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Helsinki Commission Leaders Condemn Attack Against Roma Community in Siberia

WASHINGTON – United States Helsinki Commission leaders today condemned an armed attack on February 14 by members of an organized crime ring against a Siberian Romani community that forced approximately 400 Roma from their homes.

According to the European Roma Rights Center, the assailants torched several Romani homes in the Russian town of Iskitim, where ten buildings were completely destroyed while police officers reportedly prevented fire engines and ambulances from reaching the fires.

The perpetrators attacked an entire Roma community purportedly in retribution for the drug overdose death of an organized crime boss’ son who allegedly bought the drugs from a member of the Roma community.

“The mass expulsion of Roma from their homes, this modern-day pogrom, is a shocking reminder that Roma continue to be victims of violence and lawlessness in OSCE states that have committed themselves to combating such manifestations of racism and ethnic hatred,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “Such actions make a mockery of President Putin’s calls for tolerance in a multiethnic Russia.”

“No society is free of intolerance and violence,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “But reports that local officials stood by and took no action during this attack are particularly disturbing. I urge the authorities to uphold the rule of law, not a lynch law.”

“If there is suspicion that a Rom was involved in a crime, then that is a matter for law enforcement and the courts,” stated Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT). “However, a suspicion of a crime should never be a license for acts of vigilantism, nor should it ever justify terrorizing an entire group. The rule of law means that local authorities must not only enforce the law with respect to law breakers but ensure that legal protections are guaranteed for all peoples.”

“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event in a distant corner of the OSCE region,” said Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). “Russian law must protect all its citizens. Selective justice is no justice at all.”

Romani communities have experienced violent attacks in several OSCE states, despite pledges by participating States to combat these attacks. The European Roma Rights Center has documented a series of inflammatory media attacks on Roma in Russia depicting them collectively as drug dealers and criminals. Panelists at a September 23, 2004 Helsinki Commission briefing described many human rights violations against Roma in Russia.

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