NHRI activity in 2020

In 2020, while performing the functions of the National Human Rights Institution the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office paid great attention to ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities, thus looking into the accessibility of social services to persons with disabilities and elderly persons, as well as to victims of domestic violence. Moreover, it drew attention to ensuring the rights of persons living in social care institutions during the period of the coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease) by providing information and reporting to international organisations. 

The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office also analysed the proposed amendments to the Law on Intelligence of the Republic of Lithuania, organised training for employees of social care institutions, during which it presented a model of organisation of employment based on human rights principles, especially relevant during the quarantine declared in the country, as well as contributed for the third year in a row to the organisation of the National Forum on Human Rights to celebrate the International Day of Human Rights. 

Carried out the monitoring of human rights in Lithuania and prepared reports on the human rights situation (Article 192(2)(1))

  • On 17 January 2020, representatives of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office participated in the meeting in the Seimas with members of the Commission for the Monitoring of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, during which possible joint activities of the Seimas Ombudsmen and the Commission for the Monitoring of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and possibilities for cooperation to ensure the rights and freedoms of persons with disabilities were discussed. 
  • In April 2020, closed consultation groups were set up on Facebook for employees of adult and child social care institutions, where employees of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office advised social care institutions on the issues of ensuring human rights and freedoms during the pandemic, shared relevant information provided by international organisations and national institutions.
  • On 16 April 2020, representatives of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office participated in the presentation of the Annual Report on the Monitoring of Reception Conditions of 2019 of the Lithuanian Red Cross, where together with social partners they discussed the legal situation and living conditions of migrants and asylum seekers it the Foreigners Registration and Refugee Reception Centres.
  • On 17 December 2020 representatives of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office participated in the presentation of the Lithuanian Red Cross’s 2020 Annual Report on Admission Conditions, where they discussed with social partners the legal situation of migrants and asylum seekers, changing legal regulation and living conditions in the Foreigners Registration and Refugee Reception Centres.
  • In December 2020, the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office prepared and submitted to the President of the Republic of Lithuania, the Speaker of the Seimas, the Prime Minister, and the Seimas Committee on Human Rights the overview of the protection of human rights and freedoms in the country.

Disseminated information on human rights and raised the awareness of the society on the human rights issues (Article 192(2)(2))

  • On 8 May 2020, employees of the Human Rights Division of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office organised training (information-consultation seminar) aimed at employees of social care institutions. During the training, international standards on ensuring human rights and freedoms in social care institutions during the quarantine were presented, the model of organisation of employment for residents of these institutions based on the principles of human rights was introduced, and the provision of emotional and psychological assistance during this period was discussed. Representatives of the Institute of Hygiene and the National Public Health Centre under the Ministry of Health (hereinafter – the NPHC), who attended the event, told about the epidemiological situation in Lithuania and familiarised the participants with the infection control measures to be applied during the pandemic caused by the coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease). Over two hundred participants took part in the distance training, and the record of this training has been viewed more than eight hundred times on Facebook account of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office.
  • In March–December 2020, representatives of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office, responsible state institutions and human rights experts discussed various human rights issues on the “News Radio”  station:
    • On 4 March 2020, during the first broadcast, the proportionality of excessive physical abuse used by law enforcement officers was discussed with Paulius Griciūnas, Secretary General from the Lithuanian Bar Association;
    • On 18 March 2020, the results of the investigation into the procedure of legal incapacity review conducted by the Seimas Ombudsman and problems found during the investigation in the country were discussed with Dovilė Juodkaitė, President of the Lithuanian Disability Forum;
    • On 15 April 2020, during the broadcast, the restrictions on human rights and freedoms imposed during the quarantine, their validity, the actual boundary between necessity and proportionality were discussed with Birutė Sabatauskaitė, Head of Centre for Human Rights;
    • On 13 May 2020, the impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities and other groups of socially vulnerable people was discussed with Prof. Dr. Dainius Pūras, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health;
    • On 27 May 2020, possible violations of human rights of older people during the quarantine period, the actual dividing line between the necessary heath care and discrimination and whether that line has not been crossed yet were discussed with Toma Birmontienė, professor at Mykolas Romeris University, former judge at the Constitutional Court;
    • On 30 September 2020, the problematic aspects of institutional social care, the country’s international commitment in the field of ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities and the rate of deinstitutionalisation of social care institutions were discussed with Jonas Ruškus, member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, professor of VMU;
    • On 28 October 2020, the demarcation line between freedom of expression and incitement of hatred was discussed with Birutė Sabatauskaitė, Head of Centre for Human Rights;
    • On 9 December 2020, restrictions on the right to health care during the quarantine period and problematic aspects of legal acts of the Republic of Lithuania regulating emergency management and certain emergency management measures applied during the quarantine were discussed with Jurgita Sejonienė, member of the Seimas and Lithuanian Medical Movement;
    • On 16 December 2020, the main human rights issues in the area of safeguarding the rights and freedoms of LGBT+ individuals were discussed with Vladimir Simonko, head of National LGBT+ Association LGL;
    • On 30 December 2020, representatives of the Seimas Ombudsmens Office discussed aspects of the problem of domestic violence, which was particularly pronounced during the quarantine period, related to loopholes in the organisation of services to victims of domestic violence, and presented the main conclusions of the investigation conducted by the Seimas Ombudsman on this subject.
  • For the third year in a row, the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office has contributed to the organisation of the National Forum on Human Rights to celebrate the International Human Rights Day. In 2020, representatives of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international organisations, ministers, foreign ambassadors, members of the Seimas, ombudsmen, academic community, NGOs, human rights activists and business representatives participated in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in a remote manner. During the National Human Rights Forum Vytautas Valentinavičius, Head of Human Rights Division of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office, participated in the discussion “What is the Place of Human Rights in Lithuanian Politics?” in which the thoughts were also shared by sociologist, researcher of religion Dr. Milda Ališauskienė, professor at Vytautas Magnus University,  Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, member of the Seimas, Chair of the Seimas Committee on Human Rights, LGBT activist, Dr. Liutauras Gudžinskas, associate professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University, and Monika Navickienė, member of the Seimas. 
  • On 14 December 2020, representatives of the Human Rights Division of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office participated in the conference “Solutions of COVID-19 pandemic from legal, managerial and economic point of view” organised by Mykolas Romeris University, where V. Valentinavičius, Head of Human Rights Division, presented the results of complaints received at the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office regarding restrictions on human rights during the pandemic and the investigation carried out on the subject. Participants of the conference discussed the issues of the proportionality of the rule of law and restrictions on the individual’s rights and freedoms.

Presented the assessment of the human rights situation in Lithuania to international organizations and provided them with information in accordance with the obligations established in the international treaties of the Republic of Lithuania (192(2)(3))

  • For the entire period of quarantine on the territory of the Republic of Lithuania, the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office provided to international organisations operating in the field of human rights and freedoms (European Network of National Human Rights Institutions, United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT), European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), etc.) comprehensive information on restrictions on human rights and freedoms applicable in the country, provided detailed information on restrictions on the rights and freedoms of individuals in the country, prevention of violations of human rights and freedoms, changes in national legislation and compliance with international obligations.
  • In 2020, representatives of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office regularly participated in the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, discussions and training organised by the Association for the Prevention of Torture and other international organisations on the implementation of rights of persons with disabilities, the elderly, inmates of places of imprisonment, as well as challenges and opportunities of ensuring the rights of various vulnerable groups in society during the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the coronavirus infection.
  • Representatives of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office provided information and contributed to the preparation of the report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights “Strong and effective National Human Rights Institutions: Challenges, Promising Practices and Opportunities”, which discusses the competences, role of national human rights institutions in the European Union, compliance with the UN Paris Principles, institutional protection, independence, diversity and other aspects of activities.

Provided suggestions to state and municipal institutions and institutions on human rights problems (Article 192(2)(4))

  • By Letter on ensuring human rights and freedoms of residents of social care institutions as of 27 March 2020, the Head of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office, the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas addressed the Ministry of Social Security and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania and all municipalities of the country with a request to forward recommendations on the treatment of persons subject to restrictions of liberty during the pandemic prepared by international organisations and translated into the Lithuanian language on the initiative of the Seimas Ombudsman to all subordinate social care institutions operating in their territories and to cooperate in the field of ensuring the human rights and freedoms.
  • On 3 April 2020, by Letter on ensuring human rights and freedoms of inmates of the places of imprisonment during the pandemic, the Head of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas provided to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania and the Prison Department under the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania (hereinafter – the Prison Department), relevant recommendations of international organisations regarding measures to be taken to ensure the protection of human rights and freedoms in detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic period.
  • On 14 April 2020, by Letter on ensuring human rights and freedoms during the quarantine, the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas addressed the Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania, the Lithuanian Police Commissioner General and municipal administrations inviting all institutions to comply with international obligations in the field of protection of human rights and freedoms, to follow the recommendations of the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and other international organizations, experts and epidemiologists, and to ensure that persons held in places of detention are properly informed about the right to complain about possible improper conduct (inaction) in violation of human rights.
  • On 27 April 2020, by Letter on ensuring human rights in Prienai care home, the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas, in response to the received information about potential infringements of human rights in Prienai care home, applied to the Department of Social Services and Care under the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, the Administration of Prienai District Municipality and the National Public Health Center (Hereinafter – NPHC) requesting to examine the received information and conduct urgent inspections in Prienai care home within the competence of the institutions.
  • On 4 May 2020, by Letter on ensuring human rights in the public institution Antaviliai boarding-house addressed to the Director of the NPHC, the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas, in response to the information published in the public domain regarding violations of legal acts identified during inspection of VšĮ Antaviliai boarding-house and possibly improperly ensured rights of its residents, asked to provide all information related to these violations as soon as possible.
  • By Letter on ensuring human rights during the emergency and quarantine period of 8 May 2020, the Head of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office A. Normantas notified the Seimas Committee on Human Rights about the information received and collected at the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office regarding possible infringements of human rights in various areas of the protection of human rights and freedoms during the emergency and quarantine and preventive and educational actions taken by the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office in order to prevent these infringements.
  • By Letter on ensuring human rights in St. Joseph’s (Šv. Juozapo) care home of 21 May 2020, acting in response to the received information about possible infringements of human rights in St. Joseph’s (Šv. Juozapo) care home, the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas applied to the Municipal Administration of Panevėžys District and to the NPHC asking to examine the received information and conduct urgent inspections St. Joseph’s (Šv. Juozapo) care home within each institution’s competence.
  • On 3 June 2020, the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas attended the meeting of the Seimas Committee on Human Rights to discuss the ensuring of the rights of convicts during the quarantine. 
  • On 16 September 2020, representatives of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office attended the meeting of the Seimas Commission for the Rights of People with Disabilities to discuss with members of the Commission, NGOs and human rights experts the issues related to the regulation of review of the condition of the incapacitated persons, and presented the results of the investigation carried out by the Seimas Ombudsman on the review of decisions by which persons had been declared legally incapable before 1 January 2016 and possible undue restriction of rights of such persons.
  • On 30 September 2020, the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas and the Head of the Human Rights Division of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office V. Valentinavičius presented to the Seimas Committee on Human Rights the material of investigations carried out by the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office in social care homes of Aknysta and Skemai and familiarized members of the Committee with the main problems of ensuring the rights and freedoms of the residents of these social care institutions.

Sought to bring national legislation in line with the international obligations of the Republic of Lithuania in the area of human rights (Article 192 (2)(5))

  • The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office carried out, within their remit, legal assessment of the provisions of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Mediation relating to the application of compulsory mediation in family disputes from the point of view of ensuring human rights and freedoms and, in this regard, submitted its position by Letter No 1/3D-290 of 3 February 2020 on the resolution of the conference “Women’s Human Rights in Lithuania 2019” to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, the Seimas Committee on Human Rights and the association “Vilnius Women’s House”.
  • The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office carried out, within its remit, legal assessment of the Draft Law No 20-15061, Amending Law No XI-1425 of the Republic of Lithuania on Protection against Domestic Violence, the Draft Law No 20-15062, Amending Articles 489, 589 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Lithuania and Supplementing the Code with Article 4891, and the Draft Law No 20-15064, Amending Article 23 of the Law No I-1234 on the Protection of the Rights of the Child, and Draft Law No 20-15061, Amending Law No XI-1425 of the Republic of Lithuania on Protection against Domestic Violence in respect of ensuring human rights and freedoms and, by Letter on the Draft Law, Amending Law No XI-1425 of the Republic of Lithuania on Protection against Domestic Violence of 23 November 2020, presented its position on these draft legal acts to the Seimas Committees on Human Rights, Social Affairs and Labour and Legal Affairs, the Government and the Ministry of Social Security and Labour.
  • The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office, carried out, within its remit, legal assessment of the Draft Law No 20-15612, Amending Articles 3, 6, 7, 9 and 11 of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Seimas Ombudsmen and the Draft Law, Amending Articles 5, 12, 16 and 24 of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on the Law No 20-15613, Amending Articles 5, 12, 16 and 24 of the Law, Amending Law No VIII-1861 of the Republic of Lithuania on Intelligence, on the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Human Rights and the National Defence Committee of the Republic of the Republic of Lithuania, and by Letter No 1/3D-3093 on the Draft Laws Amending the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on the Seimas Ombudsmen and the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Intelligence of 1 December 2020, presented its position on these draft legal acts to the H. E. President of the Republic of Lithuania, the Seimas Committee on Human Rights, National Security and Defence and the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania.
  • The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office, carried out, within its remit, legal assessment of the Draft Law No XIIIP-4394, Amending Articles 2, 5, 9, 13, 15, 18, 26, 28, 29, 31, 32, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 49, 50, 53, 54, 58, 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65 and 68 of Law No VIII-1861, of Law No VIII-1861 of Republic of Lithuania on Intelligence and Supplementing the Law with Article 91, the Draft Law No XIIIP-4396, Amending Articles 393, 5571, 589 and 597 the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Lithuania and the Draft Law No XIIIP-4408, Amending Article 1 and Repealing Article 23 of Law No VIII-1861 of Republic of Lithuania on Intelligence and Supplementing the Law with Section Fourteen in respect of ensuring human rights and freedoms and, by Letter No 1/3D-3128 on the Draft Laws of 3 December 2020, presented its position on these draft legal acts to the H. E. President of the Republic of Lithuania, the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence and the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Government.

Initiated the investigation into the fundamental human rights problems (Article 192(2)(6))

  • The Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas carried out the investigation into the fundamental human rights problems arising from access to social services for persons with disabilities and elderly persons in municipalities, during which he assessed the control and planning of international obligations of the country in the field of provision of social services to persons with disabilities and elderly persons, the quality of social services, as well as the accessibility and development of community social services.
  • The Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas conducted the investigation into the fundamental human rights issues arising from the measures restricting human rights and freedoms during the COVID pandemic caused by coronavirus infection in Lithuania, during which issues related to ensuring human rights and freedoms in the application of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease), the legitimacy of the declaration of the emergency state in Lithuania and of the restrictions on human rights and freedoms, the Government’s powers to take decisions in emergency; certain restrictions on human rights and freedoms imposed during the period of the quarantine regime in Lithuania:  restrictions imposed during the period of validity of the quarantine regime in Lithuania: self-isolation of persons in premises provided by municipal administrations, necessary hospitalisation and/or self-isolation of persons by a doctor’s decision and ensuring the human right to health in emergency.
  • The Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas carried out the investigation into the fundamental human rights problems arising from the provision of assistance to victims of domestic violence, which assessed issues related to the procedure for providing assistance to victims of domestic violence in Lithuania, the availability, efficiency, adequacy and development possibilities of services for these persons, the impact of measures restricting human freedoms to curb the spread of the coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease) in the country, and the need for and effectiveness of providing assistance to victims of domestic violence.
  • The Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas conducted the investigation into the fundamental human rights issues in the field of provision of psychological services to persons placed in social care institutions, which assessed the need for supply and accessibility of psychological services in social care institutions of elderly persons and adults with disabilities, as well as prepared conclusions and proposals (recommendations) regarding improvement of the accessibility of these services and improvement of the procedure of provision of these services from the point of view of ensuring human rights and freedoms.
  • The Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas, taking into account the international obligations of the Republic of Lithuania to ensure the right of all persons to apply to the courts on environmental matters in accordance with Articles 1, 3 and 9 of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in the Environmental Matters, initiated the investigation into the fundamental human rights issues in the field of access to justice in Lithuania, to determine whether the provisions of the existing national legal acts providing for the right of persons to apply to the courts are sufficient to ensure the implementation of Lithuania’s international obligations in the field of environmental protection, how the right of the public access to justice in Lithuania is realised and what possible major problems arise in this field.
  • The Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas carried out the investigation into ensuring the rights of persons living in social care institutions during the quarantine period announced in the country, to identify problems arising in social care institutions during the quarantine period and to prevent possible violations of human rights and freedoms of the residents of these institutions.
  • The Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas, taking into consideration the provisions and principles of legal acts of the European Union, initiated the investigation into the implementation of the right of permanent residence in Lithuania by citizens of the European Union, family members of the citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, noting that family members of the citizen of the Republic of Lithuania, who has exercised the right of free movement of persons, citizens of the European Union, have much broader possibilities to enter Lithuania than family members of the citizen of the Republic of Lithuania, who has not exercised the right of free movement of persons.

INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES

The Seimas Ombudsman, as the Head of the National Human Rights Institution, in performing the functions assigned to the institution has the right to initiate investigations into the fundamental human rights problems (Article 19²(2)(6) of the Law). Given the current human rights situation in the country and acknowledging that the country has many other fundamental human rights problems, in 2020, the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office conducted 5 (five) investigations into the fundamental human rights problems. 

The assessment of human rights problems takes into account the main international instruments governing the protection of human rights to which Lithuania is a party: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, the ECHR and other documents.

Regarding the fundamental human rights issues arising from the availability of social services for the disabled and elderly persons in municipalities

The Seimas Ombudsman conducted an investigation into the fundamental human rights problems arising from the accessibility of social services to persons with disabilities and elderly persons in municipalities, during which the country’s international obligations in the field of provision of social services to persons with disabilities and elderly persons, control and planning of the quality of these services and the accessibility and development of community social services were assessed.

The investigation revealed that due to shortcomings in the existing legislation and the lack of an abstract nature of the recommendations on the quality of social care control issued by the Social Services Supervision Department (hereinafter – the SSSD) and the lack of a uniform methodology for assessing the quality of social services methodology for assessing the quality of social services supervision in the country each municipality has different methods of assessing the quality of social services; the information, geographic or economic accessibility of social services in municipalities for persons with disabilities and elderly persons is very unique and depends on the social services policy pursued by the municipality where the recipient of the services resides, the allocated funds and efforts made to ensure such services.

The data collected during the investigation revealed that information on access to social services is not collected in the country, the elderly and/or disabled people living in municipalities are not visited preventively and, therefore, there is no uniform information on the need for social services of the elderly and/or disabled residents of municipalities.

It has also been established that there is no single package of community social services in Lithuania, therefore, in implementing their functions municipalities adopt different standards of social services, which differ not only in the supply of social services, but also in scope and possibly not always ensures the needs of persons with disabilities and/or elderly persons, while due to the ageing of the country’s population, limited availability of social services, slow development of social services and sources of funding that do not ensure the continuity of these services, in the process of reorganisation of social services, it is not possible to respond to the needs of the changing society and to adequately ensure the rights of persons with disabilities and elderly persons.

Taking into account the circumstances identified during the investigation, the Seimas Ombudsman recommended to the Government that measures be taken to develop a common and consistent standard of quality of social services for persons with disabilities / elderly persons at national level, a unified methodology of quality assessment of social services and a comprehensive and unified system of collection and accumulation of data on the elderly and/or disabled persons residing in municipal territories, ensuring the provision of accurate and timely data to state institutions and facilitating the process of planning of social services; to establish common standards of access to social services and broadening the list of target groups of ongoing deinstitutionalisation, involving the elderly persons. Also, to introduce a common mandatory minimum package of community social services for the disabled and/or the elderly persons, to accelerate the development of social services provided in the community and ensure the continuity and sustainability of the financing of these social services, and take steps to ratify Article 23 of the European Social Charter, in line with the calls of international organisations and with a view to ensuring adequate standards of human rights and freedoms in the country.

The Seimas Ombudsman also recommended to municipalities of the Republic of Lithuania to develop the decent quality control procedures for the social services provided/purchased, ensure proper implementation thereof and ensure that the elderly and/or disabled persons residing in municipal territories are regularly visited and information about the needs of social services of these persons is collected and accumulated. It was also recommended to ensure the information, geographical and economic accessibility of social services to the disabled and/or the elderly residents, and to take measures to expand the supply and scope of social services provided to the disabled and/or the elderly in the community.

Regarding the fundamental human rights issues arising from certain measures restricting human rights and freedoms taken during the pandemic caused by the Coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease) in Lithuania

The Seimas Ombudsman conducted the investigation into the compliance of certain measures restricting human rights and freedoms with the country’s international obligations in the field of human rights and freedoms during the quarantine regime declared in Lithuania, which lasted from 16 March to 16 June 2020. The investigation aimed to identify problems related to restrictions on the provision of personal health care services imposed by decisions of the Minister of Health of the Republic of Lithuania – the head of state operations of a state-level emergency. The investigation looked at issues related to ensuring human rights and freedoms by applying measures to curb the spread of the Coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease), the legality of the declaration of the state of emergency in Lithuania and the restrictions on human rights and freedoms applied during it, the Government’s powers to take decisions in the situation of emergency and certain restrictions on human rights and freedoms imposed during the period of the quarantine regime in Lithuania: the isolation of persons in the premises provided by municipal administrations, the necessary hospitalisation of persons and/or the necessary isolation by a doctor’s decision and ensuring the human right to health under emergency conditions.

Having assessed the circumstances of self-isolation of persons arriving from foreign countries in the premises provided by Vilnius City Administration on 24–25 March 2020, the Seimas Ombudsman concluded that these persons were isolated in the premises not suited to their needs and possibly not satisfying public health safety requirements, before isolation of the persons  their age, gender, state of health and special needs had not been taken into consideration, the persons were denied alternative possibilities of self-isolation at home or another place of residence, were not appropriately informed on what grounds they had to self-isolate in the premises provided by the municipal administration, and therefore, in the Ombudsman’s assessment, the persons suffered significant inconveniences, stress and were exposed to the increased risk of catching the Coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease), the isolation of persons without any selection and in the premises not adapted to this purpose was a restricting measure disproportionate to the legitimate purpose sought by its application and could amount to degrading treatment prohibited under the international law.

In his investigation report, the Seimas Ombudsman also submitted an assessment of the necessary hospitalisation and isolation of persons by decision of a doctor, concluding that the Law on the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases of the Republic of Lithuania authorises a doctor to impose necessary hospitalisation and/or isolation by unilateral decision, without a court decision, even up to one month, raises reasonable doubts as to the possible abuse of powers by doctors under this provision and the possible infringements of human rights and freedoms by such a risk management measure.

The Seimas Ombudsman also raised doubts as to whether certain measures taken during the quarantine period to combat the spread of coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease) in the field of personal health met the criteria of reasonableness, necessity and proportionality and Lithuania’s international obligations, as well as whether the goal of protecting public health set during quarantine could not be achieved by less coercive, lower in scale restrictions, avoiding the risk of infringements of human rights and freedoms. 

After assessing all circumstances, the Seimas Ombudsman stated that during the period of quarantine in the Republic of Lithuania, after suspending the implementation of preventive examinations and preventive programmes for more than one month, postponement of scheduled operations and hospitalisations, provision of routine consultations, diagnostic, prophylactic, preventive and therapeutic services (except for assistance and services which, if not provided to the patient, would create a need for necessary medical assistance or significantly deteriorate the condition of the patient), failure to ensure the clarity and systematic nature of the legislation adopted on the control of measures to control coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease), the right of each individual to accessible health care services and the highest possible level of health care protection may not have been adequately guaranteed. 

Having assessed the aforementioned circumstances, the Seimas Ombudsman recommended to the Government to ensure that in all situations, even in the state of emergency, extreme situation or other special management regime in the country, decisions restricting certain rights of persons are taken in accordance with the highest human rights standards, that measures restricting human rights and freedoms are justified, necessary and do not restrict the rights and freedoms of the individual beyond what is necessary to achieve the legitimate and socially important objectives; to take measures to ensure that in future, in situations where there is an urgent need for restrictive human rights measures to manage the country’s difficult crisis, a smooth and timely cooperation with the public is ensured, including experts in the human rights protection area; take measures to improve Article 9 21  of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases of the Republic of Lithuania  as to maintain the balance of individual rights and public interests and the necessary hospitalisation and/or isolation of the persons listed in this provision would be carried out by means of measures to protect the rights of the individual from disproportionate restriction of these rights in cases of application of involuntary hospitalisation and involuntary treatment.

Regarding the fundamental human rights issues arising in the field of provision of services for victims of domestic violence 

Taking into account the recommendations of international organisations active in the field of human rights regarding ensuring the provision of assistance to victims of domestic violence, the extent of  prevalence of domestic violence in the country, the problems raised in the complaints received by the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office, as well as the fact that when the coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease) outbreak has reached the level of pandemic in many countries and has resulted in strict quarantine, leading to a trend towards an increase in domestic violence worldwide, the Seimas Ombudsman has initiated an investigation into the fundamental human rights issues arising in the field of provision of assistance to victims of domestic violence  in order to determine whether the procedure for providing assistance to victims of domestic violence established by provisions of legal acts of the Republic of Lithuania and its practical implementation comply with international obligations of the Republic of Lithuania to ensure the human rights and freedoms of these persons, whether these services can be accessed by all persons who have experienced domestic violence, are effective and sufficient, what are the possibilities for developing such assistance, as well as the impact on the need and effectiveness of providing assistance to victims of domestic violence in the country of measures taken to restrict personal liberty during the spread of the coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease).

As provided for in Article 8 of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Protection against Domestic Violence, persons who have suffered domestic violence shall be granted access in accordance with the procedure laid down by legal acts to free psychological assistance, temporary accommodation services, specialised complex assistance provided by specialised assistance centres, assistance provided by municipal institutions and non-governmental organisations, including long-term assistance services. Also, in accordance with the provisions of the said Law, police officers are authorised to perform the statutory functions related to the organisation of protection and assistance to persons, who have experienced domestic violence. However, it is still noticeable in the society that the protection of victims of domestic violence is not always adequately guaranteed in practice and that not all of their needs for assistance are met, and that reports of physical, mental, sexual, economic or other intentional effects experienced by individuals in domestic environment are still relatively high.

The investigation found weaknesses in the mechanism for providing assistance to victims of domestic violence in Lithuania: police officers not in all cases identify the signs of violence, and especially psychological violence in domestic environment, which leads to gaps in the organisation of services for victims of domestic violence, the number of specialised assistance centres and specialists working there, especially lawyers and psychologists, who can offer specialised assistance, is not sufficient in Lithuania to meet the needs of all victims of domestic violence, and does not ensure more active involvement of non-governmental organisations in this system of provision of services. 

The Seimas Ombudsman also stated that the dissemination of information on assistance to victims of domestic violence is not sufficient, inter-institutional cooperation between entities organising and providing assistance to victims of domestic violence is not smooth at both municipal and national level, there is a lack of safe accommodation for victims of domestic violence, due to the lack of specialised assistance centres in remote areas not all specialized services are financially and geographically accessible to victims of domestic violence.

Violence against women, including domestic violence, is one of the most serious gender-based violations of human rights in Europe; the Seimas Ombudsman drew the public’s attention to the fact that domestic violence causes serious and, most often, long-term physical, emotional, mental, social and/or economic harm to victims of such violence, regardless of their gender, age, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, education, income or social status. In this context, in the report of his investigation, the Seimas Ombudsman looked not only at the need of women, but also at the needs of other target groups of persons exposed to domestic violence – children, persons with disabilities, persons belonging to sexual minorities, as well as men – the need and possibilities to access specialised complex assistance in the country. 

The data of the investigation on accessibility of targeted services for individual groups of persons revealed that the infrastructure of services in Lithuania is underdeveloped: there is a lack of victimology statistics data on the extent of domestic violence experienced by disabled persons, differentiation of services by target groups, human and financial resources ensuring access to quality and efficient services for all who need them. Moreover, as an example of the fight against all forms of violence against women provided for in the Istanbul Convention, Lithuania still does not have in place an appropriate and effective mechanism for preventing violence against women, protecting women, who have suffered violence and organising, supervising and controlling services for them, adapted to the specific needs of this social group. Having assessed this, the Seimas Ombudsman noted that all services must be provided in such a way as to meet the individual needs of the victim and to ensure that in the system of providing assistance the individual does not suffer discrimination on the grounds of disability, place of residence, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic origin, social status and other characteristics.

The Seimas Ombudsman welcomed the efforts of the State, to ensure, during the quarantine period, the assistance to victims of domestic violence, to respond promptly to reports of domestic violence and to increase publicity of information on the ways of obtaining assistance, while also emphasising the need to further strengthen interinstitutional cooperation in the field of prevention of domestic violence and assistance to victims of domestic violence, to actively support information campaigns on domestic violence issues, and to seek innovative ways to provide all services necessary for victims of domestic violence in such a way that they can be accessed by individuals in a remote manner and/or in compliance with the safety recommendations of the Ministry of Health not only in their home environment.  

Taking into account the circumstances established during the investigation, the Seimas Ombudsman recommended to the Seimas to take measures to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on the preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) with a view to fully implementing the ban on violence against women and girls.

The Seimas Ombudsman recommended to the Government, inter alia, to ensure the creation and implementation of the system-based mechanism of the provision of assistance to victims of domestic violence, to develop a smooth interdepartmental network of actors providing assistance to victims of domestic violence, to ensure a continuous information campaign at national level on the provision of assistance to victims of domestic violence, to address the issue of the development of a specialised network of assistance centres in Lithuania and the provision of free transportation service to persons, who are not able to travel to the place of provision of services on their own, as well as the issue of inclusion of children, men, persons with disabilities and elderly persons as well as organisations representing the interests of LGBTIQ in a specialised system for the provision of a complex assistance to victims of domestic violence, ensuring that specialised complex assistance is accessible to all these target groups, organising the dissemination of more information on domestic violence and ensuring that victims of domestic violence receive all the necessary services not only remotely, but also, where necessary, in live manner, so that the individuals can also access such services outside their home environment.

The Seimas Ombudsman also recommended to the Police Commissioner-General to take measures to ensure that police officers respond appropriately to reports on domestic violence by all persons, regardless of their age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, social or other position, including reports on psychological and sexual violence experienced. Moreover, he recommended  that all persons, who have reported on domestic violence to which they were or are exposed (regardless of whether they have been identified as victims during the investigation) are properly informed by police officers of the specialised assistance centres and other institutions operating in the respective county providing assistance, including provisional accommodation services according to provisions of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Protection against Domestic Violence.

Regarding the fundamental human rights issues arising in the field of provision of psychological services to residents of social care institutions

The Seimas Ombudsman conducted an investigation into the fundamental human rights problems arising from the organisation and accessibility of psychological services to inmates of adult social care institutions, during which examined issues related to the assessment of the need for psychological services of the residents of social care institutions, the availability of psychological services to residents of social care institutions and the improvement of qualification of employees of social care institutions in the field of provision of psychological services.

The investigation revealed that most social care institutions use only one method of determining the need for psychological assistance, do not in all cases involve psychologists in the process of determining the psychological needs of a person, do not develop a methodology or provide for other instruments to help professionals properly identify the need for psychological assistance to the residents of social care institutions, therefore, in most social care institutions of the country, the quality and timely assessment of the needs of psychological assistance to residents is not ensured.

The data collected during the investigation revealed that in some social care institutions, due to the lack of specialists, financial resources and for other reasons, the psychologist’s position is vacant, filled only partially or does not exist at all. Some institutions identify pastoral services as psychological services, there is a lack of smoother inter-institutional cooperation on the matters of organisation and provision of psychological services to the residents of institutions, and the applicable legal acts do not define the concepts of “psychologist”, “psychosocial assistance”, “pastoral specialist” and other related concepts and conditions of practical activities of the psychologist and the procedure for providing psychological services to residents of social care institutions and, therefore, they are not provided with adequate access to psychological services.

The Seimas Ombudsman also concluded that while sufficient attention has been paid to deepening the psychological knowledge of employees of social care institutions in recent years, the very wide range of psychological needs of social care institution residents requires not only to ensure access to psychological services for such persons, but also to constantly improve the qualification of employees of social care institutions in the areas of conflicts, bullying, violence or other ill-treatment and suicide prevention, and to develop skills to professionally manage aggressive (violent) behaviour of a person, to provide him/her with emotional assistance. 

In order to improve the accessibility of psychological services to persons living in social care institutions, the Seimas Ombudsman recommended to the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania to approve the procedure for assessing the psychological needs of psychologists providing assistance to residents of adult social care institutions, evaluation of practical activities and provision of psychological services, and to ensure that the assessment of psychological needs of residents with disabilities and elderly persons is carried out only with the participation of specialists (psychologists) with appropriate educational background in psychology. In addition, it was recommended to amend paragraph 11.3 of the Social Services Catalogue approved by Order No A1-93 of the Minister of Social Security and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania of 5 April 2006 on the approval of the social services catalogue and to provide that psychological services are an integral part of social services and that psychologists are included in the list of specialists providing services, and to amend the provisions of the labour-time standards of employees providing social care approved by Order No A1-317 of the Minister of Social Security and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania of 30 November 2006 on the approval of standards of working time costs of social care employees and define the concepts of “psychologist”, “psychological assistance”, “psychosocial assistance”, “pastoral specialist” and “pastoral care”, identify the availability of and need for psychological services for elderly persons and the disabled in social care institutions, the founder of which is the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, and contribute to the planning, organisation and provision of psychological services to the residents of these social care institutions and promote the education of the staff of these institutions on the subject of provision of psychological assistance.

The Seimas Ombudsman recommended to the Minister of Health of the Republic of Lithuania to take measures to familiarise the social care institutions for adults with disabilities and elderly persons with Order No V-1733 of the Minister of Health of 31 July 2020 on the approval of the procedure for providing psychological wellbeing and mental health promotion services and the possibilities of their residents to receive psychological wellbeing and mental health promotion services in accordance with this Order, and the municipalities – to take measures to establish the availability of psychological services in social care institutions for adults with disabilities and the elderly persons set up in the territory of their municipality and the need for such services and contribute to ensuring the planning, organisation and provision of psychological services to inmates of such social care institutions.

In addition, the Seimas Ombudsman recommended social care institutions for adults with disabilities and the elderly persons to ensure that the psychologist of the institution or other psychologist always participate in the residents’ psychological needs assessment process and that psychological services are made available to these persons on a regular basis according to their individual needs (by employing a psychologist in the institution under an employment contract or by organising the psychologist’s services in other ways); a system of systematic psychological and emotional support for residents is developed and implemented and smooth inter-institutional cooperation (with municipalities, primary personal health care centres, public health office, other social care institutions, etc.) and cooperation between staff within the institution is ensured to discuss common problems, to find coordinated solutions so that the persons on a case-by-case basis are properly referred to the providers of assistance, who are able to provide psychological services to them, and to provide ongoing education to staff of institutions on the provision of psychological assistance to the residents of social care institutions.

Regarding the fundamental human rights issues arising in the field of ensuring human rights and freedoms of residents of social care institutions during the quarantine period

The Seimas Ombudsman conducted the investigation into the fundamental human rights problems arising in the field of ensuring human rights and freedoms of persons living in social care institutions during the quarantine period, in the course of which he took preventive actions to prevent possible violations of human rights and freedoms, assessed compliance of legal acts applicable during the period of quarantine declared due to the spread of coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease) with international standards of human rights and freedoms, and investigated possible infringements of rights and freedoms of persons in social care institutions.

During the investigation, in order to obtain relevant information as expeditiously as possible, to learn about the actual situation of human rights and freedoms in social care institutions and to ensure that measures taken during the pandemic of coronavirus infection (COVID-19 disease) in Lithuania do not disproportionately restrict or violate human rights, closed consultation-information gathering groups for adult and children’s social care institutions were established on Facebook, where the staff of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office advised the employees of social care institutions on issues related to  protection of human rights and freedoms of the residents of social care institutions and shared relevant information of international organisations and national institutions, while social care institutions shared their experience, good practices and challenges encountered in their activities during the quarantine. 

Taking into account the situation in the country and the world and repeated consultations with international organisations operating in the field of human rights, the Seimas Ombudsman drew up a summary of relevant international recommendations on how to properly ensure the rights of persons in social care institutions during the pandemic, the principles and methods to be followed by staff of institutions and requested the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and municipalities to forward these recommendations to all subordinate social care institutions operating in their territories and to actively cooperate in the field of ensuring human rights and freedoms. 

In addition, in order to ensure a safe and healthy environment in social care institutions during the quarantine period and to curb the risk of violations of human rights and freedoms, the Seimas Ombudsman recommended to the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and all municipal administrations that measures be taken to guarantee  that  social care institutions established by them and the Refugee Reception Centre ensure the requirements of legal acts regulating the prevention and control of communicable diseases – to update emergency plans, keep informing the staff about the changing situation, contiguously remind of the actions they should take to prevent the spread of the virus, ensure compliance with common hygiene requirements, avoid overcrowding of the resident’s  rooms, provide for and equip the premises for self-isolation, supply the residents and the staff with the necessary hygiene and protective equipment as needed and keep their reserve supplemented. The Seimas Ombudsman also recommended that in  ensuring measures for the prevention and control of the virus, the dignity of the residents of social care institutions  be respected, their rights guaranteed, and the restrictions applied in accordance with the principles of legality, reasonableness and proportionality and only to the extent necessary; to keep the residents informed on the situation, preventive measures and their causes, as well as how to protect their own and others’ health, in a language / manner they understand, to maintain regular contact with family and relatives by phone and other means of telecommunication free of charge, if necessary, providing them with appropriate assistance; possibility to receive parcels from relatives; to address the issue of receiving pensions, for example, by temporarily storing the residents’ pensions in cash in a safe-deposit box; to find ways to periodically ensure residents with a possibility of shopping; if the institution has an enclosed yard – to allowing the residents to stay in the fresh air from time to time, to continue organising employment individually or in small groups, etc., as well as to provide the residents with additional psychological assistance by staff and regular information to their relatives about the situation in institutions, applied preventive measures and temporary restrictions.

The data collected during the investigation revealed that residents of social care institutions were extremely concerned about limited contact with relatives (only by phone or other means of communication were allowed), there was a significant decrease in normal employment activities (especially for the nursed residents); institutions did not have the information and guidance on the organisation of work in order to ensure the safety of both the staff and residents; those institutions that bought protective equipment themselves faced the challenge of acquiring them at affordable prices. Employees of children’s care institutions noted the increased workload of social workers due to the need to organise additional activities for children, to help them learn the teaching material and do their homework; when ensuring the possibility for each resident to connect to remote education activities at the fixed time the institutions faced the problem of computer shortage, and although some institutions were provided with computers by schools, others had to buy computers themselves; not all institutions (especially in rural areas) had the proper internet connection; the remote education process lacked integrity as different schools and teachers organised classes using different programmes, which created additional difficulties for children, especially for younger ones. 

In response to information provided by social care institutions on the challenges of work organisation and prevention of the virus and the NPHC data about certain violations of the quarantine requirements and the rules on control and prevention of communicable diseases found in some social care institutions, the staff of the Human Rights Division of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office with the help of specialists of the NPHC and the Hygiene Institute organised the information-consultation workshop for social care institutions on 8 May 2020. During the event, international standards on ensuring human rights and freedoms in social care institutions during quarantine and the model of organisation of employment during quarantine based on human rights principles were presented. In addition, there was a discussion on ensuring of emotional and psychological assistance during the pandemic. Social partners from the Institute of Hygiene and NPHC presented the epidemiological situation in Lithuania and introduced participants to the infection control measures to be applied during the COVID-19 disease pandemic. Participants of the event shared information about practical situations and discussed issues of concern, highlighting the most troubling aspects of the current situation. Over two hundred participants attended the workshop remotely, and the record of this training was viewed more than eight hundred times on Facebook account of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office.

It should also be noted that upon receiving information about possible violations of human rights in the particular social care institutions, the Seimas Ombudsman immediately requested the Social Services and Supervision Department, the NPHC, administrations of respective municipalities and other competent authorities to carefully examine the specified circumstances and carry out inspections within the scope of competence as well as inform the Seimas Ombudsman of their results.