Legal Aid for Romani

Within the framework of this project, Memorial lawyers M. Arefieva and
M. Nosova carry out legal monitoring in locations where Romani-Kotlyars live
compactly, enlist the services of local lawyers and consult them on
questions of legal support for this ethnic group. In March 2008, a seminar
conference was organized for the lawyers involved in the project to allow
them to exchange their experiences, since they are all confronted with
similar questions at one point or another.

Changes in legislation and the economic situation, and the social-economic
vulnerability and isolation of compact Romani settlements, create the
threat of rights violations, and obstacles to the realisation of rights,
for the residents. Most often, this is connected with the Romani-Kotlyars
residence in the compact settlements, for which documents have not been
legalized in the required way or have not gone through the full process of
legalization. This situation can lead to people being evicted without any
kind of compensation, if the land occupied by their houses is bought by a
potential developer. However, although the project was focused primarily on
the defence of the Romani citizens rights to housing, it became clear
during the course of the work that the Roma need legal help, both in the
realization of their children’s right to school education and the
right to receive identity documents.

In 2007, legal monitoring was carried out in more than 15 Romani-Kotlyar
settlements located in various regions of Russia:
Northwest, Central, Povolzhye, Siberia and Ural. In 10 Romani
settlements, local lawyers, by agreement with Memorial, had begun work defending the rights of residents
of the compact Romani settlements by contacting local authorities and
carrying out legal proceedings. Last year, of all the cases, only one (in
the Tambovsk oblast) concerned the defence of Romani children’s rights to
school education. Five more projects which will focus not only on the right
to housing, but also on other social rights, are planned.

In Chudovo (Novgorod Oblast) and Yaroslavl, where Roma were forced to leave
their places of residence, lawyers carried out work in courts, since the
local administration decided to use the land on which the Roma live for
other purposes. However, after court hearings, the local authorities agreed
to grant the Roma land parcels for resettlement and building new private

In Tyumen the Memorial lawyers and the limited liability company
Partner-Invest, a building firm, reached an agreement for alternative
accommodation in town to be granted to the Roma for resettlement once the
right to lease the land parcel where the Roma are living had been obtained.
At the present moment, work is taking place on the legal implementation of
this agreement, which will undoubtedly become a fundamentally new and
positive practice in the context of the project and in the lives of
Romani-Kotlyars as a whole.

The legal project contributes to the development of cooperation between ADC
Memorial and Russian human rights organisations and their divisions: The
Kazan Human Rights Centre, Migration and Rights, and the Rule of Law
Institute. Contacts are also being maintained with international
organisations such as the International Federation for Human Rights, OSI
Justice Initiative, The European Roma Rights Centre, and UN and OSCE human
rights organisations, since the problems faced by compact Romani
settlements are not unique to Russia but are typical in other countries
too, and greater attention is being paid to these problems at international level.