On July 3, Estonia’s Minister for Social Protection and chairperson of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, Margus Tsahkna, named his fellow party member Liisa Pakosta as the next Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner. She is scheduled to start work on October 3. The Equality Commissioner is an independent and impartial official who monitors compliance with the requirements of the Gender Equality Act and the Equal Treatment Act. The commissioner monitors both the public and private sectors.
Thirteen independent non-governmental organizations sent a joint letter to the minister, raising concerns over the transparency and impartiality of the selection procedure. Several well-qualified candidates were excluded in different phases of the process, and a candidate with a little experience in the field of human rights and equal treatment was nominated. A swift answer from the minister stated that the selection was carried out according to the law and that the best candidate was nominated to be the next commissioner. For NGOs, the minister’s response provided little clarity and confirmed that the selection criteria were not in place from the beginning of the procedure and were subsequently changed, leaving room for doubt as to whether the selection was fair.
The media has been covering the story with great interest, opening spaces for different opinions on the matter, but also raising several concerns about the manner of selection. In addition, on July 10, the Estonian Daily revealed contradictory statements by Ms. Pakosta concerning the date that she submitted her application. She, in turn, announced that the criticism was ill founded. Several politicians, including the former Minister of Justice, have expressed their concerns and stated that the current selection method for the commissioner needs to be changed.
NGOs are now weighing up their options, including supporting any legal action that the unsuccessful candidates may take and making an appeal to the Chancellor of Justice. One of the possible advocacy efforts by NGOs is to press for a change in the selection procedure so that it is no longer carried out by the minister but, for example, by an expert committee. Such a change would ensure impartiality and transparency in the appointment, for the benefit of the candidates and society.
Names of the non-governmental organizations who signed the letter: Estonian Human Rights Centre, Estonian Medical Students’ Association, Estonian LGBT Association, Estonian Women Lawyers Association, Estonian Women’s Associations Roundtable Foundation, The Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre, Estonian National Youth Council, The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People, Estonian Sexual Health Association, Ida-Virumaa Integration Centre, Tallinn Centre for Human Rights Information, Sexual Minorities Protection Union, MTÜ Oma Tuba (feminist culture alliance NGO Room of One’s Own).
For more information:
Head of the Equal Treatment Programme
Estonian Human Rights Centre