Human rights at heightened risk in Crimea
The Civic Solidarity Platform, a network of 60 human rights NGOs from across the OSCE region, calls for an urgent response from the international community to numerous reports of human rights violations in the Crimea region of Ukraine.
As documented by a human rights mission of the Civic Solidarity Platform and a number of other international human rights organisations, the unmarked troops who have seized effective control in Crimea and the so-called “self-defence forces”, have been witnessed attacking and harassing journalists and civilians. They appear to be acting on their own authority, within no legal framework and with no delineated chain of command. Human rights violations are being committed with utter impunity in an extra-legal grey zone where international law and respect for life and dignity have been forsaken.
Lives have already been lost as a result of the illegal and irresponsible actions committed by Crimean and Russian authorities in Crimea. 18 March marked the funeral of Reshat Akhmetov, a Crimean Tatar who was kidnapped during a rally in Simferopol on 3 March by three unidentified people in military uniforms. His body was found bearing signs of torture on 15 March near a village in the Belogorski district. On the same day, 18 March, blood was spilled yet again when Ukrainian officer Sergiy Kokurin was killed during an assault of the Ukrainian Navy base by Russian and Crimean “self-defence” troops.
According to activists of the Euromaidan SOS initiative, at least four Ukrainian military personnel are currently being held captive by Russian forces. This number may be higher, as the Ministry of Defence was unable to provide more concrete information. Several journalists and activists remain unaccounted for in Crimea, although news has been circulated this morning regarding the release of seven peaceful activists and at least one Ukrainian officer. The preliminary report of their release includes information of at least two activists from this group had been subjected to torture, including been shot at by non-lethal weapon. The Institute for Mass Information has documented 89 cases of attacks on journalists and incidents which have obstructed their ability to carry out their professional duties in Crimea in the last few weeks. The situation is developing rapidly, underscoring the necessity for extreme vigilance on behalf of the international community.
The Civic Solidarity Platform calls on the Russian government, those acting in its name and the Crimean leadership falling under its de facto authority, to prevent, investigate and respond to any and all human rights violations. The obligation to protect individuals from any encroachment on their fundamental freedoms falls to those who effectively control the territory and supersedes considerations of governmental legitimacy. We call on all those in positions of power to adhere to international law and uphold the inviolability of human rights.
We correspondingly urge the international community, both public and governmental, to apply consistent pressure on Russia and the Crimean authorities under its influence. The OSCE observation mission must immediately be allowed to enter Crimea to monitor the human rights and military security situations. The international community must demand that those in power uphold their international obligations, respect the principles and values enshrined in international law and ensure that justice is consistently served in reaction to any and all human rights violations.
Referendum of 16 March in Crimea
The Civic Solidarity Platform unreservedly condemns the referendum held in the Crimea region of Ukraine on Sunday, 16 March. The referendum, which violated the Ukrainian Constitution, was carried out under a Russian occupation that constitutes a severe affront to international law and a clear breach of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum through which Russia agreed to uphold the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine.
The Russian occupation of Crimea violates the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 which guarantees sovereign equality, the inviolability of frontiers, the territorial integrity of States, refrainment from the threat or use of force, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and fulfilment in good faith of obligations under international law. The referendum sets a potentially catastrophic precedent which can be easily exploited by those seeking to unilaterally redefine sovereign borders. It was fundamentally illegitimate in its inception, design and execution. As noted by Swiss Foreign Minister and the OSCE Chair Didier Burkhalter, the referendum is “in contradiction with the Ukrainian Constitution and must be considered illegal” while the steps, “taken by the Russian Federation regarding the status of Crimea [are] a breach of fundamental OSCE commitments and not compatible with international law [and] the Helsinki Final Act”.
The Civic Solidarity Platform calls on international leaders to speak out against the referendum and the decision of the Russian authorities to “include” Crimea in the Russian Federation. They must expose illegitimacy of these acts to the public and hold all actors exercising control over the territory of Crimea responsible for respecting the principles and norms of international law.