Back Commissioner draws attention to Crimean Tatars’ struggle for human rights


"Ukrainian", Crimean Tatar örnek drawing (1920) by Adviya Efendiyeva, a Crimean Tatar master weaver and embroider (Central Museum of Tavrida via: Wikimedia commons)

“Crimean Tatars in Crimea, and especially those opposing Crimea’s illegal annexation or expressing dissent, are being subjected to numerous patterns of serious violations of human rights, persecution, discrimination, and stigmatisation by the Russian occupying authorities. This is further reinforced by a culture of impunity for such violations that is prevalent in the peninsula,” said today Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, while releasing a report on the human rights situation of Crimean Tatars in Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, illegally annexed by the Russian Federation.[1] “Crimean Tatar people have been exposed to a never-ending string of human rights violations and unfairly cast out of their ancestral homeland many times in the course of their troubled history. They have suffered enough. The wrongs that have been, and continue to be, inflicted on them must be redressed.”

The Commissioner’s report seeks to amplify the voice of Crimean Tatar human rights defenders and victims, and to increase public awareness of the plight of the Crimean Tatars people and their centuries-long struggle for identity, dignity, and human rights. It focuses on multiple patterns of violations of human rights committed against the Crimean Tatar people throughout their history, especially following the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 by the Russian Federation and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea has set in motion a tragic cascade of events and measures characterised by grave and repeated violations of the human rights of Crimean Tatars. These measures overall contribute to an environment which stigmatises Crimean Tatar people and sows ethnic division, antagonising the general population of Crimea against them”, deplores the Commissioner. She reiterates her call for the persecution of Crimean Tatars to stop and for an immediate end to all arbitrary arrests, harassment, and searches of homes of Crimean Tatar human rights defenders, activists, leaders, and journalists, as well as ordinary Crimean Tatars.

Recalling that international humanitarian law prohibits an occupying power from applying its penal laws on occupied territory, the Commissioner calls for an end to all criminal prosecutions based on the misuse of Russian anti-extremism and counter-terrorism laws, or other similarly spurious charges, targeting many Crimean Tatars in Crimea. She further calls for the humane treatment of all those held in detention in Crimea and of Crimean detainees held in detention centres in Russia. “International human rights monitoring mechanisms and humanitarian organisations should be given safe and unhindered access to all detainees, including Crimean Tatars”, said the Commissioner, adding that “the transfers of detainees from Crimea to detention centres in Russia – a practice which is at variance with international humanitarian law – should cease immediately.”

The Commissioner underscores that Crimean Tatar lawyers and lawyers representing Crimean Tatars should be allowed to exercise their activities free from intimidation, harassment, or hindrance. All Crimean Tatars, including human rights defenders, activists, and journalists, should enjoy their freedom of assembly and expression without fear of reprisals. They should also be able to practice their religion in public or private, to receive education in the Crimean Tatar language, and to preserve their cultural heritage. As media freedom has been heavily restricted by Russian occupying authorities in Crimea, the Commissioner encourages the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that Crimean Tatar TV and radio outlets that remain active in mainland Ukraine are provided with adequate and sustainable support to continue broadcasting for the benefit of the Crimean Tatar people.

In her report, the Commissioner also calls for putting an end to the forced conscription and military mobilisation of Crimean Tatars in Crimea, another practice which clearly violates international humanitarian law. She considers that Crimean Tatars who try to evade illegal enlistment in the Russian armed services should be afforded adequate humanitarian and legal care and assistance in all countries where they may seek refuge.

Regarding the legacy of enforced disappearances, a grave human rights violation which since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 has affected several dozen persons there, including many members of the Crimean Tatar people, the Commissioner calls for the fate and whereabouts of the missing persons to be clarified in prompt, effective and adequate investigations. “All those responsible for such grave violations of human rights must be brought to justice while victims and relatives of missing persons and their associations should be provided with adequate support,” stressed the Commissioner.

“Crimean Tatar people are an integral part of the broader European community and history. I am inspired by the singularly strong solidarity and resilience that has been their hallmark over the centuries,” said the Commissioner. Expressing hope that the Crimean Tatar people would, as soon as possible, be able to reclaim their rightful place in the social fabric of Crimea’s multicultural society, as the peninsula’s indigenous inhabitants, following decades of experience of forced exile, she stressed that “they should be provided with all necessary support to preserve and maintain their unique identity and to enable the long-overdue full realisation of their human rights.”

[1] The Commissioner’s report does not deal with status-related issues. It cannot be interpreted as recognising either the Russian occupying authorities in Crimea, or any altered status of the territory in question. Nothing in the report should be seen as an infringement of the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.

Strasbourg 18/04/2023
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