On 16 March 2006, the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter – the Court) delivered its judgment in the case of "Tatjana Zdanoka v. Latvia". The Court held by thirteen votes to four that Latvia had not violated Article 3 of Protocol No 1 (the right to free elections) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter – the Convention), and that it was not necessary to examine separately Ms Zdanoka's complaint with respect to Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly) of the Convention. Owing to the positive judgment of the Court, Latvia will not have to pay compensation to the applicant previously awarded by the Chamber of judgment of the Court.
A crucial element of the international recognition of the occupation of Latvia is the Court's evaluation of the historical context of the country's development. The Court recognized that Latvia and the other Baltic states had lost their independence in 1940 following the partition of Central and Eastern Europe in accordance with the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, an agreement which violated the generally recognised principles of international law. The Court also noted the active role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Communist Party of Latvia (CPL) in Latvia's accession to the USSR. Thus, the Court rejected statements that Latvia had acceded to the USSR in compliance with the legal norms at the time.
In the case of Zdanoka, the Court considered that an infringement of the right to stand for election was not intended to punish those who opposed the integrity of democratic processes, but rather to exclude from participation in the legislation process those individuals who had an active role in a party which attempted to violently overthrow the newly-established democratic regime in the country.
The Court admitted that taking into account the CPL's involvement in the tragic events of January 1991, it was reasonable to presume that the leading officials of the CPL had held an anti-democratic stance, unless by their overt actions they had distanced themselves from this position. Examining the case of Zdanoka, the Court concluded that the applicant had neither acted so nor had repented her activities.
The Court supported the Latvian government's view that even by evaluating Ms Zdanoka's role and activities during the events of 1991, the applicant's exclusion from standing as a candidate in the national parliamentary elections is reasonable, and therefore such a measure is in line with the requirements of Article 3 of Protocol No 1 of the Convention. The Court noted that such a measure would be unjustifiable in those countries where democratic traditions had existed for many decades or centuries, but could be considered acceptable in Latvia in view of the historico-political context which had led to setting such restrictions and the threat to the newly-established democracy caused by the resurgence and promotion of communist ideas which might lead to the restoration of a totalitarian regime.
The Court concluded that the legislative and judicial authorities of Latvia might best assess the difficulties faced when establishing and defending the democratic order. For this reason, these authorities should be left sufficient freedom of action to assess the needs of their society in building confidence in the newly-established democratic institutions, including the national Parliament, and to answer the question of whether such measures were still needed to justify their purpose, provided that nothing disproportionate or arbitrary had been found in the assessment of the national authorities.
In this regard, the Court also considered the fact that the Latvian Parliament had periodically reviewed Article 5 Section 6 of the Parliamentary Elections Act, most recently in 2004. The Court took account of the decision of the Constitutional Court of 30 August 2000, in which the Constitutional Court had carefully examined the restrictions to election rights within the context of the country's democratic development, and the historical and political circumstances when adopting the elections law in Latvia, and established that at the moment of assessment, i.e. nine years after the events of 1991, the Parliament's action had neither been arbitrary nor disproportionate. The Court noted that the Constitutional Court had admitted that restrictions to election rights cannot have an indefinite term, that they cannot exist for a too long period of time and must constantly be reviewed. The Parliament of Latvia has an obligation to constantly review the statutory restriction, with a view to cancelling it in the near future. Such a conclusion would be justified taking into account the stability Latvia has achieved, inter alia, by its full integration into Europe. The Latvian legislature should, however, work actively on cancelling such restrictions, as the European Court of Human Rights might deliver an opposite ruling in similar cases in the future.
The judgment of the Grand Chamber is final and is not subject to appeal.
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