Situation of the Roma in Belarus and Ukraine reviewed by UN Committees

During the 63rd meeting of the pre-session working group of the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR), lists of questions to the authorities of Belarus and Ukraine were drawn up on the eve of the submission of regular periodic state reports of these countries to the Committee.

Members of the Committee paid special attention to the numerous socio-economic difficulties of the Roma population in both countries, which require additional protection of this ethnic group. Comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation has already been adopted in Ukraine, but so far this is not the case in Belarus, which is contrary to the recommendations of the Universal periodic review (2015) and the UN CESCR (2013). Experts of the Committee requested information on the state of adoption of such regulatory legislation in Belarus.

The difficult situation of the Roma in Belarus only worsened after the adoption of the Presidential decree “On the Prevention of Social Dependency”, which was later replaced by the decree “On Promoting Employment”. As Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” wrote in its analytical paper, the legal norms under which officially non-working citizens of Belarus were obliged to pay the full cost of utility bills and other public services had put the mostly unemployed Roma population in even more difficult conditions, with increased risks of losing their property or eviction from their housing. UN experts inquired about the compliance of the new regulations, which established financial sanctions for the non-employed in Belarus, with the provisions of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In addition, UN CESCR required the Belarusian authorities to provide information on the legal and political framework for the prevention of forced labor in the country.

While expressing their concerns about family, employment of adults and education of children, members of the Committee asked the Belarusian authorities to prepare data on students at all levels of the education system, paying particular attention to Roma students, as well as children’s pre-school institutions and their accessibility to children from marginalized groups. UN CESCR is concerned about targeted support measures, housing conditions and the provision of social housing for disadvantaged people, including Roma.

In connection with the introduction of the concept of “re-socialization of persons leading an asocial lifestyle” in the above mentioned decree, human rights activists informed the Committee about the high risk of Roma getting into occupational therapy rehabilitation centres due to lack of work or employment opportunities. UN CESCR requested information from the Belarus authorities on the inmates of the occupational therapy rehabilitation centres, including their distribution by ethnicity, as well as on the conditions of detention and forced labor, in particular of parents placed there for reimbursement of state expenses for the keep of children. Earlier, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended Belarus to analyze whether the rules on occupational therapy rehabilitation centres (the law No. 104-3 of the Republic of Belarus of January 4, 2010) comply with the provisions of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 8 and 9) in terms of non-voluntary labor.

The problems of the Roma minority were taken into account in the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee, which reviewed the 5th periodic report of Belarus: experts pointed out that discriminatory practices of law enforcement officials (hate speech and ethnic profiling) were unacceptable and recommended to provide special training for government officials.

Regarding issues in the education sphere, given the massive illiteracy and non-attendance of school by Roma children, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that additional efforts be made to ensure compulsory education of children in schools and the quality of this education.

Although Ukraine adopted its anti-discrimination legislation 6 years ago, Roma population still faces violations of its rights. UN CESCR members paid special attention to the problems of the Roma ethnic group in Ukraine and requested to provide information on specific measures to apply the Ukrainian law “On Countering Discrimination”, to assess its impact on the prevention of stereotypes leading to discrimination, to inform the Committee about the difficulties in applying anti-discrimination regulations, the strategies for the protection and integration of the Roma population for the period until 2020 and the corresponding national plan. They also requested to indicate the number of legal cases on discrimination and the statistics on court rulings in these cases. Experts inquired about measures to address issues of social exclusion and discrimination against Roma, including intersectional discrimination of Roma women and girls.

The problem of employment was given particular importance, and the members of the UN CESCR inquired with the Ukrainian authorities to provide statistics on unemployment, underemployment and part-time work among representatives of vulnerable groups, including Roma. They also asked to explain how educational and other programs dealt with the problem of unemployment.

The Committee experts inquired about the consequences of reduction of public spending on education and the resulting closure of schools, especially in rural areas, about the measures adopted to ensure equal access to education without discrimination. They also requested the data on enrollment in educational institutions and the number of dismissed Roma children, including statistics by gender. UN CESCR also requested information about enrollment of Roma children without birth certificates, integration of Roma children into mixed schools and measures to overcome harassment of children in school, as well as data on the number of Roma students placed in schools for children with mental disabilities.

While considering the issue of personal identity documents to be of utmost importance, members of the Committee inquired about the measures adopted to simplify the procedure for obtaining them, as well as the situation with the still non-adopted law on the procedure for determining the status of stateless persons.

UN CESCR will review the state reports of Ukraine and Belarus in about one year. By this time, the authorities of these countries have to provide answer the questions that have been posed.