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UN expert urges dialogue after Latvia votes against Russian as official language

Independent Expert on Minority Issues Rita Izsak.
Independent Expert on Minority Issues Rita Izsak.

UN expert urges dialogue after Latvia votes against Russian as official language

The United Nations independent expert on minority issues today encouraged the Government of Latvia to ensure protection of the rights of the country’s Russian-speaking minority and engage in dialogue with them after a proposal to recognize the language as an official tongue was rejected in a referendum.

“This referendum should not be considered as a victory for one community over another. Rather it should mark an opportunity for enhanced dialogue on minority rights in Latvia,” said Rita Izsák, the UN independent expert, in a statement following the vote held on Saturday.

“I urge the Latvian authorities to make concentrated efforts to bring the different communities together and assist them in overcoming historical prejudices, fears and mistrust,” she said.

Ms. Izsák called for dialogue on how to create “unity in diversity” and accommodate the needs and rights of all groups in Latvia.

“It should be clearly understood that Latvia’s referendum result does not mean that Latvia has any less obligation to ensure the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, including to use their minority language,” she said.

Those rights are enshrined in various international treaties and human rights standards, including Article 27 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on Minorities, she stressed.

Ms. Izsák underscored that international human rights law requires that States protect the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities, and promote conditions for that protection, including through legislative and other measures.

Minorities have the right to use their own language in private or in public without discrimination and provisions should also be made to enable minorities to learn and be taught in their mother tongue as well as the official State language, she added.

About 27 per cent of Latvia’s population is of Russian origin and an estimated one-third of the country’s 2.1 million inhabitants consider Russian as their mother tongue.

Some 75 per cent of Latvia’s voters reportedly cast their ballots against an amendment to the constitution to introduce Russian as a second official language.