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Helsinki Commissioners Voice Alarm at Surge of Violent Attacks and Murders of Minorities in Russia

WASHINGTON – Following a spate of attacks this month on Roma in Russia which ended in at least four deaths, the leadership of the Helsinki Commission called upon Russian President Putin and other elected officials to condemn these crimes.  They also urged intensified efforts to combat a wave of violence against ethnic and religious minorities that has spiked in Russia recently.  On April 13, two people were beaten to death at a Romani camp in southern Russia, and two days later two Romani brothers were shot to death in a town in northwest Russia. “

“A nation that strives to be a rule of law state must protect all its citizens,” said Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.  “The alternatives are a police state that protects only some citizens or anarchy that protects no one.”

“Some people are debating whether these crimes were racially motivated or mere ‘hooliganism,’ the favorite charge used by Russian prosecutors to downgrade manifestly serious offenses,” added Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “Whatever the motivation, these are very serious crimes that resulted in the deaths of Roma and other minorities, including students from Africa, and justice demands that the perpetrators be prosecuted.”

Ranking Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) remarked, “We look to Russia, the Chairman of the G-8 and a member of the OSCE, to uphold the rule of law by protecting the weak and vulnerable.  Like all nations, Russia should aggressively pursue those who violate the law and basic principles of human dignity by hatefully targeting minorities.”

Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) urged Russian law enforcement to act.  “The families of these victims deserve justice, and minority communities need reassurance from the Russian Government.  I’m sure I speak not only for myself and other Helsinki Commissioners, but for millions of Russian citizens who expect their political leaders to provide whatever federal oversight is necessary to ensure that these crimes are vigorously prosecuted.”

Background

Russian domestic media and non-governmental organizations have reported on an escalation of violence against foreigners as well as minorities indigenous to the Russian Federation.  Earlier in the month, two Mongolian students were attacked in St. Petersburg and a Senegalese student was shot to death by a student wielding a pistol with a swastika design.   The assailant who slashed several worshippers at a Moscow synagogue in January 2006 was sentenced in March to a thirteen-year labor camp sentence.    However, the jury trial for eight men charged in connection with the 2004 assualt in St. Petersburg of three ethnic Tajiks, that caused the death of a nine-year old girl, resulted in March 2006 only in “hooliganism” convictions for seven of the perpetrators and acquittal for the other.   On April 22, an Armenian teenager was stabbed to death in the Moscow Metro by an unknown attacker who, according to witnesses, had a shaved head and was dressed in black.   In the days prior to Hitler’s birthday, April 20th, skinhead leaders had threatened racist violence and several foreign embassies received menacing e-mails.       

In March 2005, Helsinki Commissioners condemned a pogrom against Roma in the Siberian town of Iskitim, where hundreds of Roma were burned out of their homes. A subsequent arson attack in Iskitim in November resulted in the death of an eight-year-old girl.

The U.S. Helsinki Commission held a briefing on the situation of Roma in Russia in 2004.  The transcript is available on our website.

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