“Lithuanian society is missing essential knowledge about human rights due to a lack of systematic access to human rights information. The information on where to seek help and look for advise when your rights are violated is scattered among different web pages of different institutions,” Birute Sabatauskaitė and Egle Urbonaite from Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights explains.
To improve the situation, they designed a project to strengthen the human rights discourse in Lithuania and to involve the society in public discussions on human rights. “We want to create a constructive dialogue between the general public, civil society and institutions.” An additional aim of the project is also to strengthen the standards of journalist’s ethics when it comes to freedom of speech and to improve the competence of journalists and law-enforcement agencies in ensuring responsible public speech.
A grassroots initiative and human rights website was created as part of this project. The website enables citizens and NGOs to raise awareness about human rights violations, as well as create common initiatives and share the latest information. “The website will hopefully become an information source for advocacy campaigns as well a platform to encourage civic activism,” Birute and Egle explain.
The closing event of the project will be an international conference on freedom of speech and freedom of expression which will take place in Vilnius in March 2015.
Just before the summer, Birutė Sabatauskaitė and Eglė Urbonaitė went to Oslo on a study visit. The aim of the visit was to observe and learn more about practices of the Norwegian Centre against Racism and other organisations with regards to hate speech monitoring, based on the portrayal of different minority groups in the media and public space. They also wanted to learn how assistance to victims of hate crimes is provided, including what is done by the state institutions, such as the police department.
The meetings organised with different civil society organisations, academics, police department and the Ombudsperson for Equality and Anti-discrimination gave an in-depth insight to the monitoring and addressing of hate crimes in the Norwegian society. The meetings provided detailed information to the existing legal framework.
The Norwegian Centre against Racism and LLH (Norwegian LGBT Organisation) presented their reporting of hate crime. The representative responsible for diversity and equal opportunities within the police department provided an insight in how the police works on hate crime, including how they train police officers and meet with different communities. The Norwegian Centre against Racism provided information on the monitoring of extreme right groups and gave a theoretical presentation to why it is important to monitor, as well as how their assistance to victims of discrimination and hate crime works.
“The intensive 4-day programme allowed us to prioritise our work on hate crime and media monitoring,” the two representatives from the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights stated after their visit. They return to Lithuania with increased knowledge. Some of the major differences observed include the attention from the police department in Oslo district to hate crime and the training of officials. They also found it interesting to see the financial capacity of NGOs, which often are funded by the government. They were also able to observe many different hate crime recording systems run by NGOs and their capacity to provide assistance to victims of hate crime, reaction from the state institutions as well as journalists to hateful comments from the extreme right.
“According to the information we received during our stay in Oslo, Norwegian mainstream media does not often publicise comments from radical groups, that include hate speech towards different groups of people and their views are not supported by the mainstream society. However, in Lithuania we see a trend where media ask those who call themselves “patriots” regarding any questions on decisions such as selling land to foreign citizens, usage of national anthem and coat of arms in art pieces, celebration of Independence, rights of minorities, etc. Nevertheless, we do not have exact data how much space they are given out of all the articles, but we’ll be able to measure this during the monitoring, which has already started and will evaluate the first half of 2014,” Birute and Egle explain.
“Another difference we observed is that in Norway, organisations receive funding and are able to provide constant assistance to victims of hate crimes. Such assistance does not really exist in Lithuania, at least not systematic support and assistance. Some organisations provide support as one of their mandates, but only when they have particular projects. In Lithuania, there is no organisation that has the capacity to fully support victims of hate crimes and has the necessary competence and training to do so. In Oslo, the police department recognize hate crime as an issue and has constant cooperation with many civil society organisations. Whereas in Lithuania, the perception is that if the number of officially recorded hate crimes is low, there is no problem. From talks with different communities we see the situation a little different and cooperation with state institutions, sharing of knowledge would bring good and safety to the whole society,” they explained after their visit.
“We are definitely staying in touch with our Norwegian partner during and after the project,” both of them proclaim. After the project, which is funded by the EEA Grants, ends, they are hoping they will have a possibility to prolong the cooperation and make a follow-up project. “After the visit to the Norwegian Centre against Racism and to the Police Department, seeing the fruitful cooperation that Police Department has with non-governmental organisations and the training system they have developed, we wish there would be an opportunity to bring Norwegian police officers to train officers in Lithuanian, talk about the value of having a diversity officer and the necessary training in order to address hate crime. We have contacts within the Norwegian Police Department, therefore we will look for possibilities within the framework of the current project or other projects in order to bring people for a short visit,” they conclude.