ADC “Memorial” took part in special events, which were part of the meeting of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Experts ADC “Memorial” visited a number of plenary sessions and side-events of ODIHR devoted to human rights violations against migrants, refugees, Romani people, disabled persons and other discriminated groups.
At the side-event “Civil society and human rights in Belarus ahead of the presidential election”, the representatives of the Assembly of non-governmental democratic organizations of Belarus pointed out the lack of liberalization of the electoral process both at the legislative level and in practice, pointing special attention at the tightening of control over the mass media, access to information and infringement on the freedom of association through making procedures for funding NGOs more complicated, introduction of more rigid state control in this sphere. Valentin Stefanovich of the “Vyasna” (“Spring”) association stated that the release of political prisoners does not mean the termination of repression against activists, as well as the disappearance of the threat to those who have been liberated because the grounds for their initial detention were not considered to be rehabilitating. Human rights defenders of the “Right to Choose” association drew attention to the consequences of complicating the election campaign, as well as to mass early voting of the citizens of Belarus. Speakers noted the absence of significant improvements in terms of transparency of the electoral process, as well as the fact that the principal recommendations of the OSCE related to irregularities observed in previous elections have not been taken into account.
During the discussion devoted to basic freedoms, including freedom of movement and the rights of migrants at the side–event organized by ADC “Memorial” “Problems of detention centers for foreign nationals and non–enforcement of the ECtHR decisions to protect the rights of migrants” experts of our NGO presented a report on human rights violations in the Russian detention centers for foreign nationals, which were based on the materials of the ECtHR’s ruling in the case of “Kim v. Russia” and other cases from the practice of ADC “Memorial”.
During the plenary session “Combating hate crimes and discrimination” expert of ADC “Memorial” reported on the lack of investigations of hate crimes committed on the territory of the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, such as attacks on religious, sexual, ethnic minorities (including Jews and Roma) and Ukrainian-speaking people. At the same time, those who inspired and covered these crimes, are not only not brought to justice, but live well in Russia. Expert ADC “Memorial” called on the OSCE to exert maximum pressure on Russia and Ukraine to investigate hate crimes, proceed with proper qualification of these crimes as directed against ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. OSCE mission in region of the conflict is urged to review these facts. It was suggested that there is a need to involve experts on the rights of ethnic minorities and on hate crimes into this work, as well as a need to monitor and document these hate crimes in order for them to be properly qualified.
Special attention was devoted to the victims of double discrimination during the side-event on “Combating discrimination against the disabled: lessons learned from the experience of the USA and Europe”. Among other things the speakers noted particular exclusion of women with disabilities and persons with disabilities belonging to ethnic and sexual minorities. Representatives of the governments of the USA and Finland spoke about the need for non-profit organizations and initiative groups to compile periodic reports, including those related to the issue of protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. They emphasized the need for Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations to help solve the problems of the disabled. Expert of ADC “Memorial” shared experience in defending the rights of persons with disabilities to education based on the exemplary case of Andrey Sosnov, who had been refused enrollment for higher education institution based on his visual impairment. Kalle Kenkkelya of the Finnish “Threshold” association, responding to this particular type of discrimination of persons with disabilities, said that it was often difficult to achieve positive solutions for disabled people, because the authorities do not want to change discriminatory practices as the improvement in the situation of one person required the need to change conditions for all.
At the working session “Tolerance and non-discrimination: the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination” Alexander Verkhovsky, director of Russian information and analytical center “Sova”, delivered an introductory speech. He stressed the principal importance of educational programs designed “in the spirit of equality, mutual respect and legitimizing cultural pluralism”, as well as development and application of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Alexander Verkhovsky outlined the problem of public manifestations of intolerance by the representatives of public authorities, which the state should consistently prevent.
At the working session devoted to “Fundamental freedoms: freedom of thought, belief, religion”, among other issues experts of ADC “Memorial” spoke about the freedom of thought in the context of the activities of NGOs in Russia. Expression opinions by various NGOs in this country was used as the basis for accusations of various Russian associations and their stigmatization as “foreign agents”, as all the major human rights organizations in Russia have listed in a special registry of the Ministry of Justice. Representative of ADC “Memorial” called on the OSCE to monitor Russia’s compliance with the right to expressing opinions, particularly on the possibility for human rights defenders to respond to human rights violations, criticize these violations, and give possibility of informing international organizations – the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and others – about the developments in Russia.
The situation of the Roma people was discussed at the working session “Tolerance and Non-discrimination: Roma and Sinti. Implementing the plan for improving the situation of Roma and Sinti”. Expert of ADC “Memorial” drew attention to the situation of Roma refugees – victims of military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The main problems faced by the Roma people were highlighted, such as the lack of access to refugee status or temporary asylum, the lack of housing, medical care and access to education, non-receipt of benefits. In comparison with the other refugees, the situation of Roma is especially complicated due to several factors: problems with proper IDs, low level of education or illiteracy, xenophobia against Roma. The expert noted the difficult situation of the Roma in both the Russian Federation and Ukraine and called on the OSCE to monitor the facts of discrimination against Roma in both countries, as well as in the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, to assess all the facts of discrimination and rights violations. Noting the need for a proactive approach in preventing discrimination, the expert urged Russia and Ukraine to ensure non-discriminatory access of Roma people to all the social benefits, paying particular attention to the situation of Roma children.