Human rights in Estonia: growing intolerance threatens moderate progress of recent years

Estonian Human Rights Centre presented the new human rights report on developments in 2018-2019. Human rights situation in Estonia has improved to some extent in the last two years, but aggressive political rhetoric and attacks on the rule of law, the media and various NGOs cause concern for the future.

Kari Käsper, director of the Estonian Human Rights Centre and editor of the report, said that although the human rights situation in Estonia has improved on paper, there is a need for better implementation of rights in practice and for maintaining earlier achievements, so that everyone would feel valued in Estonia. “Since independence, we have made significant progress, but the spread of intolerant rhetoric and the increasingly prevalent perception that human rights are just the rights of the majority, creates worry for the future,” Käsper said.

For the first time in the history of the report, situation regarding freedom of expression, which is an area where Estonia has previously stood out in a positive way, is a reason for concern. Freedom of expression is threatened by political pressure on government-critical journalists, inadequate anti-hate speech legislation, and attacks on institutions and civil society. Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, author of the report’s chapter on freedom of expression, said the pressure on journalists is worrying, because the climate in which journalists feel they need to use self-censorship is very dangerous for freedom of expression.

Many of the recommendations from previous years have been accomplished: it is planned to lift the ineffective and inappropriately restrictive ban on pre-election outdoor advertising, and the Chancellor of Justice has become the National Human Rights Institution in Estonia, as well as a monitoring mechanism for the rights of people with disabilities. However, there are a number of areas where recommendations repeatedly outlined by experts have not translated into action. For example, the long-term retention of people’s communications data without cause needs to end, prisoners should be ensured the right to participate in elections, anti-hate speech regulation needs to be reviewed, national minorities should be actively involved in political life, and the freedoms of patients in psychiatric hospitals should not be unduly restricted.

The report, Human Rights in Estonia 2020, consists of 12 chapters, written by independent experts from various organisations. It covers, for example, the situation of ethnic minorities, refugees, asylum-seekers and people with disabilities, as well as issues such as freedom of assembly, right to a fair trial and freedom of expression. The preparation and publication of the report was supported by the donations of the supporters of the Estonian Human Rights Centre, Swedbank, and ADM Interactive.

Summary of key findings and recommendations

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