109th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
Concern about increasing discrimination in the Russian Federation
11th April – 28th April 2023
Russian Federation Report
12th - 13th April 2023
By Maeva Giambrone / GICJ
In the context of the armed conflict in Ukraine, the examination of the report of the Russian Federation on the Convention against the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was eagerly awaited to discuss possible violations of this Convention in different areas.
During the 109th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), issues coalesced around human rights defenders, NGOs, laws against extremism and foreign agents, hate speech and hate crime, migrant workers and the armed conflict in Ukraine.
On the 12th and 13th of April 2023, the Committee considered the 25th and 26th periodic reports submitted by the Russian Federation. The review is based on documents, including the national report, which was submitted on the 5th of March 2020 (CERD/C/RUS/25-26).
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) congratulates the CERD and the Russian Federation for the interactive dialogue which allowed them to take stock of the implementation of the Convention by the State and to raise points for improvement. However, we encourage the country to continue its efforts to give full effect to the Convention. We hope, as does the Committee, that the Russian government will take measures to combat racism, address hate speech, and provide effective remedies to victims of racial discrimination.
Furthermore, GICJ calls for the Russian Federation to implement the recommendation made by the Committee to ensure effective measures to combat racial discrimination and promote equality among different ethnic groups.
CERD, consisting of 18 independent experts from around the world, is responsible for reviewing progress in the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. All States Party, under Article 9 shall submit reports on the measures adopted to give effect to the Convention and on the progress made.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ratified the Convention on the 4th of February 1969. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Convention was incorporated into the Constitution of the Russian Federation and into its legal system. The last review of the State by the Committee was in 2017.
Indigenous peoples and minorities
The Committee discussed the treatment of various indigenous peoples and ethnic or religious minorities in this session. Ms. Stavrinaki, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, began by recalling that during the last dialogue in 2017, the Committee had recommended that the Russian Federation amend its legal framework to ensure that indigenous peoples are recognised and enjoy legal protection.
Mr. Tsybikov, who is responsible for national minorities, replied that the Federation has, because of the traditional ways of life and the particularities of these populations, defined a special category in its legislation for small indigenous peoples, i.e., representing less than 50,000 individuals. They were therefore granted special individual and collective rights.
The Committee then examined different peoples, starting with the Shor people. In 2013, the Committee expressed concern about the destruction of one of their villages and recommended that the State provide compensation mechanisms for the loss of their homes and lands. However, since then, the Committee has yet to receive any information on the implementation of this mechanism. The Russian delegation stated that action had been taken to establish agreements between the inhabitants of the villages, the local authorities, and companies. In the case of the village of Kazas, agreements had been reached with the inhabitants to buy back their properties. The delegation also added that the compensation mechanism is very new, as it was introduced in 2020, so they need more time to analyse the practice.
Concerning the Roma population, Ms. Stavrinaki noted that they have suffered a lot of discrimination, particularly in access to their socio-economic rights. She also asked for information on allegations of forced evictions of Roma, demolitions of their homes, but also on gas and electricity cuts carried out as a reprisal. The Federation highlighted the adoption of its plan of measures for the group’s socio-economic and ethno-cultural development. Similarly, serious concerns were raised about the Russian police mistreating the Roma population, raiding their residences and making mass arrests. Regrettably, the delegation did not answer many questions relating to the Roma population, except for the issue of gas and electricity cuts, which would only be carried out in the case of illegal connections or in the event of non-payment.
However, the Russian Federation spoke about the Gypsy community, stating that they are mostly sedentary and integrated into the socio-economic and cultural life of the country. They explained that they had organised a seminar in 2021 and wanted to organise a Gypsy festival for the whole country.
Human rights defenders and NGOs
The country rapporteur, Mr. Payandeh, noted a low level of reporting by Russian civil society, while the Federation claims to have consulted numerous NGOs while preparing its report. He was, therefore, concerned about a possible restriction of space for civil society and the criminalisation of their activities, especially since it had been reported that human rights defenders had been harassed and intimidated during the last state review.
The head of the delegation, Mr. Barinov, reaffirmed the participation of NGOs in this report but admitted that they may have been less active in the individual reports due to the need to translate the report into English. Furthermore, he added that since 2020 the House of the Peoples of Russia had been established to ensure an open and direct dialogue between the authorities and NGOs.
Mr. Diaby, on behalf of the Committee, then pointed out that in January 2023, the Moscow court had pronounced the dissolution of one of the oldest human rights associations since it had been founded in the Soviet Union in 1976. He questioned the delegation as to how many organisations had been dissolved, on what grounds and whether the State was considering adopting a law to protect human rights defenders. The General Prosecutor's Office representative stated that there was no need to develop legislation on these defenders as there is already a citizens' code on non-profit organisations and other regulatory measures. Moreover, in this state, the protection of legal persons applies to these organisations. All these measures allow the State to eliminate organisations involved in extremist or law-breaking activities.
Implementation of the Convention in national law and Russian Legislation
In its 2017 observations, the Committee had already expressed concern about the lack of anti-discrimination legislation in the Russian legal corpus. Mr. Payandeh thus asked the delegation whether they had a definition of racial discrimination in line with Article 1 of the Convention and including direct, indirect, and intersectional forms of discrimination. The representative of the General Prosecutor's Office explained that anti-discrimination legislation in the Russian Federation is comprehensive and thus covers all areas of the law. It is therefore found, for example, in the Labour Code and the Criminal Code. Moreover, in all the areas concerned, monitoring bodies ensure compliance with non-discrimination and general control is carried out by the public prosecutor's office, which acts when non-compliance is proven.
The Russian delegation used the extremist argument repeatedly when referring to civil society organisations and human rights defenders. Therefore, the Committee has raised concerns on many occasions about the definition of extremism in the Federation, which is very broad, and unclear with imprecise criteria. It is therefore feared that this law will be used in an arbitrary manner against individuals, especially minorities, or against human rights organisations.
The representative of the Ministry of Justice replied that the extremist activity of radical organisations was one of the main security threats in the country. She considered that the legislation contained a comprehensive and detailed definition of extremist activity, which excluded the need to revise it. She added that there were also the necessary guarantees to protect the rights of individuals.
However, the Committee remains concerned, especially in view of an amendment to the Citizenship Act currently before Parliament. This would allow the revocation of citizenship of individuals who, according to the Federation, have committed a crime or taken part in an activity that threatens national security. This amendment would lead to individuals becoming stateless.
In addition, since 2012, the concept of foreign agents has appeared in Russian legislation in order to, according to the state, inform society about organisations and individuals carrying out political activity and being financed from abroad. The representative of the prosecutor's office explained that practice shows that most of the time, when a person or organisation receives funds from abroad and carries out actions with this money, their activities are usually undertaken against the interests of the state. However, she added that appeals against judicial decisions are possible to challenge the placement on this list. The Committee nevertheless asked for information on cases of annulment of decisions or removal from the list. The delegation explained that it was possible to be removed from the list on two grounds: if foreign funding ceased or if a court found that the listing was illegitimate and therefore annulled the decision. The representative of the Ministry of Justice added that since 2015, 40 organisations had been removed after ceasing to be funded from abroad and 4 after a court decision. She also said that several individuals had been removed from the list.
Speech, incitement to hatred and hate crime
Mr. Payandeh recalled that in its last observations, the Committee noted its concern about the increase of hate speech in the state. The mass media disseminate negative stereotypes about different minority groups such as Roma, Crimean Tatars etc. ECRI in 2019 also found that the traditional media landscape consisted mainly of state-owned entities, which called into question the freedom of the press. The Committee, therefore, requested information from the Federation on the existence or not of any mechanism to prevent and combat the spread of racist, hate or racially superior speech in the media and online. Information was also requested on the number of incidents that had led to prosecutions.
The delegation began by replying that Russian legislation provided for criminal penalties. For example, the Criminal Code provides for the liability of perpetrators of extremist activities, including racial or religious hatred, or persons financing such activities. Liability exists in two forms: administrative or criminal for individuals who have already been found guilty of incitement to hatred. The representative of the General Prosecutor's Office believes that administrative liability is an effective mechanism as the majority of individuals cease their activity after being subject to it. She states that in the last two years, there have been more than 1,175 cases of hate speech, and more than 2,000 people have been subject to administrative liability.
Secondly, regarding the media, the representative of the Ministry of Development explained that nobody is responsible for regulating the mass media in the state. Control over the media is done through legislation. Their law prohibits the use of the media as a means of propagating hatred or discrimination, and thus, only a court decision can ban media activity. The legislation also allows for the restriction of access to websites disseminating any incitement to hatred. Again, this blocking can be decided by the court or by a state body when the information disseminated presents a serious social danger.
Finally, regarding hate crime and discrimination, in 2022, 1,566 crimes were recorded compared to 1,057 in 2021, a surge which, according to the delegation, demonstrates the increase in the activities of law enforcement agencies and that Russian legislation is working and that citizens' declarations are not without effect. Indeed, she explains that most criminal cases have been brought as a result of citizens' statements. She added that investigations had been carried out in each case and that convictions had been pronounced. Furthermore, in 2022 the Public Prosecutor's Office considered approximately 350,000 complaints relating to issues of incitement to racial hatred. The representative of the Public Prosecutor's Office, therefore, believes that the Federation has a mechanism at the state level for the consideration of citizens' complaints about discrimination.
Mr. Guisse began by noting the Committee's concern about reports of exploitation of migrant workers, particularly those from the Caucasus and Central Asia, and their working conditions, characterised by low wages and lack of social security. He, therefore, asked the delegation for information on the measures taken to combat such exploitation and ill-treatment by employers of migrant workers and on the availability of effective remedies.
Following this, the representative of the Ministry of Labour stated that migrant workers have the same rights and guarantees as Russian citizens under their legislation. In case of labour law violations, either regarding wages or working conditions, the employer will be fined. Moreover, when these rights were available to migrant workers they were violated, civil and criminal liability applied without any exclusion. On the issue of wages, again, the representative stated that there was no difference in treatment between citizens and migrants. If the latter are often poorly paid, it is because they work in unskilled branches. But in this case, the citizens also receive a low salary. Finally, on the protection of their rights as workers, the Federation has a Labour Inspectorate, which monitors the application of the law with employers. Migrants have the same access to the defence of their rights offered by the labour inspectorate as citizens. Additionally, the legislation also allows them to enjoy social benefits such as social security.
Armed conflict in Ukraine
Regarding the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine, the delegation regrettably refused to answer the questions raised by the Committee. The latter had asked the State to guarantee access to the High Commission in Crimea to verify the state of human rights given the numerous allegations of child abduction, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment. The Committee recalled that the State is responsible for fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, including in territories where it exercises effective control, such as Crimea or the city of Sevastopol. The Committee asked the delegation for its position on the applicability of the Convention in territories under their control. Numerous violations had reportedly been directed at the Crimean Tatar people in particular. Hence, Mr. Payandeh asked what steps had been taken to investigate these violations and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The Federation refused to answer all these questions, arguing that it was impossible for them to answer them because they were currently being debated in the International Court of Justice to avoid duplication of decisions. It did state that the Convention applies in all territories and therefore in occupied territories such as Luhansk and Donetsk. Additionally, the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the term "child abduction" because the Federation considers that it is only carrying out a humanitarian mission to evacuate children from the conflict zone.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) congratulates CERD and the Russian Federation for their interactive dialogue, which has helped to clarify various issues regarding the implementation of the Convention against Racial Discrimination in the State in question. However, much progress remains to be made. Indeed, the Federation needs to revise its laws against extremism and foreign agents, which are too vague and too broad. Similarly, we are concerned about the amendment that could allow for the termination of citizenship of individuals as this would lead to the creation of many stateless persons, which is undesirable.
GICJ addresses and emphasises the need to investigate and redress the many violations of Russians' rights raised by the Committee in various areas, including for indigenous peoples and minorities but also migrants. The Federation should amend its legislation to adopt a definition of discrimination in order to combat it more effectively. Therefore, the Russian Federation should strengthen access to justice for victims of discrimination.
GICJ urges the Russian Federation to fulfil their international obligations. Unfortunately, the armed conflict in Ukraine is increasing the number of violations of the rights of individuals, particularly in the occupied territories. We, therefore, join the Committee in expressing our regret at the delegation's refusal to answer questions on this subject. Indeed, even if a case is currently pending before the ICJ, the CERD is not a court and therefore does not issue decisions but only recommendations. It is consequently not possible to invoke the risk of double jurisdiction.
Discrimination RacialDiscrimination RussianFederation CERD Justice Geneva4Justice GICJ Geneva_Centre_for_Justice