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State of the World's Minorities 2007 - The Russian Federation

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 4 March 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2007 - The Russian Federation, 4 March 2007, available at: [accessed 29 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.

Racism and xenophobia remain rife throughout Russia. In 2006, local and international media reported racist attacks – which have been taking place for years (in 2005 alone there were at least 28 racially motivated murders) – on an almost daily basis. In a report of May 2006, Amnesty International stated that racist attacks and killings of foreigners and members of ethnic minorities were being reported with 'shocking regularity' and 'disturbingly, their frequency seems to be increasing'. Victims included: students; asylum seekers and refugees from Africa and Asia; people from the south Caucasus; people from South, South-East and Central Asia; people from the Middle East and from Latin America; citizens of the Russian Federation who do not look typically ethnic Russian, such as ethnic groups of the north Caucasus, in particular Chechens, as well as members of the Jewish community, Roma and children of mixed parentage. Even ethnic Russians who are seen as sympathizing with foreigners or ethnic minority groups, for example fans of rap or reggae music, members of other youth subcultures and campaigners against racism, have also been targeted as they are perceived as 'unpatriotic' or 'traitors'. Attacks have been reported in towns and cities across the Russian Federation. Cases included the murder in March 2006 of a 70-year-old Afro-Cuban man working as a chef in a Moscow restaurant; the stabbing to death of Ainur Bulekbaeva from Kazakhstan in February 2006; the fatal shooting in April 2006 of Senegalese student Lamsar Samba Sell in St Petersburg, after a gunman opened fire on a group of foreign students as they left a weekly gathering of intercultural friendship between Russians and foreigners. In January 2006, nine people were stabbed at a Moscow synagogue by a man described as a 'skinhead'. People have been seriously injured in many other racist attacks.

Russian human rights activists claim that skinhead gangs operate under conditions of broad impunity, and have raised concerns regarding possible links between the Kremlin-sponsored 'youth movement' Nashi ('Our People') and xenophobic gangs. Human rights organizations believe that local authorities' silent endorsement of violent racism has fostered a climate of impunity for those perpetrating such attacks, with redress for victims of such attacks being minimal or nonexistent. In April 2006, the Culture Minister of Kabardino-Balkaria (a Russian republic in the north Caucasus), Zaur Tutov, was attacked in Moscow, and witnesses made statements that the attackers had shouted racist slogans, such as 'Russia is for Russians!', during the assault, which resulted in Zaur Tutov being hospitalized with a fractured cheekbone, concussion and bruises. The Ombudsperson for Human Rights, Vladimir Lukin, following the initial failure of the Moscow procurator's office to classify the assault as racist, accused law enforcement officers of covering up the extent of racist violence.

The Russian Federation (RF) inherited the complex Soviet system of recognizing minorities with a territorial base. By January 1993, the politics of ethno-regionalism had produced a situation in which the Russian central authorities had recognized the special nature of most ethnic-based administrative units within the RF. Republican status (the highest) had been reached by 21 units, leaving a number of other units – six krais, 49 oblasts, one autonomous oblast and 10 autonomous okrugs. Since the demise of the Soviet system, the north Caucasus has emerged as the most ethnically volatile region in the RF. The area is riven with territorial and border disputes, involving many of the more than 60 distinct national, ethnic and religious groups (Christian and Muslim) in the region. In response to the new challenges that have faced the peoples of the region, a number of initiatives to create organizations to challenge Moscow's control have been launched, most notably in Chechnya. In the RF as a whole, the ambiguous and often contradictory rights allocated to the ethnic republics in the main agreements regulating centre-regional relations have further reinforced the pyramid of inequality that has developed among minorities in the RF. Those minorities with their own officially recognized territory ('homeland') usually enjoy considerable advantages over other minority populations in the RF. However, the titular groups of autonomous areas with high concentrations of Slavic settlers have often faced problems similar to those of minorities lacking a formal homeland.

Chechnya remains a 'black hole' of massive human rights violations and abuses, accompanied by a lack of will by the Russian authorities to negotiate, although for most Chechens the climate has improved from the widespread terror of five years ago, when there were widespread abuses, including murder, kidnap and rape, by federal soldiers. In 2006, it was alleged that mostly fighters and their families were targeted. In November 2006, a report by the US-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch concluded that torture and ill-treatment of suspected rebels in Chechnya was 'systematic', and that relatives of fighters had been kidnapped to discourage opposition. In November 2006, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian authorities had violated the right to life, liberty and security of Chechens Said-Khusein and Said-Magomed Imakaev (or Imakayev), and Nura Said-Aliyevna Luluyeva, and had failed to effectively investigate their subsequent 'disappearances' in 2000. The European Court of Human Rights found that the applicants, who were relatives of the 'disappeared', were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and that, in the Imakaev case, the applicant's right to private and family life had been violated. The European Court of Human Rights also criticized the Russian authorities in this case for failing to cooperate with the Court by not submitting relevant documents.

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