The international community urged to draw attention to human rights violations in Crimea

The ad hoc expert discussion was organised in Brussels

The ad hoc expert discussion was organised by the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels with support of the European Endowment for Democracy (Brussels) and the International Renaissance Foundation’s European Program Initiative (Kyiv).

A welcome word by Jerzy Pomianowski, Executive Director of the European Endowment for Democracy: Annexation of Crimea creates a new reality. Together with the geopolitical dimension, the Crimean crisis has also a humanitarian dimension. People, who live in Crimea today, are under enormous stress. The EED is glad to provide support for this discussion on how the situation looks like for ordinary people and from the perspective of those who put it in the broader light.

Moderator Olena Prystayko, Head of the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels, thanked co-organisers for their support in bringing people from Crimea and experts on Crimea to Brussels to provide first-hand information on what is happening on the peninsula.

Andriy Ivanets, Head of the Board of Tavria Humanitarian Platform, Simferopol, offered an introduction to the ethnic, historic and economic picture of Crimea. Crimea is a peninsula in the south of Ukraine, which constitutes 4.5% of Ukraine’s territory, with a population of 2.36 million people and two administrative units: the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol. Crimea has a rich history. Today, 125 ethnic groups are represented in Crimea, of which 3 constitute 95% of the population: ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. According to the Ukrainian national census of 2001, 58% are Russians, 24.5% – Ukrainians and 12-14% – Crimean Tatars. Crimea is closely integrated into Ukraine’s economy and depends on Ukraine for 80- 85% of water, 80% of electricity, 100% of railway connection, and 66% of the Crimea’s budget.

Yusuf Kurchi, Head of the Institute for Social Studies and adviser to Crimean Tatar Mejlis commented on how Crimean Tatars view the situation: “What happened in Crimea is unprecedented and has no analogues in world history. The sheer speed of events to legalise illegal and illegitimate actions, starting with the referendum and ending with the acceptance of a new subject of federation into Russia, is impressive. All changes happen under the umbrella of referendum results, which cannot be qualified as legal in any light: no referendum in the world was ever prepared in 10 days and the results counted in 1 day, when 1,240,000 are said to have taken part in it, which represents 83% of the voting population, of which 97% voted for joining Russia”. Crimean Tatars, through the Mejlis, from the start advised all residents of Crimea, not only Tatars, to boycott the referendum, and did not recognise the results. “However, our voice was ignored”. Today de jure the territory of Crimea is part of Ukraine; de facto all elements of Russian state are deploying themselves in Crimea. Within a month, all residents of Crimea who did not declare their intention to remain Ukrainian citizens will automatically become Russian citizens. Currently, the process of drafting Crimean constitution has started; it will comply with Russian laws and there will be no public discussion. According to him, there is not one page of Crimean history in common with Russia that was positive, and the way Russia acts now gives no hope it would be any different this time. Human rights international organisations have to actively monitor the situation with human rights in the Crimea. “We feel an urgent need in their work in Crimea”.

Oleksandra Dvoretska, Director of SOS Crimea and Crimean Human Rights Centre “Diya” commented on the situation with human rights in Crimea: The amount of human rights violations has multiplied manifold since the occupation. There are 38 instances of kidnapping, 29 of those released have been kept hostage for 1-12 days, tortured and subjected to inhuman treatment. One person was found dead with signs of torture. The fate of 9 is still unknown. These are just the facts that have been reported to us, and we can anticipate the real numbers to be higher. The state of Ukraine is unfamiliar with this sort of violations in principle and has little idea how to deal with it now, especially when the territory is occupied. A new challenge is people who are currently under arrest or detention on the territory of Crimea: we cannot reach out to them at all. There are also mass violations of the freedom of expression, speech and access to media: Crimean, Ukrainian and international journalists and their offices have been attacked; all Ukrainian channels were switched off. Residents of Crimea are in informational isolation and journalists are targets. There are also violations of the right of assembly and expression, with the activists of Euromaidan kidnapped. Most recently, the number of property rights violations has risen. People who refuse to obtain Russian citizenship are threatened with the loss of their property. So, remaining a Ukrainian citizen for a Crimean resident is a challenge. As for the civil society, the physical presence of civic activists on the ground is a priority.

Yulia Tyshchenko, Head of Board of the Ukrainian Independent Centre for Political Studies, put the situation into a broader context: The annexation of Crimea raises economic, social and political challenges, which are now difficult to address. There are 2 million Ukrainian citizens currently in Crimea, and Ukraine wants them to keep Ukrainian citizenship. Russia uses blackmail to induce people into Russian citizenship: if you do not obtain Russian citizenship, you will not be able to live and function. As for social rights (for pensioners, orphans, etc.), these are virtually impossible for Ukraine to provide, because Ukrainian authorities have been factually and practically replaced by the Russian ones. Another problem is refugees or internally displaced people. Already 3.500 people applied for this status officially and at least 25.000 people are expected to do so. This is where international organisations could play a role. According to her, Ukraine needs to create an institution within state administration to deal with the humanitarian and social aspects of Crimean crisis. And this is where the international community could help with expertise. EU diplomatic efforts, opinions of international organisations on international law issues and support for all ongoing domestic reforms will be very important.

Osman Pashayev, Crimean-Tatar TV-journalist, commented on the question of soldiers in and from Crimea: There were 12.000 Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea. Though Russian flags were placed on all military bases, only 250 Ukrainian soldiers formally declared allegiance to Russia. “The best tactics for Ukraine to address the Crimean crisis would be raising the quality of life in Ukraine and securing the rights and freedoms of the citizens through European integration”.

Olena Prystayko, concluded. She also noted that the Office would continue its work on informing all in Brussels about processes in Ukraine and efforts of the expert community and civil society in reforming the country.

Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels
Olena Prystayko

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