General legal framework

AuthorKamenska, Anhelita
Constitutional provisio ns on protection agai nst discrimination and t he
promotion of equality
Article 91 of the Satversme (the Latvian Constitution) deals with non-discrimination.
The principle of non-discrimination is enshrined in Article 91, which provides that ‘All
persons in Latvia shall be equal before the law and the courts. Human rights shall be
observed without discrimination of any kind’. It refers to ‘discrimination of any kind’
without specifying the grounds. In preparing the Chapter on Fundamental Rights in 1998,
the Latvian legislator initially considered including 12 prohibited discrimination grounds
(race, sex, ethnic origin, language, age, religion or belief, political opinion, membership
of a party, position of public service, property, social status and other circumstances).
There was no support for the explicit inclusion of sexual orientation among the prohibit ed
discrimination grounds. Hence, the decision was taken not to list any grounds, leaving
the matter for the interpretation of the courts.62
According to the legal doctrine, the catalogue of prohibited grounds should not be
narrower than the catalogue in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Article 21 of the Chart er lists sex, race, colou r, ethnic or social orig in, genetic features,
language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national
minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation. Hence, the catalogue of
included prohibited grounds should be understood as comprising all grounds in the initial
historical version and the additional grounds contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental
As the Constitution stands highest in the hierarchy of legal norms, this permits an
argument that a non-exhaustive list of grounds also applies in the cases of la ws that only
contain an exhaustive list of grounds in their non-discrimination clauses,64 although in
practice this would inevitably complicate matters by requiring weighty arguments to
counter the inclusion of the ‘one is the exclusion of another’ argument.
The right to non-discrimination in the Constitution is also an autonomous right that may
apply to any area regulated and protected by the state.
In addition to the non-discrimination clause in Article 91, Article 89 of the Constitution
states that ‘the state shall recognise and protect fundamental human rights in
accordance with this Constitution, laws and international agreements binding upon
While this recognises the bindi ng force of international treaties with out giving express
indication as to the pla ce of international treaties in the hierarchy of norms, the
Constitutional Court has adopted the doctrine that the norms of the Constitution have to
62 In an employment case in 2003, when the Labour Law did not include sexual orientation explicitly (it was
included in 2006), the court referred to the constitutional non-disc rimination clause which contains no
listing of grounds to infer that the Labour Law prohibits differential treatm ent based on sexual orientation.
Ziemeu District Court, Riga, Case No. C32242904047505, 25.05.2005. The case concerned a gay man who
applied for a teacher’s post in a secondary school.
63 Levits, E. (2016), 91. Visi cilvki Latvij ir vienld zgi likuma un tiesas priekš. Cilv ka tiesbas tiek stenotas
bez jebkdas diskrimincijas’, Latvijas Repub likas Satversmes komentri. VII nodaa. Cilvka pamatties bas,
available at: /07/91_PANTS.pdf pp. 98-104.
64 For example, while Article 3 of the Education Law only guarantees equal rights to receive educatio n to
citizens of Latvia, Latvian non-citizens and citizens of the EU Member States regardless of ‘property and
social status, race, ethnicity, gender , religious or political opinions, health condition, occupation and place of
residence’, not mentioning, for example, sexual orientation or age, by referr ing to Article 91 of the
Constitution it is possible to regard these grounds as non-exhaustive.

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