Committee on elimination of racial discrimination discusses situation in Russia, Algeria and Dominican Republic with NGOS

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with non-governmental organizations about the situation in the Russian Federation, Algeria, and the Dominican Republic.  The reports of those three countries will be reviewed by the Committee during this session.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations in the Russian Federation raised a number of issues concerning discriminatory practices in the country, including the lack of definition of discrimination in Russian legislation, racial discrimination against migrant workers from Central Asia, the poor housing conditions of Roma persons, and the situation of indigenous peoples, who often had reduced access to traditional activities such as fishing and hunting. 

Anastacia Crickley, the Committee’s Rapporteur for Russian Federation, requested more information on the practice of police profiling of migrants.  She also asked how the rights of indigenous peoples could be upheld and whether women from minority groups were experiencing particular forms of discrimination.  Other Committee Experts asked whether indigenous peoples fell under the competencies of the different regions of Russian Federation, to what extent non-governmental organizations had been consulted in the legislative process, whether victims of racial discrimination had appropriate and effective access to justice, and whether there was racial discrimination in sport.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Algeria noted that various efforts had been made to promote social and economic citizen equality, non-discrimination, and respect of linguistic diversity.  Concern was expressed that Tamazight was still not recognized as an official language of the State and had been relegated to a second class language.

Committee Experts wanted to know whether there was a difference between Kabil and Tamazight, what percentage of the population spoke Tamazight, and which parts of the country did Tamazight-speaking populations live in.  Questions were also asked about the treatment of refugees in Algeria.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in the Dominican Republic said that Dominican citizens did not know their rights under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and that better awareness-raising should be undertaken.  Racism was deeply rooted in Dominican society, where Haitian persons were severely discriminated against and no official data was available on the ethnic origin of Dominican citizens.  Persons of Haitian descent were excluded from access to appropriate documentation and were often forced into a situation of statelessness.  Trafficking in persons remained a major problem in the Dominican Republic.

Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez, the Committee’s Rapporteur for the Dominican Republic,wanted to know where in the country the population of Haitian descent resided.  Other Committee Experts asked questions on the civil registration of citizens, whether discrimination was also reported against black Dominican citizens, and whether there was a national institution to counter trafficking in persons.

The next meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 February, when the Committee will begin consideration of the combined fifteenth to nineteenth periodic report of Algeria (CERD/C/304/Add.113).

Statements on the Russian Federation

ADC Centre / SOVA Centre / IPHR / FIDH said that the lack of definition of discrimination in Russian legislation and the absence of appropriate legislation were of major concern.  Migrant workers from Central Asia, who were visibly recognizable, suffered attacks on the streets in the Russian Federation and were subjected to illegal migrant police operations.  Migrant workers were often exploited by employers.  Concern was also expressed about the poor housing conditions of Roma persons, who were prohibited by Russian law from being nomadic.  In 2012 it was made known that a number of Roma settlements were going to be demolished, which would only aggravate the discrimination suffered by Roma populations in the country. Ongoing segregation in Russian schools was another major issue.  Attention was also drawn to the ongoing violation of the rights of other minorities living in Russia, such as the Cossaks, the people of Northern Caucasus and other indigenous peoples.

Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation said that there were more than 170 ethnic minority communities living in the Russian Federation.  Incidents of vandalism, football hooliganism and hatred against religious leaders and minority groups had indeed been reported but in certain cases those were used by politicians and other groups to incite racial tension.  It was therefore the responsibility of non-governmental organizations to educate young persons on the importance of law enforcement and tolerance.  The problem of xenophobia was particularly prominent in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  A programme was in place to enhance ethnic tolerance amongst various communities, to counter hatred and racism against migrants, and to help enforce ethnic policy.  On the whole, the situation was much better than in previous years but increased efforts were needed in order to reduce ethnic and religious conflicts.  Sometimes migrants did not have an adequate knowledge of the Russian language, history and laws, so it was important to make it easier for migrants to integrate in Russian society.  It was also important to identify real problems in terms of ethnic policy and to distinguish those from areas exploited by politicians for their own purposes aiming at boosting their own political campaign.

Russian Association of Indigenous People of the North, Siberia and Far East (RAIPON) said that 41 indigenous peoples were represented by various associations in the Russian Federation.  This was the result of efforts made to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, many of whom lived and worked in extreme conditions.  RAIPON had an assembly for indigenous peoples which met every four years with the aim of drafting an appropriate action plan to deal with their problems.  Seminars and conferences were organized to enable indigenous peoples to communicate across the vast areas of the Russian Federation.  In addition, a specially designed website provided information on the rights of indigenous peoples.  Bodies dealing with the most difficult problems facing indigenous peoples of the North had also been established.  One major problem was the reduction of the access of those peoples to traditional activities such as fishing and hunting.  The rights of indigenous peoples in terms of access to traditional activities were sometimes impeded by companies operating in the areas where those peoples lived.

Questions by Experts

ANASTACIA CRICKLEY, Country Rapporteur for Russian Federation, asked for more information on police profiling of migrants in the country.  She also wanted to know what proposals non-governmental organizations had made on how best to deal with the housing problems facing Roma persons.  A question was also asked about the involvement of Cossacks in the police profiling of migrants.  Regarding Civic Chamber, exactly what was its role?  Was it a non-governmental organization or a partnership?  Further information was also requested on the rights of indigenous peoples and how those could be upheld.  Were women from minority groups experiencing particular forms of discrimination?

Committee Experts asked whether the activity of RAIPON had indeed been suspended as had been recently reported and, if so, why?  Where there fora that would allow indigenous people to engage in real dialogue with the authorities?  Did indigenous people fall under the competencies of different regions of the Russian Federation?  Which non-governmental organizations had been consulted, if any, in the legislative process and was civil society satisfied with its involvement in the process?  Further information was requested on the structure and membership of the inter-ministerial group dealing with inter-ethnic relations.  On criminal justice and criminal proceedings, did victims of racial discrimination have appropriate and effective access to justice?  Was the prominence of various Neo-Nazi groups in Russian Federation symptomatic of racial discrimination in the country?  Was there racial discrimination in sport?  Experts also asked for further information on migrants of African descent living in Russian Federation.

Response from Non-Governmental Organizations

On the definition of racial discrimination, a speaker said that clearer definitions of discrimination were needed, which would include references to its different forms and also of segregation.  Women from minorities were often subjected to discriminatory behaviour at the level of their own community, which imposed certain restrictions on them, as well as in general.  Multiple forms of discrimination needed to receive closer attention and be officially recognized.  Children of migrant families were especially vulnerable when it came to discrimination, mainly because of the uncertain situation of their parents.  Police profiling was a source of concern because ethnic groups were often targeted.  No alternative housing options were available for many Roma persons being forced out of their accommodation, although there were also exceptions.  African migrants sometimes were left with little option but to stay in the country illegally after their temporary visa had expired.  The aim of Cossacks had initially been to protect the Russian population from external or internal enemies and their involvement in the police force in that capacity and in police profiling was cause for concern.  There had not been an increase in the number of Neo-Nazis in the Russian Federation and convictions of Neo-Nazi crimes were more common but nevertheless the problem persisted.

Regarding the question about discrimination in sport, use of discriminatory language could be brought to the attention of the competent bodies but that was not common practice.  Rather, sports clubs themselves should step up efforts to tackle that issue.  In response to the question about indigenous peoples, it was clarified that indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation fell under a special set of laws under which their traditional lifestyle was protected.  However, indigenous peoples often found that they were unable to counter the actions of major oil companies, the activities of which in a certain region might create serious problems for indigenous populations and their ability to maintain their traditional lifestyle.  Concerning the position of women from indigenous communities, more women in the North were employed than men so they did not suffer from discrimination as much as men.  The activities of RAIPON had indeed been suspended briefly on bureaucratic grounds but had been reinstated.  Concerning the competence of Federal regions, at the Federal level there were a number of mechanisms which had now been disbanded since 2010 and those competencies had been passed on to regions, in some of which the number of indigenous persons had declined or increased depending of the relevant policies of that particular region.  The inter-governmental group was a new body and there was an advisory council which fell under that body.

Statements on Algeria

Commission Nationale Consultative de Promotion et de Protection des Droits de l’Homme said that it was an independent national mechanism whose task was the promotion and protection of human rights.  To that end, it had worked to organize various meetings and workshops on the equality of citizens, non-discrimination, and other important human rights subjects.  The speaker noted with regret that since the review of the re-accreditation procedure, the Commission had had its status re-adjusted by the United Nations Accreditation Committee from A to B.  She noted that the Algerian society placed great importance on equality and solidarity and said that national legislation had provisions in place to promote equality among workers and to ensure equal pay and working conditions for men and women.

Association Culturale AMUSNAW said that it worked to promote cultural activities and that it aimed to promote the respect of cultural and linguistic diversity in the country as well as equal social and economic rights for men and women.  The Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination had been ratified by Algeria in 1966 and had been enforced in 1972.  Nevertheless, certain provisions were not fully respected.  Tamazight was still not recognized as a national and official language of the State.  The language had started being taught in schools in 1955 but, despite being part of Algerian identity, the prominence of Arabic in the country had led to the relegation of Tamazight to a second class language.

Questions by Experts

Experts wanted to know whether there was a difference between Kabil and Tamazight.  What percentage of the population spoke Tamazight and what percentage of territory did Tamazight-speaking population cover?  A question was also asked about the treatment of refugees in the country.  Moreover, how could the Committee help the Commission Nationale Consultative de Promotion et de Protection des Droits de l’Homme to get its A status back?

Response from Non-Governmental Organizations

A speaker clarified that Kabil covered a number of different ethnic groups, including Tamazight.  Regarding the status of the non-governmental organization in question, it was said that its downgrading had received some attention in the press but the decision-maker had not reconsidered its decision.  The Commission Nationale had appealed that decision and was waiting for the outcome of the appeal.  That non-governmental organization was well-known across Algeria for fighting to protect human rights and would like to be informed of cases of human rights violations so it could tackle those issues.

It was mentioned that a campaign was under way to address violations of human rights such as rape and incest and it was asked whether the Committee felt that it was recommended to tackle taboo issues such as incest which was widespread in primitive communities.  On the question of migrants, the situation of increasing numbers of migrants from Mali and Syria was of grave concern.  It was important for children of such migrant families to be given the opportunity to attend school.

Statements on Dominican Republic

Community, Hope and International Justice Foundation said that Dominican citizens did not know their rights under the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Better awareness-raising should be undertaken in the Dominican Republic to inform citizens of their rights.

Latin American and Caribbean Community for the Protection of the Rights of Women noted that gender equality plans and policies were in place but it pointed out that many of those initiatives were not gender sensitive and lacked a gender perspective.  It also said that racism was deeply rooted in the Dominican Republic, where Haitian persons were severely discriminated against.  The existence of a discriminatory culture in the country, which was rooted in a belief in the superiority of the white race, was often denied by the State, which regarded discriminatory incidents as isolated incidents.  In a recent census no question on race or ethnic identity was included and, therefore, no relevant information was gathered.  Women from African or migrant groups were doubly discriminated against.

Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers said that discrimination against Haitians in the Dominican Republic was rife.  Hundreds of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic had no access to work, education or healthcare purely on the basis of their Haitian origin.  The denial of access to public office for persons of dark skin was frequent in the country and those persons were also discriminated against in the media.

Open Society Justice said that in the Dominican Republic there was a policy of ignoring crimes of a discriminatory nature.  Persons of Haitian descent were excluded from access to documentation and nationality and were victims of a national policy of de-nationalization which effectively promoted a situation of statelessness among those individuals.  Dominicans of Haitian descent suffered mass deportations, which was standard practice of the Dominican government.

Fundacion Etnica Integral said that here had been no progress regarding the application of the law on the trafficking of persons, which remained ineffective.  Nevertheless, the law may have been applied sporadically in relation to the protection of victims.  A large number of Haitian citizens were victims of trafficking, sometimes with the involvement of State authorities.  What could the Committee do to contribute to the enforcement of the law in the Dominican Republic?

Questions by Experts

PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Country Rapporteur for Dominican Republic, wanted to know where in the country the population of Haitian descent resided.

Committee Experts asked for more information on the civil registration of citizens in the Dominican Republic and on the retroactive application of the constitutional amendment of 2010 regarding citizenship of persons of Haitian origin.  It was noted that discrimination on the basis of skin colour was blatant in public places and privately owned business and a question was asked on the provisions made by Dominican law to tackle that problem.  Another Expert asked whether discrimination was also reported against black Dominican citizens, if there were any.  How could the Government deny the existence of black people in a country that was classified as a mixed race society?  What was the situation regarding the ombudsman institution in the country?  Was there a national institution to counter trafficking in persons in accordance with the Protocol?

Response from Non-Governmental Organizations

In response to the questions from Experts, a speaker said that discrimination against dark-skinned persons was very deeply rooted in Dominican society and was based not only on skin colour but also on religion and language.  As no question on ethnic belonging was included in the census which was recently carried out in the country, it was impossible to say with precision how many black Dominican citizens were living in the country.  Settlements of migrants and Afro descendants had been set up and the budget allocated to those areas was different from that allocated to areas where white persons lived, which aggravated the problem of segregation in society.  With regard to trafficking in persons, it was noted that there were different types of trafficking, including bringing persons from Haiti across the border illegally and using persons as slaves.

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