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Russia: Amnesty International Petitions Putin On Behalf Of Stateless People

The human rights organization Amnesty International has delivered a petition to the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling on the Russian authorities to address the plight of thousands of former Soviet citizens, now living in Russia, who are being denied the right to obtain Russian citizenship.

Prague, 14 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Today, Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov announced that the authorities have nearly completed the task of exchanging Russians' Soviet-era internal identification documents for new Russian internal passports.

"The decision that was made a year and a half ago -- following an initiative of the Russian Interior Ministry -- to limit the passport reform to two years was the right decision because, to date, nearly 98 percent of Russian citizens have received new [internal] passports," Gryzlov said.

But the human rights organization Amnesty International says thousands of people eligible for Russian citizenship are being left off the rolls altogether. Under the terms of Russia's new citizenship law, they face the threat of deportation starting next year, unless their situation is regularized.

On their behalf, the rights group yesterday submitted a petition signed by 16,000 people across Europe to Russian President Vladimir Putin's office, urging him to ensure that Russia's stateless people -- who by law should have a right to citizenship -- are not discriminated against.

By Amnesty's count, there are thousands of ex-Soviet citizens from the former republics now living in Russia, who are officially stateless. Chief among them are some 13,000 to 16,000 Meskhetian Turks who have lived in Russia's southern Krasnodar Krai since 1989 after fleeing bloody pogroms in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley.

Local authorities in Krasnodar have denied them official registration, making it impossible for the Meskhetian Turks to meet the residency requirement that would give them the right to Russian citizenship -- even though most of them have lived and worked in Russia for the past 14 years.

Under the current citizenship law, passed in July 2002, only a five-year residency period is needed to obtain Russian citizenship. And Putin himself has called on parliament to waive that requirement for former Soviet citizens now living in Russia.

Sergei Nikitin of Amnesty International's Moscow office explained the problem to RFE/RL: "Local authorities interpret the phrase 'residence on the territory' as starting with the time of someone's registration. But practically all Meskhetian Turks have been denied registration for this entire period. At the same time, terms such as 'registration' and 'propiska' [residence permit] contradict international standards. According to international practice, 'residence' is simply the fact of a person's or a group's presence on a given territory. They have been on this territory since 1989. They lived there prior to the adoption of the new law on citizenship and even before the adoption of the very first law on citizenship, so according to all articles of law, these people have a right to obtain citizenship."

Nikitin said the Meskhetian Turks are not alone. Other ethnic groups in Russia face similar barriers to obtaining citizenship. "There are other groups, as well. According to the material available to Amnesty International, as far as we know, Kurds who left their places of residence in Azerbaijan and Armenia are experiencing similar problems. They are also now located in the south of the Russian Federation," he said.

Amnesty International wants Putin to pressure some local authorities, who are putting up unlawful obstacles to the acquisition of citizenship for members of ethnic groups such as the Meskhetian Turks and the Kurds, to end their dissembling and follow Russian federal law.

Officers of Amnesty International, headed by Nikitin, delivered their 16,000 petition signatures to the presidential administration in Moscow yesterday. The signatures were collected by Amnesty activists during a 100-day bus tour through Europe designed to call attention to the issue of human rights in Russia.

So far, the presidential administration, which accepted the signatures, has not responded.