After the annexation by Russia, Crimea has actually turned into an “island of lawlessness”. Russia as an occupying power disregards its obligations in Crimea under international humanitarian law and brazenly violates fundamental human rights and freedoms, enshrined in international human rights instruments. Moreover, Russia impedes an access of international human rights missions to Crimea. At the same time, Russia may use a possible visit of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović to the occupied territory in order to demonstrate “Potemkin villages” on the peninsula and decrease an attention of the international community to the Crimean issue.
Human rights violations is one of the factors which attract an attention of the international community to the Crimean issue. After the annexation, Crimea has actually turned into an “island of lawlessness” where Russian occupation authorities arbitrarily deprive Ukrainian citizens of their rights which are enshrined in Ukrainian legislation and norms of international law.
Large-scale human rights violations in the occupied Crimea are primarily caused by the following factors.
First, Russia adamantly denies its obligations as an occupying power in Crimea. The Kremlin considers that Crimea was lawfully acceded to Russia and applies Russian legislation to the occupied peninsula to the same extent as in Russian administrative-territorial entities. As a result, Russia violates provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949 (conscription of Crimean residents into the Russian army, prosecution of Crimean Tatar activists under Russian criminal legislation, transfer of prisoners from Crimea to Russian territory, imposition of Russian nationality on Crimean residents etc.).
Second, in 2014 Crimea fell under de facto control of a country which has a much worse human rights situation compared to Ukraine. Besides disregard of international humanitarian law, Russia commits large-scale violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms which are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950 and other international human rights instruments. For instance, Russia is a leader among the CoE members in a number of individual complaint (as of January 2019, 11,745 individual complaints) brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Third, Russia impedes an access of international human rights missions to Crimea. For over 5 years after the annexation of Crimea, Russia has never admitted either the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine to the peninsula. Since then, there have been only two visits by representatives of the CoE to Crimea (Ukrainian activists claim that Russian authorities organized a demonstrative concert in the Ukrainian language in a Simferopol school when an envoy of the CoE Secretary General visited Crimea in January 2016).
Basic facts of human rights violations in the occupied Crimea:
- 92 Ukrainian citizens were imprisoned on political or religious grounds (as of August 2019). Among them, 63 are arrested or sentenced in “Hizb ut-Tahrir case”, 12 – in “Ukrainian saboteurs’ case”, 3 – for membership in the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion. In the first half of 2019 alone, 37 persons were imprisoned on political grounds;
- Many of arrested and sentenced persons were transferred from the Crimean Peninsula in contravention of Art.49 and Art.76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949;
- Since the beginning of the occupation, there have been 45 cases of forced disappearance (as of June 2019);
- About 18,900 Crimean residents were conscripted into the Russian army in 2015-2019. As of August 2019, Russian occupation authorities opened 69 criminal cases for evasion of military service, sentences were passed on 64 of them;
- The majority of Crimean draftees were transferred for military service to Russian territory in contravention of Art.49 and Art.51 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949;
- 24 Ukrainian navy sailors remain in custody, despite gross violations of the Third Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 1949 and provisional measures of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) dated 25 May 2019 which ordered Russia to immediately release Ukrainian naval vessels and detained crew;
- The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People has been banned as an extremist organization since April 2016. Russia continues refusing to implement provisional measures of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dated 19 April 2019 which, inter alia, ordered to restore activities of the Mejlis in Crimea;
- After the annexation, a number of Crimean pupils who receive education in the Ukrainian language has fallen from 12,694 to 249 (by 98%). Russia continues refusing to implement provisional measures of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dated 19 April 2019 which also ordered to ensure an access to education in Crimea in the Ukrainian language;
- Russia occupation authorities restrict the freedom of religion on the peninsula. In particular, Russian security officials periodically searched mosques. In addition, a Crimean “court” seized a premise of a cathedral from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Simferopol in June 2019;
- Russia occupation authorities impede the freedom of peaceful assembly in Crimea, imposing administrative fines on participants of peaceful protests and one-person pickets;
- Conditions of detention in the Simferopol SIZO – the only pre-trial detention facility on the peninsula – are considered inhuman: overcrowding (the number of prisoners is nearly twice higher than the maximum capacity of the facility), insanitary conditions, lack of proper medical assistance etc.
A possible visit of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović to Crimea has been discussed since June 2019. There are fears that her possible visit will not help improve the human rights situation in Crimea but create some risks for Ukraine.
First, Russia is most likely to demonstrate “Potemkin villages” in Crimea to the Commissioner in order to convince the international community that Russia respects the rights of ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars and that welfare of Crimean residents has increased after the “reunification” with Russia.
Second, Russia would attempt to remove the Crimean issue from international agenda, based on a biased report on the human rights situation in Crimea following the results of Mijatović’s possible visit.
Third, a trust of the Ukrainian state and society in the CoE human rights mechanisms would significantly decline if Mijatović’s visit to Crimea is symbolic, especially after the Russian delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has been restores in its rights.