The Latvian National Human Rights Office Establishes Discrimination Prevention Department
While intolerance, hatred and discrimination on a large scale does not exist in Latvia, nevertheless the Latvian Parliament on November 10 expanded the scope, duties and authority of the Latvian National Human Rights Office (LNHRO) by establishing a Discrimination Prevention Department. The new Department is mandated to initiate investigations in situations and cases where discrimination occurs, investigate reported cases of discrimination, advise and counsel the victims and perpetrators of discrimination, initiate court action against perpetrators of discrimination, represent victims of discrimination in court cases, conduct research and public educational programs on discrimination and tolerance, and analyze national legislation and local ordinances for their impact on discrimination.
Financial Forum Organized to Promote Economic Cooperation Between the U.S. and Latvia
Five Latvian banks have joined forces to form a Latvian-American financial forum to encourage economic cooperation between Latvia and the U.S, to develop the Latvian financial sector, to enhance Latvia’s competitiveness in international financial markets, and to offer new business opportunity to U.S. businesses and investors. The forum is a public organization. Former Latvia’s Ambassador to U.S, Aivis Ronis, will serve as the Chairman of the organization.
Memorial to Victims of Communism Gets the Green Light
JBANC reports that a memorial in Washington, DC to honor the victims of communism received final clearance from the federal oversight body (11/03/05) and the National Capital Planning Commission. The site is located near the corner of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues NW, just off the Capitol Hill. Construction is to begin in April 2006 and is to be completed in about 10 months. The memorial will feature a democracy statue atop a stone pedestal, within a 900 square feet paved plaza. A historical marker at the site will provide background. It is estimated that over 100 million persons perished at the hands of various communist regimes in the 20th century.
Baltic Countries Agree on Strengthening Joint Airspace Control
Meeting in Parnu, Estonia (11/09/05), the Defense Ministers of the three Baltic countries agreed on setting up a joint trilateral Command and Reporting Centre (CRC) to strengthen control of the Baltic airspace. Plans for such a facility have been under consideration ever since the Baltic countries joined NATO, however, the crash of the Russian SU-27 fighter in Lithuania demonstrated the immediate need for the center. The center will be established at the existing Lithuanian facility at Karmelava. This arrangement will be in effect until the end of 2008. It was also agreed by the ministers that Estonia and Latvia are entitled to develop their own CRC capabilities and that it is up to each country to develop its own infrastructure (Est MOD 11/09/05). For the present, NATO has assumed the responsibility for patrolling and policing the Baltic airspace, 97,000 square miles. Currently, the mission is carried out by the U.S. 23rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron posted at the Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania. In December the U.S. squadron will be relieved by a Polish squadron.
Baltic Percentage of Female Members of Parliaments Above Average
In a survey by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the number and percentage of female deputies in parliament of 137 countries, Lithuania, with women constituting 22% of parliament membership was ranked 37, followed by Latvia with 21% ranked 44 and Estonia with 18.8% ranked 57. U.S. placed 67 with 15.2% and Russia ranked 97 with 8%. The world wide average was 16%, Europe averages 18.4%. In Europe, the Scandinavian countries with a combined average of 39.8% seem to be the most tolerant nations toward female representatives.
Lithuanian Military Water Purification Specialists Serving in Pakistan
According to Lithuania’s MOD dispatch (9/11/05), a water purification unit was deployed to Pakistan to take part in the NATO Response Force humanitarian assistance mission. Two other water purification units will be transferred to Pakistan from Afghanistan, where they served with the Lithuania-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in the province of Ghor. While in Pakistan the units will serve with the Spanish Battalion in the Bagh region. The mission is scheduled for three months, but may be extended if the situation in Pakistan requires it.
Latvia Extends Military Deployment in Iraq
On November 10, two days after the UN Security Council unanimously supported the Iraq government’s request to extend the mandate of the Multinational Force (MF) for a year, Latvia’s parliament approved, without debate, by a vote of 51 to 27, the extension of the Latvian contingent of 136 soldiers in Iraq to the end of 2006. The Latvian contingent will continue to serve with the Polish battalion. Latvian soldiers have served with the MF since May of 2003 (Lv MFA 11/11/05).
Estonia Extends Military Deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq
The Estonian government approved a bill to extend the Estonian peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan and increase the size of the contingent according to RIA Novosti (11/03/05). The bill extends the mission by two years. The 2006 budget for the Afghanistan mission will increase from $1.7 million to about $7.3 million. The government also extended the defense forces mission to Iraq until the end of 2006 (Est MFA 10/11/05). The bill states that the situation in Iraq remains unstable and it would not be conceivable to withdraw from the coalition at the present time.
U.S. Officials Laud Lithuania’s Preparation for Visa-Free Regime With U.S.
Visa-free travel for Balts to the U.S is one of the top priorities in U.S.-Baltic relations. While U.S. citizens can enter Baltic countries without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, Balts must apply for a U.S. visa to enter the U.S. Baltic and U.S. officials have agreed to a set of requirements known as U.S. Visa Waiver Program Road Map. Compliance with these requirements by Balts may lead to the elimination of U.S. visa requirements. On November 8-9, Lithuania’s Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Oskaras Jusy, Consular Department Director Vaidotas Verba and Ambassador Vygaudas Usackas met with the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Cochairmen of the House Baltic Caucus Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and John Shimkus (R-IL) to discuss Lithuania’s progress in meeting the “road map” requirements. Present also were representatives of the U.S. State and Defense Departments. The discussion involved such matters as the exchange of information on lost and stolen passports, ensuring the security of travel documents, passports with implanted biometric data and other matters related to visits to the U.S. The U.S. officials praised Lithuania’s success in the implementing “Road Map” and pledged that Lithuania’s progress would be properly evaluated (Lith MFA 11/15/05).
Swedish Foundation to Focus on Baltic Sea Conservation
The Swedish branch of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports (11/02/05) that Swedish financier Bjorn Carlson donated $62.6 million to the Swedish Royal Academy of Science to fund research, establish scientific networks and implement projects to alleviate environmental problems in the heavily polluted Baltic Sea. “The Baltic Sea has suffered from heavy pollution and toxic algae and in modern time heavy ship traffic and oil transports,” said Lars Kristoferson of the WWF. “Through my donation, I expect to see concrete measures and results within 10 to 12 years, and not just investigations,” Bjorn Carlson declared.
Baltic Leaders Express Fears Over Proposed Gas Pipeline on the Baltic Seabed
The St. Petersburg Times [Rus.] reports that the three Baltic Presidents, meeting in Estonia (11/03/05) declared at a news conference that the Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline to be constructed from Russia to Germany on the Baltic seabed posed a potentially catastrophic environmental disaster to the region. They noted that the seabed is littered with tons of dumped chemical weapons and explosives. Any mistakes made during the construction or an accident during its operation could release chemicals with drastic consequences. The Baltic Presidents also called for broader EU involvement. “We must draw the attention of the EU and the Scandinavian countries to the potential threats the construction of the pipeline presents,” stated Lithuania’s President Valdas Adamkus. Estonia’s President Arnold Ruutel stressed that the EU and the Baltic countries must be closely involved in the decision process.
Russian Lawmakers Allocate Funds to Support Russian Organizations in the Baltic Countries
According to The Baltic Times (11/03/05), the lower house of the Russian parliament the Duma, approved a bill by a vote of 370 to 18 that would severely restrict the ability of Russian organizations to accept funding and donations from foreigners, and would place them under strict government scrutiny and controls. It would force foreign organizations such as the Ford Foundation, Amnesty International and Greenpeace to close their offices in Russia. At the same time, Duma also approved a bill, introduced by the pro-Kremlin United Russia political party, to allocate 500 million rubles ($17.2 million) to support the activities of Russian non-government organizations (NGOs) outside Russia. Most of the money is likely to go to the Baltic countries. The Deputy Speaker of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin said, “We think that we have to finance social institutions not only in our country, but also abroad—in the Baltic countries….It is necessary to develop democracy in those countries.” Vladimir Ryhkov, a member of the Duma and an opponent of the bill, declared that “Over the past five years, the United Russian party has been doing everything to strangle democracy in Russia. It’s very likely that these funds will go to propagandists who will spend them on dubious PR projects including in the Baltics.”