ADC “Memorial”: 10 years of fighting discrimination

On January 29, 2007 we decided to establish a new organization, the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial.” This January we are celebrating our 10th anniversary and looking back at the results of our first decade of work. In fact, our work to protect the rights of discriminated minorities began before ADC “Memorial” was formally established and has continued since the official closure of this organization in Russia in 2014 (the latter being the consequence of our refusal to execute the court decision, obliging our organization to list itself in the registry of “NGOs performing functions of foreign agents”). Our work, which preceded the establishment of ADC “Memorial”, such as protection of the rights of the Roma population of northwestern Russia and then various other discriminated groups, had been previously carried out within the framework of the human rights movement “Memorial” since 2000. In 2003, we started publishing a quarterly newsletter covering our activities, which we also continue to produce now.

However, what is of real importance is not the formal establishment of a new legal entity 10 years ago, but rather the emergence of the vision, mission, and very name of the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”, which has come to symbolize various activities aimed at upholding the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups, as well as opposing racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of xenophobia.

The fundamental principle of ADC “Memorial” is as follows: “The necessary condition for observing the rights of each person is non-discriminatory treatment in guaranteeing all these rights”. Thus we also declare the universal nature of an anti-discriminatory approach to all the rights of all people in all spheres of life.

Some people argue that discrimination is but a special case of human rights’ violations, a highly specialized area of human rights activities. In fact, this is not so, and that is why the very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Equal rights means a complete rejection of discrimination – whether we talk about equality between men and women, equality of peoples and nations, or equality of people representing any social group, religious persuasion, gender, sexual orientation, language, or culture.

Equality is a positive value, the ideal nature of which also contributes to some vagueness of the concept, because people can remain different in their height, strength, prosperity, health, or social status, and all this somehow blurs the principle of total equality. The principle of the prohibition of discrimination in access to human rights and of ensuring the dignity of every human being is much clearer and easier to understand: no matter where and in what circumstances a person was born, regardless of the features given by nature or culture, regardless of whether the person is poor, noble, or strong, access to basic human rights and recognition of human dignity must be secured and protected.

Unfortunately, both the positive declaration of equality in dignity and rights and the “negative” demands of prohibiting discrimination (which exist in many national legal systems and a number of international conventions and declarations, such as the Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and others) still remain an unattainable ideal. In most countries, career, wealth and power are unevenly distributed between men and women, as women receive less education, rarely reach high positions, and are much less likely than men to participate in politics. Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity remains a burning issue: this topic only begins to break through the wall of denial, silence, and repudiation of the equal value of people with different understandings of their gender roles and sexuality. Racism, ethnic discrimination and nationalism have also not become history yet, same as the false notion of the superiority of one nation over another, which has cost humanity so many lives and so much suffering.

Discrimination against people based on their nationality (or statelessness) is also one of the most global problems: people born as citizens of wealthier countries receive many more rights from the very beginning of their life compared to those who are less fortunate, not to mention the millions of inhabitants of our planet who at the time of their birth did not become citizens of a particular country. Universal principles of human rights and protection from discrimination formally apply to all, but in reality it is very difficult to prove a violation of the rights of people who do not have any documents.

ADC “Memorial” provides legal defense in courts to stateless persons, who are illegally kept in detention centres for foreign nationals (although deportation of stateless persons is not possible), protects HIV-positive foreigners against discrimination, defends the right to education of persons with disabilities, and struggles against the discriminatory “list of professions banned for women”.

We pay considerable attention to the protection of the rights of Roma people, who continue to suffer from various forms of systemic discrimination. Our 2015 report on the situation of Roma – victims of the war in Eastern Ukraine, was supplemented in 2016 by a photo report “For today, they don’t seem to be shooting…”

We also draw attention to the vulnerable situation of LGBTI people suffering from homophobic harassment in the territories beyond the control of Ukrainian government, and we prepared the special report “Violation of the rights of LGBTI people in Crimea and Donbass”.

We have prepared various reports on gender discrimination for the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which deal with the situation in the Russian Federation, Armenia, Belarus and Ukraine. In these reports we raised issues of women’s rights’ violations in labor sphere and problems of vulnerable groups of women – members of minorities and migrants.

The complex and multifaceted phenomenon of labor migration in the former Soviet Union was analyzed in the new human rights report “The Rights of Migrant Workers from Former Soviet Countries: Real-Life problems and Unfulfilled Obligations”.

ADC “Memorial” enters the second decade of its existence having overcome many difficulties and continues to develop its work in a number of countries in an effort to cover the whole range of problems related to combating all types of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, nationality, sexual orientation and gender identity, statelessness, and state of health (or based on any other reasons that lead to the restriction of the right of each and every person to equal rights and dignity).

The future belongs to a world without discrimination!