Latvia Rejects ‘Russian’ as Official Language for Country’s Minorities

Latvian voters rejected a proposal to give official status to Russian, the mother tongue of Russian-speaking minority.

On 18th February 2012, Latvia hold a referendum on whether to adopt Russian as a second official language.

With over 93 percent of ballots counted, 75 percent of voters said they were against Russian as second language.

Russian is the first language for about one-third of the country’s 2.1 million people. Majority of the majority would like to propose official status to the language.

The United Nations independent expert on minority issues today encouraged the Government of Latvia to ensure protection of the rights of the country’s Russian-speaking minority.

UN independent expert Rita Izsak urges the country to engage in dialogue with the Russian-speaking minority, saying the referendum should not be considered as a victory for one community over another.

She stresses that the referendum should mark an opportunity for enhanced dialogue on minority rights in Latvia.

“I urge the Latvian authorities to make concentrated efforts to bring the different communities together and assist them in overcoming historical prejudices, fears and mistrust.” -Ms. Izsak

Adris Bērziņs, President of the Republic of Latvia, addresses the general debate of the sixtysixth session of the General Assembly. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Ms. Izsak also called for dialogue on how to create “unity in diversity” and accommodate the needs and rights of all groups in Latvia.

She notes that Latvia’s referendum result does not mean that Latvia has any less obligation to ensure the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, including to use their minority language.

She underlines that those rights are enshrined in various international treaties and human rights standards, including Article 27 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on Minorities, she stressed.

Ms. Izsak underscores that international human rights law requires that States protect the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities.

She notes Latvia should promote conditions for that protection, including through legislative and other measures.

She adds that minorities have the right to use their own language in private or in public without discrimination.

Russian is the most widespread minority language in Latvia, and is also the most widely used foreign language.

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