Prohibition of Discrimination

I. Institutional Guarantee of Equal Opportunities

The Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office, which was established in 1999 and until 2003 called the Equal Opportunities for Women and Men Ombudsperson's Office, is the part of the ombudsperson system in Lithuania that is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Law on Equal Opportunities between Women and Men as well as the Law on Equal Treatment.[1] With the help of the Office, the Ombudsperson examines complaints concerning discrimination and harassment, conducts independent investigations, gives consultations, submits conclusions (findings) and proposals.[2]

In 2013-2014 the media was less interested in the direct work of Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office than it was in the Parliament's unsuccessful attempts to appoint an Ombudsperson.

The activities of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office (EOOO) drew significant criticism from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for their "limited effectiveness and lack of visibility"; the Committee also criticized the delay in appointing the Ombudsperson.[3] A new Ombudsperson had not been appointed by Parliament since the tail-end of 2013.

Despite the fact that more complaints were submitted to EOOO in 2013 than at any other point in its history, with the Office examining 281 cases concerning violations of equal treatment provisions in total (the number being 203 in 2012 and 170 in 2011) that year,[4] or the fact that in 2013 it conducted the greatest number of investigations on its own initiative since its establishment,[5] awareness of this institution remains low among Lithuanian residents. A residents' opinion survey in 2014 found that, on a scale of 1 to 10, residents' awareness of EOOO barely scored 2.97 points.[6] This means that the work of this office is somewhat more well-known than that of the Parliamentary Ombudspersons Office, but a whopping 30% less known than the work of the Children's Rights Ombudsperson's Office.[7]

The awareness raising campaigns initiated by the EOOO and its partners during the discussed period, such as the National Equality and Diversity Awards,[8] as well as more active efforts to publicize the work of the Office in the media, are commendable. However, keeping in mind that those submitting complaints about breaches of equal treatment provisions are almost exclusively residents of major cities – 85% of all complaints in 2014 were submitted by the residents of Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda[9] – it is doubtful whether the publicity measures employed by the EOOO are effective in reaching the regions and smaller cities. Notably, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended to "establish regional and local branches of the Ombudsperson's Office to facilitate access" to this institution.[10]

Unfortunately, in 2013-2014 the media was less interested in the direct work of EOOO than it was in the Parliament's unsuccessful attempts to appoint an Ombudsperson. Currently, the functions of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson are being exercised by the Children's Rights Ombudsperson.

According to the Law on Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, the Parliament appoints the Ombudsperson for a five-year term, with the number of terms he or she may serve being unlimited.[11] Said Law lists the requirements for candidacy in a laconic fashion: the candidate must be "a citizen of Lithuania who is a person of good repute, with higher education degree in law and possessing no less than five years of legal work experience, or work experience in state and municipal institutions or bodies."[12]

Parliament voted on two candidates meeting the above criteria in 2013-2014, but neither of them was appointed as the Ombudsperson. At the end of 2013, Parliament rejected professor Lyra Jakulevičienė, the long-term head of the UN Development Programme; in November 2014, after the publication of the critical conclusions of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, it voted against appointing[13] Diana Gumbrevičiūtė-Kuzminskienė, a human rights expert and advocate actively working with equality cases.[14] The latter was not appointed for openly supporting same-sex partnerships.[15] At the time of the vote, some members of Parliament expressed concern that the "candidate was silent on and concealed her constant participation in Lithuanian gays and lesbians seminars."[16]

Such statements reveal the homophobic beliefs held by the MPs and raise the question of whether the Ombudsperson's appointment process and the adopted protocol resolution[17] complies with the principle of equality enshrined in Article 29 of the Constitution.[18] This situation, where the functions of two extremely important Ombudsperson institutions have, for a long time, been exercised by the same person, is also deserving of criticism. Even though both institutions operate in the field of human rights, the activities of each features specific elements and, considering their work load, different challenges and the principle of independence, requires them to be headed by separate people. The failure to appoint an Equal Rights Ombudsperson for two years in a row decreases public confidence in this institution and sends a message that the political agenda does not prioritize the observance of the principle of equal treatment in Lithuania.

Findings and Recommendations

  • The fact that EOOO is ever-more frequently reacting to breaches of equal treatment provisions discussed in the media and launching investigations on its own initiative, as well as the fact that it pays ever-more attention to raising consciousness and is better informing the public of its activities, are commendable.
  • Despite achievements in 2013-2014, the implementation of the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, relating to improving the visibility and effectiveness of the EOOO, has not yet begun.
  • It is recommended to assess the accessibility of information on the work of EOOO in the regions and, in order to ensure that prompt and effective legal remedies are also available outside of major cities, to consider the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommendation to establish local EOOO branches.
  • It is recommended that a candidacy be submitted and a competent Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson be appointed by Parliament as soon as possible, ensuring that his or her appointment procedure does not breach the constitutional principle of equality.
  • It necessary to raise awareness and educate the public, especially youth, as broadly as possible on discrimination issues.

[1] Law on Equal Treatment, 18 November 2003, No. IX-1826, Article 15, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=454179; Law on Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, 1 December 1998, No. VIII-947, Articles 10(1), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=478625

[2] Law on Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, 1 December 1998, No. VIII-947, Article 12(1), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=478625

[3] UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding observations of the fifth periodic report of Lithuania, 18 July 2014, Paragraph 12, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/LTU/CEDAW_C_LTU_CO_5_17679_E.docx

[4] Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office, Activity Report 2013, pub. 2014, p. 4, picture 4, http://www.lygybe.lt/download/303/lygi%C5%B3%20galimybi%C5%B3%20kontrolieriaus%20tarnybos%20veiklos%202013%20m.%20ataskaita.pdf

[5] Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office, "For the fourth year in a row, men in 2014 were more prone to submitting complaints regarding discrimination. Most complaints related to gender", 13 January 2015, http://www.lygybe.lt/lt/naujienos/pranesimai-ziniasklaidai/2014-m.-ketvirtus-chkd.html

[6] Question "How familiar are you with the activities of these institutions? Give it a score, with 1 representing complete lack of knowledge and 10 indicating very good familiarity". Human Rights Monitoring Institute, "How the public perceives the human rights situation in Lithuania: a representative survey of Lithuanian residents in 2014", 3-12 October 2014, p. 8,

http://www.hrmi.lt/uploaded/Vilmorus%20apklausa%202014%20-%20SANTRAUKA.pdf

[7] Human Rights Monitoring Institute, "How the public perceives the human rights situation in Lithuania: a representative survey of Lithuanian residents in 2014", 3-12 October 2014, p. 8, http://www.hrmi.lt/uploaded/Vilmorus%20apklausa%202014%20-%20SANTRAUKA.pdf

[8] Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office, Activity Report 2013, pub. 2014, p. 4-5, http://www.lygybe.lt/download/303/lygi%C5%B3%20galimybi%C5%B3%20kontrolieriaus%20tarnybos%20veiklos%202013%20m.%20ataskaita.pdf

[9] Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office, "For the fourth year in a row, men in 2014 were more prone to submitting complaints regarding discrimination. Most complaints related to gender", 13 January 2015, http://www.lygybe.lt/lt/naujienos/pranesimai-ziniasklaidai/2014-m.-ketvirtus-chkd.html

[10] UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding observations of the fifth periodic report of Lithuania, 18 July 2014, paragraph 13(d), http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/LTU/CEDAW_C_LTU_CO_5_17679_E.docx

[11] Law on Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, 1 December 1998, No. VIII-947, Article 14, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=478625

[12] Law on Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, 1 December 1998, No. VIII-947, Article 13, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=478625

[13] "Seimas Refuses to Appoint an Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson for the Second Time", lrytas.lt, 25 November 2014, http://www.lrytas.lt/lietuvos-diena/aktualijos/seimas-antra-karta-nepaskyre-lygiu-galimybiu-kontrolieres.htm

[14] For representing the most vulnerable groups, Diana Gumbrevičiūtė-Kuzminskienė was given the title of Human Rights Advocate of the Year in the 2013 National Equality and Diversity Awards; http://nlif.lt/naujienos/2014/02/27/nacionaliniu-lygybes-ir-ivairoves-apdovanojimu-2013-laimetojai/

[15] Lithuanian Gay League, "Lithuanian parliament rejects equal opportunities ombudsperson candidate for supporting same-sex partnerships“, 26 November 2014, http://www.lgl.lt/en/news/lgbt-guide-lt/lithuanian-parliament-rejects-equal-opportunities-ombudsperson-candidate-supports-sex-partnership/

[16] "Seimas Refuses to Appoint an Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson for the Second Time", lrytas.lt, 25 November 2014, http://www.lrytas.lt/lietuvos-diena/aktualijos/seimas-antra-karta-nepaskyre-lygiu-galimybiu-kontrolieres.htm

[17] Minutes of an evening meeting of Parliament on 25 November 2014, No. SPP-203, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=489183

[18] The Constitution, 25 October 1992, Article 29, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=465070