Racial - Profiling of Roma by Russian Militia - ERRC Urges Governor of Saint Petersburg to Stop Police Abuse of Roma

27 May 2004

On May 27, 2004, the ERRC sent a letter to Ms Valentina Matvienko, Governor of Saint-Petersburg, Russia, to express concern about recent police raids against Roma in Saint-Petersburg undertaken within the framework of an action called "Operation Tabor". According to information from local non-governmental organisations, militia chased and shot at Roma in the Obukhovo district of Saint-Petersburg. Militia also reportedly burnt two shanties where Roma, including pregnant women and children, had been living. The ERRC noted the prima facie racist character of the operation the title of which points explicitly to Romani ethnicity (insofar as "tabors" are Romani settlements) and indicated that racist actions by public officials violate international law. Earlier, in 2002, following similar police raids, also carried out as part of an "Operation Tabor", high-ranking Russian officials stated that such operations would not be repeated in the future. The ERRC urged the Saint Petersburg Governor to take immediate measures to end abusive militia operations against Roma. The letter was copied to Mr Leonid Bogdanov, Head of the Administrative Committee of St. Petersburg's Governor's Office. The full text of the letter follows:

Honourable Governor Matvienko,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse. The ERRC has submitted complaints to the European Court of Human Rights and has secured redress for victims in a number of cases of police abuse of Roma since the organisation was founded in 1996. The ERRC has also undertaken research in more than half of the countries of Europe and has published a number of reports and public statements concerning the situation of Roma in a number of European countries. Since 2000, the ERRC has been monitoring the situation of Roma rights in the Russian Federation through site visits, as well as with the assistance of a number of local monitors, based with partner organisations.

The ERRC is writing to express concern about recent police raids in St. Petersburg, undertaken within the framework of an action called "Operation Tabor", a name which points directly to Romani ethnicity (so far as "tabors" are Romani settlements) and is therefore apparently a prima facie racist action. According to the broadcast during the evening news on the channel "NTV Saint-Petersburg" on May 20, 2004, the militia of St. Petersburg started "Operation Tabor" allegedly in order to ensure the security of foreign tourists and protect them from possible robberies by "marginal elements". According to information by the Northern-Eastern Centre of Social and Law Assistance for Roma (Gypsies) which operates jointly with the non-governmental organisation Memorial, on May 21, Roma from the town of Beregovo (Transcarpathian region of Ukraine), who as of that date lived in the self-made huts in the Obukhovo District in St. Petersburg, were attacked by individuals in uniforms who were shooting firearms into the air. Officers reportedly demanded that the Roma concerned leave the site immediately. Militia also chased and reportedly shot at persons as they were trying to run away. Officers also reportedly burnt two small shanties where Roma, including pregnant women and children, had been living. Officers allegedly warned the inhabitants that on the following day militia would return, and all people would be expelled. In the morning hours of May 26, the same militia officers (from Militia Department No.29, according to the victims) detained Romani women and their children in the vicinity of Obukhovo and once again threatened them with expulsion and burning of their houses.

Explicit targeting of Roma by law enforcement officials violates a number of provisions of international law to which Russia is a party, including Article 2 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which states: "States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races, and, to this end: (a) Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to en sure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation; [...]", as well as Article 5 of the ICERD which states: "In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights: [...] (b) The right to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm, whether inflicted by government officials or by any individual group or institution; [...]". The United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination at its 62nd Session on March 3-21, 2003 urged the Government of the Russian Federation to take immediate measures such that law enforcement officials respect and defend the human rights of all individuals irrespective of their race, colour, or national or ethnical origin.

The ERRC is aware that in previous years, Russian authorities have undertaken similar actions, also entitled "Operation Tabor". The explicit use of a term widely associated with Roma indicates that not only were Russian authorities undertaking racial profiling and official actions resulting in human rights abuses, but also apparently there has been no intention whatsoever to mask the explicitly anti-Romani character of these actions.

In the wake of 2002 "Operation Tabor", the ERRC and partner organisations have repeatedly raised concerns related to "Operation Tabor". Following the 2002 operation, representatives of the organisation "Romano Kher", based in Moscow, met with Mr. V.A.Vasiliev, then-Deputy Minister of Interior (at present Deputy chair of the Duma) and Mr. E.N. Sidorenko, Deputy Minister of Justice, who promised that such operations would not be repeated in the future. In autumn 2003, the St. Petersburg-based organisations Memorial, Grazsdanski Kontrol, Committee of Human Rights Lawyers, the "African Unity", Minority Rights Group at the St. Petersburg Scientific Society, and the Harold and Selma Light Centre for Legal Assistance sent a letter to the Governor's Office of St. Petersburg expressing concerns related to the increase of the extremist and nationalistic sentiment in the city, directed in particular against Roma. In his response, Mr. L.P. Bogdanov, Head of the Administrative Committee of St. Petersburg's Governors Office assured the leaders of the non-governmental organisations that "...the issue of protecting rights and freedoms and the human dignity of citizens, irrespective of their status as St. Petersburgers or as guests of our city, or individuals without citizenship, will be under the constant control of the executive organs of St. Petersburg state authorities."

Honourable Governor Matvienko, the ERRC urges you to take immediate measures in order to end the abusive militia operations targeting Roma in St. Petersburg. We kindly request to be informed of any actions taken by your office in this regard.

Sincerely yours,
Dimitrina Petrova,
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Ms. Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko,
Governor of Saint-Petersburg
Fax: (812) 276 1827

Mr. Leonid Pavlovich Bogdanov,
Head of the Administrative Committee
of St. Petersburg's Governor's Office
Fax: (812) 276 1567

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