Query response on Belarus: Situation of Roma: ill-treatment by law-enforcement authorities [a-10723]

24 September 2018

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to ACCORD as well as information provided by experts within time constraints and in accordance with ACCORD’s methodological standards and the Common EU Guidelines for processing Country of Origin Information (COI).

This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status, asylum or other form of international protection.

Please read in full all documents referred to.

Non-English language information is summarised in English. Original language quotations are provided for reference.


According to the January 2018 Freedom House Freedom in the World 2018 report, “[e]thnic Poles and Roma often face undue pressure from authorities.” (Freedom House, January 2018)


In his May 2018 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus notes that Roma face racial profiling by State agents:

“The Committee devoted a large part of its time to the situation of Roma, especially regarding racial profiling by State agents, and the discrimination they face in employment, particularly in the context of policies combating ‘social parasitism’.” (HRC, 15 May 2018, p. 16)

Besides reporting on widespread discrimination of Roma in terms of employment and education, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also mentions compulsory fingerprinting and arbitrary arrests of Roma in its December 2017 report:

“Situation of Roma: While appreciating the statements made by the delegation concerning special measures providing for assistance to Roma, the Committee is concerned by reports that Roma face racial discrimination and profiling by the State party’s law enforcement and criminal justice authorities and restrictions on their freedom of movement within the State party’s territory through measures including compulsory fingerprinting and arbitrary detention. The Committee is also concerned by reports that the so-called ‘social parasitism’ tax, established in presidential decree No. 3 (2015) and requiring individuals who work fewer than 183 days per year to pay approximately $250 per year as compensation for lost tax revenues, disproportionately affects Roma. The Committee notes that the decree was suspended in 2017 and that a revised draft is being reviewed. The Committee is further concerned by reports that in spite of legal anti-discrimination protections, Roma face widespread discrimination in both public and private sector employment, and that despite the commendably high literacy rate in the State party, a large percentage of Roma children do not attend school. While noting that the State party does not collect data on the ethnic composition of its prison population, the Committee is also concerned by reports that Roma are disproportionately represented among prisoners.“ (CERD, 21 December 2017, p. 4)

In a 2017 report on human rights violations against Roma, which is based on materials collected during a field mission to Belarus in fall 2017, the Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial (ADC Memorial), a non-governmental organisation that engages against discrimination of minorities in post-Soviet countries, addresses the topic of ethnic profiling by the Belarusian police:

“Preconceptions about the ‘traditionally criminal nature’ of the Roma people are widespread in Belarus and typical of law enforcement officers. Xenophobia and racism on the part of police officers are manifested in the form of statements, aggression, and violence. The police continue to conduct arbitrary raids of dense Roma settlements using force without any grounds and in disregard of procedural norms. Although fingerprinting is not mandatory for all Belarusian citizens, Roma residents have been forced to be fingerprinted - frequently without any official legal grounds - during raids, searches, and detentions. In many cases, Roma people are suspected of committing thefts or other crimes without any grounds, and police officers subject people to interrogations and persecutions solely on the basis of stereotypes.

Rusalina M.: ‘We have raids all the time in Bolshevik. They usually bring in all the Roma who happen to be home when they arrive. They even bring in the women. They drive everyone off to the police precinct, make a list of them, and fingerprint them. I was also taken in just like that and fingerprinted, even though they had no grounds to do this under the law.’

Zinaida A.: ‘They always go after the Roma when something happens in our settlement or a neighboring settlement. Whatever it is - a theft, a fight, or something else, they always go to the Roma or to people with a criminal record first. They were going to change the water pipes here over the summer, but someone stole them. The first people the police started to check were the Roma. They even came to me and turned my house and plot upside down, even though I’m 70 and disabled.’

Ruslan M.: ‘They think we’re dealing drugs in our settlement, but far from all Roma are involved in this. But still, whenever there’s a raid, they break down our doors, make us lie on the floor, and turn everything inside out. During one of these raids, OMON [a special police unit] broke my windows, made me lie on the floor, and beat my legs with a baton.’

Unfortunately, even the most serious violations of Roma rights committed by police officers go without investigation and are unknown to anyone other than the victims and their relatives. Since they face xenophobia and discrimination on a daily basis, Roma people are reluctant to report any incidents because they fear that they will face new accusations instead of receive protection from rights violations. They also have little knowledge of their rights to begin with and sense their vulnerability before hostile law enforcement agencies and the entire government system overall.” (ADC Memorial, 2017, p. 9)

The same source continues to discuss causes of criminalisation of the Belarusian Roma population and the practice of giving Roma especially harsh sentences for minor crimes:

“Extreme poverty is one of the components of the vicious cycle Roma people are caught in as a result of structural discrimination. A low level of education, the absence of vital social support measures, and the inability to find even low-paying jobs push some people to commit crimes. Interviews conducted in dense Roma settlements in Vitebsk and Homel oblasts have shown that in most families at least one person, and frequently several, have been criminally prosecuted in the past or are confined in detention facilities (prisons, colonies, and so forth). In most cases, these people have had little education and little or no income prior to their arrests.

According to a resident of Vitebsk, ‘many, many Roma are in jail: some for drugs, some for theft. And they live like this their whole lives because there’s nothing else to do. Half of our settlement has spent time in prison. Some were given 10 years, some 15. So people sold drugs here. You can see that the houses are modest; they’re not palaces. People stoop to this not because they don’t want to work, but because there’s no other way to survive. Imagine: people work at a factory for 10 years, they’re laid off, and the factory is closed. They go to an employment agency. They’re given an assignment, but then they’re told that no one is needed. I’ve been looking for work like this for a year and a half. At first, I was listed there, but then I left because it was useless.’

Sometimes Roma are given harsh sentences for crimes that are not very serious.

‘My son was imprisoned for stealing a wallet when he was 18. We’re destitute, we live on my pension alone, and he wanted us to have at least something in our house. So he decided to steal. He was given two years. At first, they wanted to give the maximum three years. We were lucky, because they usually come down very hard on Roma, so hard that the family doesn’t know where to get the money from to help. Like everyone else here, he was unemployed. There was nothing to eat. Now his wife and two children have no idea what to do.’

Roma are sometimes prosecuted multiple times for the same violations, which are the result of extreme poverty and the inability to solve financial problems on their own. For example, one of the people interviewed -a well-educated, divorced, unemployed father of a minor daughter - was sentenced to deprivation of freedom three times for failure to pay child support, even though he did not have enough money to pay because of his problems finding work. In this case, repeated punishment for ‘malicious evasion of child support payments’ (in Belarus, failure to pay child support is punishable by years of imprisonment) resulted in this person’s total inability to find work both because of his nationality and because of his three convictions.

According to relatives of convicted persons, Roma people in prisons and colonies are frequently subjected to groundless violence by their jailers. For example, there is evidence of the practice of beating Roma people at Pretrial Detention Center No. 2 in Vitebsk. Reports that Roma prisoners were treated harshly at one of the correctional colonies in Mogilev have been documented: ‘Roma at the Mogilev Detention Center are regularly beaten, degraded, and prevented from meeting with relatives. People try to escape from there, they cut their wrists after only a few days.’

Belarus is the last European country to carry out executions, and people are executed in accordance with a court decision. Over the last decade, two Roma people have been sentenced to death and executed in the country. Staff members at the Viasna Human Rights Centre, which has been running the Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty in Belarus campaign since 2009, have noted that both cases demonstrated the overall level of xenophobia in the Belarusian justice system and the fact that Roma defendants are generally presumed guilty. One Roma man sentenced to death in 2009 maintained his innocence both during the investigation and in court. However, as an illiterate person, he could not properly represent himself during these legal actions. According to the UN Human Rights Council, where this convicted person filed an individual complaint, the court did not provide an objective or impartial assessment of his guilt. The second case, which ended with the death sentence in 2013 was widely reported on in the Belarusian media using the language of hate speech and had the effect of setting public opinion against both the specific individual and the entire Roma minority.” (ADC Memorial, 2017, pp. 10-11)

In a 2017 report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Human Constanta, FoRB (Freedom of Religion and Belief) and the Center of Equal Rights Expertise mention various forms of ill-treatment of Roma by Belarusian law-enforcement agents:

“The police systematically restrict the right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State for the Roma population through ethnic profiling. In 2014 - 2016, those cases were particularly frequent

Essentially, ethnic profiling means arbitrary detentions and fingerprinting of Roma, or persons who have visual similarities to Roma (i.e. look similar in appearance, wear similar clothing), and who move within the country for their personal or business purposes. The police officers explain these actions referring to the need for crime prevention and the ‘special Presidential Decree’ or the order given by their superiors. In fact, those actions were based on internal document #56 issued by the Ministry of Interior ‘for official use only’, which was repealed in 2017.

The existence of documents of this kind raises extreme concern, as well as the possibility of further issuance of documents providing for ethnic profiling. In this regard, the information in paragraph 105 of the State Report is questionable (‘the current legislation adequately protects all persons residing in Belarus from all forms of racial discrimination’).

In 2015, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee received a written request from a group of Roma (over 30 people) with information about multiple insults and humiliation by the police, arbitrary detention, illegal temporary expropriation of property (vehicles), and compulsory fingerprinting. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee applied to the Ministry of Interior and General Prosecutor's Office with a request to check the legality of the actions of the police officers and to take measures to eliminate discrimination of Roma. The above authorities did not find any violations reported in the requests. In February - August 2016, about 70 persons of the Roma ethnicity, including 50 women, applied to the Roma community mediators with complaints about such actions of the police officers. Some of them had been detained and fingerprinted repeatedly. The most frequent cases of arbitrary detention were registered in Minsk, near the railway station, where the police detained persons of the Roma ethnicity upon their arrival to Minsk by railway.

The practice of arbitrary detention and compulsory fingerprinting forced Roma to abandon the movement outside their places of residence and (or) registration and made them fear the police officers.” (Belarusian Helsinki Committee/Human Constanta/FoRB/Center of Equal Rights Exptertise, 2017, pp. 7-8)

The same source further reports on the existence of public information material, in which ethnic profiling is promoted:

In 2014-2016, repeated cases were registered when information materials (printed posters), promoting ethnic profiling, were placed in the public places (stores, village councils, etc.).

For example, on 31 March 2016, the website of the Leninsky District Administration, Mogilev, posted the article ‘Prevention of Thefts from Elderly People Committed by Roma’. ‘...It is necessary to mention that a large pro portion of the crimes of this kind usually falls on the Roma diaspora. A group of 2 - 3 Roma commits these crimes... Most often the Roma women aged 25 to 55 pretend to be social workers’. The author of the article, Elena Simonova, the Chief Inspector of the Information and PR Group, suggests, ‘In case you see people of the Roma ethnicity in your town or village, try to remember and record the state registration number of their vehicles’.

Thus, the police officers actually spread the hostile stereotype of anti - Gypsyism among the population and contributed to the restriction of the freedom of movement for persons of the Roma ethnicity.” (Belarusian Helsinki Committee/Human Constanta/FoRB/Center of Equal Rights Exptertise, 2017, p. 8)

In a November 2015 report published on the website of Roma Integration, a project that advocates for equal rights and opportunities for Roma in Belarus, the authors point out that

“[e]thnic profiling in Belarus is rooted in the attitude of the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the Romany. Technically, the encouragement to ethnic profiling is in many information materials of subdivisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.” (Roma Integration, November 2015, p. 3)

For further information on the general situation of Roma, discrimination in terms of education and employment, hate speech as well as the practice of unfounded removal of children from Roma families, please see the following reports:




References: (all links accessed 24 September 2018)