Court Decision: Russian Laws Also Apply in Estonia to the Persecuted Family from Russia

Family consisting of two mothers and a young daughter fled to Estonia because Russia is not safe for sexual minorities. The Estonian state recognized the family’s situation and granted them asylum. Since, in the eyes of the law, only one woman is recognized as a parent, the family decided that to provide security for their daughter, the other mother should also adopt her. However, according to the decision of the Estonian court, adoption is not possible because even in Estonia, Russian laws apply to  Russian citizens. With the support of the Estonian Human Rights Centre, the family appealed the decision.

Estonia has granted asylum to all family members

Jana and Anna (real names known to the Estonian Human Rights Center) are citizens of the Russian Federation. Their lives became unsafe in their home country as they advocated for the rights of LGBT+ individuals on social media, participated in anti-government protests in Russia, and openly expressed their opposition to the actions of the Russian Federation as an aggressor in Ukraine. The Police and Border Guard Board’s investigation confirmed the family’s persecution risk in Russia. The Estonian state granted refugee status to all three in June of last year.

Court: Russian law applies to the family

At the end of last year, Jana filed a petition in court to adopt her spouse’s child. The Social Insurance Board had previously given their consent to the adoption.

In April, the first instance court unexpectedly issued a decision rejecting the adoption. The court determined that in the case of Jana and Anna, the Agreement on Legal Assistance and Legal Relations in Civil, Family, and Criminal Matters between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation should be applied. This means that the legal norms applicable in the Russian Federation should be applied to the family. Since same-sex couples in Russia do not have the right to adopt – adoption is only allowed for a man and a woman or two different-sex married individuals – the Estonian court deemed it justified to disallow adoption in Estonia as well.

Significant court ruling

The family turned to the Estonian Human Rights Center to challenge the court’s decision. In collaboration with the Liverte Law Firm’s attorney-at-law Liisa Linna and attorney Katarina Talumäe, the court decision was appealed.

Kelly Grossthal, Head of Strategic Litigation at the Human Rights Center, stated: “The Parliament of Estonia has declared the Russian regime as terrorist. We also know that it is unsafe for LGBT+ individuals and families there. All refugees are entitled to state protection in Estonia, including families composed of two women and a child. Family is family. In addition, with this decision, the court disregarded the interests of the most vulnerable party – the child.”

Attorney Katarina Talumäe commented: “This is a challenging situation that requires resolving the issue of the competition and hierarchy of various international legal agreements. While according to the Estonia-Russia Legal Aid Agreement, the adoption request by a Russian citizen should be addressed according to Russian law, in the current exceptional situation, the principles derived from the Refugee Convention and related case law cannot be ignored, which require that adoption be carried out according to Estonian law. In a situation where refugee status has been granted, the individual can no longer be treated as a citizen of the country of origin in the conventional sense – that is the essence of refugee status.”

The dispute will continue in the appellate court.

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