United Nations


General Assembly

Distr. GENERAL  

12 April 1996



General Assembly
Fifty-first session
Item 113 of the preliminary list*

*    A/51/50.

                            HUMAN RIGHTS QUESTIONS

         Letter dated 9 April 1996 from the Permanent Representative
             of Estonia to the United Nations addressed to the

     I have the honour to transmit to you a document entitled "Comments
on the position paper of the Russian delegation entitled 'Violation of
the rights of non-citizens of Estonia', distributed by the Estonian
delegation on 7 March 1996 at the plenary meeting of the Permanent
Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe"
(see annex).  This document is Estonia's response to the allegations
circulated, at the request of the Permanent Representative of the
Russian Federation to the United Nations, as document A/51/81 of
20 March 1996.

     I should be most grateful if you would have the text of the
present letter and its annex circulated as an official document of the
General Assembly under item 113 of the preliminary list.

                                                (Signed)  Trivimi VELLISTE    
                                                      Permanent Representative


             Comments on the position paper of the Russian delegation
             entitled "Violation of the rights of non-citizens of
             Estonia", distributed on 7 March 1996 at the plenary
             meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization
                    for Security and Cooperation in Europe

1.   The number of persons in Estonia that have not yet acquired the
citizenship of Estonia, the Russian Federation or any other State is
now less than one sixth of the population, or 250,000 out of a
population of 1.5 million.  This number is constantly decreasing as a
result of the continuing process of naturalization.  Approximately
2,000 individuals are naturalized as Estonian citizens monthly.

     Using the term "foreigner who is entitled to obtain Estonian
citizenship" cannot be seen as discriminative, as it preserves the
option for obtaining Estonian citizenship, whereas the term "person
without citizenship"   preferred by the Russian delegation clearly tends
to do the opposite.  The conditions established by the law for
acquiring Estonian citizenship, including tests on the applicants'
knowledge of the Estonian language and Estonia's Constitution, have
been consistently developed by taking into account both the experience
gained by Estonian authorities within the naturalization process and
the advice given by independent experts.  Introducing tests with
multiple answers to choose from instead of oral examinations is
clearly beneficial for all applicants.  The passage rate, as stated in
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
Mission's activity report No. 93, is currently 86 to 90 per cent.

2.   In most democratic countries, as well as in the countries of the
Commonwealth of Independent States, the term "national minority" is
used in regard to the citizens of a State and not the foreign
nationals or persons of another legal status, residing in that State. 
This approach is reflected in the Law on Cultural Autonomy of National
Minorities that was first proclaimed by Estonia in 1925, and which was
re-enacted in 1993 following five decades of Soviet occupation.  This
law is an entitlement programme to provide subsidies to cultural
organizations run by citizens belonging to national minorities; all
residents of Estonia are free to participate in the relevant

     Estonia, like most other States, therefore accords the legal
status of national minorities to those national groups that are
clearly related to their country of residence (i.e., Estonia) in
historic, cultural and civic society terms.  However, there are no
legal acts that would restrict the use of language or hinder the
culture and education of those persons who are not Estonian citizens. 
In practical terms, persons belonging to all major national groups
residing in Estonia have the right and the possibility to be educated
in their mother tongue and to develop their own culture.  No one
national or linguistic group is denied these rights, and no one is
granted a privileged status, including Russian linguistic or national
groups.  On these grounds, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
recently expressed its full satisfaction with Estonia's minority
policy to the visiting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia. 
Ukraine is delighted that Ukrainians, forming the second largest
ethnic group of foreign origin in Estonia, can freely develop their
own national culture and are not subverted to Estonianization or

3.   According to the Law on Local Elections, all registered residents
of Estonia have the right to vote in local elections, irrespective of
their citizenship or lack of citizenship.  It would be hard to
comprehend the meaning of statehood, if a State grants the right to
vote in national elections to foreign citizens.  Therefore, it remains
unclear what the Russian delegation means by its accusation of the
"limitation of political ... rights of non-citizens".

     Land ownership by non-citizens is decided by the Government or its
regional representatives; in practice, non-citizens may own the land
underneath their real property.  All residents of Estonia may
participate equally in the privatization of State-owned enterprises
and housing.

4.   The OSCE Mission in Estonia and the High Commissioner on National
Minorities, Mr. Max van der Stoel, have advised the Government of
Estonia to issue alien's passports which would serve as a travel
document while containing a valid Estonian residence permit.  Any
State has, above all, the obligation to take care of the interests of
its own citizens at home and abroad.  Estonia does not pretend to
defend the interests of persons enjoying any other legal status.  Both
these two principles are irrespective of ethnic or linguistic origin.

     Estonia appreciates the fact that while issuing alien's
passports - under humanitarian considerations - other States responded
to the same considerations and accepted these passports as valid
travel documents.  Even the Russian Federation, far short of accepting
them de jure, is temporarily accepting alien's passports de facto.

5.   There is no evidence that geography, mathematics or any other
subject also taught in Russian language schools in Estonia have been
curtailed or eliminated from the curricula.  The history of Estonia as
well as the history of the Russian Federation, Latvia and Lithuania,
and the Scandinavian countries as neighbouring States, is taught in
all schools throughout Estonia.  Following the restoration of
Estonia's independence, the issuing of new textbooks was inevitable. 
The majority of us would easily agree that teaching children Stalinist
and communist dogmas, as was the practice in the former Soviet Union,
would not benefit them today.  However, it remains unclear how the
knowledge of any other languages, including the Estonian language, in
addition to the Russian language as the mother tongue, should lead to
lowering the level of intellectual capabilities.  There is no
statistical evidence in Estonia that the knowledge of more than one
language will reduce someone's competitiveness in the labour market.

6.   The Estonian Government has not and will not interfere in
relations between the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church and the
Russian Orthodox Church.  The problems concern canonical law between
the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church and the local branch of the
Russian Orthodox Church, as well as between the Patriarchs of
Constantinople and Moscow, cannot be solved by the Estonian or the
Russian Governments, but by the churches themselves.  There is no
evidence that in practical terms the day-to-day activities of orthodox
faithful have been disturbed or that there are any intentions to do
so.  We remain very concerned that starting with President
Boris Yeltsin's speech at the OSCE summit at Budapest in
December 1994, the Russian Federation has continuously tried to
politicize the inter-church relations between the Orthodox churches.

7.   The role of OSCE and the results stemming from its activities can
be considered to be reliable, as far as OSCE member States take into
consideration the organization's own reports.  However, Estonia does
not object to discussing reports compiled by other organizations and
bodies concerning OSCE member countries - not just Estonia and the
Russian Federation - on an equal basis if these reports are considered
to be adequate and significant by OSCE member States.

8.   The European Convention on Human Rights and its additional
protocols actually do include instruments of direct application.  It
is hoped that the Russian Federation, after recently signing the
European Convention on Human Rights, would find the ways and resources
to inform its diplomats about their contents.

     Estonia is constantly looking for ways to improve its relations
with Russia and will continue to do so even in the face of
increasingly overt threats to its statehood from influential Russian
political circles - threats which unfortunately are not countered by
Russian officials.  We do hope that the Russian delegation will find a
better and more constructive way to serve both the Russian national
interest and the interests of security and cooperation in Europe.


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Date last posted: 28 December 1999 17:35:10
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