Situation in Loschynivka: Roma rights and social integration need be addressed at state level – authorities, activists


Background: On August 27 an 8-year old girl was found murdered in the village of Loshchynivka, Odesa region. A 20-year old local – representative of the Roma community was detained as the crime suspect. Local residents responded with a violent riot at the Roma compact settlement. The village council adopted a decision stipulating that the Roma need to move away. Authorities and experts discuss the situation in Loschynivka.

Kyiv, September 5, 2016. Situation in Loschynivka requires maximum attention from human rights groups and authorities at the highest level in order to resolve it within the legal field and prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future. This statement was made by human rights activists, representatives of the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, National Police and Romani and Jewish communities at a press briefing held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “Today it is the situation with the Romani, yesterday it was the situation with Syrian refugees in Yahotyn, tomorrow it might be a different situation. These manifestations and actions in relation to a particular community, in the opinion of the Commissioner, are unacceptable,” said Aksana Filipishyna, Representative of the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, Head of the Department on Children Rights, Non-Discrimination and Gender Equality.

“We regard what happened as a violent riot on ethnic grounds, so we need to respond accordingly. Unfortunately, the response was not appropriate, as the actions of local authorities led to discrimination against an entire ethnic group, bordering on ethnic cleansing,” stated Josef Zissels, Head of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine. Representatives of communities and human rights activists expressed concern about the inaction of law enforcement officers and the fact that local authorities and head of Odesa Regional State Administration had shifted the blame on the Romani community. “These actions demonstrate the incitement of ethnic hatred by local authorities and individual citizens of Ukraine. The Romani community appeals to the President of Ukraine, Prime Minister and Parliament with a demand to ensure the implementation of international legal obligations of Ukraine in the field of Romani integration into Ukrainian society,” stated Volodymyr Kondur, Head of the Coalition of Romani organisations “Strategy 2020”. On behalf of the Romani community, he expressed gratitude to representatives of the OSCE, the UN, civil society and the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights for their support.

Aksana Filipishyna reminded that Ukraine had acceded to many international documents for the protection from discrimination – in particular, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. “If we talk about the tragedy and the responsibility for it […] – only law must be the starting point for all questions and answers about guilt and punishment,” she stressed. “This incident has undermined the image of Ukraine. To my mind, the international community became aware of what was going on much more quickly than our government. This weakens the legal order in Ukraine,” added Yevhen Bystrytsky, Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation.

Human rights activists said that those responsible for the violence should be brought to justice. “There were specific people who called for the massacre. Their actions fall under Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine as inciting ethnic hatred. We appeal to the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement agencies to consider this fact,” emphasized Josef Zissels. Mykhailo Tarakhkalo, Director of Strategic Issues Center, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, stressed that it is important to understand how residents of Loschynivka learned who was suspected of the murder which provoked the violence, and ensure that the affected Romani families receive compensation for lost property.

Kostyantyn Tarasenko, Representative of Human Rights Office, National Police of Ukraine, said that the National Police, for its part, “promises objective investigation of the crimes committed during these events and bringing those responsible to justice, regardless of their ethnic origin.” “As of today, we have reached an agreement with the Renaissance Foundation to establish a working group from representatives of the public and the National Police to resolve this problem in the region,” noted Kostyantyn Tarasenko. He said that a member of the National Police office had departed to Odessa region.

Hryhoriy Nemyria, the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Human Rights, National Minorities and International Relations, stated that the situation and the authorities’ response to it will be considered at the next meeting of the Committee with the participation of the authorized Interior Ministry representatives, local authorities and the Commissioner for human rights. Yevhen Bystrytsky added that the International Renaissance Foundation will also join the discussion on the mediator’s role, because it has close contacts with Romani communities, human rights activists and MPs.

Hryhoriy Nemyria also stressed that Loschynivka’s incident should not be considered as an isolated case. “This concerns not only a particular area or particular participants. This indicates that the whole system should be corrected, because currently it does not work,” he emphasized. Hryhoriy Nemyria noted that Roma are now the most vulnerable minority in Ukraine, and their integration is not only part of the “Strategy 2020”, but also part of a package of requirements for visa liberalization with the EU. Joseph Zissels added that social research on Bogardus scale shows an extremely negative society’s attitude to Roma. “This is the maximum distance bordering on xenophobia, and it only grows with time,” he stressed. “The Roma’ situation is influenced by the existing stereotypes and prejudices that should be eliminated. […] If Roma do something wrong, the cause is to be sought not in them. We should see what society is doing to ensure that they be integrated and closer to us,” stressed Aksana Filipishyna.

According to Volodymyr Kondur, we should “consider the establishment of a special independent institution that will have enough resources and competence to act as an effective and independent legal mechanism to protect the rights of minorities.” According to him, it is desirable to create a post of Deputy for the Romani minority in the Office of the Ombudsperson for Human Rights, or the post of President of Ukraine Commissioner for the Romani minority. Joseph Zissels proposed that the post of Commissioner for ethnic policy and interdepartmental commission at the level of ministries should be created for engineering appropriate solutions. Yevhen Bystrytsky added that the Romani community itself also seeks positive changes. There is significant progress in education, human rights activities and self-organization on a democratic basis among Romani communities. “This is true of not only outstanding community leaders, but also of the educated youth who is trying to create conditions for better integration of Roma into Ukrainian society, – noted Mr. Bystrytsky. He added that the International Renaissance Foundation will continue its projects to support the Romani minority.