Russia: Authorities should speak out against racism on National Unity Day

As Russia prepares to mark National Unity Day on 4 November, Amnesty International has urged the authorities to publicly speak out against racism and violence directed at foreigners and ethnic minorities.

The organisation has also issued a new briefing “What progress has been made since May 2006 to tackle violent racism?”, updating the situation since last year when Amnesty International reported that racist killings and violent attacks against foreigners, visible ethnic minorities and anti-racist campaigners in Russia were “out of control”.

The Amnesty briefing finds that violent racist attacks continue to occur in Russia with disturbing regularity, mostly concentrated in big cities such as Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhnii Novgorod, where many foreigners live. Numerous foreign nationals and ethnic minorities have told Amnesty International of their futile attempts to complain to the police about attacks, including police reluctance to record details suggesting an attack was racially motivated.

Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Programme Director Nicola Duckworth said:

"Hardly a day goes by without a report on yet another violent attack on people of non-Russian origin or those who do not look Russian or Slavic - three members of ethnic minority groups were stabbed to death over one recent weekend in Moscow alone.

"The circumstances in which such attacks take place indicate that they may have been racially motivated, yet the authorities have tended to classify them as 'hooliganism'.

"Despite the fact that the authorities are making increased efforts to recognise the issue of racism, the official reaction to the problem is still far from adequate, and convictions for racist attacks, while increasing, are still too few and far between.”

Russia’s National Unity Day was introduced in 2005 on President Vladimir Putin’s initiative, replacing the habitual celebration of the Bolshevik revolution of 7 November. The 4 November date marks the expulsion of Polish troops from Moscow in 1612. However, in the past two years the day has seen rallies in Moscow at which demonstrators shouted “Russia for Russians!” and held placards with anti-semitic and anti-immigration slogans. Rallies have been sanctioned for this weekend.

While President Putin and the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, have condemned such slogans and sentiments, according to Russian anti-racism activists the rhetoric of xenophobic organisations is increasingly being adopted and manipulated by politicians and officials.

Background

The SOVA Information and Analytical Centre, a Russian non-governmental organisation monitoring racist violence said last month that “in the period of 1 January to 30 September 2007 in Russia, there were no less than 230 racially motivated attacks affecting a total of 409 people, including 46 fatalities. Last year in the same period, there were 180 attacks with 401 victims, 41 of them dying as a result.”

While attacks against foreign nationals from the “far abroad” (Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas) represent a serious problem, there has also been an alarming rise in reports of attacks against those of non-Slav origin, or those who do not look “typically” Russian, from countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, and from constituent parts of Russia - such as the republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Tatarstan and Dagestan.

Cases

Three members of ethnic minority groups - an Armenian, an ethnic Uzbek and an ethnic Yakutian - were stabbed to death during the weekend of 20-21 October in Moscow alone. Two men of non-Slavic appearance - natives of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan - were also attacked and have been hospitalised for treatment for serious injuries. Two of the killings are allegedly connected to violence that erupted after a football match, when youths in the southern part of Moscow attacked people that they thought did not look ethnically Russian. Initially, police officials reportedly denied the possibility that the attacks could have a racist motive. Subsequent reports, however, suggest that three men have been detained on charges of murder and aggravated assault, with a racist motivation noted for the two killings that occurred on 20 October. The police continue to deny that the killing on 21 October had a racist motive.

  • Read the briefing - The “What progress has been made since May 2006 to tackle violent racism?”
  • Find out more about the human rights situation in Russia /li>

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