Russia refuses to obey UN Court order to stop persecution of Crimean Tatar Mejlis
Russia is both distorting the substance of the recent International Court of Justice judgement on occupied Crimea, and refusing to stop its extraordinary criminalization of the Mejlis, or self-governing body of the Crimean Tatar people. It is also simply ignoring the order regarding education in Ukrainian.
Earlier assurances that Russia would comply with the International Court of Justice’s ruling of April 19 have proven as plausible as the Kremlin’s denial that Russian soldiers had invaded Crimea in early 2014. During the first week in May, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued statements rejecting both the UN Court’s order and recommendations concerning the same issues made by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. There are virtually no international bodies remaining whose decisions Russia is not either ignoring or claiming to be somehow ‘biased’.
The International Court of Justice at the Hague gave its decision on April 19, over claims brought by Ukraine against Russia under two international conventions to which both countries are a party. Russia had clearly hoped, as had happened with an earlier suit brought by Georgia, that the Court would decide it did not have jurisdiction.
The judges however have accepted prime facie jurisdiction over the alleged violations of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Ukraine had further asked the Court to impose provisional measures over the violations under both conventions, however the Court agreed to do so only with respect to the convention against discrimination.
Since the judgement was announced on April 19, Russia has primarily focused on the one refusal, while trying to avoid mentioning that the cases have been accepted and that the Court accepted an urgent need for measures to prevent discrimination of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian speakers.
The official silence could not continue indefinitely and on May 2, the Russian Foreign Ministry posted its “commentary”.
It once again focuses first on the decision not to impose provisional measures over violation of the convention on financing of terrorism. It asserts that “the International Court at this stage found Ukraine’s allegation that Russia had not complied with its obligations under the International Convention against financing terrorism implausible.”
This is rather different from what the Court actually said, namely that “in order to determine whether the rights for which Ukraine seeks protection are at least plausible, it is necessary to ascertain whether there are sufficient reasons for considering that the elements set out in Article 2, such as intention and knowledge, as well as the element of purpose, are present. … at this stage of the proceedings, Ukraine has not put before it evidence which affords a sufficient basis to find it plausible that these elements are present.”
The Court found only that Ukraine had not provided the proof to warrant provisional measures, but did not reject the claim. There was also a separate opinion from ad hoc Judge Pocar who believed it “plausible that the indiscriminate attacks alleged by Ukraine are intended to spread terror, and that the persons providing funds to those who conducted these attacks had knowledge that such funds were to be used for that purpose”.
Judge Pocar also noted that the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17 had not been examined in detail by the Court. He believed the Court should have clarified that this had not been considered with respect to provisional measures given the lack of any urgency (since the airspace involved is now closed). This does not mean that the downing by Kremlin-backed militants of MH17, using a Russian BUK missile then hastily returned to Russia, will not be examined in the future.
The Russian Ministry then asserts that the “International Court did not support any of the provisional measures requested by Ukraine”, and denies that the judgement contains any demand that Russia withdraw its ban on the Mejlis or self-governing body of the Crimean Tatar people. The list of denials is, in fact, much longer, with each either false or focusing solely on the lack of specific wording. Since they suggest that Ukraine should pay more detail to the letter of the text, the following is largely quoted verbatim from the judgement.
It is indeed true that the Court did not agree to the considerable list of specific requests which were put in the original application for provisional measures. Its basic assessment was, however, categorical.
“In the present case, on the basis of the evidence before the Court, it appears that some of the acts complained of by Ukraine fulfil this condition of plausibility. This is the case with respect to the banning of the Mejlis and the alleged restrictions on the educational rights of ethnic Ukrainians.
“The Court is of the opinion that Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea appear to remain vulnerable …. The Court considers that these reports show, prima facie, that there have been limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatars to choose their representative institutions, and restrictions in terms of the availability of Ukrainian-language education in Crimean schools. The Court concludes from this that there is an imminent risk that the acts, as set out above, could lead to irreparable prejudice to the rights invoked by Ukraine.”
The Russian Federation was therefore ordered to “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis” and “to ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language”.
As reported here, there has been a catastrophic decline in the availability of education in Ukrainian. There were few illusions about Russia properly implementing the provisional measures, however it was rather assumed that some cosmetic improvements might be used to imitate compliance. Judging by this Foreign Ministry ‘commentary’, the subject is simply being ignored.
Various Russian or Kremlin-loyal Crimean officials have made it clear that Moscow does not intend to withdraw its extraordinary ban on the self-governing body of the main indigenous people of Crimea. It is the Russian reactions - from the Ministry’s denial that the words of the judgement mean what they very clearly say, to claims that the Mejlis was banned as ‘extremist’ – which lack any plausibility.
Russia’s prohibition of the Mejlis, its exiling of some of its leaders and imprisonment and / or prosecution of others (Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov) have been condemned by all international structures and democratic countries. All have pointed to the Mejlis’ opposition to Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian Crimea as the reason for the ban.
The International Court does not have mechanisms for enforcing its orders. Nor do the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe who on May 3 also called on Russia to withdraw its ban on the Mejlis and stop other repressive measures.
This elicited another petulant response from the Russian Foreign Ministry blaming everything on Ukraine and saying it did not consider itself bound by the decision.
In November 2016, Putin announced that Russia wanted nothing to do with the International Criminal Court at the Hague. That decision was announced the day after the Court’s Chief Prosecutor published a preliminary report finding Russia’s occupation of Crimea to be an international military conflict and within the Court’s jurisdiction.
All the decisions, rulings and orders that Russia is flouting remain in force.
So does Russia’s liability.