This text is the transcription of the speech devoted to the activities of ADC Memorial with real examples of the fight against discrimination. It was prepared as an alternative evaluation of the situation of human rights in Russia to be presented before the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament in Brussels on September, 19.
The parliamentarians were interested in the information from independent Russian NGOs, including ADC Memorial (on discrimination) and the Information and analytical centre SOVA. The director of SOVA, Alexander Verkhovsky, presented centre’s evaluation of the situation with xenophobia and nationalism in the Russian society.
ADC Memorial thanks the workers of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), representative of ADC Memorial and SOVA-centre in Brussels, Olena Prystayko, and the workers of the Subcommittee, especially Emma Achili, for the opportunity to present our analytical information on a very high international level.
Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”:
Lack of effective remedies against discrimination in Russia
The Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” is a human rights organisation advocating for the discriminated people. The main goal of the organisation is to overcome discrimination at the state level, provide recommendations on improving anti-discrimination laws in Russia, and oppose racism and all kinds of intolerance in the society. Our organisation helps victims of discrimination due to their ethnicity, citizenship or place of origin. Discrimination often co-exists with their vulnerable social state and lack of official documents, especially for the Roma, migrants or stateless people. We oppose different types of discrimination that exists in the Russian society. We pay special attention to the problems of complex discrimination and discrimination against children.
We generalise the information of the discrimination cases and experiences gained during the human rights monitoring in the reports ‑ thematic investigations of certain areas of violation. These reports give general understanding of violations in Russia and contain recommendations for the Russian authorities and international institutions on how to improve the situation.
For example, in 2008 we published a report “Discrimination and violations of Roma children’s rights in schools of the Russian Federation.” In this report, we discussed the problems of forced evictions and demolition of Roma houses. Although our recommendations were not fulfilled, the state structures step-by-step admitted, that practice of forced evictions is illegal. Unfortunately, legal guarantees are still not enough and often, the situation depends on the will of the local authorities. Any legal activities related to the land require state’s agreement and permission. It also means that Roma often fully depend on political will and social status in a region. For instance, in the Tyumen region, a wealthy oil-producing region of Russia, ADC Memorial managed to agree with a construction company about free, new houses for a Roma settlement. Even in this case, when the socially responsible business wanted to help, the process of finding land was very difficult. Xenophobic speeches of the local population against Roma influenced the municipal authorities when making the decision.
Constant threat of demolition makes the situation in Roma settlements only more unstable and provokes violations of other socio-economic rights. The problem of forced evictions influences, particularly, the state of Roma children and their right to education, as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has stated in his speeches (for instance, his last speech on Roma migrants in Italy). In the legal case filed by ADC “Memorial” in Tambov, the applicants – Roma parents – had to withdraw the application after the local authorities threatened to demolish their houses.
According to Russian administrative practice, the lack of registration often limits the realisation of many socio-economic rights, like medical aid, benefits, pensions, labour rights and children’s right to education.
The school education of Roma children was presented in 2009 in the report “Discrimination and Violations of Roma children’s rights in schools of the Russian Federation.” A number of violations of Roma children’s rights in schools, the practice of segregation and recommendations on creating a complex integration program were discussed in the report. However, the situation of realisation of Roma children’s rights to education is still very bad, and there are very few examples of effective, positive activities of the authorities. There is no state program for the integration of Roma children. The situation is even worse in the regions, because of the omission and indirect discrimination. As a result, ADC “Memorial” has to admit, that the majority of Roma children in Russia do not finish secondary school. A large number of children do not receive primary education either. If they do, the level of knowledge usually does not reach the state educational standards and does not allow to continue the education.
Last year, a new report “Discrimination in the Enjoyment of Social and Economic Rights by Ethnic Minorities and Migrants in Russia” was presented at the spring session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. That report focused on the situation of migrant workers in general and Roma migrants in particular in Russia, and the discrimination these two vulnerable groups face in accessing social and economic rights.
Migrants, particularly those in irregular situations, also face abuse and exploitation by employers, such as confiscation of passports, unlimited working hours, lack of payment of wages and fines. They do not benefit from health insurance or health care, despite the fact that they often carry out dangerous work (for example, cleaning ice and snow from roofs.) Nobody is responsible if migrants are injured at work. Filing complaints to the court is not an effective remedy, because of bureaucratic reasons. For example, obtaining evidence of a written contract for many migrants is impossible.
Besides that, the number of violations by police and law-enforcement agencies towards migrants and stateless people is only increasing. As we learned during the monitoring, there are federal and regional interdepartmental cooperation plans on fighting against illegal migration. They are not published, but in fact, give the employees of the law-enforcement agencies unlimited power to arrest, search and prosecute migrants. These plans require schools and medical institutions to report about illegal migrants. For instance, ADC “Memorial” had learned that schools have to make lists of students who are illegal migrant and bring them to the Federal Migration Services. They do not abide by the laws of protection of personal information. Many migrants do not go to these social institutions because of the fear of additional inspection. As a result, instead of strengthening the responsibility of the workers of the law-enforcement agencies, these decrees allow them to take any action, on the ground of fighting against illegal migration. Recently, the media reported about the initiative of some deputies in the Russian Parliament to prohibit migrants to bring their families, which is contrary to the principle of family unity.
The general situation is characterised by impunity for violations of the rights of migrants. Migrants are frequently victims of xenophobic assaults, lacking protection from the police and the justice system in general.
The reports contain information on double discrimination against Roma migrants: the Roma-Mugat from Central Asia and Roma-Magyars from Ukraine, who come to Russia and face many difficulties, as well as violations of their socio-economic rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living, housing and health. They often become targets for police raids.
The case Lakatosh and others v. Russia, recently solved by the European Court for Human Rights, shows the poor situation of stateless Roma rights. The applicants complained, with the help of ADC “Memorial”, about the illegal detention in the Deportation Centre. Russia admitted that migrants were detained in inhumane conditions and subjected to degrading treatment. The only crime that they committed was a lack of documentation confirming their citizenship. Since neither Russia, nor Ukraine, the country they came from, considered them to be their citizens, the applicants were constantly put into detention centres, which were in fact, prisons. Russia admitted the violations and agreed to pay significant compensations to the applicants and now, at last, is planning to close the detention centre.
Thus, evaluating the situation with protection against discrimination in Russia, we should emphasise the general lack of anti-discrimination laws and effective legal remedies to protect the victims of discrimination. When explaining why there is no anti-discrimination law, Russia says that different laws contain anti-discrimination norms. However, in practice, these norms are only declarative and cannot be used as a basis for protecting real people, victims of discrimination. This statement is confirmed by a total lack of practice of anti-discrimination cases in Russian courts, as well as a number of cases when the court did not consider at all the discrimination toward the most vulnerable groups of people: ethnic minorities, especially the Roma people, migrants and stateless people.