Volume 34, No. 2 - Summer 1988
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright 1988 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.



An independent Baltic state between the two World Wars, Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 as a constituent republic of the U.S.S.R. The United States does not recognize the forcible incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R.

Latvia is subjected to the same centralized rule, the same Constitution and judicial system, the same restrictions on civil and political liberties, and the same police controls as the republics in the Soviet Union. Moreover, Soviet policy toward the Latvian nation arouses great concern because the process of Russification threatens its survival as a distinct ethnic group. The influx of Slavic migrants has reduced the proportions of Latvians in Latvia to only 53 percent of the total population. In Riga, the capital of Latvia, Latvians comprise 41 percent of the total population.

Like the other Baltic states, Latvia is regarded as economically better off than most areas of the Soviet Union. This is beginning to change, however, as the central authorities divert scarce resources to less developed areas.

Human rights violations by the authorities continued in 1986. Expressions of national consciousness were harshly repressed. The state of religious liberty continued to deteriorate as the authorities harassed the clergy and lay leaders of several faiths. Latvians active in human rights issues continued to face persecution and arrest.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from.:

a. Political Killing

Several Latvian activists have died in Soviet custody in recent years, although no deaths were reported in 1986. 

b. Disappearance

There were no known cases of permanent or prolonged disappearance.

c. Torture or Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Throughout the Soviet system, cruel and inhuman treatment of political prisoners occurs during both interrogation and confinement to labor camps, prisons, or psychiatric hospitals. Physical and psychological abuse of prisoners is common, as is detention under extremely unhealthy or otherwise onerous conditions. For example, Zakhar Zunshain was beaten so badly upon arrival at the Irkutsk labor camp that he suffered broken ribs and damage to his kidneys.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Soviet legal provisions are. written and interpreted so broadly that Latvians may be arrested and convicted for exercising basic human rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

As in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party subverts constitutional guarantees of the objectivity and independence of the judicial process in political cases. The self-determined compelling needs of the State override the rights of a defendant.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Through the use of informers, mail censorship, electronic monitoring of telephones, and other devices, government authorities have the ability, widely exercised, to interfere in every aspect of personal life. Constitutional guarantees to the contrary, Soviet investigative agencies do not abstain from forced entry and illegal searches.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for most internationally accepted political liberties as long as their exercise according with the strengthening and security of the "Socialist system. In practice, the authorities do not tolerate freedom of speech and press or any dissident behavior.

In September 1986, Latvians in and near Riga received unprecedented exposure to differing points of view on Soviet-American relations and related issues. For six days, the Soviet Friendship Society was host to the bilaterally sponsored "Chautau-qua" Conference in the costal city of Yurmala, hear Riga. Latvian television, also received in Estonia and Lithuania, provided an hour or more every night from the conference discussions and broadcast five concerts by American performers as well. However, highly selective reporting of sensitive issues by the central television and press, together with warning to local inhabitants against contact with conference delegates, reflected continued Soviet denial of the right to receive other than officially approved information.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right of association is provided for in the Constitution, but the authorities strictly control all associations and organizations. Latvians peacefully celebrating Latvian independence day are subject to arrest. Foreigners visiting their Latvian relatives are frequently interrogated and harassed.

As noted previously, Soviet authorities made repeated and concerted efforts to control contacts between American Chautau-qua delegates and unofficial Latvians. These attempts largely failed, however, due to the high profile of the conference and Soviet unwillingness to take dramatic restrictive actions which would have spoiled the conference's atmosphere.

Soviet labor law and practice are enforced in Latvia. Although the Constitution guarantees all Soviet citizens the right to form trade unions, any efforts by workers to exercise this right independently of state-sponsored and controlled unions have been brutally repressed.

c. Freedom of Religion

Despite constitutional guarantees, religious activity is the subject of systematic official harassment. Latvians were among the Soviet Pentecostalists who signed a 1986 appeal, sent to General Secretary Gorbachev and President Reagan, against constant harassment and continued refusal of exit visas. Members of the Roman Catholic, Baptist, and Seventh-Day Adventist churches also appear to have encountered more difficulties with the authorities than the larger Lutheran church, perhaps because of their outspokenness. One Lutheran pastor was reportedly released this year after serving only 1 year of a 5-year sentence for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." The release followed his public renunciation of his "subversive" views. On the other hand, Lidija Doronina-Lasmane, a Baptist, remains in a prison camp in Mordovia.

Although Latvian jews suffer marginally less harassment than other Jewish communities in the Soviet Union, the community remains widely restricted in its ability to practice Judaism and to educate its youth. One Jewish refusenik activist, Zakhar Zunshain, was sentenced to a labor camp in March 1984 for "slander of the Soviet State." Although his health has deteriorated markedly, prison authorities have reportedly threatened to invoke a recently implemented law to extend his sentence indefinitely.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Soviet authorities do not respect the right of emigration. The granting of permission to emigrate from Latvia is arbitrary and subject to increasing restrictions. The authorities harass Latvians whose desire to emigrate is known by denying them work in their specialty, by excluding them from educational institutions, and by other punitive measures.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

As in other areas under Soviet control, political activity outside the Communist Party is not tolerated.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Soviet Government rejects any foreign criticism of its human rights record, maintaining that all internationally recognized human rights are fully protected. Its attitude toward investigation of the human rights situation in Latvia is uncompromisingly negative.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status

Since its annexation, Latvia, with its population of about 2.5 million, has become an industrial workshop and trading center for the Soviet Union. The process of industrialization was accompanied by a large influx of Slavic workers from elsewhere in the Soviet Union because of Latvia's small labor force and low birth rate.

The large proportion (about 47 percent) of non-Latvians in the population has placed the Latvian language and culture in jeopardy. Lacking an internal rallying point, such as the Roman Catholic Church provides for Lithuanians, Latvians face poor prospects in their efforts to preserve their cultural traditions.

Women nominally enjoy the same legal rights as men. An extensive system of day-care service and maternity benefits enable women to obtain and retain employment outside the home. However, women generally hold less remunerative positions in most professions.


The statutory minimum age for the employment of children in 1986 was 16, and the standard workweek was 40 hours. The minimum wage was set at $112 per month at the official rate of exchange. According to the latest official data, the average wage is about $272 per month. Soviet law requires, in general terms, healthy and safe working conditions, but they usually fall short of Western standards.


VII. Conclusion

The annexation of the Baltic States has served as a major precedent one which has moved international law onto a plane much higher than that existing in 1940. For the first time in recorded history, the majority of the members of the world community have refused over a lengthy period to recognize the legitimacy of title acquired through conquest.

The annexation has helped to establish non-recognition of forcible territorial seizure as an important customary rule of international law and has had a major impact on the development of law prohibiting seizure of territory. The non-recognition of the Soviet annexation has pointed out the salutary aspects of the Stimson doctrine as a whole. Such positive aspects can be divided into the political, juridical and ethical spheres.566

Politically, the non-recognition of a seizure of territory is of considerable value for upholding the morale of the population of the occupied area. Such non-recognition serves to strengthen their spirit of resistance and remind them that the world has not forgotten their plight. The Baltic peoples rely on it as a symbol of hope for the future.567

Juridically, non-recognition has important effects for those citizens of the seized state who find themselves Or their property within the territory of a non-recognizing state.

Local courts will refuse to honor the conqueror's decrees with respect to private property. Nonrecognizing governments will refuse to repatriate nationals of subjugated nations, especially if the conqueror has instituted draconian measures such as execution or deportations to quell resistance to its presence.568

Ethically, non-recognition is the most relevant indication of the principle that unilateral aggression should not be allowed to bring about a valid change in the existing territorial order.

Professor Myes McDougal has written that "the effective authority of any legal system depends in the long run upon the underlying common interests of the participants in the system and their recognition of such common interests, reflected in continuing predispositions to support the prescriptions and the procedures that comprise the system."569

The prevention of seizure of territory has long been of major interest to all members of the global community. The history of the development of the doctrine of non-recognition since the Peace of Westphalia indicates its growing acceptance as a normative rule in international conduct largely because it reflects such an interest held in common by all nations.

Although the non-recognition doctrine, in the absence of regularly functioning international legal machinery for enforcing the law, is admittedly an imperfect weapon of enforcement, it must be regarded as a supplementary weapon of considerable legal and moral potency. It prevents any law-creating effect of prescription and it constitutes a standing legal challenge to the legitimacy of a situation brought about by an unlawful act:

As municipal law requires that persons aggrieved by deprivation of rights or property shall oppose the actions of those who injure them by recourse to peaceful means through negotiation, appeal to public law enforcement authorities, or to judicial proceedings, rather than by means of the infliction of personal violence, so the gradual spread of the doctrine of non-recognition, and its further application and implementation, may bring us one step nearer to the establishment of international relations on the basis of law and justice.570

William J.H. Hough, III


* Reprinted with author's permission from "The Annexation of the Baltic States and its Effect on the Development of Law Prohibiting Forcible Seizure of Territory", by William J. H. Hough, III, New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 6, No. 1, Winter 1985.
566 Langer, supra note 4, at 288.
567 See Appendix XII for discussion by two Latvian nationalists of the importance of the non-recognition doctrine to the Baltic peoples.
568 See Tolstoy, supra note 375, at 334. See a/so 1A C. Gordon and H. Rosenfeld, Immigration Law and Procedure 5-197 (1986). Due to the refusal by the United States to recognize the annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the Soviet Union, the United States will not regard nationals of such States as nationals of the annexing power. Id. See a/so 8 C.F.R. § 243.8 (1986), which states that no United States sanctions will be applied to the Baltic States because their governments do not accept deportees who are Baltic nations. Id.
The long standing policy of a non-recognizing State not to deport nationals of an occupied State was recently breached by the United States Department of State. In the case of In re Linnas, the Legal Advisor to the Department of State, Davis R. Robinson, advised the United States Department of Justice that the deportation of Karl Linnas, an Estonian citizen, to the U.S.S.R. "would not as a matter of law contravene the longstanding and firmly held United States policy of non-recognition of the forcible incorporation of Estonia into the U.S.S.R." Letter from Davis R. Robinson to the United States Department of Justice, (Dec. 20, 1984). Linnas had been held deportable based on the so-called Holtzman amendment to the United States immigration laws which excludes from the United States any alien who assisted the Nazi Government of Germany in the persecution of persons because of their race, religion, national origin or political opinion during the period between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945. In Re Linnas, B..I.A. Decision of July 31,1984, at 2. See a/so In Re Linnas, B..I.A. Decision of October 16, 1985; Linnas v. Ins., No. 85-4163, slip opinion (2d Cir. May I, 1986).
Robinson's statement is not only incorrect but unconscionable. The very purposes of the doctrine of non-recognition, as formulated by Secretary of State Stimson, were to promote territorial inviolability and self-determination of peoples by penalizing the conqueror or occupying State with a refusal to recognize the validity of its title to territory and its jurisdiction over the population of such territory seized by force. By deporting a national of Estonia to the Soviet Union, the United States would be admitting the existence of a legal nexus between the Soviet judicial organs (which have demanded Linnas's return since 1962) and the people of Estonia against whom Linnas allegedly perpetrated war crimes in 1941. See United States v. Linnas 527 F Supp. 426, 431 (E.D.N.Y. 1981). To admit the right of the Soviet Union to judicially prosecute and try an Estonian citizen for alleged crimes committed in German-occupied Estonia while at the same  moment professing adherence to a doctrine of non-recognition is hypocritical. The deportation of Linnas to the U.S.S.R. is contrary to international law and tends to support the widespread notion that international law is an intellectual exercise unsuited to the realities of world politics, Marek notes that it is not the existence of illegal acts which forms the supreme challenge to international law. Rather, it is the possibility of such acts giving rise to legal titles on equal footing with lawful acts. Marek, supra note 106, at 544. Sir Arthur McNair has pointedly stated that "it is idle to think that mere non-recognition will solve the problem (of illegal seizure of territory) and operate as an adequate sanction . . . there is a danger of its becoming a slogan which will serve as an excuse for thinking that an effective method of preventing breaches of international order has been discovered and that no further action is required beyond a declaration of non-recognition." McNair, The Stimson Doctrine of Non-recognition, Brit. Y.B. Int'l 74 (1933) (cited in Marek, supra note 106, at 561). Pursuant to Robinson's letter, a United States Immigration Judge ordered Linnas' deportation to the Soviet Union on April 9, 1985. In Re Linnas, (United States Immigration Court, Apr. 9, 1985). For the first time in United States legal history, a judge made a finding that the Soviet Union had succeeded to the sovereignty "of a district where alien resided and from which came," i.e., the Republic of Estonia. Id at 2. Despite the protests of the legally recognized representative of the Republic of Estonia, Consul General Ernst Jaakson, the United States had, for the first time since 1940, sanctioned the right of the Soviet Union to decide the fate of a Baltic citizen. See also Mathews, An American Trial for Karl Linnas, Washington Post Aug. 30, 1986 at A28 col. 1.
The decision by the court to ignore the protests of the Republic of Estonia's recognized diplomatic representative is particularly shocking in light of judicial precedents in this area. In the well-known case of Delany v. Moraitis, 136 F.2d 129 (4th Cir. 1943), concerning a Greek sailor liable to deportation to Nazi-occupied Greece, the court was faced instead to England where the Greek Government-in-exile was based. Overruling the district court's decision to deport the sailor to his occupied homeland, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided to order his deportation to the United Kingdom:
It is true, of course, that the term "country" as used in the (immigration) statute must be construed, ordinarily, to refer to the territory . . . But a man's "country" is more than the territory in which its people live. The term is used, generally, to indicate the State, the organization of social life, which exercises sovereign power within the territory occupied by its people; but a different situation is presented when the territory is overrun by its enemies and its government is in exile in the territory of a friendly nation exercising power in international matters in behalf of its nationals. In such cases, the government in exile has taken over the only exercise of sovereign power left to the people of the country and is the only agency representing the country with which a foreign government can deal. Id. at 130-131.
Unfortunately, the Linnas case is not unique. The United States Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations, is currently involved in several de-naturalization or deportation proceedings of Baltic or former Baltic citizens. Many of these Baits may soon face deportation to the Soviet Union. See United States v. Palciauskas, 734 F.2d 624 (11th Cir. 1984); States v. Kairys, 782 F.2d 1374 (7th Cir. 1986); United States v. Kungys, No. 83-5884, slip opinion (3rd Cir. June 20, 1986); Maikovskis v. I.N.S., 773 F. 2d 435 (2d Cir. 1985); Laipenieks v. I.N.S., 750 F.2d 1427 (9th Cir. 1985); United States v. Virkutis No. 83 Civ. 1758 (N.D. III. 1983); In re Kalejs, No. A11-655 361 (Immigration Court Miami, Fla.); United States v. Trucis, 89 F.R.D. 671 (E.D. Pa. 1981) (refusing to prevent taking of depositions in Latvia). For an overview and analysis of the use of Soviet evidence supplied to the United States Department of Justice for use in the denaturalization and deportation of alleged collaborators with Nazi Germany, see S. P. Zumbakis, Soviet Evidence in North American Courts (1986). 
569 McDougal & Reisman, supra note 510, at 18 (1981 Supp.).
570 Comment of Dr. Norman J. Paddleford, Professor of International Law, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, quoted in Briggs supra note 5, at 89.