The human rights situation in Crimea* has significantly deteriorated under Russian occupation, with “multiple and grave violations” committed by Russian state agents, according to a landmark report by the UN Human Rights Office published today.
“Grave human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and torture, and at least one extra-judicial execution were documented,” the report** says.
It reiterates that all residents of Crimea were affected when Ukrainian laws were substituted by those of the Russian Federation, and tens of thousands impacted by the imposition of Russian Federation citizenship. These and other actions highlighted in the report have taken place in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The report makes 20 recommendations to the Russian Government, urging it to respect its obligations as an occupying power, uphold human rights for all, and effectively investigate alleged torture, abductions and killings involving members of the security forces and Crimean self-defence.
“Failure to prosecute these acts and ensure accountability has denied victims proper remedy and strengthened impunity, potentially encouraging the continued perpetration of human rights violations,” the report continues.
The report says the imposition of Russian Federation citizenship had a particularly harsh impact on three groups: those who formally rejected citizenship; civil servants who had to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship or lose their jobs; and Crimean residents who did not meet the legal criteria for citizenship and became foreigners.
“Persons holding a residency permit and no Russian Federation citizenship do not enjoy equality before the law and are deprived of important rights,” the report says. “They cannot own agricultural land, vote and be elected, register a religious community, apply to hold a public meeting, hold positions in the public administration and re-register their private vehicle on the peninsula.”
“The citizenship issue has had a major impact on the lives of many residents of Crimea,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“As the report states, 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,” Zeid added.
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.
The detainees include Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sientsov, arrested in Simferopol in May 2014 and transferred to the Russian Federation the same month, before being convicted and incarcerated in a high-security penal colony in Siberia.
Some detainees were ill-treated, and at least three died after they did not receive the medical care they needed, the report says.
The report also highlights the severe impact of judicial and law enforcement changes introduced under Russian occupation.
“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,” it says. “Among other implications, this led to the arbitrary implementation of Russian Federation criminal law provisions designed to fight terrorism, extremism and separatism, which have restricted the right to liberty and security of the person and the space for the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.”
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.
“Courts frequently ignored credible claims of human rights violations occurring in detention,” the report says. “Judges have applied Russian Federation criminal law provisions to a wide variety of peaceful assemblies, speech and activities, and in some cases retroactively to events that preceded the temporary occupation of Crimea or occurred outside of the peninsula in mainland Ukraine.”
Additionally, in a number of emblematic cases, many Crimean and Ukrainian media outlets have been denied the right to operate, people were sanctioned for holding one-person pickets; and all 22 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea have been effectively outlawed.
Many but not all the alleged cases of torture and ill-treatment occurred in 2014, when the occupation began, the report notes. “Victims and witnesses have accused the Crimean self-defence of violence against pro-Ukrainian activists,” it says.
The report cites two cases documented by the UN Human Rights Office in 2016, when pro-Ukrainian supporters were allegedly compelled by FSB officers to confess to terrorism-related crimes through torture with elements of sexual violence.
Among other abuses, it notes the use of forced internment in a psychiatric hospital as a form of harassment against political opponents, and at least 10 disappearances in which the victims remain missing.
“Education in the Ukrainian language has almost disappeared from Crimea,” it adds, highlighting numerous impacts across civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
In addition to the 20 recommendations to Russia, the report also encourages the Government of Ukraine to “use all legal and diplomatic means available to promote and guarantee the enjoyment of the human rights of residents of Crimea.”
Zeid stressed that it was critical for Russia to uphold human rights for all in Crimea as well as meeting its obligations as an occupying power. “The judiciary has failed to uphold the rule of law and exercise proper administration of justice. There is an urgent need for accountability for human rights violations and abuses and for providing the victims with redress,” he said.
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