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Urgent need for legal and policy reforms for the protection of minorities and indigenous peoples in Russia

25 November 2014

Increasing racial prejudice and the harassment of minorities and indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation highlight the need for urgent measures to promote minority and indigenous peoples’ rights, says Minority Rights Group Europe in its new report launched today during the UN Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva.

The report Protecting the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in the Russian Federation: Challenges and Ways Forward gives a comprehensive insight into the substantial variations in the conditions and respect for human rights of different ethnic, linguistic, religious and indigenous communities as well as an overview of the main obstacles preventing effective implementation of minority and indigenous peoples’ rights in the Russian Federation.

“Our findings show that racial prejudice is becoming increasingly normalized – ranging from distrust of certain ethnic groups to racial attacks and hate crime,” says Darya Alekseeva, MRG’s Russia Programmes Coordinator.

In particular, highly marginalized groups such as migrant workers, Roma and other ‘visible’ minorities are most at risk of hatred according to the rights organization. The victims more often tend to be persons originating from Central Asia and the Caucasus, although at times Africans, Chinese and others are also targeted.

Indigenous peoples also continue to suffer from low standards of living. Although indigenous lands are protected by law from the exploitation of natural resources for industrial purposes, this rarely prevails in reality. Most disturbingly, attempts by such communities to raise attention to these issues at international fora are leading to incidents of intimidation. Recently, eight indigenous delegates travelling from the Russian Federation to a UN indigenous peoples’ conference in New York were obstructed from catching their flights by means of physical assault or administrative interference.

“Given Russia’s diversity, social cohesion is seen by the government as an imperative,” says Alekseeva. “However, treating diversity as potentially detrimental to stability, rather than valuing it as a form of societal wealth, can lead to even further marginalization.”

There are few opportunities for the majority to understand the concerns and interests of minorities and indigenous peoples, as the media contribute to fostering feelings of intolerance and xenophobia. Instances such as the televising of the mass detentions of migrants after the Biryulevo riot create the perception that anti-immigrant violence is inevitable for the protection of Russians from foreigners. Racist, inflammatory speech is also disseminated through the internet.

Police officers, like wider society, are often affected by deep-rooted prejudice against members of certain groups. Some minority persons interviewed in the report referred to ethnic profiling, while other abuses range from arbitrary detention, to intimidation, violence, threats, illegal searches and the extortion of bribes. Minority women may be particularly vulnerable to certain forms of abuse. Recent legal changes have so far not led to an overall improvement of the situation.

According to a lawyer defending migrants cited in the report, arbitrary detention is the most acute problem affecting this vulnerable group, and it has an adverse impact on both internal and external migrants. This is not just an issue affecting migrants; ethnic groups such as Chechens are subjected to arbitrary detention – sometimes on the basis of fabricated charges. There have also been reported instances in which Chechens were prosecuted twice for the same offence.

The report also highlights the many substantive pieces of legislation adopted by the Russian Federation, which should guarantee greater respect for minority and indigenous peoples’ rights, but have yet to be implemented and are increasingly insufficient given the many challenges highlighted. The protection of minorities and indigenous peoples in Russia necessitates the adoption and implementation of robust measures, to raise awareness of the problems affecting the whole of Russian society and encourage the respectful coexistence of its groups.

Notes to editors

Interview opportunities:

  • Darya Alekseeva, Russia Programmes Coordinator (also in Russian)
  • Neil Clarke, Managing Director of Minority Rights Group Europe
  • Minority Rights Group Europe is running a 2-year programme in the Russian Federation to strengthen the capacity of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) working with minorities and indigenous peoples to monitor the human rights situation in Russia, and to effectively engage with government stakeholders at the local and national levels.
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

To arrange interviews, please contact MRG’s Press Office:

Bernadett Sebály
M: +36 70 217 2601
T: +36 1 327 7032
E:  [email protected]