On December 6, 2008, a legal seminar involving people from all over the Russian Federation, conducted within the framework of the project “Legal Help for Caldarari Roma Settlements in Russia,” took place at ADC “Memorial.”
Participants of the seminar represented almost every region of our country: in order to share their experiences with one another, Roma activists and lawyers who work with such petitioners came from Leningrad Region, Tula Region, Ryazan’, Ekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Kemerovo, and Omsk.
The discussions which were held at the seminar were interesting to the Roma participants and the lawyers working with Roma petitioners alike, as well as for the employees of ADC “Memorial.” All of those in attendance were able to share their opinions, exchange knowledge, bring up any thoughts on the organization of the project, and speak about their own legal experiences, characteristic for their particular region. Many different topics were discussed, including the registration of land and homes according to current legislation, counteracting discrimination against Roma related to housing issues (the illegal deprivation of registration and personal identification documentation, related problems of access to health care and job placement), and a lack of access to education—in other words, all of the problems that force residents of compact Roma settlements to seek out legal assistance.
The legal experience of ADC “Memorial” shows that the problems faced by Roma in compact settlements are inter-related, and when lawyers start working with residents of a particular village on one problem, they cannot help but run into a series of other issues also requiring legal action. For instance, a lawyer in Tambov was working on a case regarding the protection of local Roma children’s right to elementary education. However, the housing rights of the residents of that particular compact settlement had not been registered in the legally-established order, which means that for them, there is also a real threat for resettlement. In Tula the opposite occurred. While the Roma there were trying to save their homes from impending demolition, a different problem arose: several children were barred from attending school. These instances confirm both the similarities in the problems faced by Roma throughout Russia as well as confirm the existence of discrimination against Caldarari Roma in Russia in general.
In addition to problems related to housing and schooling, there are many other difficulties faced by Roma living in compact settlements that require the assistance of a lawyer if they are to be resolved. Not long before the seminar took place, we learned that the electricity had been shut off in a settlement on the outskirts of Lipetsk, which had also recently occurred in the settlement Plekhanovo in the outskirts of Tula. In Penza in December a wealthy Roma settlement suffered violence at the hands of local law enforcement agencies; the rights of many people in the village were infringed upon. Although none of the participants of the seminar were from Ivanovo, ADC “Memorial” maintains contact with the Roma community there and knows that people, including children, who lost their homes in 2007, again find themselves threatened with resettlement. It goes without saying that under such circumstances, there cannot even be any discussion of children’s school attendance in the Ivanovo region.
ADC “Memorial” continues to follow developments in Chudovo and support Roma residents of the city. The problems that this village has been facing have been discussed many times in the Bulletin (see No. 13 and others). The attitude of the local administration to the Roma has changed over time: in 2005, it was proposed that the Roma create public self-government, but this was followed by rejections of the registration of housing rights and a chance that the Roma village would be demolished. After this, a project was developed on the planning of a new settlement—it aimed to streamline the building of the settlement and provide Roma families with equal plots of land. On December 10, 2008, a public hearing on the rebuilding of the village was held in the administration of the Chudovo District in which Roma residents, a lawyer working with ADC “Memorial,” A. Tsarev, and other employees of our organization all took part. We hope that in the course of the realization of the project the rights and interests of Roma residents will be fully observed.
The case of Chudovo proves the effectiveness of human rights work: it seems that this is the single possible route through which the problems of compact Roma settlements can be resolved. The situation in Chudovo was mentioned in a joint report published by ADC “Memorial” and FIDH (the International Federation of Human Rights), “Forced Evictions and the Rights of Roma for Housing,” which was presented to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The international community, speaking through this UN Committee, attested to the inadmissibility of any breaches to commitments that the Russian government has taken upon itself.
Human rights statements presented at all levels, including the international level, are no less important than lawyers’ work in the courtroom protecting Roma petitioners from discrimination. The combination of these methods will certainly help to provide for the gradual resolution of legal problems in Roma settlements.