OSCE ODIHR session discussed anti-Roma outbursts in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus

On September 26, 2019, Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” organized side event “Violence against Roma population in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine: police raids, forced evictions, pogroms” during the annual meeting of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). This side event was organized together with “Vesna” Human Rights Center (Belarus) and lawyers and experts from Ukraine and Russia.

The participants of the side event spoke about the anti-Roma outbursts, carried out by various actors in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in recent years. ADC “Memorial” has already appealed to various international bodies concerning some of these incidents. In particular, reports on the events in Russia were sent to the human rights bodies of the United Nations Organization and the Council of Europe. In June 2019, more than 900 Roma residents of the village of Chemodanovka (Penza region, Russia) were forced to leave their homes following mass clashes. 174 people were detained by the police while they were trying to leave the Penza region, and there is evidence that they were ill-treated by the law enforcement. Criminal proceedings were initiated against 28 ethnic Roma persons, who had been arrested, while not a single representative of the non-Roma majority was held accountable, although Roma people had been also victims of these clashes.

Lawyer Valery Zaitsev spoke about legal defense of Roma residents of Ust-Abakan (Republic of Khakassia, Russia), who had suffered from a pogrom and actions of the local administration, which had filed a lawsuit pursuing eviction of Roma people from their homes and recognition of the latter as illegally constructed buildings. In May 2019, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia ordered demolition of 13 Roma houses within a period of one month. The local administration had not offered Roma people, who lost their only housing, any alternative dwelling. Valery Zaitsev emphasized that neither the local administration nor the courts could specify which particular public interests could be put above the human right to housing. However, the court simply ignored this issue, as well as the earlier clarifications made by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.

Lawyer Pavel Sapelko (“Viasna” Human Rights Center, Belarus) reported on anti-Roma raids in the summer of 2019 in Mogilev and other cities of Belarus, which had been caused by the rumors surrounding the death of a policeman, later to be recognized as suicide. Hundreds of men, women and even children were detained and held in unacceptable conditions for several days without any formal charges. The detentions were carried out outside the procedural framework of the investigation of a particular criminal case, and these detentions were later formally linked to supposed administrative offences (petty hooliganism). The prosecutor’s check did not find any violations in the actions of the police, while the authorities limited themselves to an apology from the presidential administration, whose rhetoric itself could be considered insulting and discriminatory.

Ukrainian lawyer Andriy Leshchenko spoke about his experience of defending a Roma client, who had been accused of a felony in Loshchinovka (Odessa region, Ukraine) in 2016. The swift-handed and unjust verdict in this case was only prevented by the perseverance of the lawyer, who had found the real signs of his client’s innocence (including an alibi at the time of the crime and the presence of extraneous DNA on the victim’s body), as well as the assistance of human rights organizations and the media. Andriy Leshchenko emphasized that this case was of strategic importance for the elimination of discrimination in Ukraine.

Ukrainian expert Vyacheslav Likhachev spoke about anti-Roma campaigns that had swept through the country in 2016-2018. He stressed the need for an effective investigation of violent crimes against Roma people and holding those responsible for them legally accountable.