Time to fight against discrimination: results of a conference

On April 2-3, 2011 ADC Memorial held an annual conference within the project “Legal help to Roma settlements in Russia”. This time the traditional exchange of the results and experience and discussions of the project’s problems took place on the first day, and the second day of the conference was devoted to the broader range of problems related to discrimination. For example, new issues such as advocay of LGBT rights and disabled people’s rights were included into the agenda. The idea appeared to be successful: it allowed to attract more participants and vary the knowledge of the traditional (Roma people and law consultants) and new participants (St Petersburg lawyers, representatives of discriminated groups).

The invitations from ADC Memorial were sent to the representatives of the Roma settlements all over Russia. Not all of them were able to come (especially we would like to see Roma women, but individual trips for them are still quite rare). Nevertheless, representatives of many Russian regions (the Vladimir, Tula, Leningrad, Penza, Krasnodar and the farthest Tyumen regions) came to the conference. The regional law consultants also arrived at the conference to discuss the most complicated cases. Lawyers and human rights activists arrived from Belgorod, Kaliningrad, Tambov, Samara, Novorossiysk and Chelyabinsk. Many of them work in the sphere of human rights and have already achieved significant results. For example, the director of the human rights organisation “Planet of hopes” (Ozyorsk, the Chelyabinsk region), Nadezhda Kutepova, successfully protects ecological rights of the residents of the closed administrative-territorial entity in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Although she works with the Roma settlement in the village of Shagol in the Chelyabinsk region for a short time, she has already managed to protect the settlement from the threats of the administration (some time earlier the demolition of the settlmenet was stopped after ADC Memorial and internationals organisations stood up for the Roma) and obtaining individual documents. N. Kutepova regularly consultates the residents of the settlement and thinks, that the issue of Roma rights seems to be interesting and perspective also in the framework of international advocacy. Special attention is paid to the possible auction for the land. Last year the district administration promised ADC Memorial to legalise the settlement, but now the land parcels can be bought only at the auction. The local authorities say that the price will be accessable for the Roma and there will be no other buyers of the land. But the situation remains unstable. The control by an experienced human rights activist is very important.

The workers of ADC Memorial told the participants of the conference about the unique success in the case of housing rights in the Tyumen region. In 2008 Roma residents of the houses at Mysovskaya street in Tyumen faced real threat of eviction because the land they lived on was given to a building company. ADC Memorial initiated the agreement between the constructing company “Partnet Invest” and the Roma people. The company agreed to provide free housing for Roma people before the construction works. The construction was postponed due to the crisis, but in 2010 the activities to realise the agreement were started.

The governing body of the company managed to receive the land for future Roma houses from the administration and prepared projects of new houses and the plan of the settlement agreed with the Roma. ADC Memorial prepared requests to the district administration and the land department to help socially responsible busines to provide houses for Roma in a new place.

Unfortunately, such an attitide towards Roma setllmenets is an exception, not a rule. Although the members of the Russian official delegation at the recent UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Riights session condemned the practice of demolition of Roma houses and forced evictions, regional and municipal authorities still very often violate socio-economic rights of the Roma. Almost all Roma participants could tell stories about such violations. In many regions police behave like that (illegal or unbased arrests, rades, forced fingerpinting). In Belgorod ADC Memorial cooperates with a lawyer Segei Malanovsky to stop such violations. The lawyer told us about one rade he witnessed himself: “Around 7 a.m. several police cars arrived in the settlment and surrounded every house. They started knocking on the doors and tried to break into the houses. The Roma did not let them in, called me and I arrived immediately. It turned out that the rade was initiated by the Belgorod Security Council due to, as it was said to be, many complaints of the locals on antisanitary and unregistered residents in the settlement. The head of the group was the director of the local police officers. The group consisted of local police officers, Federal migration service worker, inspection of young persons – about 20 people altogether. The police tried to take men for fingerprinting, but when I came and asked why they needed to fingerprint Roma, they refused it and asked for house register and land title certificates. They also proposed to build a fence to make neigbourgs stop complaining. FMS found an old woman with a Soviet passport and proposed her to change it”.

The Roma from the settlement in Glubokovo, Vladimir region, also told us about an illegal arrest. The residents of the Roma settlement were illegally arrested and imprisoned. ADC Memorial sent a request on the basis for the arrest to the local police office. Involvement of the human rights organisation allowed, according to the Roma people, to stop these persecutions. There is no guarantee though that such violations will not be repeated. The state of rightlessness and abuse of power by the police were one of the main topics of the conference.

The participants of the conference were divided into two groups – one is of the lawyers to discuss obstacles they face while protecting Roma rights, and the one of Roma people who were told about the work of international Roma rights organisations.

The lawyers discussed the most effective remedy against discrimination, the process of exhaution of domestic remedies in order to apply to the European Court on Human Rights, and difficulties when communicating with the applicants. The Tambov lawyer, Valentina Shaysipova, told about an attempt to protect Roma children’s rights in the Russian court described in the last number of the Bulletin. All lawyers admitted that there is no court practice in Russia on dsscrimination cases and in fact it is impossible to file such complaints in Russian courts. Independent expertises were also discussed. ADC Memorial organised expertises of the knowledge of Roma school children and racist statements of the Sochi mayor.

The second day of the conference was fully devoted to the issue of discrimination, including complex discrimination, disrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, ethicity, disability or citizenship. The workers of ADC Memorial and famous lawyers of St Petersburg, Olga Tseitlina and Dmitry Bartenev, took part in the discussions. For the first time, activists of the LGBT community of the city of Pskov participated in the conference.

Olga Tseitlina told about the case “Lakatos and others v. Russia”. She conducted this case on behalf of the ADC Memorial to help Roma “magyars”. Russia admitted the violations of the Convention as the applicants were detented illegally for a long time in unhuman conditions, while responsible state agencies were inactive, and agreed to pay the compensation.

Dmitry Bartenev described the cases related with the discrimiation of the LGBT community and disabled people in the ECHR (famous cases of Alexeyev and Shtukaturov). The participants discussed possibility of the ECHR to influence Russian practuice. The results of the case “Shtukaturov v. Russia” are very important. After this case was won, the Constituonal Court of the Russian Federation issued a decree to change the remedial law.

Such a programme allowed the participants to receive “the big picture” of discrimination, its dangers and possiblle means to opposing it, made the conference more interesting. Additional contracts were made between ADC Memorial and lawyers on the topic issues (for example, protecting from the police abuse practice). Many participants sent letters of acknolewdgment with their impressions. For instance, the participant from the Krasnodar krai thanked for the invitation, opportunity to talk to lawyers and Roma activists from other regions. He also said that now he better understands the situtation with Roma settlemenets in Russia and it will help him to find common ground with Roma people in his region.

The seminar can be considered successful and important. The experiment of uniting different social groups against discrimination was sucsessful and should be repeated. The fight against discrimination is still on.

Anna Udyarova

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