Sunday, April 6, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Memorial Calls on Kremlin to End Oppression of Roma

Paul Goble

Baku, April 7 – In advance of International Roma Day tomorrow, Moscow’s Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center has called on the Russian government to live up to its national and international commitments and end the mistreatment of Roma in general and of children in particular.
Tragically, the Center said, Roma children in Russia “live in poor settlements and in unsanitary conditions, suffer from hunger and cold, sometimes do not attend school at all or attend schools where conditions for Roma are frequently and notoriously worse than for other children” (
The rights of these children, the Center said, are guaranteed by the Russian Constitution and the Russian law on education as well as by numerous international conventions to which Russia is a signatory. And now, it said, there is yet another reason for Moscow to change its approach.
Recently, the European Human Rights Court ruled that it was illegal to divide students on ethnic grounds. While the case involved Czech schools specially organized for Roma, the court’s ruling sets a precedent for all members of the Council of Europe, of which Russia is one.
Consequently, Memorial said, Moscow is legally bound to end the practice found in many regions of the country in which gypsies are placed in “so-called ‘Roma classes.’” Instead, it must place them in classes with all other children, even as it provides training in Roma languages.
Unfortunately, anti-Roma attitudes in the Russian population and among Russian officials and anger at what some in both groups see as the European Court’s “interference” in what they see as their country’s internal affairs, there is little likelihood Moscow will do so.
But “by not guaranteeing children a worthy childhood and equal possibilities at the beginning of life, the state is creating a mass of problems for these people in the future involving their education, employment and conditions of life,” the Memorial declaration said.
In fact, many adult Roma throughout the Russian Federation continue to be mistreated as well, the Caucasus Knot Internet portal has reported. In January, it said, officials in Volgograd rounded up Roma, photographed them, and took their fingerprints even though there was no evidence they had been involved in any crime.
And at present a Volskiy regional court in Volgograd oblast is hearing the case of a group of ten young man who broke into a Roma camp there, shouted Russian nationalist and anti-Roma slogans, and attacked some of the people living there April 2006, leaving one dead and several seriously wounded.
The reason the case is being discussed only know, Roma activists say, is that the court has constantly put off the hearing, something that has prompted lawyers for the Roma to prepare a complaint to be sent to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation if there is yet another postponement.

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