US Congress Hears Roma Rights Abuse Concerns in Russia
16 December 2004
On September 23, 2004 ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova, Open Society Institute consultant Leonid Raihman and the Russian Romani activist Alexander Torokhov testified at a briefing on Roma in Russia before the US Helsinki Commission in Washington DC, a body comprised of US Congresspersons engaged on human rights in US foreign policy. At the hearing the ERRC Director presented a summary of the main conclusions of ERRC monitoring, contained in a 36-page document submitted to the Helsinki Commission prior to the hearing. (The full text of the written submission on the human rights situation of Roma in Russia, provided to the US Helsinki Commission, is available at: www.errc.org). Issues documented in the course of ongoing ERRC research include:
- Torture and Ill Treatment of Roma by Law Enforcement Officials
- Arbitrary Police Raids on Romani Settlements
- Abduction and Extortion of Money by the Police
- Racial Profiling by Police and Other Officials
- Discrimination against Roma in the Criminal Justice System
- Denial of Fair Trial in Cases in which Roma are Accused of Crimes
- Denial of Access to Justice
- Hate Speech against Roma in Russian Media
- Lack of Personal Documents
- Obstructed Access to Social and Economic Rights
- Blocked Access to Education
- Denial of Access to Adequate Housing
A selection of the most recent cases of violence and discrimination against Roma in Russia documented by the ERRC follows:
In early September 2004, according to information provided to the ERRC by local monitors, law enforcement officials invasively and without regard to fundamental rights and civil liberties conducted a sustained campaign of surveillance and intrusion in several Romani communities in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. Police officers searched anyone who left their houses and arbitrarily took Roma to the police station. The operations were allegedly carried out in the context of fighting terrorism, in the wake of the September 1-3 school hostage bloodshed in Beslan, North Ossetia. According to ERRC sources, due to the massive police presence in the Romani settlements, at the time of this writing, Roma live in terror and do not dare to leave their homes. Several Romani families have called local Romani leaders and human rights activists to ask for their help in providing them with essentials such as food. Unidentified police officers allegedly state that the reason for the police presence in the Romani communities is intelligence information that terrorists are disguised as "Gypsies".
- According to information provided to the ERRC by the Ekaterinburg-based organization "Roma Ural", on August 26 and 27, 2004, police and Special Purpose Police Units (OMON) carried out two successive raids on the Romani community in the city of Revda, Ekaterinburg region:
- At around 11 PM on August 26, armed men in civilian clothes stormed into all of the houses in the Romani neighborhood, breaking doors and windows and using foul language. The attackers pointed automatic rifles at the residents, struck them with the butts of their rifles and forced everyone – men, women and children – to lie face down on the floor. The attackers did not identify themselves, nor did they present any search warrants. Roma who asked about the identity of the attackers who raided their homes were allegedly beaten and verbally abused in response. One Romani man was shot in the leg when he attempted to defend his family, by threatening the attackers with a toy-gun. Several attackers then forced the man to the floor and beat him with the butts of their rifles. The man's invalid mother was also hit when she approached the attackers and pleaded with them to stop beating her son.
Without asking any questions, the attackers rushed around the houses and detained an unidentified number of Romani men. After the attackers left the Romani settlement, Romani women – the wives and sisters of the detained – went to the local police to look for their relatives. They were not provided with any information about the whereabouts of their relatives. Romani women interviewed by "Roma Ural" testified that while waiting in front of the police, they could hear people crying out from inside, apparently as a result of being abused physically. They also witnessed police officers entering the building of the police station with bottles of vodka and beer. At around 4 AM, all detained Roma were released.
When the raid on the Romani houses began on August 26, some Roma thought that the attackers were gangsters and called the police. The police allegedly refused their requests for help. After the raid, Roma claimed that valuables including mobile telephones, as well as personal and other documents were missing from their houses. On August 27, some Roma attempted to seek help from the local hospital. When doctors understood that the Roma had been beaten by the police and security forces, they allegedly refused to treat them.
On the following night – August 27 – the police conducted a second raid in the same Romani quarter. Between 11 PM and midnight, police officers arrived in the Romani neighborhood. Many Roma, fearing another night of sustained violence, had left their doors open to prevent the police from breaking them again. The officers, again in plain clothes, stormed the houses and forced people to lie face down on the floor, but this time they did not beat anyone. No one was detained and the police left shortly afterwards.
According to the testimony of Roma from Revda, several days after the raids, they learned that the police had been looking for a young Romani man suspected of the murder of one Russian woman and an 8-year-old Russian girl. Witnesses to the murders had allegedly testified that the perpetrators were a Russian man and a Romani youth. Inhabitants of the neighborhood said that during the previous year there had been a similar raid, following the murder of a Russian man. Later, it was found that the perpetrator was of Russian ethnicity.
- On March 4, 2004, the district court of Promyshlenny district of Smolensk sentenced Mr. Roman Kozlov, 26, Romani man from Smolensk, to 14 years imprisonment for murder. The decision of the court was appealed on March 4, 2004 by the attorney, Mr. Suhih, before the regional court of Smolensk. On May 25, the regional court of Smolensk repealed the decision of the first instance court and ordered the first instance court to try the case again with a new jury.
The case related to a killing in 2002 in Smolensk. On April 30, 2002, an unknown person stabbed Ms. Polyakova to death and seriously injured her son, Mr. Igor Polyakov, as well as Mr. Mikhail Tarnavskiy, in the house of the Polyakovs in Smolensk. On September 28, 2002, Mr. Tarnavskiy identified Mr. Roman Kozlov as the perpetrator of the murder. Before the court, Mr. Tarnavskiy stated that prior to the identification procedure he had been given Mr. Kozlov's photo by the police and this fact had influenced him to identify Mr. Kozlov. At a later stage of the investigation, Mr. Tarnavskiy retracted his initial testimonies and declared that he had made a mistake when he identified Mr. Kozlov as the perpetrator of the murder. In written statements submitted to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, the President of the Russian Federation, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Russian Federation, and the media Mr. Tarnavskiy declared that Mr. Kozlov had not committed the murder. In a letter to Mr. Lukianov, Russian MP, Mr. Tarnavskiy stated that he had been subjected to psychological pressure and harassment by the police and the prosecution organs once he had decided to state that he had made a mistake when he identified Mr. Kozlov as the perpetrator of the murder. He filed complaints to the district and regional prosecutors' offices of Smolensk pertaining to his victimization by police and prosecutors.
Furthermore, Mr. Igor Polyakov, the second witness –who himself subsequently died of his wounds inflicted by the perpetrator – in his testimony provided on May 1, 2002, shortly before his death, did not identify Mr. Kozlov as the offender. According to the description provided by Mr. Polyakov, the offender's name was "Sasha" and the offender was well known to Mr. Polyakov. According to Mr. Polyakov, the perpetrator was between 30 and 40 years old, while Mr. Roman Kozlov was 26 at the time of the killing.
In addition, an eyewitness confirmed that on the day of the murder, he and Mr. Roman Kozlov had been fishing in a nearby village. The prosecution did not refute Mr. Kozlov's alibi.
From the case file, it is evident that Mr. Kozlov's fingerprints were found on a glass jug in the house approximately one year after the murder, following an order from the prosecution dated April 7, 2003. According to an expert invited by the defense, fingerprints cannot be discovered one year after they have been left on an object, unless the object is examined in a special laboratory test. No such test was undertaken during the instant case.
In addition to the controversial evidence presented by the prosecution as purportedly attesting to the guilt of Mr. Kozlov, the criminal investigation was thwarted by numerous procedural violations, but the defense lawyer's complaints about these violations were ignored. For example, on June 16, 2003, prior to the court hearing scheduled on that date, Mr. Tarnavskiy, who had been subpoenaed to testify before the court, was abducted. According to Mr. Tarnavskiy's testimony, the kidnapping was carried out by police officers. The abduction allegedly had as its the purpose postponing the court hearing until the entry into force of expected amendments to the Russian Criminal Procedure Code allowing the admissibility of witnesses' and victims' testimonies provided during the investigation, even in the absence of the consent of the person concerned. Furthermore, the two witnesses assisting the police during the identification procedure were not independent from the police as stipulated by the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation. One of them had been an intern in the police department and was appointed to the department on the very day of the identification, and the other one was a plaintiff in a case being investigated by the same police department. The identification procedure itself had allegedly been biased. Mr. Tarnavskiy, who was charged with identifying the perpetrator, was presented in the police line-up with three persons – Mr. Roman Kozlov and two individuals of Azeri origin. The Azeris' physical appearance was completely different from that of Mr. Kozlov.
Both the lawyer and the family of Mr. Kozlov believe that Mr. Kozlov is innocent and that the police, the prosecution and the court have collaborated to fabricate a case against Mr. Kozlov. According to Mr. Kozlov's family, the police picked Mr. Kozlov because of his Romani ethnicity. The ERRC also learned that Mr. Kozlov's first defense lawyer was forced to abandon the case because of threats he had received by telephone.
On August 26, 2004, at the time of the meeting between the ERRC and Mr. Kozlov's lawyer, the mother of Mr. Tarnavskiy called to say that her son had been found unconscious on the staircase in front of his home. According to the mother, Mr. Tarnavskiy was injured on the back of his head. Mr. Tarnavskiy was in emergency care in the hospital and still unconscious when the ERRC left Smolensk. He died of his head injury on September 8, 2004.
The ERRC also presented oral and written submissions on the human rights situation of Roma in Russia at two OSCE conferences in September. Materials gathered under ERRC Russia programming is currently being compiled for an ERRC Country Report.