Report of the Human Rights Assessment Mission on Crimea (6–18 July 2015), 17 September 2015
1. Following an invitation by the Government of Ukraine on 15 June 2015, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) conducted a joint Human Rights Assessment Mission (HRAM) on Crimea from 6 to 18 July 2015.
2. The HRAM evaluated the current human rights situation in Crimea, including the situation of minority groups, as impacted by developments since the release of the previous ODIHR/HCNM report on Ukraine in May 2014, soon after the occupation and annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.
3. Notably, the most critical human rights problems in Crimea today are largely congruent with the concerns and negative trends identified in that previous assessment, which ODIHR and HCNM then called upon de facto authorities in Crimea to address.
4. Despite their clear mandates to monitor the human rights situation in Crimea, the institutions and independent experts of the OSCE, the United Nations and the Council of Europe have all had their access to the Crimean peninsula either fully or partially restricted since the annexation. The de facto authorities in Crimea did not respond to requests to facilitate access to Crimea for the HRAM, for which reason the HRAM primarily conducted fact-finding and research in the territory of mainland Ukraine, as well as through remote interviews with relevant contacts in Crimea and elsewhere.
5. Through extensive meetings and interviews with over 100 civil society actors, Ukrainian authorities, internally displaced persons and cross-boundary travellers, the HRAM received numerous credible, consistent and compelling accounts of human rights violations and legal irregularities in Crimea—some of them of a serious nature. The allegations documented and trends established by the HRAM demand urgently to be addressed by Crimean de facto authorities, and underscore the need for systematic independent monitoring of the human rights situation in Crimea by impartial international bodies.
6. As a result of the annexation, the changes in government and the legal framework being applied in Crimea have dramatically impacted the enjoyment of the full spectrum of human rights and fundamental freedoms by residents there, particularly of those residents who were opposed to the annexation, were unable to reject forced Russian citizenship, and/or did not seek to acquire Russian passports.
7. Fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, movement, expression and access to information have all been restricted in some fashion—whether through formal measures, or through the sporadic targeting of individuals or communities representing opposing views, voices or socio-political structures.
8. Re-registration requirements by the Russian Federation for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media outlets, and religious organizations have reportedly been leveraged against those opposed to Russian rule, significantly restricting freedom of association, constricting the space for civil society, and decimating the number of independent voices in the media landscape.
9. Through the justice system, the de facto authorities in Crimea have applied vague charges of “extremism” and “separatism” under criminal law of the Russian Federation to a wide variety of assemblies, speech and activities—in some cases retroactively to events prior to annexation and/or outside of Crimea in mainland Ukraine. Based on interviews with those targeted and primary documentation reviewed by the HRAM, numerous such criminal warnings, investigations and prosecutions appeared to be politically motivated—directed at pro-Ukrainian activists, journalists and minority community members—without due process guarantees for the accused, and without effective remedies for alleged procedural violations.
10. In contrast, there appear to have been neither proactive investigations nor any prosecutions of pro-Russian “self-defence” groups accused of committing serious human rights abuses at the start of and since the occupation of Crimea. Those alleged abuses included disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, as documented by ODIHR and HCNM in their 2014 joint HRAM report. Since then, “self-defence” groups have reportedly continued to intimidate, harass, detain and seize the properties of Crimean residents—particularly those suspected of opposing Russian rule—without an adequate legal basis.
11. In terms of accountability, the European Court of Human Rights has extended the Russian Federation’s deadline until 25 September 2015 to submit its observations on the admissibility of two inter-State applications lodged against it by Ukraine—including in relation to forced citizenship, discrimination, property rights, the right to private life, and the prohibition against torture and ill-treatment. During that extended response period, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation issued a concerning ruling on 14 July 2015 that the government would not be required to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights if they contravened the Russian Constitution. Apparently conflicting with the Russian Federation’s obligations under international treaty law, such a decision could further undermine the right to an effective remedy for claimants, and the execution of judgments by the European Court in future claims, including in the dozens of individual cases that have already been submitted to the Court in relation to recent events in Crimea.
12. In the realm of economic, social and cultural rights, the imposition of Russian Federation citizenship and laws on residents of Crimea has caused problems for those Ukrainian citizens who have not sought Russian passports (despite having Russian citizenship nominally imposed upon them). Without Russian passports, residents face obstacles in every aspect of their lives, including: re-registering and/or selling private properties and businesses; gaining or retaining employment; and accessing education, health care, or other social services. Language studies and native-language education in the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages have also reportedly been reduced in schools and universities throughout Crimea, to the detriment of those communities’ enjoyment of their cultural and language rights.
13. In the penitentiary system, more than 2,000 convicts imprisoned in Crimea at the time of annexation reportedly were unable to opt out of mandatory Russian citizenship, did not benefit from Ukrainian-ordered amnesties and conditional releases in 2014, and are potentially subject to transfer to penal colonies in mainland Russia, as has reportedly transpired in some cases. Injecting drug users and persons living with HIV/AIDS in the pre-trial detention facility and three penal colonies in Crimea have also reportedly lacked necessary medical care.
14. Exacerbating the legal and practical problems enumerated above are the existence of dual and parallel citizenship records, civil registries, cadastral records, pension systems, and justice systems exercising jurisdiction over the same persons and properties. As neither Russia nor Ukraine recognizes official documentation issued by the other in relation to Crimea, residents are caught between two overlapping and conflicting legal and regulatory systems. In order to navigate these complexities, many Crimean residents keep both Russian and Ukrainian passports, despite both countries not recognizing those residents’ dual citizenship of the other.
15. The HRAM received numerous accounts of Crimean residents and displaced persons who were unable to: sell their properties or businesses; acquire Ukrainian birth certificates for newly born children; or have their divorces in Crimea acknowledged by Ukrainian authorities, resulting in restrictions of the freedom of movement of many children with single parents under new Ukrainian regulations on travel to Crimea. Students graduating from Crimean secondary schools since annexation have also been unable to enroll in Ukrainian universities with diplomas issued by unrecognized authorities (and without sufficient opportunities to seek alternative qualifications), spurring surges in migration of families with school-age children from Crimea to mainland Ukraine.
16. The HRAM found in Crimea that those Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians who openly supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine and did not support the de facto authorities continued to be in a particularly vulnerable position. The suppression of activities of Mejlis—a self-governing body of Crimean Tatars—as well as intimidation, expulsion, or incarceration of prominent leaders of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People has had a detrimental effect on the exercise of political and civil rights of persons belonging to the Crimean Tatar community.
17. Effectively forcing Crimean Tatar community-run media outlets, such as ATR, to close by denying their registration has not only restricted media freedom and access to information, but also deprived the Crimean Tatar community of a vital instrument to maintain and revitalize its identity.
18. The space for Ukrainian culture in the illegally annexed Crimea has also decreased. Cultural, religious and symbolic elements of Ukrainian identity have been restricted and/or suppressed through various administrative or law- enforcement measures. Hostile attitudes in Crimea towards residents of Crimea who support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, display Ukrainian state and cultural symbols and publicly celebrate important dates for the Ukrainian culture and history are widespread.
19. Education in and of the Ukrainian language is disappearing. Pressure on school administrations, teachers, parents and children to discontinue teaching in and of the Ukrainian language is growing, which further curtails the presence of the Ukrainian language and culture on the peninsula. Education both in and of the Crimean Tatar language continues to face obstacles.
20. As obligated under its international human rights commitments and the Constitution of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government has adopted numerous policy measures to meet the needs of its citizens remaining in, or displaced from Crimea, despite lacking effective control over the peninsula. Those measures have reportedly been most effective where conjoined with awareness-raising campaigns to inform affected populations of solutions available for the challenges they face. However, many of those citizens impacted by the political and security challenges in Crimea over the last year have called for more relief and administrative assistance from the Ukrainian government to overcome those problems—particularly in relation to accessing the civil registry and education, and acquiring personal identification or other official documents. People crossing back and forth between Crimea and mainland Ukraine have also criticized newly increased restrictions on freedom of movement between the two regions, and inadequate infrastructure at land crossing points.
21. Through the Crimean de facto authorities, the Russian Federation is likewise obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons in Crimea—in line with the international treaties to which it is party, as well as its commitments as an OSCE participating State to uphold those human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those OSCE commitments encompass the Russian Federation’s obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, per its role as an occupying power in effective control of the Crimean peninsula.