ERRC Submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture concerning the situation of Roma in Russia

13 November 2006

On 26 April 2006, the European Roma Rights Centre submitted concerns to the United Nations Committee Against Torture concerning the situation of Roma in Russia, timed for ongoing review of Russia's compliance with international law banning torture and cruel and degrading treatment or punishment. The full text of the submission appears below.

Honourable Committee Member,

The European Roma Rights Centre (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. Since its establishment in 1996, the ERRC has undertaken first-hand field research in more than 20 countries in Europe and has disseminated numerous publications, from book-length studies to advocacy letters and public statements. The ERRC has been monitoring the situation of Roma and other pariah minorities in Russia since 2000, and since 2003 it has been involved, with partner organisations, in comprehensive human research extending to most of Russia's regions. ERRC publications about the Russian Federation and other countries, as well as additional information about the organisation, are available on the Internet at www.errc.org.

The ERRC respectfully submits herewith In Search of Happy Gypsies: Persecution of Pariah Minorities in Russia (Hereafter "ERRC Russia Country Report"), a comprehensive report on the human rights situation of Roma and others regarded as "Gypsies" in the Russian Federation, published by the ERRC in May 2005, for consideration by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (the Committee) at its 37th session, 6-24 November 2006. The ERRC Russia Country Report focuses on a range of issues, many of them central to the mandate of the Committee. The ERRC hopes that Committee members will review carefully the enclosed materials.

ERRC concerns in Russia with respect to the matters proscribed under the Convention include but are not necessarily limited to:

(i) Individual cases in which extreme breaches of Convention rights have been documented; in most such cases of which we are aware, perpetrators remained immune in whole or in part from prosecution, and victims remain as a rule entirely precluded from just remedy;

(ii) A climate and public culture of tolerance of or even promotion of Convention harms, as a result among other things of the generalised failure by Russian authorities to prosecute Convention harms; to condemn Convention harms publicly; or to indicate in any way to perpetrators, victims and/or the public at large, that they undertake to end Convention harms on the territory of the Russian Federation;

(iii) A climate and culture of extreme racism, tolerated by media, public officials and others, giving rise to extreme instances of racially motivated crime, in many cases involving the death of the victim, and giving rise to the concern that acts banned under the Convention may occur for reasons of racial discrimination;

(iv) Gender-based Convention harms, arising from the extreme subordination of Romani women in the Russian Federation, and perpetuated by the failure by Russian authorities to act adequately if at all to end extreme practices such as the abuse of women – including in particular minority women – by public officials, as well as widespread practices of domestic violence, including domestic violence in the Romani community;

For convenience, as well as by way of update since the Report's May 2005 publication, the ERRC provides below a summary of some cases of relevance to the Committee's mandate that the ERRC is currently monitoring:

Romani woman died in unclear circumstances in the police station

On 24 May 2002, Ms Fatima Aleksandrovich, a 23-year-old Romani woman, died in the hospital in Pskov, northwestern Russia, apparently after having been physically abused by police officers in the local police station. According the police, Ms Aleksandrovich had been trying to steal a purse in the bus. She was therefore detained and taken to the local police station. On the same day, the police informed Ms Aleksandrovich's common- law husband, that his wife had attempted to commit suicide by jumping out of a third floor window at the police station and that she was in coma in the hospital. She died four days later. Ms Aleksandrovich's corpse had numerous bruises on her arms, inner thighs and neck. The family of the victim filed a criminal complaint urging the Pskov Prosecutor's Office to begin a criminal investigation into the death of Ms Aleksandrovich. However, no official investigation was initiated. The failure to launch criminal investigation was appealed twice, without success. Despite a number of complaints submitted by the ERRC, together with local counsel, to the Pskov City Court, the Prosecutor's Office refused to open a criminal investigation. In August 2005, the ERRC, together with local counsel, submitted an application in the European Court of Human Rights alleging violations of Articles 2, 3, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Further information on the case is available at pp.66-67 of the ERRC Russia Country Report.

Police officers killed Romani man

On 3 August 2001, 37-year-old Mr V.V. Yeryomenko was taken to the police station in Khimki, a town in the Moscow region, and beaten to death after being stopped in the street for a routine identity check. Two police officers took Mr Yeryomenko and his neighbor to the police station in Khimki. There, the two officers reportedly started beating Mr Yeryomenko with truncheons and fists all over his body, while calling him "Gypsy". Approximately three hours after he had been brought to the police station, Mr Yeryomenko died in one of the detention cells. Mr Yeryomenko's wife was reportedly offered an implausible explanation of the circumstances surrounding her husband's death, and was allegedly told, that "police officers could not, in any case, be prosecuted for killing." In this case, the perpetrators were prosecuted and in April 2004 they were sentenced to seven years imprisonment. However, the sentences were suspended. Further information on the case is available at pp.67-68 of the ERRC Russia Country Report.

Degrading treatment during pre-trial investigation

On 23 November 2000, police officers detained Mr S., suspected of being under the influence of drugs. Mr S. reportedly told the officers that he had purchased the drugs from one Ms Stepanova, a Romani woman. On the next day during a so called "test purchase" of drugs, special police force officers detained Ms Stepanova. During the arrest procedure, the officers beat Ms Stepanova on her head and face and kicked her. At the police station, the officers reportedly kept Ms Stepanova outdoors undressed and handcuffed, apparently in an attempt to force her to confess to crimes. Ms Stepanova was then body-searched by a male police officer without witnesses. Despite the fact that Ms Stepanova was illiterate, she was not provided with a defence attorney until 28 November 2000, when she was first identified as a suspect. The conclusions of the drug analysis were communicated to Ms Stepanova in the absence of her attorney despite her illiteracy. During pre-trial detention, Ms Stepanova and her attorney sent several appeals each to various courts requesting that she be allowed to be released from custody during the trial period, as she was the only adult who cared for her four underage children. All appeals were reportedly rejected. On 16 May 2002, the Taganskiy district court of Moscow found Ms Stepanova guilty and sentenced her to six-years-imprisonment and ordered that her property be confiscated. Denial of fair trial and other human rights violations, including inhuman and degrading treatment, were the basis for a complaint submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in 2003. Further details of the case are provided at pp.107-109 of the enclosed ERRC Russia Country Report.

Demolition of Romani houses in Kaliningrad Region

In February 2006, authorities in the Kaliningrad region (Northwest Russia) sent bulldozers to demolish the houses of Romani families in the village of Dorozhny, Kaliningrad region. The forced evictions undertaken by the authorities have resulted in the homelessness of four Romani families, including children and women.1 This situation was aggravated by the severe weather conditions in the Kaliningrad region at this time of the year. Reportedly, before and after demolition local TV program "Kaskad" repeatedly described Romani people living the Dorozhny village as "drug dealers" and "criminals".2 On 24 February 2006 the European Roma Rights Centre sent a letter to the Governor of Kaliningrad region urging him to intervene and stop inhuman treatment of Romani families in the Dorozhny village of Kaliningrad. The ERRC expressed concern that the demolition of Romani Houses in Kaliningrad had exposed Romani families to forced homelessness in violation of international human rights law. As of April 25, 2006, there has been no response from the Governor. The ERRC is continuing to monitor the situation with Romani houses in the village of Dorozhny.

Arson attacks in Siberian town

In Iskitim, Novosibirsk region, on 14 February 2005, approximately 20 individuals attacked and burned a number of Romani houses. According to reports, the assailants, who reportedly arrived in several jeeps and departed by the same means, managed to destroy entirely around 10 dwellings in the course of the attack. After the incident, almost all Romani inhabitants fled the town due to fear of further attacks. Victims stated that fire engines and ambulances tried to reach the village, but traffic police officers prevented them from doing so. During the whole incident, despite clear and evident awareness that the attacks were ongoing, law enforcement officials and municipal authorities reportedly did nothing to prevent them. Similar acts of violence against Romani houses in Iskitim had reportedly also taken place in December 2004, in January and in April 2005. During the course of criminal investigations in 2005 seven perpetrators have been detained. However, on 10 November 2005, another two Romani houses were burned in the outskirts of Iskitim. In result, Ms Zaikova, 32-year-old Romani woman sustained severe injures and her 7-year-old child Zhanna died three days later due to the arson attack. Law enforcement bodies and the local municipality have done little or nothing to prevent further arson attacks on Romani houses and racial violence against Romani people. Remarkably, according to local human rights activists the district prosecutor stated on local TV that "arson attacks were done in interest of local people who suffer a lot from Romani drug dealers; perpetrators are already identified however they will not be persecuted." At the same time, a local officer from the local branch of Gosnarkokontrol (State Drug Control Service) confirmed that the woman injured due to the arson attack in November 2005 was not engaged in drug dealing. In March 2006 the prosecutor's office finished the investigation and submitted the cases in the court, however no racial motivation has been found during the investigation so far. The ERRC is providing legal representation in the case.3 Further information on the case is provided on pp.122-124 of the ERRC Russia Country Report.

An abusive raid in Ural region

On August 26, 2004, Russian police and Special Purpose Police Units (OMON) carried out a raid on the Romani community in the city of Revda, Sverdlovsk region. 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 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. 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 (a local Romani NGO) testified that while waiting in front of the police station, they could hear people crying out from inside, apparently as a result of being abused physically. At around 4:00 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. Further information on the case is provided on pp.80-81 of the ERRC Russia Country Report.

The ERRC notes that Romani women are particularly vulnerable to abuses banned under the Convention, and that Romani women are victims in a high number of the cases the ERRC is monitoring in Russia involving extreme forms of degrading treatment by public officials.

The ERRC also notes that public officials are extensively implicated in Convention harms as a result of the complete failure to date by Russian law enforcement officials to challenge extreme forms of degrading treatment of Romani women taking place in the home and community, harms including but not necessarily limited to serial and systemic domestic violence and child marriage. The ERRC knows of no instances in which persons have been prosecuted for Convention harms as a result of these practices, and in all cases of which the ERRC is aware, all persons, including alleged perpetrators and implicated public officials, enjoyed full or partial impunity. Further information on cases is provided on pp.61-89 of the ERRC Russia Country Report. The ERRC also notes that human rights defenders challenging Convention abuses are also exposed to extreme threats in Russia. A recent case involved Mr Boris Kreyndel, Director of the Human Rights Commission, a Tomsk-based human rights non-governmental organisation, which has been providing the Romani victims of the pogroms in Iskitim, detailed above, with legal aid since the beginning of 2005. In 2006, unknown persons began to harass and intimidate Mr Kreyndel, among other things threatening to force his underage daughter to become addicted to drugs. These persons repeatedly glued leaflets in the centre of the city, falsely accusing him of drug dealing. They also defaced the wall of his house with a swastika. Mr Kreyndel submitted a statement to the local prosecutor's office, requesting investigation into the case, however the prosecutor of the Soviet District of Tomsk refused. In April 2006, Mr Kreyndel was forced to leave the region and relocate with his daughter elsewhere in Russia.

Since publication of the ERRC Russia Country report in May 2005, there have been no official responses from the authorities to the report and its contents, despite wide distribution of the report by mail to many governmental and non-governmental institutions. However, following publication of the report, several local Romani activists have been summoned by prosecutors to discuss matters related to cases included in the report. Also, reportedly, in some areas, for example, in Novokuybishevsk, Samara region, police have at least temporarily ceased abusively raiding Romani settlements.

  • In light of the above, and based on findings included in the Country report, the ERRC recommends that the Government of the Russian Federation undertake the following measures:
  • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, allowing thereby visits to places of detention under the jurisdiction and control of the Russian Federation by an independent body;
  • Implement in practice the prohibition of obtaining testimony by coercion under Article 302 of the Criminal Code and ensure that Article 9 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits anyone involved in criminal proceedings from being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, is respected, and any and all breaches punished; 
  • Ensure that evidence obtained by means of torture and ill-treatment is not admitted in any proceedings;
  • Ensure that all detainees are guaranteed prompt access to a lawyer following arrest, as stipulated in the Russian Constitution; 
  • Investigate promptly and impartially incidents of violence and abuse of Roma by law enforcement officials, as well as any acts implicating the Convention in which law enforcement officials may have been directly or tangentially involved, or about which they may have had the possibility to know, and prosecute the perpetrators of such crimes, as well as all other implicated parties, to the fullest extent of the law; 
  • Ensure that Romani victims of Convention harms who lodge complaints are effectively protected against intimidation and reprisals.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of the ERRC concerns, as outlined here and detailed in the ERRC country report. Please do not hesitate to contact us in any connection.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Endnotes:

  1. The ERRC notes that in November 2005, the UK House of Lords ruled, regarding the proper interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights Article 3 ban on cruel and degrading treatment or punishment as incorporated into UK law via the 1998 Human Rights Act, that acts forcing persons into penury or impoverishment may rise to the level of degrading treatment in the sense of Article 3. The case involved refused asylum seekers being severed from social benefits. In the case, the Law Lords held that the test for whether the margin was crossed was whether the treatment to which the asylum seeker was being subjected by the entire package of restrictions and deprivations that surrounded him was so severe that it could properly be described as inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3, and that the threshold might be crossed if a late applicant for asylum with no means and no alternative source of support, unable to support himself was, by the deliberate action of the state, denied shelter, food or the most basic necessities of life. As soon as an asylum seeker made it clear that there was an imminent prospect of a breach of Article 3 because the conditions that he was having to endure were on the verge of reaching the necessary degree of severity, the secretary of state had the power and the duty under the Human Rights Act 1998 to act to avoid it. ([2005] UKHL 66).
  2. In the case Moldovan and others v. Romania (Applications nos. 41138/98 and 64320/01) the European Court of Human Rights reiterated that “discrimination based on race can of itself amount to degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention”.
  3. The ERRC recalls that in a case of similar profile, in a decision adopted on 21 November 2002, the Committee found Yugoslav authorities in violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and requested that they provide the victims with comprehensive redress, including fair and adequate compensation (Hajrizi Dzemajl et al. v. Yugoslavia, CAT/C/29/D/161/2000).

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