Diene’s visit takes place against the backdrop of rising violence against dark-skinned foreigners and migrants in Russia.
According to Sova, a nongovernmental group that monitors racist attacks in Russia, 18 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in hate crimes since the beginning of this year.
Violence On The Increase
Diene told reporters today that he was concerned not only by the upsurge in the number of attacks on foreigners, but also by the growing violence of these attacks.
He told the press conference that the ideological vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union had created a fertile breeding ground for racism.
“This ideological vacuum, combined with a deep economic and social crisis and the rise of nationalism, has created a cocktail, a culture favorable to the emergence of groups of individuals and of political parties that have used the racist and xenophobic platform as its main discourse," Diene said.
But Diene outlined several other reasons for the rise of xenophobic feelings in Russia.
He said the Russian government needed to demonstrate a stronger political will to fight racism and xenophobia.
The failure of the authorities to punish perpetrators of hate crimes, he said, have created a climate of impunity that has encouraged racist violence. He noted that police officers themselves have a reputation for hounding foreigners.
The Russian media has also plays a great role in spreading xenophobic stereotypes and intolerance, he said.
He added that Russia still lacked clear discrimination laws.
A Shocking Climate Of Fear
Diene told reporters that he was shocked by the climate of fear that now permeated the lives of non-Russians.
“What marked me most during the encounters and conversations I’ve had?" Diene told reporters. "It is the feeling of fear and of solitude expressed by a number of foreign communities and ethnic minorities -- the Africans have been very vocal about it, as well as people from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Africans who have lived here for 20 or 30 years and who have Russian nationality tell me they and their children can not longer go out, they are afraid of being attacked. This is a very alarming sign.”
Diene warned that the wave of racism, if unchecked, could soon target not only ethnic minorities but also those lobbying to protect them.
In June 2004, prominent racism expert Nikolai Girenko was shot dead through the door of his St. Petersburg apartment. Girenko’s testimonies had helped convict several neo-Nazis.
A Strongly Worded Report
Diene said his report to the UN would call on Russian authorities do to more to condemn racism and combat its manifestations.
But he said a top-down approach will not solve the problem. Racism and xenophobia, he said, can only be tackled collectively.
“The first stage should be for the Russian society to address collectively the reality of racism, its depth, and its expressions," Diene said. "So I will recommend that the Russian government set up a commission that would study in depth the issue of racism and xenophobia. This commission should include government representatives, but also ethnic minorities, foreigners, civil society, and the country’s great moral forces.”
Diene however stressed that the situation in Russia mirrored a global trend of xenophobia. During his five years as UN rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, Diene has issued reports on countries such as Japan, Brazil, Switzerland, Canada, and Denmark.