On 26 May 2005, the Saeima ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe (the Convention). Since the term 'national minorities' is not defined in the Convention, the Saeima agreed that under the Convention this term “refers to those citizens of Latvia who differ from Latvians in terms of culture, religion or language, who have been traditionally living in Latvia for generations, who consider themselves as belonging to the state of Latvia and the Latvian community, and who would like to preserve and develop their culture, religion and language”.
When defining the notion of ‘national minorities’, Latvia relied on definitions by the states parties to the Convention, adding an important element – unless specific exceptions are prescribed by the law, “persons who are not citizens of Latvia or another State but who permanently and legally reside in the Republic of Latvia, who do not belong to a national minority within the meaning of the Convention as defined in the declaration submitted by Latvia, but who identify themselves with a national minority that meets the definition contained in the declaration, enjoy the rights prescribed in the Convention”.
Upon ratifying the Convention, the Saeima also adopted two declarations stating that Latvia regards as binding Paragraph two of Article 10 and paragraph three of Article 11 of the Convention governing the spheres of use of certain minority languages provided they do not contradict the Satversme (Constitution of Latvia) and other laws and regulations effective in the Republic of Latvia and governing the use of the official language. High-ranking officials of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, and other countries have voiced their appreciation of the ratification of the Convention. The ratification has also been received positively by international organizations both at the bilateral and multilateral level.
The Committee of Ministers (CM) at the meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies on 9 July 2014 adopted Resolution CM/ResCMN(2014)9 on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia. The adoption of the resolution concluded the second monitoring cycle under the Convention. The monitoring of the implementation of the Convention within the framework of five year cycles is a regular practice in all CoE member states which have ratified the Convention.
The said resolution covers the period since the conclusion of the first round of monitoring the implementation of the Convention by Latvia on 30 March 2011.
The Committee of Ministers commended the progress of Latvia achieved in society integration and the protection of national minority rights including the development of the ethnic distinctiveness and cultural identity of national minorities. The positive examples noted were Amendments to the Citizenship Law (came into effect on 1 October 2013) simplifying the process of naturalisation and obtaining citizenship (incl. children whose parents both are non-citizens); restricting hate crime/ hate speech; state funded bilingual education in seven minority languages; promoting dialogue between public institutions, national minorities and non-governmental organisations at the local and national level (e.g. within the frame of national level advisory councils). At the same time, the Committee urged Latvia to take further measures in a number of areas to facilitate an effective enjoyment of the rights of national minorities.
Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is a document of programmatic character. It does not provide the countries with specific solutions for the implementation of national minorities’ rights and does not regulate the matters related to citizenship policy and other issues of constitutional character. Therefore, Latvia will continue dealing with the issues related to citizenship policy, the use of the official language and political involvement in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia and the principles stipulated in other legislation in force.