The citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who declare their membership of a national minority often inform the NGO Foundation for Human Rights about infringements of their right to use their native language. Unfortunately, recent changes confirm the EFHR’s concern on the increasing number of such violations (more info: http://www.efhr.eu/2012/08/29/punishing-for-comments-gains-pace/?lang=en; http://www.efhr.eu/2012/01/06/efhr-took-notice-seriously-of-the-survey-published-in-the-issue-of-iq-on-january/?lang=en).
Lithuania is one of the few countries in which the Law on National Minorities has not come into force; however, Article 10 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, ratified by Lithuania without any reservations on the 17th of February, 2000, provides that all the countries – including Lithuania – undertake to recognize the right of every minority member to use their minority language in a free and unlimited way, both privately or publicly, in written or spoken form.
This fundamental right of national minorities is also ensured by Article 37 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, which approves the right of citizens belonging to national minorities to develop their language, culture and customs.
Accordingly, any activities aimed at limiting one’s right to use their native language may be criminal. In this case, if someone approaches you in a public place (on the street, in a park, in a cafe, at the bus stop, at the mall or elsewhere) and tells you to stop using your native language and start speaking Lithuanian, the European Foundation for Human Rights recommends protecting your rights.
A few tips on how to deal with such situations:
- If it’s possible, please record the incident. For this purpose, mobile phones with voice or video recorder are well-suited;
- call the police immediately to report the activity which is likely to violate your right to use your native language. The police should respond to your report, because such activities may be considered the crime under articles 169 and 170 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania. The sooner you contact the police, the more likely the potential offender will be identified and arrested;
- ensure you have witnesses (people who saw the incident and could confirm the circumstances, i.e. that some discriminatory words were uttered against you, where it happened and who did it). If you are able to contact witnesses, it will be easier to prove the commission of the offense.
If you have any questions or are not sure how to handle a particular situation in which your rights are violated, please contact the European Foundation for Human Rights immediately by phone or via email. We guarantee free legal assistance.
The European Foundation for Human Rights
Translated by Ewelina Zarembska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.