Children of the Gulag: Russian government defies constitutional court ruling on law aiding victims of Soviet repression

Press release
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Glen Hodson

Paris-Moscow – Yesterday, the Russian Parliament held its first reading of a draft legislation amending the 1991 law ’On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repressions’. If adopted, the law would undermine the right of over a thousand elderly Russian citizens, the so-called ’Children of the Gulag’, to return to the place of residence of their deported parents, as guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Law. FIDH and its partner organisation in Moscow believe that the law should be rejected in its entirety.

On 26 November 2020, the Russian Parliament began deliberations on a draft legislation amending the Rehabilitation Law, introduced by the government in July 2020 in response to Russia’s Constitutional Court’s ruling 10 December 2019 in favour of reparations for Soviet-era deportees. The legislation under consideration, which passed the first reading, contradicts this Constitutional Court decision.

The 1991 Rehabilitation Law provides for the right of deportees to housing in the city where their family lived at the time of the repression. But this law has not worked for years due to ineffective implementing legislation. In March 2019, three children of Soviet-era deportees brought a complaint before the Constitutional Court. All three were born in exile to families once deported from Moscow. They were represented by lawyers of the Institute of Law and Public Policy, a Moscow-based NGO.

"This draft law is a sabotage of the Decision of the Constitutional Court. If the draft becomes law, the judgment of the Constitutional Court will remain dead letter. The victims will find themselves in a 30-year-long queue, which means no chance to get housing during their lifetime."

Grigory Vaypan, the lawyer who represented the applicants in the Constitutional Court.

By way of example, Alisa Meissner, who lives in the Kirov region, a mere 50 kilometers from the Gulag camp where she was born, is trying to return to Moscow. Her current number in the queue is 54,967.

On 10 December 2019, the Constitutional Court decided in favour of the applicants and declared unconstitutional the provisions of relevant domestic laws to the extent that they made it impossible for victims to receive the reparation they are due.

An important ruling, the judgment delivered the first sliver of hope for Soviet-era deportees after many years of complete neglect. However, a federal agency assigned to implement the judgment has introduced only minor changes to the law, ignoring most of the court’s instructions. It proposes no federal funding, makes no effort to prioritise housing for repatriated Soviet-era victims, and keeps in place a patchwork of regional regulations. A competing proposal, based on consultations with the civil society and addressing the concerns of the Constitutional Court, was rejected by the lawmakers yesterday.

"This is an important case to the extent that it has brought the issue of reparation back to the forefront of the efforts to address Soviet-era repression. The reluctance of the government to implement the decision of the Constitutional Court demonstrates unwilingness to address Soviet-era human rights abuses. This is why restoring historical justice to victims has become an important aspect of FIDH’s work in Russia."

Ilya Nuzov, head of FIDH's Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk.

Over 1,500 children of individuals repressed during the Soviet regime still live in internal exile. Their parents were once deported to the Gulag, and they were born in remote regions of the country in the 1930s and 1940s. Their case is emblematic of the overall failure of the authorities to fulfill their commitment to provide meaningful reparations for victims of Soviet-era repressions. Despite the legislative efforts of the early post-Soviet years, most remedies for victims of Soviet-era persecution remain negligible or, as with the return of deportees, effectively unavailable.

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