Police abuses against Roma, migrants and activists: Russia’s record before the UN Committee against Torture

Russia’s record of torture and ill-treatment is up for review by the UN Committee against Torture. On Friday 9th and Monday 12th November, the Committee will hear Russian officials and engage in a dialogue to monitor the Russian Federation’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment.

ADC Memorial, with FIDH’s support, provided the Committee with evidence through a public report: Roma, Migrants, Activists: Victims of Police Abuse. Against a backdrop of increasing repression against dissident voices and marginalized people in today’s Russia, this review is an opportunity for the UN monitoring body to call on Russia to reform its legislation and revise its policies to end to police abuses. ADC Memorial and FIDH call on Russia to uphold the basic dignity and integrity of all persons on its territory, without discrimination.

The ADC Memorial – FIDH report documents daily police abuses suffered by specific segments of the Russian population: marginalized groups such as Roma, migrants and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and dissident voices such as social activists, journalists and human rights defenders. These abuses range from ethnic profiling and daily abuse of authority to ’special operations’, beatings in police stations and torture, sometimes leading to death. They not only violate international conventions prohibiting torture, but are also a blatant contradiction of new Russian police legislation, which entered into force in March 2011 asserting principles of police accountability and non-discrimination against ethnic, linguistic and other minorities.

Review of the Russian Federation by the UN Committee against Torture

  • Committee against Torture concluding observations (online after the review)

  • Other NGO reports and documents related to the review : click here

Roma: everyday victims of police violence

The report submitted to the Committee gives extensive evidence of the specific targeting of Roma people by Russian police, as well as daily abuses to which they are subjected. Negative stereotypes linking Roma origin with criminal behavior remain widespread among law enforcement agents, and intolerance and xenophobic attitudes are common among police. Roma are rendered particularly vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment because of widespread police practices subjecting them to repeated and illegal document checks, arbitrary detention and confinement at police stations. ’Special operations’ – effectively raids on Roma camps, intended to uncover crimes perpetrated specifically by Roma – are regularly conducted, and characterized by discriminatory and degrading treatment. Domestic remedies against these abuses prove difficult to trigger and ineffective in practice, therefore creating a climate of impunity for the law enforcement officers. The report documents instances of habitual beating of Roma men and women in some police stations, sometimes leading to death disguised as suicide. It also highlights cases of illegal detention, mistreatment and gender-specific violence against Roma women.

Migrants: from xenophobic stereotypes to systematic abuses of power and hate crimes

The report also sheds light on the situation of migrants, another vulnerable segment of the Russian population. Over 10 million foreigners enter Russia annually, including many seasonal migrants from Central Asia and the South Caucasus coming in search of jobs. These persons constitute one of the most vulnerable groups in society, being victim to xenophobic stereotypes, and perceived not only as “alien” to Russian society but also as “delinquents” violating Russian immigration law. Against this backdrop, ethnic profiling, random document checks and illegal confiscation of migrant personal documentation has become a widespread practice. Large-scale police operations “to suppress illegal immigration” are regularly conducted, keeping migrants in a climate of constant fear. These operations give rise to extortion of bribes, racist insults, intimidation and other abuses of power. These abuses are commonly meted out against migrants and met with blanket impunity. The sense of impunity enjoyed by law-enforcement agents creates conditions for hate crimes against migrants, and can lead to their subjection to abduction, enforced disappearances, threats and beatings in police stations as well as psychological duress amounting to torture.

Anti-fascist, anti-racist and LGBT rights activists victim to police brutality

As well as marginalized groups, dissident voices are also subject to police harassment. Violence and threats are often used by state agents for political purposes as repressive measures targeting those who actively express their social or political position. As stated in the report, “the state often seeks to justify the persecution of activists by reference to the need to fight against extremism, which actually becomes a fight against non-conformism”. The report documents a number of threats, attacks and beatings of social activists, in particular anti-fascist, anti-racist and LGBT rights activists. Far from reducing, these practices have been large-scale since the end of 2011. The report highlights the brutal repression of protests between late 2011 and early 2012. In this context, LGBT activists suffer dual discrimination, being both members of a marginalized group affected by a strong social stigma, and dissident voices claiming rights and freedoms. LGBT activists have therefore been victims of attacks and beatings, as well as abuses of authority by police and pressure from state agencies.

No progress without accountability

ADC Memorial and FIDH call on Russia to stand by its international obligations under the Convention against Torture and the human rights principles enshrined in its 2011 reforms; we call on the State to take the necessary measures to put police practices in line with human rights standards. Impunity, lack of accountability and the invariably ’’benevolent’’ attitude of investigative agencies and courts towards crimes committed by law-enforcement agents create fertile ground for abuse of authority, violence and torture. No reform can resolve these problems until these crimes are investigated, prosecuted and punished. At risk groups such as actual and perceived ethnic and other minorities, political activists and LGBT rights defenders must also receive special protection.

ADC Memorial and FIDH hope that Russia’s review by the Committee against Torture will provide an opportunity to highlight the shortcomings of the law-enforcement and justice sectors in Russia, and to issue concrete recommendations to put an end widespread police practices amounting to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Follow the review online: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org (Friday 9 November (10 – 12am) and Monday 12 November (3 - 6pm))

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