13th February – 3rd March 2023
Consideration of Lithuania
By Sasha Granelli and Bethany Morley
During the 22nd - 23rd of February 2023, the 73rd Session of the Committee on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) took place, with the consideration of Lithuania during their third periodic report. Throughout the session, Lithuania faced a line of critical questioning regarding important measures needed to fight discrimination and to strengthen gender equality.
The Committee was concerned about the deterioration of standards of living and conditions at work which led to poverty, depression, and suicide; continued discrimination, especially against minorities, particularly against members of the Roma community; the lack of gender equality, such as disparities in the gender pay gap; and restricting minorities' access to education.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the progress made thus far by the State. However, we condemn the continued discrimination faced by minorities, especially against the Roma, migrants, refugees Jewish community and all minorities. Further, we remain extremely concerned about reports of a lack of gender equality, particularly surrounding the gender pay gap. Lithuania needs to tackle the issue of labour exploitation of foreign workers as well as trafficking for this purpose.
We call on the State to take important measures to ensure better standards of living and conditions at work in order to avoid a high suicide rate and further advance gender equality.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is a body of 18 independent experts that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights —seeking to develop a constructive dialogue with States parties in order to determine whether the Covenant’s norms are being applied. Further, to assess how the implementation and enforcement of the Covenant could be improved so that individuals in the State under consideration can enjoy their human rights to the fullest. It was established by the ECOSOC resolution 1985/17 on the 28th of May 1985.
The Report provided by the State in question, Lithuania, provides information related to the implementation of Articles 1–15 of the Covenant in the legislation and in practice. Lithuania provided information on the implementation of the rights established by the Covenant and the measures taken to solve the issues presented in their last review .
Opening Statement by Lithuania
The delegation from Lithuania delivered an opening statement to the Committee.
The lead delegate noted that the most significant short-term challenges for Lithuania are the war in Ukraine and inflation. The country, as of 13/02/2023, has 74,611 Ukrainian refugees as a result of the war. Further, the inflation rate reached over 20% in the last year causing further pressures on providing equal services. However, the delegation noted that Lithuania responded to these imminent challenges both quickly and adequately.
The delegation noted the top long-term challenges currently faced by the State being the transition to a mid to high-added value economy, increasing quality of education and healthcare services and reducing income inequalities.
Following the opening remarks from Lithuania and the presentation of the country’s report, the floor was given to the Committee, who opened a line of critical questioning that the Lithuanian delegation would, in turn, be able to answer.
The Committee was concerned about the lack of policies concerning strengthening gender equality and combatting inequalities in Lithuania. It was questioned whether the State intends to take further steps to ensure gender equality is reached. Further, Committee Expert and country rapporteur Preeti Saran questioned the underrepresentation of women in positions of power.
The Lithuanian delegation, in turn, highlighted that in 2021, the new Law on Strategic Management came into force, and gender equality has been established as a horizontal principle to be integrated within the entire processes of strategic planning. The delegation ensured that the pay gap was raised but there are still many challenges to face.
Similarly, the National Progress Plan for 2021–2030 underlines that every political goal and every law that the Parliament will adopt, will be based on equal opportunities for all. Further, National institutions will also take into account gender equality.
Though the delegation recognised that the gender pay gap still exists in Lithuania, they assured the Committee that the government started working on plans and legislations in order to reduce and in the end eradicate this issue.
Mr. Michael Windfuhr, member of the Committee, asked for more details about the legislation around domestic violence and parental policies.
The delegation highlighted that the country has generous parental leave policies, which means that parents are free to decide who will take care of the child, but in most cases, children are cared for by mothers. Furthermore, the government established an innovative way of thinking in order to change the public attitude and give more possibilities to men to take care of children.
Concerning domestic violence, the Lithuanian delegation pointed to the Action plan for the prevention of domestic violence, that is planned to be established this year (2023). In the same way, there will be a new law in July 2023 against domestic violence in order to strengthen the legislation on this topic.
The committee opened a critical line of questioning surrounding discrimination faced by minorities, particularly those in Roma communities, LGBTQI+ persons and other national minorities.
Preeti Saran noted concerns regarding the social exclusion of minorities, particularly the Roma community. She questioned why there is a reduction of the minority populations in Lithuania and asked for more details about minority rights in the state. Furthermore, the committee expert questioned whether minorities were able to enjoy equal rights in comparison to other Lithuanian nationals, and if so, what measures have been put in place to ensure minorities can practise these rights.
Lithuania’s delegation pointed out there has been no decrease in the population of the biggest minorities, Polish and Russian people, and that generally there is a strong trend of the assimilation of minorities into broader society. Concerning the rights of minorities, the delegation highlighted its Constitution by saying that all citizens of Lithuania have the right to pursue their tradition, culture and they have the right to educate children in minority languages.
Despite this they agreed on the fact that there is discrimination against the Romani community. The delegation highlighted that the number of Romani children in education has thus far increased to 50%, and that there are now good positive results among young Romani people, such as an increase in income. Furthermore, theym have access to a household with decent living conditions and healthcare with the right to health insurance and treatment like all Lithuanians.
The delegation highlighted their plan of action to reduce inequalities and direct and indirect discrimination. This plan will provide, for example, training and ensure legal prosecution and act on violence which is an important part of inequalities.
The Committee opened a line of questioning regarding how the country is combating social stigma, misconceptions and discrimination against other minorities including LGBTQI+ persons.
The delegation replied and assured the Committee that a draft law has passed that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The State reiterated that further laws will go further to ensure other options regarding marriage for same sex couples.
Migrants workers and children
Ms. Joo-Young Lee, member of the Committee, pointed out the serious challenges related to migrants coming from Belarus. She highlighted that Lithuania remains under the obligation to respect human dignity for all individuals in its territory. She remains concerned about the amount of migrants from Iraq and Syria that are left at the border without access to adequate conditions of living and any asylum authorisation in Lithuania. She asked for more details about the steps taken by the government to ensure migrants and asylum seekers have basic human rights.
On the issue of asylum migration, the delegation recalled that the migrants were pushed to the border of Lithuania by Belarus. The State claimed that they cared for vulnerable people and that the situation has calmed down. Their policy is that they do not welcome anyone who enters the country illegally; they only help people to enter legally and only make a distinction on that basis.
The delegation pointed out the asylum system is now working effectively and that they made changes to improve the conditions of migrants. They ensured that most asylum requests are studied and accommodation facilities conform to human rights and vulnerable groups are accommodated separately. They also highlighted a proposition of law that is being studied to give asylum seekers better conditions.
Mr. Peters Sunday Omolgbe Emuze, a Committee member, raised concerns about the integration of minorities in work and in the education system and asked for more details about the measures taken to ensure their good integration.
Concerning the issue of the right to work for people with disabilities, the delegation highlighted a new law of employment that was adopted to integrate people with disabilities in the market without discrimination.
Despite this, they confirmed that Lithuania faces many challenges due to employers not being prepared to create specific conditions for disabled people. However, the government continues to raise a campaign to change the situation and the number of disabled people working is increasing.
Moreover, concerning migrant workers, the delegation pointed out the adoption of a measure for the integration of foreigners into society. They also ensure cooperation with minorities in the media in order to promote Lithuanian minority culture.
Concerning education, Lithuania highlighted that 700 migrants are up to the school age and all the migrants present in Lithuania receive education in Lithuania and have the right also to use non-formal education.
The delegation declared that measures and actions are taken in order to improve the situation but, for them, these changes will be seen and emphasised in the following report.
Standard of Living
The Committee was concerned about the high suicide rate in Lithuania, which still remains one of the highest in Europe. The high levels of suicides are often linked to poor standard of living and poor conditions at work. They asked which groups are the most concerned about those acts of suicide? And what are the remedies?
The delegation started by ensuring that the number of people living in poverty has decreased. They pointed out that the data show that the society becomes more tolerant and helpful to those people. NGOs, for example, really spread more compassion to those people.
In the same way, the government provides short term houses for homeless people in critical situations. Some crisis centres are available for vulnerable people in order to reintegrate them into society. Further, they can also receive counselling and mediation services.
To face the multidimensional poverty that gets higher after the energy criticism, the government also started in 2022 to send composition for hitting costs to the most vulnerable people. The system of unemployment benefits was reformed, broadening coverage and prolonging the length of assistance
On the other hand, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour has prepared five Lithuania’s long-term (2021–2030) strategies for reducing income inequality, reducing social exclusion, inclusive labour market, family policy and adapting the environment to all people in the society.
Finally, the process of the preparation for the reform of the mental health care system in the period 2023–2030 has already been launched. High attention is paid to vulnerable people especially after the pandemic of Covid-19 which had a negative effect on the Lithuanian population and their mental health.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the progress made thus far by the State. However, we condemn the continued discriminations faced by minorities especially against the Roma, migrants, refugees,the Jewish community and all other minorities. Further, we remain extremely concerned about reports of a lack of gender equality, particularly surrounding the gender pay gap. Lithuania needs to tackle the issue of labour exploitation of foreign workers as well as trafficking for this purpose.
We urge the State to take important measures to ensure better standards of living and conditions at work, in order to avoid a high suicide rate and further advance gender equality.