Rights of the Russian minority in Estonia

 

Doc. 7605

28 June 1996

 

WRITTEN QUESTION No. 368

by Mr van der MAELEN


            Mr van der MAELEN,

            Considering that:

1.         On 17 April 1996, the Estonian Parliament passed a law on the organisation of local elections and the use of languages for such elections.  In future, candidates standing for election to local councils will have to sit a language examination (see Section 26 of the electoral law and Section 48 amending Section 5 of the language law).  In addition, only stateless persons in possession of a permanent residence permit are entitled to vote in local elections;

2.         According to citizens' rights associations in Estonia, this electoral law is contrary to Articles 9 and 11 of the Estonian Constitution.  It is also in breach of Article 12 which prohibits any form of discrimination on ethnic or linguistic grounds.  These associations claim it is also contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination,  the Charter of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (adopted by the Council of Europe) and the Conclusions of the Copenhagen Conference on the humanitarian dimension of the OSCE;

3.         More specifically, the language law is an infringement of the rights of the Russian minority in Estonia, who are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  In principle, these stateless persons are entitled to vote in local elections if they have been living in Estonia for at least 5 years and if they have a permanent residence permit.  It is not at all clear if temporary (5-year) residence permits will become permanent or if they will merely be extended, in which case the Russian minority would not be entitled to vote.  The fact also that the nationality law has been tightened up with regard to the Russian minority adds to the impression that this minority's rights are being infringed.  In addition, the temporary residence permits in question have no legal value in some countries of the European Union,

            To ask the Committee of Ministers,

            if it intends to finds a solution to the practical difficulties encountered by the Russian minority in Estonia and to the problem of the legal vacuum.  He wishes to know, more especially, if the Committee has urged the Estonian authorities to relax the nationality law and to settle the issue of permanent residence permits and voting rights in local elections, in an acceptable manner and in line with the letter and spirit of the relevant international treaties.

Signed:

van der Maelen, Belgium. SOC