Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress - Giving Voice to 295,000 Stateless Residents

 SOURCE Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress

 The first round of elections to the Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress, a body designed to give a voice to the 295,000 stateless people living in the Baltic state, have taken place.

The body will have no formal power to decide Latvian government policy yet will provide a representative channel for those currently unable to participate in Latvian elections.

Balloting will run until 11th June with a total of sixty candidates standing. All Latvian residents entitled to cast a vote in the elections.

Following Latvia's Declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country's 1919 citizenship law was reinstated - leaving hundreds of non-ethnic Latvians who had moved to the country between 1940 and 1991 stateless. This group is largely comprised of ethnic Russians, Poles, Ukrainians and Belarusians.

More than a quarter of a million of the country's residents (295,122) equal to 14.3% of the total population are effectively disenfranchised from the political process - despite having lived, worked and paid taxes in the country their whole lives. In Riga alone, 23.3% of residents are excluded from the formal Latvian elections due to their "non-citizen" status.

Non-citizens cannot form political parties, run for political office or vote in national, local and European elections, and rights to free movement, employment and ownership of land are limited. More than 33 categories of employment are barred to non-citizens - including many public offices, the military and the police force.

The first round of elections to the Non-Citizens' Congress that took place on Saturday 1st June were deemed to be free and fair by a delegation of independent observers from other EU member states.
Andre Walker , a British Parliament staffer who was part of the election observation mission said:

"It is unacceptable that almost 300,000 people are being denied their rights to participate in the democratic process. This is a historic anomaly from the end of the Soviet Union that must now be righted."

"The elections to the Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress were carried out in a fair and transparent manner. They will be a crucial means by which those denied a voice will be able to bring their concerns to the attention of the wider European Union."

"The Latvian Government must sit up and take note. The old politics of division can no longer be tolerated in 21st century Europe."

The delegation was composed as follows:
  • Matthew C. F. L. Richardson (Alderman of the City of London, Magistrate of the City of London Court and Returning Officer for elections to the Court of Common Council held in Billingsgate Ward in the City of London);
  • AndrĂ© John-Paul Walker (Senior Parliamentary Advisor to a Member of the British Parliament);
  • Rhiannon Price (Chief of Staff to a Member of the European Parliament);
  • Christian May (freelance journalist); and
  • Edoardo Troina (College of Europe and former election observer for the Italian Election Commission).
During the course of the mission, international observers met with Members of the Latvian Parliament, the Latvian Office of Citizenship and Migration and representatives of Latvian NGOs.

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