Major Challenges to Human Rights in 2017

Punishment execution problems

Among the European Union countries, Lithuania is one of the “leaders” in terms of the number of imprisoned persons. There are 11 imprisonment establishments in the country. Comparing the data of 2012, when the number of sentenced persons in the country amounted to 9 754, in 2017 there were 6 693 persons in institutions of imprisonment. The decrease in the number of people arrested also indicates positive state efforts in addressing the imprisonment problems in the country, but reoccurring decisions of the legislative authority to criminalise new acts are alarming. However, degrading conditions of detention still remain a sensitive issue in the country.

The Seimas Ombudsmen and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (hereinafter referred to as the CPT; Committee Against Torture) has repeatedly drawn the state’s attention to poor conditions in the country, recognising that the sanitary conditions are not in compliance with the legal requirements, the premises are insufficiently heated and ventilated, the cells accumulate moisture, the walls are covered with mould, prisoners are kept in overcrowded cells. Cases of damage compensation caused by unlawful actions of authorities without ensuring proper conditions of detention and imprisonment were the main part of the case law of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania. In 2017, claims for compensation of material and non-material damage incurred during arrest and detention were mainly related to small areas in the cells of imprisonment institutions.

The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office receives numerous complaints about violence in prisons Convicts, avoiding violence against them, refuse to live in general regime groups rather choosing discipline groups, which do not ensure the opportunity to contact with officials without much effort; penalty isolation cells are incorrectly fitted; disciplinary group convicts cannot walk in the yard or the assigned yard is small and dark. Moreover, restricts the rights of the discipline group residents, although they have not committed disciplinary violations.

It should be noted that the country needs to address the issues related to the improvement of imprisonment conditions, in fulfilling its international commitments in the field of human rights. The issue of relocation of Lukiškės Remand Prison – Closed Prison is one of the most urgent issues in absence of repeated commitments to the Committee for the Prevention of Torture – to close (move) the Lukiškės Remand Prison – Closed Prison. Having acknowledged the inappropriate conditions of detention in this institution, the ECtHR has also obligated to make the immediate decision to close this institution, in the case Aleksandravičius and others v. Lithuania by establishing that the convicted persons were kept in degrading conditions.

Concerns have been raised in the latest CPT report about repeated violations of human rights due to the lack of compliance with minimum accommodation standards in prisons, lack of hygiene and overcrowding, as well as violence among prisoners. The problem of spreading HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C in detention facilities has also been highlighted.

Institutional nursing issues

There are nearly 300 adult and child care and nursing facilities in the country with over 16,000 places. These institutions accommodate disabled adults; disabled children are separated from the community, the right to choose, equally with others, the place where they want to live and with whom and the right not to be accommodated in a specific residential environment enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is not ensured, therefore, the placement of persons in institutions is considered to be an erroneous practice and violation of human rights, which leads to social exclusion of people, their dependence on the nursing system and lower quality of life.

In order to implement the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, de-institutionalisation began in Lithuania – the transition from institutional nursing to community nursing or close family nursing. De-institutionalisation is aimed at forming a coherent and coordinated system of assistance and services, enabling every disabled child without parental care, and a disabled person to receive individually tailored services and assistance, to engage in community life and without experiencing social seclusion, to participate in it, to grow in a safe and child-friendly environment, and it is planned to be implemented by 2030.

However, the reform process is not very successful, and at the moment the restructuring is still in the preparatory stage. On 7 April 2016 the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has examined the initial report of Lithuania on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereinafter referred to as the CRPD) and has expressed concerns about many unenforceable articles of the CRPD. It is also worth mentioning the evaluation of the child care system carried out by the National Audit Office in 2014. The authors of the evaluation found that this system was not effective and was acknowledged that due to unscheduled and unsatisfactory measures the majority of the results of the reform of the child care system were not achieved due to the lack of proper planning and implementation of the necessary measures, the environment in some child nursing homes is not close to the family environment, the minimum needs of the child are not ensured, children are not adequately prepared for independent life and adaptation and integration into society.

In the course of the national prevention of torture, a total of 79 adult and child care and socialisation institutions were inspected in 2014-2017. During the visits ombudsmen identified a number of human rights problems related to the preservation of dignity, the right to privacy, autonomy, meaningful participation, security, and adequate provision of persons. There are institutions with inadequate facilities and some even operate without a license to provide custody services. The Seimas Ombudsmen issued many recommendations to social care institutions and responsible state and municipal institutions.

Regulatory issues of mental health

According to the data of the Health Information Centre of the Institute of Hygiene, more than 160 thousand people with mental and behavioural disorders are being registered each year in the country since 2010. Currently there are 25 permanent mental health facilities operating.

It should be noted that the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Mental Health Care (hereinafter referred to as the Law on Mental Health) was adopted in 1995, but since then no strategic changes have been made to the law, and part of the ongoing or planned amendments to the law have been criticised by non-governmental and international organisations, because the current legal situation that does not ensure the adequate protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms in the field of mental health care.

As a participant in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Lithuania is committed to ensuring that persons with disabilities implement, on equal grounds with others, the right to personal liberty and security in such a way that such persons are not deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily, in order to bring their deprivation of liberty into conformity with the law and that deprivation of liberty in no way is justified by disability.

During the last two years (2016-2017), the Seimas Ombudsmen provided recommendations and suggestions on the Draft to various state institutions and repeatedly pointed out that not all of its provisions comply with international standards for the protection of human rights and the commitments of the Republic of Lithuania. The CPT in its recommendations to Lithuania has repeatedly spoken about the separation of these procedures and emphasised that patients in mental health facilities should be given the opportunity to express their free and informed consent to treatment. A person’s involuntary hospitalisation in a mental health facility should not be regarded as an authorisation to treat a person without his consent.

It should be noted that the existing provisions of the Law on Mental Health provide for the possibility of involuntary hospitalisation and compulsory medical treatment of a person in a mental health facility for a maximum of two days without permission of the court, however, according to the legal regulation provided for in the Draft, a patient may be hospitalised in a mental health facility for up to 8 days. Moreover, attention should be paid to the fact that, under the current legal regulation on involuntary hospitalisation, the court’s ruling on the issue of an authorisation to extend the period of involuntary hospitalisation is not subject to appeal. It should be noted that the ECtHR has also noted these shortcomings of the legal regulation in the judgement D.D. v. Lithuania, by acknowledging that the complainant had no opportunity to independently go to court thus violating Article 5 (4) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (right to liberty and security).

Issues of access to information

Ensuring the right to receive information from state and municipal institutions is one of the fundamental prerequisites of democracy, as this tool of democratic control and supervision enables the public to participate as a fully capable partner in state affairs. The protection of this right is enshrined in the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 10) and the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania (Article 25). As a result, the Seimas Ombudsmen note that no unanswered questions and uncertainties should be left in providing answers to the appeals of individuals. The public administration entity must respond clearly and reasonably to the request or complaint, indicating all the circumstances that influenced the processing of the claim or complaint, and the specific provisions of the legislation used to evaluate the substance of the request or complaint.

The right to information is one of the most fundamental human rights, because in absence of necessary information, a person is not able to properly protect his violated rights, often he is not aware that his rights are being violated, therefore, when visiting places of imprisonment, the Seimas Ombudsmen evaluate whether information is accessible to persons deprived of liberty and whether this information is provided in a clear and comprehensible manner. During the visit to the Foreigners’ Registration Centre, the Seimas Ombudsman stated that it is impossible to ensure proper communication without the provision of qualified interpreter services to persons who have illegally arrived in Lithuania or reside illegally in the Republic of Lithuania. The restriction of access to information even to persons in detention centres must be justified and proportionate. Referring to the violation of Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms on the restricted complainant’s right to receive online information in the imprisonment institution on his opportunities to study at a university, the ECtHR acknowledged that the ban on the convicted person seeking information on study programmes was not justified.

From the petitions of the petitioners to the Seimas Ombudsman regarding the right to receive information, it became clear that the statutory deadlines for the processing of applications and complaints are violated most often, and the complainants are not informed about the time limits specified in the legislation; complainants are not informed about the extension of deadlines for processing applications and complaints; applications and complaints are considered incompletely, without substantiating the claims by provisions of legal acts; no appeal procedure is indicated, there are unreasonable refusals to provide requested information and information is not explained or is inaccurate, not matching with the content of the request, etc. It is important to note that the Seimas Ombudsmen recommend that measures be taken to ensure that, in the future, upon receipt of applications, responses to them are made and complainants are informed in accordance with the procedure laid down by law, in particular by paying attention to the statutory principles of the legality and comprehensiveness of information.