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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses anti-discrimination efforts of Russia with civil society

GENEVA (31 July 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this afternoon held an informal meeting with civil society representatives from the Russian Federation, whose report will be considered this week.  

In her opening remarks, Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from the Russian Federation and underlined the importance of a dialogue between the experts and civil society. 

Throughout the discussion, numerous civil society representatives presented the issues that they were working on, and the issues they considered as major challenges.  While some thought that the Russian Federation fared well in terms of racial discrimination, compared to many other countries in the world, others felt that numerous challenges lay ahead.  Those included the measures the Government was implementing to curb the acts of extremism, which some members of the civil society thought were not genuine and therefore not effective, as they were rather used to crackdown against political opponents.  The definition of extremism was still too vague and too broad, as was the language of the new articles of the law introduced to fight incitement to hatred and neo-Nazism, which allowed their obvious misuse.  Serious concern was raised regarding the rights of indigenous minority peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, the Roma minority, and the Crimean Tatars and the Ukrainians in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, all of whom were facing systemic and institutional discrimination. 

Speaking in the discussion were Sova Centre, Citizen’s Watch, ADC Memorial, Crimea Centre, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (joint statement), Revival of Kazas, European Center for Democracy Development, World Russian Peoples Council and a representative of the indigenous Shor People.

Ms. Crickley, in her closing remarks, thanked representatives of civil society from Russia for their presentations and contributions to the discussion. 

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 2 August, when the review of the twenty-first to twenty-fourth periodic report of Kuwait will start (CERD/C/KWT/21-24).

Opening Remarks

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from Russia and underlined the importance of a dialogue between the Committee Experts and the civil society.

Statements by non-governmental organizations

A representative of Sova Centre said the number of racist and extremist attacks were going down due to the crackdown against perpetrators by the Government.  Generally, hate speech represented a problem for Russia and many of the victims of those attacks had been described by perpetrators as ethnic enemies from Asia and the Caucasus. Additionally there were cases of anti-Semitic speech.  The number of criminal sentences pronounced to perpetrators of extremist speech in 2015 and 2016 had increased to 500, which had increased fear among perpetrators.

Another speaker said that sometimes anti-extremist legislation was used against political opponents and minority groups: for example, a complete ban on Jehovah’s witnesses had been introduced this year for supposed extremist activities.   The definition of extremism was still too vague and too broad, as was the language of the new articles of the law introduced to fight incitement to hatred and neo-Nazism, and this vagueness allowed for their obvious misuse.  Russia had a unique mechanism of prohibiting books, videos and other materials but there were no results of the measures put in place to control extremism.  Anti-extremism law enforcement took much of the resources of the law enforcement system, but not always for the proper purpose such as fighting the real threats of extremism and hate speech, but mostly against some controversial statements which were not as dangerous as extremism.  The general mechanism against extremism was rather counterproductive and needed to be amended.

A speaker from Citizen’s Watch said it was not clear how information had been gathered for the report and asked the Committee to recommend that civil society members were included in the work related to answering the Committee’s concluding observations.  The report claimed that there were no criminal or administrative cases against discrimination – discrimination was criminalized but the law was not being applied by the court, while the definition of discrimination in the Criminal Code was not compliant with international standards.  The Committee should urge Russia to redefine the crime of discrimination and bring it in line with international standards, and to adopt guidelines for the application by courts of the relevant articles and the Convention in general.  Another problem was the poor training for police officers in terms of human rights and in ethical standards - the Committee should inquire how standards of multiethnic society were reflected in the police ethical codes.  An additional problem was the widespread promotion by the mass media of stereotypes about different minorities: although there was a media self-governing body, media representatives rarely appeared before this board.

ADC Memorial drew the attention of the Committee on the situation of Roma in Russia who still faced structural discrimination.  Most of the Roma lived in dense settlements since 1956 due to a law adopted at the time.  Rather than finding a comprehensive situation to the issue of settlements, the Government reacted by shutting off gas supply, declaring homes to be illegally built, expulsing residents, and other such measures.  The Government denied segregation in schools, however separate schools and classrooms remained widespread across the country.  Combined with open xenophobia and racism, were attempts for taking Roma children away from their families, because parents were unable to pay for electricity bills.  The Committee should urge Russia to legalize homes and plots of lands of the Roma, stop activities such as police operations disconnecting their homes from gas supplies, and stop the segregation of Roma children in schools.

Questions by the Committee Experts

MARK BOSSUYT, Committee Rapporteur for Russia, said that the two speakers from the Sova Centre were ambiguous - while the first one welcomed the positive developments and the conviction of 500 people for extremist speech, the second speaker concluded that the term “extremism” was too vague and broad, and thus misused.  How could extremism be defined with sufficient precision so that it would not be misused?

Another Expert, welcomed the detention of 500 people for extremist speech, and asked representatives of the non-governmental organizations to comment on the attacks in 2016.  Had the perpetrators of those attacks been prosecuted?

An Expert asked how Russia had succeeded in reducing the number of extremist attacks.

Responses by the Non-Governmental Organizations

A speaker from Sova Centre said that the number of more than 500 persons sentenced for some statements was an official Supreme Court statistics, which included sentences for the five Criminal Code articles related to extremism - incitement to racial and other hatred, incitement to extremist activity, approval of terrorist acts and two new articles on justifying Nazi crimes and abusing the feelings of believers.  The number of such sentences was growing from one year to another.  On the other hand, the number of people sentenced for violent hate crimes was much less but unfortunately there was no statistics available because all the statistics was compiled on the basis of criminal code articles, and hate was not a separate article but an aggravating circumstance to many crimes.  The number of such sentences was decreasing; last year 42 people had been sentenced for violent hate crimes. 

In terms of changing the anti-discrimination legislation, the Sova Centre proposed to refer definition of extremist activity to violence and violent action, and to be based on the Shanghai Convention, which was Russia’s only international obligation concerning extremism, and which defined extremism as an activity related to violence.  Secondly, there was a need to refer to the 2013 Rabat Plan of Action, which contained detailed instructions to courts on how to deal with crimes of incitement of any kind. 

In response to questions raised on the measures to counter hate crimes, the key and most powerful instrument was criminal law enforcement, stressed the speaker.  If one or two of the most active gang members were arrested, other gang members usually stooped participating in a criminal activity.  Several hundred of prosecutions for hate speech and several hundred administrative sanctions for dissemination of banned materials were seen by the law enforcement as a prophylactic for violence but this was not effective because most of those punished were not from the gangs which employed hate speech.  Last year the Supreme Court had amended its general recommendations for the implementation of the criminal norms related to anti-extremism and anti-terrorism.

Another representative of the Sova Centre, in response to defining extremism so as not to misuse it, said that one of the strategies was to get rid of social groups as a grounds for possible extremism.  Such a definition of grounds for extremism was a problem because the law considered the police and law enforcement officials as a social group and it prosecuted people for extremist activities against the police or hate speech against the police.  The Federal Agency on the Affairs of Nationalities was mandated with the implementation of the state national minority policies.  It was monitoring the state of ethnic conflicts and had set the mechanism for monitoring, but it was not clear what this mechanism was and what its results were.

Statements by non-governmental organizations

A speaker from the Crimea Centre said that racial discrimination was prevalent since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.  For the past three years, the organization had witnessed the State-sponsored persecution and discrimination of ethnic groups that delegitimized Russian occupation such as Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians.  The policy of de facto authorities was directed either to make those groups leave the peninsula to the Ukrainian mainland, or to assimilate them.  Three main tendencies were seen: the first was the serious violations of human rights of the civil and political rights of these groups, including enforced disappearances of Crimean Tatars and detention for various reasons; a severe limitation of the freedom of assembly in place since 2015; and the complete ban on the media - the de facto authorities had started to introduce the process of re-registration of media and currently only three Crimean media left .  The most flagrant violation of political and civil rights was the prohibition of the Mejlis, a self-governance mechanism of the Crimean Tatars established in 1991.  The second tendency was the limitations on language and religion, or cultural rights, including education in the non-national languages.  Only 5,000 Tatar children had the opportunity to study in the Tatar language, traditional practices including in the mosques, where seeing increased surveillance, and public events were increasingly limited.  Lastly, the State-sponsored hate speech, depicting Crimean Tatars as terrorist and extremists, increased hatred in the society and compromised the ethnic relations in the peninsula.

A representative of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, in a joint statement, focused on the so-called indigenous minority peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, noting that treaty bodies always asked Russia to provide disaggregated data on these peoples, and Russia always failed to do so, which made it difficult to assess the true situation of these peoples.  Many of their organizations were labelled as “foreign agents” and had been shut down.  The indigenous movement was in a dire situation: it was being tightly controlled, some leaders had fled the country and sought asylum abroad, one served a sentence in a penal colony for resistance against gold mining, while the criminalization of indigenous leaders was on the rise.  Russia failed to recognize the indigenous land tenure: the report claimed that 500 so-called “territories of traditional nature use” existed in Russia but it did not mentioned that none had been confirmed by the Federal Government, which meant that they could be abrogated at any time.  In most of those territories, oil extraction operations were actually ongoing, so the best hope for the indigenous people was to get some kind of monetary compensation.  The law on land rights did not protect these peoples’ land rights against incursion of extractive industries such as the oil industry.  Many such projects had been launched recently without prior consent by the indigenous peoples there.  There were discriminatory practices targeting fishermen, especially in the Pacific Regions of Russia where salmon was a big industry: for example, the use of the fishing nets was forbidden to the indigenous but not to commercial industries.

A representative of the indigenous Shor People, drew the Committee’s attention to the Shor village of Kazas which had been destroyed in November 2013 and where the houses of those who refused to sell their land burned down, most likely by the coal mining company.  There was no resettlement programme, as claimed in the report, because  the land had been bought up.  The coal mining company continued to act, even though audits in 2011 and 2013 had identified a number of violations.  Activists were being put under pressure, with campaigns financed by the Government.  The Shor People demanded the return of their land and asked the Committee to recommend an international working group to look into the situation there.

A speaker from the Revival of Kazas, and also a member of an indigenous Shor People, spoke about the rights of the indigenous peoples in the Kemerovo region, who had been deprived of ownership rights over the land that they owned for many centuries.  The only university department in the world which taught the Shor Language had been shut down in 2010.  There was a planned policy of discrimination and genocide of indigenous peoples in Kemerovo.  The Committee should recommend the establishment of an international commission to restore the rights of the Shor peoples, which would include representatives of the Shor peoples their civil society organisations.

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert inquired about the effect of the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice to refrain from imposing limitations on the Tatar community, and to preserve the community.  Was there discrimination against the Ukrainian language?  What were the criteria to be labelled as a “foreign agent”?

Another Expert asked about the current situation of the indigenous communities and which and how many of their organizations had been closed down.

Regarding the situation of the fishermen, this situation had been looked at for quite some time.  According to the information received by the Committee, there had been some persecutions against fishermen, nets had been destroyed and confiscated.  What else had happened?

What role did indigenous peoples play in that debate in Russia on the importance of the climate change?

Responses by the Non-Governmental Organizations

Representatives of the non-governmental organizations said that the Ukrainian language was in an even worse situation than the Tatar language.  In addition to the Shor peoples, the Teleuts had also been eliminated in the Kemerovo region.  It was virtually impossible to work with foreign funding, because of the fear of being labelled a “foreign agent”.

A representative of the European Centre for Democracy Development, said that Russia was one of the only countries to have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and had adopted a series of measures against racism.  For the last ten years, numerous sentences, such as confiscation of homes of perpetrators of hate crimes, prohibiting them from working with children, and so forth, had been strengthened.  There were 5,000 children that studied Crimean in schools.  An increase in the registration of crimes and a fall in the number of crimes had been recorded thus, the situation was more positive than negative.

A speaker from the World Russian Peoples Council, said the situation in Russia was very positive and much better than in many other countries in the world.  Headscarves were not forbidden, neither was the practice of Jewish traditions.  In Russia, there were more than 200 nations, with different religious denominations.  In reference to Jehova’s witnesses, those carried out internal and external propaganda.

An Expert asked about the situation of anti-Semitism in the last five years.  Did the civil society organisations advise the Government and if so, how did it advise the Government to improve the situation?  Who were the most vulnerable groups in Russia and why and in what sense?

A civil society representative said that almost all acts of xenophobia were carried out by religious groups, and that the majority of terrorist attacks were perpetrated by the Wahhabi groups.  Most vulnerable groups were the minorities, however the rights of the majority had not been forgotten.

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For use of the information media; not an official record