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Remembering Galina Kozhevnikova as Her Last Report is Presented in Russia

1:35 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

Today, the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis presented its latest report on hate crimes in the Russian Federation. The press conference began with a minute of silence honoring the memory of the report’s principal author, Galina Kozhevnikova, who passed away in Moscow on March 5 after long illness .

Galina was a founder and director of SOVA and steered the organization as it established itself as the most important and trusted voice on hate crimes and radical nationalism in Russia. An historian by training, Galina produced groundbreaking research, documenting an upheaval in racist violence that continues to terrorize minorities. According to information gathered by SOVA, hate crimes have claimed as many as many as 470 lives since 2004, while the government’s response has been weak and inconsistent. We saw a potent reminder of where racism can lead during last year’s race riots in Moscow.

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Are Russia’s Neo-Nazis Upping the Ante?

9:32 am in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

On April 12, Eduard Chuvashov, a federal judge of the Russian Federation was gunned down in front of his apartment building in Moscow in a contract-style killing. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev denounced the killing as "cynical" and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Police officials stated that the murder may have been an act of retribution for the sentences Judge Chuvashov handed down against neo-Nazi skinheads convicted in violent hate crimes that targeted Russian minorities.

Just last week, the 47-year-old judge sentenced two skinheads to 10 years in prison. Their group, the Ryno Gang, was convicted of killing 20 people of "non-Slavic" appearance and posting videos of the murders on the Internet. Earlier this year, in February 2010, Chuvashov jailed nine members of "White Wolves," a gang of mostly teenage skinheads that clubbed and stabbed dark-skinned migrants to death.

At some level, this brutal murder – as brazen as it was – may come as little surprise those familiar with Judge Chuvashov. Judge Chuvashov had received death threats for several weeks before the attack. One neo-Nazi website had also included him on a list of "enemies of the people" to be targeted for violence. Furthermore, this killing seems to be part of a broader trend documented by the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis – Russia’s leading monitors of neo-Nazi violence – in which the targets of neo-Nazi violence have increasingly included judges, lawyers, rights defenders, and journalists.

This murder can’t but recall several other similarly brutal slayings of those involved in work to address neo-Nazi violence: Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer who had represented the mother of an anti-fascist campaigner who was murdered by skinheads, was himself gunned down in downtown Moscow, allegedly also by neo-Nazis, in January 2009; Anatasia Baburova, a freelance journalist who reported on the problem of hate crime violence, was murdered with Markelov; and Nikolai Girenko, an expert witness in several hate crime cases, who was gunned down at the entrance of his St. Petersburg apartment in 2004. Nobody has been held accountable in any of these cases, although a group of men are on currently on trial in St. Petersburg for a range of murders and other crimes, including the murder of Girenko.

The Russian criminal justice system, long overwhelmed by the surge in violent hate crimes, largely perpetrated by adherents of far-right and neo-Nazi ideologies, has begun to make some progress. In 2009, the number of such crimes decreased for the first time since 2004, in what was partly attributed to efforts by law enforcement to bring to justice some of those responsible for these brutal hate crimes. Yet, this latest tragic murder makes clear that these efforts need to include more robust protections to the prosecutors, judges, and witnesses involved in bring to justice those responsible for Russia’s endemic hate crime problem.

Decision on Hate Crime Adopted by the 56 OSCE States

4:13 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

On December 1-2, foreign ministers and other officials from the 56 states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – a conflict prevention organization bringing together states from North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union – met in Athens, Greece for the annual ministerial meeting. A Decision on "Combating Hate Crime" was one of a dozen or so decisions adopted by ministers on issues related to security, democratization, and human rights.

This Decision comes at a time when hate crimes are on the rise throughout many parts of the OSCE and indeed, the world.

Racist and other hate crimes are reprehensible and unacceptable, whether it is a beheading of a Tajik migrant worker in Moscow, the brutal murder of a Congolese asylum seeker in Kyiv, a vigilante raid on Roma camps in Italy, an aggressive assault on gay pride parade participants in Eastern Europe, or a beating to death of a Mexican immigrant in the United States. Beyond the incomprehensible and immediate damage inflicted upon the victims of hate crimes and their families, this ongoing violence continues to erode every person’s sense of security and equality–necessities that a healthy society needs to function, much less flourish.

For some, it may come as a surprise that hate crimes are occurring so frequently. But the latest report by the Warsaw-based human rights arm of the OSCE reaffirms that hate crimes continue to be a serious problem across the region. They reported that, on the basis of data collected by States, hate crimes are occurring across the OSCE region and are motivated by a wide variety of forms of intolerance: racism and xenophobia, antisemitism, bias against Roma and Sinti, Muslims, Christians and members of other religions, bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as bias based on physical or mental disability."
Even worse, what we know may only be the tip of the iceberg because underreporting of incidents is severe and widespread. Many victims do not trust law enforcement authorities and so they keep quiet. Furthermore, contrary to their promises and commitments, countries continue to produce poor and unreliable data. As a result, it’s difficult to identify recurring trends and to know with any certainty the real number of attacks committed in a given country and the way a government has responded to them.

With this Decision, States have committed (in many cases re-committed) to taking a number of important steps to combat hate crime, including by: enacting laws that provide effective penalties for hate crimes, collecting reliable statistics on incidents, investigations, and prosecutions; encouraging better victim reporting of attacks, training law enforcement and criminal justice officials, and conducting awareness raising campaigns.
Undoubtedly, all of these are important and much needed steps. Until now, OSCE governments have largely been failing to fulfill many of these commitments: 22 states still have no express provisions on hate crime, and only 14 states are fulfilling their basic commitments to collect reliable data on hate crimes.

The international community must take a firm stand against any hate crime against anyone, anywhere. No one community under threat should be left to stand alone in the face of violent hatred and bigotry. Let’s hope that the recognition OSCE ministers gave to this issue will allow their respective governments to seize the opportunity and implement the policies prescribed by this Ministerial Council Decision.

Obama Signs the Hate Crime Bill into Law! What’s next?

11:41 am in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

Ten years ago this month, Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard was brutally attacked and murdered because he was gay. A year before Matthew’s murder, James Byrd. Jr. was kidnapped, beaten, and stripped naked by three white supremacists, who chained him by the ankles to a pickup truck and dragged his body for three miles. These tragedies reawakened American consciousness about hate crime and sparked debate far beyond U.S. borders.

Today, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, critical legislation that strengthens existing U.S. laws by extending federal hate crime protection in cases where the victim was targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender, disability, or gender identity. The new law–which the U.S. Attorney General Holder called a “civil rights issue that is clearly a priority”–will also permit federal authorities to assist local governments in hate crime investigations and increase their capacity through training programs.

This much-needed step to enhance the government’s response to hate crime at home will play an important role in enhancing US leadership on combating hate violence globally. This is already happening.

Secretary of State Clinton recently underlined the importance of combating hate crime, at the launch of the State Department’s 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom by proclaiming that the best antidote to religious intolerance is “a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression.”

Together, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and other members of the Administration must be prepared to carry and promote this message overseas, in countries where governments are not responding adequately to violence motivated by religious intolerance, racism and xenophobia, sexual orientation and gender identity bias, or other similar manifestations of intolerance. In many parts of the world, governments are failing to take hate violence seriously by bringing the perpetrators to justice.

As the United States begins the work of enacting this important new bill, Human Rights First is encouraging the government to also demonstrate continued international leadership in multilateral organizations, advocate measures to combat hate crime in bilateral relationships, and expand efforts to support civil society organizations, by taking the following steps:

-Raising violent hate crime issues with representatives of foreign governments and encouraging, where appropriate, legal and other policy responses, including those contained in Human Rights First’s ten-point plan for governments to combat violent hate crime. Talking Helps!

-Offer appropriate technical assistance and other forms of cooperation, including training of police and prosecutors in investigating, recording, reporting and prosecuting violent hate crimes as well as translation of Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) materials on hate crimes. Peer tutoring works!

-Ensuring that groups working to combat all forms of violent hate crime have access to support under existing U.S. funding programs, including the Human Rights and Democracy Fund and programs for human rights defenders. Money is needed!

-Maintain strong and inclusive State Department monitoring and public reporting on racist, antisemitic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Roma and other bias-motivated violence–including by consulting with civil society groups as well as providing appropriate training for human rights officers and other relevant mission staff abroad. Reporting matters!

Today is a day to welcome the President’s signing the Hate Crime Prevention Act into law and to congratulate all those who worked for more than a decade to make this happen. It is also an important moment to recall the global nature of hate violence. While not losing sight of the challenges at home, we call on the U.S. to enhance its global leadership role by working to ensure that hate violence is met with a vigorous response everywhere.

Ted Kennedy: Fearless Leader in the Fight against Hate Crime

3:20 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

Senator Kennedy’s prolific career spanned nearly five decades, during which he authored more than 2,500 bills in the U.S. Senate. Several hundred have become public law. This fall we hope to add yet another bill to that distinguished list – the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Ted Kennedy was one of the Senate’s earliest champions in the fight against hate crime. Since the early 1990s, Senator Kennedy has called for better government response to the growing problem of violence motivated by racism, religious intolerance, sexual orientation bias or other similar factors. For example, in one of his most courageous political moments, Senator Kennedy argued in favor of legislation protecting those who face violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. He spoke out after realizing that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, as well as those who seek to protect their rights, have been threatened by a particularly aggressive wave of bias-motivated violence.

Senator Kennedy later went to on to compare hate crimes to "acts of domestic terrorism" and worked tirelessly to pass hate crimes legislation in the Senate. In 2007, he joined Sen. Gordon Smith in a bipartisan effort to pass the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill failed to advance in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that not deter Senator Kennedy. He continued to fight, and just this year, the Senate adopted this critical measure as part of the Defense Authorization Bill.

Human Rights First is one of many U.S. rights groups supporting the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as it will help to ensure that law enforcement authorities have the tools they need to combat violent hate crime in the United States. This bill could prove to be one of the nation’s strongest weapons to date to protect those who are most vulnerable to bias-motivated violence. These crimes — including assaults on individuals, damage to homes and personal property, and attacks on places of worship, cemeteries, community centers, and schools — undermine our shared values of equality and nondiscrimination, ideals that Senator Kennedy worked his whole life to promote.

Senator Ted Kennedy was a longtime friend of the human rights movement and a powerful supporter of social justice and democracy at home and throughout the world. He had a keen understanding of the courage and tenacity it takes to overcome adversity and to find the way forward when the odds seem insurmountable. This fall, we sincerely hope that President Obama will follow in his footsteps by signing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.

Watch Human Rights First’s Tribute to Edward Moore Kennedy.

Paul LeGendre is the Director of the Fighting Discrimination program at Human Rights First. Join them at facebook.com/humanrightsfirst and twitter.com/humanrights1st

A Place for Human Rights at the U.S.-Russia Summit

4:56 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

In a week, President Obama will travel to Moscow to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The agenda items of the summit in Moscow are of course numerous and complex, but it would be a mistake to let human rights concerns get lost in the mix. High among those concerns is the troubling rise in hate crimes in Russia, the government’s inadequate response to this trend, and increased harassment – including at times murder – of human rights defenders. These and other outstanding human rights issues could make Russia a far less reliable partner in addressing economic, security, and other issues.

During the past five years there has been a sharp increase in the number of racist and other bias-motivated attacks in Russia, a rise of about 15 percent per year. In 2008, there were nearly 100 such reported murders in Russia – by far the highest incidence of such serious violence in Europe. This problem has been compounded by a lackluster governmental response to these heinous acts. Russia’s deeply-flawed antiextremism legislation has been used to silence government critics, rather than to thoroughly investigate and prosecute the cases of increasingly brutal violent hate crimes. In recent years, human rights activists have Read the rest of this entry →