The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has passed a decision regarding Crimea, in which it condemns the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula and demands Russia reinstate the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and allow its leaders to re-enter Crimea.
This unprecedented decision is being hailed as a diplomatic victory, with the Ukrainian MFA saying it was “one of the serious contributions of the Council of Europe to ensuring democratic security in Europe and upholding the fundamental values and principles of the Organization for the Protection of Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.”
According to Yevropeiska Pravda citing its sources, this decision didn’t come easy, because the Russian opposition to its adoption was high, as were the chances that the question be removed from the Committee’s agenda, and it was postponed repeatedly. Considering that the Committee is currently Chaired by Cyprus, a country which is friendly to Russia and is in a difficult process of reuniting its territory, the adoption of this decision is no small event.
Especially considering that the timing of the decision comes shortly after the UN court granted Ukraine’s request for provisional measures to make Russia comply with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – to reinstate the Mejlis and provide Ukrainians the right to study in the Ukrainian language in the Crimea.
Although the Committee does not have the instruments to enforce its decisions, the political pressure that this decision brings is sure to help Ukraine in the abovementioned ongoing Ukraine vs. Russia case in the UN court in The Hague. The International Court of Justice takes into accounts the position of other international institutes and refers to them in its decisions (as it already did in its intermediary decision). The other positive consequences for Ukraine include the demand to reverse the ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and the possible visit of the Commissioner for human rights. And note that each reference to Crimea and Sevastopol is followed by “Ukraine” in parentheses – a first for Committee of Ministers decisions.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Russia is implementing all the decisions starting from tomorrow, but each such decision, if its is not implemented, will isolate the Kremlin even further.
This is how international relations work.
Here is the text of the decision, with some notes by Yevropeiska Pravda.
Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine)
Reference document DD(2017)407-rev, 3 May 2017
Referring to their previous decisions concerning Ukraine,
Underlining that the illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine) by the Russian Federation challenges peace and democratic security in Europe,
Reaffirming their commitment to the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes, to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within internationally recognised borders and to the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Recalling the UN General Assembly Resolution 71/205 of 19 December 2016 “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”,
- reiterated their condemnation of the illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine) by the Russian Federation, and stressed that it constitutes a violation of international law and cannot form the basis for any alteration of their status;
- called on the Russian Federation to uphold all of its obligations under applicable international humanitarian law, international human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Council of Europe principles and standards;
(EP Note: This and the next clauses are very important. Basically, the Committee of Ministers recognizes Russia’s responsibility in human rights violations in Crimea, despite the peninsula remaining legally Ukrainian. There are many appeals to the European Court of Human Rights ahead and the Court will, without doubt, take into account this norm).
- urged the Russian Federation to take all measures necessary to respect human rights in Crimea and to bring an immediate end to all violations of these rights, including the denial of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion and belief, discriminatory measures and practices, arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, and the repression against persons belonging to minorities, including the Crimean Tatars, as well as Ukrainians and persons belonging to other ethnic and religious groups;
(EP note: the Committee of Ministers officially recognizes that Russia tortures and represses minorities, including those against Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians, repeating the ruling of the UN Court).
- called for a full, transparent and impartial investigation of all allegations of human rights abuses in order to bring those responsible to justice;
- underlined that the court decision declaring the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People an extremist organisation and banning its activities, and the decision banning leaders of the Mejlis from entering Crimea, gravely violated the rights of the Crimean Tatars and should be revoked;
(EP note: this clause makes the decision of the Committee of Ministers the second international document, after the UN Court order, which clearly demands Russia restore the Mejlis, which had fallen victim to Russian repressions)
- emphasized that a safe and enabling environment for local and international media, human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations should be put in place in Crimea, allowing for all opinions and views in society to be expressed without any discrimination, in line with the norms, principles and standards set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and other relevant Council of Europe instruments;
- reiterated their call for full and unrestricted access to the Crimean peninsula for all human rights bodies of the Council of Europe, including the Commissioner for Human Rights, in order that they can carry out their monitoring activities unimpeded and in accordance with their mandates to urgently address deteriorations of human rights and fundamental freedoms; invited the Secretary General to continue the dialogue with all parties concerned to this end;
- welcomed the efforts of the Secretary General to facilitate dialogue between the ombudspersons of Ukraine and the Russian Federation, and the subsequent transfer of a group of prisoners from Crimea;
(EP note: these are the prisoners who requested to serve the remainder of their sentence in Ukraine).
- invited the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe to consider providing follow-up on his report based on the findings of his visit to Crimea in September 2014 and assess the current situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the peninsula;
(EP note: Ukraine has been advocating for the Commissioner to visit Crimea for a long time. The last visit took place in September 2014, during which he reported about systemic human rights violations conducted by the self-proclaimed Crimean authorities. The decision of the Committee of Ministers urges the Commissioner to pursue this idea more actively).
- called for full implementation of the UN General Assembly Resolution 71/205 of 19 December 2016 “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”;
- decided to come back to the situation in Ukraine in the autumn with a view to adopting a comprehensive decision, in light of the discussions on a new Action Plan for Ukraine.
(EP note: in half a year, a new battle with the Russians will happen in Strasbourg. In order to avoid even harsher criticism, Russia would need to implement the requirements of this decision).
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