A report by the European Network Against Racism released a shadow report today outlining key issues in the fight against discrimination in Estonia. The report sharply criticizes the government for willfully ignoring the question of discrimination, but praises NGOs for providing legal counsel and raising awareness, in spite of limited funding opportunities.
The report outlines several key areas, where Estonian officials have failed in the fight against racism: Estonia lacks adequate research to discover the full extent of discrimination in the country, the penal code does not cover discriminatory practices such as hate speech or racially motivated crimes and the government is willfully ignoring the issue. The report notes that while Estonia ratified the EU directive on Equal Treatment and established the position of Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner, the position is continuously underfunded and undersupported.
In addition, the government abolished the position of Minister of Ethnic Affairs in 2009 following the departure of the Social Democrats from the ruling coalition, citing budgetary concerns and the low effectiveness of the position as reason. The mandate of the Minister was picked up by officials in the Ministries of Culture, Education and Science Affairs, and the Ministry of the Interior.
On the other hand, the report praised the work of NGOs in filling the gap left by the government in raising awareness about discrimination and providing legal counsel. The report said that "despite the fact that civil society organisations working with racism are extremely small in number, lack funding and are under a permanent threat of sanctions or harassment from the state, their activities can not underestimated. Indeed it is possible to argue that they lack influence on state policies and do not have effective lobbying strategies, however, they have managed to find their own way of bring their concerns to the eyes of those involved in policy making. There are also certain positive practices that are in place for several years. Additionally NGOs in the Estonian context serve as one of the main sources of information regarding discrimination cases and work actively in order to develop strategic litigation cases. Most of the awareness raising activities for various target groups is also carried out by the civil society."
Most of the work in the third sector in the past year has been done by the EU-funded project "Diversity Enriches" which funded a public awareness campaign against homophobia and racism, and by the Estonian Human Rights Centre which provides legal counsel on issues pertaining to human rights and discrimination.