National frameworks to address hate crime in Estonia

This page provides information on the national frameworks to address hate crime in Estonia. The information provided here should be viewed alongside data presented on Estonia's hate crime report page.

Hate crime recording and data collection

Police officers use a generic form to record hate crimes. The Ministry of Justice has issued a guiding instruction, with the following criteria necessary to meet a definition of a hate crime: (i) the offence must correspond to a criminal offence or misdemeanour provided for by the Penal Code; and (ii) the perpetrator has chosen a specific attribute of the victim or target, such as race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, sexual orientation, or similar characteristic shared by a group of people. The police registration system enables police officers to mark a case as a hate crime by ticking a box. This "hate crime flag" is not restricted to hate crimes only, but is used to also mark other cases, such as hate speech incidents. The flagging of hate crimes is not mandatory. Three boxes are currently available to police officers for flagging hate crimes corresponding to the following three hate crime types:

1. Bias against race, religion origin;

2. Bias against sexual orientation and identity; and

3. Bias against other groups (disability and other social groups).

Methods for identifying hate crimes are described in an instruction prepared by the Ministry of Justice. Law enforcement agents can further mark a criminal case as having a "hate motive" in the electronic police database once the suspect has been identified. Thus, there are two ways to record a bias motive: via the hate crime flag and the motive box. Police officers are not required by law to define or select the motive.

All reported crimes are recorded in the "E-File" – an integrated central information system that provides all criminal justice bodies (including prosecutors and investigative bodies) with access to criminal files and enables the simultaneous exchange of information. Via the E-File, data entered into the Police Information System is simultaneously accessible by a prosecutor in the Criminal Case Management Register used by prosecution services. The entered information can be further used and changed by the prosecutor in the prosecutors' Register and sent if necessary to the courts information system (KIS). Later, the procedural information and the court decision can be delivered to the Information System of Prisons (VangIS). The E-File is also used to generate crime statistics, including on hate crimes.

Victimization surveys are conducted annually in Estonia.

Hate crime victim support

Estonia has transposed the provisions of the European Union's Victims' Rights Directive into its law, particularly the Code of Criminal Procedure. Its provisions require an assessment of victim's protection needs and the provision of protection measures. It mainly concerns investigation, prosecution and law enforcement.

The legal framework distinguishes specific categories of crime victims, including victims of violent crime, domestic violence, trafficking in human beings and other groups of victims. Some of these victims, which may include victims of hate crime, are then entitled to enhanced protection and specific support in line with the results of the assessment of a victim's individual protection needs. None of the existing laws specifically mention victims of hate crime among the categories of particularly vulnerable victims.

Victims can participate in the proceedings as a party and have corresponding procedural rights (such as the right to cross-examine witnesses or to give an opinion about the punishment proposed by the prosecutor). Victims can choose the level of their engagement (e.g., as a witness, or as a party to the proceedings). If a victim does not participate as a party to the proceedings, the prosecutor represents their interests, including, for example, the compensation claim.

All investigations are initiated ex officio, i.e., there are no private or victim-led prosecutions in Estonia. Victims can also file a civil action against the defendant, which is settled together with the determination of guilt of the defendant in the criminal proceedings. The victim has the right to a legal representative, to request legal aid, and to be accompanied at all stages.

Some risk assessments of victims are carried out, including for victims of domestic violence. However, there are no specific tools or guidelines for hate crime victims. Only some police officers have been trained and received materials and clear instructions on how to conduct this form of assessment specifically for victims of hate crime. There is also no systematic approach that would link each victim's risk or needs assessment (individual needs assessment – INA) with the determination of special protection measures, required support and referrals to support providers. Importantly, in the Eastern part of Estonia, there is a pilot project on "Advancing the Rights of Estonian Victims" that is implemented by Victim Support Europe. The purpose is to describe how an INA is done in practice, how to use the tools, and how to develop a referral system. Workshop participants have been planning to implement the learning from this project into practice in Estonia.

Some special protection measures are built into the Procedural Code and can be determined by the prosecutor based on communication with the police or Victim Support. It is not clear, however, whether and how the determination of protection measures is linked to the results of a police risk assessment or needs assessment undertaken by Victim Support Europe. It is also not clear how soon after the reporting of a crime such measures are put in place.

Victim support is managed by the Victim Support and Prevention Services Department (Victim Support) of the Estonian National Social Insurance Board, which is responsible for assistance to all crime victims in Estonia. They co-ordinate and support compensation claims and run a victim phone helpline (116 006), which provides information about rights and assistance, as well as a crisis counselling service.

The Victim Support website offers basic information about hate crimes and highlights the recourse to restorative justice solutions. Victim Support can provide ad hoc solutions for hate crime victims. However, there is no robust and transparent system for victims of hate crime, and no specific support mechanisms in place. Correspondingly, Victim Support experts are not specifically trained on a regular basis, and the overall awareness of hate crime remains low. Victim Support began keeping statistics of hate crime victims in 2020 in order to better understand the phenomenon.

Victim Support are based at police stations and victims can, in theory, be referred for a detailed needs assessment by a victim support specialist shortly after their intake and initial risk assessment by police. Victims can also approach Victim Support directly, including via their helpline or a direct consultation. In practice, there is no process or formalized questionnaire to assess the needs of hate crime victims; specific forms do exist for victims of domestic violence, and include a specific sheet filled out and attached to the file which is then transmitted to the prosecutor.

Within the police and Victim Support service, there is quite limited awareness of CSOs working specifically on hate crimes and with hate crime victims or communities that are at risk of being victimized. Police at the local level may know concrete organizations working with different types of victims, and know of providers of basic services; however, there is no systemic awareness or consistent mapping of organizations specifically working on discrimination and hate crime issues, or information about their availability and the services they offer. This is also compounded by the limited availability of services, as well as a lack of capacity within CSOs to provide support due to low levels of funding.

A referral system exists and all stakeholders are able to refer victims to general support services. However, there is no clear procedure or clarity on which organizations are able and trained to provide specialist care and assistance. CSOs participating in the workshop said that they do not have enough resources to provide specialist support to hate crimes victims.

Hate crime capacity building

Estonia implemented ODIHR's Training Against Hate Crimes for Law Enforcement (TAHCLE) programme in 2017. Estonia has applied the TAHCLE curricula and study materials to different police training courses, including to modules on community policing and on the protection of public order. The topic of hate crime was also included in a course on opening criminal proceedings in misdemeanour cases, which trains officers to recognize the signs of an offence.