Ukrainian crisis a 'conflict between two states'

Ukrainian leaders have drawn the EU's attention to human rights abuses occurring in Crimea.

By Jon Benton

Jon Benton is Political Engagement Manager at The Parliament Magazine

05 Dec 2014

Parliament's human rights (DROI) subcommittee in association with the delegation to the EU-Ukraine parliamentary cooperation committee has held a hearing on the human rights situation of minorities in Ukraine with a special focus on Crimea.

Also in attendance were the president of the Crimean Tatar national movement in Ukraine Refat Chubarov, and the Ukrainian parliament's commissioner for human rights and ombudswoman Valeriya Lutkovska.

Refat Chubarov discussed the plight of the Tatar population in Crimea, highlighting the deteriorating situation in the region.

"The ongoing hostilities in Donetsk and Lugansk regions have already led to thousands of casualties. These hostilities have pushed the attention of the international community away from occupied Crimea", he said.

The Tatar leader argued that the lack of measures to halt Russian aggression in Ukraine prevented Ukrainian and western negotiators from bargaining effectively with Russian authorities.

"Crimean Tatars are hoping for a miracle to reverse this injustice. They keep wondering why the European community doesn't do something; we need to protect the people in Crimea from discrimination" - Refat Chubarov

He stressed that Russo-Ukrainian hostilities began with the occupation of Crimea, and added that while at the time ethnic Russians were supportive of the move, there has since been a reversal in opinion due to the flight of business, investment and jobs.

He also argued that the Crimean referendum was carried out "at the end of the barrel of a gun", with people being forced to vote to join the Russian federation under threat of violence. The Tatar population more or less boycotted the vote, with only 1000 of the 180,000 Crimean Tatars participating in the referendum.

Furthermore, Chubarov claimed that only 40 per cent of the Crimean population voted, saying, "It is humiliating that there was really no referendum in Crimea."

Chubarov then explained how, since the occupation began, Russian authorities have persecuted Tatars and turned them in to scapegoats. He said, "There are over 100 cases of Tatars being prosecuted and fined, four have been detained and charges brought against them based on Russian criminal law. They could go to prison for five or more years".

Moreover, the persecution of Tatars in Crimea has involved the deportation of Tatar leaders such as Chubarov and the former leader of the Tatars Mustafa Dzhemilev, the banning of Tatar language and cultural institutions including schools, universities and Mosques.

However, perhaps more troubling, according to Chubarov there have been regular kidnappings and killing of Tatars on racial grounds.

The Tatar leader added, "Tatars had a difficult relationship with Ukrainian authorities but at least there was a dialogue and political recognition. Now, people are kidnapped and killed on racial grounds, this never occurred under Ukrainian authorities".

In his closing statement Chubarov explained that the "Crimean Tatars are hoping for a miracle to reverse this injustice. They keep wondering why the European community doesn't do something; we need to protect the people in Crimea from discrimination".

Afterwards, the Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman Valeriya Lutkovska presented to the committee her observations of human rights violations occurring in the Ukraine as a result of Russian and pro-Russian rebel actions.

"I am the ombudswoman and I can call this a conflict between two states" - Valeriya Lutkovska

Lutkovska stressed that the situation of children in Ukraine was the greatest cause for concern. The ombudswoman gave examples of abuses such as rebel forces using schools as basecamps in order to prevent military forces from attacking, using children as human shields, as well as the kidnapping, abducting and relocating of children, many of them orphans, to new families in Russia.

One example that she gave was the case of eight children who were kidnapped from a hospital in August. The children ranged, she said, "From eight months to two years old, all of them with disabilities that required them to remain at hospital. The children were abducted and taken away on a bus not equipped to transport them and in conditions that led to many of the children becoming seriously dehydrated".

The Council of Europe had been unable to gain access to the children, it was only when the ombudswoman intervened were the children retrieved and returned home.

Lutkovska also explained that these children were orphans, adding that, "kidnappings like this have become commonplace in Ukraine as [pro-Russian forces] kidnap children and resettle them in Russia to be used as propaganda props".

The problem has been exacerbated by the lack of border oversight between Ukraine and Russia. There remains no functioning Ukraine border police, with the border only being monitored by Russian forces that have "turned a blind eye to these activities", said Lutkovska. When asked about these activities, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that this was "merely a case of kidnapping and nothing else", she added.

The ombudswoman echoed the comments of Chubarov concerning the persecution of Tatars; giving further examples such as the ban on the commemoration of the remembrance day for victims of the 1944 Tatar deportation and the celebration of Ukrainian independence.

Lastly, Lutkovska described the violent suppression of dissidents, many of them students, by the rebel authorities. Actions such as "marching hostages through city streets to be stoned, tied to 'poles of shame' so that passers-by can spit in their face or throw stones at them". The ombudswoman also revealed that mass burials of dissidents had been discovered.

In her closing remarks, Lutkovska exclaimed her opinion that Russia had been directly involved in the crisis, saying, "I am the ombudswoman and I can call this a conflict between two states".


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