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26.09.2017 | Halya Coynash

UN report on grave rights violations demolishes all Russia’s lies about occupied Crimea

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The damning UN Human Rights Office report on “multiple and grave violations” in Russian-occupied Crimea published on September 25 is not just important in documenting a sharp deterioration in human rights since Russia’s invasion and annexation.  It also spells out on virtually every page that Russia is an occupying state, and that its application of Russian legislation is in serious breach of international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention.     

The report is a follow-up to the UN General Assembly’s Resolution ‘On the human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)’, adopted on Dec 19, 2016.  As well as openly calling Russia’s behaviour occupation, the resolution was important in identifying the grave rights violations under Russian occupation and demanding the release of all unlawfully held Ukrainian citizens.. 

President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov preferred not to comment on the report, however Russia’s human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova was less reticent.  The former police major general, who has previously claimed that there are no political prisoners in Russia, only ‘extremists’, called the report “unfair and lacking in objectivity”.   Russia’s official representative at the UN asserted that the report was ‘illegitimate’ and that it was “absurd” that the UN watchdog should be assessing the situation in Crimea from Ukraine.  

That argument would be a touch more convincing had the UN watchdog not been prevented from monitoring developments in situ since March 2014.  In April 2017, the Human Rights Monitoring Mission tried to visit Crimea in preparation for writing this report, but was first unofficially rebuffed, and then simply ignored.

The report stresses that the violations since annexation have been committed by Russian state agents, and specifically mentions “arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and torture, and at least one extra-judicial execution”.

The twenty recommendations presented are sure to be ignored.  The report, after all, is coming just a day before the third politically motivated sentence this month is due in the ‘trial’ of Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov on falsified charges based solely on his, and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis’ opposition to Russian occupation. 

Such reports do, however, give the lie to the assiduously pushed Russian myth about Crimeans having ‘voted to re-join” Russia and make it more difficult for democratic nations to consider any easing of sanctions against Russia. 

Illegal movement of Russian citizens onto occupied territory

There have long been warnings, especially from the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, that Russia is deliberately bringing in Russians to cement its occupation of Crimea. 

The UN report confirms such movement of civilians and stresses that this is in breach of the 1949 Geneva Convention which states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

According to a supposed ‘census’ in 2014 which Ukraine has not recognized, the percentage of Russians had risen, while that of ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars had fallen.  Whether or not the statistics had any basis in fact is unknown.  It seems clear that this is the result that Russia is endeavouring to achieve through persecution and other repressive measures on the one hand, and encouragement of Russians to settle in Crimea, on the other.

Imposing citizenship

As reported here, Russia gave one month in which Crimeans could appear in person at one of only three offices in Crimea to formally reject Russian citizenship.  It has since used the fact that Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko did not do so to claim that the two men it has been holding prisoner since May 2014 ‘automatically’ became Russian citizens.  Both reject such claims and an application has been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights. 

The report notes that this ‘automatic citizenship’ rule has resulted in the emergence of three vulnerable groups: those who rejected in writing Russian Federation citizenship; those who, for lack of a residency registration in Crimea, did not meet the legal criteria to become Russian Federation citizens; and those who had to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship to keep their employment.

“Imposing citizenship on the inhabitants of an occupied territory can be equated to compelling them to swear allegiance to a power they may consider as hostile, which is forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In addition to being in violation of international humanitarian law, the automatic citizenship rule raises a number of important concerns under international human rights law. “

Hundreds of prisoners and pre-trial detainees have been transferred to the Russian Federation, the report says, despite the practice being strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law. At least three people have died from not receiving the proper medical treatment.

Almost 5 thousand young Crimeans were scheduled to be conscripted into Russia’s army in 2017, with this in flagrant breach of both the UN General Assembly and the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

Fundamental violations of the right to a fair trial

Russia has no right to impose its law on occupied Crimea, and yet it is imprisoning people and subjecting them to ‘trials’ that infringe fundamental elements of the right to a fair trial.

The monitors also point to evidence that allegations of torture and ill-treatment are ignored by Russian-controlled courts.  

Trials without jurisdiction – the authors mention the ‘trial’ of Akhtem Chiygoz over a pre-

 “Ukrainian laws were substituted by Russian Federation laws, in violation of the obligation under international humanitarian law to respect the existing law of the occupied territory”.

“Among other implications, this led to the arbitrary implementation of Russian Federation criminal law provisions designed to fight terrorism, extremism and separatism”

“Those most affected were opponents of the March 2014 referendum, and other critics such as journalists, bloggers, civil society activists, and supporters of the Mejlis, a representative institution of Crimean Tatars which was declared to be an extremist organization and banned in April 2016. Under the pretext of fighting extremism, the Russian Federation authorities in Crimea carried out house searches, intimidated and detained members of the Crimean Tatar community.”

The report can be downloaded and read in full here

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