Latvia: alleged undue use of criminal proceedings against human rights defenders Ieva Raubiško and Egils Grasmanis (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Latvia on 2 March 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government replied on 28 April 2023.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication Read the Government's response


Topic: alleged undue use of criminal proceedings against human rights defenders Ieva Raubiško and Egils Grasmanis.

Ms. Ieva Raubiško and Mr. Egils Grasmanis are human rights defenders and members of I Want to Help Refugees (Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem – GPB), an association which grew out of a Latvian social movement which emerged in response to increased arrivals of asylum seekers in Europe in 2015 and 2016. The association offers practical and immediate support, including assistance with integration, to refugees and asylum seekers in Latvia.


On 10 August 2021, through the Law on Emergency Situation and State of Exception (Par ārkārtējo situāciju un izņēmuma stāvokli, hereafter, the ‘Law’), Latvia introduced a state of emergency in four administrative territories near the country’s border with Belarus. The state of emergency empowered the State Border Guard to return to Belarus third country nationals crossing the border irregularly without any prior assessment on their individual circumstances and their protection needs and without providing them with the possibility to lodge claims for asylum, effectively legalizing summary collective expulsions, a practice incompatible with the State’s obligations under international and regional human rights law and refugee law. The Law provided for the use of physical force and “special means” by the Border Guard in order to oblige migrants/foreign nationals to return to Belarus in cases where they deemed to have crossed the border irregularly. The Law also restricted access to the border areas affected for members of civil society, journalists and international organisations, including UNHCR, and the Latvian Ombudsperson.

In April 2022, the Law was amended to re-permit the possibility of making asylum claims at the immigration detention centre in the city of Daugavpils and at border crossing points, with the possibility to make claims remaining frustrated at all other points along the land border with Belarus. At the time of finalising this communication, the state of emergency remains in place, having been repeatedly extended since its inception. According to the Ministry of Interior, at least 9,652 migrants, including asylum seekers, have been “deterred from crossing the State border illegally” since the state of emergency was imposed [1]. The regime and its impact on human rights, in particular the rights of migrants, have been criticised by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner [2], UNHCR [3] and the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs [4], among others.

On 31 December 2022, Mr. Grasmanis received information about a group of five Syrian nationals who had arrived in Latvia seeking to apply for asylum. At least one of them was in need of medical attention, and upon learning of their location, Mr. Grasmanis called the emergency medical service to inform them of their situation. After receiving medical care, all but one member of the group were obliged to cross the border back to Belarus without having been permitted the opportunity to apply for international protection and without any prior assessment on their individual circumstances and their protection needs.

In early January 2023, the members of the group of Syrians who had been forced to leave Latvia contacted I Want to Help Refugees asking for help and authorising Ms. Raubiško to raise their case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Members of the group told I Want to Help Refugees that they had been present at the Latvian-Belarusian border since mid-December 2022 and had been pushed back and forth between Latvia and Belarus by state authorities on more than 10 occasions during that period. Ms. Raubiško subsequently applied to the ECtHR for interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court to prevent their summary expulsion from the country. On 11 January 2023, the group sent I Want to Help Refugees photographs of themselves in front of a border post in Latvian territory. In one of the photos, the members of the group held handwritten notes stating their desire to apply for asylum in response to risks to their lives in their country of origin. Ms. Raubiško shared this information with the ECtHR, who ordered interim measures in respect to the group of Syrian nationals on the same day, however all of them were forcibly returned to Belarus.

On 12 January 2023, Ms. Raubiško and Mr. Grasmanis travelled to the border area where the group of asylum seekers had been, committing an administrative offence under the State of Emergency in the process. The group of persons seeking to apply for asylum had indicated their intention to return to their previous location in Latvia, and Ms. Raubiško and Mr. Grasmanis went to ensure they would not be forcibly returned to Belarus. When the group of asylum seekers arrived in Latvia, Ms. Raubiško and Mr. Grasmanis gave them food and water and immediately called the State Border Guard and emergency services. Upon the arrival of the authorities, two members of the group of asylum seekers were taken to hospital for treatment, while the others, along with Ms. Raubiško and Mr. Grasmanis, were taken to the closest Border Guard post.

Upon arrival at the Border Guard post, Ms. Raubiško and Mr. Grasmanis were interviewed by a member of the Criminal Investigation Service of the Border Guard and informed that criminal proceedings were being initiated against them for their potential engagement in organising the ‘illegal movement of a group of persons across the state border’, under article 285, part 2, of the Latvian Criminal Code. Their phones were confiscated by the investigators and they were released, being ordered to present themselves to provide testimonies in the case at a later date. At the time of finalising this communication, the investigation into the two human rights defenders has been transferred to investigators in Riga and remains ongoing.


In the communication, we express our serious concern as to the opening of the criminal investigation against Ms. Raubiško and Mr. Grasmanis, which we strongly fear to have been initiated in direct response to their legitimate acts of solidarity with asylum seekers, undertaken with the sole aim of seeking to prevent human rights violations.

We also wish to underline our serious concern as to the continuing state of emergency in the border region with Belarus, in particular in relation to its violation of human rights – most prominently the human rights of migrants and the right to seek asylum – and possible facilitation of grave human rights violations by State authorities, as well as its impact on human rights defenders seeking to monitor the human rights situation in the affected areas.


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