Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Lithuania became independent again in 1991 after more than 50
years of occupation by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(U.S.S.R.). The United States Government, which had refused to
recognize Lithuania's forcible incorporation into the U.S.S.R.
in 1940, reestablished formal diplomatic relations with the
Lithuanian Government in September, and the Soviet Union, like
many other states, recognized Lithuania's independence. In
September Lithuania joined the United Nations.
In January and in August, Soviet authorities attempted to
overthrow the elected Government of Lithuania. On January 8,
Communist-organized protests, including a mob attack on the
Parliament building, led to the resignation of Prime Minister
Kazimiera Prunskiene. On January 10, Soviet military and
security forces, claiming that they were protecting Soviet and
Communist Party property, seized the central publishing house
and several other premises in Vilnius, the capital city. Three
days later, they forcibly took over the central television
tower in Vilnius, killing 13 civilians and injuring scores of
others. A shadowy National Salvation Committee declared itself
the legitimate government of Lithuania.
Despite the results of a referendum on February 9 in which 90
percent of the voters approved Lithuania's independence, Soviet
military and security forces continued to harass Lithuania,
capturing young Lithuanian males for induction into the armed
forces, seizing additional government buildings, attacking and
burning Lithuanian border posts, and beating and sometimes
killing customs and police officials. When the attempted coup
against Soviet President Gorbachev began on August 19, Soviet
military troops took over some communications and government
facilities in Vilnius and other cities but returned to their
barracks when the coup failed. The Lithuanian Government then
banned the Communist Party and ordered confiscation of its
Lithuania is a parliamentary democracy. An elected, unicameral
legislature, the Supreme Council, passes laws and selects
government ministers. The Chairman of the Supreme Council,
Vytautas Landsbergis, serves as Head of State. The Government,
consisting of a Council of Ministers headed by a Prime Minister,
exercises executive authority with parliamentary approval.
Lithuania adopted a temporary Constitution in 1990, which is an
amended version of its 1938 constitution. A new constitution
is being drafted and will be voted on in a national referendum
when completed.
The primary law enforcement organization is the Lithuanian
police, which replaced the militia of the Soviet period. Until
independence, Soviet militia forces. Interior Ministry troops,
and the Committee for State Security (KGB) were present in
Lithuania in large numbers and continued to monitor the
Lithuanian population.
Lithuania enjoyed a higher standard of living than many of the
former Soviet republics. Nevertheless, the general Soviet
economic decline affected Lithuania, leading to economic
inefficiencies, shortages, and some rationing. In 1991 the
Lithuanian Government announced plans to establish a market
economy. To this end, the Parliament passed preliminary
legislation on privatization, investment, and banking, and the
Government began a program to raise prices to reflect market
The human rights situation in the first 8 months of 1991 was
characterized by severe Soviet repression, including harassment,
detentions, and killings which occurred against a backdrop of
rising aspirations of the Lithuanian populace for national
independence and full sovereignty. Following the failure of
the attempted coup in the U.S.S.R. in August, the Lithuanian
authorities fully took over the apparatus of government and put
into effect a number of laws intended to protect the rights of
citizens. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and
religion are provided in law and respected in practice. Concern
was expressed that the rights of the Polish minority may have
been infringed by the suspension of local government bodies;
the Lithuanian authorities say that there is no discrimination
in law or practice against ethnic Poles or other minorities.
The foreign press has reported on the rehabilitation of some
persons alleged to have been involved in crimes against
humanity during the period of Nazi occupation; the Lithuanian
Government has asserted that they are rehabilitating only
persons charged under Soviet law with anti-Soviet crimes, and
that persons charged with crimes against humanity cannot be
rehabilitated without a full review of those charges.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of such killings by Lithuanian
During their campaign to seize government and other buildings
from the Lithuanian authorities, Soviet military and security
forces on January 13 assaulted the central television tower in
Vilnius, killing 13 Lithuanian civilians and injuring many
others. Soviet military and civilian authorities refused to
cooperate with the Lithuanian Procurator General in
investigating these deaths. The U.S.S.R. Procurator General's
office issued its own report on the January killings, blaming
the deaths on "armed Lithuanians" operating in the environs of
the television tower.
Later in the year, Soviet security forces attacked Lithuanian
border posts on several occasions. In one such incident on
July 31, seven Lithuanian police and customs officials at the
Medininkai border post were killed. Despite investigative
efforts by the Lithuanian Procurator's office and promises of
assistance from Soviet authorities, the perpetrators were not
identified. During the August coup attempt, a Lithuanian
Parliament guard was killed by Soviet soldiers who forced their
way onto the grounds of the Parliament. Two Soviet soldiers
were seized by Lithuanian security forces at the scene and
await trial; a third reportedly escaped.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reports of abductions or disappearances caused by
Lithuanian officials.
According to Lithuanian authorities, Soviet military patrols
before the recognition of Lithuanian independence forcibly
abducted several Lithuanians of draft age for induction into
the Soviet armed forces. At that time, many Lithuanian men
refused to submit to the Soviet military draft and were
encouraged by the Lithuanian Government not to respect Soviet
draft laws. The Soviet authorities generally refused to
disclose the whereabouts of these men for some time, but all
have been released and have returned to Lithuania, as have all
Lithuanian troops previously serving in the Soviet army.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although such practices were prohibited under Soviet law,
Lithuanian officials and citizens report many instances in
which Soviet military and security personnel subjected numerous
Lithuanians, detained on various grounds, to brutal beatings
and degrading treatment. In some cases, the victims had to be
hospitalized and suffered permanent injury. Soviet security
personnel also reportedly beat Lithuanian customs officers
during attacks on border posts.
Lithuanians who were imprisoned by Soviet authorities,
particularly political prisoners, were harshly treated. They
commonly suffered physical and psychological abuse and were
detained under extremely unhealthful conditions. Since
reestablishing its independence, Lithuania has made serious
efforts to improve such conditions.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Before independence Soviet military and security authorities in
Lithuania detained a nvimber of persons without warrant,
including the Lithuanian Defense Department head, a member of
Parliament. Lithuanian law forbids arbitrary arrest,
detention, or exile. There were no reported instances in which
Lithuanian authorities engaged in such activities. Police may
detain a person for up to 72 hours based upon reliable evidence
of criminal activity. At the end of that period, a warrant
must be approved by a magistrate and a decision made whether or
not to make a formal arrest. The authorities have a total of
10 days in which to present a prima facie case. The right to
an attorney reportedly exists from the moment of detention.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Soviet legal practices prevailed throughout much of the year,
but Lithuania began to establish its own control over the
judicial apparatus through appointments and elections of
procurators and judges without approval from Moscow. Until the
August coup attempt, this basic division was reflected in the
existence of two procurators general: one appointed by the
Lithuanian Parliament, and the other by Soviet authorities.
A defendant has the right to counsel. While there does not
seem to be a public defender system as such, a new association
of private lawyers has been formed. No political trials are
known to have taken place in 1991.
Lithuanian government efforts to rehabilitate persons charged
with anti-Soviet crimes led to reports that some people alleged
to have been involved in crimes against humanity during the
Nazi occupation were also benefiting from this rehabilitation.
Because of the international attention to this issue, however,
a special judicial procedure has been established to examine
when a crime against humanity may have been involved and whether
or not the person was ever formally charged with this offense.
Such persons may not be rehabilitated until their cases have
been fully reviewed.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence.
Prior to independence, the Soviet security apparatus continued
to operate openly in Lithuania, employing informers and
technical means to monitor correspondence and telephone
conversations in selected cases. These practices ceased with
the end of Soviet rule. Except in cases of hot pursuit or the
danger of disappearance of evidence, search warrants are
required before police may enter private dwellings.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech is widely respected in Lithuania. Despite
Soviet seizure of the central publishing house and radio and
television stations in January, the non-Communist Lithuanian
media were able to find alternate facilities to continue
publishing and broadcasting, albeit with reduced circulation
and broadcasting area. Free Lithuanian television programs
were broadcast from studios and transmission facilities in
Kaunas, except when Soviet troops briefly seized these sites
during the August coup attempt. According to the Government,
there is no exercise of prior restraint over either print or
broadcast media and no restriction on disclosure, save for
cases of national security. However, the press itself has
complained of various forms of restraint on its freedom and has
undertaken strikes and demonstrations to publicize its cause.
There are no private or independent radio or television
stations, although the Government and the Parliament are
discussing the establishment of independent media outlets.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Lithuania witnessed a large number of mass meetings and public
gatherings without interference from Lithuanian or Soviet
authorities. According to the Ministry of Justice, there are
currently no laws that prohibit or restrict public gatherings,
even on the grounds of public order. Large numbers of
Lithuanians stood vigil outside the Parliament in Vilnius on
numerous occasions, especially during the January events. Mass
gatherings also took place on the occasion of funerals for
those who died in January and July. The Lithuanian Popular
Front, Sajudis, held several large rallies in Vilnius without
incident, as did Lithuanian trade unionists and supporters of
the Soviet presence in Lithuania.
The 1990 basic law respects the right of Lithuanians to
associate freely, requiring only that they inform the Government
of large gatherings or demonstrations. The authorities are
working on regulations for the issuance of permits. However,
the Lithuanian Parliament on August 22 outlawed the Moscowbacked
Communist Party in Lithuania in light of its activities
in January and August and seized Communist Party properties.
It also banned other organizations associated with the Soviet
occupation authorities.
      c. Freedom of Religion
There have been no arbitrary restrictions on the exercise of
religious freedom since the declaration of independence. The
Government recognizes no state religion and actively supports
religious diversity. The former Jesuit college in Kaunas was
reestablished, and numerous Catholic churches around the country
were reopened. A Jewish Culture Center was established in
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Before Lithuania achieved full independence, Soviet authorities
possessed the means to exert control over movement within and
into the country but generally did not interfere with such
movement. Since recognizing Lithuania's independence, Soviet
border control personnel have worked closely with Lithuanian
authorities to monitor cross-border traffic. Under Lithuanian
law, Lithuanian citizens are permitted movement within,
and return to, Lithuania.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Lithuania is now a parliamentary democracy. There are no
political parties as such, but the members of Parliament are
divided according to groups. At present there are nine groups,
and more are likely to be formed. They differ on matters of
ideology, national identity, and personal or political loyalty.
Nearly all derive from the Sajudis movement, which was a broadly
based, proindependence and proreform movement that led the
nation to independence. Elections are called by Parliament at
5-year intervals and are freely conducted by secret ballot
available in the Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish languages.
Suffrage is universal. There was one byelection in 1991, and
one local election is slated for March 1992.
There are no restrictions on women's participation in politics
or government.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Lithuanian authorities actively encouraged international and
nongovernmental human rights groups to travel to Lithuania to
bear witness to the effects of Soviet repression as well as to
investigate allegations of Lithuanian mistreatment of
minorities. Members of the U.S. Commission on Security and
Cooperation in Europe visited Lithuania on several occasions,
as did members of international human rights organizations.
According to the Lithuanian Government, several domestic human
rights groups have already been registered, and more are
expected to follow.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
The Lithuanian Constitution prohibits discrimination based on
race, sex, religion, or ethnic background. Non-Lithuanian
ethnic groups, comprising about 20 percent of the population,
include Russians, Jews, and Poles.
Relations between Lithuanian authorities and non-Lithuanian
communities, especially the sizable Polish community in Vilnius
and the southwest region of Lithuania, are strained. In the
spring, representatives of the Polish community voted to
establish a Polish autonomous region in Lithuania which the
Government of Lithuania declared illegal. After the August
coup attempt, Lithuanian authorities removed local officials
elected in the regions inhabited by a majority of Poles,
alleging that they had worked closely with Moscow and supported
the coup attempt. Lithuanian administrators were appointed
pending the election of new officials. Although a date for new
local elections has not been announced, the Government has
indicated that they must be held by September 1992.
Non-Lithuanians, especially Poles, have alleged job and salary
discrimination based on the imposition of Lithuanian-language
requirements. A new citizenship law went into effect on
December 11, 1991. While ostensibly nondiscriminatory in its
precepts, the law mentions "Lithuanian origin" in establishing
claims to citizenship, which could work against ethnic Poles or
Russians who apply. The Polish community has also expressed
concern over Lithuanian proposals to redraw administrative
boundaries to break up predominantly Polish territorial units.
This idea has since been dropped by the Lithuanian authorities.
The Constitution provides the same rights for women as for men.
Women also possess significant maternity and day-care benefits.
Official policy specifies equal pay for equal work. However,
in Lithuanian society in general, there are inequalities based
on sex. Women are underrepresented in the political leadership,
in some professions, and in the still emerging new management
Statistics are not available on the incidence of abuse directed
at women. Fledgling women's rights organizations are attempting
to increase public awareness of women's issues in the country.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Prior to the August coup attempt, Lithuanian workers remained
largely subject to Soviet labor law, which did not permit the
right to associate freely in practice. The Lithuanian branch
of the U.S.S.R.'s All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions
adapted to the trend toward Lithuanian independence by renaming
itself the Confederation of Free Trade Unions. However, by its
own admission, its membership is 70 percent Communist. In
January Communist-backed unions struck briefly in support of
Soviet authorities. During the August coup attempt, the
Confederation did not denounce the plotters. A genuinely free,
independent trade union called the Lithuanian Workers Union
(LDS) which emerged in 1990 was permitted, following the failure
of the coup attempt, to take over the headquarters that the
Government had confiscated from the Confederation. A third
grouping that is close to the Social Democrats also emerged in
Since the coup, Lithuania has adopted legislation reconfirming
the right of workers to form independent unions and, with
certain restrictions, to strike. However, the LDS maintains
that its organizing efforts are still hampered by the holdover
Communist managers in many enterprises.
On October 4, Lithuania was formally readmitted to the
International Labor Organization.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Under Soviet law, Lithuanian workers did not have the right to
organize outside the official trade union system, and free
collective bargaining did not exist in practice. Lithuanian
legislation since the coup confirms the right to organize and
bargain collectively, but plant level bargaining is only in its
infancy. Since the economy is still predominantly in the hands
of the State, the unions seek redress at the political level.
There are no export processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor.
Compulsory labor was a feature of Soviet-administered prisons
in Lithuania; it has since been banned.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Government has retained the minimum age for employment of
children at 16, and it has added 1 year to compulsory education,
bringing the total to 12 years of schooling. Lithuanian
authorities enforce minimum age and compulsory education laws
through a system of inspections.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Labor conditions in Lithuania were similar to, but sometimes
better than, those in the Soviet Union. According to known
Soviet statistics, wages in all categories of workers in
Lithuania were above the Soviet average. By law, white-collar
workers enjoy a 40-hour workweek; blue-collar staff, a 48-hour
workweek with premium pay for overtime.
Soviet and Lithuanian laws establish minimum health and safety
standards for the workplace. However, worker complaints
indicate that these standards seem frequently to be ignored.