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Human rights in Estonia are generally respected by the government.[1][2] Estonia is ranked above-average in democracy,[3] press freedom,[4] privacy[5] and human development.[6] Individuals are guaranteed basic rights under the constitution, legislative acts, and treaties relating to human rights ratified by the Estonian government.[1][2][7]

Several international and human rights organisations, such as Human Rights Watch,[2] the UN Human Rights Council[8] and the OSCE,[9] have found no evidence or pattern of systematic abuse of human rights or discrimination on ethnic grounds, while others have raised concerns regarding Estonia's significant Russophone minority, for example, Amnesty International[10] contends Russian speakers face linguistic discrimination in employment and education. According to a 2009 survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, one quarter of ethnic Russians living in Estonia had experienced discrimination based on their ethnic origin.[11]

Current concerns include police use of force, the conditions in pre-trial detention and the length of those detentions.[1]



Estonians' individual human rights and collective rights to exist as an ethnic entity, have been routinely violated for eight centuries since the Northern Crusades and Baltic German rule, followed by two centuries of Russian imperial suzerainty and ending with half a century of Soviet occupation. Estonia's first constitution of 1920 included safeguards for civil and political rights that were the standard of the day.[12] The 1925 Law on Cultural Autonomy was an innovative piece of legislation that provided for the protection of the collective rights for citizens of non-Estonian ethnicities.[12]

Estonia in the international human rights system

As of November 1, 2008, European Court of Human Rights has delivered 17 judgments in cases brought against Estonia (beginning from 2001); in 14 cases, it found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights or its protocols.[13] In 2001, Estonia has extended a standing invitation to Special Procedures of UN Human Rights Council.[14]


Participation in basic human rights treaties

UN core treaties[15] Participation of Estonia CoE core treaties[16] Participation of Estonia
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Accession in 1991 European Convention on Human Rights Ratified in 1996
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Accession in 1991 Protocol 1 (ECHR) Ratified in 1996
First Optional Protocol (ICCPR) Accession in 1991 Protocol 4 (ECHR) Ratified in 1996
Second Optional Protocol (ICCPR) Accession in 2004 Protocol 6 (ECHR) Ratified in 1998
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Accession in 1991 Protocol 7 (ECHR) Ratified in 1996
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Accession in 1991 Protocol 12 (ECHR) Signed in 2000
Optional Protocol (CEDAW) Not signed Protocol 13 (ECHR) Ratified in 2004
United Nations Convention Against Torture Accession in 1991 European Social Charter Not signed
Optional Protocol (CAT) Ratified in 2006 Additional Protocol of 1988 (ESC) Not signed
Convention on the Rights of the Child Accession in 1991 Additional Protocol of 1995 (ESC) Not signed
Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (CRC) Signed in 2003 Revised European Social Charter Ratified in 2000
Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC) Ratified in 2004 European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Ratified in 1996
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families Not signed European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages Not signed
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Signed in 2007 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities Ratified in 1997
Optional Protocol (CRPD) Not signed Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings Not signed

Overviews by human rights organisations

Amnesty International

According to Amnesty International, linguistic minorities face discrimination in a number of areas, especially in employment and education. Migrants were exposed to harassment by state officials and attacks by extremist groups. Criminal investigations into allegations of excessive use of force by police were dismissed. Also Estonian security police, Kaitsepolitsei, made allegations against the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights (LICHR), which it claims is widely seen as an attempt to misrepresent the organization and to undermine its work.[10]

Human Rights Watch

According to Human Rights Watch report, 1993, the organisation did not find systematic, serious abuses of human rights in the area of citizenship. Non-citizens in Estonia were guaranteed basic rights under the Constitution of Estonia. However there was a problem to granting of citizenship equally to all who were permanent residents at the time Estonia gained independence.[2]

Freedom House

According to Freedom House, Estonia has wide political rights and civil liberties. Political parties are allowed to organize freely and elections have been free and fair. Public access to government information are respected and the country has a freedom of the press, although a 2007 report discussed Estonia's Kaitsepolitsei security organs as the nation's political police.[17] Also religious freedom is respected in law and in practice. Corruption is regarded as a relatively minor problem in Estonia. The judiciary is independent and generally free from government interference.[18]

United States Department of State

According to Human Right Report of United States Department of State, Estonia generally respects the human rights of citizens and the large ethnic Russian noncitizen community. However there were problems with police use of force, conditions in detention and lengthy of pre-trial detention. Also there were problems in domestic violence, inequality of women's salaries, child abuse, and trafficking of women and children.[1]

United Nations Human Rights Council

The 1993 United Nations Human Rights Council 48th Session's Mission on the situation of human rights in Estonia and Latvia found no evidence of discrimination along ethnic or religious grounds. Also, the 2008 United Nations Human Rights Council report noted the existence of political will by the Estonian State authorities to fight the expressions of racism and discrimination in Estonia.[8] According to the report, the representatives of the Russian speaking communities in Estonia saw the most important form of discrimination in Estonia is not ethnic, but rather language-based.[8]

UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) examines regular reports of the member States on how the rights are being implemented under Article 9 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In its 2006 concluding observations the Committee marked some positive aspects, however raised several concerns with regard to Estonia's report [19] It also provided recommendations with regard to the following concerns

  • the current official definition of national minority, provided under the Law on Cultural Autonomy of National Minorities of 1993, excludes non-citizens, which category includes stateless persons with long-term residence in Estonia
  • the absence in the State party of a national human rights institution established in accordance with the Principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles)
  • absence of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, in particular legislation and regulations in the civil and administrative fields
  • some television programmes may portray discriminatory images of the Roma community and that insufficient measures have been taken by the State party to address this situation
  • persons belonging to Russian-speaking minorities are disproportionately represented in the population of convicted prisoners and that, despite recommendations by competent bodies, no specific study to identify the reasons for this phenomenon has yet been carried out
  • article 48 of the Constitution recognizes the right of membership of political parties only for Estonian citizens
  • Estonia has not yet implemented the recommendation, made in its previous concluding observations, to become a party to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons
  • the high rate of unemployment among members of minorities, in particular Russian-speaking minorities. The Committee reiterates its previous concern that the scope of the requirement of Estonian language proficiency, including in the private sector, may have a discriminatory effect on the availability of employment to members of this community
  • the high rate of HIV/AIDS among persons belonging to minorities
  • the limited proportion of Roma children who attend school
  • very few acts of racial discrimination have been prosecuted and punished
  • while noting that there are a large number of minorities in Estonia, in particular Russian speakers, the Committee is concerned that only 4.8 per cent of Estonian television has bilingual programming

Other institutions

According to Cliohres, the European Network of Excellence organized by a group of 45 universities publication the alleged violations of human rights of the Russian-speaking population in Estonia has served as a pretext of trying to lock the region within the sphere of influence of Russia. Moscow's attempts to take political advantage over the issue of the Russophone minority in Estonia have been successful as Kremlin has used every international forum where the claims of the violations of human rights in Estonia have been presented.[20]

The United Nations Development Programme's forum[21] Development and Transition has discussed the situation of Estonia and Latvia in 2005. James Hughes wrote an article, where he accused Latvia and Estonia to employ a "sophisticated and extensive policy regime of discrimination" against their respective Russophone populations.[22] Nils Muiznieks responded, "Hughes provides simple conclusions about the complex realities of minority policies and inter-ethnic relations in Estonia and Latvia".[23]

Both the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Estonia and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities declared in 1993 that they could not find a pattern of human rights violations or abuses in Estonia.[9]


Discrimination against ethnic Russians

According to a comprehensive survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 59% of the ethnic Russians living Estonia reported that ethnic discrimination was very or fairly widespread in the country. 27% had experienced discrimination based on their ethnic origin in the past 5 years, and 17% during the past 12 months (compared to 4-5% in Lithuania and Latvia.) Discrimination at workplace was found to be widespread, with 72% of ethnic Russians reporting that their workplace advancement was hindered by their ethnic background. 39% had experienced discrimination during the past 5 years when looking for work, and 16% during the past 12 months—the highest rate in all the countries surveyed. 10% confirmed that they avoid certain places, such as shops or cafés becase they believed they would receive bad treatment due to their ethnic background.[11]

Amnesty International has harshly criticized the discrimination and called for the Estonian government to take action.[10]

Treatment of Roma

The Council of Europe has claimed that "the Roma community in Estonia is still disproportionately affected by unemployment and discrimination in the field of education."[24] The European Commission had previously conducted close monitoring of Estonia in 2000 and concluded that there is no evidence that these minorities are subject to discrimination.[25]

Bronze Night incident

A number of organisations have commented on the events surrounding the Bronze Night incident. There was a concern expressed about possible human right violations perpetrated by both demonstrators and police. During the April 2007 riots in Tallinn, some police allegedly used excessive force against demonstrators. Eight criminal cases opened against officers, where charges were dropped in six, and two were pending at year’s end.[18] The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)–a coalition of 155 human rights groups– urged the Estonian authorities to investigate all acts of human rights violations during the night. The organisation called upon the Estonian authorities to "put an end to any practice of discrimination against the Russian-speaking minority, which constitutes about 30% of the Estonian population, and to conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination." FIDH and LHRC also condemned acts of vandalism perpetrated by demonstrators in Tallinn, as well as the blockade of the Estonian embassy in Moscow.[26]

Job discrimination

72% of 500 questioned ethnic Russians believed that different ethnic background is hindering to workplace advancement.[11] Russian government officials and parliamentarians echo these charges in a variety of forums. Such claims have become more frequent during times of political disagreements between Russia and these countries and waned when the disagreements have been resolved.[27][28][29][30][31]

A 2005 study by European Network Against Racism found that 17.1% of ethnic non-Estonians claimed that they had experienced limitations to their rights or degrading treatment in the workplace durin the last 3 years because of their ethnic origin.[32]

Amnesty had noted in a 2006 report that members of the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia enjoy very limited linguistic and minority rights, and often find themselves de facto excluded from the labour market and educational system.[33] The discriminating policies of Estonia have led to "disproportionately high levels of unemployment among the Russian-speaking linguistic minority. This in turn has further contributed to social exclusion and vulnerability to other human rights abuses. In consequence, many from this group are effectively impeded from the full enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights)."[33] However, a December 2006 editorial originally published in the The Economist[34] and reprinted in the European Voice[35] and else where [36] regards the Amnesty International report as "a bad piece of work" which is both ahistorical and unbalanced, and criticized the organization's use of limited resources as bizarre when there are real human rights abuses in Belarus and Russia.

The European Centre for Minority Issues has also examined Estonia's treatment of its Russophone minority. In its conclusion, the centre claimed that while all international organisations agree that no forms of systematic discrimination towards the Russian-speaking population can be observed and praises the efforts made thus far in amendments to laws on education, language and the status of non-citizens, there nevertheless remains the issue of the large number of such non-citizens.[37] As of September 2, 2009, 102,466, or 7.5% of Estonia's population remain non-citizens, dropping from 32% in 1992 and 12% in 2003.[38][39] In November 2005 a survey was conducted among residents with undetermined citizenship. The results show that 61% of those residents wanted Estonian citizenship, 13% Russian citizenship and 6% citizenship of another country. 17% of the respondents were not interested in acquiring any citizenship at all. It was found that the older the respondent, the more likely he or she doesn't want to have any citizenship. The survey also showed that respondents who were born in Estonia were more likely to wish to get Estonian citizenship (73%), than those not born in Estonia (less than 50%).[38]

Charles Kroncke and Kenneth Smith in a 1999 article published in the journal Economics of Transition argue that while there was no ethnicity based discrimination in 1989, the situation in 1994 was completely different. According to the article, there is substantial evidence of discrimination against ethnic Russians in the 1994 Estonian labour market. The evidence examined in the article also suggested that Estonian language ability does not significantly affect wages. Kroncke and Smith also point out the surprising fact, that Estonian-born ethnic Russians appear to fare worse than immigrant ethnic Russians.[40] A later study by Kristian Leping and Ott Toomet published in 2008 in the Journal of Comparative Economics reports that a lack of fluency in the Estonian language and segregated social networks and school system, rather than ethnicity, as the prime reason for the apparent wage gap between Estonian and non-Estonian speakers.[41]


Since restoration of independence in 1991, Estonia has been funding Russian-language elementary, comprehensive and high schools alongside Estonian-language schools, with future reform planned since late 1990s but repeatedly delayed. The reform plan was commenced in 2007, after revelations of some Russian-language school staff having been involved in development of the Bronze Night made further delays politically untenable.

According to schedule, 60% of all subjects of grades 10, 11 and 12 are to be taught in Estonian language by 2011 in all state-funded schools. All state-funded schools already teach Estonian literature in Estonian by academic year 2007/2008 academic. The government has been reserved authority to grant waivers and extensions to some state-funded schools on a case-by-case basis.[42]

In the 2007/2008 academic year, 49 Russian schools (79%) were teaching Music in Estonian, 30 Russian schools (48%) were teaching Social Studies in Estonian and 17 Russian schools (27%) taught both transition subjects in Estonian.[43]

Amnesty International has expressed concern that this phaseout may exclude some members of the Russian-speaking minority from the educational system.[33]

Exploitation of children

Independent Special Rapporteur Najat M'jid Maala of the United Nations has said that Estonia has taken clear steps to protect children from exploitaiton, although the human rights expert has commented that "young people remain at risk and continued vigilance from authorities is needed."[44]

Sexual orientation

Homosexual sex, which was illegal in the Soviet Union, was legalised in Estonia in 1992. The age of consent is 14 years and was equalized for both homosexual and heterosexual sex in 2001.[45] Homosexuals are not banned from military service and there are no laws discriminating homosexuals.

Estonia transposed an EU directive into its own laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment from May 1, 2004. A survey carried out in September 2002 found that there was a high level of discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Estonia.[46]

External views


According to veteran German author, journalist and Russia-correspondent Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, there is deep disapproval of everything Russian in Estonia. She contends that the alleged level of discrimination regarding ethnic Russians in Estonia would have posed a barrier to acceptance into the EU; however, Western media gave the matter very little attention.[47] However the European Commission conducted close monitoring of these countries compliance with the Acquis communautaire in regard to minority rights prior to accession to the EU, the Commission claimed that there is no evidence that these minorities are subject to discrimination.[25]

In an interview with the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Hans Glaubitz, a former ambassador of the Netherlands to Estonia, mentioned that he resigned due to the homophobia and racism once they could not "cope with gay hatred and racism on the Estonian streets."[48]

International rankings

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "2008 Human Rights Report: Estonia". United States Department of State. 2009-02-25. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  2. ^ a b c d "Integrating Estonia’s Non-Citizen Minority". Human rights watch. 1993. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  3. ^ a b "The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2008". Economist. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  4. ^ a b "Press Freedom Index 2008". Reporters Without Borders. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  5. ^ a b "The 2007 International Privacy Ranking". Privacy International. 2007. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  6. ^ a b "Statistics of the Human Development Report". United Nations Development Programme. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  7. ^ a b "Country Report 2008 Edition". Freedom House. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-06.  
  8. ^ a b c "Documents on Estonia". United Nations Human Rights Council. Retrieved 2009-06-07.  
  9. ^ a b Max van der Stoel (1993-04-23). "CSCE Communication No. 124" (PDF). OSCE (named CSCE before 1995). pp. p. 3. Retrieved 2007-07-25.  
  10. ^ a b c "Amnesty International Report 2009". Amnesty International. 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  11. ^ a b c "European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey". European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2010-01-03.  
  12. ^ a b Toivo Miljan, Historical dictionary of Estonia, Scarecrow Press, 2004, p253
  13. ^ The European Court of Human Rights. Some Facts and Figures. Strasbourg, 2008 – p. 12, 18
  14. ^ Countries having extended a standing invitation to Special Procedures
  15. ^ UN human rights treaties
  16. ^ CoE human rights treaties
  17. ^ "Estonia (2007)". Freedom House, Inc. 2007. Retrieved 9 June 2009.
  18. ^ a b c "Map of Freedom 2008". Freedom House. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-06.  
  19. ^ ""Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Estonia"". UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 19 October 2006.,CERD,,EST,45c30bc5c,0.html. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  20. ^ Isaacs, Ann Katherine (2007). Immigration and emigration in historical perspective. Edizioni Plus. p. 183. ISBN 9788884924988. Retrieved 2009-09-17.  
  21. ^ "About us". Retrieved 2009-08-04.  
  22. ^ Development and Transition: Discrimination against the Russophone Minority in Estonia and Latvia
  23. ^ Development and Transition: Rejoinder to James Hughes
  24. ^ "Council of Europe: Reports on racism in Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Spain". Press Release. Council of Europe Press Division. 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  25. ^ a b Agenda 2000. For a stronger and wider Union (Vol. I). The Challenge of Enlargement (Part. II), COM (97) 2000 final, p45
  26. ^ "Estonia must investigate human rights violations committed during riots in Tallinn". International Federation for Human Rights. 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2009-06-02.  
  27. ^ Russia and the Baltic States: Not a Case of "Flawed" History
  28. ^ Postimees 25 July 2007: Naši suvelaagrit «ehib» Hitleri vuntsidega Paeti kujutav plakat
  29. ^ "Law Assembly": "The policy of discrimination of the national minorities in Latvia and Estonia". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  
  30. ^ Postimees July 30, 2007: Venemaa süüdistas Eestit taas natsismi toetamises
  31. ^ Russia and the Baltic States: Not a Case of "Flawed" History by Mikhail Demurin, a long-time diplomat of USSR and later Russian Federation, printed in Russia in Global Affairs
  32. ^ "Responding to Racism in Estonia". European Network Against Racism. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  33. ^ a b c "Document — Estonia: Linguistic minorities in Estonia: Discrimination must end". Amnesty International. 2006. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  
  34. ^ "Amnesty takes on Estonia", December 14, 2006, The Economist, December 14–20 2006 issue
  35. ^ "Amnesty's puzzling excess of conscience", December 14, 2006, European Voice, December 14–20 2006 issue
  36. ^ Baltic Business News: "Estonia is right and Amnesty is wrong" – a copy from The Economist
  37. ^ European Centre for Minority Issues: Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia and Latvia: problems of integration at the threshold of the European Union by Peter van Elsuwege]
  38. ^ a b (pdf) Estonia Today: Citizenship. 2009-09-02. Retrieved 2009-09-22.  
  39. ^ Government to develop activities to decrease the number of non-citizens
  40. ^ Kroncke, Charles; Smith, Kenneth (1999). Economics of Transition (USA: The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) 7 (1): 179–199.  
  41. ^ Leping, Kristian; Toomet, Ott (2008). Journal of Comparative Economics (USA: Elsevier) 36: 599–619.  
  42. ^ Андрей Красноглазов: "Каток не остановить"
  43. ^ EAEA - Russian language in Estonian education
  44. ^ "Estonia working hard to reduce child exploitation, UN human rights expert finds". UN News Service. 24 October 2008. UN News Centre. Retrieved 10 May 2009.
  45. ^ Estonia repeals Discriminatory Age of Consent for Homosexual Contacts
  46. ^ Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
  47. ^ Krone-Schmalz, Gabriele (2008). "Zweierlei Maß" (in German). Was passiert in Russland? (4 ed.). München: F.A. Herbig. pp. 45–48. ISBN 9783776625257.  
  48. ^ "Gay Dutch Ambassador Leaves Estonia". 6 July 2007. NIS News Bulletin. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  49. ^ "Worldwide Quality of Life – 2005". The Economist ( 2005. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  50. ^ [ "Global Corruption Report 2007"]. Transparency International. 2007. Retrieved 2009-06-06.  


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