By Paul Goble
Russia’s leading human rights groups say that ethnic Russians are now actively discriminating against ethnic Ukrainians even though Vladimir Putin invariably insists that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and also persecuting Crimean Tatars, Roma, North Caucasians and numerically small peoples of the North.
Earlier this month, Yekaterina Trifonova of Nezavisimaya gazeta writes today, the Russian government gave an upbeat report about the state of ethnic and racial discrimination in Russia to a United Nations commission examining the state of ethnic relations and human rights in Russia in the wake of the Ukrainian events (ng.ru/politics/2017-08-14/3_7050_oon.html).
Now, a group of leading Russian human rights groups, including Memorial, Crimea SOS, the SOVA center, and the Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has presented an alternative report which says the official report “minimizes” the number of violations of human rights in the Russian Federation and in the occupied territories.
In a joint statement, the rights groups pointed to “forced disappearances, illegal deprivation of freedom … limits on the use and study of native languages and on religious and cultural practices,” as well as “the application of torture even to children.” And they noted Russian officials have repeatedly failed to keep promises to the groups and to international bodies like the UN.
Among the most persecuted groups are the Roma, people from the North Caucasus and Central Asia. Even when they have Russian citizenship, such people can’t rent apartments, get decent work, gain access to education and health care, or serve in the ranks of the Russian army on the basis of ethnicity alone.
The independent report also noted that “often NGOs which defend the rights of the indigenous peoples of the North and the Far East suffer as well: Many of them have been declared ‘foreign agents’ or ‘extremist organizations.’” Moreover, Moscow’s struggle against extremism has become a cover for suppression of all dissent.
Perhaps most ominously of all, the authors of the report say, is that “quite often officials allow themselves to make public calls for racial discrimination.” They called for the Russian government to make such calls illegal and impose criminal penalties on anyone who violates such laws.