On the occasion of the 13-20 May 2011 visit to the Russian Federation of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, the NGO Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial (‘ADC Memorial’) takes this opportunity to support all the statements and recommendations of the Commissioner, expressing his continued concern over violation of Roma rights in Europe. We would like to present an update of our view on the situation of Roma in Russia, focused on specific topic ofRoma children’s access to judicial protection.
Since 2003 ADC Memorial has carried monitoring of Roma rights in more than 100 Roma settlements throughout Russia. Roma in Russia have faced discrimination in all areas of life, facing much lower life expectancy than those of non-Roma. We pay particular attention to the protection of the rights of Roma children, especially the right to education. Access to education is denied to Roma children from the isolated settlements all over Russia.The children have been subjected to discrimination in the enjoyment of the right to education on the ground of their ethnic origin, being placed in segregated classes and schools.
Segregation practice in schools: this practice includes segregation in so-called ‘special schools’ for Roma, segregation in ‘Roma classes’, denial of enrolment in mainstream schools. Monitoring held by ADC Memorial has shown that the segregation of Roma children in the form of separate classes and schools is widespread throughout in the Russian regions, often actually approved and supported by local authorities and school administration.
Roma pupils from ‘Roma classes’ are usually isolated from other students at the schools, are not permitted into the corridor or the bathroom. Conditions in the “Roma schools” are also often worse than in mainstream schools (discriminatory conditions in Roma schooling are thoroughly documented in the 2009 report ‘Discrimination and Violation of Roma Children’s Rights In Schools of the Russian Federation’
Low quality of education: whatever the particular form of separate schooling (special schools, ‘Roma classes’, ‘Roma schools’), the quality of education provided to Roma is extremely low and not usually doesn’t correspond to the official standards (e.g. many subjects are usually simply excluded from the curriculum).
This was verified and confirmed in an independent examination of the level of knowledge among Roma pupils that was carried out by ADC Memorial experts in Roma settlements in different regions of Russia: Tatarstan Republic, Tambov, Bryansk and Leningrad Province. The expertise showed that all Roma pupils have low level of knowledge and poor level of skills.
For example, Roma children from school in the settlement of Nizhnie Vyazovye (city of Sviyazhsk, Tatarstan) have complained that they attend the same class year after year but cannot even read.
As a consequence of such practice in the primary school the majority of Roma children are not prepared for entering the secondary school. Only a few study at senior school. Almost nobody finishes the secondary school (according to ADC Memorial long-term monitoring).
Lack of equal and effective access of Roma and especially of Roma Children to the justice system
In order to protect children from these violations ADC Memorialconstantly applies to the judicial remedies.
ADC Memorial received numerous appeals from Roma parents and from Roma children themselves, who face the structural discriminatory system of relations between the Roma population and the state agencies, local authorities and school administrations.
But judicial protection of the Roma children’s rights is always very difficult.
Providing effective protection of children’s rights in local courts is often practically impossible, the legal proceedings in Tula and in Tambov District courts are the good examples thereof.
Lack of equal and effective access of Roma to the justice systemwas demonstrated in the case in Tula (segregated school with separate classes just for Roma children). The Roma applicants argued the violation of their right not to be subjected to discrimination, as well as their right to be educated, their family rights, and the dignity of the children in Russian courts. The Tula Court dismissed several complaints without any consideration and paid attention only to a complaint from Roma parents of adopted Russian child. In December 2009 the complaints from parents of Tula children were brought into the European Court of Human Rights. Now the case is considering by the Court
The Court of Tambov District in 2010 accepted the claims of the Roma parents about discrimination of their children and violation of their right to education. The parents supported the claims during the first court hearing. By the next court session the parents had been threatened by the local authorities (they used the fact that the Roma houses were unregistered and could be demolished). As a result, the plaintiffs have signed a refusal application. So the case of Roma children’s right to education was dismissed due to the pressure faced by their parents in the relation with the local authorities.
Thus, the ineffectiveness of legal protection for children is often related to vulnerable position of their parents. Also Roma parents often do not understand the importance of education for their children, being themselves illiterate and facing the lack of support from state. For example, the school administration in one of the regional Roma schools called a meeting of the Roma parents and made them vote for separate classes for their children. In so doing, the school administration has attempted to legitimize illegal segregation of Roma children, not taking into consideration the fundamental nature of children’s right to education.
Children cannot even apply for their own protection in such cases of lack of parental encouragement to educate them and abusesby public and school authorities, that not in the best interests of the children.
As it was pointed out in the Commissioner’s statement in 2007, concerning making international and regional human rights complaints mechanisms child-friendly, in several European countries children cannot make individual applications to domestic courts. The situation is in Russia is following: only legitimate representatives of the children (parents or guardians) may apply to the court. Children may apply on their own only in cases where rights are violated by their parents. Opportunity to defend children’s rights as provided to state prosecutors, but in cases where the defendant is a public agency, this mechanism is obviously inefficient.
Therefore, recognizing the right of children to initiateinternational and regional human rights mechanisms, ADC Memorial calls on the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg to urge the Russian authorities:
– to change Russian procedural rules and remove requiring parental authorization for lodging complaint in Russian courts, allow children themselves to apply directly to the national court (as well as the possibility of collective complaints of children).
This would ensure access to justice for Roma children, further access of Roma children to international remedies and could improve the efficiency of ADC Memorial activity to protect the rights of Roma children in Russian and international judicial mechanisms.