Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Russia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 1 July 2010
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Russia, 1 July 2010, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

With the collapse of the Communist bloc and the emergence of post-Soviet states in the territory of the Former Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has experienced considerable political, economic and social change during the last decades. Growing nationalism, xenophobia, racism and religious intolerance have become increasingly visible. After a steady rise in ethnic violence, official statements concerning hate crime were first made in 2004, when a 9-year-old Tajik girl was killed. According to the Equal Rights Trust, the acting Interior Minister at that time, Rashid Nurgaliyev, admitted that 'acute manifestations of extremism' towards visible minorities existed in the country. Incidents of racial violence were identified as 'extremist crimes' that were threatening the security of Russia. The 2009 National Security Concept of the Russian Federation states that 'ensuring national security includes countering extremist activity by nationalist, religious, ethnic and other organizations and structures directed at disrupting the Russian Federation's unity and territorial integrity and destabilizing the domestic political and social situation in the country'.

In the national report submitted to the UN Universal Periodic Review, the term 'extremist crime' was used again by Russian state authorities, who officially acknowledge the existence and increase of such crimes and provide some statistics. 'Extremist crime in Russia is on the rise. In 2004, 130 extremist acts were carried out; in 2005, 152 were registered, while the figure rose in 2006 to 263 and in 2007 to 356. In the first half of 2008 alone, 250 were registered.' The Moscow-based SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis prefers the term 'hate crimes' and reports that, according to their research, there were 525 victims (of whom 97 died) of racist violence in 2008. The following year, 48 people had been murdered and 253 injured by September as a result of racist attacks. Many violent attacks are reported against members of the Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox Christian communities.

Comprehensive figures on the actual numbers of racially motivated or xenophobic attacks are hard to establish, as victims and their families may be loath to approach the authorities. However, as AI reports, despite the government's call for harsh punishments for those convicted of such crimes, no comprehensive government plan to combat racism and racial discrimination has been put in place. In 2008, Russian NGOs presented an alternative report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that examined Russia's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The alternative report confirms that the Russian government has become more active in opposing racist violence and hate speech. For example, the numbers of persons charged with incitement of ethnic hatred has increased, and a number of top officials have acknowledged and condemned ethnically motivated violence and the incitement of racial hatred. Nevertheless, the NGO alternative report points out that, in spite of an increasing prosecution rate for hate crimes, this should be viewed in light of the scale of hate crimes and the amount of racist propaganda being distributed. According to NGO estimates, hate crimes have been growing by about 20 per cent a year and have become increasingly violent, often involving weapons and explosives.

The NGO alternative report criticizes the Russian government's approach towards combating hate crimes, arguing that it is too limited and selective when suspending or terminating mass media outlets or NGOs that disseminate hate. The report states that this shifts 'the focus of preventing and eliminating discrimination from protection of the individual's rights and dignity to a fight against those whom the state deems its opponents'.

The 2002 Law on Extremism (amended in July 2006) was also mentioned in USCIRF 2009 for its impact on religious minorities, particularly the Muslim community, by allowing the criminalization of a wide spectrum of speech and activities. The law risks encouraging racial and religious discrimination. USCIRF placed Russia on its watch list in 2009. As the report notes, security services tend to treat the leaders of some Islamic groups, and groups termed 'non-traditional', such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, as a security threat.

The Federal List of Extremist Materials is updated four times a year by the government. According to the human rights group Forum 18, in May 2009, there were 367 items on this list of banned publications. While the list of banned texts includes extreme nationalist and anti-Semitic publications, it also comprises Islamic religious texts. Publication of the texts on the list can be punished with a four-year prison term. One problem identified by USCIRF is that even low-level local courts, with little knowledge of religious doctrine, can ban texts, with the result that the ban is enforced throughout Russia.

Although the 1997 legislation concerning religious practice grants protected status to the four founding religions recognized by the state (the Russian Orthodox Church, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism), human rights reports highlight the privileged status accorded to the Russian Orthodox Church, including official arrangements to provide spiritual counselling and conduct religious education. The country's other religious communities, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Orthodox Old Believers, Protestants, Roman Catholics and others must accept greater government control. In 2009, the Russian government established the Expert Religious Studies Council, which has been criticized for its over-broad mandate. The Council has among its powers the right to investigate religious groups at the time of registration and their written materials.

Increasing discrimination against Russia's approximately 20 million Muslims was also reported by the USCIRF 2009. In parts of the country, for example the regions of Kabrdino-Balkaria and Dagestan, laws exist that ban Wahhabism, a term increasingly used by government officials, journalists and the public to mean Islamic extremism. The Russian NGO Memorial reports that Muslims considered 'overly devout' may be arrested or be 'disappeared', especially in the North Caucasus. Inter-community tensions and anti-Islamic sentiments resulting in discrimination persist after the 2004 school siege in Beslan, North Ossetia, with no intervention by the authorities. Muslim communities face difficulties in opening and maintaining mosques.

According to USCIRF 2009, there are at least 80 Russian-based anti-Semitic websites and approximately 100 small, ultra right-wing newspapers that regularly print anti-Semitic and Islamophobic materials.

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