US closer to preventing recognition of Crimea as Russian territory

From a rally in Prague in December 2018 

Crimea

On 12 March, the U.S. House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Congress, has backed the Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act which bans the United States government from recognizing Crimea as Russian territory. On the next day, the U.S. Department of State published the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Its section devoted to Ukraine stated that the Russian occupation authorities are creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness in Crimea.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 weeks after the Euromaidan revolution which overthrew the pro-Russian then-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Though, the Russian military operation started when Yanukovych had still been in Kyiv.

The UN General Assembly in its 27 March 2014 and 22 December 2018 resolutions called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in the status of Crimea and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as an integral part of Ukraine.

Despite the fact that the international community hasn’t recognized Russian sovereignty over Crimea since 2014, Russia feels confident on the peninsula and persecutes those who oppose the policies of the Crimea occupation authorities – pro-Ukrainian activists including the representatives of the indigenous people of the peninsula, Crimean Tatars.

Human rights issues in Crimea as per the State Dept

The 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practice lists human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea including:

“Politically motivated disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; politically motivated imprisonment; and interference with the freedoms of expression, including of the press, and assembly and association.”

The document also mentions intensified violence and harassment of Crimean Tatars, and of pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation.

According to the report, there are cases of politically motivated arrests, mistreatment of persons in detention as punishment or to extort confessions. Moreover, the document states that there have been severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, including violence against journalists.

As per the September data of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), 42 persons were victims of enforced disappearances in Crimea from 2014 up to 30 June 2018. The victims included 27 ethnic Ukrainians, 9 Crimean Tatars, 4 Tajiks, one person of mixed Tatar-Russian origins, and one Uzbek.

Throughout the occupation as of 30 June 2018, 12 have gone missing and have been feared dead by their relatives, other two were held in custody and one person was found dead.

“Russian occupation authorities,” the document reads, “did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances… Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.”

In addition, during the mentioned period, 17 Crimean Tatars were subjected against their will and without medical need to psychiatric evaluation. Human rights activists also reported that occupation authorities often threaten people with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against who, in the opinion of the authorities, oppose the occupation.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, 31 Crimean prisoners had been transferred to the Russian Federation since the beginning of the occupation in 2014.

The observance of human rights in Crimean prisons is impossible because independent observers are not permitted to monitor the Russian penitentiaries. According to the report, at least four deaths occurred in custody under suspicious circumstances, including two Crimean Tatars in the Simferopol pretrial detention center in April 2018. Even Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service has officially confirmed three of the deaths, but occupation authorities, however, did not open any investigation.

Human Rights advocates estimated there were more than 60 political prisoners in occupied Crimea [according to human rights initiative #LetMyPeopleGo, Russia holds 70 Ukrainian political prisoners]. However, the national congress of Crimean Tatars – Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People – claims that 96 Ukrainian citizens have been held as political prisoners, 63 of whom are Crimean Tatars, according to the Ukraine (Crimea) section of the US Dept’s 2018 Human Rights Reports.

For example, an occupation court sentenced Volodymyr Balukh to five years in a penal colony and imposed a fine of 10,000 rubles ($170) on charges of the illegal possession of firearms. However, the real reason for his imprisonment was his pro-Ukrainian resistance – Balukh flew the Ukrainian flag over his house and opposed the demands to remove it.

According to the report, the Russian authorities of the Crimea “singled out Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, and violence, including killings and abductions.”

The US Department of State also reminds in its report that despite the order of the International Court of Justice, Russia keeps intact its 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis for purported “extremism.”

The key Ukrainian allies, the EU and US, remain committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the policy of non-recognition of the Crimea annexation.

“Russia can no longer be considered a ‘strategic partner’,” states the resolution of the European Parliament adopted on 12 March by 402 votes to assess the current state of the EU-Russia political relations.

“Whereas in reaction to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the hybrid war against Ukraine by Russia, the EU has adopted a series of restrictive measures that should remain in place until the Minsk Agreements have been fulfilled,” says the resolution.

On the same day, the US House of Representatives passed the Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act with 427 votes in favor that would prohibit federal agencies from taking any action that implies recognition of Russia’s claim of sovereignty over Crimea, its airspace, or its territorial waters.

The bill is now waiting for Senate action.

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