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Human rights in Estonia

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Human rights in Estonia

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Human rights in Estonia are acknowledged as generally respected by the government,[1][2][3] while there are concerns in some areas, such as detention conditions, police use of force, and child abuse.[2] Estonia is ranked above-average in democracy,[4] press freedom,[5] privacy[6] and human development.[7] Individuals are guaranteed basic rights under the constitution, legislative acts, and treaties relating to human rights ratified by the Estonian government.[2][3][8]

Several international and human rights organisations, such as [9] in 1993, the UN Human Rights Council[10] in 2008 have found no evidence or pattern of systematic abuse of human rights or discrimination on ethnic grounds, while others, such as Amnesty International in 2009, have raised concerns regarding Estonia's significant Russophone minority.[11]


Estonians' individual human rights and collective rights to exist as an ethnic entity, have been routinely violated for eight centuries since the Northern Crusades and Baltic German rule, followed by two centuries of Russian imperial suzerainty and ending with half a century of Soviet occupation. Estonia's first constitution of 1920 included safeguards for civil and political rights that were the standard of the day.[12] The 1925 Law on Cultural Autonomy was an innovative piece of legislation that provided for the protection of the collective rights for citizens of non-Estonian ethnicities.[12]

Estonia in the international human rights system

As of end of 2010, European Court of Human Rights has delivered 23 judgments in cases brought against Estonia (beginning from 2001); in 19 cases, it found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights or its protocols.[13] In 2001, Estonia has extended a standing invitation to Special Procedures of UN Human Rights Council.[14]

Participation in basic human rights treaties

UN core treaties[15] Participation of Estonia CoE core treaties[16] Participation of Estonia
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Accession in 1991 European Convention on Human Rights Ratified in 1996
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Accession in 1991 Protocol 1 (ECHR) Ratified in 1996
First Optional Protocol (ICCPR) Accession in 1991 Protocol 4 (ECHR) Ratified in 1996
Second Optional Protocol (ICCPR) Accession in 2004 Protocol 6 (ECHR) Ratified in 1998
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Accession in 1991 Protocol 7 (ECHR) Ratified in 1996
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Accession in 1991 Protocol 12 (ECHR) Signed in 2000
Optional Protocol (CEDAW) Not signed Protocol 13 (ECHR) Ratified in 2004
United Nations Convention Against Torture Accession in 1991 European Social Charter Not signed
Optional Protocol (CAT) Ratified in 2006 Additional Protocol of 1988 (ESC) Not signed
Convention on the Rights of the Child Accession in 1991 Additional Protocol of 1995 (ESC) Not signed
Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (CRC) Signed in 2003 Revised European Social Charter Ratified in 2000
Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC-OP-SC) Ratified in 2004 European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Ratified in 1996
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families Not signed European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages Not signed
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Signed in 2007 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities Ratified in 1997
Optional Protocol (CRPD) Not signed Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings Not signed

Latest documents in reporting procedures

Experts' body State report Experts' body's document
Human Rights Committee 2008[17] 2010[18]
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 2008 [19] 2011[20]
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2009[21] 2010[22]
Committee Against Torture 2005[23] 2007[24]
Committee on the Rights of the Child 2001[25] 2003[26]
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women 2005[27] 2007[28]
European Committee on Social Rights 2010[29] 2011[30] 2010;[31] pending
Committee for the Prevention of Torture not foreseen 2007[32]
FCNM Advisory Committee 2004,[33] 2010[34] 2005;[35] 2011 (link).
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance not foreseen 2010[36]

Overviews by human rights organisations

Amnesty International

According to [11]

Human Rights Watch

According to Constitution of Estonia. However there were some problems concerning the successful integration of some who were permanent residents at the time Estonia gained independence.[3]

Freedom House

According to [37] Also religious freedom is respected in law and in practice. Corruption is regarded as a relatively minor problem in Estonia. The judiciary is independent and generally free from government interference.[38]

United Nations Human Rights Council

The 2008 report of Special Rapporteur on racism to United Nations Human Rights Council noted the existence of political will by the Estonian State authorities to fight the expressions of racism and discrimination in Estonia.[10] According to the report, the representatives of the Russian speaking communities in Estonia saw the most important form of discrimination in Estonia is not ethnic, but rather language-based (Para. 56). The rapporteur expressed several recommendations including strengthening the Chancellor of Justice, facilitating granting citizenship to persons of undefined nationality and making language policy subject of a debate to elaborate strategies better reflecting the multilingual character of society (paras. 89-92).[10]

UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) examines regular reports of the member States on how the rights are being implemented under Article 9 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In its 2010 concluding observations the Committee noted some positive aspects, and raised concerns and made recommendations with regard to Estonia's compliance with the convention. Concerns named in the report included: lack of protection of minorities from hate speech; racial motivation of crimes not being an aggravating circumstance; strong emphasis on Estonian language in the state Integration strategy; usage of punitive approach for promoting Estonian language; restrictions of the usage of minority language in public services; low level of minority representation in political life; persistently high number of persons with undetermined citizenship, etc.[39]

Other institutions

According to sphere of influence of Russia. Moscow's attempts to take political advantage over the issue of the Russophone minority in Estonia have been successful as Kremlin has used every international forum where the claims of the violations of human rights in Estonia have been presented.[40]

The United Nations Development Programme's forum[41] Development and Transition has discussed the situation of Estonia and Latvia in 2005.

James Hughes, a US sociologist from the Trinity College, claimed Latvia and Estonia are both states "captured by the titular ethnic groups", employing a "sophisticated and extensive policy regime of discrimination" against their respective Russophone populations. He names three "pillars" of discrimination: refusal of citizenship, language usage, and participation rights, and claims discrimination is constrained by the "economic dependence on Russophone labour".[42]

Nils Muiznieks, a Latvian politician, former minister for Social Integration, claimed, "Hughes provides simple conclusions about the complex realities of minority policies and inter-ethnic relations in Estonia and Latvia".[43]

Both the [9]

According to Human Right Report of United States Department of State, Estonia generally respects the human rights of citizens and the large ethnic Russian noncitizen community. However there were problems with police use of force, conditions in detention and lengthy of pre-trial detention. Also there were problems in domestic violence, inequality of women's salaries, child abuse, and trafficking of women and children.[2]

According to Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as at 2011, the evaluations given by UN Committee on economic, social and cultural rights show acute human rights issues, in particular in the field of rights of national minorities, to remain unresolved in Estonia.[44] According to Thomas Ambrosio, Russia's persistent criticism of Estonian human rights is a way of diverting attention away from its own grave democratic and human rights issues by criticising others, he states that no matter how many times it accuses Tallinn of gross human rights abuses, it does not change the fact that Estonia is far freer than Russia.[45]


Surveys related to human rights

Surveys conducted between 1993 and 1997 found ethnic Russians living in the Baltic states generally did not see themselves as particularly threatened or suffering from "apartheid" or racism as the Russian government often contended; a British survey in 1993 showed that "solid majorities of ethnic Russians did not consider their situations as "dangerous, difficult or especially burdensome" and found 69% of Russian speakers disagreed with the view that non-citizens and minorities were badly treated, while a Russian survey in 1995 found only 8% of Russian speakers felt their human rights were being violated.[46]

According to a 2008 survey of 500 ethnic Russians conducted by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, 59% of those questioned characterized ethnic discrimination as very or fairly widespread in the country. 27% claimed they had experienced discrimination based on their ethnic origin in the past 5 years, including 17% during the past 12 months (compared to 4–5% in Lithuania and Latvia.) Discrimination at workplace was characterized as widespread, with 72% of poll participants saying that a different ethnic background would be hindering to advancement. 39% said they had experienced discrimination during the past 5 years when looking for work, including 16% during the past 12 months—the highest rate in all the countries surveyed. 10% confirmed that they avoid certain places, such as shops or cafés because they believed they would receive bad treatment due to their ethnic background.[47]

However another survey result in 2008 found only 3% of ethnic Russians said they had regularly experienced hostility or unfair treatment because of their ethnicity, and 9% occasionally; 1% stated they had been regularly offended on the basis of their ethnicity while 7% occasionally. This survey found that while most of the respondents had not actually experienced any discrimination personally, they nevertheless held the belief that the level of discrimination was high.[48]

The [49] As of September 2, 2009, 102,466, or 7.5% of Estonia's population remain non-citizens, dropping from 32% in 1992 and 12% in 2003.[50][51] In November 2005 a survey was conducted among residents with undetermined citizenship. The results show that 61% of those residents wanted Estonian citizenship, 13% Russian citizenship and 6% citizenship of another country. 17% of the respondents were not interested in acquiring any citizenship at all. It was found that the older the respondent, the more likely he or she doesn't want to have any citizenship. The survey also showed that respondents who were born in Estonia were more likely to wish to get Estonian citizenship (73%), than those not born in Estonia (less than 50%).[50]

Recent studies have shown that one of the significant factors of statelessness is the advantage of retaining an ambiguous legal status to everyday life; on one hand it is easier for immigrants without Estonian citizenship to travel back to Russia while on the other hand lack of citizenship poses no problems for living in Estonia; a survey in 2008 found that 72% of ethnic Russian respondents cite the ease of travel to Russia as one of the reasons people do not seek Estonian citizenship and 75% state that the fact of lack of citizenship does not hinder their lives is another reason[48]


72% of 500 questioned ethnic Russians believed that different ethnic background is hindering to workplace advancement.[47] Russian government officials and parliamentarians echo these charges in a variety of forums. Such claims have become more frequent during times of political disagreements between Russia and these countries and waned when the disagreements have been resolved.[52][53][54][55][56]

According to the 2008 survey by TIES, a project coordinated by the University of Amsterdam, 38.9% of Russian and 25.2% of Estonian respondents think that "Russians experience hostility or unfair treatment because of their ethnicity" at work "occasionally", "regularly", or "frequently". 51.4% of Russian and 50.4% of Estonian respondents also think that Russians experience ethnic discrimination looking for work.[57] Same report says 40% of Estonians and 44% of Russians think it is "more difficult" or "much more difficult" for Russians to find a job, compared to Estonians. 10% of Estonians and 15% of Russians, on the other side, believe it is "easier", or "much easier" for Russians to find a job.[58]

A 2005 study by European Network Against Racism found that 17.1% of ethnic non-Estonians claimed that they had experienced limitations to their rights or degrading treatment in the workplace durin the last 3 years because of their ethnic origin.[59]

Amnesty had noted in a 2006 report that members of the [64] A later study by Kristian Leping and Ott Toomet published in 2008 in the Journal of Comparative Economics reports that a lack of fluency in the Estonian language and segregated social networks and school system, rather than ethnicity, as the prime reason for the apparent wage gap between Estonian and non-Estonian speakers.[65]


Since restoration of independence in 1991, Estonia has been funding Russian-language elementary, comprehensive and high schools alongside Estonian-language schools, with future reform planned since the late 1990s but repeatedly delayed. The reform plan was commenced in 2007.

According to schedule, 60% of all subjects of grades 10, 11 and 12 are to be taught in Estonian by 2011 in all state-funded schools. All state-funded schools already teach Estonian literature in Estonian since the 2007/2008 academic year. The government has been reserved authority to grant waivers and extensions to some state-funded schools on a case-by-case basis.[66]

In the 2007/2008 academic year, 49 Russian schools (79%) were teaching Music in Estonian, 30 Russian schools (48%) were teaching Social Studies in Estonian and 17 Russian schools (27%) taught both transition subjects in Estonian.[67]

Amnesty International has recommended that the authorities provide more support for teachers and adequate resources for students who will be required to replace Russian with Estonian as their language of teaching and instruction; replacing Russian with Estonian as their learning language to successfully manage this transition.[60]

According to the 2008 survey by TIES, 50% of ethnic Russian respondents think that the statement, "As a result of [2007 school] reform the quality of education for Russian youth will worsen" is "exactly true" or "moderately true". Report also notes that "a significantly larger share of Estonians complete higher education, while Russians more often only finish secondary education. At the same time, there were no significant differences between Estonians and Russians school success in terms of drop-out rates from basic and secondary school."[68]

Ethnicity and crime

UN Committee Against Torture in its 2008 report on Estonia notes that "approximately 33 per cent of the prison population is composed of stateless persons, while they represent approximately 8 per cent of the overall population". The Committee calls this representation "disproportionate", and urges Estonia to take additional steps to protect rights of non-citizens and stateless residents.[69] In 2008, about 78% of non-citizens were ethnic Russians, less than 3% – ethnic Estonians. As of 2006, approximately 60% of the ethnic Russian population were non-citizens, 40 percent were stateless.[70][71]

Treatment of Roma

The Council of Europe has claimed that "the Roma community in Estonia is still disproportionately affected by unemployment and discrimination in the field of education."[72] The European Commission had previously conducted close monitoring of Estonia in 2000 and concluded that there is no evidence that these minorities are subject to discrimination.[73]

Bronze Night incident

A number of organisations have commented on the events surrounding the [74]

Trafficking in persons

According to the CIA World Factbook, "Estonia is a source, transit, and destination country for women subjected to forced prostitution, and for men and women subjected to conditions of forced labor". Estonia also "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, being the only country of the EU without a specific trafficking law.[75]

Exploitation of children

Independent Special Rapporteur Najat M'jid Maala of the United Nations has said that Estonia has taken clear steps to protect children from exploitation, although the human rights expert has commented that "young people remain at risk and continued vigilance from authorities is needed."[76]

Sexual orientation

Homosexual sex, which was illegal in the Soviet Union, was legalised in Estonia in 1992. The age of consent is 14 years and was equalized for both homosexual and heterosexual sex in 2001.[77] Homosexuals are not banned from military service and there are no laws discriminating homosexuals.

Estonia transposed an EU directive into its own laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment from May 1, 2004. A survey carried out in September 2002 found that there was a high level of discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Estonia.[78]

External views


According to veteran German author, journalist and Russia-correspondent Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, there is deep disapproval of everything Russian in Estonia. She contends that the alleged level of discrimination regarding ethnic Russians in Estonia would have posed a barrier to acceptance into the EU; however, Western media gave the matter very little attention.[79] However the European Commission conducted close monitoring of these countries compliance with the Acquis communautaire in regard to minority rights prior to accession to the EU, the Commission claimed that there is no evidence that these minorities are subject to discrimination.[73]

In an interview with the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Hans Glaubitz, a former ambassador of the Netherlands to Estonia, mentioned that he resigned due to the homophobia and racism once they could not "cope with gay hatred and racism on the Estonian streets."[80]

International rankings

See also


  1. ^ Polity IV Country Report 2010: Estonia. Vienna: Center for Systemic Peace. 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d "2008 Human Rights Report: Estonia".  
  3. ^ a b c d "Integrating Estonia's Non-Citizen Minority".  
  4. ^ a b "The Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy 2008". Economist. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  5. ^ a b "Press Freedom Index 2008".  
  6. ^ a b "The 2007 International Privacy Ranking".  
  7. ^ "Statistics of the Human Development Report".  
  8. ^ a b "Country Report 2008 Edition".  
  9. ^ a b Max van der Stoel (1993-04-23). "CSCE Communication No. 124" (PDF).  
  10. ^ a b c "Distr. GENERAL A/HRC/7/19/Add.2 17 March 2008 Original: ENGLISH, HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL Seventh session Agenda item 9: RACISM, RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, XENOPHOBIA AND RELATED FORMS OF INTOLERANCE, FOLLOW-UP TO AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DURBAN DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION - Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diène, Addendum, MISSION TO ESTONIA". Documents on Estonia.  
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  12. ^ a b Toivo Miljan, Historical dictionary of Estonia, Scarecrow Press, 2004, p253
  13. ^ Estonia: Press country profile European Court of Human Rights Press Unit, 2011
  14. ^ Countries having extended a standing invitation to Special Procedures
  15. ^ UN human rights treaties
  16. ^ CoE human rights treaties
  17. ^ Estonia's Third report on ICCPR
  18. ^ HRC Concluding observations
  19. ^ Estonia's third report on ICESCR
  20. ^ CESCR concluding observations on the second report by Estonia E/C.12/EST/CO/2
  21. ^ 8th and 9th report on ICERD
  22. ^ CERD Concluding observations
  23. ^ Fourth report on CAT
  24. ^ CAT conclusions and recommendations
  25. ^ Initial report on CRC
  26. ^ CRC concluding observations
  27. ^ 4th report on CEDAW
  28. ^ CEDAW concluding Comments
  29. ^ Estonia's report on Articles 2, 4, 5, 6, 21, 22, 28, 29 ESC(R), 2010
  30. ^ Estonia's report on Articles 7, 8, 16, 17, 19, 27 ESC(R), 2011
  31. ^ ECSR conclusion on Articles 2, 4, 5, 6, 21, 22, 28, 29 ESC(R)
  32. ^ CPT report on the 2007 visit
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  47. ^ a b "European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey". European Union Fundamental Rights Agency. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
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  49. ^ van Elsuwege, Peter. "Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia and Latvia: problems of integration at the threshold of the European Union". European Centre for Minority Issues. 
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  51. ^ Government to develop activities to decrease the number of non-citizens
  52. ^ Russia and the Baltic States: Not a Case of "Flawed" History
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  55. ^ Postimees July 30, 2007: Venemaa süüdistas Eestit taas natsismi toetamises
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Further reading

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