Human rights abuses in Crimea need to be addressed

Mission to Kyiv, Moscow and Simferopol

Strasbourg 12/09/2014

“Cases of serious human rights violations, including killings, enforced disappearances, severe physical ill-treatment and arbitrary detention in Crimea[1] since March 2014 have to be addressed" said Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, at the end of a mission to Kyiv, Moscow and Simferopol from 7 to 12 September 2014.

Some of the allegations implicate the « Samo-oborona » (Self-Defence) units, whose status, right to bear weapons, and functions remain unclear.  “It is crucial to conduct an effective investigation into possible violations of the right to life and the prohibition against torture and to ensure accountability for the perpetrators. Impunity is incompatible with human rights principles. Moreover, victims and their families should be involved in the investigation and are entitled to information on the progress and outcome thereof.”

A number of the Commissioner’s interlocutors referred to frequent intrusive searches affecting Crimean Tatars carried out in religious institutions, businesses and private homes. The searches have allegedly been carried out by masked persons with automatic weapons who were ostensibly searching for prohibited items, including weapons and so-called “extremist literature”. “Such actions are clearly disproportionate and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation”, said the Commissioner.

The Commissioner also emphasises that “it is essential to create a sense of security not only for the Crimean Tatars, but also for ethnic Ukrainians and those who have expressed critical views of recent political developments.  This especially pertains to journalists, who perform a watchdog function in society. I am concerned by recent actions targeting them, including the closure of several Crimean media outlets, warnings made to critical journalists, searches of their homes, confiscation of equipment and arbitrary detention. All these actions inevitably raise human rights concerns.”

The Commissioner’s interlocutors included the human rights Ombudspersons in Kyiv and Moscow, with whom he had detailed discussions. “The work of human rights structures has the potential of having a concrete impact on people’s lives. Cooperation between Ombudspersons is of key importance in view of the current situation, and I stand ready to support them.”

The difficult situation in prisons in Crimea was among the matters raised by the human rights Ombudspersons. On this topic, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture found in 2013 that the conditions in the Simferopol SIZO (pre-trial establishment) were “miserable”.

While in Kyiv, the Commissioner welcomed the signing of a ceasefire agreement as an important step towards improving the human rights situation in the eastern regions of Ukraine.  At the same time, he underlined that there was an urgent need to ensure accountability for human rights abuses. “Impunity can only hinder reconciliation,” stated the Commissioner. The Commissioner also urged his interlocutors to work towards developing a national human rights action plan to address human rights reforms in a more systematic manner.

While in Moscow, the Commissioner discussed the follow-up to his report on the administration of justice and on his opinion on non-commercial organisations. While welcoming some progress in the reform of the penitentiary system, the Commissioner expressed continued concern about the situation of NGOs and human rights defenders. “The situation has deteriorated over the past year, as a number of organisations have been included in the register of ‘foreign agents’ against their will and inspections have continued. The Russian authorities should reverse this course and create a more conducive environment for the work of human rights defenders.”

The Commissioner will report on his mission in more detail in the coming weeks.

[1] The mission of the Commissioner for Human Rights was aimed at fostering the effective enjoyment of human rights. It cannot be interpreted as recognising either the authorities that exercise de facto jurisdiction or any altered status of the territory in question.