This is the first general report that is being compiled by the Human Rights Centre (HRC) regarding the situation of human rights in Estonia. Information from public sources has been used to compile this report, including the annual reports of governmental agencies, reports and opinions from nongovernmental and international organisations, and materials collected by the HRC.
The objective of the report is to provide as complete a picture as possible of what took place in the field of human rights in Estonia in 2007. Information from previous years has been presented in certain places for comparison and as background information. Essentially, this is a legal rather than sociological study; the implementation of laws by various state authorities has been analysed versus the understandings and value judgments of society.
By their nature, human rights touch upon all spheres of life and, therefore, it is not possible to compile an all-encompassing overview. When preparing the report, the authors chose topics from those human rights fields that were most important in 2007. Not all of the fields of activity were treated with the same thoroughness. In the 2007 report, these are gender discrimination, in connection with the fact that 2007 was declared the year of equal opportunities, and the situation present in custodial organisations, since they were the focus of special attention by both Estonian and international organisations.
Chapters of Annual Report 2007:
Chapter 1 – Discrimination
Chapter 2 – The situation in custodial institutions
Chapter 3 – Protection of personal data
Chapter 4 – Freedom of the press
Chapter 5 – Freedom of religion
Chapter 6 – Administration of justice
Chapter 7 – Guaranteeing the rights of the child
Chapter 8 – Law enforcement agencies
Chapter 9 – Civil society and human rights
Overview of the report
The human rights situation in Estonia can be characterised as uneven and lagging behind the European average. In some areas the developments have been faster than in others. The protection of human rights is divided by areas of activity between various ministries and institutions, and uniform, co-ordinated activity is lacking. In some areas, examples can be provided as to how Estonia is proceeding from minimum international standards in the protection of human rights and in a few areas, even minimal protections have not been instituted. Therefore, protection is uneven.
At the same time, it would be unfair to state that positive developments have not occurred in the field of human rights. A positive aspect that can be highlighted is the progress that has been made in the renovation of custodial institutions, and the establishment of the National Foundation of Civil Society is also welcome in order to increase the capacities of NGOs.
- In the field of discrimination-related protection, the Equality of Treatment Act was not passed in 2007, despite the fact that 2007 was declared the Year of Equal Opportunities and pressure was exerted by the European Commission.
- Activities related to gender inequality continue to be underfinanced and not sufficient enough to have any notable effect on society. The total budget for the Gender Equality Representative, who has been functioning for three years, was less than a million EEK in 2007. The state continues to lack a systematic plan of action to promote gender equality, despite the fact that studies and reports from international institutions show that inequality between men and women in Estonia is relatively great.
- In 2007, the greatest talking point was nationality-based discrimination, primarily due to the so-called April disturbances. National minorities have the opportunity to form cultural autonomies, but unfortunately, this opportunity is not widely used due to the complexity of the regulation and difficulty of the requirements for their establishment. International human rights protection institutions also paid attention to the massive turmoil that took place on April 2007, but they did not observe any major infractions by the Estonian officials. The situation of people of Russian nationality living in Estonia is still worrisome since a large number of them did not have Estonian citizenship or that of any other country in 2007 (the number of people without citizenship formed 9% of Estonia’s population in 2007).
- Compared to other fields of activity, discrimination based on sexual orientation has received less attention in Estonia. The situation is problematic primarily due to the lack of the concept and regulation of the cohabitation of partners, which is why same-sex couples are treated differently than heterosexual ones. Both the local authorities and police created many obstacles for the Gay Pride Parade that took place in 2007.
- The human right situation in custodial institutions has improved, but not sufficiently. In Estonia, prisons and detention centres continue to exist that do not correspond to the minimum international standards. Despite the fact that custodial institutions are being modernised, ignoring the situation in the institutions that have not been renovated is not acceptable because there are also possibilities to improve conditions there. At the same time, the reduction in the number of detainees generally can be named as a positive development in 2007.
- In the field of personal data protection, legislation was amended and concretised in 2007. The Data Protection Inspectorate, which monitors the observation of rules related to data protection, accelerated its activities.
- No great legislative changes took place in regard to the freedom of the press and two competing self-regulatory organisations continue to exist. The Supreme Court has concretised certain nuances of the freedom of the press, but larger problems did not appear in this field during 2007.
- In the field of religious freedom, there were no significant changes. In 2007, one of the most important symbolic events was the opening of the synagogue in Tallinn.
- The availability of high-quality legal assistance continued to be problematic in the area of the administration of justice. The current legal aid system does not guarantee the best possible protection.
- In 2007, there were no important developments in the field of guaranteeing the rights of the child. Provisions of the Penal Code were concretised in an effort to improve the effectiveness of the fight against human trafficking.
- In activities related to law enforcement agencies, the principal attention was centred on the suppression of the massive disturbances by the police at the end of April 2007. Taking into account the extraordinary circumstances, the general assessment of police activities was positive and no major incidents of police brutality were ascertained. Corruption continues to be a problem, while it is also being combated with increased efficiency.
- The establishment of the National Foundation of Civil Society was an important event in the development of civil society in 2007, whereby for the first time resources will be constantly channelled in order to increase the capacities of the non-profit sector. There are a few non-profit organisations in the field of human rights protection and promotion, and they address the problems regarding sustainability; some function as project-based organisations.