RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS DENOUNCE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN LATVIA

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MOSCOW, April 28 (RIA Novosti) - On Wednesday the State Duma (the lower chamber of Russian parliament) adopted the statement On the Responsibility of the Latvian Authorities for the Systematic Human Rights Violations.

The statement says that the State Duma repeatedly expresses concern over the Latvian authorities' policy regarding the ethnic minorities.

"About half a million people living in Latvia have no Latvian citizenship to this day", it reads.

Latvia's law On the State Language, adopted in 1999, has made Russian a foreign language for 36 percent of this country's population. The governmental programme Society Integration in Latvia is actually aimed at forcible assimilation of the ethnic minorities, the statement stresses.

The State Duma notes that the Latvian authorities ignore the persistent recommendations of the international organisations, including the United Nations committee for uprooting race discrimination, Council of Europe, Baltic States' Council and others, on the need for Latvia to ensure the entirety of the rights of the ethnic minorities and their integration into Latvian society.

Latvia's Seim is still refusing to follow the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to ratify the framework convention on the protection of the ethnic minorities, which Latvia signed back in 1995.

Russian parliamentarians are also concerned over the Seim adoption of the education reform programme in early 2004. The Duma statement notes that the adoption of this programme has touched off massive actions of schoolchildren country-wide. But, despite the scope of such protests, the Latvian authorities would not begin dialogue on this matter.

"Instead of making efforts to bring closer the national communities and prevent conflicts", the Latvian government is threatening with criminal persecution for the organizers of schoolchildren's actions, the document notes. In addition, the Latvian president accuses Russian politicians of having to do with arranging the rallies of Russian schoolchildren in Latvia.

The State Duma declares that Latvia's entry into the European Union does not remove its obligations to observe the human rights and the rights of the ethnic minorities. The State Duma warns that all responsibility for the negative developments in Latvia fully rests with the authorities of that country.

On Wednesday Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, took the floor at the press conference in the Palace of Europe in Strasbourg. He voiced the opinion that tuition in Russian in schools in Latvia and the other Baltic countries should be settled through dialogue.

Schwimmer emphasized that the protection of rights of the ethnic minorities, including the right to study and preserve the native tongue, is among the crucial goals of the Council of Europe.

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