The Human Rights Roundtable focused on the situation of Russian-speaking young people

The Human Rights Roundtable focused on the situation of Russian-speaking young people

The third roundtable of organisations active in the human rights field took place on Friday, 31 August at the Institute of Human Rights. The main topic of the meeting was the human rights situation of Russian-speaking young people, including the level of Estonian language instruction at Russian-language schools and the level of activity of youth living in Narva in resolving social and political issues.

In the spring of 2012, the Institute of Baltic Studies conducted a survey among secondary school students in Narva regarding the awareness of youth about fundamental rights and the level of their social and political activity; and made policy recommendations based on the results. The Institute of Human Rights has analysed the level of Estonian language instruction in Russian-language schools and the connection between human rights and proficiency in the official language.

According to Kristina Kallas, an analyst at the Institute of Baltic Studies, the survey conducted in Narva shows that secondary school students do not actively participate in the resolution of social and political issues, and voluntary activities are also unpopular. Insufficient awareness of fundamental rights on the part of the youth is also worrisome to her. “This is primarily related to the understanding that fundamental rights, for instance, equal protection before the law and the freedoms of speech and thought are not universal,” Kallas said. “For instance, the idea that fundamental rights are valid only for citizens of the Republic of Estonia, which is prevalent among the young people in Narva, needs to be refuted.”

Mart Rannut, a member of the Institute of Human Rights, sees a problem in the fact that, according to the curricula established by law, proficiency in the official language at the end of basic school must be at the B1 level, and at the end of upper secondary school, at the B2 level, but at the same time, most jobs requires a B2 or higher level, and state agencies usually require a C1 level. “In order to be admitted to a school of higher education, anything lower than a B2 level of language proficiency is insufficient. A higher level is required for many specialties,” said Rannut. “Therefore, the curricula in Russian-language schools do not make it possible to ensure graduates equal opportunities compared to the graduates of Estonian-language schools, by setting obstacles for them in their studies and job opportunities, and well as their future careers.”

The position of the Institute of Human Rights is that the organisations should jointly consider how the human rights of all Estonian residents, regardless of their ethnicity or citizenship, can be ensured and how to guarantee them equal opportunities for participation in the life of the community. In addition to the main topic, the discussions included the concept for a Cohabitation Act, the plan to amend the punishment for hate crimes, and many other issues related to cooperation between the organisations.

The objective of the roundtable for human rights organisations is to assist in the development of the human rights sphere in Estonia and the world through cooperation. The roundtable operates based on the principle of equal partners, and the meetings are conducted in the offices of the host organisation based on prior agreement. The first roundtable took place on 16 February at the Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre; the second on 18 May at the OMA Centre; and the latest meeting on 31 August 2012 in the offices of the Institute of Human Rights. A survey of the activities to date is available here.