Latvia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices. In the first seven months of the year, the ombudsman received eight complaints from prison inmates of prison officials’ using violence against them. These complaints were forwarded to the Internal Security Bureau for investigation. Separately, in the first six months of the year, the prison administration received 27 complaints from prison inmates (four from the same person) of prison officials’ using violence against them. These complaints were also forwarded to the Internal Security Bureau for investigation. As in previous years, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported in 2017 there were complaints of physical mistreatment of detained individuals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The prison system overall had an aging infrastructure, but most facilities provided satisfactory conditions and met minimum international requirements. Some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions raised human rights concerns. Prisoners complained mostly about insufficient lighting and ventilation.

Physical Conditions: In 2017 the CPT noted that most of the prisoner accommodation areas in the unrenovated Griva Section of Daugavgriva Prison were in poor condition and severely affected by humidity due to the absence of a ventilation system. It also found the Valmiera Police Station to be in a “deplorable state of repair.” In the Limbazi Police Station, according to the CPT, custody cells had no natural light due to opaque glass bricks in the windows. In addition, the in-cell toilets were not fully partitioned, and most of them were extremely dirty. Health care in the prison system remained underfunded, leading to inadequate care and a shortage of medical staff. As of August, 6.5 percent of health-care positions were vacant.

Through August the ombudsman received eight complaints from prisoners regarding living conditions and 22 complaints about health care in prisons. Most patients in the Psychiatric Unit (located in the Olaine Prison Hospital), as well as the great majority of sentenced minimum security prisoners at the Daugavgriva and Jelgava Prisons, were locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

Administration: Prison authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of their investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by international human right monitors, including the CPT and independent nongovernmental observers.

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The State Police, Security Police, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. The armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, Constitution Protection Bureau, and National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The State Police and municipal police forces share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The State Border Guard and the armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, the Constitution Protection Bureau, and the National Guard are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities.

The State Police are generally responsible for conducting criminal investigations, but the Security Police, the financial police, military police, prison authorities, the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption (KNAB), the tax and customs police, the State Border Guard, and the Internal Security Bureau also have specific criminal investigative responsibilities. The Security Police are responsible for combating terrorism and other internal security threats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the State Police, the Security Police, State Border Guards, the armed forces, the financial police, the military police, prison authorities, KNAB, and other security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In most cases officials require a warrant issued by an authorized judicial official to make an arrest. Exceptions are specifically defined by law and include persons caught by police in the act of committing a crime, suspects identified by eyewitnesses, or suspects who pose a flight risk. The law requires prosecutors to charge detainees and bring them before a judge within 48 hours. In 2017 the CPT found that persons remanded to custody by courts were frequently held in police detention facilities well beyond the statutory limit of 48 hours, in one case for 29 days, pending their transfer to a remand facility.

Officials generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them. Detainees did not usually receive verbal information about their basic rights immediately upon arrest, but detained persons did receive an information sheet explaining their rights and duties. Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) complained that the information sheet used legalistic language that was difficult for a nonlawyer to understand and was often available only in Latvian, although many detainees spoke Russian as a first language. While a bail system exists, judges used it infrequently and did so most often in cases involving economic crimes.

Detainees have the right to an attorney who may be present during questioning. The government generally provided attorneys for indigent defendants.

Pretrial Detention: For the most serious crimes, the law limits pretrial detention to 15 months from the initial filing of a case. The maximum allowable detention including trial is 21 months. The ombudsman and the Human Rights Center continued to express concern about lengthy pretrial detention.

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Most final court judgments were available online.

In individual instances, the fairness of judges’ verdicts remained a concern, and allegations of judicial corruption were widespread, particularly in insolvency cases. Through August the ombudsman received nine complaints concerning lengthy proceedings, eight complaints concerning excessive pretrial detention, and 12 complaints concerning detention without timely charges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants are also entitled to an expeditious and, in most cases, open trial, although officials may close trials to protect government secrets or the interests of minors. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial as well as to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and, if indigent, to representation at government expense.

The law provides for the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak Latvian, to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and have the right to appeal.

NGOs expressed concern that defendants often exploited these legal protections in order to delay trials, including by repeatedly failing to appear for court hearings and forcing repeated postponement. Several high-profile public corruption trials have lasted nearly a decade, and NGOs were concerned that this contributed to widespread public belief that high-level officials enjoyed impunity for corruption.

According to the Ministry of Justice, judicial delays significantly diminished after judicial territorial reforms, completed in March, streamlined the judicial caseload and increased judicial efficiency of nine courts of general jurisdiction with an average of 30 judges in each court. Defendants waited up to two months for an initial hearing in administrative courts during the year, down from up to five months prior to the territorial reform. The average civil case took four months in Riga courts and three months in district courts, down from six months and four months, respectively. The average criminal case required one month in Riga courts and one and one-half months in district courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. It is possible for individuals and organizations to bring a lawsuit through domestic courts seeking civil remedies for human rights violations. After exhausting the national court system, individuals may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

No Jewish communal property or restitution law is in effect, and Jewish communal property restitution dating from the Holocaust era remained incomplete. While the Jewish community estimated that approximately 270 properties still required restitution, government ministries maintained the number was much lower. Although a government working group exists and restitution mechanisms were discussed, little progress was achieved. Government officials were unwilling to reconcile the proposed list of properties with the Jewish community and officials from the World Jewish Restitution Organization. Some government officials asserted that the issue of restitution had been resolved by the return of five properties seized during World War II under legislation approved in 2016. The unrestituted properties identified by the Jewish community included cemeteries, synagogues, schools, hospitals, and community centers.

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

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