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06.02.2018 | Halya Coynash
Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea

How can OSCE observe Russian ‘elections’ that are being illegally held in occupied Crimea?

Cartoon depicting pseudo-referendum of 16.03.2014, one of the multiple armed searches / arrests on trumped-up charges

There are several reasons why the event on March 18 which will give Vladimir Putin his fourth official term as Russian President can only loosely be termed an ‘election’.  There is one reason, however, that surely invalidates any outcome since Russia is insisting on holding the elections in illegally occupied Ukrainian Crimea.  Even if the OSCE’s acceptance of Russia’s invitation to observe the presidential elections was made with the proviso that it would only be deployed in Russia, the OSCE’s very presence is effectively recognizing that the elections are at least legal.

The event  has been scheduled for 18 March, with this timing no accident.  The date marks four years since Russia tried to formalize its illegal annexation of Crimea, and Putin is presumably hoping to win ‘votes’ by hearkening to this illegal land-grab.  It is likely that most Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea will boycott these ‘elections’, and so should the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). 

Back on 27 March 2014, the vast majority of democratic states endorsed a UN General Assembly Resolution “calling on States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any change in the status of Crimea or the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, and to refrain from actions or dealings that might be interpreted as such”.

That principle has not changed over the last four years, although the language used by the UN General Assembly, the International Criminal Court and most states and international bodies has become much stronger.  The grave human rights violations in Crimea under Russian occupation have been condemned in numerous resolutions, and the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor has already recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an international armed conflict, falling under its jurisdiction. 

All democratic states recognise that Crimea is occupied territory, with this meaning that all parties are bound by the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.   Russia should not be imposing its laws on Crimea, and should not be treating the Crimean population as voters in a Russian election.

The grave deterioration in human rights under Russian occupation, including enforced disappearances, politically-motivated arrests and ongoing terrorization and intimidation of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians, have all been documented by the UN Commission on Human Rights, the  Council of Europe and human rights NGOs. 

The OSCE/IDIHR report does not, of course, mention Crimea in the information circulated on February 5.  It states only that it has “formally opened its election observation mission for the 18 March presidential election in the Russian Federation”, following an invitation from the Russian authorities.

The mission, it is stated, “will assess the presidential election for compliance with OSCE commitments and other international standards and obligations for democratic elections, as well as with domestic legislation.”

The fact that a major Putin rival, Alexei Navalny, has been prevented from standing, the total Kremlin control of the media, abuse of administrative resources and other factors must already make the lack of compliance with democratic standards abundantly clear.

The level of intimidation and impossibility of even raising certain issues are still more acute in occupied Crimea, where a third person - Suleyman Kadyrov - is currently on trial, charged with ‘separatism’, for saying that Crimea is Ukraine.

Since the OSCE mission cannot observe Russian elections on occupied Ukrainian territory, Russia will doubtless invite its own trusted ‘observers’ from among far-right and other pro-Kremlin parties who can be relied upon to find these the most democratic elections they have seen.  During the pseudo-referendum on 16 March 2014, there was an obvious attempt made to pretend that the motley group of such 'observors' assembled were linked to the OSCE.   Now, it seems, they almost won’t have to try. 

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