May 2022 News Summary
In the study “Availability of local governments and public administration during the COVID-19 emergency”, the Ombudsman paid particular attention to whether, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens were able to reach local governments and public authorities and to receive consultations or services. It was concluded that, despite the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the institutions were generally reachable and available to customers. However, the Ombudsman still stresses the need to provide clear and understandable information at all times and in all circumstances.
At the end of February, the Ombudsman asked all local governments to provide information on what support is available for people with disabilities for adapting their home to their needs. The Ombudsman has received replies from all Latvian local governments. It was concluded that local governments do not have a uniform solution for adapting housing for people with disabilities — 23 out of 43 local governments have a regulatory framework, 18 do not, and two local governments are currently developing such a regulation.
The Ombudsman points out that Latvian and international legal norms provide that respect for and enforcement of the rights of persons with disabilities is not voluntary for local governments, but rather an obligation.
In early March, the Ombudsman pointed out the importance of filtering what information is available to children and adolescents. The Ombudsman has received positive and eager responses from the leading mobile network operators in Latvia in relation to informing customers about available content filters, which restrict access to materials that promote cruel behaviour, violence, eroticism, pornography and pose a threat to the mental development of the child. The Ombudsman welcomes the involvement of service providers in ensuring the best interests of the child.
The Ombudsman sent a letter to the Prime Minister urging the government to find an immediate solution so that the main service of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs — issuance of identity documents — is available within a reasonable timeframe, not exceeding 30 days.
The law stipulates that an identity document is mandatory for every person who has reached the age of 15. People must be able to follow the law. The unavailability of the service not only raises concerns about non-compliance with the principle of good governance, but points to systemic deficiencies in the organisation of the institution’s work, which undermines the authority of the State administration as a whole.
As a member of the European Network of Equality Institutions (Equinet), the Ombudsman’s Office highlights the risks that the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine poses to the principle of equality and the prohibition of discrimination. Equinet members have observed that certain groups are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, for example, women, Roma, people of African or Asian descent, LGBTIQ+ people or people with disabilities.
The Ombudsman stresses: “Discrimination cannot be tolerated – neither in times of war nor in times of peace. Everyone has the right to be safe and to live in dignity. It is our duty to do everything in our power to ensure that everyone — refugees, citizens, residents — is considered and respected.”
Representatives of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited Latvia on 10-20 May. During the visit, among other institutions, they also met with the Ombudsman and representatives of the Ombudsman’s Office – the national preventive mechanism institution in Latvia.
The Committee makes periodic visits to Member States’ detention facilities (prisons, temporary detention facilities in police stations, detention centres for foreigners) and facilities where people are deprived of liberty or where their liberty is restricted. The Committee’s report is expected to be adopted in the second half of this year and will include the conclusions drawn from the visit as well as a detailed set of recommendations.