Short Description:

In autumn 2019 EHRC investigated the impact of technology to human rights in Estonia. In December, it was published as a preliminary mapping.

Key topics

  • The government decided to end participating in resettlement and relocation programmes for persons seeking international protection.
  • The number of asylum seekers arriving in Estonia is constantly small, fewer than a hundred persons sought protection last year.
  • The Police and Border Guard has repeatedly refused to extend the residence permit of persons receiving international protection because of the changed situation in countries of origin.

Political and institutional developments

The number of asylum seekers arriving in Europe has significantly decreased in comparison to the 2015–2016 migration crisis level.[1] Despite that the EU Member States still lack an agreement on sharing responsibility, especially regards to asylum seekers and migrants who have been rescued from the Mediterranean, which has contributed to the increase of percentage of deaths.[2] In response to the Member States’ plan to create a temporary scheme for relocating asylum seekers the Minister of the Interior Mart Helme has confirmed that Estonia is not taking part in any discussions over the distribution mechanism.[3]

In the beginning of 2018, the government considered Estonia’s obligations completed in the framework of European Union’s 2015 migration plan for resettlement and relocation. Estonia received 206 recipients of international protection on the basis of the migration plan.[4] The government agreed to resettle a total of 80 persons from Turkey between 2018 and 2019 under the second migration plan. In 2018 not a single person arrived in Estonia based on that plan, in 2019 a seven-member Syrian family was resettled from Turkey.[5]

According to the coalition agreement of the parties that came into power after the 2019 elections, the government is going to pursue a strict immigration policy, increase control over illegal immigration and disagree with the mandatory refugee quotas.[6] According to the coalition agreement Estonia is to continue building Estonia’s land border.[7]

In December 2018 the detention centre for asylum seekers’ and persons to be expelled that had been located in Harku moved to a new location in Rae rural municipality. The new and larger capacity detention centre is located in the same area as the Tallinn house of detention, but the asylum seekers and persons to be expelled are separated from detainees of the house of detention.[8] Advisers to the Chancellor of Justice checked the centre on 29 April 2019 and highlighted a number of problems, including lack of opportunities for spending leisure time and communicating with loved ones, shortage of interpreters and problems with catering.[9]

Legislative developments

In 2018–2019 only minor amendments were made to the Act Granting International Protection to Aliens (VRKS), which specified provisions on processing of personal data.

Greater substantial changes are planned in the draft amending the Obligation to Leave and Prohibition of Entry Act (VSS) and the VRKS, which the Ministry of the Interior submitted on 3 June 2019 to the government for approval. The draft contains special provisions, which apply in the event of emergency due to mass immigration (when at least 3000 foreigners in small groups consisting of several dozens of people arrive in Estonia). Among other things, the special provisions allow to detain the arriving foreigners without the permission of the administrative court for a maximum of seven calendar days at a place determined by the Police and Border Guard Board. The Chancellor of Justice has stated that this amendment needs a supplementary analysis, as according to the Constitution no one can be held in custody for more than 48 hours without the court’s permission, and that the meaning of this constitutional guarantee cannot be underestimated in the event of any deprivation of liberty.[10]

Court practice

On the topic of asylum in 2018–2019 important judgments have been passed on detention, religion-based persecution and vulnerability of asylum seekers.

On 30 January 2018 the Supreme Court made a judgment in case no 3-17-792, where it explained presumptions of law in extending the detention of asylum seekers. The Chamber emphasised that a delay, which was not caused by the applicant, does not justify continuation of detention. In application for extension of detention the Police and Border Guard must explain, which actions have been carried out in the meantime, so that the court can verify compliance with the condition of due diligence and the basis of detention.

On 19 June 2019 the Supreme Court made a judgment in case no 3-19-415, where it confirmed that the risk of absconding justifying placement in detention centre cannot be based on the fact that “there are no grounds to exclude a possible risk of absconding based on the person”. When assessing the risk of absconding of an asylum seeker the circumstances of each case must be weighed on a case-by-case basis and the necessity and proportionality of detention must be checked in each specific case. The circumstances considered to be a risk of absconding are stated in law as an exhaustive list.

In addition, in the spring of 2019 several court judgments regarding Jehovah’s witnesses applying for international protection, who had fled Russia for persecution, came into force. The Supreme Court refused to admit the Police and Border Guard’s appeals in cassation, therefore the Tallinn Circuit Court judgments confirming that the asylum seekers’ met the criteria for refugee status remained in force.[11] The court confirmed that also such activities constitute religious persecution, which infringe on the applicant’s freedom to not only practice their religion in private, but also to live openly according to their religious practice.

Tallinn Administrative Court in its 19 September 2019 judgment confirmed the importance of assessing the vulnerability of asylum seekers. The court emphasised the fact that vulnerability or special need of asylum seekers must be detected as soon as possible after submitting the application, with the help of an expert, if necessary. Carrying out procedural acts with a person who is in a mentally unstable state in a situation where the outcome of proceedings depends largely on the applicant’s explanations, the credibility of which must be assessed by the Police and Border Guard Board, is not possible until the person’s health condition is identified and, if necessary, they have received treatment. In omission of these activities the proceedings are not lawful.[12]

Statistics and surveys

95 persons applied for international protection in Estonia in 2018, 5 of these were subsequent applications and 5 were applications to settle with a family member. The largest number of applicants were from Ukraine, Russia and Egypt. In 2019 (as of 30 September) there were 87 persons seeking asylum, 3 of these subsequent applications and 13 applications to settle with a family member. The main countries of origin that year were Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. In 2018 refugee status or subsidiary protection was granted to 35 persons, 18 of them were displaced in framework of the first migration plan. In 2019 (as of 30 September) 31 persons have been granted international protection, 7 of them were displaced in the framework of the second migration plan.

In the summer of 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published a survey called “Access to legal aid for asylum-seekers in Estonia”. The survey provides and overview of access to legal aid for asylum seekers in Estonia, highlights the problem areas and makes recommendations for changes in practices and laws. The survey emphasised the need to create a realistic opportunity for asylum seekers to receive legal aid at border crossing points, identify vulnerable applicants, who would generally need additional legal aid early, provide more extensive legal counselling at detention and accommodation centres and ensure the applicants have an opportunity to effectively communicate with lawyers providing state legal aid.[13]

Good practices

An example of a good practice in integration is the Estonian Refugee Council’s social enterprise „Siin & Sääl“, which helps refugees in Estonia get started in business.[14] Johannes Mihkelson Centre, International House Tartu and International Organization for Migration also provide support for refugees in integration. The Estonian Human Rights Centre, with UNHCR’s support, continues to provide legal aid to asylum seekers, and since the beginning of 2018 also to persons who have been granted international protection.

In addition, the volume of language training offered to persons that have been granted international protection was increased from the previous 100 Estonian language lessons to 300 Estonian language lessons in the beginning of 2018.[15]

Noteworthy public discussions

Greater public discussion took place in autumn of 2018 over the UN migration agreement Global Compact for Migration. The parties preparing for elections took advantage of the migration agreement for attention grabbing, sowing confusion over how legally binding the declarative document is[16] and sharing falsities about its contents.[17] The media called the agreement the migration agreement as well as a „refugee agreement“.[18] The government did not come to an agreement over the migration agreement and Riigikogu approved signing it on 26 November 2018.[19] In reality, the migration agreement does not address the rights of refugees or asylum seekers. The UN Global Compact of Refugees is a separate declaration, the statements of which the Estonian government approved already on 22 March 2018.[20]

Trends

In 2019 the Police and Border Guard has repeatedly made decisions to declare the refugee status or subsidiary protection of persons who have been granted international protection in Estonia invalid on the basis that in the estimate of the Board the situation in countries of origin have sufficiently improved to allow the return of refugees.

The inconsistent practice of punishing asylum seekers for irregular border crossing with a monetary payment to public revenues continued in 2018. On one occasion criminal proceedings were initiated, which were concluded when the accused were recognised as refugees. Punishing refugees and asylum seekers for irregular border crossing contradicts international law.[21]

In the past year the Estonian Human Rights Centre has received several complaints regarding access to territory and the asylum system. Asylum seekers have described situations at border crossing points, where the Police and Border Guard Board officials have tried to convince them to return to their country of origin instead of applying for protection, or have initially refused to accept an asylum application.

Recommendations

  • Reconsider the government’s position not to participate in asylum seekers’ resettlement and relocation programmes
  • Assess vulnerability / special needs of asylum seekers systemically as a part of asylum proceedings
  • Improve availability of legal aid to asylum seekers according to recommendations set out in the UNHCR report
  • Stop punishing asylum seekers for irregular border crossing
  • Ensure asylum seekers immediate access to the asylum system at border crossing points

Case description

A married couple belonging to a religious minority group fled their home country after repeated death threats. Due to imminent threat they were unable to apply for visas and were forced to use the help of smugglers. The smugglers gave the couple false information, brought them to a forest near the Russian-Estonian border and confirmed that border guards were a short walk away. The persons walked through the forest for hours, upon seeing the first border guards they immediately applied for an asylum. They were fined for irregular border crossing and placed in a detention centre where they were kept for nearly two months despite the fact that the woman was pregnant. The family has by now been granted a refugee status in Estonia, and they have successfully contested the fine for irregular border crossing with the help of the Estonian Human Rights Centre.


[1] Eurostat. 2019. Asylum applications (non-EU) in the EU-28 Member States, 2008–2018.

[2] UNHCR. 2019. Desperate Journeys: Refugees and migrants arriving in Europe and at Europe’s borders.

[3] Mälberg, M. 2019. Mart Helme: Eesti ei osale Macroni ja Conte rändearutelus [Mart Helme: Estonia will not participate in Macron’s and Conte’s migration discussion], ERR, 19 September 2019.

[4] ERR. 2019. Eesti esimene pagulaskvoot sai täis [Estonia met its first migration quota], 14 March 2019.

[5] ERR. 2019. Seitsmeliikmeline kvoodipagulaste pere jõuab Türgist lähiajal Eestisse [A family of seven of quota refugees to arrive in Estonia from Turkey in the near future], 23 January 2019.

[6] Eesti Keskerakonna, Eesti Konservatiivse Rahvaerakonna ning Isamaa Erakonna valitsusliidu aluspõhimõted 2019-2023 [The basic principles of the Centre Party’s, EKRE’s and Isamaa’s government coalition for 2019–2023].

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rajavee, A. 2018. Harku kinnipidamiskeskus liidetakse Tallinna arestimajaga [Harku detention centre to be added to Tallinn house of detention], ERR, 14 March 2018.

[9] Chancellor of Justice. Kontrollkäik Põhja prefektuuri korrakaitsebüroo kinnipidamiskeskusesse [Review visit to detention centres of North prefect’s bureau of maintenance of law and order], 23 August 2019.

[10] Chancellor of Justice. Arvamus nr 18-2/170466/1701575 vastuseks Siseministeeriumi 17.03.2017 kirjale nr SIM/17-0364/-1K, 1-6/1382-1 [Opinion no 18-2/170466/1701575 in response to the Ministry of the Interior’s 17 March 2017 letter no SIM/17-0364/-1K, 1-6/1382-1], 10 April 2017.

[11] Tallinn Circuit Court’s 27 September 2018 judgment in administrative case no 3-18-721; Tallinn Circuit Court’s 4 September 2018 judgment in administrative case no 3-18-388.

[12] Tallinn Administrative Court’s 19 September 2019 judgment in administrative case no 3-19-990

[13] UNHCR. 2019. Access to Legal Aid for Asylum-Seekers in Estonia.

[14] Estonian Refugee Council. Sotsiaalne ettevõte Siin & Sääl [Social entreprise Siin & Sääl].

[15] Postimees. 2017. Uuest aastast suureneb pagulastele antava keeleõppe maht [Volume of language lessons provided to refugees to increase next year], 09 November 2017.

[16] ERR. 2018. Reinsalu: ÜRO rändelepe võib osutuda siduvaks [Reinsalu: UN’s migration agreement may prove binding], 14 November 2018.

[17] Kelomees, H. 2018. Faktikontroll: Kas EKRE valetas jälle ÜRO rändeleppe „tsensuuri“ ja „meelsuskontrolli“ puudutava osas?, Eesti Päevaleht [Fact check: did EKRE lie about UN Compact re censorship and views?], 29 November 2018.

[18] ERR. 2018. Mikser lubas pagulasleppe teema arutelu valitsuses ja väliskomisjonis [Mikser agreed to discuss refugee agreement in goverment and in Foreign Affairs Committee] 11 November 2018.

[19] Postimees. 2018. Blogi ja galerii: Riigikogu kiitis ränderaamistiku avalduse heaks [Blog and gallery: Riigikogu approved migration framework statement], 26 November 2018.

[20] Kolk, A. 2018. Välisministeerium vastab Helen Häälele: ÜRO pagulasraamistik ei riiva kuidagi Eesti suveräänsust [Ministry of Foreign Affairs responds to Helen Hääl: UN migration framework in no way infringes on Estonia’s independence], Eesti Päevaleht, 18 December 2018.

[21] Pagulasseisundi konventsioon [Convention relating to the Status of Refugees] (1951) – State Gazette part II 1997, 6, 26, Article 31.

Estonia’s relationship to human rights has been complicated ever since regaining its independence. After it became apparent that human rights inhibit the state’s freedom of activity, especially in sensitive areas such as national relations, it could be seen that they were implemented rather minimally and formally. Matters were not helped by Russia’s at times inflated attacks in the name of protecting the rights of Russians residing here. Mistakes were also made by those who treated human rights as foreign values, which we as a nation have to accept, if we want to reintegrate into Europe. 

Therefore, it has happened that these days Estonia formally appears to be an example of human rights. The Republic of Estonia has acceded to nearly all of the human rights conventions and agreements (conventions regarding citizenship are an important exception). Each year Estonia reports to dozens of international monitoring mechanisms, and state-wide things aren’t in too bad a shape, when to look at the acts of law. Compared to states of similar fate, Estonia is undoubtedly a success story.

However, when we look beneath the surface the question arises to what extent the human rights have taken root as values. Does accepting human rights in a legal and formal manner indicate a culture, which is based on human rights in its substance? It is more difficult to unequivocally respond “yes” here. Living in a totalitarian society and growing pains of a democratic state have undoubtedly left a mark. 

In the last decade the human rights discussion points in Estonia have become rather similar to those, which are experienced elsewhere in the world. Achieving equal rights for sexual and gender minorities and women, and backlashes to them, and human rights issues related to migration have also taken up a lot of space in public discussions here. Also, a political power has had success at elections in Estonia, which questions many of the achievements so far, and which no longer considers it a taboo to attack the judiciary or the independence of journalism.

This somewhat conflicting situation is also demonstrated in this annual report. On one hand, there has been a slow progress towards better protection of human rights in several areas. The Chancellor of Justice has received an important role as an institute protecting human rights and as a control mechanism for the UN Conventions on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Awareness of protection of personal data has increased and the ban on outdoor political advertising, which was constantly criticised in our reports as well, is about to be eliminated. On the other hand, the government that started work in spring has excluded further participation in resettlement of refugees and the work on limiting the spread of hate speech and hate crimes has not begun. In most areas, however, there has been no significant deterioration, nor improvement. 

The Estonian Conservative People’s Party entering the government and dissemination of opposing rhetoric, which was going on even before that, is however, leaving its mark. The appalling rhetoric and content influence Estonia’s society whether we like it or not, and therefore, danger areas for human rights protection can be detected. These can mainly be divided in two: first, there’s danger to universality of human rights, there will be attempts to redefine them, and weaken the independent institutions protecting human rights.

Human rights are universal in nature, which means that they apply to everyone and everywhere in the world. In Estonia, however, there have been attempts to redefine them as the rights of the majority (for example, in the Russian minority language issues, there have been references to a non-existent human right to speak Estonian) and exclude, for example, sexual and gender minorities from human rights protection. Similarly, restricting human rights of migrants and criminals takes places, people with disabilities also have great problems with exercising their rights in practice. 

Attacks against independence of the judiciary, free press and protectors of human rights are also a worrying phenomenon. This places them in a new situation, where they have to explain, and at times, justify their role. Threatening journalists, judges, human rights activists and opposition politicians easily creates an atmosphere of fear in a small society, where it is hard to stay true to one’s values. 

Human Rights in Estonia have not reached a point of crisis yet. But the danger signs, which we also discuss in the annual report, should make everyone who considers human rights to be important, think. No matter where you stand up for human rights – in politics, journalism, state or local government offices, in non-governmental organisations, schools, youth centres, cultural institutions, businesses or elsewhere – it is vital to work on planting the culture of human rights, more than ever before. This means considering human rights not just as constitutional requirements or international duties or obligations, but as a part of founding values of our society. This means giving our actions a meaning within the framework of human rights. This means educating ourselves and others about human rights using language and methods, which are understood. This means standing up for human rights also when it is neither easy nor comfortable to do so.

Human rights will remain as long as we all work to protect them together, as well as we can. I wish us all strength to do that! 

Kari Käsper

 

Short Description:

Human rights in Estonia: developments in the years 2018-2019

Short Description:

Aruannet toetasid

Key topics

  • Submitting of the shadow report of the UN Convention to the UN by the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People
  • Creating a monitoring mechanism for the UN Convention with the Chancellor of Justice’s office
  • The Equal Treatment Act continues to discriminate against disabled persons
  • The situation of disabled people’s rights on the local government level is uneven and weak
  • Problems with involuntary treatment and placing in a closed institution continue

Political and institutional developments

By mid-2019 there were more than 157,000 persons with disabilities living in Estonia, making up 12% of the population.[1]

The situation in the area of rights of persons with disabilities in Estonia has somewhat improved in 2018–2019 comparison to the period of the previous report. This assessment is primarily based on legalising the mechanism for reviewing compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[2] As of 1 January 2019 the Chancellor of Justice is carrying out the tasks stemming from Article 33 of the UN Convention regarding implementation, protection and monitoring of the Convention.[3]

On 1 March 2018 the Estonian Chamber of Disable People published the long Estonian version of the shadow report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,[4] on 13 February 2019 the shadow report was submitted to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[5] The report draws attention to the problem areas in implementing the Un Convention and also makes recommendations for solving them. On 9 April 2019 the representatives of the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People met with the members of the Committee in order to present the report and answer the Committee’s questions. A representative of the Chancellor of Justice also participated in the meeting. After acquainting with the state’s report[6] and the shadow report the Committee drew up recommendations, which the state is to reply to by spring of 2020.[7] Many of the issues discussed in the shadow report as well as in this article have been covered in the recommendations for the state.

People with disabilities are still waiting for a smoother way for dealing with the e-state. Even though the Estonian National Social Insurance Board has taken steps to improve the situation the results have not become tangible for persons with disabilities. The exchange of information available to the state between various authorities rests on the shoulders of those who need help, a number of applications have to be filled out to receive assistance. This means a significant cost in time and energy for the people.

The services provided by the local governments often do not meet the real needs of people with disabilities in terms of access, volume or content.[8] Receiving the local government’s social services, such as a personal assistant, a support person or social transport is unfairly dependent on the disabled person’s own capacity to seek the necessary assistance when it should primarily depend on the need for assistance. One of the obstacles is the high rate of cost-sharing in paying for social services – 48% at the local government level and 13% at the state level.[9]

The home customization measure,[10] which launched in 2018, has helped improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, but it has not been flexible enough for all of those in need.

Article 12 of the UN Convention was ratified in Estonia along with the declaration.[11] Estonia has taken it upon itself to continue the practice, according to which the court may designate a guardian for a person with restricted active legal capacity.[12] Although current law prioritizes ward’s rights, the exercise of the person’s passive legal capacity and active legal capacity within the meaning of the UN Convention [13] The UN’s recommendations also emphasise the need to consider withdrawing the declaration and to move from the principle of replaced decision-making towards supported decision-making, which values the autonomy of the disabled person.[14]

Unfortunately, not all polling divisions were accessible to people with disabilities at Riigikogu and European Parliament elections in spring of 2019. Persons with disabilities must also have the right to decide on the method of voting – whether they want to exercise the right to vote by going to the polling division, by e-voting or calling the ballot box to their home.[15]

Legislative developments

In addition to legalising the monitoring of the UN Convention, which lead to creating a council of people with disabilities with the office of the Chancellor of Justice,[16] on 3 June 2018 also the accessibility regulation, which had been delayed for three years, was introduced.[17]

As of 1 January 2018, the Data Protection Inspectorate monitors compliance with website and mobile application requirements,[18] and as of 1 January 2019, the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority checks the conformity with requirements stemming from special needs of persons with disabilities of the buildings aimed at providing services for the public.[19]

A day-care and week-care service for adults with intellectual disabilities was launched, and the service of supporting daily life of autism spectrum disorder was designed to suit their needs. Both alleviate the still severe shortage of specific services.[20] As new services improving independent life of persons with sensory disabilities, in 2018 the National Social Insurance Board launched the services of guide dogs, writing interpreters and long-distance sign language translation.[21]

The principle of funding for technical aids that is in force from 2019 ensures that a technical aid is provided to each eligible person until the end of financial year.[22] Technical aids are also provided to a larger extent than before to persons living at social welfare institutions. As of 1 July 2018, the paid care leave stated in the Employment Contracts Act[23] came into force, which extends only to family members of an adult with a profound disability, who have a contract of employment.

Accessibility of persons with disabilities to free dental care expanded considerably. As of 1 January 2019, the health insurance fund will pay for dental services for persons with mental and physical disabilities with lacking dental hygiene capacity.[24]

Yet another stalling instance of amendment of the Equal Treatment Act in 2018 has a negative effect. The act establishes a hierarchy where the widest protection from discrimination is afforded on the basis of nationality, race or skin colour, and a lower degree of protection is afforded on the basis of religion, beliefs, age, disability or sexual orientation. The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People has in the period of 2015–2018 made repeated recommendations for amending the act, so that persons with disabilities would be afforded protection for instances of discrimination in education, social welfare, social security, access to goods and services offered to the public, including in housing. Until now the Equal Treatment Act does not treat persons with disabilities equally to all, which is what the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also refers to.[25]

The Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act in force as of 1 February 2018 brought about changes in organisation of inclusive education.[26] The amendment does contribute to including children with less severe disabilities in education, but does not provide access of children with greater assistance needs to the inclusive, good quality free basic and secondary education on equal basis with other members of community as stated in the UN Convention. For example, teaching children who need one-on-one tutoring does not fit into the so-called bounty coefficient “4” established in regular schools, which, in comparison to the previous version of the act represents a three-and-a-half-time decrease. The proportion of children studying at specialized schools has decreased, but their inclusion in regular schools has been a very slow process. The schools don’t have a sufficient number of teachers, assistant teachers or support specialists[27] with the necessary skills, and neither do the kindergartens.[28]

The slow development of accessible public transport still creates obstacles for people with disabilities. Even though the Public Transport Act promises to support the acquisition of adapted public transport vehicles or adapting them from the state budget, it is not mandatory. For example, most of the buses serving the routes between counties are inaccessible to wheelchair users.[29] The Chancellor of Justice has also brought attention to the problem of inaccessibility of public transport.[30]

Citizens of Tallinn with disabilities have expressed annoyance at the 1 July 2019 Tallinn City Council regulation governing social transport. The conditions of the regulation for obtaining social transport, for example the requirement of using technical aid, do not make it possible to assess a person’s actual need for assistance. Also, the Northern Tallinn city government has found that, when handling a challenge from a person with a disability, that the purpose of social assistance is not to only assist those persons who use the aid mentioned in the regulation for moving about, but all persons with reduced mobility who are disabled.[31]

As a positive development, on 13 February 2019 Riigikogu decided to significantly increase the support (which had remained unchanged since 2006) for disabled children as of 1 January 2020.[32]

Court practice

The Supreme Court 5 September 2019 judgment states that the judgments for assessment of work ability and degree of disability have to be reasoned in such a way that the person is able to understand the judgments. “Clarification does not mean copying an act of law in the administrative act, but making it clear to the person. Justification of an administrative act is essential to ensure that the addressee of the act understands why it was done”, states the Supreme Court.[33]

The Supreme Court has also passed two judgments, which explain the differences of special welfare service and coercive treatment. The court found that the Social Welfare Act does not give rise to the right of the welfare institution to provide coercive treatment to a person who stays there. In the assessment of the Supreme Court, only a person who does not require psychiatric treatment against their will can be placed in the special welfare service.[34]

There are local governments, where the acts governing provision of compulsory social services are not in concordance with the constitution. For example, the Chancellor of Justice has appealed to the Supreme Court with a request to repeal a number of provisions of Narva City Council regulations governing compulsory social services. By 20 September 2019 the Supreme Court had not yet passed the judgment. The judgment may have a significant effect on the allocation of duties between the state and the local authorities.[35]

Statistics and surveys

The most important survey in the field in the period in question was the shadow report on implementation of the UN Convention.[36]

Karin Hanga’s doctoral thesis[37] defended at Tallinn University dissects the problem of increase in the number and proportion of people with disabilities in society and the need for evidence-based policy measures. The practical value of the thesis is the evaluation method, which was adopted by the Estonian National Social Insurance Board.[38]

Good practices

It is significant that on the initiative of the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People, the 2019 general song and dance celebration along with the television broadcasts was, for the first time, adapted to be accessible for people with hearing and visual disabilities.[39] The initiative is expected to serve as a worthy example for organisers of cultural events.

Initiatives related to human rights aspects that have not yet been addressed in Estonia much include the project of the Estonian Human Rights Centre “Cooperation between police and non-governmental organisations to combat hate crimes in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania”, which aims to figure out the nature of hate crimes and combat against them,[40] and the project of the non-profit association Eluliin and Eesti Vaimupuudega Inimeste Tugiliit for noticing victims of trafficking in human beings who have disabilities, and primary intervention therein.[41]

A high level accessibility task force has been set up with the Government Office,[42] and the Ministry of Social Affairs has initiated test projects, which include care coordination, social transport, and services for children with special needs and special person-centric welfare services.[43] On the Ministry of Social Affairs’ order, in 2019, an analysis of accessibility of main public transport hubs was launched, which also includes calculating the cost of making the necessary adjustments.[44] It is too early to estimate the effect of the projects, but if they succeed it will facilitate more effective protection of rights of people with disabilities on both the national as well as the local government level.

As a stand-out event Eesti Naisliit awarded their mother of the year recognition in 2018 to the head of Eesti Invaspordi Liit (Estonian Union of Sports for Disabled) Signe Falkenberg.[45]

Noteworthy public discussions

Deinstitutionalisation has caused the most discussion. It is an attempt to bring assisting of adults who need support because of a disability from large care homes into forms that resemble regular life. While most local communities where new services are being established have taken a supportive view, in Keila, Paide, Antsla and Märjamaa the opposition has manifested itself from collecting signatures to turning to court.[46] Narva city government took the view that people with psychiatric special needs can be dangerous to others and therefore special care homes should be located outside the city.[47] The voice of people with disabilities in public discussions is amplified by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Hoolekandeteenused AS and the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People.[48]

Trends

The increased awareness and activity of people with disabilities at protecting their rights has become apparent as a trend. For example, the number of respective appeals to the Chancellor of Justice has increased from 62 in 2018 to 67 in the first seven months of 2019.[49] There were 28 applications to the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner in 2018, and 40 applications in the first eight months of 2019.[50]

The non-profit organisation Händikäpp launched a project in 2019 for advising and representing people with disabilities in court, who have problems communicating with the social system. With help from the project, ten visually impaired persons submitted a claim to the state in relation to the fact that they were unable to use the DigiDoc4 software without outside assistance for seven months. The claim was rejected, after which they turned to the Tallinn Administrative Court.[51] The state did not accept the non-patrimonial claim, but did offer a compromise as a sign of good will, according to which the persons bringing the claim provide the Information System Authority with a name of a non-profit organisation, which would receive 5550 euros in its account. According to the representative of the Information System Authority they have learned from the incident that there needs to be more communication with various interest groups. [52]

Activation of people with disabilities in protecting their rights creates preconditions for increase in awareness as well as greater inclusion of people with disabilities in society.

Recommendations

  • Amend the Equal Treatment Act in such a way that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination in all areas of life.
  • Ensure people with disabilities have an equal, needs-based access to social protection by implementing a uniform method for assessing the need for assistance and substantial monitoring in local governments.
  • Bring the Public Transport Act into accordance with the UN Convention.
  • Consider withdrawing the declaration set for Article 12 of the UN Convention and a move from replaced decision-making towards supported decision-making.
  • Take steps to avoid using excessive measures of restraint in psychiatry, and to ensure that administration of medicine takes place in conditions of free and informed consent.

Case description

In 2018, a person with visual disability and diabetes who uses a guide dog, turned to the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner, as the state-funded training of experience counsellors for people with special needs was not ready to accommodate them. The applicant asked for training materials in a format that can be read with a screen reader, permission to eat during the training and to participate with the guide dog, as well as the possibility to record the training. The educator refused the accommodations by referring to the methodology of the training and excluded their participation in the training. The Commissioner found that the educator had behaved in a discriminatory manner and turned to the educator, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Centre for solutions. After lengthy negotiations, the applicant was accepted to the training and they were afforded some of the requested accommodations. The Commissioner found that, in addition to seeking compromise with the educator the state should always make it a condition to consider the needs of people with special needs in sharing public funding.[53]


 

[1] Estonian National Social Insurance Board. (2019).

[2] Riigikogu. 2006. Puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsioon ja fakultatiivprotokoll [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the optional protocol].

[3] Riigikogu. 1999. Õiguskantsleri seadus [Chancellor of Justice Act].

[4] Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Puuetega inimeste eluolu Eestis. ÜRO puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsiooni täitmise variraport [Life of people with disabilities in Estonia. The shadow report on implementing the UN Convention].

[5] The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Shadow report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People.

[6] OHCHR. 2015. Initial report submitted by Estonia under article 35 of the Convention, due in 2014.

[7] OHCHR. 2019. List of issues in relation to the initial report of Estonia.

[8] Rasu, A. 2017. Sotsiaalteenuste arendamine maakondades 2016–2020 [Development of social services in counties 2016–2020], Läänemaa Arenduskeskus.

[9] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2018. Erivajadusega inimeste poliitika põhimõtete ja abistamise kaasajastamise alusanalüüs [Fundamental analysis of principles of policies for people with special needs and modernisation of assistance].

[10] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2019. Erihoolekande teenuskohtade loomine ja puudega inimeste eluruumide kohandamine [Creating special care service sites and customization of dwellings of people with disabilities].

[11] Riigikogu. 2006. Puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsioon ja fakultatiivprotokoll [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the optional protocol].

[12] Perekonnaseadus [Family Law Act]. https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/109052017029

[13] The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Shadow report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People.

[14] OHCHR. 2019. List of issues in relation to the initial report of Estonia.

[15] Chancellor of Justice. 2019. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2018/2019 [Annual Report of the Chancellor of Justice 2018/2019].

[16] Chancellor of Justice. 2019. Õiguskantsler kutsub kokku puuetega inimeste nõukoja [Chancellor of Justice to call into being the council of people with disabilities].

[17] Riigikogu. 2018. Puudega inimeste erivajadustest tulenevad nõuded ehitisele [Requirements on buildings stemming from special needs of people with disabilities].

[18] Riigikogu. 2018. Avaliku teabe seadus [Public Information Act]. State Gazette.

[19] Riigikogu. Ehitusseadustik [Building Code].

[20] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2017. Raske ja sügava intellektihäirega täisealistele luuakse päeva- ja nädalahoid [Day-care and week-care for adults with severe and profound intellectual disabilities to be created], 13 November 2017

[21] Estonian National Social Insurance Board. 2018. Abivahendid [Technical aids].

[22] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2017. Uus rahastamispõhimõte toob järgnevatel aastatel abivahendite hüvitamisse olulises mahus lisaraha [The new principle for funding to bring considerable extra money to compensating for technical aids in coming years], 17 April 2017.

[23] Riigikogu. 2018. Töölepingu seadus [Employment Contracts Act].

[24] Riigikogu. 2018. Eesti Haigekassa tervishoiuteenuste loetelu [List of health services of the health insurance fund].

[25] OHCHR. 2019. List of issues in relation to the initial report of Estonia.

[26] Riigikogu. 2017.  Põhikooli- ja gümnaasiumiseaduse muutmise ning sellega seonduvalt teiste seaduste muutmise seadus 519 SE[The act amending the basic schools and upper secondary schools act and other related acts].

[27] Uuringu raport: Räis, M. L., Kallaste, E., Sandre, S.-L. 2016. Haridusliku erivajadusega õpilaste kaasava hariduskorralduse ja sellega seotud meetmete tõhusus [Efficiency of educational organisation measures and related measures for inclusion of educational special needs students].

[28] Chancellor of Justice. 2019.  Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2018/2019 [Annual Report of the Chancellor of Justice 2018/2019].

[29] The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Shadow report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People.

[30] Chancellor of Justice. 2019. Õiguskantsleri pöördumine Riigikogu majandus- ja sotsiaalkomisjoni poole Juurdepääs ühistranspordile[Inquiry of the Chancellor of Justice to the Riigikogu committee on economic and social affairs. Access to public transport].

[31] Social welfare department of Põhja-Tallinn local government decision 14 August 2019 no 19-04553.

[32] Riigikogu. 2019.  Puuetega inimeste sotsiaaltoetuste seadus [Social Benefits for Disabled Persons Act].

[33] Supreme Court. 3-17-1110.

[34] Supreme Court. 2-18-5670 and 1-10-8154.

[35] Chancellor of Justice. 2018. Õiguskantsleri taotlus tunnistada Narva linnas kohustuslikke sotsiaalteenuseid reguleerivad määrused kehtetuks põhiseadusvastases osas [Chancellor of Justice’s application to repeal the regulations governing compulsory social services in city of Narva insofar as they are unconstitutional].

[36] Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Puuetega inimeste eluolu Eestis. ÜRO puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsiooni täitmise variraport [Life of people with disabilities in Estonia. The shadow report on implementing the UN Convention].

[37] Hanga, K. 2018. Developing an Initial Social Rehabilitation Needs Assessment Procedure and the Scope of Rehabilitation Services for Persons with Disabilities in Estonia.

[38] Tallinn University. 2018. Karin Hanga pälvis oma teadustööga riiklikul konkursis 3600-eurose peapreemia [Karin Hanga awarded 3600 euro grand prize at a national competition with her research work], 11 December 2018.

[39] Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2019. Laulu-ja tantsupeo minu arm ligipääsetavus [Accessibility to the song and dance festival], 20 September 2019.

[40] Estonian Human Rights Centre. 2018. Politsei- ja vabaühenduste koostöö vaenukuritegudega võitlemiseks Eestis, Lätis ja Leedus.

[41] Non-profit association Eluliin.

[42] Government Office. 2019. Ligipääsetavuse rakkerühm [Accessibility task force]

[43] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2014. Struktuurivahendid sotsiaalvaldkonnas [Structural means in the social field].

[44] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2019. Transpordi ja tehiskeskkonna ligipääsetavuse analüüs [Analysis of access to transport and artificial environment].

[45] Eesti Naisliit. Aasta emad [Mothers of the year].

[46] Mallene, L. 2019. Keila elanikud läksid puudega inimeste kodu pärast kohtusse. „Mitte meie naabrusesse!” [Citizens of Keila went to court over home for people with disabilities. “Not in our neighbourhood!”], Delfi, 09 January 2019.

[47] Nikolajev, J. 2019. Narva linn tõrjub erihooldekodu linnast välja [City of Narva pushes special care homes out of town], ERR, 05 August 2019.

[48] Habicht, A. 2019. Vuih, puudega inimene! [Ugh, a person with disabilities!], Postimees, 13 August 2019.

[49] Office of the Chancellor of Justice.

[50] Office of Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner

[51] Liive, R. 2019. Nägemispuudega inimesed esitasid vigase ID-kaardi tarkvara tõttu riigile 10 000-eurose nõude [Visually impaired people presented a 10,000 euro claim to the state due to the faulty ID-card software]. Delfi, 31 July 2019.

[52] Liive, R. 2019. Riik sõlmis hea tahte märgiks nägemispuudega inimestega kompromissi [State made a compromise with visually impaired people as a sign of good will], geenius.ee, 08 November 2019

[53] Office of Gender Equality and Equal Treatment

Institutional developments

The concluding observations[1] submitted to the state by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child were discussed at the 2018 session of the Child Protection Council[2] (which had been created by the government), and ministries responsible were designated.

On 1 January 2018 several changes in the system of treating offenders who are minors came into force in order to respond to minors’ offences more quickly and more efficiently and address the need of a child for assistance. The service of closed children’s institution commenced operation, the system for responding to minors’ offences was amended and the activities of juvenile committees were terminated, and the general principle was established that a minor can only then be sentenced when no other sanction is sufficient to prevent the minor from committing the offence.

From 2018 the substitute home service and foster care was transformed into replacement and after-care services, delegating this responsibility to local governments. Unfortunately, the implementation of the reform was rushed, among other things, no analyses were carried out, which would enable assessment of long-term impact of the decision to delegate responsibility to local governments on the replacement care system as a whole. According to Statistics Estonia, there were 990 children living in replacement homes in 2018, therefore, the trend towards family-based replacement care continues to require supplementary support from the state. The availability of after care service is insufficient, the content of the service is not clear, the volume and extent of the service depends on the local government.

Legislative developments

On 25 May 2018 the European Union General Data Protection Regulation came into force, which emphasises that a child’s personal data needs a more specific protection compared to that of an adult.[3] According to Estonia’s new Personal Data Protection Act the article 6(1)(a) of the European Parliament and the Council Regulation 2016/679 is applicable to information society services provided directly to a child, which states that processing the personal data of a child is only permitted if the child is at least 13 years old.[4]

As of 1 January 2018, according to paragraph 1302 of the Social Welfare Act, a local government unit can request that a court places a child in a closed children’s institution. Amendment to paragraph 68 of the Population Register Act states a person’s obligation to ensure that the data on their place of residence is correct in the population register, as well as existence and accuracy of the address of underage children and wards. On 1 September 2019 the amendments to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act came into force, giving schools the opportunity to apply measures of influence on students who have had possession of prohibited objects or substances in school.

The amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure and other acts,[5] which came into force in March of 2019, can be considered progress as they emphasise even more the need to always take into account a parent’s violence against the other parent as well as the child in procedures of determining guardianship and communication rights involving children. In order to adopt the European Union directive on procedural safeguards for children,[6] the government approved the draft amending the Penal Code, which would in the future guarantee individual assessment of children that have become suspects of a crime and their awareness of their rights.[7]

The Chancellor of Justice[8] has asked the Minister of Social Affairs to consider a legislative amendment, which would enable minors to see a psychiatrist without the parent’s permission. Each year there are instances, where children seeking help do not receive it, because their parents are categorically against psychiatric help.[9]

Court proceedings and court practice

Several Supreme Court judgments in 2018–2019 concerned issues of child maintenance, care and communication rights. The Civil Chamber judgment, which emphasised that it was in the discretion of the courts to determine the order of communication in such a way that the child takes turns to stay with each parent for periods of two weeks caused dissenting opinions.[10] As a precedent, the court itself initiated the limitation of parental custody and the appointment of a guardian.[11] The Supreme Court emphasised that before stripping a parent of custody it is necessary to thoroughly consider it,[12] the court also explained matters relating to conciliation procedure,[13] child’s place of stay[14] and child abduction.[15] The Supreme Court made an unprecedented judgment regarding bullying in school.[16]

Statistics and surveys

Despite the extensive investments in regional development in the last decade the regional inequality in Estonia and its increase continue to be a major challenge.[17] The equivalent net income of households with children varies nearly two times in different regions, the relative poverty rate three times.[18] The decrease in the number of child protection officials and their high turnover is a significant problem. Therefore, realisation of children’s welfare and their rights still depends of which municipality their parents live in. Statistics and various surveys point to inequality in health, differences, among other things, in access to services, support specialists and hobby education.[19] As well as in creating the European Union new youth strategy Estonia’s youths highlighted the need, among other things, to pay more attention to equal treatment,[20] with 81% of respondents considering the issue of inequality in Estonian society important.

According to the National Institute for Health Development, the number of obese children in Estonia has continued to grow for eight years, with young persons from families of poorer economic status being the risk group (21%). In a situation where the number of measles cases in the world is highest since 2006 and according to WHO the hesitation to vaccination is one of the ten dangers to health in 2019 the number of vaccinated children in Estonia has fallen below the recommended level in the recent years.[21]

According to the shadow report to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities titled “Life of persons with disabilities in Estonia” the number of children with disabilities in the past decade indicates a strong growth trend. In practical life, children with disabilities experience deficient protection from discrimination, little inclusion and assistance, as well as limited access to education. Accessibility of services aimed at children with intellectual disabilities and mental disorders is also deficient. Exercising the right of children with disabilities in Estonia is in direct correlation with the parents’ capability and is not equally guaranteed for everyone.[22]

Most of the children in Estonia feel secure and safe on the internet, reveals the EU Kids Online 2018 Estonian study.[23] 97% of 9–17-year-old Estonian children use the internet on a daily basis. Nearly a third of the children has seen something disturbing on the net environment and nearly 40% of children has witnessed cyber bullying. 23% have had contact with bullying, unfortunately nearly third of the children does not speak about what they experience to anyone. Children take up smoking later, there has been significant decrease in consuming hookahs and an increase of students who have never consumed alcohol.[24] Nevertheless, Estonian students are at the top compared to other European and Northern American students in trying alcohol early, getting drunk, smoking and trying cannabis. Both the study of international wellbeing “Children’s World” and the study of health behaviour of Estonian students show that as children get older their subjective wellbeing decreases, as do joy in school and the mental health indicators.

Minors committed 1124 criminal offences in 2018, which is an increase of 10% on 2017. The number of criminal offences increased primarily because of the increase in number of thefts. Instances of violence and vandalism by groups of young persons have increased.[25] As of end of the year, there were 14 minors in prison, ten of them convicted and four arrested.[26]

The right of the child to a supportive environment free from violence is one of the central rights in the child’s life. Unfortunately, 36% of adults do not consider physical punishment of children to be violence, but a method of upbringing.[27] The total number of sexual offences (505 in 2018) is the highest in ten years and has increased particularly because of increase in sexual offences involving a victim who is a minor (87%), the number of rapes has also increased (137).[28]

Compared to 2012, the proportion of adults who have not heard of rights of the child has not increased, the proportion of children who have heard of rights of the child has decreased slightly. In the opinion of the children in Estonia children are provided care and protection from danger, but adults have not yet taken to hearing out the children and taking their opinion into consideration, the adults also lack life skills for understanding children at critical moments.[29]

Good practices

Effectiveness of the Convention on the Rights of the Child depends on how widely the rights of the child stated therein are known, understood and applied.[30] Below are stated some solutions as examples of good practices from 2018–2019:

a) Kuldmuna grand prix in 2019 went to the documentary staging “Südames sündinud”, which was a part of National Institute for Health Development’s awareness-raising of the topic of foster parenting and to encourage people to become foster parents. The staging can be watched in the full extent at the portal tarkvanem.ee.[31]

b) At the initiative of the Estonian Union for Child Welfare in cooperation with the Department of Prisons of the Ministry of Justice materials were gathered onto the website www.vangla.ee for children and parents who have persons close to them who are in prisons.[32]

c) There is a legal basis for handling and implementing human rights in Estonia’s educational system and in schools, but teaching human rights often depends on how competent the teachers are at handling human rights topics in an integrated manner.[33] NGO Mondo published a methodical guideline for handling rights of the child called “Right to be a child”.[34]

d) The Estonian Union for Child Welfare has created digital guidelines unifying the programmes “Free from bullying” and “Surfing smart”, which introduces for teachers of pre-school children’s institutions and schools ways to address important topics in digital environments in the framework of the “Free from bullying” programme.[35]

e) The Police and Border Guard Board adopted a concept for preventative work[36] and a declaration on the rights of the child,[37] which stated the activities at Estonia’s 100th birthday, which the Police and Border Guard Board will do in order for every child to grow up happy. The prosecutors at prosecutor’s office specialised in minors concluded an agreement in Narva-Jõesuu in 2018 on special treatment of minors who have committed criminal offence in criminal proceedings.[38] The Chancellor of Justice has concluded a brief on the rights of the child upon primary contact with the police.[39] Ministry of Justice’s criminal policy department headed a memo on child-friendly proceedings,[40] which is meant for practitioners who come in contact with children in various proceedings.

Trends and challenges

Even though the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old schoolgirl, whose school students’ climate protests taking place each Friday since August of 2018 has founded a world-wide movement #FridaysForFuture,[41] has drawn attention here and abroad, the surveys[42] still show that when it comes to issues affecting the child him- or herself the children in Estonia mostly have a say, then there is fewer experience of having a say on issues affecting the family and even less in school life or topics in wider society. Even very active young persons sense that their inclusion is often rather formal and superficial.[43] In order to avoid superficiality in inclusion of children and young persons in local decision-making, inclusion, among other things, has to be continuous and systemic and cannot become current just once in every four years. Survey of young people in Europe shows Estonia’s young persons’ mild interest for internal politics[44] and that anxious times make young people socially active.[45] The issue at the heart of the young persons’ opinion festival in June of 2018 was young persons’ freedom of opinion, young persons attending the climate discussion at the 2019 opinion festival expressed their concern about the eco-crisis.[46]

Bullying had decreased,[47] but according to the children’s welfare study the proportion of persons who have experienced teasing has increased.[48] Because of unsafe relationships the students are less satisfied with their fellow students and this also decreases joy from school, which partly explains the considerable reduction in children’s school-related satisfaction after 4th grade.[49] School bullying does not often stay at school, but follows children home on phones and on the internet. The challenge for Estonia’s society is to contribute to creation of safety at school and to increase joy of school with various activities.

The survey on school students’ health behaviour shows that students’ depression has increased in time, in the 2017/2018 school year nearly a third had already experienced it. The older children get the worse they feel. Mental health of 15-year-olds has worsened significantly, nearly every fifth has thought of suicide within the year.

It is positive to note that in 2018–2019 these issues have been addressed more actively on different levels, both in prevention and in intervention. Society’s awareness is raised of negative consequences of domestic violence, bullying and mental health problems, and the need for early detection is emphasised.[50]


Recommendations

  • Increase children’s effect on shaping the society, facilitate children’s participation in various decision-making processes, thereby strengthening society’s cohesion.
  • Raise society’s awareness on the rights of the child even more, increase volume of human rights education in various school levels and in continuing education related to children.
  • Ensure more effective implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including social fundamental rights for children. Pay more attention to prevention, early detection, access to mental health services and supporting specialists. Contribute to promotion of multidisciplinary cooperation.
  • Systemically gather statistical information (including regularly submitting reports) to analyse and base policies ensuring rights of the child on.

[1] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. CRC/C/EST/CO/2-4, 08 March 2017.

[2] The Council consists of representatives from the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, Association of Estonian Cities, Association of Estonian Rural Municipalities, the Estonian School Student Councils’ Union and the Union of Estonian Youth Associations, as well as the Minister of Education and Research, The Minister of Culture, The Minister of Justice, the Minister of Interior Affairs, The Minister of Finance and directors of the Estonian National Social Insurance Board and the National Institute for Health Development. The council’s chairperson is the Minister of Social Protection, whose jurisdiction the coordination of child protection policy falls into.

[3] Iro, M. 2018. Lapsed ja andmekaitse. Milliseid muudatusi toob kaasa EL-i isikuandmete kaitse üldmäärus [Children and data protection. Changes that the EU General Data Protection Regulation will cause], Märka Last.

[4] Riigikogu. 2019. Isikuandmete kaitse seadus [Personal Data Protection Act]. State Gazette I, 04.01.2019, 11.

[5] Riigikogu. 2019. Tsiviilkohtumenetluse seadustiku ja teiste seaduste muutmise seadus [The act amending the Code of Civil Procedure and other acts of law], State Gazette I, 19.03.2019, 2.

[6] Official Journal of the European Union, L132/1. Directive (EU) 2016/800 of the European Parliament and of the Council.

[7] Ministry of Justice. 2019. Laste õigused kriminaalmenetluses on edaspidi paremini kaitstud [In the future children’s rights will be protected better in criminal proceedings], 14 May 2019.

[8] Chancellor of Justice. 2019. Õiguskantsleri tegevused lapse õigustega seonduvalt perioodil 2018–2019 [Chancellor of Justice’s activities related to the rights of the child in the period 2018–2019].

[9] Chancellor of Justice’s letter no 6-8/190575/1903391 to the Minister of Social Affairs. Alaealise nõusolek psühhiaatriliseks raviks [Minor’s consent for psychiatric treatment], 03 July 2019.

[10] Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court 07 December 2018 regulation no 2-17-3347.

[11] Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court 16 January 2019 regulation no 2-18-3298.

[12] Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court 30 April 2019 regulation no 2-18-3628.

[13] Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court 24 April 2019 regulation no 2-17-9910.

[14] Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court 20 March 2019 regulation no 2-17-11804.

[15] Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court 27 February 2019 regulation no 2-18-10797.

[16] Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court 05 December 2017 judgment no 3-14-52324.

[17] Kattai, K., Lääne, S., Noorkõiv, R., Sepp, V., Sootla, G., Lõhmus, M. 2019. Peamised väljakutsed ja poliitikasoovitused kohaliku omavalitsuse ja regionaaltasandi arengus [Main challenges and policy recommendations in the development of local government and regional level]. Tallinn University.

[18] Raid, K. 2018. Eesti piirkondlik areng 2018 [Estonia’s regional development 2018]. Statistics Estonia.

[19] Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2017. Puudega lastega perede toimetuleku ja vajaduste uuring 2017 [2017 survey on coping and needs of families with disabled children].

[20] Estonian National Youth Council. 2017. „Noored Euroopas – mis järgmiseks?“ [Young people in Europe – what next?]

[21] Vikat, M. 2018. Vanemad alahindavad rängalt koolilaste vaktsineerimise vajalikkust [Parents severely underestimate the necessity of vaccination of school children], Postimees, 21 August 2018.

[22] Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. ÜRO puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsiooni täitmise variraport „Puuetega inimeste eluolu Eestis” [The shadow report on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Life of people with disabilities in Estonia].

[23] University of Tartu. 2019. EU Kids Online 2018 survey on Estonia.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ministry of Justice. 2018. Kuritegevus Eestis 2018 [Crime in Estonia 2018].

[26] Information originates from a conversation with management of Viru prison at the session of the Viru prison committee on 24 September 2019.

[27] Anniste, K., Biin, H., Osila, L., Koppel, K. and Aaben, L. 2018. Lapse õiguste ja vanemluse uuring 2018 [2018 survey on rights of the child and parenting], Praxis.

[28] Ministry of Justice. 2018. Kuritegevus Eestis 2018 [Crime in Estonia 2018].

[29] Turk, P., Sarv, M. 2019. Lapse osalusõigusest laste ja täiskasvanute vaates [On the child’s right to participate from the point of view of the child and the adult]. Statistics Estonia.

[30] Rajani, R., Petrén, A. 2005. Teadlikkuse tõstmine laste õigustest. Laste õigused. ÜRO lapse õiguste konventsiooni põhimõtete rakendamine praktikas [Raising awareness of the rights of the child. Rights of the Child. Application of principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in practice], Estonian Union for Child Welfare, pages 123‒138.

[31] Documentary staging „Südames sündinud“ [Born from the heart].

[32] Non-profit association Estonian Union for Child Welfare. 2019. Materjalid lastele ja lapsevanematele, kelle lähedane on vanglas.

[33] Institute of Baltic Studies, Estonian Human Rights Centre. 2017. Inimõigused ja inimõiguste alusväärtused Eesti koolis ja hariduspoliitikas[Human rights and human rights’ basic values in Estonian schools and educational policies].

[34] Mondo Maailmakool. Metoodiline juhend “Õigus olla laps” [Methodological guidelines “Right to be a child”].

[35] Non-profit association Estonian Union for Child Welfare. 2019. Digitaalne juhendmaterjal: „Sõber Karuga targalt internetis“ [Digital guidelines: “Smart on the internet with a bear friend”].

[36] Police and Border Guard Board. 2018. Ennetustöö kontseptsioon [Concept of preventative work].

[37] Police and Border Guard Board. 2018. Laste õiguste deklaratsioon [Declaration on the Rights of the Child].

[38] Prosecutor’s office. 2018. Kuriteo toime pannud alaealiste erikohtlemine kriminaalmenetluses. Alaealistele spetsialiseerunud prokuröride kokkulepe. [Special treatment of minors who have committed criminal offence in criminal proceedings. Agreement of prosecutors specialised in minors.]

[39] Chancellor of Justice. 2019. Lapse õigustest esmasel kokkupuutel politseiga [On the rights of the child upon primary contact with the police].

[40] Ministry of Justice. 2019. Lapsesõbraliku menetluse meelespea [Memorandum on child friendly proceedings].

[41] Fridays For Future.

[42] Kutsar, D., Raid, K. 2019. Laste subjektiivne heaolu kohalikus ja rahvusvahelises vaates [Children’s subjective wellbeing in local and international view], Statistics Estonia.

[43] Aksen, M., Kiisel, M., Saarsen, K., Koppel, H., Jaanits, J., Tammsaar, H., Rajaveer, L., Narusson, D., Trumm, E. 2017–2018. Noorte osalemine otsustusprotsessides [Participation of young persons in decision-making processes], University of Tartu.

[44] Kantar EMOR. 2019. Noorte valimiskäitumise uuring KOV valimiste kontekstis [Survey on election behaviour of young people in the context of local government elections].

[45] ERR. 2018. Uuring: ärevad ajad muudavad noored ühiskondlikult aktiivseks [Survey: anxious times make young people socially active], 31 May 2018.

[46] UNICEF. 2019. Europe Kids Want.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Murakas, R., Soo, K., Otstavel, S. 2019. Laste subjektiivne heaolu koolis. Kogumikus Laste subjektiivne heaolu kohalikus ja rahvusvahelises vaates“ [Children’s subjective wellbeing at school. In the collection “Children’s subjective wellbeing in local and international view”], Statistics Estonia.

[49] Kutsar, D., Kasearu, K. 2017. Do children like school – crowding in or out? An international comparison of

children’s perspectives. Children and Youth Services Review, 80, pages 140‒148.

[50] Näiteks lasteabitelefoni  teavituskampaania. For example the awareness raising campaign of the children’s helpline 116111„Aga mina HOOLIN ja märkan“ [But I CARE and notice]

Key topics

  • Development of LGBT+ persons’ rights has largely stopped and improved to a small extent. Legislative power has not adopted strategies considering LGBT+ persons or the European Union proposals in the area.
  • No laws on elimination of discrimination and equal treatment of LGBT+ people were adopted in the period under review, nor were existing shortcomings eliminated. On the other hand, some of the infringements have been remedied by judgments of the Supreme Court and courts of lower levels.
  • The political climate regarding LGBT+ persons and their rights has become more hostile in statements and actions, however, the attitude of Estonia’s residents towards LGBT+ persons and the necessity of the Registered Partnership Act has improved.

Political and institutional developments

After the elections that took place in spring of 2019 the coalition was formed by the Centre Party, Pro Patria and the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE). The coalition agreement regulated to an unusual degree of specificity the intent to conduct a referendum in 2021 at the municipal council elections, which proposes to amend the Estonian constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.[1] The coalition’s plan follows the tendencies that have taken place in Europe in the past few years, where, for example, Poland and Hungary have amended their constitutions that way. Estonia has this far been conservative in amending the constitution and in public opinions the views of creators of the text of the constitution and jurists refer to the fact that if the constitution is amended the effect and general need of it should be thoroughly analysed.

In 2018 the European Commission published the yearly report on measures increasing equality of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) persons, which emphasises the need for a EU equal treatment directive that would expand the protection of LGBTI persons in Member States from discrimination in education, social protection and access to and provision of goods and services, including housing.[2] The need for adopting the directive is also referred to by measures prepared for the European Union and the Member States based on the 2019 European Union for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report. The FRA report shows that discrimination and inequalities based on various grounds occur in everyday life throughout the EU. These results also consistently demonstrate that people experiencing discrimination rarely report it.[3]

The Estonian LGBT Association drew up a report and recommendations to the government on equal treatment of and combating discrimination against LGBT+ persons,[4] according to which the state should employ measures in order to meet the requirements of the Council of Europe’s Recommendations on LGBTI rights and discrimination. The target groups for the extensive analysis are policy makers and state officials, and they include Estonian laws and practices. The report assesses the changes that have taken place in Estonia’s governance in regards to implementation of the recommendations and highlight areas that need further work.

Legislative developments

In comparison to the previous reporting period the legislative developments in the field have slowed.[5] The act amending the Equal Treatment Act, which is intended to expand the application of the Equal Treatment Act to make it uniform in case of all the bases for discrimination that was also discussed in the previous annual report, has still not been passed after years of being processed in the government, because of political opposition. The same situation is going on with the process of legitimising the regulation on gender recognition of transgender persons, where the proposed changes planned with the new Public Health Act were taken out of the draft altogether.

The provisions of the Penal Code regulating expressions of hostility required amendment for years now – and the LGBT+ persons need more effective protection from incitement to hatred. The scope of the framework decision on combating forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of European Union criminal law also extends to criminal measures imposed for criminal offences against LGBT+ persons, which would provide that the motive of hate crime would be an aggravating circumstance in determining the sentence.[6] Despite the fact that the framework decision is mandatory for the Member States to transpose (and transposition of which is a possible precondition to amending the Penal Code) Estonia is still one of the few countries that has not transposed the framework decision, and the country is threatened by infringement proceedings.

Stagnation was also the fate of the adoption of implementing provisions for the Registered Partnership Act as there was no consensus in the coalition of the previous government nor the current one, and therefore it was decided that legitimate implementation of the Registered Partnership Act will not be dealt with. Despite that, progress has been made with a few individual court cases, which are discussed further below.

Court practice

In the spring of 2018 the question regarding validity of the Registered Partnership Act, which was occasionally raised in debates, got an answer. The Supreme Court explained in its regulation that despite lack of implementing provisions the Registered Partnership Act is a valid act of law and it is a part of Estonia’s legal order. In the chamber’s appraisal, a general finding that implementing provisions for the Registered Partnership Act have not been adopted is not sufficient for identifying an unconstitutional gap. The court has the obligation, despite the work not done by Riigikogu, to implement the Registered Partnership Act in individual cases, and, if necessary, to resolve issues based on the general principles of law.[7]

Since entry into force of the Registered Partnership Act the cohabiting families have been faced with the situation where the same-sex partner of an Estonian citizen has not been given the opportunity to join the family and obtain a residence permit to live in Estonia. The Aliens Act allowed the application of a residence permit to settle with a spouse residing in Estonia, but did not allow this in case of a same-sex cohabiting partner or spouse. This issue reached the Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court and resulted in a judgment in 21 June 2019, which declared the Aliens Act unconstitutional and void in the part where it precludes granting a temporary residence permit to an alien for settling with their same-sex Estonian citizen registered partner in Estonia.[8]

The question that has often arisen in public – which rights the cohabitating families are deprived of – has so far not had an exhaustive answer, as situations arising from unequal or unconstitutional treatment by the state have not yet been fully demonstrated. However, the practice has shown that they do come up over time and need to be solved. For example, a spouse raising a child under 8 years old has the right to state health insurance, but in the absence of implementing provisions of the Registered Partnership Act the state has refused to extend that right to the same-sex parent who entered a registered partnership. In autumn of 2019 the Tallinn Administrative Court declared unconstitutional the provision of the Social Tax Act treating parents who entered into a registered partnership differently from married parents.[9]

There were also changes to treatment of persons needing international protection. In the beginning of 2018, the European Court of Justice passed a judgment recognising the conduct of psychological review of LGBT+ persons in order to ascertain their sexual orientation to be in violation of human rights. If a need for it arises the officials may base their assertions on documentary proof and the person’s statement.[10]

Statistics and surveys

Another public opinion study on LGBT+ persons published by the Estonian Human Rights Centre in 2019 shows that the attitude of Estonian residents to lesbians and gays has not changed significantly in comparison to that of two years ago, but more than half of respondents consider homosexuality either completely or rather unacceptable. For the first time there are more proponents than opponents to the Registered Partnership Act.[11] To sum it up, this means that even though homosexuality is unacceptable for the majority, half of the people still find it necessary that there is a form of registered cohabitation for same-sex couples.  In contrast, the European Commission’s Eurobarometer survey on LGBTI persons published in May of 2019 showed an improvement in attitude compared 2015 on nearly all the issues. More than half the respondents thought that LGB persons should have equal sexual rights with heterosexual persons.[12]

In summer of 2018 the Estonian LGBT Association conducted a study on safety and inclusion of the school environment among LGBT+ students in basic and upper schools, as well as in vocational education institutions. The results of the first ever study show that based on the experience of participants of the survey they are experiencing insults, mental and physical violence and lack of support from teachers. As many as 68% of LGBT+ students have experienced mental harassment because of their sexual identity, gender identity or gender expression. It is the school’s duty to provide good quality education and correct information in a secure environment, but 61% of respondents noted that the school staff never intervened when someone made homophobic remarks and 42% said that LGBT issues had never been touched upon at their school.[13]

Trends

In autumn of 2019 a number of active attacks took place against the Estonian LGBT Association and the LGBT+ community with the purpose of  prohibiting the participation of the association at a call for proposals for providing a public service,[14] silencing and marginalizing the LGBT+ community and creating an air of fear for the community and the activists.

Members of  administration and supporters of the government party EKRE protested against a showing of an LGBT+ film in Pärnu,[15] organised a protest in Tartu against a youth centre’s event on the LGBT+ topic,[16] thereby harassing youth workers and young people and ruining the Association’s information event.[17] Considering this background, the foundation  Perekonna ja Traditsioonide Kaitseks (For the Protection of Family and Tradition) has launched a petition campaign against the association[18] that contains unfounded statements and exaggerations and the non-profit organisation Ühiskonnauuringute Instituut has ordered a survey on the Association’s funding,[19] where the phrasing of the question is based on lies and provides a means to attack the Association.

EKRE belongs to the government along with the Centre Party and Pro Patria, with the Centre Party being the prime minister’s party. The few reactions to EKRE’s statements on social media have not changed their views or ended the attacks. On the contrary, EKRE’s statements have become more aggressive and the likelihood that EKRE’s and their supporters’ attacks against the LGBT+ community will become more frequent and aggressive creates fear for persecution in the LGBT+ community. A new tendency has arisen in society where one government party has taken it upon themselves to create an atmosphere of fear and violate people’s sense of security, and their coalition partners have not wanted to or have not been able to change that. An attack on one target group and one NGO is an attack on the security of the entire society and the civil society.

Recommendations

  • Adopt the implementing provisions for the Registered Partnership Act, which guarantee implementation of the Registered Partnership Act in the full extent.
  • Separate the medical and legal processes in recognising the gender of a transgender person. The person must be able to change their personal data within a reasonable period of time irrespective of the medical procedures. In case of medical procedures, the person must retain their right to decide which procedures they wish and need, if any, to make them feel in accordance with their perceived gender.
  • Regulate the protection of LGBT+ persons from incitement to hatred, hate crimes and discrimination, including protection from discrimination outside of employment (in education, healthcare and consumption of social services and accessing products and services) with legislation.
  • Carry out studies to better map out and understand the situation of LBGT+ persons in different areas (including bullying in the school system, unequal treatment in the healthcare system, treatment of LGBT+ persons in custodial institutions).
  • Provide specialist (teachers, youth and healthcare professionals, police officers, judges, etc) further training on LGBT+ issues and include issues related to LGBT+ persons in education programmes for teachers, youth workers, police officers, judges, healthcare professionals, etc.
  • More effectively include LGBT+ issues and advocacy organisations in strategic decision-making and policy-shaping.

Case description

In 2015 Kristiina and Sarah Raud entered into a marriage in the USA and settled in Estonia. The state did not recognise the marriage of two persons of the same sex and refused to issue Sarah a residence permit. Therefore, the couple turned to court and in 2018 the Supreme Court’s judgment came into force, according to which Kristiina and Sarah’s marriage is not recognised in Estonia and it cannot be the basis for issuing a residence permit. Although the judgment did not solve their problem the Supreme Court, for the first time, took the view that the requirement for protection of family life is not related to the sex or sexual orientation of the family members.[20] Taking this into account, Kristiina and Sarah entered into a registered partnership in Estonia, and because shortly before that, in another case, the Supreme Court had passed the judgment declaring the provision of marriage obligation in the Aliens Act unconstitutional,[21] Sarah had the opportunity to apply for a residence permit in Estonia based on the registered partnership contract.[22] Estonian Human Rights Centre supported the couple’s journey in the course of their strategic litigation programme. The case shows how in guaranteeing human rights the courage of the people, the dedication of the civil society and fairness and credibility of the court system can overcome the inaction of the Estonian legislator.


[1] Eesti Keskerakonna, Eesti Konservatiivse Rahvaerakonna ning Isamaa Erakonna valitsusliidu aluspõhimõtted 2019-2023 [Basic principles of the Estonian Centre Party, Pro Patria and the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia Conservative government coalition].

[2] European Commission. 2018. List of actions to advance LGBTI equality, 18.03.2019.

[3] The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. 2019. Fundamental Rights Report 2019 FRA opinions.

[4] Council of Europe. 2010. Compliance Report on the implementation of Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity in Estonia, 31 February 2010.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Council of Europe. 2008. Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA.

[7] Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court 10 April 2018 regulation no 5-17-42.

[8] Supreme Court en banc 21 June 2019 judgement no 5-18-5.

[9] European Human Rights Centre. 2019. Kohus: sotsiaalmaksuseadus on vastuolus põhiseadusega [Court: the Social Tax Act is in contradiction with the constitution], 10 September 2019.

[10] European Court of Justice. 2019. Case C-473/16, F v. Bevándorlási és Menekültügyi Hivatal, 25 January 2018.

[11] European Human Rights Centre. 2019. LGBT teemaline avaliku arvamuse uuring [Public opinion poll on the LGBT topic].

[12] European Commission. 2019. Eurobarometer on the social acceptance of LGBTI people in the EU.

[13] Estonian LGBT Association. 2019. Anneta, et LGBT+ noortel oleks koolis turvaline! [Donate to make school safe for LGBT+ young persons!]

[14] ERR. 2019. EKRE: LGBT ühingu rahastamine hasartmängumaksust on ebaseaduslik [Funding of the LBGT Association from gambling tax is illegal], 26 October 2019.

[15] Nestor. S. 2019. Palun, teeme seakisa kultuuriklubi Tempel kaitseks! [Please, let’s make noise for protection on the culture club Tempel!], 05 November 2019.

[16] ERR. 2019.  EKRE meeleavaldus Tartus tõi Raekoja platsile ka LGBT-toetajaid [EKRE’s demonstration brought also supporters of LGBT people to Tartu Town Hall square], 01 November 2019.

[17] Keskküla, R. 2019. Ekrelased nurjasid LGBT-ühingu teavitusürituse, kohale kutsuti politsei [EKRE people failed the information event of the LGBT Association, police was called], Pärnu Postimees, 05 November 2019.

[18] Nagel. R., Raal, K. 2019.  Varro Vooglaid alustas petitsioonikampaaniat LGBT ühingult toetuse võtmiseks: homoaktivistid mõjutasid tüdrukut sugu vahetama [Varro Vooglaid initiated a petition campaign to remove support from the LGBT Association: gay activists influenced a girl to change her gender], Delfi, 05 November 2019.

[19] Ühiskonnauuringute Instituut. 2019. Koalitsiooni toetajad on LGBT Ühingu riikliku rahastamise osas üksmeelel, abordi riikliku rahastamise osas mitte [Supporters of the coalition agree on the state funding of the LGBT Association, but not on the state funding of abortion].

[20] Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court 27 May 2017 regulation no 3-3-1-19-17.

[21] Supreme Court en banc 21 June 2019 judgement no 5-18-5.

[22] European Human Rights Centre. 2019. Võit kooselupaaridele [A win for registered partners].

Key topics

  • There haven’t been significant unforeseeable changes in integration policy in 2018–2019: the planned and complementary activities will continue
  • In Estonia the chasm persists between the Estonian and Russian language speaking communities in education, labour market, living environment, media consumption, etc.
  • The increase in migration volumes and diversification of immigration groups and short-term forms of migration are becoming one of the biggest challenges in migration and integration.

Political and institutional developments

On the political and institutional level, in 2018–2019 the main course has been based on the development plan approved by the government in 2014 called “Integrating Estonia 2020”,[1] which, in addition to integrating Estonian-speaking permanent residents and residents with other mother tongues also  focused on supporting the adaption and integration of new immigrants. As a new target group for integration the state has in recent years started to provide more attention and more services to persons returning to Estonia,[2] there has been discussion on application of foreign students who have acquired higher education in Estonia and their stay in Estonia.[3]

In 2018 the Ministry of Culture started preparations for the new state integration plan “Integrating Estonia 2030”, which is a continuation of the integration development plan “Integrating Estonia 2020”, which was approved by the government in 2014. The new plan articulates the goals of the Estonian state’s integration policy and the actions for achieving them for 2021–2030. A number of seminars and brainstorming mornings were organised in the first half of 2019 in order to collect input for the development plan, but composing of the final text has fallen behind the planned timetable. Coordination and adoption of the draft development plan at the government of the republic and approval of the programmes by the Minister of Culture are intended to take place in the third quarter of 2020.[4]

Legislative developments

In 2018 the Aliens Act was amended on two occasions. On May 2nd the draft act 590 SE was passed, which incorporated the EU directive on students and researchers in the Aliens Act, which simplifies movement of scientist and students from third countries within the EU.[5] On June 13th Riigikogu passed the act amending the Aliens Act and other related acts (617 SE). The act amended the immigration quota, excluding from it the top specialists; it introduced the A2 level Estonian language proficiency requirement for foreigners who have resided in Estonia for at least five years on a temporary residence permit for work and wish to apply for a new residence permit or extend an existing residence permit; and extended the maximum period of short-term employment from nine months to one year, in order to alleviate the labour shortage caused by the cyclical development of the economy.[6]

On 12 September 2018 the amendments to the Citizenship Act were passed, which aimed to extend the opportunities to study Estonian to persons wishing to acquire Estonian citizenship (629 SE). The state will offer persons who have legally resided in Estonia the opportunity to conclude a language learning agreement, offering people a one-off free Estonian instruction from level zero up to the independent language user level of B1.[7]

Court practice

The Administrative Law Chamber stated in its 2 March 2018 judgment (case 3-16-1810),[8] that the descendants of persons opting into Estonian citizenship in Russia after the Tartu Peace Treaty are not Estonian citizens if the act of opting was not followed by taking up residence in the independent Estonia. The working group of law researchers from University of Tartu who analysed the issue of citizenship of Abkhazian residents also came to the conclusion that the descendants of Abkhazian Estonians who did not come to Estonia after the conclusion of Tartu Peace Treaty are not Estonian citizens by birth.[9] The judgment of the Supreme Court and the research results of the scientists from University of Tartu affect about a hundred persons who have mistakenly been granted Estonian citizenship on an exp post basis according to the judgment. One of such people affected by the Police and Border Guard Board change in practice of obtaining citizenship by opting in was Alli Rutto, whose 15 October 2018 open letter[10] once again raised the question of double standards in multiple citizenship issues (see more under subheading 6 “Noteworthy public discussions”)

Statistics and surveys

The National Audit Office’s audit[11] published in august of 2019 gives organisation of Estonian language studies a poor rating: “The National Audit Office finds that the organisation of publicly funded Estonian language learning for adults is fragmented, the amount of training does not meet the need, there is a severe shortage of qualified teachers and the funding of training significantly depends on the funds provided by the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund and the support of the European Union. Finding solutions to problems has been thwarted as there is no clear substantive leader or a person responsible for development in the field, there is no systemic coordination of activities between the relevant national authorities.”[12] Several other recently published surveys point out the same problems.[13]

Several important summaries and publications on the topic have been published or are about to be published in the course of the RITA-RÄNNE project, which helps develop scientifically founded innovative approaches to managing migration and integration processes in Estonia. Thematic summaries of the theoretical framework of multiculturalism,[14] multiple identity[15] and conceptual foundations of society and integration cover the basic foundations of integration.[16]

In 2018–2019 two surveys were published on the Estonian Romas’ sense of belonging, inclusion and participating in society.[17] In cooperation with the Central European University, the Estonian Human Rights Centre is compiling two more surveys in 2019 on inclusion of Romas in politics and on implementation of measures in Estonia.[18] The Eurydice comparative report on integration of foreign students into the school systems in European countries,[19] the International Organization for Migration (IOM) report on adaptation of foreigners in Estonian local governments[20] and an interim evaluation of the implementation of ESF adaptation and integration measure[21] were also published in 2019. The results of an InterNations survey of people living abroad in 64 countries published in September of 2019 show that foreigners that have come to Estonia are satisfied with the e-state and services here, but it is difficult to adapt to the life outside of work.[22]

In addition to the abovementioned, a number of new significant studies and analyses will be published in autumn of 2019, for example, the Estonian Human Development Report 2018/2019,[23] Work in Estonia’s target groups’ survey of the foreign recruitment process experience and satisfaction, the Institute of Baltic Studies’ analysis of new immigrants’ adaptation in Estonia,[24] the Ministry of Culture’s mapping out of integration and adaptation services offered to persons of other nationalities, Estonians, national companions and returnees, etc.

Good practices

In 2018 and 2019 a number of new and exciting solutions in the field of language learning have emerged. Four new applications have been created as new language learning tools: Speakly,[25] WalkTalk,[26] Multikey[27] and Käänuk.[28]

Various support services aimed at companies recruiting foreigners, and other stakeholders can also be pointed out as examples of good practices: such as the Institute of Baltic Studies’ and Work in Estonia’s application demonstrating recruiting foreign labour step-by-step,[29] the support network for adaptation of new immigrants (an information list and support network meetings) that is coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior, and the network of employers ran by Work in Estonia and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce in order to support foreign recruitment.[30]

Since 2018 the state offers companies foreign recruitment support,[31] which aims to alleviate the shortage of top-level specialists in Estonia. Since 2019 the Integration Foundation offers a counselling service to persons returning to Estonia, [32] and families with children who have stayed abroad for a long time are able to apply for a socio-economic return allowance.[33] Ülemiste city and its development activities also stand out as a promising practice: construction of an apartment building, International House of Estonia[34] that provides consultation services and Ülemiste Health Centre that in 2019 provides family physician’s services in foreign languages.[35]

Noteworthy public discussions

Issues relating to citizenship have arisen in public debates nearly every year in the past decade. In 2018 the issue of an Abkhazian Estonian’s Alli Rutto’s legality of citizenship at birth, and issuing of a new passport to replace the expired one proved a test for the Ministry of the Interior and grabbed the attention of the public.[36] On one hand, the people were explained the Police and Border Guard’s administrative practice, the 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court and findings of an analysis of law researchers at University of Tartu, according to which the descendants of optants who did not settle in Estonia should be treated as foreigners (see subheading 3 „Court practice“). On the other hand, the President,[37] the Chancellor of Justice,[38] as well as many politicians[39] found it unfair that people had to suffer because of the state’s mistake. Alli Rutto’s case found a temporary solution in December, when the Police and Border Guard Board decided to issue a new Estonian citizen’s passport for a period of two years.[40] The legal confusion concerning citizenship of Abkhazian Estonians still awaits a solution: the draft drawn up in the Ministry of the Interior in 2019 recommends, as an exception, allowing multiple citizenship for Abhkazian Estonians, but Minister of the Interior Mart Helme does not agree with providing such an opportunity.[41]

In the early morning of Monday, 7 January 2019 posters appeared at the Hobujaama tram stop in Tallinn saying “Here only Estonians” and “Here only Russians” in Estonian and Russian.[42] The ad campaign of the party Eesti 200 was followed by several condemning opinions: the campaign was described as incitement to hostility among nations, which, among other things, allows Russia to create misconceptions of Estonia in the propaganda war,[43] as the next and hatred-inciting political move,[44] as contradicting the Advertising Act[45] and as an example of the party’s goal to construe a new Estonian identity, where the historical Estonians or the Estonian nation has no place.[46]

Trends

The activities of the last two years in integration are based on the objectives of earlier governments and the integration plan approved in 2014: implementation of the planned policies was continued, which was supported by a number of non-governmental actors’ initiatives. The new integration plan for 2021–2030 is being drawn up, but at the time of writing this review there is no clarity on what the main directions and the planned activities of migration and integration policy are for the next decade. Will the changed migration flows, the political context and the increased representation of conservative forces in the government bring about major changes to principles of migration and integration? This will become clear in the coming years.

The migration statistics of persons arriving in Estonia indicates a significant change in Estonia’s migration processes: the number of foreign students, foreign workers arriving under short-term work permits and visas, the return of Estonians have increased, and the immigration quota was reached before the end of the year (in the summer in 2018 and on 2 January in 2019).[47] Due to the situation on the labour market in Estonia and fulfilling of the immigration quota, the number of workers on short-term work permits and visas or on a visa-free basis has increased dramatically in the recent years: in 2017 ca 7600, in 2018 ca 20,000, and in 2019 presumably ca 30,000 persons.[48]

Despite the desire to stay in Estonia long-term the trainings of the adaptation programme containing topic-based training and Estonian language lessons on A1 level are not available to persons arriving on the basis of short-term work permits and visas.[49] As of autumn of 2019, foreign students before receiving their residence permits, returnees to Estonia, diplomats and their family members and new immigrants who have lived in Estonia for longer than five years are also ineligible to participate in the adaptation programme.[50] Also, the access to (family) medical care, education of their children (in kindergarten and school) and several other support services, which are offered only to persons who have received a residence permit, are restricted to persons staying in Estonia on the basis of a visa.[51] In the experts’ estimate the foreigners in Estonia who have visas are very likely to become victims of exploitation as they are not aware of their rights in Estonia.[52]

The increase of migration volumes and diversification of immigration groups and forms of short-term migration have a significant impact on states’ ability to cope with immigration, ensure social cohesion and integrate immigrants.[53] Therefore, in Estonia, as is done in other developed states and cities, it is important to pay increasing attention to rethinking and developing integration politics in a way that could support inclusion of various immigrants, prevent their marginalisation and reduce risks to law and order.[54]

In 2018–2019 the issue continues to be with spread of xenophobia in the society,[55] politicians’ insulting statements[56] and acts of violence.[57] The employers have increasingly been exposed to the phobia of foreigners, and are increasingly more concerned that the politicians’ statements inciting xenophobia are driving valuable workforce away from Estonia.[58] According to the man from Iran living in Estonia and working as a top specialist, he personally knows 20–30 persons who could work in Estonia right now, but have moved elsewhere, because they cannot handle the hostility here.[59] According to the study published in 2018 Estonia loses 10,903 euros as a result of direct taxes when a highly educated employee stays out of the labour market for a year or leaves Estonia.[60] In the face of increasing foreign recruitment charges and increasing competition for top specialists, the alleviation of the specialists’ drought in Estonia is becoming increasingly difficult.[61]

Recommendations

  • In order to set long-term courses and goals and solve several problem areas of migration, integration and citizenship policy, it is necessary to organise a debate including the entire society and develop a comprehensive vision of future for Estonia in the world of changed forms of migration and migration flows.
  • Several issues await a societal discussion, the political decision, the solution and activities: multiple citizenship of adult Estonian citizens, a uniform school system, Estonian language learning organisation, the immigration quota, labour needs, etc.
  • Due to increase of migration volumes and diversification of (short-term) forms of migration, it is increasingly important to take into account the various groups of foreigners and compatriots (including persons of undefined nationality, foreign students, short-term workers, diplomats, applicants and beneficiaries of international protection, immigrants’ family members, returnees, expatriate Estonians, etc).
  • When creating various services supporting adaptation and adapting the public services, more attention should be paid to services’ target groups, so that people with similar needs are not excluded from the service due to unreasonable restrictions.
  • Continuously and increasingly more attention should be paid to dealing with the issue of xenophobia, in order to avoid the paradoxical situation, where, on one hand, public money is poured into attracting foreign talent to Estonia and supporting their recruitment, but on the other hand, the foreigners and their (Estonian) family members are driven away from Estonia because of negative attitude towards them.

Case description

Zahed* is a 33-year-old top specialist from Iran working in Estonia as an engineering project manager. He has a 2-year-old son with his Estonian spouse. Because of the darker colour of their skin, both the man and the couple’s son have received negative comments in the streets and in shops. Zahed has decided to move away from Estonia with his family at the first opportunity, because he can no longer endure people’s racial prejudices and the verbal attacks. The family has not turned to the police to combat insults as they feel that nothing official can be done against the people who are offensive and stare. According to Zahed, he is the only one from his circle of friends who has stayed in Estonia: he says all of his other friends – often with their Estonian spouses – have already left for the same reasons. When the family moves away Estonia loses two of its citizens and one highly educated specialist, whose position will be difficult to fill.

Zahed’s story can be read about in depth in 15 April 2019 article published in Eesti Päevaleht called “Black! Go home! Iran’s top specialist must leave Estonia with his family because of racism”.[62]

* The name has been changed


[1] Ministry of Culture. 2014. Lõimuv Eesti 2020: Lõimumisvaldkonna arengukava [Integrating Estonia: integration plan].

[2] Ministry of Culture. 2019. Alates maist on Eestisse tagasipöördujatele avatud uus nõustamisteenus [A new counselling service for returnees to Estonia is available from May], 28 May 2019.

[3] Pajumets, M. 2018. Marion Pajumets: mis kasu saab Eesti välistudengitest? [Marion Pajumets: how does Estonia benefit from foreign students], 28 May 2018.

[4] Ministry of Culture. 2018. Lõimuv Eesti 2030 arengukava koostamise infoveeb [Information web for drawing up of the Integrating Estonia 2030 development plan], 29 October 2019.

[5] Riigikogu. 2018. Välismaalaste seaduse muutmise seadus 590 SE [The Act amending the Aliens Act], 02 May 2019.

[6] Riigikogu. 2018. Välismaalaste seaduse muutmise ja sellega seonduvalt teiste seaduste muutmise seadus [Amending the Aliens Act and other related acts] 617SE, 16 April 2019.

[7] Riigikogu. 2018. Kodakondsuse seaduse täiendamise seadus 629SE [Citizenship Act Amendment Act], 21 September 2018.

[8] Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court 02 March 2018 judgment no 3-16-1810/35.

[9] University of Tartu. 2018. Aastatel 1918-1940 opteerimise teel Eesti kodakondsuse omandamise küsimusi käsitlenud õiguse ja halduspraktika analüüs [Analysis of acts of law and administrative practice on acquisition of Estonian citizenship by opting in in 1918–1940].

[10] Rutto, A. 2018. Abhaasia eestlase Alli Rutto avalik kiri ametnikule: kaitsmise asemel võtate hoopis kodakondsuse ära? [Open letter of Abhkazian Estonian Alli Rutto to officials: instead of protection you will remove the citizenship?] Postimees, 15 October 2018.

[11] National Audit Office. 2019. Täiskasvanute eesti keele õppe korraldus ja riiklik rahastamine [Organisation of Estonian language training for adults and the state funding], 21 August 2019

[12] National Audit Office. 2019. Riigikontroll: täiskasvanute eesti keele õppe korraldus vajab selget vastutajat [National Audit Office: organisation of Estonian language training for adults needs a somebody clearly responsible for it], 28 August 2019

[13] Estonian Centre for Applied Research Centar and Tallinn University. 2018. Eesti keelest erineva emakeelega täiskasvanute eesti keele õpe lõimumis- ja tööhõivepoliitikas: kvaliteet, mõju ja korraldus [Estonian language training for adults in integration and employment politics: quality, effect and organisation].

[13] Raud, R. 2019. Mitmekultuurilisus: teoreetiline raamistik. Teema kokkuvõte #6 [Multiculturalism: theoretical framework. Summary #6], Tallinn University.

[15] Ehala, M. 2019. Mitmikidentiteedi ja ühtekuuluvuse võimalused ja väljakutsed Eestis. Teema kokkuvõte #7 [Opportunities and challenges of multiple identity and cohesion in Estonia. Summary #7], University of Tartu.

[16] Tamm, M., Raud. R., Ehala, M. and Vetik. 2018. Mitmekultuurilise Eesti ühiskonna ja lõimumise kontseptuaalsed alused. Teema kokkuvõte #2 [Conceptual principles of Estonia’s multicultural society and integration. Summary #2], Tallinn University.

[17] Karabeškin, L. ja Derman, N. 2018. Eesti romade kuuluvustunne ja osalemine ühiskonnaelus [Sense of belonging of Estonian Romas and participation in societal life] and the Estonian Human Rights Centre. 2019. Kodanikuühiskonna seirearuanne riikliku romasid puudutava integratsioonistrateegia rakendamise kohta Eestis [Civil society monitoring report on implementing the national Roma integration strategy in Estonia].

[18] Estonian Human Rights Centre. 2018. Uuring romade elust ja õigustest Eestis [Survey on the life and rights of Roma in Estonia], 07 July 2019.

[19] European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice. 2019. Integrating Students from Migrant Backgrounds into Schools in Europe: National Policies and Measures, Office of the European Union.

[20] the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 2019. Välismaalaste kohanemine Eesti kohalikes omavalitsustes [Adaptation of foreigners in local governments in Estonia].

[21] CIVITTA. 2019. Siseministeeriumi ja Kultuuriministeeriumi ESFi kohanemis- ja lõimumismeetme rakendamise vahehindamine perioodil 2014–2018 [Ministry of Interior Affairs and Ministry of Cultural Affairs interim evaluation of implementation of ESF adaptation and integration measure in 2014–2018].

[22] InterNations. 2019. Expat Insider 2019 Survey Reveals: The Best and Worst Destinations to Live and Work in 2019.

[23] Estonian Cooperation Assembly. 2019. Eesti inimarengu aruanne 2018/2019 [Estonian Human Development Report 2018/2019].

[24] Institute of Baltic Studies. 2019. Uussisserändajate Eestis kohanemise analüüs [Analysis of adaptation of new immigrants to Estonia].

[25] Speakly

[26] WalkTalk

[27] Multikey.app

[28] Käänuk

[29] Välisspetsialistide värbamise teekond [The route of recruiting foreign specialists]

[30] Roadmap for international recruitment

[31] EAS Enterprise Estonia. Välisvärbamise toetus.

[32] Integration Foundation. Tagasipöördujale [For returnees].

[33] Integration Foundation. Tagasipöördumistoetus [Return allowance].

[34] International house of Estonia (IHE)

[35] Ülemiste Tervisemaja [Ülemiste Health Centre]

[36] Õhtuleht. 2018. Juhtkiri | Jant Abhaasia eestlase kodakondsuse ümber [Editorial. Farce around citizenship of Abkhazian Estonians], 25 November 2018.

[37] ERR, 2018. Kaljulaid nimetas Abhaasia eestlannaga toimuvat riigile piinlikuks [Kaljulaid said that what is happening with the Abkhazian Estonian is embarrassing for the state], 25 October 2018

[38] ERR, 2018. Madise: inimesed ei tohi õigusküsimuste ajas muutumise tõttu kannatada [Madise: people should not suffer because legal issues change in time], 07 December 2018.

[39]Eesti 200 seisukoht [Opinion of political party Estonia 200], Isamaa seisukoht [Opinion of Pro Patria] and Keskerakonna seisukoht[Opinion of the Centre Party].

[40] Ministry of Interior Affairs, 2018. Alli Rutto saab Eesti kodaniku passi [Alli Rutto will receive an Estonian passport], 10 December 2018.

[41] ERR. 2019. Helme vaidleb ministeeriumi ideega lubada Abhaasia eestlastele kahte passi [Helme argues against the idea of the ministry to allow two passports for the Abkhazian Estonian], 06 June 2019.

[42] Delfi. 2019. Eestlased ja venelased saatis trammipeatuse eraldi nurkadesse Eesti 200 [Estonia 200 sent Estonians and Russions into different corners of the tram stop], 07 January 2019.

[43] Eesti Päevaleht. 2019. Urmas Reinsalu Kristina Kallasele: jätke meid oma eestluse vaenulike teooriatega rahule! [Urmas Reinsalu to Kristina Kallas: leave us alone with your hostile theories of being Estonian], 08 January 2019.

[44] Eesti Päevaleht. 2019. Riina Solman: Eesti200 järgmine provokatiivne ja vaenu õhutav poliitvõte, kuhu edasi? [Riina Solman: Estonia 200’s next provocative and hate inciting political move, where to next?], 07 January 2019.

[45] ERR. 2019. Tallinna ettevõtlusameti hinnagul eksis Eesti 200 reklaamiseaduse vastu [According to Tallinn business board Estonia 200 did contravene against the Advertising Act], 08 January 2019.

[46] Eesti Päevaleht. 2019. Urmas Sutrop: Eesti 200 ja Kristina Kallas tahavad konstrueerida uut eestlust, kus ajaloolisel eestlaskonnal ega rahvusel ei ole mingit kohta [Urmas Sutrop: Estonia 200 and Kristina Kallas want to construe a new Estonian nationality, which has no place for historic Estonians or nation], 08 January 2019.

[47] CIVITTA. 2019. Siseministeeriumi ja Kultuuriministeeriumi ESFi kohanemis- ja lõimumismeetme rakendamise vahehindamine perioodil 2014–2018 [Ministry of Interior Affairs and Ministry of Cultural Affairs interim evaluation of implementation of ESF adaptation and integration measure in 2014–2018].

[48] Ministry of Interior Affairs. Kodakondsus ja ränne [Citizenship and migration].

[49] CIVITTA. 2019. Siseministeeriumi ja Kultuuriministeeriumi ESFi kohanemis- ja lõimumismeetme rakendamise vahehindamine perioodil 2014–2018 [Ministry of Interior Affairs and Ministry of Cultural Affairs interim evaluation of implementation of ESF adaptation and integration measure in 2014–2018].

[50] Ibid.

[51] Institute of Baltic Studies. 2019. Uussisserändajate Eestis kohanemise analüüs [Analysis of adaptation of new immigrants in Estonia].

[52] CIVITTA. 2019. Siseministeeriumi ja Kultuuriministeeriumi ESFi kohanemis- ja lõimumismeetme rakendamise vahehindamine perioodil 2014–2018 [Ministry of Interior Affairs and Ministry of Cultural Affairs interim evaluation of implementation of ESF adaptation and integration measure in 2014–2018].

[53] Castles,S., Hein de Haas, M., and J. Miller. 2014. The Age of Migration. International Population Movements in the Modern World, 5th edition. Palgrave Macmillan.

[54] Martiniello, M., and Rath, J. 2014. An Introduction to Immigrant Incorporation Studies: European Perspective, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

[55] Postimees. 2019. Margus Parts: vana hea võõraviha [Margus Parts: good old-fashioned xenophobia], 17 February 2019.

[56] Delfi. 2019. Mart Helme vihakõne koosolekul: Tallinnas on plahvatuslikult kasvanud neegrite hulk. Kui neile vastu pead koputada, siis see on õõnespuit! [Mart Helme at hate speech meeting: The number of negros in Tallinn has explosively increased. If you knock against their head, it’s hollow wood], 01 June 2019.

[57] Postimees, 2019. Mu rusikad ootavad neid, postitas mees ja peksis immigrandi läbi [My fists are waiting for them, posted the man and beat up an immigrant], 29 March 2019.

[58] Ärileht. 2019. Võõraviha on Eestis sealmaal, et eestlane küsib, kas ta peab ukrainlasega koos töötama [Xenophobia in Estonia has reached the point where an Estonian asks if he has to work with an Ukranian], 26 July 2019.

[59] Eesti Päevaleht. 2019. Must! Mine koju! Iraani tippspetsialist peab rassismi tõttu perega Eestist lahkuma [Black! Go home! Iranian top specialist must leave Estonia with his family because of racism], 15 April 2019.

[60] Masso, M., Järve, J., Laurimäe, M,. Piirits, M., Koppe, K., Anspal, S., and Kivi, L, H. 2018. Tööga seotud sotsiaalkaitse mudelid ja nende sobivus alternatiivsete tööturuarengute korral Eestis [Work-related social protection models and their compatibility in case of alternative labour market developments in Estonia].

[61] Äripäev. 2018. Kukesamm lähemale spetsialistipõua leevendamisele [A tiny step closer to alleviating the drought of top specialists],  27 August 2018.

[62] Eesti Päevaleht. 2019. Must! Mine koju! Iraani tippspetsialist peab rassismi tõttu perega Eestist lahkuma [Black! Go home! Iranian top specialist must leave Estonia with his family because of racism], 15 April 2019.

 

Key topics

  • The ban on outdoor political advertising is unduly restrictive of freedom of expression as well as ineffective, and there are plans to abolish it in the future.
  • The prisoners’ right to vote is being discussed.
  • Ensuring security and transparency of e-elections is under scrutiny.
  • Empowering national minorities and people with disabilities is becoming more important.

Political and institutional developments

In 2019 the Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology Kert Kingo convened a working group on electronic electoral system and electronic voting aimed at assessing compliance of processes and security measures in the electronic electoral system and electronic voting information system with current rules on cyber security and regulation on holding elections. The working group will present a report containing assessment and recommendations on improving the system’s security and raising the public’s awareness.[1]

According to the Chancellor of Justice Act, as of 1 January 2019 the Chancellor of Justice will carry out tasks of implementing, promoting, protecting and monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[2] Carrying out this role, the Chancellor of Justice addressed the heads of councils of rural municipalities and city councils, as well as city mayors and rural municipality mayors before the 2019 elections with the request to designate only buildings that are accessible to all voters as polling divisions.[3]

ODICHR Needs Assessment Mission Report compiled a report of Parliamentary elections on 3 March 2019. Even though the report assessed the elections as very well organised it did come up with ten recommendations on how to hold elections in a more inclusive and safe manner. The main emphasis of recommendations was on guaranteeing safety and transparency of e-voting. Additionally, there were suggestions to review the process of submitting members for division committees in order to remove any lack of clarity on the maximum number of members in a division committee. There was also the recommendation to consider measures to ensure timely and effective solutions to all questions related to elections. There was a special recommendation on making elections more accessible for persons with disabilities and on including population that speak other languages than Estonian in political life much more strategically.[4]

Legislative developments

The Estonian Human Rights Centre has been recommending Riigikogu to consider reasonableness and purposefulness of the ban on outdoor advertising in the period of conducting the election campaign since 2014,[5] the same has been recommended by the Chancellor of Justice.[6] In 2019 the Government of the Republic decided to resolve the issue and forwarded the draft act to the Constitutional Committee. The draft act repeals the limitation on election campaigning on the day of the election and the ban on political outdoor advertising, while electoral peace is guaranteed in voting rooms.

On 17 September the Constitutional Committee decided[7] to send the Government-initiated draft amending the European Parliament Election Act, the Local Government Council Election Act, the Riigikogu Election Act, the Referendum Act and the act amending the Penal Code (elimination of election agitation restriction on the day of election and elimination of outdoor advertising) (51 SE)[8] to Riigikogu’s plenary session.

Court practice

The electoral committee resolved 30 complaints in association with the 2019 Parliamentary elections and 9 complaints in association with the election of the European Parliament. The Supreme Court upheld all decision of the National Electoral Committee, except one.[9] The exception was the case where the National Electoral Committee decided not to examine the complaint as, according to them, it did not reach them in time. The Supreme Court ruled that same rules apply in elections of the European Parliament as in all other proceedings, if the deadline for the complaint falls on the weekend it will be postponed until the following workday.

The content of most of the complaints had to do with election and candidacy rights of prisoners, issues of safety of e-voting and registration of candidates.[10] If reasons for complaints had previously been similar year-on-year, the situation this time where the court had to make decisions was new due to the amendment to the Population Register Act,[11] which had been the cause why people had not being registered on the polling list.[12] The situation was also reflected on by the Chancellor of Justice, who conceded that since polling lists were drawn up on the basis of data from the population register the people who had not updated their data had been excluded from the polling list. At the same time, registering of residence during elections can be done on a simplified basis – the person’s address is immediately entered into the population register (if necessary, with the accuracy of city, city district or rural municipality) upon submitting a residence notice. Following that the person is added to the polling list.[13]

Statistics and surveys

In 2019 a record number of women was elected to Riigikogu – 29,[15] which shows that representation of women in the executive branch has increased, but the same cannot be said of minority groups, whose representation according to ODIHR is still rather low in public life and in political sphere. According to ODIHR, the situation, where a large number of stateless persons cannot vote, should also be changed, and they should be afforded a complete right to vote.[16]

Good practices

In cooperation with the Chancellor of Justice, the State Electoral Office and the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People, the information necessary for voters with special needs was made more accessible and easier to find. The information necessary for voters with special needs was added onto the elections’ homepage.[17] The voters with mobility special needs were able to use a map application of polling divisions, which made it easy to find the location of their polling division and receive information about accessing it. The map app also showed whether it was possible to enter it independently with a wheelchair and, for example, with a baby buggy.[18]

Noteworthy public discussions

As in every election period where e-voting has been allowed, the public debate arose on its security and observability. If in previous years the party that had questioned it had been the Centre Party, this time the greatest criticism came from the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE). For example, the deputy head of EKRE, Martin Helme claimed in ETV’s “Esimene studio” that e-elections in his estimation, are not reliable and verifiable.[19] The State Electoral Office had to intervene and confirm that e-voting activities are observable and verifiable. Observation of e-voting starts with a training programme explaining participants all the specificities and technical details. In addition to the observers, the e-voting activities are verified by independent information system auditors, the accuracy of the processing and counting of votes is mathematically verifiable.[20]

The voting rights of prisoners were in focus in summer of 2018. As the Supreme Court had found in 2015 that the ban stating that no detainee carrying a prison sentence can vote in parliamentary elections is in conflict with the constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, the Minister of Justice began to seek a solution. As a solution the minister proposed that a small group of detained people carrying a prison sentence of up to one year is eligible to vote. This was to avoid giving the right to vote to all detainees.[21] The head of the Estonian Human Rights Centre Kari Käsper replied to the minister that this is progress, but expanding the right to vote should be considered. For example, it would be justified to remove the right to vote from those persons who have committed crimes against democracy. It would also be proportionate to exclude long-term prisoners who will not be returning to society any time soon.[22] Although the minister promised that the Constitutional Committee would consider the proposal in the autumn of 2018, it has not happened and no changes were ultimately made to the prisoners’ right to vote.

Trends

Abolishing the general ban on outdoor advertising and relaxation on restriction of electoral agitation seem to be a general trend in the next two years. The Chancellor of Justice is helping guarantee accessibility of disabled persons to elections long-term, since as of 2019 she is performing the tasks of implementing, protecting and monitoring the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A general standstill and unwillingness to address the problems of the prisoners’ right to vote as well as the right to vote of non-citizens is expected to continue.

Recommendations

  • Include national minorities in political life more actively.
  • Amend the appropriate acts so that the voting ban is only for prisoners bearing it as an additional penalty.
  • Contribute to making polling divisions and e-elections more accessible.

Case description

At 2019 Riigikogu and European Parliament elections the partially sighted persons who wished to cast an e-vote and used Apple computers running macOS operating systems received a nasty surprise when it turned out that the screen reader was unable to read the content of the voting application. “I opened my computer in the morning and came face to face with the realisation that I cannot do this activity, which takes a few minutes, because the app does not work,” said the head of the Estonian Blind Union Jakob Rosin. “The State Electoral Office is aware of the problem, but is unable to say when the issue will be resolved as, according to them, it is a specific error, which takes a long time to solve.”[14]


[1] Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication. 2019. Kinnitati e-valimiste töörühma kooseis [The composition of the e-elections working group was confirmed], 21 June 2019.

[2] Chancellor of Justice. Puuetega inimeste õigused [Rights of persons with disabilities].

[3] Chancellor of Justice. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2018/2019 [Chancellor of Justice’s annual report 2018/2019]. Uued ülesanded [New Tasks].

[4] Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. (2019). Estonia. Parliamentary Elections 3 March 2019. ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report.

[5] E. Rünne. 2015. Inimõigused Eestis 2014-2015, õigus vabadale valimistele [Human Rights in Estonia 2014–2015 Right to free elections].

[6] Madise, Ü. 2019. Euroopa Parlamendi valimise seaduse, kohaliku omavalitsuse volikogu valimise seaduse, Riigikogu valimise seaduse ja karistusseadustiku muutmise eelnõu [Draft amendment to the European Parliament Election Act, the Local Government Council Election Act, the Riigikogu Election Act and the Penal Code], 17 June 2019.

[7] Riigikogu. 2019. Põhiseaduskomisjon toetas poliitilise välireklaami keelu tühistamist [The Constitutional Committee supported repealing the ban on outdoor advertising ], 17 September 2019.

[8] Riigikogu. 2019. Euroopa Parlamendi valimise seaduse, kohaliku omavalitsuse volikogu valimise seaduse, Riigikogu valimise seaduse, rahvahääletuse seaduse ja karistusseadustiku muutmise seadus (valimispäeval valimisagitatsiooni piirangu ja välireklaami keelu kaotamine) [repealing the ban on election campaigning on the day of election and the outdoor advertising] 51 SE, 19 November 2019

[9] Chancellor of Justice. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2018/2019 [Chancellor of Justice’s annual report 2018/2019].

[10] Supreme Court. Riigikohtu lahendid [Judgments of the Supreme Court]

[11] Riigikogu. 2000. Rahvastikuregistri seadus [Population Register Act]. State Gazette I, 17 November 2017, 16

[12] Riigikohus. 2019. Valimiste ajal on rahvastikuregistrijärgse elukoha puudumisel võimalik nõuda enda elukoha viivitamatut registrisse kandmist [During elections it is possible to demand immediate registration of place of residence in the population register if it is missing], 26 March 2019.

[13] Chancellor of Justice. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2018/2019 [Chancellor of Justice’s annual report 2018/2019].

[14] Palgi. G. 2019. Valimisrakendus diskrimineerib osa vaegnägijatest [Election app discriminates against portion of the visually impaired], 16 May 2019.

[15] Ots. M. 2019. Riigikogusse pääses rekordilised 29 naist [A record 29 women made it into Riigikogu], ERR, 04 March 2019.

[16] Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. 2019. Estonia Parliamentary elections 3 March 2019, ODIHR Election Expert Team Final Report.

[17] Estonian National Electoral Committee.

[18] Chancellor of Justice. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2018/2019 [Chancellor of Justice’s annual report 2018/2019]. Uued ülesanded [New Tasks].

[19] Olup, N,M. 2019. Martin Helme: e-valimised on sisuliselt loto [Helme: e-elections are essentially a lottery], Postimees, 19 March 2019.

[20] Estonian National Electoral Committee. 2019. E-hääletamise toimingud on vaadeldavad ja kontrollitavad[Activities of e-elections are observable and possible to monitor], 20 March 2019.

[21] Mihkels, D. 2018. Tapjad nöökisid riiki. Reinsalu pakub lahendust [Killers taunted the state. Reinsalu offers a solution], Eesti Päevaleht, 14 August 2019.

[22] Voltri, J. 2018. Reinsalu tahab anda valimisõiguse kuni aastast karistust kandvatele vangidele [Reinsalu wants to give the right to vote to prisoners serving sentences of up to a year], ERR, 14 June 2018.