On 6 December 2019, the United Nations Committee against Torture (Committee) published its findings on the periodic report by the Republic of Latvia about the implementation of the United Nations 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention) in Latvia during the period from 2014 to 2016 (Report), considered by the Committee on 20-21 November.
The Committee experts have welcomed initiatives put in place by Latvia to revise its legislation in areas of relevance to the Convention, for instance, amendments to the Criminal Law determining torture as an autonomous offence, and amendments to the Code on the Execution of Sentences increasing minimum personal space per inmate to 4 m2 .
The Committee commends Latvia’s initiatives for the implementation of policy planning documents, programmes and various administrative measures, for instance, prisoners serving life sentences are given an opportunity to contact their families via Skype, a number of amendments to legislation have been approved to impose temporary protection measures against violence, and rehabilitation services are available for victims of violence.
The Committee commends the law adopted by Latvia, providing for the Latvian citizenship to be granted to non-citizens’ children born in Latvia as from 1 January 2020.
At the same time, the Committee in its findings also calls on Latvian authorities to bring its laws and regulations in line with the provisions of the Convention and devote more effort to specific issues concerning the elimination of torture.
The Committee recommends that Latvia should ensure that there is no statute of limitations for acts of torture, as well as considering whether penalties under the Criminal Law for acts connected with torture are sufficiently strict and commensurate to the gravity of the crime.
The Committee calls on Latvia to ensure that that persons deprived of their liberty, especially those from vulnerable social groups, are informed, immediately after apprehension, about the reasons for their arrest and the right to legal aid.
Latvia is urged to enhance the efficiency of its judicial system to ensure that detained persons are not held in State Police short-term detention facilities for longer periods due to inefficient conduct of further investigations or court proceedings.
The Committee remains concerned that the construction of the new Liepaja prison has been postponed, and it recommended Latvia to consider the closing of the Grīva prison, where the material conditions of detention fall short of contemporary international standards.
The Committee urges Latvia to strengthen the effectiveness of mechanisms registering complaints as well as for reporting and examination of cases of violence in detention facilities, and seeking solutions to ensure a sufficient number of custodial and medical staff.
The Committee called for strengthening the capacity of the Ombudsman’s Office, especially concerning monitoring visits to places of deprivation of liberty and psychiatric institutions. Latvia is also urged to take further steps towards ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which provides for the establishment of a national authority carrying out independent monitoring of the closed institutions.
The Committee voices concerns over insufficient legal safeguards concerning involuntary hospitalisations and application of restraints to persons in psychiatric institutions; and therefore calls on Latvia to improve its regulatory framework to ensure guarantees for effective legal safeguards for all persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities, as well as promoting the deinstitutionalization process to ensure alternative social care for such persons.
While taking note of the establishment of the Internal Security Bureau, the Committee calls on Latvia to strengthen the independence of the bureau and to ensure that law enforcement personnel continue to receive training on the absolute prohibition of torture.
The Committee appreciated what Latvia has accomplished to fight domestic violence and called for all victims to have access to medical and legal assistance, rehabilitation and counselling.
The Committee is concerned that Latvia remains the country of origin of victims of trafficking and therefore calls for taking effective measures to eliminate human trafficking and conduct awareness-raising campaigns about the criminal nature of such acts and the applicable punishments.
Finally, the Committee expresses its concern about the absence of provisions in domestic legislation providing for adequate compensation to victims of violence and ill-treatment, including measures for as full rehabilitation as possible. In addition, the Committee also criticises the low amounts of compensation granted by the State to victims.
In its concluding observations, the Committee requests Latvia to provide, within a year, information on a follow-up to the recommendations on the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention; on increasing the amounts of State compensation provided to victims of torture or ill-treatment; on strengthening the effectiveness of mechanisms for registering complaints; on reporting cases of violence in detention facilities; and on the provision of adequate health care to persons in detention.
The full text of the concluding observations by the Committee against Torture is at the following link in English (https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CAT/Shared%20Documents/LVA/CAT_C_LVA_CO_6_39786_E.pdf ) and will also be translated and made available in Latvian language.