At the 91st session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (April 12-13, 2023), the state report of the Russian Federation on the implementation of the relevant Convention was considered. In their Concluding Observations, the Committee’s experts called on the Russian authorities to stop human rights violations in Ukraine and expressed serious concerns about the numerous facts of systemic discrimination against Roma, indigenous peoples and migrants in Russia.
One of the main topics during the discussions regarding the report was the gross violations of human rights of Ukrainians committed in the course of hostilities in Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces and private military companies. In particular, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, torture, rape, and forcible transfer or deportation of residents to Russia, including children, were considered.
According to estimates by the Ukrainian authorities, as of May 19, 2023, during more than a year of hostilities, 19,392 children were taken to Russia from the territory of Ukraine, of which only 365 have been returned to date.
The Committee did not ignore the discriminatory practices that accompany forced mobilization in Russia, in particular, disproportionate recruitment among ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples.
The actions of the Russian authorities in the occupied Crimea – the persecution of ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars – were seriously criticized. In particular, the Committee noted the damage to the Crimean Tatar cultural heritage – the exclusion of the Crimean Tatar language from public space, the desecration and destruction of monuments; the restriction of political and civil rights of Crimean Tatars, as well as the persecution of human rights defenders, activists, lawyers and journalists.
The Committee expressed serious concern about the widespread hatred and propaganda of racist stereotypes against ethnic Ukrainians, in particular in the Russian state media, on the Internet and social networks, as well as by public figures, including State Duma deputies. The Committee specifically noted the inaction of the Russian authorities in stopping such actions and the absence of any sanctions against those responsible.
The Russian delegation tried to prevent the consideration of issues related to the war in Ukraine, arguing that they are considered by the International Court of Justice on the suit of Ukraine against Russia, and formally this may prevent their discussion at the Committee session. However, the Committee underlined the inconsistency of the Russian Federation’s arguments and demanded an answer to all the questions raised.
The Committee noted the increasing incidence of racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination in Russia. The recommendations of the Committee reflected the issues raised in the alternative report of ADC Memorial and the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia. The experts expressed concern about reports of ongoing racially motivated police violence and racial profiling by law enforcement officials against members of groups vulnerable to racial discrimination, mainly Roma, migrants, especially from Central Asia and the Caucasus, people of African descent and victims of intersecting forms of discrimination. The experts recommended that the Russian authorities intensify their efforts to combat these phenomena, in particular, conduct training programs for police officers, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials to identify and register cases of racial discrimination, as well as carry out activities to inform the public about the rights enshrined in the Convention, and how to complain about racial discrimination, especially among Roma, indigenous, migrant communities and stateless people.
The Committee expressed serious concern about institutionalized discrimination and persistent violations of the rights of the Roma. CERD members pointed out that Roma communities continue to suffer from social exclusion and poverty: most informal Roma settlements face limited access to basic services, constant gas and electricity cuts, low levels of housing, as well as ongoing house demolitions and forced evictions without alternative housing or compensation. The Committee noted discrimination against Roma children in the field of education, expressed in the refusal to admit Roma children to some Russian schools, the segregated approach to the education of Roma children, and the disproportionately high dropout rate among Roma children, especially at the secondary school level.
Noting the positive steps taken by Russia (comprehensive action plan for the socio-economic and ethnocultural development of the Roma in the Russian Federation), the members of the Committee, nevertheless, recommended that the Russian authorities intensify their efforts to combat discrimination against Roma in all spheres of life: to stop forced eviction and demolition Roma settlements, organize the legalization of informal Roma settlements and ensure their rights to residential buildings, take effective measures to ensure Roma access to basic services, stop using gas and electricity cuts as a repressive measure in Roma settlements. With regard to Roma children, the Committee recommended ensuring their access to quality and inclusive education, ending de facto segregation in schools and investigating cases of denied admission to schools.
In its Concluding Observations, the Committee paid serious attention to the problems of indigenous peoples living on the territory of Russia. The Committee’s criticism was that only 47 indigenous peoples are officially recognized as such due to the narrow definition of indigenous peoples in Russian law, which only provides protection for groups of less than 50,000 people. Larger indigenous groups do not have legal protection for their lands, resources and means of subsistence. The Committee drew attention to inadequate compensation for damage caused to indigenous communities by mining companies, violations of the rights of indigenous peoples to use their traditionally owned lands and natural resources, the right to traditional food, and a clean and healthy environment. Instead of protecting their rights, indigenous peoples face excessive bureaucracy and restrictive regulations in obtaining permits for traditional activities such as hunting and fishing.
The Committee recommended taking measures to prevent the negative impact of industrial projects on the land, territories and resources of indigenous peoples in order to protect their customs and traditional ways of living. The experts recommended that the Russian authorities revise the relevant legislation in order to amend the definition of indigenous peoples, abolish the requirement for a maximum number, and ensure full and effective legal protection of all cultural, territorial and political rights of the indigenous peoples of Russia. In particular, the experts recommend that the authorities of the Russian Federation establish territories of traditional nature management with federal status in accordance with the law, as well as review legal and political restrictions on traditional activities in order to facilitate access to them for indigenous peoples and eliminate any discriminatory restrictions.