Romani activist from Ukraine: The rights of Romani people are neglected and they are persecuted, Russia takes advantage of this for its propaganda about neo-Nazi tensions in Ukraine
Romani people and other minorities are being constantly neglected, persecuted and treated unequally in Ukraine during the ongoing war, according to Viola Popenka, a Romani activist from the "Chiricli" Roma Women Fund who addressed a recent meeting organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "As a civil rights organization, we are expressing our deep distress over the sharply-escalating violence and growing number of victims already taken by this war," she told those attending.
"As far as the rights of Romani people go, just as the experiences of the Second World War, the Balkan wars and the wars in Yugoslavia have shown, this war, too, is an example of how Romani people and other minorities are constantly neglected, treated in an inhumane way, and continue to be persecuted," Popenko said. "We are emphasizing that all internally displaced persons, above all disadvantaged persons such as Romani people, should have equal access to temporary shelter and humanitarian aid."
"For that reason, we are documenting all cases of discrimination against Romani people in Ukraine and in the receiving countries of the European Union and reporting them to the relevant institutions," Popenko said. "It is also important to stress that stories about minority rights being violated are massively used by the Russian Federation for its propaganda about neo-Nazi tensions in Ukraine," the activist said in a speech published by news server Romea.cz in full translation below.
Speech by Viola Popenko, Romani activist from Ukraine
Dear delegates, international organizations and members of civil society,
My name is Viola Popenko and I am speaking on behalf of the "Chiricli" Roma Women Fund.
The Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine is an absurd, aggressive war that is leading to human rights violations, threatening security in Europe, and most importantly, undermining the most absolute right, that is, the right to life of every person living in Ukraine today.
The fighting in the Kyiv region, in Chernihiv, in Mariupol, in Suma, in Kharkov, in Kherson, in Donetsk and in Mykolaiv has already cost the lives of too many soldiers and civilians, and it has resulted in a humanitarian crisis. The war has forced hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, including Romani people and other minorities, to flee to neighboring countries, and many more have been stranded in conflict areas under constant attack, lacking access to food, water, electricity, gas, heat and medicine. In addition, the constant shelling of "green" corridors and humanitarian convoys is underway and amounts to a war crime, as it is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, namely, Article 23 on Shipments of Medical Supplies, Food and Clothing.
As a civil rights organization, we are expressing our deep distress over the sharply-escalating violence and growing number of victims already taken by this war. As far as the rights of Romani people go, just as the experiences of the Second World War, the Balkan wars and the wars in Yugoslavia have shown, this war, too, is an example of how Romani people and other minorities are constantly neglected, treated in an inhumane way, and continue to be persecuted.
Hate speech and prejudice
One serious case of persecution has happened in the Transcarpathian Region, where many Romani IDPs have gone to seek shelter. A police officer there called on members of the public to expel the Romani people into other regions of Ukraine, or for the Roma to find alternative countries, because in his opinion the Roma would cause public unrest there. That case has been reported to the Ombudsman's Office in Ukraine and to the National Human Rights Department of the Ukrainian Police. We would therefore like to express our gratitude to the Ukrainian authorities for monitoring and responding to these human rights violations.
We are emphasizing that all internally displaced persons, above all disadvantaged persons such as Romani people, should have equal access to temporary shelter and humanitarian aid. For that reason, we are documenting all cases of discrimination against Romani people in Ukraine and the receiving countries of the European Union and reporting them to the relevant institutions. It is the civil rights organizations that are bearing the burden of providing Romani IDPs with shelter in Ukraine and responding with the greatest accountability, and without their aid, these human beings could easily end up living in train stations throughout the country.
It is also important to stress that stories about minority rights being violated are massively used by the Russian Federation for its propaganda about neo-Nazi tensions in Ukraine. For example, footage showing Romani people tied up with their backs against pillars and their faces painted green in Ukraine went viral on social media and has been exploited by the Russian Federation to allege that internally displaced people are being lynched by neo-Nazis there. In fact that footage was taken in Lviv, where members of a pickpocketing gang were caught robbing people and were then treated in this inhumane manner by vigilantes.
Lack of identification
The problem of lidentification documents having never been issued by the authorities has begun to play a major role in protecting people's rights to asylum and humanitarian aid during this war. We have received many complaints from both children and women of Romani origin that they are being prevented from leaving Ukraine to exercise their right to asylum at the borders of Hungary, Moldova and Poland. Reports have reached us from the Chernihiv area, where humanitarian aid was only being provided upon presentation of a passport, and therefore Romani IDPs without documents were turned away empty-handed, without any means of subsistence.
We want to emphasize that the experience we have gained so far during this war should be taken into account by all authorities, and our recommendations are as follows:
1) Document the violations of international human rights and humanitarian law perpetrated by the Russian military with regard to civilian immunity, i.e., the violations of Article 51 (2) of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention; evacuation and protection of hospitals - Articles 17 and 18 of the Geneva Convention concerning the protection of civilians in time of war. Furthermore, document the violation of the right to self-determination of the Ukrainians as it is enshrined in the UN Charter and the Declaration of Principles of International Law on Friendly Relations and Cooperation between Nations in accordance with the UN Charter.
2) Take a stand against the horrors of violence and this war.
3) Ensure that Romani minorities and marginalized nationalities are guaranteed equal access to protection and security when fleeing, including undocumented persons, especially Romani women and children.
4) Ensure the right to humanitarian aid and medical personnel security in areas of combat.
5) Prevent and effectively investigate hate speech against Roma as well as discrimination in access to asylum.
6) Address the problem of Romani people who lack identification and are rendered stateless on the basis of the mechanisms for acquiring personal identification that have been developed by the Council of Europe, the OSCE/ODIHR, and both pro-Roma and Romani NGOs.
7) We are also concerned over the ongoing reports that the Russian authorities are arresting and then disappearing or imprisoning Crimean Tatar activists on Ukrainian territory and we call on the OSCE to investigate.
Thank you for your attention.
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