war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Human rights in Crimea

Boris Zakharov
Review of human rights situation in the Crimea

Creation of an atmosphere of fear, powerlessness and hopelessness; terror against dissidents; war crimes; the most flagrant violations of rights and freedoms; contempt for human dignity; the substitution of inalienable values with a ‘Russian world’ doctrine.  This is just a brief description of the Russian Federation’s policy in occupied Crimea. There are all indications that in Russia, and especially on the occupied peninsula, a semi-totalitarian regime is being created.

Historical revisionism of the Stalin regime is in process. This is reflected not only in the statements from politicians and noisy festivities with the display of the ‘leader’s’ portrait.  Arrests, searches and torture of those detained and accused of fictitious crimes are carried out in Stalinist style. This was seen in the cases of Sentsov, Kolchenko; Afanasyev; Chirniy; in the case of Kostenko and in many other political trials.

Trying to create an impression in the eyes of the international community that there was total support from Crimeans of the annexation of the peninsula, the occupation authorities go all out to prevent any demonstrations of disgruntlement from the population. Russia’s policy on the occupied peninsula is aimed at crushing any pro-Ukrainian sentiments, at intimidating and persecuting all those who don’t agree with the occupation.

A machine of political repression is gaining momentum. Among the most high-profile political trials against Ukrainian nationals in occupied Crimea are the ’26 February 2014” case and the trial of Euromaidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko.  In both cases Russian ‘justice’ has exceeded itself in the level of lawlessness. Russia is charging Ukrainian nationals with actions in Ukraine (and Kostenko for actions actually in Kyiv) in February 2014 when even according to Russian laws, Crimea was not part of the Russian Federation.  In this way, the Russian authorities are applying universal jurisdiction, and recognizing retroactive force of the law, violating their own constitution, principles of law and common sense.  9 people in all have been charged in connection with the ’26 February’ case. Akhtem Chiygoz is charged with organizing mass disturbances, the others with taking part.

These and other cases are supported by the Strategic Litigations Centre of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Our organization has 20 cases involving Crimea, 10 of which are under review at the European Court of Human Rights.

There is pressure in Crimea on all religious communities except the Russian Orthodox Church.  Churches of other denominations are being closed, and Muslims persecuted.

All opposition media are also closed. There is widespread use of intimidation of journalists through searches, interrogations, detentions and the initiating against them of criminal proceedings. Most religious communities and media simply did not get re-registered. There is active propaganda on all channels in occupied Crimea.

A process is underway of latent deportation of Crimean Tatars (the cases of the ban on entry to Crimea of Mustafa Dzhemiliev, Refat Chubarov and Ismet Yuksel).  Impossible conditions are created for the existence of the Crimean Tatar people in the peninsula : repression, infringement of cultural and religious rights ; the closure of Crimean Tatar media.  The Crimean Tatar people are being separated from their leaders, with these driven from Crimea, representatives of the Mejlis and activists severely repressed. Musicians, artists and journalists have been forced to leave Crimea due to repression and the impossibility of developing in their field. There is no point in even speaking of freedom of assembly with Crimean Tatars even prohibited from holding their meeting in memory of the victims of the 1944 Deportation on May 18.   There are politically motivated proceedings underway on declaring the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People an extremist organization.  Such a court ruling could bring with it criminal prosecution not only of Crimean Tatars taking part in the work of the Mejlis, but of all its supporters in general. This policy is aimed at destroying the Crimean Tatar people, depriving them of their ethnic and religious identity.

Russia is committing war crimes in occupied Crimea: the occupying nation is moving part of its own civilian population onto the occupied territory; forcing the population of the occupied peninsula to serve in the armed forces of an enemy state; unlawfully destroying and appropriating property and other crimes.

The practice of Soviet security services has re-emerged in the form of extrajudicial repression of dissidents: killings, abductions, torture, beatings and intimidation. Nor do the occupation authorities investigate disappearances and killings or carry out prosecutions. The Ukrainian prosecutor of Crimea has spoken of 30 criminal proceedings over disappearances in Crimea.

At the same time Ukraine’s policy towards the occupied territory is not well-thought-out or consistent. One has the impression that the government is always trailing events rather than pre-empting them. This policy has negative consequences both for people living in the occupied territory, and for people from Crimea internally displaced.

The government has, for example, continued to restrict freedom of movement. The Cabinet of Ministers adopted resolution No. 367 which unlawfully restricts entry to and departure from occupied territory for Ukrainian nationals, foreign nationals and stateless persons, and effectively deprives journalists and members of international human rights organizations of the possibility of visiting Crimea for fact-finding, monitoring or rights protection.

Cessation of transport communications with occupied territory, the so-called ‘Crimea blockade’ have been marked by infringements of the rights of residents of Crimea and of mainland Ukraine.  The procedure established for moving goods to Crimea has deprived people of the possibility of moving property from Crimea. People with Crimean registration are subjected to discrimination and restrictions in exercising their economic rights, property rights, the right to education, to vote and other rights.

The state’s tough policy on not recognizing any documents issued by the occupation authorities is the source of violations of many personal non-property rights and results in numerous problems with recording birth, death, etc.

Our organization has prepared a package of draft laws aimed at overcoming discrimination of Crimean residents and those who left Crimea.  We hope very much for support from our western partners in advocacy of these draft bills.

Nonetheless, the main source of the catastrophic human rights situation on the peninsula remains the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. This is an unprecedented violation of international law and challenge to the entire civilized world. Yet the world has yet to provide an adequate response. It must be understood and remembered that the ‘Russian world’ only stops where it is stopped.

The text was prepared on the basis of the unit on human rights in Crimea in the annual report of human rights organizations ‘Human Rights in Ukraine – 2015’.


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