The human rights agenda has never been a priority to the country. Only recently have some aspects of human rights become an integral part of the Government programmes; however, a consistent assessment of Government programs suggests that they are declaratory and does not end with the systematic inclusion of human rights issues on the political agenda. It is true that the problem of domestic violence, identified in the Program of the Fifteenth Government, has received significant attention from political figures and the public-at-large, leading to the adoption of the Republic of Lithuania Law on Protection against Domestic Violence, which addresses at least part of the issue of domestic violence by offering victims a package of social services. This is just one of the few examples where the issue of the protection of human rights has reached the agenda of the Government and the Seimas, but many others have remained outside.

Human rights activists are very concerned about issues of concern to people with disabilities that are not on the government’s agenda or do not receive the attention of the Parliament or the President. For example, the amendment to the Law on Social Enterprises, which was signed by the President, among others, was opposed by the largest network of non-governmental organisations representing the interests of persons with disabilities and was criticised by prof. Jonas Ruškus, who highlighted that the State allocates seven times more money to social enterprises than to the people with disabilities working in the open labour market. Unfortunately, the competition for the policy agenda on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market has been won by force behind the amendments to the Law on Social Enterprises.

Vytautas Valentinavičius

Scientists argue that the involvement of non-governmental organisations and civil society is not enough to put problematic issues on the political agenda, there is a need for policymakers to be more aware, able to listen and be determined to take real actions to solve problems. Recognition by political actors that the problem is relevant is a prerequisite for putting the social issue on the political agenda. Unfortunately, problems of people with disabilities have not received such recognition in the country. This disregard for social problems is reflected in the plethora of unresolved issues related to the integration of people with disabilities into the labour market, the adaptation of educational and scientific institutions to persons with disabilities, and the provision of service infrastructure. The existence of unresolved human rights problems is also confirmed by the fact that the commitments made by the country in 2007 after the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are not relevant to the political agenda makers. According to the data of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, the country lacks schools that are fully adapted to students with physical disabilities, and the integration of such students into the school community is not only a burden on the school, teachers, but also classmates and their parents. Taking care of minors and later grownups become a real challenge for the parents, affecting their career prospects and ultimately having a major impact on their retirement income, which is extremely poor due to parents' inability to participate in the labour market. These are just a few examples when part of the society (according to various figures, there are over 300,000 people with disabilities in the country) is not heard, and the social issues it raises are not on the political agenda.

The protection of human rights is a cornerstone of the ongoing policy agenda in the Nordic countries, to which Lithuanian foreign policymakers align themselves, creating the old/new welfare state model, but forgetting the welfare state concept - that it is a social welfare system based on values, including respect for rights and freedoms.

Protinė negalia
Foto: Shutterstock

In the name of truth, it should be mentioned that the struggle between policymakers, stakeholders is not only about issues that should be on the political agenda, but also issues that should remain behind; therefore, it should not be surprising that issues of integration of persons with disabilities remain outside the agenda. For example, Lithuanian Railways has expressed its reluctance to implement the regulation adopted in 2007 by the European Parliament and the Council obliging trains and platforms to be adapted for people with disabilities, including information systems for the hearing or visually impaired, trying to justify itself that it is a heavy economic burden – extremely large expenses that would have had to be covered the very same year.

In response to these arguments, Henrika Varnienė, Director at Lithuanian Forum for the Disabled, asks “Where have you been before? After all, the Regulation was adopted back in 2007.” Yes, both the Regulation was adopted, and the Disability Convention ratified in 2007, so can we be proud of the achievements in this area? The public agenda is a fierce battleground surrounded by intricate rules well known to lobbyists of informal institutions (such as corruption, lobbying). For example, in their article, A. Lašas and V. Jankauskaitė draw attention to “the influence of corruption scandals and other external shocks on the processes of party behaviour and political agenda formation”. In Lithuania, different interest groups play a key role in shaping the political agenda and influence policymakers through the use of various power tools.

Vytautas Valentinavičius

The idea that human rights and freedoms create no added value is becoming more and more prevalent in Lithuania; therefore, human rights issues are “pulled out” only when implementing foreign policy - joining international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or preparing reports to the United Nations Organization regarding fulfillment of the international obligations of the country; however, neglected in the formation and implementation of the domestic policy of the country. This is also confirmed by the Foreign Minister’s Linas Linkevičius constant urge not to forget the country’s commitments by urging Lithuania to ratify the Istanbul Convention signed in 2013, on which the Commission “Democracy through Law” (the Venice Commission) of the Council of Europe has already expressed its opinion, emphasizing that the Istanbul Convention builds on the commitments already made by States and highlighting importance of its role in combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The day is coming when Lithuania will pursue its ambitious goal of becoming a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2022-2024, where the highest political leaders and members of governments of the United Nations member states will be able to present human rights policy guidelines and violations of discussing human rights. Lithuania has embarked on a candidacy campaign and therefore this ambitious goal, which will allow Lithuania to become more prominent member of the international community, can be a great opportunity for different groups of the society to raise social issues and draw the attention of policymakers to the importance of shaping the human rights agenda first of all in Lithuania.