Supreme Court of Khakassia rules to demolish Roma houses in Ust-Abakan

On May 30, 2019, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia granted the appeal of the Ust-Abakan town administration against the earlier ruling of the Ust-Abakan district court and ordered the residents of a Roma settlement to demolish within one month 10 houses, which had been recognized as “unauthorized buildings”.

Earlier the Ust-Abakan district court had sided with the Roma settlers in a legal case initiated by the complaint made by the town administration, and had banned the demolition of the houses described in the lawsuit, but the town administration later appealed this court ruling.

The dispute between town authorities and the local Roma dwellers and further legal proceedings began following tragic events, as a result of which in May 2018 more than 500 Roma were forced to flee Ust-Abakan, where they had lived for about 20 years. After the exodus of Roma population, local residents staged a real pogrom of Roma houses with the full connivance of both the local administration and the law enforcement agencies. Instead of protecting the rights of victims and demanding that the Ministry of Interior searches for the perpetrators of the pogrom, the Ust-Abakan town administration decided to force Roma people to leave the village after they had eventually returned to their homes. Representatives of the Roma community did not agree with the demand to leave, and on September 24, 2018, the town administration filed a lawsuit with the Ust-Abakan district court demanding demolition of 10 houses that belonged to local Roma people. After the return to Ust-Abakan, the Roma community started receiving threats from unknown individuals. In September 2018, two Roma houses were burned down as a result of arson, as was later established by the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Local administration now claims that the land allotment, which had been provided to the Roma community in the early 2000s for the construction of houses, had been illegally occupied by them. The ruling of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia failed to take into account the length of residence of Roma settlers in their homes and the fact that the Ust-Abakan town administration had not allowed the house owners to legalize these buildings, while also not offering them any resettlement options.

If the houses are demolished, dozens of people, including children, will be left without shelter, as was the case on several other occasions elsewhere in Russia in recent years. One of the examples was the case of the Roma settlement in the village of Plekhanovo, Tula region, which had gained nationwide notoriety in 2016. Roma residents of this settlement were forced to live in tents, without electricity and gas, and without any help from the local authorities for a period of several months. The demolition of houses and the eviction of Roma residents without providing them alternative housing was recognized as a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court (ECtHR) in 2016. According to the ECtHR ruling substantial compensations were paid to Roma residents of a demolished village in Kaliningrad region in 2016 (the ECtHR decision on ‘Bogdanavichus v. Russia’).

Anti-Discrimnation Centre “Memorial”, in cooperation with lawyer Valery Zaitsev, will continue to defend the rights of Roma residents of Ust-Abakan and will seek to overrule Khakassian Supreme Court’s decision, as well as pursue taking systematic measures to legalize Roma housing and implement the rights of Roma people to proper housing.

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