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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hears from civil society organizations from Russia

Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights

25 September 2017

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today heard from the national human rights institution and non-governmental organizations on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Russian Federation, whose report the Committee will review this week. The consideration of the report of Mexico, also scheduled this week, was postponed to another session.

Olga Goncharenko from the National Human Rights Commission of the Russian Federation drew the Committee's attention to the fact that cases involving economic, social and cultural rights represented between 80 and 85 per cent of the complaints received, and concerned mainly the non-payment of wages, allegations of abusive termination of the employment contracts, undeclared employment, and access to social housing and health. Despite the sanctions imposed on Russia, the payment of pensions and unemployment benefits had not been affected, said Ms. Goncharenko, who deplored the fact that the Russian Paralympic team had not been allowed to participate in the Rio de Janeiro Games. Such politically motivated sanctions were particularly unacceptable in the case of people struggling daily to overcome their condition, she concluded.

Representatives of the thirteen non-governmental organizations that had discussed the situation in Russia with the Committee, denounced the criminalization of drug use and sex workers, which were at the origin of the rights violations of those two groups, and also denounced the lack of a policy to prevent HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and tuberculosis. Moreover, the precarious situation of migrant workers, which numbered several million, was also stressed, and the violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples, Roma and Crimean Tatars were called into question. The situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons people was of great concern – they were subjected to repressive policies and discrimination, and were often victims of violence and hate crimes, which mostly went unpunished.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts inquired about access of women to employment, and more specifically, the criteria used in list of jobs that were closed to women. They also asked about the land rights of indigenous peoples, the situation of same-sex couples, access to antiretroviral treatment, and if recommendations been made to the State to decriminalise drug use.

Speaking in the discussion were the National Human Rights Commission of the Russian Federation, and representatives of the following non-governmental organizations: Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial, International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, “Revival of Kazas and the Shor Peoples” (Myski local civic organization), Coalition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Organizations, Fenix+, Transgender Legal Defence Project, Coalition of Sex Workers “Silver Rose”, New Life, Public Monitoring Mechanism for Drug Policy Reform in Russia, Defenders of Women Who Use Drugs, Project April, Andrey Rylkov Foundation, and Timur Islamov Foundation.

The Committee will next meet at 3 p.m. today 25 September, to start its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Russia (E/C.12/RUS/6).

Statement by the national human rights institution

OLGA GONCHARENKO, National Human Rights Commission of the Russian Federation, said that the Commission had eight departments responsible for economic, social and cultural rights and eighty five regional Ombudsmen, and that cases involving economic, social and cultural rights represented between eighty and eighty-five percent of the complaints received. The Commission issued an annual report on the violations of economic and social rights and carried out an annual sociological survey. The regional offices in Yakutia, Kamchatka and the Krasnoyarsk paid special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples in these regions. The Commission had dealt with 500 complaints related to labour rights last year, which included the non-payment of wages and allegations of abusive terminations of the employment contracts.

The payment of pensions and unemployment benefits had not been affected by the sanctions against Russia, said Ms. Goncharenko who deplored the fact that the Russian Paralympic team had not been able to participate in the Rio de Janeiro Games as such politically motivated sanctions were particularly unacceptable. Finally, the Commission informed the Committee about the difficulties with regard to access to health care for certain categories of the population, and pointed out that nearly 30,000 complaints in relation to housing had been received to date. The Commission had asked the authorities to increase the construction of social housing, stressing that the quality of the dwellings built in the last century did not correspond to contemporary standards.

Statements by Non-governmental Organizations

A speaker from the Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial said that two weeks ago, a local court had denied a woman to work as a ship-builder, and stressed that labour migrants faced terrible conditions in the country. The risk of demolition of houses and displacement was still alive for thousands of Roma, while separate classes for Roma children and distance from school were a hidden form of discrimination. The Russian Supreme Court had banned the Supreme Body of the Tatar People, namely the Majlis and discrimination against the Tatars was thriving. The conditions of institutions where asylum seekers and refugees were held had been declared “inhuman” by the European Court of Human Rights.

A representative of the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs said that even though the law on territories of traditional use for indigenous peoples had been around for years, the Federal Government failed to protect the lands of indigenous peoples. In the Western Siberian Region, oil was currently being extracted and many indigenous lands were being exploited. Indigenous peoples were often obliged to enter into contracts with third parties, mostly extractive industries, and were being turned into poachers on their own land.

Myski local civic organization “Revival of Kazas and the Shor Peoples” said that the many coal mining companies in Northern Siberia aggravated the environmental situation of the indigenous peoples, who were breathing in coal dust and dying. The organization had asked the European Commission to look into the environmental rights of the Shor people and asked the Committee to do the same. The Kazas village in Kemerovo Oblast had been destroyed by the coal mine close by, and the issue of people displaced from the village remained a grave issue. The Committee should call upon Russia to improve access to the ancestral burial site at the Karagalash Mount, or Holy Hill, continue the setting up of the Shor language unit at the university, and consult the Shor peoples in any matter concerning them.

A representative of the Coalition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Organizations raised concern about the discrimination against this group, noting that between 2015 and 2016, numerous cases of discrimination in the field of employment had been registered, including dismissal on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity. During the same period, over 150 hate crimes had been documented against persons from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community, and hate crimes, including murder continued with impunity. Russia should investigate all crimes on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, in particular in Chechnya, and stop the propaganda against non-traditional sexual relations.

A speaker from Fenix+ said that the association was working on the prevention of HIV transmission amongst gay men in Russia, which was an epidemic ignored by the State. Gay man living with HIV/AIDS suffered discrimination and were not taken into account by public health policies.

Transgender Legal Defence Project addressed the problem of lack of identity cards for transgender people, without which it was nearly impossible to find a job; without a job, there was no money, no access to health care, and so forth. The Committee should adopt standalone recommendations on the situation of transgender persons, including recommending Russia to legally recognize them and to allocate public funds for their health care.

Coalition of Sex Workers “Silver Rose” said there three million individuals were excluded from the category of citizens because sex workers were considered criminals in Russia, and persecuted by the police. Sex workers were fined for prostitution, disrespected by law-enforcement agencies, depicted as criminals by the media, while their organization had been denied registration twice. Russia should decriminalise sex work and provide equal rights and protection to sex workers.

New Life drew the attention to the high rate of HIV prevalence among the sex workers – up to 43 per cent were infected – which was largely due to the criminalization of sex work. The moralizing mentality was a form of structural violence, said the speaker, and asked the Committee to call upon Russia to repeal Article 6.11 which violated the rights three million sex workers.

Public Monitoring Mechanism for Drug Policy Reform in Russia highlighted the addiction picture in the country, pointing out that originally 80 per cent of cases of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and tuberculosis were due to use of heroin administered intravenously. With the cessation of trafficking from Afghanistan, new narcotics had appeared on the market via the Internet. However, the repressive policy of the State did not allow a real prevention. The decriminalization of the drug use was urgent, said the speaker, while the imprisonment of drug addicts aggravated the situation.

Defenders of Women Who Use Drugs spoke about the negative impact of a punitive approach to the drug policy on women drug users, and stressed that the authorities took the most severe measures, including the termination of the parental rights of drug users. A high percentage of women in prisons had been convicted due to the use of drugs.

Project April spoke of the seriousness of the problem of fatal overdoses due to the absence of a reasoned policy against the phenomenon of drug addiction. Drugs to combat overdoses were subject to prescriptions that did not allow non-governmental organizations to use them easily. It was essential to focus on prevention, she concluded.

Andrey Rylkov Foundation noted that almost half of the people living with HIV/AIDS died of tuberculosis and that Russia, together with China and India, had become one of the top three countries with highest levels of multi-drug resistance to tuberculosis. The root of the problem was the criminalisation of drugs which led to high rates of transmission in prisons, with poor hygiene being an aggravating factor. It was crucial to decriminalize drug use.

Timur Islamov Foundation mentioned the appearance of new psychoactive substances on the "dark net", with more than 500 new products available. Their consequences were both physical and psychological, and the authorities' lack of policy to deal with the situation was an aggravating factor. The organisation asked the Committee to urge the Government to decriminalise drug use for personal use.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked about the criteria used to list jobs prohibited to women, issued that the indigenous peoples faced, the rights of same-sex couples, and whether any recommendation had been made to the State to decriminalize drug use.

Experts also asked whether there were other causes of the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C apart from drug use, the situation regarding freedom of expression for representatives of civil society, and access to antiretroviral treatment.

Responding, representatives of the non-governmental organizations said that the Government was planning to revise the list of professions banned for women, stressing that it was important to abolish the list altogether. They stressed that the strategy to prevent HIV/AIDS included language of hatred, such as prostitutes, non-traditional sexual relations, and so forth.

At the root of the issues that the indigenous peoples faced was the wealth of their lands. Indigenous peoples’ rights were declarative, and the entire land legislation was inconsistent. There was a constant stream of ongoing revisions by these had not led to a comprehensive and effective legal framework which would give the indigenous peoples their land rights, while the complaints against licenses issued to mining and other companies were mostly rejected. Human rights defenders were fired from jobs, spied upon, and a great deal of pressure and intimidation was being exerted on them.

As for the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, a civil society representative said that those diseases spread form the concentrated group of drug users to the general population, and that the drug users and sex workers remained among the most vulnerable.

According to the Ministry of Health, around 20 per cent of the officially registered HIV-positive persons were receiving antiretroviral treatment; one of the issues was that people did not adhere to the plan of the treatment because the Government was changing the schemes of the treatment.

OLGA GONCHARENKO, National Human Rights Commission of the Russian Federation, said the Commission was already working with the Shor people in securing their rights, and urged the representatives of minority and indigenous peoples to work with the Commission. Regarding drug trafficking, the Commission agreed that there was a need for further improvement in the legislation in this field, and that the legislation on drugs had to be clarified since the broad interpretation led to violations of human rights by the authorities.

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