Roma Rights in Russia

The European Roma Rights Centre Remains Concerned about the Human Rights Situation of Roma in the Russian Federation

Statement on the occasion of Russian chairmanship of Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, October 3, 2006, Strasbourg


Contact:
Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, dimitrinapetrova@errc.org; +36 1 413 2200
Claude Cahn, Programs Director, ccahn@errc.org, +36 1 413 2200

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is an international public interest law organisation engaging in a range of activities aimed at combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma.

ERRC has been monitoring Roma rights in Russia since 2000, revealing an alarming pattern of human rights abuse of Roma and other people perceived as "Gypsies". In May 2005, the ERRC issued a comprehensive report on the human rights situation of members of these groups, entitled "In Search of Happy Gypsies: Persecution of Pariah Minorities in Russia". In this report, ERRC charged that violence by law enforcement officials, paramilitary and nationalist-extremist groups, and discriminatory treatment of Roma in the exercise of civil, social and economic rights are aggravated by the complete absence of governmental action to address these problems. ERRC stated that the magnitude of the abuse is only comparable to that of the perpetrators' impunity. The report contained a number of concrete recommendations addressed to the competent authorities of the Russian Federation.

In the year and a half following the publication of the ERRC report, the Russian authorities have attempted to follow up on some of ERRC recommendations. In certain regions, prosecutorial authorities have contacted Roma organisations and tried to verify the facts ERRC had alleged; and launched independent investigations in some cases reported by human rights organisations, including the ERRC. It appears that police and other law enforcement bodies, as well as administrative authorities have been instructed to refrain from abusive conduct when coming into contact with Roma.

However, the ERRC is concerned that new cases of grave human rights abuse have continued to be reported by Roma in Russia after the report's publication. For example, from May 29 to June 2, 2006, authorities bulldozed 37 houses belonging to Roma families and set fire to the ruins in the village of Dorozhnoe, in Kaliningrad region, thus condemning to homelessness more than 200 Roma, including over 100 children. Regional authorities began their eviction campaign by initiating court proceedings to have the Roma families' ownership of their homes declared void. In proceedings that violated fundamental standards of due process, the court issued decisions on May 3, 2006 rejecting the families' claims and opening the door to the forced evictions that would follow. Despite protests from international organisations, the Russian authorities continued the forced eviction, and destroyed all houses belonging to Roma in Dorozhnoe. Over a hundred of the displaced Roma, who had lived legally for long periods in their homes, were forced to live in tents and other temporary shelters and are being threatened with physical expulsion from their land. Others have fled elsewhere or been expelled from the area.

ERRC is concerned that this is not an isolated incident. Discriminatory evictions have been executed or threatened in Arkhangelsk, north-western Russia, Tula and Ulyanovsk in central Russia, and other places, and Roma fear that this practice will grow due to emerging economic and financial interests related to plots occupied by Roma settlements.

The following changes have been observed in the patterns of anti-Romani racism described by the ERRC in its May 2005 report:

Racially-motivated violence and abuse of Roma by law enforcement officials

Some local Roma organisations report that in the last year, police treatment of Roma seems to have improved. However, the ERRC is not aware of any prosecutions that have resulted in adequate punishment of perpetrators and/or relief for Romani victims of abuse in the cases reported until May 2005. Despite some commendable steps in the right direction, police abuse of Roma in Russia remains to date widespread, though frequently not reported directly to the authorities due to a combination of mistrust and fear that sadly remain the prevailing sentiment among Roma toward law enforcement bodies. Romani men and women are disproportionately targeted for document checks, arbitrarily detained and often subjected to ill treatment in custody.

Discrimination against Roma in the criminal justice system

Roma continue to be exposed to the interference of racism in the administration of justice. The frequent use by criminal justice officials of stereotyping implicating Roma in drug dealing indicates that the conduct of criminal proceedings against Roma is not free of racial bias. In a number of instances, criminal investigation against Roma and subsequent trial proceedings have been carried out in a manner incompatible with international and domestic human rights standards for fair trial. Roma who have suffered human rights violations by law enforcement officials as well as by non-state actors usually do not have access to an effective investigation of their complaints.

Abuse of Roma rights by non-state actors

In recent years, and especially in 2006, as nationalist-extremist movements have been gaining increasing popularity in Russia, violent attacks on Roma by skinheads and other formal and informal groups have been reported with disturbing frequency. In September 2006, a court in Belgorod, central Russia, convicted ten skinheads to different terms of imprisonment ranging from one to five years for a racially motivated attack against a Romani family which took place in August 2005. In April 2006, skinheads attacked a Romani group near Volzhskiy, Volgograd region, killed two and injured six people. The assailants were promptly detained and charged under Article 105 of the Penal Code, and motivation by racial hatred was invoked as an aggravating factor in the offence. While this is a significant positive example of a prompt and decisive law enforcement reaction, in general the protection provided to Roma by authorities against racially motivated violence remains inadequate.

Hate speech against Roma in the media

The Russian media continues to contribute to anti-Romani racism by creating a strong association between Roma and crime, and even by encouraging in some instances violence and discrimination against Roma. The central newspaper MK -Moskovskiy Komsomolets, for example, published on August 1, 2005 an utterly obscene article referring to the allegedly high birth rate of the Roma and their sexual and hygienic practices, describing the Roma as plainly subhuman creatures. The ERRC and local partners have since taken legal action in this case. As submitted in the ERRC report, the media continue to persistently identify Roma as the main actors in the Russian drug trade, using "drug dealer" and "Gypsy" interchangeably in reporting. Public officials do not condemn the dissemination of anti-Romani sentiments through the media and frequently themselves make statements which feed into the racist discourse against Roma. Cases of the latter type have been reported in Krasnoyarsk, Volzhskiy and other localities.

Access to personal documents

Roma continue to face difficulties in attempts to secure residence registration, which is a condition for access to a range of civil, political, social and economic rights. Such difficulties arise from arbitrary refusal of authorities to service Roma, as well as from failure by Roma to meet local officials' expectations of receiving a bribe in exchange for the service. At the same time, Roma are targeted for disproportionate checks of identity and residence documents by the police and failing to produce such, they are often subjected to ill treatment and extortion of money in place of legal penalties.

Abuse of Romani women's rights

As submitted in the 2005 Report by the EDRRC, Romani women occupy a special place in the popular racist perception of Roma in Russia. Romani women are frequently portrayed as possessing the power to hypnotise and manipulate victims with the purpose to commit robbery. These racist stereotypes often translate into abusive police actions targeting specifically Romani women, regardless of whether they are practicing traditional fortune-telling in the streets or begging or selling goods at the marketplaces. Violence and abuse of Romani women, whether committed by law enforcement officials, racist groups or in the family is usually unremedied because victims do not report cases due to fear of reprisals and shame within the community.

Romani children's right to education

The human rights situation of the Roma is aggravated by the weak economic position of the larger part of this minority. Although there are affluent families throughout the country, many Romani communities live in severe poverty and do not have access to basic social and economic rights. A large number of Roma live in settlements in substandard conditions. This set of factors, taken together with the failure of the authorities to ensure that schools are accessible for Romani children, have contributed to the exclusion of large numbers of Romani children from the education system. ERRC reiterates the concern expressed in the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (23/11/2005), "that children belonging to minorities, and in particular Roma children, are more likely to be restricted in the full enjoyment of their rights, in particular with regard to health and education services."

ERRC Appeal to the Russian Government

ERRC calls on the Russian authorities to provide leadership in counteracting racism and racially based discrimination, including against the Roma.

The Council of Europe has made it clear that racism must be condemned by any Member State, and it is therefore incumbent upon the Russian Federation to lead by example, and to properly address during its chairmanship all legitimate concerns voiced by independent observers.

ERRC once again urges the government of the Russian Federation to address the almost complete lack of legal provisions protecting against discrimination, and consider adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation complying with modern European standards set out, inter alia, in ECRI's General Recommendation No. 7 (2004), and in a series of European Union Directives. The Russian government must adopt such legislation in order to give effect to the right to non-discrimination which is protected by a number of major UN Treaties to which Russia is a party, and in view of ensuring to all, including Roma, equality of treatment and of opportunity without discrimination.

ERRC reiterates the Recommendations made by the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in its Third Report on the Russian Federation adopted on 16 December 2005 and made public on 16 May 2006, in particular Recommendations 100 and 101 pertaining to the issue of Roma.

ERRC reiterates its own Recommendations contained in its 2005 Report In Search of Happy Gypsies. Urgent measures must be taken to combat anti-Romani racism, particularly among the police force, the bodies of the judicial system, and local administrative bodies.

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