Arria formula meeting of the Security Council on the
“Human Rights Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine”
Statement by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
Ilze Brands Kehris
6 March 2020
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for this opportunity to brief on the 'Human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine'.
OHCHR has been monitoring, reporting and advocating on human rights issues in Crimea since March 2014, on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, including General Assembly resolution 68/262 which affirmed the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.
As explained by the Secretary-General in his report A/74/276, despite its efforts, OHCHR has not been granted unconditional access to Crimea by the Russian Federation, in line with relevant General Assembly resolutions. Accordingly, our Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has conducted human rights monitoring remotely, by systematic and direct interviews with victims and witnesses of alleged human rights violations and abuses in Crimea, as well as other stakeholders; travel to the Administrative Boundary Line with Crimea; collection and analysis of publicly-available information and of the human rights impact of legislation of Ukraine and of the Russian Federation in relation to Crimea.
Remote monitoring is standard OHCHR practice in situations where direct access is not possible.
Since 2014, OHCHR has documented credible allegations of human rights violations such as arbitrary detentions and the enforced disappearances of 43 individuals (39 men and 4 women), including pro-Ukrainian activists, affiliates of Crimean Tatar institutions and journalists, most of whom were detained, held incommunicado, and later released. The majority of cases – 28 – were recorded in 2014, allegedly involving the paramilitary formation "Crimean Self-Defense". One of these was a pro-Ukrainian Crimean Tatar activist who was found dead twelve days after his disappearance. In later years there were a decreasing number of cases, but more frequently reported involvement by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. Two individuals reportedly are still held in custody, eleven individuals remain missing. OHCHR has repeatedly called for the effective – that is prompt, thorough, impartial and independent -- investigation into all such disappearances and the death of the activist.
OHCHR has received information alleging torture and ill-treatment by Russian Federation Security Forces and police in Crimea of individuals deprived of their liberty before and after their admission in places of detention. However, despite reports that some investigations were initiated, the Office has not yet received information on any prosecutions or other progress in ensuring accountability for such acts.
OHCHR has documented and reported on ongoing restrictions of fundamental freedoms in Crimea, in particular freedom of expression, including threats of criminal prosecution on charges of broadly defined "extremism" and new Russian Federation legislation criminalizing insults towards state authorities and distribution of false information of public importance. Complaints were received from journalists in Crimea about interference in their professional activity by law enforcement authorities of the Russian Federation, leading to self-censorship. Some journalists currently face entry bans preventing access to Crimea in order to conduct their professional activities.
In addition, in 2016, the Mejlis was declared an extremist organization by the Russian Federation authorities' appointed judicial body in Crimea and its activities outlawed. Despite the 19 April 2017 Order of the International Court of Justice, the Mejlis remains banned in Crimea and its members face the risk of administrative or criminal sanctions. In addition to restrictions on associative and self-determination rights, other identity-related rights have also been reduced. Access to education in or of the Crimean Tatar language remains a challenge, while Ukrainian language education has dramatically decreased since 2014.
OHCHR has also documented and reported on violations in the administration of justice in Crimea, including of fair trial rights.
As communicated to OHCHR, the Russian Federation does not acknowledge its obligations under international humanitarian law in relation to its status as an occupying Power in Crimea, stipulated by relevant General Assembly resolutions. Contrary to international humanitarian law, Russian Federation criminal legislation continues to be applied in Crimea, specifically negatively affecting individuals believed to be members or sympathizers of various religious organizations which are banned under Russian law, pro-Ukrainian activists and critics of Crimea's occupation.
OHCHR is aware that some prisoners from Crimea, including some detained prior to the occupation, have been unlawfully transferred to various penitentiary institutions across the Russian Federation.
Despite the prohibition under international humanitarian law to compel protected persons to serve in the armed forces of an occupying Power, male residents of Crimea have been compelled to serve in the armed forces of the Russian Federation. Since 2015, no less than 21,000 male Crimean residents have been conscripted. A number of these were transferred to military bases in the Russian Federation. Those unwilling to serve face criminal prosecution for draft evasion, punishable by up to two years of imprisonment.
Before I conclude, I would like use this opportunity to remind that, despite the ongoing occupation, the Government of Ukraine retains obligations under international law to use all legal and diplomatic means available to ensure conditions in mainland Ukraine which facilitate the fulfilment of economic and social rights of IDPs from and residents of Crimea. In particular, OHCHR is concerned about the fulfilment of civil, economic and social rights including, as detailed in the Secretary-General's report, freedom of movement between Crimea and other parts of Ukraine and policies restricting access by foreign journalists, human rights defenders, international human rights monitoring missions, human rights civil society actors to Crimea; and access by current and former residents of Crimea to all public services offered to residents in other parts of Ukraine, including banking services, identification documents, social security and civil registration procedures.
These and other human rights and international humanitarian law issues have been described in detail in the Secretary-General's report (A/74/276), submitted last year pursuant to General Assembly res. 73/263, and several OHCHR reports.
In this connection, I wish to recall that, last December, the General Assembly, in its resolution 74/168 on the 'Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine', requested the Secretary-General to report at its seventy-fifth session on the progress made in the implementation of the resolution, including options and recommendations to improve its implementation, and to submit an interim report to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fourth session in June this year.