August 2 – Roma Holocaust Memorial Day: a reminder about the past and a word of warning for the future

On August 2, 1944, almost three thousand of Roma were sent to the gas chambers in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz – Birkenau (occupied Poland). Just in 2015 a basic recognition of Romani victims was achieved and August 2nd was marked as a Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. But far not everyone knows that Roma mirrored the experience of Jews during the WW2 and faced all atrocities of these dark times, such as deportation to concentration and deaths camps, forced labor, sterilization, medical experiments and the gas chambers. According to the estimation, up to 500 000 Roma in Europe at that time were murdered due to their ethnicity.

Although the war experience of Roma after dozens of years received its own place in the collective memory, Roma communities are still excluded from the society. In the whole Europe, the far-right populism and anti-gypsism is raising, with the background of prejudices and stigmatization of their ethnicity. Roma in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia entangled in the vicious circle of structural discrimination are not only denied their social and economic rights, but their safety and even life appear to be in danger; they face racists statements, threats, attacks on Roma settlements.

Over the past year, several ethnic conflicts have been documented in various regions of Russia. These conflicts have shared the following features: Roma are accused of a cruel crime – fights/pogroms break out – Roma are forced to flee. In May 2018, a fight between Russians and Roma in the village of Ust-Abakan, Republic of Khakassia (southwestern Siberia), resulted in the death of a young Russian man. The village’s entire Romani population was forced to abandon their homes and flee because of threats of reprisals made by unknown persons. Over the following four days, local residents robbed Romani homes with the full connivance of members of law enforcement and the local administration. When the Roma returned to Ust-Abakan several months later, the local administration filed a claim to deem their homes unauthorized structures. The long trial did not end well for the Roma: On May 30, 2019, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia granted the administration’s claim and forced the Roma to demolish 13 homes as illegal structures, even though these homes were the only residences for the families who lived there. The administration did not offer the Roma any alternative options for resettlement.

In another case, fearing reprisals from Russians, almost 150 Roma fled the village of Urazovo in Belgorod Oblast in August 2018 after a Roma man was accused of a cruel crime. The accused man was given a 23-year sentence, but he was found dead in the maximum security prison in April, 2019. The results of a check conducted by the Investigative Committee, which was first reported by the media, are unknown.

On June 13, 2019, Romani people and other residents of the village of Chemodanovka, Bessonovsky District, Penza Oblast were involved in a mass brawl that ended in the death of a non-Romani man. After local residents took actions against Roma, the entire Roma population of Chemodanovka and nearby Lopatki was forced to flee for other regions of Russia. Almost 900 Roma were left without a permanent residence. In addition, 174 members of the Roma community were arrested as they attempted to leave Penza Oblast and were reportedly treated inhumanely. The authorities opened criminal cases against 28 Roma under various articles of the RF Criminal Code. At the same time, none of the village’s non-Roma residents were prosecuted, even though Roma were injured in the brawl. In addition, there is no publicly-available information about the search for or punishment of the people guilty of setting a Romani house on fire and robbing homes abandoned by Roma residents, or about the prosecution of people who incited ethnic hatred.

On May 16, 2019, over 100 Roma people, including women, elderly people, and children, were subjected to illegal detention and inhumane treatment by police officers in Mogilev and Gomel Oblast, Belarus. These human rights violations had not yet been investigated and the guilty parties had not been prosecuted.

The tragic experience of Roma both from the past and the present have to be fully acknowledged, in order to overcome exclusion, to stop discrimination and to prevent from the repeating of the history.

Responding to the last dramatic events in a few Roma settlements in Russia and in Belarus, where hundreds of Roma were illegally arrested, humiliated or forced to flee, ADC Memorial used an Early-Warning measures of UN CERD in order to bring these cases (Rusiia) (Belarus) to the consideration of the Committee already at the closest session during August 2019. ADC Memorial also submitted information to UN Special Rapporteurs on minority issues and on adequate housing in order to alert them and ask for required measures.