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March 18, 2013

2012: “A Contradictory Year” In Russia’s Struggle with Hate Crime

By Innokenty Grekov

They say predictions are difficult, especially about the future. A recent report on hate crime in Russia reveals that it’s been “a contradictory year,” and Russian analysts simply don’t know what to expect in the coming year.

The SOVA Center’s data shows a still-high level of violence: 19 people were murdered and 187 injured in 2012, compared to 25 and 195 in 2011. These crimes peaked in 2008 when 116 persons were killed and 499 injured, but since then the government’s consistent pursuit of the neo-Nazi underground has helped reduce the crime significantly.

The key victories from 2012 include lengthy prison terms for three neo-Nazi groups: Yan Lyutik’s gang sentenced for attacks on men from Armenia, Asia, and the Middle East; ten terrorists from ABTO, the Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization that posted videos of its attacks on the internet; and the “Oryol Partisans” headed by a Federal Protective Service (FSO) academy professor Viktor Lukonin.

While the violence continues to decrease, Russia’s far-right has become more visible and political, note SOVA’s analysts. In 2012, right-wing forces joined with democratic opposition to protest the mainstream factions in parliament. This move split the right-wing movement; the prospect of marching side by side with liberal pro-Western groups dissatisfied many seasoned ultranationalists, who distanced themselves from these protests.

This withdrawal, coupled with the widely accepted assumption that no ultranationalist party would be permitted to officially register and enter mainstream politics, means that we’ll likely see the neo-Nazis movement revert to underground operations focused on “direct action”—violent attacks against visible minorities.

Although dozens of skinheads and neo-Nazi sympathizers have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in recent years, many others responsible for hate crimes operate with relative impunity. There is no official data that tracks police responses to crimes with a suspected bias motivation, nor any record of the number of hate crimes brought to court.

As in many other countries, there is widespread underreporting of hate crime by the victims. This calls into question the extent to which official monitoring captures the extent of the problem. While cases of racist murders and serious assaults are likely to generate media attention and are tracked by independent monitors like the SOVA Center, the day-to-day, low-level harassment is thought to be widely underreported.

Russia’s struggle with hate crime has become an international issue in recent years. In 2009, the U.N. Human Rights Committee expressed concern “at reports of an increasing number of hate crimes and racially motivated attacks against ethnic and religious minorities, as well as persistent manifestations of racism and xenophobia,” noting a particular “failure on the part of the police and judicial authorities to investigate prosecute and punish hate crimes and racially motivated attacks against ethnic and religious minorities, often qualified merely as ‘hooliganism,’ with charges and sentences that are not commensurate with the gravity of the acts.” The U.N. Committee Against Torture (CAT) and Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also point to hate crime as a key challenge facing Russia.

In April 2013, Russia will go through its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. Building on the set of concerns transmitted to Russia during the 2009 UPR review, Human Rights First’s UPR shadow report offers a number of recommendations delegations can raise directly with the Russian Government, including:

  • Law enforcement and criminal justice agencies should publicly commit to investigate allegations of bias motives in specific violent hate crimes, and to provide regular public updates into the investigation and prosecution of such crimes.
     
  • Police and prosecutors should be trained in identifying, recording and investigating bias motivations, and in bringing evidence of bias motivations before the courts.
  • The Interior Ministry should seek to disaggregate current data on crimes “of an extremist nature” so as to report separately on violent crimes motivated by bias. Statistics should provide data disaggregated to distinguish the various forms of bias recorded.
     
  • The Russian authorities should establish an official and independent anti-discrimination body in line with Council of Europe recommendations. This body should provide oversight over the monitoring and reporting of hate crimes. Such a body must be mandated to work closely with the Interior Ministry, the General Prosecutor’s Office and other bodies concerned with the registration, investigation, and prosecution of hate crimes.