion polls are primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

The poll’s questions cover civil and political rights with an added emphasis on the public’s awareness of instances of discrimination and violations of privacy: the poll participants are asked to indicate the most discriminated societal groups and to determine whether a violation of privacy occurred in given example scenarios.

The 2012 poll indicates that certain trends are quite stable. First, the level of action to defend rights remains very low – only 1 in 5 respondents who considered their rights violated sought help. Second, the level of confidence in the effectiveness of human rights defence mechanisms has not increased as well – 4 out of 5 respondents who refrained from seeking help did not believe they would have received effective assistance, allowing them to defend their rights.

Full results (in Lithuanian)


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D.D. v. Lithuania – a right to legal capacity

Proceedings initiated: 2004

Proceedings closed: 2012

Case in brief: the courts, without hearing out the applicant, stripped her off legal capacity and assigned a guardian, who locked her up in a mental care facility for eight years

Outcome of the case: ECtHR recognized violations of Article 5 and 6 of the ECHR and awarded the applicant with damages, her legal capacity was restored


Facts of the case:

In 2000 D.D., the applicant, was stripped of her legal capacity upon the request of her adoptive father. Two years later, she was placed under guardianship. In 2004, upon the initiative of her adoptive father and without her consent, D.D. was placed in a social care home in Kedainiai. In 2007, the director of the social care home became her guardian. As an incapacitated person, D.D. was not given the opportunity to participate in this or any other guardianship proceedings.

Proceedings before the ECtHR:

In 2006, D.D., represented by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute and the UK-based public interest litigation organization “Interights”, filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights arguing a violation of her right to liberty and security, fair trial, discrimination on the ground of disability and other rights.

On 14 February, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision in the case of D.D. v Lithuania, where it found violations of Article 5 (righ to liberty and security of a person) and 6 (right to a fair trial) of the ECHR. ECHR reasoned in its judgment that the Lithuanian system of protection of the rights of persons with mental disability suffers from serious legal and practical shortcomings.

ECHR concluded that the involuntary placement of D.D. to Kedainai social care home amounted to the deprivation of her liberty because the administration had a complete control over D.D. in relation to her treatment, care, accommodation and freedom of movement. The Court stressed that according to the Convention, the applicant has the right for judicial review of her involuntary institutionalisation. However, Lithuanian laws did not provide for such review, and a person with no legal capacity had no right to apply to court alltogether. Therefore the court ruled that such legal regulation is in breach of the applicant’s rights under Article 5 of the Convention guaranteeing the right to liberty and security of person.

Follow-up to the case:

On 29 May, 2012, the Kaunas City District Court restored D.D.’s legal capacity. Following the judgment D.D. moved out of Kedainiai social care home and current lives in her own apartment in Kaunas city.

Case files:

European Court of Human Rights judgment


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Alternative Report and Submissions to the UN HRC 2010-2013

In November 2010, HRMI submitted the alternative Report prepared for the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the occasion of its review of Lithuania’s Third Periodic Report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

See the full text of the Alternative Report here.

In July 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee reviewed the third periodic report of Lithuania. At the end of that review the Human Rights Committee adopted concluding observations (see here), including three recommendations which it selected for the follow-up procedure.

Under this procedure the State is asked to provide information one year after the review on the measures taken to implement these recommendations. The recommendations selected for the follow-up procedure on Lithuania were to adopt all necessary measures aimed at eradicating discrimination against LGBT individuals (recommendation 8); ensure effective investigation into allegations of Lithuania’s complicity in human rights violations as a result of counterterrorism measures (recommendation 9), and to eliminate the institution of detention for administrative offences from Lithuania‘s system of law enforcement (recommendation 12).

On 7 October 2013 HRMI submitted a follow-up report to the UN Human Rights Committee providing its assessment of the implementation of the Committee‘s  Recommendation No. 9.

HRMI underlined that no action has been taken by the State to investigate the allegations of its complicity in the CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition programme. To date, no criminal charges were brought, no official was held accountable, and no redress was provided to the victims.

Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) submitted its comments on the implementation of Recommendation no 8.

The follow-up report was prepared in cooperation with the Geneva-based Centre for Political and Civil Rights.

See the follow-up report prepared by HRMI and LGL here.


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2009-2010 Overview

On 26 May 2011, HRMI presented its traditional independent assessment of human rights in Lithuania “Human Rights in Lithuania 2009-2010: Overview”, which is based on in-house research, reports and other documents prepared by government institutions, Lithuanian and international NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, media monitoring data, and consultations with experts.

In 2009, when presenting the 2007-2008 Human Rights Overview, HRMI highlighted the ongoing deterioration of human rights situation in Lithuania since joining the European Union. “We emphasized the direct link between increasing levels of emigration and lack of foreign investment, on the one hand, and unsatisfactory human rights condition, on the other. We called for expansion of human dimension on political agenda, in which, irrespective of economic prosperity or recession, the attitude of immature democracy prevails that successful economic development will lead to improvement in human rights situation,” – said Henrikas Mickevicius, HRMI Executive Director.

Public discourse and political practice of recent years revealed that HRMI was not heard. Instead of care for human rights, a poorly disguised or even proudly displayed hostility towards human rights became obvious. Human rights situation continued to deteriorate and the popular joke about mass evacuation seem to resemble the truth. Disrespect for human rights and the culture of intolerance were openly employed as tools in political competition.

The Overview highlights the most serious violations of the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to fair trial, emphasizes regress in application of principles of equal opportunities and anti-discrimination, draws attention to the rapid growth of intrusions into private life, and to restrictions on the right to participate in public life and freedom of assembly. Special attention is paid to an unsatisfactory state of the rights of vulnerable groups, in particular of children and mentally disabled.

Human Rights in Lithuania 2009-2010: Overview


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Submissions to the UN Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review 2011

Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) in coalition with several Lithuanian NGOs forwarded two submissions to the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights practices in the country.

On 11 October 2011, UN Human Rights Council will review the first report of Lithuania submitted for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). UPR is a unique procedure which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. By the end of 2011, the UN Human Rights Council will complete the first round of country reviews.

The UPR procedure includes a possibility for non-governmental organisations to provide information and opinions to the UN Human Rights Council. HRMI together with the Center for Equality Advancement (CEA) and the Centre for Equal Rights and Social Development (CERSD) informed the UN Human Rights Council inter alia on developments related to the on-going discussion on the necessity of the National Human Rights Institution in Lithuania, on certain factors impacting the efficiency of the right to fair trial, including access to the state-guaranteed legal aid, stressed particular infringements of the right to respect for private life, and informed about questionable quality of investigation into Lithuanian participation in the CIA-run Extraordinary Rendition and Secret Detention programme.

Submission on the child‘s rights, drafted by HRMI, Children Support Centre (CSC) and Caritas Lithuania, emphasized the lack of objective data on the violence against children, the structural problems related to provision of assistance to children- victims of abuse, including victims of human trafficking, and informed about difficulties in ensuring rights of children in judicial process.

The Lithuanian Human Rights Centre, the Lithuanian Gay League, the Roma Community Centre and the Jewish Community of Lithuania have forwarded submissions the UN Human Rights Council on other human rights topics.

See the submission of HRMI, CEA and CERSD here.

See the submission of HRMI, CSC and Caritas Lithuania on child‘s rights here.


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Alternative Report to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2011

Alternative Report prepared for the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination On the occasion of its review of Lithuania’s Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Date submitted: February 2011.

See the full text of the Alternative Report here.


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Demolition of Roma Houses – a right to housing

Illegal constructions must be dealt with. Nevertheless, this right (and an obligation) must be implemented strictly in accordance with the provisions and requirements laid down in the law and the requirements of constitutional justice, proportionality and other principles of law. This obligation is binding on all state and municipal institutions with no exceptions. Derogation from these provisions violates the law, and the illegal acts of the institutions do not  in any way entitle them to any benefit or any other inadequate or unreasonable rights or immunities.”

– Supreme Administrative Court in the Roma housing case


Proceedings initiated: 2006

Proceedings closed: 2010

Case in brief: Vilnius city municipality demolished applicant’s house located in the Roma-settled neighbourghood

Outcome of the case: demolition of the applicant’s house was unlawful, she was awarded damages


Facts of the case:

On 2-3 December 2004, Vilnius Municipality demolished six houses in a Roma-inhabited settlement situated in Vilnius. Mrs Anastazija Ragauskienė’s – a 63-years-old woman – house was among the demolished houses as well. The Municipality justified its as a “war” with drugs trafficking and unauthorized constructions. However, Mrs Ragauskienė’s house was built back in 1979 and was neither under construction or repair, nor a newly built house, therefore it could not have been treated as an unauthorized construction house.

Legal proceedings:

In August 2006, A. Ragauskienė, represented by Human Rights Monitoring Institute, appealed to Vilnius Prosecutor’s Office with a request for the recognition of a victim status and a civil applicant status in a criminal case and, also, presented a civil claim for the pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages.

In July 2009 Vilnius Administrative Court satisfied the complaint of Roma community partially: Vilnius Municipality was ordered to compensate a part of non-pecuniary damage.

On 23 September 2010, the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania partially upheld applicant’s appeal by increasing the compensation. The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania stated that Vilnius Municipality carried out illegal activities and was responsible for the demolition of houses. The Court pointed our that the Municipality failed to provide any evidence indicating a serious and real threat to the society that would justify demolishing the houses without a court order.

 


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The Central Clinic Case – Accessibility

“This visit to the clinic was not any different from the others. Together with my daughter we go there for ten years. Although the years go by, the conditions remain the same, but we change – my daughter is growing, while I am getting older. I am scared of the thought that very soon my daughter will become too heavy for me to carry her upstairs to the doctor” 

– H., applicant in the case


Proceedings initiated: 2010

Proceedings closed: 2010

Case in brief: the clinic was not accessible for persons with disabilities

Outcome of the case: Vilnius city municipality was requested to move the polyclinic to other, accessible premises


Facts of the case:

An 11 years old girl with severe physical disability preventing her from walking was diagnosed with symptomatic epilepsy and child cerebral palsy. Her mother and herself have been going to the Lukiškės branch of the “Central Clinic” every month (or even more often) for over 10 years, however the premises of the building of the clinic were inaccessible – there was no parking lot for persons with disabilities, no elevator inside the building and no personnel to help the mother to carry her daughter to the third floor, where the pediatrician’s office was located.

Legal proceedings:

Entrance to the Central Clinic (premises of Lukiškės branch)

In April 2010, the girl’s mother, acting on behalf of her disabled daughter, filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman. In the complaint prepared by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, the applicant alleged that the “Cental Clinic”, acting as a service provider, failed to meet its obligation under Article 8 of the Law on Equal Treatment, i.e. “to provide consumers with equal access to the same <…> services”. This resulted in indirect discrimination of the disabled girl, and discrimination by association of her mother.

On 28 June 2010, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman decided to recommend Vilnius Municipality to provide the “Central Clinic” with facilities adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities.

 

Case-files:

Decision of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman’s Office (in Lithuanian)


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Rally “For Equality” case – freedom of assembly

„I am so proud, and not only for Lithuania. I consider an opportunity to hold a Pride tomorrow to be an important step. This dispute was not only about gay rights, or the Pride itself, this was a fundamental human rights question”

– Birgitta Ohlsson, Swedish Minister for European Union Affairs


Proceedings initiated: 2010

Proceedings closed:
2010

Case in brief: the march “For Equality” was prohibited during the first Baltic Pride organized in Lithuania

Legal proceedings: the court found the prohibition unlawful, and march took place as planned


Facts of the case:

At the beginning of 2010, Lithuanian Gay League and Tolerant Youth Association were granted a certificate to organize the march “For Equality” (first Baltic Pride event in Lithuania).

Legal proceedings:

On 5 May 2010, three days before the date of the event, Vilnius district administrative court, upon the request of hte Prosecutor General, temporarily suspended the certificate. The court relied on the arguments provided by the Prosecutor General that “the members of radical and destructive movements were planning various types of provocations should the march take place”.

On the same day, the Human Rights Monitoring Institute drafted an appeal on behalf of the applicants to the Supreme Administrative Court asking to quash the decision as unlawful and being contrary to the ECtHR established principles with respect to the right to freedom of assembly.

On 7 May 2010, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the complaint and quashed the decision of Vilnius district administrative court . The Supreme Administrative Court concluded that according to the European Convention of Human Rights and the case-law of European Court of Human Rights, the state has a positive obligation to ensure effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of assembly for all, including individuals with unpopular views or minority groups. The essential clause of effective exercise of freedom of assembly is a presumption of lawfulness, which is infringed when refusing to sanction a gathering and preventing minorities from participation.

The Supreme Administrative Court found that the applicants failed to provide conclusive data or evidence which could support the allegation that the state was not adequately prepared to meet its positive obligation to ensure the safety of the participants. The Court has also concluded that the temporary suspension of the certificate without the decision of the court on the merits of the case infringes the right to peaceful assembly.

Follow-up to the case:

The march “For Equality” took place on 8 May 2010.

Case-files:

Judgment of the Supreme Administrative Court (in Lithuanian)


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2007-2008 Overview

On June 10th, 2009 HRMI released the fifth human rights overview.

The Overview covers the situation of fundamental political and civil rights in Lithuania during the period of 2007-2008. It reviews the implementation of the right to political participation, the right to freedom of expression, the right to respect for private life and the right to a fair trial as well as various manifestations of racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination. The situation of a few socially vulnerable groups such as women, children, and prisoners, the disabled and medical patients in the context of human rights is analysed separately.

See full text of the Overview in English: Human Rights in Lithuania 2007-2008: Overview


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“Erika” case – right to respect for private life

Proceedings initiated: 2008

Proceedings closed: 2008

Case in brief: after completing gender reassingment surgery abroad, the applicant was unable to change her ID documents in Lithuania

Outcome of the case: following the court’s order, the applicant’s ID documents were changed


Facts of the case:

In the case of “Erika”, the applicant who underwent gender-reassignment surgery abroad was unable to change her personal identity documents in Lithuania. With HRMI assistance, the applicant filed a complaint with the court requesting to oblige responsible state institutions to issue the applicant with new identity documents. In order to safeguard the privacy of the applicant, the case was heard behind the closed doors.

Legal proceedings:

On 20 March 2008, Vilnius District Court granted the application and ordered state institutions to amend applicant’s personal data, including her ID number and identity documents. The judgement has been fully implemented.


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Saicha case – ethnic origin discrimination

„The employers were not interested in who I was, they made their decision [not to employ me] after just taking a look at me. I hope that this judgment will allow my nation to find jobs. This is a proof that we all can move forward” 

– Plaintiff S.M.


Proceedings initiated: 2007

Proceedings closed: 2008

Case in brief: a Roma woman was not employed as a dishwasher due to her ethnic origin

Outcome of the case: the employer discriminated the plaintiff on the ground of her ethnic origin and was ordered to pay her damages


Facts of the case:

The applicant Mrs S.M. is a Roma woman. In the autumn of 2007, Mrs S.M. applied for a job – a dish-washer position in a café runned by a private company “Disona”. After an interview, Mrs S.M. was not accepted for the position despite the fact that on the phone she was re-assured that the café was indeed looking for a dish washer.

Following the unsuccessful job interview, HRMI for the first time in Lithuania applied a testing method which is a common practice in other European countries and which helps finding out the discrimination fact: upon HRMI request the bailiff called the café to ask if the dish washer position was still vacant. The answer given was positive. Later the same day Lithuanian woman applied for the same position in the same café. She was hired immediately. During the interview the administrator of the café said that “a gypsy women came today as well, however since she was gypsy she was not accepted”.

Legal proceedings:

HRMI Legal Director Jolanta Samuolyte with the plaintiff S.M. outside the entrance to the court building © 15.min

Mrs S.M. addressed Vilnius District Court claiming the direct discrimination on a ground of ethnicity. On  30 June 2008, Vilnius District Court acknowledged the fact of direct discrimination on a ground of ethnicity when seeking a job and ordered the defendant company “Disona” to pay 250 EUR of pecuniary and 580 EUR of non-pecuniary damages. The defendant appealed the ruling, however, Vilnius regional court did not uphold the appeal.

Final judgment:

Judgment of the Vilnius regional court (in Lithuanian)


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2005: Overview

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


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2004: Overview

HRMI has prepared its second report on human rights implementation in Lithuania. The overview focuses on problematic areas and formulates recommendations for improvements.

This overview identifies the main violations of human rights in 2004 concerning the right to political participation, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, human rights in police activities, the rights of crime victims, prisoners’ rights, discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism and the rights of vulnerable social groups (patients, children, women, disabled and elderly).

The Overview has been prepared by a group of experts, and is based on the information and data from long-term HRMI projects, daily monitoring, including media monitoring, reports of international and national governmental and non-governmental organizations and public opinion surveys.

English version of the overview here.


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2003 Overview

On 10 June 2004, HRMI released its first assessment of the state of human rights in Lithuania. The human rights overview pays special attention to under-examined issues, such as the right to political participation, the right to privacy, the rights of crime victims, and the rights of other vulnerable groups.

The report revealed numerous violations of the right to political participation, right to respect for privacy, the right to a fair trial, the right to property, and the rights of vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and crime victims.

Full text here.


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