Communication No. 884/1999
by: Ms. Antonina Ignatane (represented by counsel, Ms. Tatyana
victim: The author
communication: 17 May 1998 (initial submission)
Rights Committee, established under article 28 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
on 25 July 2001,
concluded its consideration of communication No. 884/1999 submitted
to the Human Rights Committee by Ms. Antonina Ignatane under the Optional
Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
taken into account all written information made available to it
by the author of the communication and the State party,
under article 5, paragraph 4, of the Optional Protocol
1.1 The author
of the communication is Ms. Antonina Ignatane, a Latvian citizen of
Russian origin and a teacher, born in Riga on 21 February 1943. She
claims to be the victim of violations of articles 2 and 25 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by Latvia. The
author is represented by counsel.
1.2 The International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entered into force for Latvia
on 14 July 1992, and the Optional Protocol on 22 September 1994.
facts as submitted by the author
2.1 At the
time of the events in question, Ms. Ignatane was a teacher in Riga.
In 1993, she had appeared before a certification board to take a Latvian
language test and had subsequently been awarded a language aptitude
certificate stating that she had level 3 proficiency (the highest
2.2 In 1997,
the author stood for local elections to be held on 9 March 1997, as
a candidate of the Movement of Social Justice and Equal Rights in
Latvia list. On 11 February 1997, she was struck off the list by decision
of the Riga Election Commission, on the basis of an opinion issued
by the State Language Board (SLB) to the effect that she did not have
the required proficiency in the official language.
2.3 On 17
February 1997, the author filed a complaint with the Central District
Court concerning the Election Commission's decision, which she considered
illegal. The Court transferred the case automatically to the Riga's
Circuit Court, which dismissed the case on 25 February, with immediate
2.4 On 4
March 1997, Ms. Ignatane filed a petition against the decision of
25 February with the President of the Civil Division of the Latvian
Supreme Court. In a letter dated 8 April 1997, the Supreme Court refused
to act on the petition.
2.5 The author
had also filed a case with the Public Prosecutor's Office on 4 March
1997. Having considered the petition, the Public Prosecutor's Office
stated on 22 April 1997 that there were no grounds to act on the complaint
and that the decision in question had been taken with due regard to
the law and did not violate the International Covenant on Civil and
2.6 The author
has submitted to the Committee a translation of articles 9, 17 and
22 of the Law on Elections to Town Councils and Municipal Councils,
of 13 January 1994. Article 9 of the Law lists the categories of people
who may not stand for local elections. According to article 9, paragraph
7, no one who does not have level 3 (higher) proficiency in the State
language may stand for election. According to article 17, if anyone
standing for election is not a graduate of a school in which Latvian
is the language of instruction, a copy of his or her language aptitude
certificate showing higher level (3) proficiency in the State language
must be attached to the "candidate's application". The author's counsel
has explained that the copy of the certificate is required to enable
SLB to check its authenticity, not its validity.
to article 22, only the Election Commission registering a list of
candidates is competent to alter the list, and then only:
(1) By striking
a candidate from the list if: …
(b) The conditions
mentioned under article 9 of the present Law are applicable
to the candidate, ..., and, in cases covered by paragraph 1
(a), (b) and (c) of the present article, a candidate may be
struck off the list on the basis of an opinion from the relevant
institution or by court decision.
case of a candidate who: ...
(8) Does not meet
the requirements corresponding to the higher level (3) of language
proficiency in the State language, that fact must be certified
by an opinion of the SLB.
Ms. Ignatane recalls that, according to statements made by the SLB
at the time of the case hearings, the certification board in the Ministry
of Education had received complaints about her proficiency in Latvian.
It so happens, the author says, that it was just that Ministry that,
in 1996, had been involved in a widely publicized controversy surrounding
the closure of No. 9 secondary school in Riga, where she was the head
teacher. The school was a Russian-language school and its closure
had had a very bad effect on the Russian minority in Latvia.
3. The author
claims that, by depriving her of the opportunity to stand for the
local elections, Latvia violated articles 2 and 25 of the Covenant.
State party's observations
4.1 In its
observations of 28 April 2000, the State party contests the admissibility
of the communication. It claims that the author has not exhausted
the domestic remedies available to her.
4.2 The State
party also submits that the author does not challenge the conclusions
of the State Language Board that her proficiency in Latvian is not
of the level required in order to stand for elections (level 3), but
only the legality of the Election Commission's decision to strike
her off the list of candidates. The State party considers that the
court rulings are lawful and legitimate and in full accordance with
Latvian law and, in particular, with article 9, paragraph 7, and article
22, paragraph 8, of the Law on Elections to Town Councils and Municipal
4.3 The State
party is of the view that the provisions of the aforementioned Law
comply with the requirements of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, as provided in the Human Rights Committee's
General Comment No. 25 on article 25, which states that "any conditions
which apply to the exercise of the rights protected by article 25
should be based on objective and reasonable criteria". According to
the State party, participation in public affairs requires a high level
of proficiency in the State language and such a precondition is reasonable
and based on objective criteria, which are set forth in the regulations
on the certification of proficiency in the State language. The State
party says that, according to those regulations, level 3 proficiency
in the State language is required for several categories of persons,
including elected representatives. The highest level (level 3) shows
an ability to speak the official language fluently, to understand
texts chosen at random and to draft texts in the official language,
in connection with his or her official duties.
4.4 The State
party goes on to say that, as regards the plaintiff's real proficiency
in the State language, there is extensive information provided in
the court ruling, which states that, if there are complaints about
proficiency in the State language, an examination is carried out in
order to establish whether the real language proficiency corresponds
to the level attested by the certificate. In this particular case,
the State party claims that complaints had been received by the Ministry
of Education and Science concerning the plaintiff's proficiency in
Latvian, although it does not elaborate further or provide any evidence.
On 5 February 1997, an examination was carried out which showed that
her language proficiency did not meet the requirements of level 3.
The Court subsequently referred to the material evidence (a copy of
the examination, with the corrections) that the SLB had provided in
support of the results of the examination concerning Ms. Ignatane's
proficiency in Latvian.
4.5 The examination
results served as a basis for barring the plaintiff from the list
of candidates for the elections, in accordance with the law. The legality
of the act had subsequently been confirmed by the Supreme Court and
the Public Prosecutor's Office.
the alleged contradiction between the author's certificate and the
SLB's conclusions, the State party notes that the SLB's conclusions
relate only to the issue of the candidate's eligibility and in no
way either imply the automatic invalidation of the certificate or
may be used as a basis for revising its appropriateness, unless the
holder of the certificate so wishes.
4.7 The State
party argues that the author could have taken two further measures.
In the first place, Ms. Ignatane could have asked for another language
examination, as the SLB indicated during the hearings. The purpose
of such an examination would have been to verify the appropriateness
of the certificate held by Ms. Ignatane. Secondly, the author could
have taken legal action on the basis of the discrepancy between her
certificate and the SLB's conclusions with regard to her electoral
qualification, which would have led the Court to order another examination
in order to verify the appropriateness of the certificate.
none of these possibilities was used by the author, the State party
argues that not all domestic remedies have been exhausted. The State
party also dismisses the allegation of discrimination against the
author on the basis of her political convictions, since all the other
members of the same list were accepted as candidates in the elections.
comments on the State party's observations
5.1 In comments
dated 22 September 2000, counsel addresses the State party's argument
that Ms. Ignatane did not challenge the conclusions of the State Language
Board that she did not have the highest level of proficiency in Latvian,
but challenged the legality of the Election Commission's decision
to strike her off the list of candidates. Counsel acknowledges that
Ms. Ignatane certainly challenged the legality of the Electoral Commission's
decision, but states that the only ground for that decision was the
SLB's conclusion that her proficiency in Latvian did not meet the
requirement for the highest level of aptitude. Therefore, according
to counsel, the author challenged the legality of the decision by
the Election Commission to strike her name from the list of election
candidates, which was taken on the basis of the SLB's conclusion.
points out that the phrasing used by the State party - "the required
third (highest) level to stand for election" - is open to misinterpretation.
According to counsel, Latvian electoral law has no requirement for
any special level of proficiency in the State language purely in order
to stand for election; it is only the regulations on the certification
of proficiency in the State language for employment that indicate
the three levels required for various positions and professions, and
the language aptitude certificate showing level 1, 2 or 3 proficiency
in the State language is general in scope.
regard to the State party's assertion that the relevant electoral
law complies with the requirements of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, as provided in the General Comment on
article 25, counsel states that the conditions contained in article
9, paragraph 7, and article 22, paragraph 8, of the Law in question
are not based on objective and reasonable criteria, as required by
the Human Rights Committee's General Comment on non-discrimination.
to article 9, paragraph 7, of the Law, persons whose proficiency in
the State language does not meet the requirements of the highest level
(level 3) may not be nominated as candidates for local council elections
and may not be elected to councils. According to article 22, paragraph
8, a candidate may be struck off the list if his or her language skills
do not meet the requirements of proficiency level 3 in the State language,
on the basis of an opinion of the State Language Board. According
to counsel, in practice, that provision is open to a practically infinite
range of interpretations and opens the door to totally discretionary
and arbitrary decisions.
then addresses the State party's point that an election candidate
is given a language examination if complaints have been received.
If no complaints have been received, the SLB should submit opinions
on every candidate, in the form of an authentication of the copy of
each candidate's Latvian language aptitude certificate. Counsel maintains
that an unsupported statement that complaints had been made about
a candidate and the results of the subsequent examination, which was
conducted by a single examiner, a senior inspector at the State Language
Inspectorate, cannot be described as objective criteria. The full
powers given to a senior inspector are not commensurate with the consequences
they give rise to, i.e. the disqualification of an election candidate.
Such an approach to the verification of proficiency in the State language
makes it possible, if need be, to disqualify all candidates representing
goes on to describe the conditions in which the examination was carried
out. Ms. Ignatane was at work, when the German lesson she was giving
to a class of schoolchildren was interrupted and she was required
to do a written exercise in Latvian. The examination was carried out
by an inspector in the presence of two witnesses, who were teachers
employed at the same school. Given the circumstances, counsel contends,
the spelling mistakes and other errors that were used as evidence
of the author's limited proficiency in Latvian should not be taken
5.7 In the
third place, with reference to the State party's assertion that participation
in public affairs requires a high level of proficiency in the State
language and that such a precondition is reasonable and based on objective
criteria set forth in the regulations on the certification of proficiency
in the State language, counsel contends that such a precondition for
standing in local elections is not reasonable. There are no other
preconditions for candidates in general, for example with regard to
level of education or professional skills. The fact that the only
precondition relates to proficiency in Latvian means, according to
counsel, that the rights to vote and to be elected are not respected
and guaranteed to all individuals with no distinction on the grounds
of their language status. Counsel asserts that, for around 40 per
cent of the population of Latvia, Latvian is not the mother tongue.
to counsel, this precondition of a high level of proficiency in Latvian
for participation in local elections is not based on objective criteria.
However, that does not mean that the author is of the opinion that
the criteria set forth in the regulations on the certification of
proficiency in the State language are not objective. Simply, the latter
criteria are not applied in the provision (in article 22, paragraph
8, of the Law) that a candidate may be struck off the list if he or
she does not meet the requirements of the highest level (level 3)
of proficiency in Latvian, and that this must be certified by an opinion
of the SLB. Counsel states that, according to the regulations on the
certification of proficiency in the State language, language proficiency
is certified by a special Certification Commission made up of at least
five language specialists. The regulations describe in detail the
testing and certification procedure, thereby ensuring its objectivity
and reliability. Level 1, 2 and 3 certificates are valid for an unlimited
period. According to article 17 of the Law, candidates who have not
obtained their secondary school diploma from a school in which Latvian
is the language of instruction must submit a copy of their level 3
certificate to the Election Commission. The author had submitted such
a copy to the Riga Election Commission. Counsel maintains that the
SLB opinion, issued on the basis of an ad hoc examination conducted
by a single inspector from the State Language Inspectorate following
complaints allegedly received by the Ministry of Education, was not
consistent with the requirements of the regulations on the certification
of proficiency in the State language. Moreover, the State party acknowledges
that the SLB opinion relates only to the issue of eligibility and
in no way either implies the automatic invalidation of the certificate
or may be used as a basis for revising its appropriateness.
and last, counsel takes up the State party's contention that all domestic
remedies have not been exhausted. Counsel recalls that the court judgement
of 25 February 1997 confirming the Riga Election Commission's decision
of 11 February 1997 was final and entered into force with immediate
effect. The special procedure available for appealing such decisions
is in fact the procedure that the author followed.
goes on to point out that remedies should not only be adequate and
sufficient, but should also make it possible in practice to obtain
the re-establishment of the situation in question. The remedy exhausted
by the author - the special procedure for appealing the Election Commission's
decision - was the only remedy that would have made it possible to
achieve the objective of the complaint, namely, to allow the author
to stand in the Riga City Council elections in 1997 by restoring her
name to the electoral list.
maintains that the State party contradicts itself when it says, on
the one hand, that it cannot agree that domestic remedies have been
exhausted, since neither of the two possible remedies it mentions
for verifying the appropriateness of the author's certificate has
been used, and, on the other hand, that, according to the communication,
the author challenges the legality of striking her off the list of
candidates but not the SLB's opinion that her proficiency in Latvian
was not of the required level 3. In any case, each of the procedures
mentioned by the State party to verify the appropriateness of the
author's certificate takes several months at least and therefore would
not have allowed the author to stand in the 1997 elections. In that
regard, counsel recalls that the decision to bar the author was taken
26 days before the elections. Time constraints precluded any effort
on the author's part to avail herself subsequently of any other legal
Committee's deliberations concerning admissibility
considering any claim contained in a communication, the Human Rights
Committee must, in accordance with rule 87 of its rules of procedure,
decide whether or not it is admissible under the Optional Protocol
to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
6.2 The Committee
observes that the State party contests the admissibility of the communication
on the grounds that domestic remedies have not been exhausted, since
the author did not contest the SLB's conclusion that her knowledge
of the language was not of the required standard, but contested the
Election Commission's decision to strike her off the list. The Committee
cannot agree with the State party's argument that this shows that
the author had not exhausted the available remedies, since at the
time the author was in possession of a valid, legally issued certificate
demonstrating her knowledge of the official language to the required
standard, which the State party itself does not contest.
6.3 The Committee
also notes counsel's arguments that the remedies listed by the State
party are not effective remedies and that the State party has not
proved that they are effective or indeed contested counsel's arguments.
The Committee also takes account of counsel's comment that the remedies
listed by the State party take several months to reach a conclusion
in any case and to have exhausted them would have meant that the author
would not have been able to stand in the elections. The Committee
notes that counsel's reactions were brought to the attention of the
State party, but that the latter did not respond. Under the circumstances,
the Committee considers that there is no impediment to the admissibility
of the communication.
6.4 The Committee
therefore declares the communication admissible and decides to proceed
to an examination of the case on its merits, in accordance with article
5, paragraph 2, of the Optional Protocol.
of the merits
7.1 The Human
Rights Committee has considered the present communication in the light
of all the information submitted to it in writing by the parties,
in accordance with article 5, paragraph 1, of the Optional Protocol.
7.2 The issue
before the Committee is whether the rights of the author under articles
2 and 25 were violated by not allowing her to stand as candidate for
the local elections held in March 1997.
to the State party participation in public affairs requires a high
level of proficiency in the State language and a language requirement
for standing as a candidate in elections is hence reasonable and objective.
The Committee notes that article 25 secures to every citizen the right
and the opportunity to be elected at genuine periodic elections without
any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2, including language.
7.4 The Committee
notes that, in this case, the decision of a single inspector, taken
a few days before the elections and contradicting a language aptitude
certificate issued some years earlier, for an unlimited period, by
a board of Latvian language specialists, was enough for the Election
Commission to decide to strike the author off the list of candidates
for the municipal elections. The Committee notes that the State party
does not contest the validity of the certificate as it relates to
the author's professional position, but argues on the basis of the
results of the inspector's review in the matter of the author's eligibility.
The Committee also notes that the State party has not contested counsel's
argument that Latvian law does not provide for separate levels of
proficiency in the official language in order to stand for election,
but applies the standards and certification used in other instances.
The results of the review led to the author's being prevented from
exercising her right to participate in public life in conformity with
article 25 of the Covenant. The Committee notes that the first examination,
in 1993, was conducted in accordance with formal requirements and
was assessed by five experts, whereas the 1997 review was conducted
in an ad hoc manner and assessed by a single individual. The annulment
of the author's candidacy pursuant to a review that was not based
on objective criteria and which the State party has not demonstrated
to be procedurally correct is not compatible with the State party's
obligations under article 25 of the Covenant.
7.5 The Committee
concludes that Mrs. Ignatane has suffered specific injury in being
prevented from standing for the local elections in the city of Riga
in 1997, because of having been struck off the list of candidates
on the basis of insufficient proficiency in the official language.
The Human Rights Committee considers that the author is a victim of
a violation of article 25, in conjunction with article 2 of the Covenant
8. In accordance
with article 2, paragraph 3 (a), of the Covenant, the State party
is under an obligation to provide Ms. Ignatane with an effective remedy.
It is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations
occurring in the future.
in mind that, by becoming a party to the Optional Protocol, the State
party has recognized the competence of the Committee to determine
whether there has been a violation of the Covenant or not and that,
pursuant to article 2 of the Covenant, the State party has undertaken
to ensure to all individuals within its territory or subject to its
jurisdiction the rights recognized in the Covenant and to provide
an effective remedy when it has been determined that a violation has
occurred, the Committee wishes to receive from the State party, within
90 days, information about the measures taken to give effect to the
Committee's Views. In addition, it requests the State party to publish
the Committee's Views.
** The following members of the Committee participated in the examination
of the present communication: Mr. Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati,
Ms. Christine Chanet, Mr. Maurice Glèlè Ahanhanzo, Mr. Louis Henkin,
Mr. Ahmed Tawfik Khalil, Mr. Eckart Klein, Mr. David Kretzmer, Mr.
Rajsoomer Lallah, Mr. Rafael Rivas Posada, Sir Nigel Rodley, Mr. Martin
Scheinin, Mr. Ivan Shearer, Mr. Hipólito Solari Yrigoyen, Mr. Patrick
Vella and Mr. Maxwell Yalden.
Adopted in English, French and Spanish, the French text being the
original version. Subsequently to be issued also in Arabic, Chinese
and Russian as part of the General Assembly.