Mar 17, 2015

UNPO Renews its Condemnation of the Russian Annexation of Crimea

One year ago, on 16 March 2014, a local referendum in Crimea sanctioned the illegal annexation of the peninsula by the Russian Federation, which had been approved by the Crimean Parliament a few days before. Although international economic sanctions were immediately enacted against Russian officials, with the imposing of travel bans and asset freezes, the Russian Parliament ratified the treaty legalizing the annexation of Crimea on 21 March 2014.

Not only most of the Crimean Tatars boycotted the referendum, but the European Union, the United Nations General Assembly, NATO as well as most countries declared illegal both the referendum and its outcome and have refused to recognise Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation.

UNPO, as well as most actors on the international scene, promptly condemned the annexation. Today, one year later, UNPO condemns once again the persistence of this status of illegal occupation, especially in consideration of the appalling human rights violations that minorities are facing. As UNPO reported numerous times, the Crimean Tatars, an indigenous people of Crimea of Turkic ethnicity, are being particularly targeted, with severe human rights violations and limitations of their freedoms. The community has also experienced a worrying number of disappearances and two of the main leaders of the community, Mr Mustafa Dzhemilev and Mr Refat Chubarov, have been banned from returning to Crimea. 

Since the annexation, in fact, the Crimean Tatars, who had mostly refused to take part in the referendum of 16 March 2014, have been forced either to accept being de facto part of Russia or to leave the peninsula.

The situation is critical and 8,000 to 10,000 Crimean Tatars had already fled their homeland by December 2014. The situation of the Ukrainian minority in Crimea is quite similar, as they are also suffer from discriminations by the Russian-speaking majority. Overall, according to UNHRC, around twenty thousand people already left Crimea. The numbers will most likely increase if the violence and persecution of minorities continue.

Although the Russians had promised that they would treat the Crimean Tatars fairly, the situation of the indigenous community has significantly worsened over the past year. Their culture, religion, and position in society have been damaged and their media have been attacked or censored, with religious extremism and state security being the most common pretexts used by the authorities to repress the community. These events evoke the bitter memory of the deportation ordered by Soviet Leader Josef Stalin in 1944, which forced the Crimean Tatars out of their land for several decades.

Among the numerous violations that took place in the past year, local authorities have carried out unjustified passport controls in the streets of Crimean cities; pro-Ukrainian activists and journalists from the Crimean Tatar news channel ATR have disappeared or been forced to leave the region; the homes of Crimean Tatars have been marked with crosses on their doors - a similar practice took place under Stalin’s rule; and several families have been asked to vacate their land for ‘social purposes’. Furthermore, as Russian citizenship was introduced in Crimea on 18 April, it was made clear that those who had declared their wish to remain Ukrainian would be denied the right to vote and hold governmental posts. In this context, Crimean local authorities have even forbidden the Crimean Tatars to hold a series of important and symbolic events, including the Crimean Tatar Flag day on 26 June. Worryingly, on Flag Day there were five different arson attempts aimed at their mosques, for which no responsible has been identified.

In addition to this, since March 2014, at least 19 Crimean Tatars have been abducted and some of them have also been tortured and killed. Whereas the increasing number of enforced disappearances has created a climate of terror and lawlessness, specifically within the Crimean Tatar community, at least some of the cases can also be interpreted as religious persecution.

As mentioned, two of the most senior leaders of the Mejlis, Mustafa Dhzemilev and Refat Chubarov have been de facto exiled from the Crimean Peninsula. They were denied access after coming back from a business trip and both of them were told that they will not be allowed to enter Crimea for five years. The existence itself of the Mejlis, the executive arm of the Qurultay (Congress) of the Crimean Tatar People, has been threatened by some policies introduced after the Russian occupation of Crimea, which allegedly aim to disband this historical traditional institution.

The current situation and the discriminations faced by the Tatars is having repercussions on many aspects of their ordinary life such as health care, employment, housing and education, in addition to the restriction of their political and religious freedoms.

UNPO takes advantage of the first anniversary of this annexation to express once again its condemnation for the way the Russian authorities have dealt with this issue and especially for the following treatment of Crimea’s minorities. UNPO wishes to express once again its solidarity with the Crimean Tatars, and urges for an improvement of the situation.

UNPO Published a Briefing Note on the Situation of the Crimean Tatars and a Report on Enforced Disappearances in Crimea in December 2014.

Photo courtesy of AFP PHOTO/Sergei Supinsky.