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Antidiscrimination legislation rejected in Latvia

in LATVIA, 25/06/2004

The Latvian parliament refuses to implement a European Union directive

In March 2004, the Latvian Minister for Special Assignment for Society Integration Affairs proposed an Anti-Discrimination Bill, which would implement the European Union directive on requirements for race and employment equality (2000/43/EC and 2000/78/EC) and contained a proposal to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation

However, after the Bill had been submitted to parliament, the parliamentary Human Rights and Public Affairs Commission, which is responsible for the Bill, amended it and deleted the ban on sexual orientation discrimination. The Bill has its second reading this autumn.

The Parliamentary Human Rights and Public Affairs Commission is notorious for its anti-gay stance: since 1995 the Commission has rejected numerous proposals from the Latvian lesbian and gay organisation, the Latvian National Human Rights Office and the Welfare Minister to ban sexual orientation discrimination and in 1999 the commission rejected the Registered Partnership Bill.

This recent amendment to the Anti-Discrimination Bill by the Commission, deleting an explicit ban on sexual orientation discrimination, directly contradicts Latvia’s obligation under EU law. Since 1 May 2004 Latvia has been an official member of the European Union and is obligated to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment. Latvian lesbian, gay and bisexual workers are under real threat from discrimination: European and national polls reveal that the Latvian population is one of the most homophobic in the European Union and the 2002 report on Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia‚ showed that in Latvia:

> 2.6% individuals who completed the questionnaire had lost their job because of their sexuality;
> 9.3% had encountered attempts to sack them because of their sexuality;
> 6.7% reported having been dismissed from a job because of their sexuality;
> 17% had encountered harassment at the workplace;
> 58% felt their sexuality had to be kept hidden in any job.

An explanation from members of the Parliamentary Human Rights and Public Affairs Commission as to why such amendments deleting sexual orientation discrimination have taken place have been requested and over this summer all efforts will be concentrated on ensuring that the ban on sexual orientation discrimination is reinstated.

Nevertheless the chance that such a ban will be reinstated or supported is near to nil‚ according to Boriss Cilevics, a member of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Commission of the Latvian parliament. Mr Cilevics, who represents the left-wing People's Harmony Party, supports an explicit ban on sexual orientation discrimination but does not believe the commission will comply. He has suggested that a complaint against Latvia to the European Court of Justice might be the most effective way to achieve implementation of directive 2000/78/EC.
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