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Overview Summary

 Human Rights in Lithuania 2013-2014: an Overview reviews the state of fundamental civil and political rights in Lithuania in 2013-2014. The Overview is structured to reflect the sequence of the rights enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

 RIGHT TO LIFE

 The 2013-2014 period saw right to life violations in both national legislation and practice. An amendment to the Criminal Code was registered in September 2013 proposing to reinstate the death penalty in Lithuania, but due to the stance of institutions submitting reasoned conclusions this amendment was dropped. The case illustrates a prevalent practice among Lithuanian legislators to ignore fundamental human rights and propose draft legislation that is clearly incompatible with them if it serves populist ends. In 2013, Lithuania lost the case of Banel v. Lithuania in the European Court of Human Rights – it was found that Lithuania breached its positive obligation to protect the right to life of the applicant's 13-year old son and failed to investigate the incident properly and in a timely manner.

 PROHIBITION OF TORTURE AND INHUMAN OR DEGRADING TREATMENT

 There is an increasing number of reports of domestic violence – over 40 000 such reports were received in 2013-2014. Even though the requisite legal amendments were adopted, their implementation is quite often inadequate – victims do not receive assistance when perpetrators of violence breach the security measures put in place, a fair share of pre-trial investigations never get off the ground, are terminated or end in reconciliation between the victim and the offender, thus putting the lives of victims in danger.

 In addition, domestic violence is still not treated properly in policy documents – in 2014, the government approved an exceptionally backward National Programme for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Provision of Assistance to Victims for 2014-2020, which does not treat domestic violence as a human rights issue. Lithuania was still not ready for a proper implementation of the provisions of the Victims' Rights Directive by the end of 2014, in order to ensure the rights of victims of domestic violence.

 Lithuanian law does not contain a conceptual definition of gender-based violence and sexual identity; despite calls from international human rights institutions and women regularly dying from violence, there is opposition to the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Following the expiry of the National Strategy for the Reduction of Violence Against Women, there aren't any programmes/strategies to help combat violence against women.

 Lithuania lost its second domestic violence case in Strasbourg due to failing to ensure that victims are effectively protected and that their complaints regarding violence suffered are investigated properly – in the case of D.P. v. Lithuania (2013), the Government acknowledged that it violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which prohibits torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) and offered compensation to the applicant.

While the overall number of child victims is falling year by year, the least safe place for children is still their home, where they are most often victimised. Unfortunately, this remains a latent crime – child victims officially account for only 7-8% of all victims, even though the majority of Lithuanian parents condone and use violence against children. In addition, studies show that in at least 40% of all domestic violence cases against adults, violence is also perpetrated against a child in that same domestic setting.

 The child rights protection system is in poor shape – children lack information on where to seek assistance, as well as knowledge of safe ways to report any violations of their rights; quite often reports of violence against children are ignored, the danger posed to children by violent action is downplayed and pre-trial investigations never get off the ground. Professionals working with children do not always carry out their legal duty to report signs of violence. The legislative framework does not ensure that the child is comprehensively protected against all forms of violence, including corporal punishment. These gaps could be closed by the new and fairly progressive draft Law on Fundamentals of Protection of the Rights of the Child, submitted by the Government in December 2014.

 The Supreme Court of Lithuania changed course in a more positive direction – it treated the harm to children from systemic mental abuse much more harshly. Unfortunately, statistical data pertaining to child victims is still not being collected and published, and it is unclear how many pre-trial investigations into domestic violence against children ultimately reach court.

 Even though 2014 saw the transposition of the EU Directive on Combating the Sexual Abuse of Children into national law, providing for harsher penalties for sexual offenses against children and establishing special protection measures, its provisions are often violated in practice – on average, the number of times a child must participate in pre-trial investigation procedures and recount the violence suffered stands at 3.5, with 6.8 persons attending a child's interview during judicial proceedings. There is also no provision stating that children must always be treated as vulnerable participants in the proceedings and have access to special protection measures.

 Lithuania still supports a system of institutionalization for infants and children – up to four thousand children are currently being raised in 106 institutions. Although birth rates across the country are falling and many families with children have already emigrated, the number of institutionalized infants and children up to three years of age remains almost unchanged.

Studies show that institutions do not ensure that children are able to have privacy, personal articles of clothing or possessions, or get timely health care. Despite the fact that children are institutionalized following hardship and traumatic experiences, they have practically no access to psychological-psychotherapeutic aid. The findings of the national audit conducted by the National Audit Office on 31 January 2014 show that the current child care system is inefficient and does not ensure the best interests of the child. The level of state support received by institutions is several times greater than the support given to caregivers, with adoptive families receiving no support whatsoever – even though this is the best option for children.

 In 2014, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour approved the Action Plan for the Transition from Institutional Care to Family and Community-Based Care for Disabled Children and Children Deprived of Parental Care 2014-2020 – while it is in some ways progressive, its stated objective is contrary to the aims of the reform and is not sufficient for real change; some plans even reveal a failure to distinguish between families and institutions.

 The expected results of the de-institutionalization process currently underway in Lithuania are too insignificant and do not ensure that the desired social inclusion rate will be achieved by the end of the 2014-2020 EU funding period for investment and structural programmes – it is planned to reduce the number of disabled adults entering institutional care by a mere 40% and to overhaul only 5 residential social care institutions for disabled adults. The licensing process for care institutions, which has already attracted more than 100 million LTL (about 29 million Euro) in investment from both the EU structural funds and the national budget, raises suspicions that, instead of developing needed individualized services, funds will once again be diverted to reinforcing a flawed system.

 Ignoring calls from UN human rights bodies, the CoE Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as civil society, Lithuania retained an outdated biomedical mental health care model that violates human rights and promotes patient exclusion, without ensuring human rights safeguards and independent external monitoring of human rights. The national prevention of torture in facilities where liberty is restricted that the Parliamentary Ombudspersons Office has begun to carry out under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has been met with open hostility – there was an attempt to disqualify the findings of the Ombudspersons when they uncovered multiple human rights violations following an investigation into the psychiatric clinic of the Šiauliai Hospital, with only human rights organizations, not the authorities, rallying to their defence against this fierce assault. An extremely poor Mental Health Strategy Implementation and Suicide Prevention Action Plan that does not comply with modern mental health policy and suicide prevention principles was adopted in 2014.

 At the end of 2013, Lithuania had the greatest number of prisoners in the European Union, with only Russia and Belarus beating it in that regard in Europe; the length of prison sentences also reached its peak since the restoration of independence. Given the fact that reported crime levels (including overall violent crime) in Lithuania are among the lowest in EU, it is obvious that there is a prevailing tendency in the country to put people behind bards regardless of whether it is necessary or even an effective solution.

 As seen from the 2014 report by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Lithuanian prison system continues to move away from European standards. All places of incarceration or temporary detention are overcrowded and do not meet hygiene requirements and human rights standards – because of this, some European countries now refuse to hand over defendants to Lithuania. Prison administrations refuse to take action to fight against the caste subculture that completely demoralizes convicts, further fosters their antisocial tendencies and prevents their re-socialization. The rate of suicide in places of detention is (in relative terms) 3 times higher than the rate of suicide in public. Neither the convicts nor the staff are able to enjoy a safe environment – violence among prisoners, as well as instances of prisoners resisting officers, is on the rise. Any future improvements are contingent on how well and transparently the Programme for the Modernization of Places of Detention (adopted in 2014) will be implemented.

By the end of 2014, a total of 246 children with behavioural and emotional problems (expressed through delinquent behaviour) as well as children that have committed a crime but were below the age of criminal responsibility resided in administrative detention establishments for children – the six socialization centres and the special education centre in Švėkšna. A large proportion of these children come from care institutions, with others coming from families experiencing problems. Even though the restriction of a child's liberty should be seen as an extreme and exceptional measure, integral to therapy and help that meet the needs of the child, crisis intervention assistance to families as well as services at home have still not been developed, essentially cementing the factual incarceration of children in the above centres and harming them – and the society – in the long term.

 In 2014, the exceptionally poor situation of children with socialisation problems also drew the attention of the UN Committee against Torture, the Parliamentary Ombudspersons Office and the National Audit Office. It was found that children do not receive specialized, individualized rehabilitation services; the prevailing culture of control and punishment together with the predominance of the "law of the jungle" lead to numerous child rights violations, with reports of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, such as using handcuffs, batons and tear gas to subdue children, as well as reports of trafficking in children and exploiting them for the purposes of prostitution.

 The asylum seekers residing in and foreigners detained at the Foreigners' Registration Centre of the State Border Guard Service attracted the attention of the Parliamentary Ombudspersons Office, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson Office and the Institution of the Ombudsperson for Children Rights. It was found that the security measures were inadequate, violent incidents were not being documented properly, it was possible to apply special measures disproportionately and medical assistance was not available.

 The accommodation conditions are poor – they are not conductive to protecting the rights and legitimate interests of vulnerable people, guaranteeing human dignity and ensuring the necessary conditions for children. The measures used in the Foreigners' Registration Centre to enforce order and ensure safety, such as surrounding the area with a barbed wire fence and having it guarded by uniformed officers, negatively affect asylum seekers' psychological state. It ignores the fact that many of these people have suffered persecution, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment and that they need comprehensive help. It was also found that there was discrimination based on religious beliefs – people were being fed food that was prohibited by their religion.

 Within the Lithuanian legal system, life imprisonment actually means what it says on the tin – that is, the convicted person is imprisoned until his death. The ECtHR has noted that life imprisonment without the slightest chance of review or reduction in length, even in view of significant changes in the prisoner and progress towards rehabilitation, is tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment of the convict. A possibility for releasing a prisoner must exist if his level of rehabilitation reaches a point where continued detention can no longer be justified. At the end of 2013, the ECtHR agreed to examine the application of a group of life prisoners against Lithuania.

 The 2014 report of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition program revealed that the program was ineffective, with responsible officials lying and concealing information, and that the health of at least 39 individuals was seriously harmed through illegal methods. The report indicated that detention site "VIOLET" could have potentially operated in Lithuania. The complaint of Abu Zubaydah against Lithuania is still pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

 In 2013, HRMI together with REDRESS appealed to the Prosecutor General to launch a pre-trial investigation regarding the alleged illegal detention of another victim of the CIA program of the victim, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, in Lithuania. The European Parliament also urged Lithuania to carry out an effective investigation in this case. In 2014, the Office of the Prosecutor General launched a pre-trial investigation into the alleged illegal transportation of persons across Lithuanian borders.

 PROHIBITION OF SLAVERY AND FORCED LABOUR

 Lithuania still lacks proper legal regulation of human trafficking cases involving the sexual exploitation of children and adults – this, in turn, leads to such acts often being classified as much less serious offences in practice. This is especially harmful when cases of child trafficking are not classified properly – persons exploiting children are able to avoid prison sentences (for example, persons that have been selling three girls for a month were sentenced to 150 hours of community service) while victims are not able to enjoy all of the rights and guarantees granted to them by law.

 Children living in closed-type institutions, such as care facilities or socialization centres, are particularly vulnerable. In 2014 the public learned that systemic trafficking of children took place in the Švėkšna Special Education Centre – however, the staff completely failed to grasp the essence of this crime and blamed the impaired children. In addition, the pre-trial investigation improperly classified the offence, despite the fact that the Directive 2011/36/EU clearly states that the exploitation of persons under 18 for prostitution must always be treated as trafficking in human beings. As such, it is possible that even this human trafficking case will be punished much less harshly than it should. 

 While victims of trafficking, including children who are sold to beg, steal or engage in forced labour, receive more attention from non-governmental organizations, there is a lack of awareness of the problem and effective prevention at national level. While there are some stellar examples in certain counties, there are also recorded cases where law enforcement officers are unable to promptly and effectively respond to information regarding the trafficking of children for the purposes of begging or theft, fail to notice long-term nearby recruitment efforts or even punish victims.

 RIGHT TO LIBERTY AND SECURITY

 Despite the fact that pre-trial detention is the most severe restrictive measure in criminal proceedings and the fact that remand prisons operate under even stricter regimes and have worse conditions than places of detention, Lithuanian courts allow more than 95% of all requests for pre-trial detention. Meanwhile, the probability of a successfully appealing such a decision is low – on appeal, orders for detention are quashed in only about 9% of all cases.

In a 2013 study by HRMI, many police officers, prosecutors and judges confirmed that pre-trial detention is often deliberately abused – not only is used in cases where it is not strictly necessary, it is also employed as a means to put pressure on the suspect, despite the fact that this actually breaches Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The study also revealed that public opinion and the media hold enormous sway in this regard, with cases where detention is not used quickly becoming scandalized and cases of unjustified detention flying under the radar – as such, detention is selected as the "safe" option.

Even though the Law on Probation together with the amended and supplemented Criminal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Code of the Enforcement of Punishments establish a new legal framework for probation in Lithuania, probation has become even less frequent than before the adoption of the aforementioned changes.  With parole becoming increasingly more rare, the number of prisoners, tension in prisons and the families of the convicted continue to increase, with the latter not understanding why the courts refuse to approve decisions of parole commissions that grant conditional release. Gradual integration measures are used very infrequently and the establishment of halfway houses is grinding to a halt; there is a reluctance to use technological innovations that could effectively reduce prison populations, with only 1 in 6 applications for surveillance via electronic bracelets being granted despite the fact that any related transgressions are few and far between.

 RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL 

In 2013-2014 Lithuania, when transposing EU directives that lay down minimum standards for the right of suspects to translation services and to information in criminal proceedings, did not take all of the recommendations into account – as such, in practice, an unreasonable amount of discretion is left to the investigating officer (for example, whether an interpreter should be called or the defence be allowed access to the materials in the case). The current transposition process of the Directive on the right of access to a lawyer also exhibits significant flaws (for example, the Prison Department approved arrangements that actually hinder lawyers in communicating with defendants). 

Children (especially those deprived of parental care) and persons with mental/intellectual disabilities in Lithuania face systemic barriers and are virtually unable to defend their rights. Even though the law provides them with a right to free primary and secondary legal aid, this right is near impossible to make use of: social care institutions are located in remote areas outside the community and the mobility of their residents is limited; institutionalized children are not informed about complaints procedures and the availability of legal aid; lawyers often do lack basic knowledge of how to communicate with children or adults with disabilities or mental health disorders, or are simply prejudiced. 

In many cases, children are not allowed to properly participate in legal proceedings: their opinions are ignored and only the position of their representatives (guardians) or legal counsel, or the findings of Child Rights Protection Service specialists or psychologists (which are often prepared without any regard for the proper participation of the child in the proceedings), is considered. Investigators, prosecutors and judges lack in competence when interviewing children, particularly impaired children, and therefore ruin the possibility of gathering important evidence. Interview rooms are either equipped or used improperly. The expert potential of non-governmental organizations remains completely untapped, despite the fact that they are prepared to provide critically important services in legal proceedings. 

2013-2014 saw the expansion of both the list of people capable of providing state-guaranteed legal aid services and the list of people eligible for it (to include persons declared legally incapable, persons involved in proceedings for the return of a wrongfully removed or retained child and children in all cases where the presence of an authorized representative is deemed necessary). The timeframe for assessing the quality of legal aid work of advocates was also shortened to one month. Unfortunately, overall quality of said services is still low – this is also partly a result of awarding legal aid contracts based on the lowest price tendered during procurement. Loopholes in the system lead to paradoxes where the same person is represented by different lawyers, appointed by two separate institutions, on different issues that are nevertheless directly interrelated. 

The National Courts Administration has put in considerable work in 2014 to increase the openness of the Lithuanian judiciary on the internet, making tangible efforts to ensure that information relevant to both the average internet user and any person specifically interested in the courts or their operation is available at www.teismai.lt. What is important now is to ensure the availability of feedback and that the information is presented in a way that the average user can understand. 

RIGHT TO PRIVATE AND FAMILY LIFE 

2013-2014 was a controversial time for reproductive rights in Lithuania. On the one hand, attempts to ban abortion by law, with exceptions provided in only very narrow circumstances (the draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase, submitted by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) struck a significant chord with the Lithuanian public (and, in most cases, were met with resistance); on the other hand, the debate over the regulation of assisted reproduction resurfaced once more with the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and Ministry of Health preparing two alternate laws on assisted reproduction and related services. 

Despite the concern expressed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in its concluding observations and the critical conclusions of the Government, the Parliament's Legal Department as well as its European Law Department, there was no final decision on the draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase in 2014, and as such it is likely that Parliament will continue to consider it in 2015. 

Even though one in five families in Lithuania have to deal with infertility (potentially rising to one in three families in the future), efforts to adopt the Law on Assisted Reproduction are hampered by the negative attitudes of the Catholic Church. The development of the new Programme for the Preparation for Family Life and Development of Sexuality is being hindered in exactly the same way – the working group was formed to include organisations that oppose human rights education. 

In essence, the situation in Lithuania with regard to the protection of personal data deteriorated in 2013-2014 – in the context of ever-greater invasions of personal privacy committed by the state and private entities, the regulation of and practices relating to the protection of personal data and privacy have either remained static or sprouted new exceptions – exceptions that served narrow interests. The new national legal regulations adopted in this period (for example, the Law on Cyber Security) paid little attention to the constitutional imperative to ensure that interferences with privacy are justified and proportionate. Instead, the prevailing view was that public interests – without exception – trump personal privacy, with the practice of undifferentiated bulk processing of personal data continuing in this period despite the fact that it was harshly criticized by the EU Court of Justice and Article 29 Data Protection Working Party. 

Lithuania is late in updating its sanctions for breaches of personal data protection law, and as such they are still several thousand times lower than what is accepted by EU standards. The resources and factual powers of the State Data Protection Inspectorate are insufficient, and as such the majority of personal data breaches remain under the hood, with those responsible going unpunished. The public sector is responsible for the most serious personal data violations – not only does it possess the greatest quantities of sensitive personal data, it is not sufficiently accountable for protecting them and constantly creates legal exceptions favourable to itself. 

The right to the protection of private life in criminal proceedings was not properly ensured in practice: in the 2013-2014 period, the courts allowed nearly 99% of law enforcement requests to collect information on the communication between people. At the end of 2013, a massive wiretapping operation targeting Baltic News Service reporters was carried out. While it was later found to be unlawful in court, in practice persons involved the overwhelming majority of such cases (between ten and twenty thousand annually) do not go to court over them, despite enjoying reasonable success rates. 

Even though the Civil Code provides for the right of an adult person to correct his or her physiological gender via medical means, while the European Court of Human Rights in L. v. Lithuania (2007) obliged Lithuania to enact required subsidiary legislation on gender reassignment of transsexuals, there are still no procedures for gender-reassignment surgery and altering entries in civil status documents. 

The measures contained in the action plan proposed by the Government in 2013 are either out of touch with reality in Lithuania (non-compulsory diagnostic and treatment methodologies will most likely not be developed in reasonable time) or have already been discredited by other state agencies – for example, the simplified procedure for altering entries in civil status documents met its tragic end after Parliament labelled gender-reassignment as "nonsense" and returned the bill to the Ministry of Justice. Due to the failure to ensure respect for the right to privacy of transgendered individuals, the Committee of Ministers decided to transfer the case of L. v Lithuania to the enhanced supervision procedure starting from 2015. 

The regulation of incapacity in Lithuania was reformed from the ground-up, with limited capacity receiving some modifications and new possibilities, namely, supported decision making and advance directives (living wills); the amendments also provided for a regular review of the status of a person's incapacity. Unfortunately, absolute incapacity was not abolished, despite the fact that such regulations are contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Lithuania ratified in 2010 and under which it is obliged to ensure that no person is ever completely deprived of the right to make decision in all aspects of life. Lithuania retains a distinctly post-Soviet belief that the appointed guardian of a person deemed incapable has the right to make all decisions on the latter's behalf. 

RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, ASSEMBLY AND RELIGION

In 2013, the Supreme Court of Lithuania (SCL) had to examine the very first hate crime case involving a serious dismissal of USSR aggression against Lithuania. In the opinion of SCL, interpreting the events of 13 January 1991 in a way that portrays people being killed or otherwise harmed not by Soviet aggression, but by the others defenders of independence, should not be seen as expressing an opinion, but rather as denying and seriously dismissing USSR aggression. 

By the end of 2013, Russian media channels also began showing a distortive interpretation of 13 January 1991 events; as a result, the retransmission of said shows was temporarily suspended in Lithuania and Latvia due to encouraging strife and providing biased information. 

Hate speech and hate crimes in Lithuania is usually directed against individuals or groups of said individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, race, nationality, language or origin. 

Lithuanian law enforcement agencies and courts are not always able to determine the break where permissible expression ends and hate speech begins. For example, authorities may react inappropriately to artistic expression: a pre-trial investigation for the desecration of national symbols was initiated in 2013 against artists who had interpreted the Lithuanian anthem in their own way to highlight the issues of women's right and equality; an exhibition in 2014 refused to display a work of art portraying a woman, not a man, riding the horse on the national coat of arms.

 On the other hand, obvious instances of hate speech or even incitement to violence may go unpunished. For instance, in a 2014 case regarding the potential public incitement to violence against a group of people based on their sexual orientation, the Trakai Regional Court held that no crime was committed. The defendant's comment "Come on, will these perverts march through just like that - trash. arching their asses. nonsense. The faggots are triumphant, they need to be destroyed, as soon as possible..." was interpreted as excitement provoked by the Baltic Pride 2013 event – even though at the time procession was yet to take place. 

No less surprising was the decision taken by the district court of Klaipeda, where the victim himself – an 18 year old youth – was accused of acting provocatively. According to the court, a person making a picture of two men kissing available in public should and must have known that his eccentric behaviour will most certainly not contribute to the mutual understanding between persons harbouring different views in society, as well as to the promotion of tolerance. These examples illustrate how Lithuanian courts lack in competence when fighting criminal manifestations of hatred. Law enforcement authorities are also lacking in knowledge in this area. 

Even though international organizations have urged respect for the freedom of expression and freedom of the media, Lithuania has yet to abolish criminal liability for insults and libel. Legal proceedings against journalists for insults or libel pose an exceptional threat to the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression. 

There were attempts to decriminalize insults and libel in 2013-2014, but the Government did not agree to the proposals. They deserve criticism for placing insults outside the remit of the law, i.e. it was not proposed to supplement civil regulations on the rules for defending personal honour and dignity. Therefore, following the adoption of the bill there would have been no liability for insulting a person and he would not be able to effectively defend himself from the offensive information. 

The 2010 amendment to the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information was used to limit the self-expression of LGBT persons on multiple occasions in 2013-2014. In 2013, a public broadcaster refused to air social advertisements, which depicted openly homosexual people inviting others to participate in the Baltic Pride 2013 in Vilnius, during the day; a year later, some commercial television channels were reluctant to air another social advertisement – this time promoting a change in public attitudes towards homosexual individuals – for the same reason. 

In 2014, a fairy tale book titled "Amber Heart" was deemed to be unsuitable to minors under the age of 14; the book contained several stories about same-sex couples (families) and their relationships. The distribution of the book was put to a stop after discerning the presence of "homosexual propaganda". What is most surprising is that in its conclusion, the Inspector of Journalist Ethics stated that fairy tales, which presented such relationships as normal and self-explanatory, were harmful to the fragile world-view of children, too invasive, direct and manipulative, and as such were detrimental to individuals under 14 years of age. 

Lithuania is characterized by very high rates of teen suicides and bullying; as such, the restriction of the availability of information on sexual orientation doubtlessly contributes to the predominance of homophobic bullying in educational institutions. This, in turn, becomes a risk factor for suicide. 

The protection of journalistic sources is one of the most important guarantees of journalistic activities. However, in 2013 a court seeking to determine the identity of the person responsible for leaking the classified State Security Department note ordered a journalist to reveal her secret source, sanctioned a search of her house and the seizure of the computers of the editorial staff.

After examining the complaint of the BNS journalist, the Vilnius Regional Court admitted that both the obligation to disclose the source of information and the mandate for the search were unlawfully ordered by the lower court, noting that such measures may only be used as a last resort – when all other means have been exhausted. Furthermore, the disclosure of a journalistic source threatens not only the freedom of expression of a journalist, but casts shadows over his privacy as well. 

In 2014, there was an increased number of cases where the right of journalists to access public interest information held by state or municipal institutions was restricted. The exceptions to the provision of information contained in Lithuanian law are too broad and abstractly worded, which allows for their abuse. Furthermore, the overall regulation of access to information still favours the protection of information over the public's right to know – even if the information is clearly in the public interest. 

The Law on Assembly provides that the right to assembly is to be exercised through notification of intent, not a request for permission. This sort of regulation means that the organizers are given the right to choose the venue, time, purpose and form of the assembly without having to ask for permission first, simply by notifying the municipality of the planned assembly. 

Regardless of how unacceptable the ideas aired at the assembly would be, the right to freedom of speech and expression, as well as ensuring the presence of pluralism, are virtues that the state has a duty to protect and help realize through its actions. 

Still, despite the fact that the right to freedom of assembly is exercised through notification of intent, there were cases in 2013-2014 of municipalities abusing their powers and violating the Law on Assembly. For instance, on 16 January 2013, instead of the venue chosen by the Lithuanian Gay League for its assembly (procession), the Vilnius City Municipality designated a different place without obtaining agreement from the organizer. This decision was later quashed by the court. 

The new edition of the Law on Assembly does not provide for the power of municipalities to refuse coordinating a planned assembly or issuing an assembly certificate on the above grounds listed in the Constitution. In other words, the law abolished the power of municipalities to refuse issuing assembly certificates in cases where the organization of the assembly could possibly prejudice state or public security, public order, public health or morality or the rights and liberties of others. Under the current regulations, only assemblies already taking place may be interrupted on the grounds specified in the Constitution. 

Even though freedom of religion and religious diversity are part of everyday reality in modern society, with as many as 59 religious communities being present in the country, the representation of said diversity is still a serious challenge for the media. 

The relations between the dominant religious organization in Lithuania and the State has recently shown that secularism (or separation of Church and State) is on the wane, with a stronger connection being felt between the secular and ecclesiastical authorities.

 PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION

 What drew the most attention to the implementation of equal opportunity in Lithuania in 2013-2014 were the failed attempts of Parliament to appoint an Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson. At the end of 2013, Parliament rejected professor Lyra Jakulevičienė, the long-term head of the UN Development Programme; in November 2014 it voted against appointing Diana Gumbrevičiūtė-Kuzminskienė, a human rights expert and advocate actively working with equality cases. The latter was passed over for openly supporting same-sex partnerships. 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." 

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 complied with the principle of equality enshrined in Article 29 of the Constitution. The failure to appoint an Equal Rights Ombudsperson for two years in a row sends a message that the observance of the principle of equal treatment is not high on the political agenda in Lithuania. 

Gender-based discrimination is evident in many areas: the wage gap in the country between women and men was 12.5% in 2013 and, compared to 2012, increased by 0.5%. Women head less than a third of all companies operating in Lithuania. A public survey shows that it is significantly easier for a man to become the head of the company than it is for a woman aiming for the same position. The situation with respect to gender equality is exceptionally severe within the academic community – men occupy all of the highest management positions; women occupy lowest level administrative positions. 

It should be noted that the practice of employers asking women about their family situation and future family plans when considering them for a job is still prevalent in Lithuania. These questions bear no relevance to the qualifications of the employee or to working conditions, only giving grounds for discriminating people based on their gender or based on family roles identified with their gender; as such, employers have no right to ask existing or future employees for this information. 

According to the 2013 Gender Equality Index, Lithuania ranked 18 out of the 27 European Union Member States. Lithuania scored 43.6 on the Gender Equality Index (with 1 representing complete and total gender inequality and 100 representing complete gender equality). The overall EU score was 54. 

Persons with disabilities face discrimination in many areas of life. For example, intellectually impaired children have a limited right to education in Lithuania. A 2011 Order of the Minister for Education and Science provided that, from 1 September 2012 onwards, upon completing their basic education students with special education needs resulting from an intellectual disability may continue on to vocational programmes or social skills programmes. This provision prevents them from attaining secondary education, discriminating against them because of their disability and violating their rights.  

The prevailing social stigma against people with disabilities, especially the mentally disabled, also determines the quality of life in society enjoyed by persons with disabilities, as well as their social integration. Public opinion studies revealed that the majority believe that people with mental disabilities should live in specially adapted homes (46%); 12% believe that they should live in hospitals; and 10% thought that persons with disabilities should live further away from cities, where their safety would be ensured. Thus, the majority supports the idea of specialized institutions isolated from the public. Only 27% of respondents felt that these people should be able to live anywhere – just like all other people. 

Yet another problem lies with the failure to implement and monitor the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Lithuania ratified in 2010. The Convention obliges states to appoint an authority to supervise the implementation of the Convention. In Lithuania, the aforementioned coordination functions have been assigned to the Ministry of Social Security and Labour – however, it is incapable of exercising them, since there is no mechanism by means of which the Ministry could influence other public authorities in order to ensure that they implement the provisions of the Convention within their respective fields of competence. 

In Lithuania, it is the Roma that most often face discrimination because of their ethnicity. A public attitude survey shows that Roma are still the least liked ethnic group: 66% of respondents would not want Roma neighbours; 48% would not want to work in one work place with them and 60.7% claimed that their opinion of the Roma worsened over the last five years. 

In the beginning of 2015, media reported that the Vilnius City Municipality has started to draft a project aimed at relocating Roma to the newly built village.  Such initiatives, whereby Roma communities are relocated from one "ghetto" to another, do not contribute to the social integration of the community, do not deal with problems relating to their social exclusion, discrimination and poverty; on the contrary – they further contribute to their stigmatization and exclusion from society. Furthermore, Lithuania still lacks systemic state policies to prevent the early withdrawal of Roma children from education.

The amendments to the Law on Identity Cards and Passports, adopted in 2014, which allow the nationality of a citizen to be entered into all passports issued after 1 January 2015 upon request, must be seen as negative. While entries of nationality in passports will not be compulsory and will only be done at the request of the citizen him or herself, this provision allows for the differentiation of people according to their nationality and is bad practice with regard to the fight against discrimination or incitement of ethnic strife in the country.

Intolerance of sexual minorities remains an acute problem in Lithuania: as much as 42% of respondents claim that they would be afraid if their child's teacher was homosexual; 37% would not wish to belong to any organization with homosexual members; 35% would not elect an openly homosexual candidate to parliament or municipal council.

Despite the country's international commitments and the interpretation given by the Constitutional Court of Lithuania on concept of family, more than a few draft laws were proposed in Parliament that contained provisions directly or indirectly discriminating against sexual minorities. There were attempts to prohibit same-sex couples from adopting Lithuanian citizens; a proposal to associate family with marriage, fatherhood and motherhood; repeat submissions to establish administrative sanctions for the public denigration of a constitutional virtue – namely, the family – through speech, displayed objects, posters, slogans, audio-visual media and other acts; a proposed amendment to the Criminal Code, that sought to establish that criticism and discussion of sexual behaviour or sexual practices, beliefs or opinions, or attempts to persuade someone to change such behaviour, practices, beliefs and opinions did not in themselves amount to insults, stigmatization, incitement to hatred, discrimination or incitement to discrimination; sanctions were proposed for "promoting" unconventional relationships. 

Age discrimination in Lithuania is most keenly felt in the labour market. The situation of older people in the labour market is rather problematic in Lithuania: only 44.8% of Lithuanian residents aged 50 or above are employed. In terms of employing older people, Lithuania ranks 9th in the European Union.

At present, the situation in the labour market is much more favourable to young unemployed people than to their older peers. In 2013, Lithuania paid a lot of attention to the integration of young people into the labour market, and thus the number of young unemployed people fell by almost a quarter in the first half of 2013 (24.7%), while unemployment among older people decreased by 2%.

A 2013 study revealed that old age is thought very little of in Lithuania. The stigma of old age and discrimination against the elderly is stronger in Lithuania than in more advanced European countries – in this respect, Lithuania is closer to post-communist countries and countries in the Mediterranean region.                     

The key factors promoting religious discrimination in Lithuania are the Catholic Church (52%), the media (43%) and regulations that restrict the opportunities available to religious minorities in public (32%). Traditional religious communities are given more rights than religious communities seen as non-traditional – for example, the faith of traditional religious communities may be taught in public schools, the state pays social security and health insurance contributions on behalf of the clergy of traditional religion and interference with religious rites amounts to a criminal offense only when rites of state-recognized religious associations are concerned. 

In the beginning of 2013, a draft law was proposed that would have required compulsory religious education in school. The revised bill retained the right of parents to select religious studies or ethics classes for their children, but also provided that familiarization with the fundamentals of religion must become a compulsory part of ethics programmes. This inclusion of the topic of the "fundamentals of religion" in the ethics programme basically attempts to circumvent the parents' decision on the religious education for their children, as well as the constitutional provision stating that state and municipal educational institutions are secular in nature. 

Yet another case of religious discrimination occurred in the Foreigners' Registration Centre, where Muslims were being given meals without consideration for their religious beliefs (they were given pork without due regard to the fact that its consumption is prohibited in Islam). After investigating the case, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson Office found that these people were discriminated against based on their religious beliefs. 

RIGHTS OF STIGMATIZED GROUPS

 It is difficult for refugees to successfully integrate into Lithuanian society. Asylum seekers who have been granted asylum in Lithuania experience the feeling of being inferior, useless and unwanted outsiders – human beings whose human rights are limited, who have been imprisoned or bound both psychologically and geographically. 

The very first challenge that many refugees face is their reception and detention upon arrival. Asylum seekers complain of how the officers treat them both during arrest and later on, once they have been accommodated in the Foreigners' Registration Centre. 

An incident involving two asylum seekers from Afghanistan being detained and imprisoned in 2013 provides an illustrative example of such practices. State Border Guard Service officers arrested these Afghan nationals – who at the time of detention claimed to be 14 and 17 years old – after they crossed the Lithuanian border; the two youths then had to spend more than three months in the Lukiškės remand prison, locked in together with adult men. 

The initiative of the Ministry of the Interior to abolish the Migration Department will have a particularly negative effect on Lithuania's asylum system and the proper guarantee of asylum seekers' rights. At the start of 2015 the Ministry of Interior proposed transferring the competences of the Migration Department to the Police Department and the State Border Guard Service (SBGS). Following the reform, asylum procedures would be entrusted to the SBGS. 

The State Border Guard Service is responsible for protecting Lithuanian borders and strengthening national security – it is not the right institution for examining claims for asylum made by foreigners arriving to Lithuania. 

Lithuanian residents tend to perceive immigrants as having a negative impact on society and the state. Many are prone to thinking that immigrants subsist on taxpayer money and may cause social unrest. These stereotypical attitudes are not based on any practical evidence – the majority of respondents indicated that they have had no personal interactions with any group of immigrants from third countries. 

The amendment to the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners entered into force on 1 November 2014, tightening the requirements for temporary residence permits to stay in Lithuania: they set a fairly high bar in terms of required foreign investments, the length of time a company had to have been in operation, the number of jobs it brought and the company's equity capital.  

These strict new requirements and criteria make it exceptionally difficult for foreigners to come to and legally operate in Lithuania. Furthermore, foreigners who have already established themselves in Lithuania and have been acting in accordance with the old provisions now find it difficult to remain here and continue their work. 

Pharmacotherapy using medical opioids (substitution maintenance therapy) to treat addiction to psychotropic agents was first introduced in 1964, but Lithuania adopted it only in 1995. In 2013, there were 4619 persons registered in Lithuania with mental or behavioural disorders as a result of opioid abuse, of which only 539 were undergoing substitution maintenance therapy.

Compared to other European countries, the availability of substitution treatment in Lithuania is limited. Nowadays, only 12 out 60 municipalities offer substitution therapy; in addition, the centres offering these services are not distributed evenly, which is why some individuals have no access to them at all.  

Even though Lithuania was one of the first post-Soviet countries to employ harm reduction programmes with respect to drugs (also known as low-threshold treatment), very little attention is paid to this problem today: there were only 10 needle and syringe exchange offices operating in the country in 2014 (12 in 2010); most offices offer only a very limited range of services, are open for just a few hours a day, often run out of tools or even money for wages due to the fact that they have no regular funding. 

The consumption of psychotropic agents in Lithuanian prisons is a two-fold problem. On the one hand, it is in places of detention that a lot of people get their first taste of drugs. On the other hand, prisons focus on finding and controlling drugs, with limited success, but completely fail to understand the need for addiction therapy, what its benefits are and what harm refusing or terminating treatment may cause to the person and to society, once said person is free. 

The prevalence of HIV infection in Lithuania is now approaching 0.01% of the population, with the exception of two groups at risk where HIV prevalence has well exceeded the epidemic threshold of 5% – people using injecting drugs and people in prison. HIV prevalence among injecting drug users in Vilnius stands at 9.7%. Since 2012, each year saw more and more new cases of HIV infection crop up in Lithuania. 

The main tool for monitoring and assessing the epidemiological status of HIV is HIV testing, which should be easily accessible, free and anonymous. Today the state only funds HIV tests for detained and convicted individuals, blood donors and pregnant women. However, the latter two are not groups that bear highest risk of HIV infection. Lithuania is now the only country in the EU that does not offer state-funded and conveniently accessible tests to individuals belonging to groups with a high risk of HIV infection.

 RIGHT TO FREE ELECTIONS

 In 2004, following impeachment proceedings initiated by Parliament for violating the Constitution and breaking his oath, Rolandas Paksas was removed from office as President. The Constitutional Court ruled that, for committing a gross violation of the Constitution and breaching his oath, he was permanently disqualified from standing for election to the office of President or to the Parliament. 

In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that, by permanently and absolutely disqualifying Rolandas Paksas from standing for election to Parliament, Lithuania violated his right to free elections. In 2014 the UN Human Rights Committee found that an absolute ban of his passive electoral right "lacked the necessary foreseeability and objectivity" and thus violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

Even though both the ECtHR and the UN Committee recommended that Lithuania set a more proportional period for the restriction of the passive electoral right, this was not achieved in 2013-2014. Quite the opposite – certain proposals in this context resemble attempts to bypass the Constitution and change certain facts established during the impeachment proceedings. For example, there were calls to annul the impeachment of Rolandas Paksas altogether. 

This proposal distorts the essence of the ECtHR and the UN Committee decisions, since neither of them established any new circumstances regarding the impeachment or otherwise questioned their legitimacy. Because the facts as established by the Constitutional Court still persist, an annulment would be unlawful. 

Lithuania does not fully guarantee the right of persons with disabilities to participate in free elections: only 27% of all polling stations are equipped to accommodate people with disabilities. The municipalities are responsible for providing the facilities for polling and ensuring that they are fit for purpose. In addition, the ability to make use of alternate voting methods has not been ensured in practice.  

In 2013-2014, the exercise of political rights of people with disabilities was further hampered by their inability to access information. Blind and partially sighted people do not have access to special voting ballots written in Braille, and as such they are unable to vote by themselves. Information regarding the elections is also in short supply with deaf people: only 10-12% of all campaign broadcasts or information on the elections and the candidates are ever translated into sign language. 

Since the possibility of stripping persons of their capacity at law still exists, this violates their right to free elections. Persons stripped of their legal capacity are struck from electoral rolls and cannot vote. 

The Law on Elections to Municipal Councils was amended at the end of 2012, setting out that only permanent residents of that particular municipality may be elected to a municipal council, namely, i.e. Lithuanian nationals, nationals of other EU Member States who have the right to reside in Lithuania, as well as other persons with the right to permanently reside in Lithuania. The right of foreigners to free elections is limited: foreigners with temporary residence permits (non-EU nationals) are still excluded from running for office or voting in municipal council elections, while the ability to run for mayor is limited exclusively to Lithuanian nationals. 

From 1 January 2015 onwards, EU nationals also became eligible to membership in Lithuanian political parties, provided they do not belong to political parties abroad and have resided in Lithuania for the past 5 years without interruption. EU nationals cannot establish political parties in Lithuania. There is no comparable requirement for Lithuanian nationals to abstain from membership in political parties or organizations abroad.

 

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