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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

LR Racism Special Issue Part II: UN Betrays Victims of Russian Race Violence

DouDou Diene (pictured), you've just been told about the horrors of Russian race violence. What are you going to do now?

From the look on his face, he's going to Disney World. Or perhaps someplace even nicer!

This man has just been told that 18 dark-skinned people have been murdered in Russia this year on the basis of racial hostility while hundreds of others have suffered physical attacks. He's just been told that African people who have lived in major cities for years are terrified to leave their rooms. And his response is to smile like he just won the lottery? To top it all off, he was "so busy" that he "didn't have time" to find out how it feels to ride the city subway, where he'd be taking his life in his hands if he rode without a phalanx of bodyguards (it seems he was committed to the race question only to the extent of spending one week in Moscow and St. Petersburg, not a single second in the provinces). Once again, we see that the U.N. is impotent and incompetent, a very sick, sad joke. In fact, if one were only a little bit cynical, she'd surely conclude this man had been bribed.

The Moscow Times reports:

With violent attacks on the rise, the state must do more to combat racism and xenophobia, a United Nations official said Friday.

Doudou Diene, the UN's special rapporteur on racism, said he would urge Russia, in a report to be filed with the UN in the fall, to track the growth of racist attacks, adhere to international standards on protecting minority rights and encourage tolerance.

Diene spoke at a news conference in Moscow after a weeklong trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Russian officials and NGOs tend to see the current situation differently, Diene said, with authorities blaming the recent spate of attacks on a handful of marginal hate groups and NGOs saying Russia has a deeper, cultural problem.

"In Soviet times, the state encouraged friendship between different peoples," Diene said. "It doesn't do that anymore, and as a result, there is an ideological vacuum."

Today, racism is not an official policy, he said. But there are signs that the problem is serious: Political parties run on racist and xenophobic platforms; skinheads perpetrate violent crimes, with many going unpunished; and some police have been accused of attacking minorities.

Diene said he was especially shaken after meeting with Africans.

"I met with people who have lived in Russia for 20, 30 years, and they're completely isolated," he said. "They're alone, frightened, and scared to go outside."

Africans are among the many groups of dark-skinned people routinely targeted by skinheads and neo-Nazis.

Eighteen people have been murdered and 147 injured in racially motivated attacks since the beginning of the year, said Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy director of the Sova center, which monitors extremist activity.

Diene was also stirred by a visit to a Gypsy settlement near St. Petersburg where people were living, he said, "in horrible conditions, totally marginalized and desperate." Kozhevnikova, among the NGO representatives who met with Diene during his trip, said Sova registered at least two or three attacks every week.

The actual number of non-fatal attacks is probably three or four times higher than what the center registers, she said, because beatings of illegal migrants often go unreported.

Others who met with Diene included Supreme Court Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev, Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev, head of the presidential council for civil society Ella Pamfilova, ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, and Justice and Foreign Ministry officials, among others, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Asked if he had ridden on the metro, a frequent site of racist attacks, Diene, who is from Senegal, replied: "I would like to ride in the metro, as I do everywhere, even though I've been advised against it. But I haven't had enough time."

Even as DouDou was hobnobbing in Moscow, the Kremlin was seeking to undermine the new U.N. commission on human rights, as RIA Novosti reports:

GENEVA, June 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia hopes the UN's new Human Rights Council will avoid the mistakes of its predecessor, which used human-rights issues to exert political pressure on nations, a deputy foreign minister said Monday.

The Council, which on June 16 replaced the Commission on Human Rights as part of a UN reform, is meeting in Geneva for its first session Monday to determine its agenda and mechanisms to take on duties from its predecessor.

And Alexander Yakovenko said he hoped the new council would not repeat the former body's negative features.

"Above all, we would like to avoid any further politicization of this body's activities so that discussions of human-rights issues are not turned into an instrument of political pressure on individual countries," he said.

The deputy foreign minister is expected to attend the High-Level Segment of meetings on June 19-22 to be attended by senior officials from over 100 countries and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The council comprises 47 states elected by the General Assembly based on their human rights records, including Russia and two other former Soviet nations, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. The Commission on Human Rights consisted of 53 members.

"One of the issues to be discussed is our [Russia's] presence in the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. Russians are not working in the office at the moment, which is unacceptable," Yakovenko said, adding that Russia's dues to the office had been $2 million since December 2005.

UN diplomats said the first session, which will last until June 30, would be largely organizational, as the member countries would have to study its predecessor's legacy.

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