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.