ADC “Memorial” has obtained a copy of a striking document – a denunciation written in the name of Roma people from the Leningrad Region to the Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika. We think there is merit in publicizing this document to demonstrate possible consequences of the new method of repressing human rights advocates, declaring NGOs to be “performing functions of foreign agents”,. For this is exactly what happened to ADC “Memorial”, which had been recently declared a “foreign agent” a fact used by the disingenuous authors of the letter as a pretext.
From the start we want to make clear that we are quite sure that this letter was neither written nor even read by the people who signed it (and if it was read aloud to them, it is likely that many of the terms used in this letter such as “social environment”, “legal representatives”, “educational institution”, were not understood by the people).
We are deeply disturbed by this attempt to use poverty, lack of education, and fear of the people we care about against us, who for decades defended (and will continue to defend in spite of everything) their neglected rights (. Discrimination, inability to defend themselves against threats and pressure, vulnerability of Roma people and other minorities – these things are not funny. But otherwise, this denunciation letter is so wild and ridiculous, that it’s hard to keep from laughing.
The most precious desire of the authors of this denunciation is to keep the status quo in the local school of Oselki, which is known for children’s rights violations, and which human rights defenders always fought against. Roma children in this school (there are 97 of them this year, in previous years there sometimes could be over 100 ) are taught separately from other kids and receive education of poor quality. They are able to attend school only for 5 years (6th and 7th grades for Roma children exist on paper only, and there are no high school level Roma classes at all). Roma children have to study in two shifts in a separate small building, poorly equipped for school needs, while a comparable number of non-Roma children in school study in a much better building, which is more spacious and much better equipped for classes, and most importantly, they have the option to study for 9 years.
The denouncing lettter addressed to the Prosecutor General contains two main themes. One is the demand obviously put forward by non-Roma people, “to defend the Roma settlement from the intrusion of ADC “Memorial” (if it hadn’t been for numerous appeals by the people from the settlement themselves to help them solve specific problems, none of us would “intrude” there in the first place). The second demand is on the contrary a very real one, which is to not deprive Roma families of the food aid, which their children receive once per month instead of regular meals in the school cafeteria. It becomes obvious right away how the authors of the letter “motivated” the parents and grandparents of Roma schoolchildren to sign it – the latter were told that the food parcels were about to be abolished because of scheming by ADC “Memorial”. “Food parcels are our life, food for our children and the elderly. Who will benefit from porridge and soup if it goes in the waste bin? We ask for your assistance and protection”, reads the letter to the Prosecutor General .
It is obvious, of course, that assistance and protection from ADC “Memorial” are not needed in order to keep the cabbage soup out of the bucket. But children do need protection from discrimination, regardless of whatever words might be put in the mouths of their parents and teachers. The letter further reads: ”We are legal representatives of our children and nobody has the right to replace us in this capacity. We don’t need our rights to be defended, nobody infringes on them, we are not a minority but are legitimate citizens of the Russian Federation and enjoy all our rights. “Memorial” is not a human rights organization, but a pseudo-scientific one, which stuck itself onto our Roma settlement: they publish articles, take pictures, complain on our behalf. Whogavethemauthorizationtodoso?”
The issues raised in this denunciation letter deserve a reply.
Firstly, no one claims that “minorities” are not “legitimate citizens of Russia that enjoy their rights”. Roma people are an ethnic minority, but of course, they are legitimate citizens of the Russian Federation.
Secondly, if the “legal representatives” of children think that their kids shouldn’t study in school and the school itself supports such a “competent opinion”, such people and such schools can be criticized by those who are authorized to protect the rights of children: prosecutors, ombudsmen for children’s rights, regional education committees. in January 2014 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed Russia’s report and during its session in Geneva pointed out to the Russian Prosecutor General’s representative that it was this particular agency that was authorized by the state to implement the law without being solicited to do so. – Prosecutors should themselves conduct inspections, investigate violations, and react against them.
These violations do not consist of the provisioning of food parcels to Roma children instead of proper meals. Children do not attend school to get food parcels. The violations are that over the course of several decades not a single Roma child from the crowded settlement has received a full secondary education in Oselki school, and there were hundreds if not thousands of Roma children attending the school during these years.
While Roma children constitute a majority in the school, and there is mandatory eleven year education in our country, there hasn’t been a single Roma student among the graduates of the school. Violations of the rights of hundreds and hundreds of children are obvious, and parents can’t always be faulted for these violations. ADC “Memorial” can prove that many Roma parents were dissatisfied with the situation, made complaints, protested, tried to defend their children’s rights. Unfortunately, these attempts were in vain, and now we see the names of children’s “legal representatives” are used by those who write denunciations in their name and declare that no one else is in a position to defend children’s rights.
Thirdly, concerned individuals do not need any “authorization” in order to write articles and complain against violations. No organizations, scientific or even “pseudo-scientific”, need authorizations to analyze and publicize the facts that they discover. Human rights defenders require even less “authorization” . It is obvious that the ridiculous “unmasking” of ADC “Memorial” as “not a human rights organization” was an uneducated assumption indeed, but still too complex for the uneducated dwellers of the Roma settlement to make on their own. It was an obvious slip-up by the “educated” author, a member of the local “intelligentsia”. Functions of human rights organizations are exactly those of sounding the alarm, as ADC “Memorial” had done in spite of the many years of resistance it encountered from the Oselki school, local administration, and educational bodies.
The demand not to defend the rights of children is yet another proof that the violation of children’s rights is acute in the Leningrad Region, that the children are being discriminated against, while those who are obligated to take care of them put up with it – educators, prosecutors, the regional ombudsman for the rights of children Litvinova (who recently published a statement that read that Roma children were not being discriminated against, and that having classes on small premises is only beneficial). What can be expected of the Roma parents if they, too, were educated at the same school, discriminated against, and threatened in the same way?