- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A U.N. investigator blames Russia’s economic hardship and government complacency for a sharp rise in racial violence that has left many African immigrants afraid to venture out of their homes.

SOVA, a nongovernmental organization whose name stands for Serving Others through Volunteer Action, reported yesterday that 14 racially motivated killings were committed in Russia between March and May, compared with five in the same period last year.

The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, reports 6,000 crimes against foreigners since the start of the year, up 33 percent over the same period last year.

International human rights groups blame the trend on a widespread fear of Chechen terrorists and growing numbers of young men with poor economic prospects who think immigrants are taking jobs from Russians.

Doudou Diene, a U.N. “special rapporteur” for racism and xenophobia, concluded a weeklong visit to Russia on Saturday with a Moscow press conference, where he said rising nationalism and economic pain had contributed to the popularity of neo-Nazis and other racist groups.

He said the Russian government was not showing sufficient will to halt the violence, Agence France-Presse reported from Moscow.

Nickolai Butkevich, advocacy director at the Washington-based Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ), said in an interview that Russian officials often denied or belittled the occurrence of hate crimes.

The UCSJ quoted Aleksandr Nevzorov, a member of the Russian parliament, as having said, “The fact that black people are attacked on our streets is something positive, though that may sound paradoxical. It means that there are more of them now.”

The group also quoted Mikhail Vanichkin, head of the St. Petersburg police, as having said in April that crimes against “nashie rebyata” (our guys) were more important than those committed against foreigners.

Mr. Diene said he spoke with Africans who had lived in Russia for 20 years yet were afraid to go outside because of attacks such as the April shooting of a Senegalese man in St. Petersburg. Mr. Diene, who is from Senegal, said in the press conference that he had been warned against riding the Moscow subway, where many attacks occur.

Kirill Babichenko of the Moscow Bar Association said by telephone that Russian police knowingly allow attacks to occur. “The police support these groups,” he said. “They think, ‘The skinheads are just doing our jobs for us, cleaning the streets of colored people.’”

A report released last week by the Open Society Justice Initiative found that non-Slavic people were more than 20 times more likely than Slavs to be stopped by police for questioning in the Moscow subway system.

“This is the most extreme ethnic profiling ever measured,” said Jim Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Institute. “When the police do this visibly in a systematic way, people think it’s OK to treat darker-skinned people differently.”

Mr. Diene will submit a report to the United Nations in August, but Russian human rights advocates doubt it will make a difference.

“As long as we have oil and gas, [President Vladimir] Putin is not afraid of what the international community will do,” said Mr. Babichenko.

Mr. Putin has publicly denounced the racist violence, but Mr. Babichenko said that only U.S. demands can pressure him into taking stronger action.

Diederik Lohman, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said official policies reinforced racist attitudes.

“It’s no secret that the Kremlin supported the racist Motherland party in the ‘90s to take votes away from the Communists. And they made use of their TV time, given by the Kremlin, to promote these ideas, which got very popular,” he said.

Several human rights monitors have noted a “conspiracy theory” circulating in Russia that suggests the Kremlin might be backing neo-Nazi groups in order to create a “brown scare” that could give Mr. Putin a reason to retain power in 2008.

It is more likely, said Mr. Lohman, that prosecuting racially motivated crimes is simply not a priority in Russia.


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