Viewing cable 09RIGA545
Title: LATVIAN BUDGET CRISIS ERODES CAPACITY ON HUMAN

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
09RIGA5452009-11-12 09:25:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Riga
VZCZCXRO5742
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHRA #0545/01 3160925
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 120925Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6132
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RIGA 000545 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PHUM PREL ECON EFIN LG
SUBJECT: LATVIAN BUDGET CRISIS ERODES CAPACITY ON HUMAN 
RIGHTS PRIORITIES 
 
REF: RIGA 542 
 
RIGA 00000545  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
¶1. (SBU) Summary: Human rights institutions are bracing for 
severe cuts as a result of belt-tightening in Latvia. 
Institutions intended to increase integration and ensure 
basic human rights face either steep cuts or sweeping 
reorganization.  Under the proposed budget, the 
Naturalization Board, responsible for facilitating the 
acquisition of citizenship for Latvia's non-citizen 
population, will be merged into the Office on Citizenship and 
Migration.  While this is a logical pairing, there are doubts 
about the motive for the move, especially since the cost 
savings will be modest.  The already cash-strapped 
Ombudsman's office will also face acute cuts under the 
proposed budget. Progress in human rights areas of concern 
will be increasingly difficult in this environment. End 
summary. 
 
¶2. (U) On November 5, Saeima (Parlaiment) passed the first 
reading of its 2010 budget, designed to comply with the 
dictates of international lenders (see reftel).  The new 
budget imposes across-the-board spending cuts affecting 
almost every institution of the Latvian Government, including 
those vital to providing social services and fighting 
corruption.  The human rights institutions involved have 
smaller budgets and have flown under the radar to some 
extent, but their drastically reduced budgets will affect 
their ability to operate. 
 
The Naturalization Board 
------------------------ 
 
¶3. (U) Latvia has approximately 340,000 residents, mostly 
Russian-speaking, who do not hold the citizenship of any 
country.  The Naturalization Board (NB) operates service 
centers that collect naturalization applications and 
administer naturalization tests.  Meanwhile, the Office of 
Citizenship and Migration is responsible for tracking 
immigrants and issuing passports.  Facing declining numbers 
of applications and a first round of budget cuts last year, 
the NB had already closed seven of its fifteen service 
centers and reducd staff by more than half.  The proposed 
budget would cut the NB budget again, stripping it of its 
largely independent status and place it under the OCM, within 
the Ministry of Interior. 
 
¶4. (SBU) Representatives of the NB complain that the proposed 
reorganization could eliminate much of the staff familiar 
with naturalization operations, slowing or even halting the 
naturalization process. Both NB and human rights NGOs express 
concern about the transfer of naturalization powers from a 
body intended to encourage naturalization to a body whose 
operating ethos is one of protecting Latvia against unwanted 
immigrants.  Ilze Brands-Kehris of the Latvian Center on 
Human Rights notes that Latvia has resisted international 
calls to give non-citizens greater rights by saying it 
prefers to encourage them to naturalize - a signal that the 
current plan would undermine.  In defense of the proposal, 
Ingrida Circene, chair of the Saeima Human Rights Committee 
and from the right-of-center New Era party, argues that all 
agencies are facing cuts, and there is no reason to think 
that a restructured NB can't handle the job. 
 
¶5. (SBU) Circene further argued that because the number of 
naturalization applications has declined in recent years, the 
NB is a reasonable place to look for cuts.  Furthermore, 
opponents of naturalization often argue that "everyone who 
wants to naturalize has already done so."  However, as rumors 
circulated that the NB would close entirely, there was a 
small rush of applicants - possibly trying to get their 
applications in before the window closed for good.  In the 
first nine months of 2009 there have been almost as many 
applications as in all of 2008.  This would indicate that 
there are still some non-citizens that could be persuaded by 
the right incentive to naturalize. 
 
The Ombudsman's Office 
---------------------- 
 
¶6. (SBU) In contrast, the Office of the Ombudsman does not 
face a restructuring -- rather, it faces a budget that will 
be less than half what it was in 2008.  The Ombudsman's 
office is charged with investigating and responding to any 
alleged rights violation by the GOL, and for providing 
recommendations on how to improve Latvia's institutions from 
a human rights perspective.  The office has been plagued with 
controversy over the last year, as staff released an open 
letter decrying the lack of leadership and poor management of 
Ombudsman Romans Apsitis.  The Ombudsman's office has focused 
on meeting the minimum required standards to reply to each 
complaint received, and has made only infrequent, and some 
 
RIGA 00000545  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
claim trivial, recommendations for legislation.  In meetings 
with PolOff, Apsitis has declined to discuss management 
complaints that he considers internal matters, but noted that 
budget cuts are crippling what limited ability his office had 
to make bold or proactive recommendations. 
 
¶7. (SBU) Apsitis has lost the faith of both human rights NGOs 
and of the Saeima.  Circene expressed dismay that the clear 
ineffectiveness of the office and the lack of confidence in 
Apsitis personally made the Ombudsman an easy target for 
budget cuts.  Brand-Kehris noted broad agreement that Apsitis 
is ineffective, but noted that poor management doesn't mean 
the office's function is unnecessary, as gutting its budget 
implies.  Brand-Kehris also noted that equally cash-strapped 
NGOs would shift emphasis to pick up the slack where the 
Ombudsman's office failed to advocate for human rights 
improvements, especially in closed institutions like prisons. 
 
¶8. (SBU) Comment: Latvia needs to slash its budget, and there 
is no way to avoid painful cuts to some well-intentioned 
institutions in this process.  Independent voices like the 
Ombudsman and Naturalization Board are proving vulnerable to 
particularly harsh cuts. These institutions should not be 
exempt from budgetary scrutiny, but if the current proposed 
budget passes, Latvia's chances to make progress on human 
rights issues will be greatly diminished. 
 
GARBER