While there is no specific law prohibiting hate crimes, the law prohibits incitement to hatred, violence, or discrimination on a variety of grounds, including nationality, race, skin color, language, and social origin.
In August 2010 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticized the country for not prohibiting racist organizations or making incitement of hatred on racial grounds a punishable offense (the law only limits the prosecution of hate speech leading to acts that result in serious consequences).
In May a Cameroonian Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tartu claimed he had to leave the country without completing his studies after he was attacked a second time because of his race. Police stated that their ability to pursue this case was hindered because the candidate did not report the attack in a timely manner.
The government provides for the protection of the cultures of certain minority groups, such as Ingrian Finns and Coastal Swedes, based on the cultural autonomy law. The government also funds programs, including cultural associations and societies, which focus on the languages and cultures of a number of other minority groups, including Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. In districts where more than half of the population speaks a language other than Estonian, the law entitles inhabitants to receive official information in that language, and the law was respected in practice.
Knowledge of Estonian is required to obtain citizenship, and all public servants and public sector employees, service personnel, medical professionals, and other workers who have contact with the public must possess a minimum competence in the language. A Language Inspectorate enforces language skills among these sectors through referrals to language classes and small fines. The government encouraged social integration of the 29 percent of the population that were ethnic minorities through a policy that promotes naturalization and learning Estonian.
Largely for historical reasons, Russian speakers worked disproportionately in blue-collar industries and continued to experience higher unemployment than ethnic Estonians.
Some noncitizen residents, particularly ethnic Russians, alleged that the language requirement resulted in job and salary discrimination. Many Russian speakers believed they would face job discrimination even if they possessed adequate Estonian. Some employers reported a preference for employees fluent in both Russian and Estonian, regardless of ethnicity.
More than 100 schools, 58 of them high schools, employed the Russian language for their instruction. The government continued to implement its plan to provide 60 percent of all instruction in “Russian-speaking” high schools in the Estonian language by the 2011-12 school year. Many have implemented this transition more rapidly than required. Some in the Russian-speaking community challenged the government’s plans for Estonian-language education, and throughout the year negotiations between civil society groups, students and their parents, and the government continued.
During a June visit the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed concern that the transition to partial Estonian-language instruction could affect the quality of education. He also criticized the use of fines and inspections to encourage the use of the Estonian language by certain categories of employees, to include teachers and government officials. Government officials rejected these concerns.
Roma, who numbered fewer than 1,000, reportedly faced discrimination in employment and other areas. The government took steps to emphasize the importance of education for Romani children, but their dropout rate remained high. In response to complaints that approximately 10 Romani children were inappropriately placed in schools for children with learning disabilities, a social worker contended that this was the only available mechanism to prepare the children for school. One leader of the Romani community publically criticized Romani parents for inadequate preparation of their children for school.
Fifteen students were registered officially as Roma by the school system, but the Ministry of Education and Research estimated that there were approximately 90 additional students of Romani ancestry who identified themselves as Estonian or Russian speakers. A prominent Romani community activist stated that Romani youth who show potential to become leaders of their communities typically leave the country to seek employment opportunities elsewhere, a trend that is present among the wider population as well.