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Discrimination against visual minorities, Roma, migrants and indigenous peoples: Russia’s record before the United Nations

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Russia’s record of racial discrimination is up for review by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On Thursday 14 and Friday 15 February, the Committee will hear Russian officials and engage in a dialogue to monitor the Russian Federation’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial (Saint-Petersburg) and the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (Moscow), with the support of International Partnership for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), have provided the Committee with evidence through a public report.

This review is an opportunity for the UN monitoring body to call on Russia to reform its anti-discrimination legislation and revise its policies to end harassment and racially-motivated violence targeting visual groups and minorities. It is also an opportunity for the submitting organizations to call on the Russian authorities to engage with and support the work of activists, human rights NGOs and the anti-racist movement in combating racism and discrimination in society and at state level. “It is time for Russia end shameful state policies that harm the most vulnerable groups living in the country as well as counterproductive pieces of legislation. Racial stereotypes and consequent discrimination are a plague that Russia must eliminate” said SOVA Center director, Alexander Verkhovsky. “Roma, migrants from Central Asia and people from the Caucasus region suffer from both social stigma and state discrimination. It is a state duty not only not to tolerate this social stigma, but to combat it actively and to support those who fight against it” Olga Abramenko, ADC Memorial Director, added.

This report demonstrates that Russia’s existing laws, policies and programs have failed to curtail racial discrimination against visual groups and minorities such as migrant workers, Roma and indigenous peoples. Indeed, in some areas there has been a retrogression marked by increased discrimination against members of these groups. Abuses range from arrests and detentions by law enforcement agencies, discrimination at work and segregation of children belonging to ethnic minorities, to xenophobic statements in the media and hate crimes. This not only shows that the Committee’s concerns and recommendations from the previous reporting period in 2008 have gone largely unheeded by the Russian Government, but also that Russia continues to violate its international bligations under the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination.

Police harassment of and violence against visual groups and minorities
The report submitted to the Committee gives extensive evidence on the specific targeting of visual groups and minorities by Russian police. Ethnic profiling persists and people from the Caucasus and Central Asia are particularly targeted. Racially motivated abuse towards students from Africa, Russian citizens and refugees is commonly perpetrated by private individuals and groups and is also a frequent occurrence in police detention and in the prison system. Surveys carried out by ADC “Memorial” show that migrants perceive abuse by law enforcement representatives to be a primary threat to their lives, health and well-being. For more information, see ADC Memorial report with the support of FIDH here.

Migrant workers exploited
The report also sheds light on the fact that while Russia remains one of the largest recipients of migrant workers, it fails to protect these workers against serious forms of discrimination. Migrant communities endure extreme discrimination in employment, partly due to the burdensome process of obtaining work permits. Those workers failing to obtain the papers needed to stay and work in the country become victims of exploitation by both intermediary employment agencies and employers. The report contains several examples of the abuse of migrant workers rights, which on certain occasions can be equated to modern day slavery.

Abusing “anti-extremist” legislation: combating the defenders of minorities instead of violent nationalist groups
The report also shows that the Russian Government has failed to adhere to the Committee’s recommendation to give primary consideration to combating violent extremist organizations and their members in applying the Law on Combating Extremist Activities, and article 282 of the Criminal Code. Anti-extremist legislation continues to be used to impose unnecessary restrictions on civil society organizations and minority religious groups. There were numerous cases of unjustified criminal prosecution of religious followers using anti-extremist legislation during the reporting period. Indeed, opposing hate crimes, hate speech and non-violent forms of discrimination has been “immersed” in the term “anti-extremism” and these broad legal definitions are often used to target activists.

Roma: social stigma and state discrimination
Inhabitants of Roma settlements are subjected to expulsions, followed by the destruction of houses, without the provision of alternative accommodation. Moreover, the unregistered status of homes in Roma settlements is often used as an administrative ‘pressure point’ on members of the community. The segregation of Roma children in the education system also remains a persistent problem. Such children predominantly study in separate classes and schools – a discriminatory procedure often approved and supported by local authorities and school administrations. For more information click here.

Indigenous peoples: no legal implementation of special rights (territories, compensations, education and employment)
The Government’s apparent lack of commitment to non-discrimination is also displayed in treatment of small indigenous peoples who endure harsh social and economic conditions. The report shows that these persons experience problems in all key areas of life, including access to education, healthcare, employment and housing. Education levels among indigenous communities are exceedingly low compared to the rest of the population, and experts emphasize the difficult situation in preserving national languages.

No progress without a proper anti-discrimination legal framework
ADC Memorial, SOVA Center, International Partnership for Human Rights and FIDH call on Russia to:

  • stand by its international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
  • take all necessary measures to create an adequate domestic legal framework that will allow the direct application of the Convention by local judicial and administrative bodies, followed by the adoption of comprehensive government programs at federal, regional and local levels, to meaningfully facilitate the integration of ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples and migrants into a modern Russian society;
  • actively support activists, human rights NGOs and the anti-racist movement, in order to allow them to counter racism and discrimination in the Russian Federation.

ADC Memorial, SOVA Center, International Partnership for Human Rights and FIDH see Russia’s review by the UN Committee as an opportunity to highlight the shortcomings in Russian legislation, law-enforcement and justice sectors, and to issue concrete recommendations to put an end to widespread discriminatory practices that amount to degrading treatment, lead to segregation in Russian society and too frequently fuel hate crime.

Review of the Russian Federation by the UN Committee on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:

ADC Memorial/ SOVA Center report, with the support of the International Partnership for Human Rights and FIDH

Russia’s official report


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