MINELRES: Briefing Surveys Human Rights of Russia's Roma Population

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Oct 18 19:56:27 2004

Original sender: Helsinki Commission Digest <digest@csce.gov>

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Chairman 
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Co-Chairman


October 15, 2004

Briefing Surveys Human Rights of
Russia's Roma Population
By Erika Schlager
CSCE Counsel on International Law

On September 23, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a
briefing on "The Roma in Russia."  Panelists included Dimitrina Petrova,
Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov,
Director, Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, a consultant for the Open
Society Institute specializing in minority issues in the former Soviet

Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor to the Helsinki Commission, moderated
the briefing.  She noted the Commission's long engagement regarding the
human rights problems faced by Roma as well as the overall human rights
situation in Russia.  Highlighting the need to examine the particular
situation of Roma in Russia, she observed that since Roma "constitute a
relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight is often

Dr. Petrova noted that, for the 2002 Russian census, approximately
182,000 individuals identified themselves as Romani.  Unofficial
estimates, however, suggest that the number of Roma in Russia is much
higher; a figure often cited is 1.2 million.  She argued that the fate
of Roma in Russia is emblematic of the racism, xenophobia, and
discrimination faced by other ethnic minorities in Russia, particularly
Jews and people from the Caucasus region.

In a comprehensive statement, Dr. Petrova outlined nine key areas of
concern:  historical and social discrimination against Roma; the legal
and institutional context of anti-discrimination legislation; the
current political and ideological climate in Russia; the abuse of Roma
rights by state actors (primarily the police); the abuse of Roma rights
by non-state actors; discrimination in the criminal justice system; the
portrayal of Roma in the Russian media; the lack of personal documents;
and access to housing and education.  

The main focus of Dr. Petrova's statement concerned abuse by both state
and non-state actors.  The main impetus of anti-Roma abuse in Russia is
related directly to the ideological "war on drugs."  People of Roma
descent are targeted through racial profiling and various media outlets
as illegal drug dealers and are subject to frequent police raids.  The
"war on drugs" has also become an excuse for police brutality and racial
targeting in which police plant drugs on the Roma or in their homes and
then arrest them for the possession of illegal substances.

Dr. Petrova ended her statement with a call for the United States
Government "to play a leadership role and use its economic and political
weight to help improve the position of Roma in Russia and address the
human rights problems of Roma in Russia as a matter of urgency and as a
primary concern in combating racial discrimination."  She asked human
rights monitoring agencies both in the United States and in Europe to
prioritize Roma rights in Russia and to draw the Russian Government's
attention to Roma issues that are currently not being addressed.

Dr. Torkohov, representing the Ekaterinburg-based Roma Ural, presented
his organization's efforts to monitor media coverage of Roma, examine
factors contributing to lower levels of education among Roma, and assist
Romani Holocaust survivors obtain compensation through existing

Torkohov offered a number of recommendations to improve the current
situation.  With respect to education, he suggested creating preschool
programs for Roma children to improve literacy, working with both
children and parents to understand the value of education, and
facilitating cooperation between parents and schools.  Given the
pronounced bigotry against Roma that characterizes portrayals of Roma in
the broadcast and print media, he also suggested training journalists to
improve their professional skills.

Leonid Raihman focused on ill treatment of Roma by the police, access to
justice, and problems associated with the lack of personal documents,
including passports.  Endemic corruption among the poorly paid and
poorly trained police in Russia has fostered an environment in which
Roma are the routine victims of extortion by the police.  This
extortion, in turn, contributes to the economic marginalization of Roma.

Raihman also described the serious and complex problem of personal
documents for the Roma.  He said the absence of personal documents, as
well as the rigid nature of the personal documents system in Russia,
represents an aspect of the problem.  However, he felt that ethnicity
was the primary reason for problems in obtaining a passport. 
"Administration officials," he stated, "especially in housing and
immigration departments abuse the discretionary decision-making power
accorded to them by the passport system to discriminate against Roma and
members of the vulnerable groups." 

Mr. Raihman urged the U.S. Government to use its power "to persuade the
Russian Government to place the human rights problems which the Roma
face high on their agenda."  He stated that it is time for the Russian
Government, as well as the rest of the world, to acknowledge and deal
with the problems faced by the Roma in Russia.

A transcript of the briefing is available through the Helsinki
Commission's website at: http://www.csce.gov.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by
law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the
Helsinki Accords.  The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine
Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the
Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

United States Helsinki Commission Intern Judy Abel contributed to this
234 Ford House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515-6460