Discrimination prohibition was established by §12 of the Constitution:
Everyone is equal before the law. No one shall be discriminated against based on their nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other opinion, property or social status, or on other grounds.
The same provision of the Constitution also prohibits the incitement of hatred:
The incitement of national, racial, religious or political hatred, violence, or discrimination shall, by law, be prohibited and punishable. The incitement of hatred, violence, or discrimination between social strata shall, by law, also be prohibited and punishable.
This is also confirmed by §151 of the Criminal Code that specified a fine of up to three hundred fine units or detention as punishment.
In addition, the legal instruments regulating specific spheres of life (e.g. in the Employment Contract Act) include provisions that prohibit discrimination or require the promotion of equal treatment. In 2007, the discussion gained momentum regarding the passage of an Equality of Treatment Act, which would establish discrimination prohibition and obligations and rights related thereto. However, the given law was not passed and it dropped out of the proceedings of the parliament of Estonia during the current year.
The principal legislation regulating the inequality of treatment is the Gender Equality Act. Pursuant to this, the institution of a Gender Equality Representative has been created, who has adopted a strict interpretation in the implementation of the law and rejected all petitions that do not deal with gender equality.
The Supreme Court has defined the concept of equal treatment in legislative drafting, which was confirmed in 2007 in the settlement of two cases on the topic of unequal treatment:
“Equality of legislative drafting requires that laws also substantively treat all people in similar situations in the same manner. The idea of substantive equality is expressed in this principle: equals must be treated equally and those that are not equal unequally. However, not all unequal treatment of equals is a violation of the right of equality. The prohibition of treating equals unequally is violated when two persons, groups of persons, or circumstances are arbitrarily treated unequally. Unequal treatment can be considered arbitrary if no good reason can be found. If there is a good and relevant reason, unequal treatment in legislative drafting is reasoned.”
The year 2007 was declared the Year of Equal Opportunities throughout the European Union. Within its framework, several events that were mostly co-ordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs took place. Conferences, seminars, forums and cultural festivals were organized, the compilation of many study materials was financed, and studies and questionnaires were conducted.
The Ministry of Justice published a study on the Estonian population’s legal awareness. In the course of the study, the question of discrimination was also covered. Among other things, the following question was posed: “How much do you agree or disagree that in today’s Estonia the fundamental rights of all people are equally protected regardless of their gender, nationality, age, financial status, social status, physical or mental disability, residence, or political views?”
Table 1. How much do you agree or disagree that in today’s Estonia the fundamental rights of all people are equally protected regardless of their…?
|Totally agree||Rather agree||Rather disagree||Totally disagree||Can’t say|
|Physical or mental disability||22%||28%||34%||9%||7%|
Source: Study of the Estonian Population’s Legal Awareness, Ministry of Justice
Therefore, according to this study, the majority of people think that fundamental rights are “relatively equally guaranteed for men and women, young and old, and for Estonians and the representatives of minority nationalities”.