Repression against Crimean Tatars as catalyst for extending sanctions
Russia has long reproached the official Kyiv for its “unwillingness” to take into account the interests of all nationalities living in Ukraine. First of all, this regarded Russian speakers and, especially, Russian nationals. At the same time, Moscow has accused Ukrainian authorities of a failure to grant the Russian language a status of the second state language. But as soon as Russia occupied the Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, it moved away from rather abruptly from its previously declared principles of national policy, launching a repression campaign against various ethnic groups living in the annexed peninsula.
The first ones to be affected by Russia’s authoritarian policy were the Crimean Tatars
The first ones to be affected by Russia’s authoritarian policy were the Crimean Tatars. The Russian authorities initiated criminal probes against Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov. The Crimean Tatars who remained on the annexed peninsula are now subject to persecution and regular searches, kidnappings, and humiliation. April 26, 2016, marked some unprecedented developments: the de-facto “supreme court” of Crimea outlawed the self-governing body of the Crimean Tatar people, the Mejlis. Moreover, this organization was branded “extremist” and its activity was banned in the Russian territory, therefore in Crimea as well, as Russia considers it part of the Federation.
Naturally, international community expressed overt indignation over such actions by Russia. In particular, the EU's external action service said that the ban on Mejlis “is extremely worrying and constitutes a grave attack on the rights of the Crimean Tatars.” The agency also stressed “deterioration of the human rights situation on the Crimean peninsula since its illegal annexation by the Russian Federation in 2014.”
The U.S. Department of State reacted in a similar spirit calling on the Russian authorities to reverse the decision to designate the Mejlis as an "extremist" organization. Of course, Ukraine did not stay aside, responding harshly to Russia’s move. Thus, MFA Ukraine strongly protested against this decision of the occupation authorities calling it yet another blatant violation of international law.
It can now be suggested with greater confidence that the ban on the Mejlis marks the beginning of major repression against the Crimean Tatar people by the Russian authorities
Russia has been ignoring the position of the international community. No wonder… It can now be suggested with greater confidence that the ban on the Mejlis marks the beginning of major repression against the Crimean Tatar people by the Russian authorities.Given the fact that criminal cases had already been launched against many of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea on trumped up charges, the official ban on Mejlis further extends the scope of potential action for Russia’s punitive system.
So the extremely important issue on today’s top agenda is how to protect the rights of the Crimean Tatars, and to defend the legality of the Mejlis. The initiative for resolving these issues should come from the Ukrainian authorities. It is the official Kyiv who should take retaliatory measures and impose mirror sanctions against those who accused the Mejlis of extremism and declared its activities illegal. Such sanctions must target the prosecutors and judges who were directly involved in taking the wrongful decision.
But Ukraine shouldn’t be limited to these actions only. It needs to convey its sanctions list to the EU and the U.S. so that Ukraine’s western partners also adopted certain restrictive measures.
The Crimean Tatar community should be at the forefront if this fight. In fact, a lot depends on them exclusively. In fact, they should now challenge the ban of Mejlis in Russian courts. It is not difficult to guess what the reaction of the Russian judicial system will be – most likely, any appeals will be overruled. But they will serve as a basis for the Crimean Tatars to lodge claims with the European Court of Human Rights stating the violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial.
In this scenario, it is best that the claims of the Crimean Tatars in the ECHR were individual. Thus, the number of submitted complaints to the European Court will increase, just as the amount of possible compensation. Besides, this will keep heated the interest of the international community to the question of the existence of the Mejlis. Also, the international community will once again note that Russia does not have a fair trial, and often it takes politically motivated – not legitimate – decisions upon orders from higher offices.
The chances of the Crimean Tatars win lawsuits against Russia in the European Court are quite high, given the support of the international community and a number of human rights organizations
The chances of the Crimean Tatars win lawsuits against Russia in the European Court are quite high, given the support of the international community and a number of human rights organizations. ECHR can stand on their side and support the interests of the indigenous population of Crimea. However, this does not mean that Russia will agree with the ruling. As we know, Russia deals very selectively with the decisions of international legal bodies. In case if they don’t satisfy the Russian Federation, it simply ignores them. The official statistics of the ECHR for 2015 Russia is quite showing, with Russia becoming a country with the largest number of violations of the Human Rights Convention. Over the past year, the Court found violations in 109 complaints against the Russian Federation.
So now, Russia may find itself in an impasse. If it ignores the ECHR decision in favor of the Crimean Tatars, then it once again confirms that it despises a rule of law, ignores global public opinion the vision of international legal institutions, while not seeking to demonstrate a political will for any democratic change. This means it is too early to cancel international sanctions against Russia despite they already had resulted in very tangible economic losses for the Russian Federation.
Is Russia ready to pay such price?
Oleksiy Starodubov is a director of a Crimean Expert Center