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Kremlin Silent on Discrimination Against Krasnodar's Ethnic Minorities

(Washington, DC--October 31, 2002) Ethnic minorities in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar are suffering from blatant, officially sanctioned discrimination, according to Vadim Karastelev, an expert with the Novorossiysk Committee for Human Rights. Karastelev, who spoke at a briefing 29 October at RFE/RL, said that while Krasnodar's ethnic minorities face the worst conditions, other Russian border regions, such as Stavropol, are starting to follow its lead. In fact, Karastelev speculated, since the Kremlin has not publicly condemned these policies--and particularly in the aftermath of last week's Moscow hostage crisis--Krasnodar governor Aleksandr Tkachev may be able to get State Duma approval for a draft law delegating to local governments in Russian border areas the right to decide who can enter their territories.

In accordance with policies established by Governor Tkachev, the 16,000 Meskhetian Turks living in the Krasnodar region--who fled inter-communal violence in Uzbekistan in 1989--are denied Russian citizenship documents, residence permits, and valid birth certificates by the local offices of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Without such documents, Karastelev said, Meskhetian Turks are in essence non-persons, unable to move freely within the country or to defend their rights in court. By contrast, Karastelev pointed out, the 54,000 Meskhetian Turks who fled to 27 other Russian regions in 1989 have been successfully integrated into the local communities.

Some 8,000 members of ethnic minorities, including Kurds, Armenians, Azeris, and Romany, face similar conditions in Krasnodar, according to Karastelev. Tkachev has publicly stated that ethnic minorities are not welcome in his region, Karastelev said. He reported that the Krasnodar government is said to provide funding to paramilitary Cossack groups, some of which are known to brutally repress members of minority groups with impunity. Krasnodar authorities encourage local media to label groups defending the rights of ethnic minorities as "foreign spies," and regional financial police conduct regular checks of these groups' registration documents.

The situation of Russia's ethnic minorities shows little prospect for improvement, according to Karastelev. The Russian State Duma recently passed two laws which could have the effect of codifying nationally many of the discriminatory measures already taken at the regional level against Krasnodar's ethnic minorities. The Law on Foreigners--which takes effect on 30 October--restricts the right of "foreigners" to travel within Russian territory. The new Law on Citizenship, on the other hand, could render up to 10 million people now living in Russia stateless, unless they are able to obtain valid identity documents by the end of 2003. # # #