Socio-economic rights of Roma

Socio-economic rights are not considered by Russian lawyers as obligatory to fulfill and are violated everywhere in Russia. In this article we focus on the socio-economic rights of the Roma population of Russia, though this problem affects all citizens of our country.

The rights to an adequate standard of living are called socio-economic rights. The basic socio-economic rights are prescribed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), and the European Social Charter (ESC). All these documents are binding for Russia. Basic socio-economic rights include the rights to labor, adequate living conditions and health.

The majority of the Roma in Russia have, unfortunately, an obviously low standard of living. Poverty, low level of integration with social life, bad access to fundamental resources (electricity, gas and water), and to medical aid are the problems the Roma people face in our country. Quality education could break off this vicious circle, but education is also in a bad condition; without additional measures, most Roma children in the Russian Federation not only do not go to universities, but also rarely attend middle school.

Nevertheless, resolving the education problem would not resolve the whole set of problems the Roma people face in Russia. Even if the level of education is improved, after school the children would return to their poor districts full of social maladies. Thus, the question of a standard of living in general remains unsolved.

The right to labor is included in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and international treaties. The ICESCR and ESC set out the right to free choice of employment and the right to work. It does not obligate a state to provide work for everyone living in its territory, but to take steps to reach as high as an employment level as possible. Support of an economic system with a constant pool of unemployment shall be considered a violation of the indicated requirements. A state is considered to be fulfilling these requirements if it has a well-planned policy of fighting against unemployment.

As for the right to adequate living conditions, the UNHR, ICESCR, ECHR obligate a state to undertake measures to reach an adequate standard of living for all population groups. These measures shall include providing adequate food, clothing and housing, and the continuous improvement of living conditions: drinking water, organized public transport, conditions for educational and cultural development, and sanitary conditions in settlements. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) indicated in General comment 3 (1990) that “a minimum core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of each of the rights is incumbent upon every State party. Thus, for example, a State party in which any significant number of individuals is deprived of essential foodstuffs, of essential primary health care, of basic shelter and housing, or of the most basic forms of education is, prima facie, failing to discharge its obligations under the Covenant.” In addition, “Article 2 (1) obligates each State party to take the necessary steps “to the maximum extent of its available resources”. In order for a State party to be able to attribute its failure to meet at least its minimum core obligations to a lack of available resources it must demonstrate that every effort has been made to use all resources that are at its disposal in an effort to satisfy, as a matter of priority, those minimum obligations.” States are obligated to regularly collect all relevant information regarding all social groups and to use it to define vulnerable groups which are to be protected. The collected data shall be generally available and open to discussion and criticism of the effectiveness of steps taken.

Finally, states are obligated to fulfill the right to an adequate standard of living without any discrimination.

The statements of the right to health are interpreted in the UNCESCR General Comment 14 (2000): the right to health is “an inclusive right extending not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health. A further important aspect is the participation of the population in all health-related decision-making at the community, national and international levels.”

Two conditions make the mentioned rights elusive and unprotected.

The first is that the rights to health, work and an adequate standard of living obligate the Russian Federation more to act, than to have real results. It means that violation of these rights is considered not lack of final results, but lack of activities aimed at such results.

The second is that the ICESCR and UDHR do not establish order of proceedings of individual complaints. Russia has not ratified the order of proceeding of individual complaints of the ESC.

Nevertheless, the compliance of the Russian Federation with socio-economic rights is regularly raised by NGOs, while the UNCESCR consider periodic reports of the Russian Federation on compliance with the ICESCR. They will be sent to the UNCESCR, after the 5th periodic report of our country is submitted on the 25th of January, 2010.

When a state’s obligations are not to get certain results, but to proceed towards these results, the provision of available information on these activities, opportunity to discuss these activities, and  prevention of discrimination while these activities are organized, become more important. When information on compliance with ICESCR is inaccessible (to make this information accessible to everyone is a state’s obligation), it is impossible to discuss the fulfillment of socio-economic rights.

The anti-discrimination center “Memorial” has information showing that the Roma population does not get any help even when the state fulfils its obligation regarding other groups of people. The Committee pointed out the necessity to create special selective programmes to support vulnerable groups such as Roma people (the resolution of the Council of Europe names Roma as vulnerable group). The Russian Federation does not fulfill its commitments. According to the European Court on Human Rights’ decisions, non support of vulnerable groups is indirect discrimination, the Russian Federation violates socio-economic rights on the discriminatory principles which is a violation of the ICESCR, and a violation of the UN Convention Article 5 on the eradication of all forms of racial discrimination.

Inactivity and discrimination characterizing the activities of the Russian Federation on fulfilling socio-economic rights declared, first of all, in the ICESCR are the subject of complaints in the form of questions for the Russian delegation at consideration of the 5th periodic report of the Russian Federation on compliance with the ICESCR, and of another complaint to the UN Committee on Racial Discrimination.

Socio-economic rights are more than just a judicial construction. They represent concrete people, or, even entire groups, including ethnic ones, living in poverty, deprived of opportunity to escape from slums without state support, and suffering from unemployment. Impenetrable misery is a stigma and a basis for social humiliation.

Russia is a gas and oil developing country. There is no doubt that if the activities of the Russian authorities are openly discussed in public, it would be clear that Russia cannot demonstrate “that every effort has been made to use all resources that are at its disposition in an effort to satisfy, as a matter of priority, those minimum obligations.”

Anton Petrov

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