Open letter to Moscow ombudsman for children’s rights
Dear Mr. Bunimovich,
In autumn 2013 the government of the Russian Federation will have to answer questions from the UN Committee on children’s rights, which pays special attention to the problem of defending children of vulnerable groups from discrimination – such as children of Roma people and labor migrants, children without Russian citizenship. Russian government will have to provide information about the measures adopted to fight against xenophobia and to prevent hate crimes.
We, representatives of human rights organizations, are extremely worried about the events in Moscow school №847 reported by the media. We call on you to pay special attention to this problem based on the rights of the child as they are outlined in the Convention of the rights of the child. Discrimination of children – representatives of minorities, namely humiliation based on their ethnic background, especially if it comes from teachers, is intolerable.
In February 2013 Islam Abdulganiyev, a pupil of Moscow school №847, was murdered on the street. The killing of a child is a tragedy for his family, but it is also a social drama for the community where such event takes place, especially because Islam was murdered in a busy place, in the presence of numerous witnesses, who either failed or didn’t want to help the boy. The fact that the boy was of Tadzhik origin is extremely worrying, because it may suppose that the murder was motivated by ethnic hatred, racism and xenophobia against migrants. Any suspicion of violence based on hate – especially murder of a child – should be considered with utmost seriousness and worry.
We are aware that in the Russian Federation hundreds of similar crimes are registered each year, including aggressive racist and nationalist attacks, when people are beaten, wounded and sometimes killed based on their ethnicity. More and more often the victims of such attacks are migrants from the former republics of the USSR, including Tadzhikistan (and other countries of Central Asia and Southern Caucasus). Children coming from visibly recognizable minorities are scared to walk the streets, live in our cities, attend schools. It is no doubt that the tragic death of a pupil of a Moscow school had a very hard impact on other children, his friends, classmates, people who knew him. In this respect it is only natural that some pupils of school №847 wanted to pay tribute to their friend who had fallen victim of a crime on a Moscow street, wanted to express their grief and solidarity. Media reported that some of the pupils asked their friends to wear black clothes on the day Islam was buried. We think it is important to support these children who could easily place themselves in the shoes of Islam, because they too come from different places, are different from other Moscow city dwellers, are easily recognizable visually or by the peculiarities of their speech, accent, etc.
It was up to the teachers primarily to support and calm down these children – the former should have given all pupils the possibility to discuss this tragic event, feel the readiness of the adults to protect them from dangers, share their grief. Instead of that the initiative of schoolchildren to hold a memorial day was met with harsh reaction of their teacher Svetlana Shamayeva. Audio recording of her speech was published by some media (for example, it is available on the website of Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper) and anybody can judge for oneself the ethical content of her expressions, which feature obscene language among other things, which is unacceptable in the face of children.
Some expressions of Svetlana Shamayeva no doubt bear witness to her negative attitude towards “otherness” of migrants, including their language. Especially telling is the following quote: “When you ride public transport… everybody speaks in his language – blah-blah-blah…” Openly chauvinistic sentences were also recorded: “Why the native people of Russia have to tolerate all this?” The fact that Shamayeva supports her nationalist views with references to the tragedy of the Second World war is especially cynical. She said that “this land… was fought for by my relatives and thousands of simple Russian soldiers” and made a strange conclusion that she has “the right to establish our rules here”. But it is common knowledge that people from all republics of the former Soviet Union fought in the ranks of the Soviet Army; not only the ancestors of Shamayeva, but also the ancestors of children from Central Asia and Caucasus were killed in action defending Moscow.
Although some experts from the Moscow State University later failed to detect “expressions containing judgments about inferiority of citizens of particular nations”, even without an expertise it is evident that division of pupils in a multi-ethnic school onto “ours” and “foreign”, an evident juxtaposition of “us” and “them” are both humiliating in form and essence.
Some of the parents of the schoolchildren made complaints to the director of the school and presented audio recordings of this “pedagogical talk”. As a result of that two teachers – one whose voice was featured in this recording and another one, who supported her, – were fired from their jobs due to “immoral behavior”. However, a court later ruled to reinstate them claiming that they were fired illegally and are now subject to compensation of moral damage.
As a result of a discussion in the media that followed, the verbal offenses that were featured in the audio recordings became available to the public. Some people are disgusted with these speeches, some support them. The issue has now became larger than a particular case of a bad practice of a teacher talking to the pupils or a particular court case concerning legality of the teachers’ dismissal from their positions. The expertise, however doubtful, of the specialists from the Moscow State University is not enough now. It is necessary for those in a position to protect lives, security, dignity and rights of all Moscow pupils regardless of their origin, native tongue or looks. We do not propose to discuss a particular court decision; probable there were some formal grounds for such ruling.
We call on you to make evaluate this situation as a whole, not a court decision or the decisions adopted by the school administration.
Following the summer holidays, which featured the court decision and reinstatement of the fired teachers, who had been at least very aggressive, impolite and “non-pedagogical” during their talk with traumatized children, the pupils will return to school. The schools will return to life, including those schools where nationalists were “right” to denounce ethnic minorities for being “not like us”, where children were forced to suppress their rightful feelings of pain, worry and scare in order to pretend that nothing had happened and the death of a Tadzhik boy is not an occasion for mourning or indignation, but just another reason for hiding their origin, mimicry and conform with an aggressive majority.
Children will return to schools where racism has triumphed. This is unacceptable. Probably the fast-track firing of teachers involved in this conflict was not a proper decision from the formal point of view. It is too late to discuss that, but it’s not too late to help pupils and teachers of school №847 to accept, understand and support each other. It is especially important to support those, who are weaker and smaller, those, who feel endangered.
These events should not be silenced; children and their parents should have a possibility to express their feelings and thoughts; real integration of pupils should be supported, without division onto “ours” and “foreigners”. One cannot base his or her position on the sympathies of those, who out of servility or prejudices rushed to defend the aggressive speeches of Svetlana Shamayeva; the task should be to hear out various positions and try to reconcile all the people involved. We should help those who find themselves in most difficult situation – people from vulnerable groups, children from migrant families, children from visible minorities, children speaking other tongues. Pupils and their parents should be provided with highly professional assistance from crisis psychologists in order to lessen the traumatic effect of this situation.
And what is even more important, it is necessary to state equal rights and dignity of all children who live in Russia, to denounce all expressions of xenophobia, racism, chauvinism in Russian schools, to provide for adequate protection of children from vulnerable groups against all forms of aggression in Moscow and other Russian cities.
Antidiscrimination center “Memorial” (Saint Petersburg)
Civil Assistance committee (Moscow)
Information and analytical center “SOVA” (Moscow)
Civil Control (Saint Petersburg)
“Bir Duyno” human rights movement (Kyrgyzstan)
Center for Human Rights (Tadzhikistan)
Bureau for human rights and observation of legality (Tadzhikistan)
Turkmenistan Helsinki fund for human rights
International human rights organization “Club of Flaming Hearts” (Paris, France)
Bureau for human rights (Uzbekistan)