ECRI: Russia failed to observe its obligations

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published its conclusions concerning implementation of recommendations on improvement of the legislation in the Russian Federation. Thus, the Commission has responded to the official Russian report, which had been submitted in 2013 for the 4th monitoring period.

Firstly, the published conclusions of the Commission draw attention to the situation of foreign citizens and persons without citizenship in the Russian Federation who face difficulties in registration at the place of their residence in Russia. Members of the Commission urge Russian government agencies to assist in registration of those who need it, in order to avoid denial of access to their rights. The Commission pointed to the absence of legislative changes regarding the registration of foreign citizens and stateless persons in the Russian Federation. The Commission stressed its particular concern about the situation of stateless persons in Russia, most of whom were citizens of the former USSR. On the one hand, these people do not receive assistance in the preparation of their identity documents, while, on the other hand, they are faced with many difficulties due to lack of these identity documents. Among the possible consequences of the lack of identity documents are the risk of being placed into centers for detention of foreign nationals for a period of up to two years, administrative expulsion from the country and liability in accordance with the Criminal Code for attempting to leave the country without proper documents. According to the Commission’s conclusions, legislation and existing legal practices in Russia create an environment, in which it is extremely difficult to avoid violations of the law.

The Commission welcomed the judgment made by the ECtHR in the case of “Kim v. Russia”, which was initiated and conducted in court jointly by the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” and Human Rights Center “Memorial”. Among other positive developments, ECRI pointed to a change of judicial practice in St. Petersburg, where the courts in some recent cases have not issued rulings on expulsion of stateless persons, which could not obviously be carried out. The Commission sees the provision of identity documents to stateless persons and giving them the right to legal residence in the country to be the next step for the improvement of the situation of stateless persons in Russia. A recommendation was made by the ADC “Memorial” to this effect in its report “Violations of the rights of stateless persons and foreign nationals in the light of the ECtHR judgment in the case of “Kim v. Russia”. ECRI also expressed its concern that its recommendations concerning the improvement of the situation of stateless persons, citizens and non-citizens Russia had not been implemented.

Special attention was paid by the Commission in its published report to the notions of “extremism” in the Russian legislation. The Commission strongly recommended Russia to revise the definition of extremism and ensure that it was applied only in the classification of serious cases involving violence or hatred. In addition to that, the law should contain clear criteria for inclusion of various published materials in the list of extremist materials. The Commission also expressed its concern regarding the number of forbidden texts, which at present exceeds 3000 items. Among the forbidden materials there is a number of sacred texts of various non-traditional religious groups, which are not adequately protected from getting listed in the list of extremist materials.

ECRI also noted that the law “On Countering Extremist Activity” had been subject to repeated changes even after the Russian Federation submitted its report to the ECRI for the 4th monitoring period. Moreover, the additions to the law concerned only the expansion of the list of offenses and introduction of stronger penalties, while the possible changes proposed by the ECRI’s interim recommendations had not been taken into account and the very recommendations on the improvement of the anti-extremist legislation had not been implemented.

The Commission strongly recommended to renew the state program on education of tolerance in the Russian society. Possible activities under this program could involve regional and national campaigns, organization of youth summer camps, which should feature discussions of the problem of racism in society. Russian non-governmental organizations have provided reports concerning the programs currently implemented in Russia, but although the latter were formally aimed at uniting different ethnic groups, in reality the focus of these programs was on patriotic education and propaganda of traditional values, as well as the protection of ethnic Russians. ECRI noted that according to the information provided by ADC “Memorial” St.Petersburg regional program “Tolerance”, which had been implemented between 2011 and 2015, along with activities aimed at establishing dialogue between different cultures, included activities related to purely patriotic and religious topics. In the educational sphere the Commission also noted a tendency towards promotion of the military ideology of the former USSR. Despite the fact that some programs include elements aimed at development of tolerance, these programs are not equally distributed across the country. Moreover, part of the programs focused on the development of patriotism, rather than tolerance.

The Commission came to the conclusion that Russia was non-compliant with ECRI’s recommendations on overcoming racism and intolerance.
The Commission also concluded that Russia failed to improve the situation in this respect.