ECtHR found violations of the European Convention in demolition of Roma settlement in Kaliningrad region

On October 11, 2016 the European Court of Human Rights made a chamber judgment in the case of “Bagdonavicius and Others v. Russia” (№ 19841/06). Thirty three representatives of Roma community, who lived in the village of Dorozhnoye (Guryev district of Kaliningrad region, Russia), complained about the forced evictions and demolition of their homes back in 2006.

ECtHR unanimously held that the demolitions and forced evictions were in violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention of Human Rights. The court stated that the houses of Roma dwellers in the village of Dorozhnoye had been built back in Soviet times and their recognition by the Russian court as being illegal buildings was based only on the fact that they lacked contemporary documents of title to these houses, which was not a substantial ground for claiming that the land, on which the houses had stood, had been occupied illegally. National courts had not taken into account the long-term residence of Roma dwellers in these houses and the fact that the government did not give them opportunity to legalize their construction, nor had it offered any options for resettlement.

ECtHR ruled that Russia must pay the applicants compensation of material losses and moral damage.

Back in 2001-2002 some members of the local Roma community received initial court decisions on the recognition of their right to property, but few of them were able to gather all the necessary documents for registration of houses. Despite the fact that Roma dwellers had lived in these houses for decades, the authorities refused to legalize their homes. Simultaneously the Kaliningrad administration supported anti-Roma public campaign in the media, portraying all the inhabitants of the village of Dorozhnoye as criminals and drug dealers. Thirty eight Roma houses were declared to had been constructed without authorization, and the court ruled to demolish these houses. The court of appeal has later confirmed the original decision of the court of first instance. Between December 2005 and June 2006 these houses were demolished and their inhabitants were evicted onto the street. During the demolitions riot police used force against those who tried to protest forced eviction. Throughout the autumn of 2006 and during the following winter, Roma people who had lost their homes, lived in tents without electricity and gas, they were not provided with any assistance by the authorities. Only two houses belonging to families of ethnic Russians have survived in Dorozhnoye, their owners were also offered financial compensation by the administration.

ECtHR’s judgment in the case of “Bagdonavicius and others v. Russia” should serve as a warning to the regional authorities, which have recently resumed the practice of demolitions of Roma settlements: eviction of people from the only housing they have without providing any alternative dwelling is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. Such practices should be discontinued immediately and steps should be taken to prevent such demolitions in future. Existing houses should be legalized and in case they cannot be preserved alternative accommodation should be provided to people dwelling there.

Lawyers and experts of ADC “Memorial” have legally pursued dozens of cases for the protection of Roma settlements from demolitions in various parts of Russia. Some of these cases have ended successfully: for example, in Tyumen a construction company provided Roma dwellers with new housing, while in some places demolitions were stopped. Recently, however, the practice of demolitions of Roma homes and forced eviction of their residents without providing them with any alternative accommodation has resumed. In the summer of 2016 more than 100 houses were demolished in Plekhanovo (Tula region, Russia) and hundreds of people were made homeless. Nobody bothered about children losing not only shelter, but also possibilities for education (as the local elementary school was located in the center of Roma settlement). The threat of demolition still hangs over another Roma settlement in the Tula region: on October 19, 2016 a court hearing concerning demolition of 60 houses in Kosaya Gora settlement was scheduled.

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