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Racism on the rise in Ukraine

10 July 2008

Four foreigners have been murdered in Kyiv so far this year because of the colour of their skin, according to a new Amnesty International report.

The report Ukraine: Government must act to stop racial discrimination, highlights an alarming increase in attacks on foreigners and members of ethnic and religious minorities in Ukraine.

The report, launched on Thursday (10 July), also documents how the Ukrainian authorities are failing their international and domestic obligations to ensure the right not to be discriminated against for all who live in the country.

According to non-governmental organizations, there were 60 racist attacks in Ukraine in 2007. Six of these resulted in the death of the victims. So far this year, there have been over 30 racist incidents. Four were murders.

The majority of victims have been of African or Asian origin. Prejudice and violent attacks against Jews and Jewish properties also continue, while members of certain Roma communities have been fingerprinted and photographed by police apparently because of their ethnic identity.

Yet despite the racist attacks and police racial profiling the authorities are reluctant to acknowledge the existence of intolerance and racial discrimination in Ukrainian society.

Often the police fail to react with the required urgency to calls for help from victims of racist attacks. Sometimes they refuse to act at all. When arrested, perpetrators of racist attacks are labelled “hooligans” and legislation targeting racist crime is rarely applied.

“It is disturbing that the Ukrainian authorities fail to acknowledge the existence of racism in all its manifestations,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International. “Such failure can only lead to a rise of racist attacks and impunity for the perpetrators.”

Daniel Osaemor, a Nigerian market trader, was attacked by a group of youths on 19 February 2008 as he left a supermarket in Kyiv. They were reported to have surrounded him and stabbed him in the chest.

Osaemor had a metal table leg in his pocket that he had been using to mend his market stall and is reported to have hit one of his attackers on the head with it. He was charged with hooliganism. His three attackers were not charged. The investigator denied that there had been any racial motive in the attack.

Jeong Kwon Kang, a South Korean citizen, was attacked in April 2007 by four young men when he came out of a supermarket near his home in Kyiv. The attackers kicked him until he fell to the ground. His attackers wore spiked boots and stamped on his head.

He died later from his head injuries. Four young men were arrested and initially charged with grievous bodily injury and hooliganism. According to the prosecutor’s statement one member of the group had said that he wanted to kill Jeong Kwon Kang because of his nationality.

In a meeting with Amnesty International in February 2008, the Consul of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea said that to prosecute such a serious crime as if it were hooliganism shows “a very relaxed attitude towards racism that is very dangerous for the reputation of Ukraine.”

In November 2007, after prolonged lobbying by the South Korean Embassy, the accused were also charged with murder and with “hatred aimed at humiliating the national honour and dignity of a person” under Article 161 of the Criminal Code.

“The Ukrainian authorities cannot afford to ignore xenophobia and social prejudice. Such attitudes can permeate official structures and become entrenched as institutional racism, and lead to a climate where graver human rights abuses are perpetrated and tolerated,” said Nicola Duckworth.

“The Ukrainian government must strive to create a society in which diversity is viewed not as a threat, but as a source of enrichment. Government measures towards achieving this will only enhance Ukraine’s standing and the role the country can play in all areas on the global scene.”

Between 8 and 10 July an Amnesty International delegation presented the report’s findings and recommendations to the relevant Ukrainian authorities and urged them to publicly acknowledge the existence of racial discrimination and to take effective measures to address it and protect potential victims.

“While we appreciate that the authorities were willing to meet us, and that there was recognition from some quarters of the existence of the problem of racism and discrimination, we regret the absence of a consensus view that racism is on the increase and needs to be tackled,” said Nicola Duckworth.

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