Minority Rights Group International addressed to the UN Human Rights Council over the repression of the Crimean Tatar leadership and community in Crimea.
In Minority Rights Group International (MRG’s) statement on March 22 to this Council, MRG expressed deep concern about the then ongoing trial by the Crimean Supreme Court of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, the representative body of Crimean Tatars. In MRG’s view, the prosecution of the case on grounds of ‘extremism’ was unfounded and the Court’s decision to ban the Mejlis would have legitimized the persecution of Crimean Tatars, risked silencing the collective voice of Crimean Tatars and could herald further repression. Given that the charge of ‘extremism’ can be extended to organisations associated with the Mejlis, this ruling would pose a further threat to the 250 LocalMejlis . In particular MRG is especially worried about the physical safety of members of the Mejlisand anybody associated with them– namely a large part of the Crimean Tatar population.
Just three months later, several of these concerns have regrettably actualized:
• On April 26, the Crimean Supreme court banned the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, thus violating the collective right of Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Crimea to operate their own representative institutions, and in particular contravening Articles 5, 18 and 19 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
• On May 6, armed men, reportedly members of security forces raided a Crimean Tatar mosque in Molodezhnoe settlement of Simferopol region during the Friday prayer, detaining nearly 100 Crimean Tatars who were pushed onto buses, identified and later released without explanation, but ordered to appear at the police. This was a direct violation of Article 12 of UNDRIP.
• On May 12, Mr. Ilmi Umerov, Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, was detained from his home and later released on bail. Mr. Umerov is now charged with violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, as part of a criminal case.
• On May 25, Mr. Ervin Ibragimov, a Board Member of the Coordination Council of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, was abducted in Bakhchisaray. He has not been seen since then. A criminal case was opened only after intense pressure of his relatives and the Crimean Tatar community. The case of Ervin Ibragimov is one of ten cases of missing or abducted Crimean Tatars, so far unresolved since 2014.
In MRG’s view, these actions against prominent leaders and activists of Crimean Tatar people can be directly linked to the prior banning of the Mejlis and the broader restriction of civil space, that has included the harassment and even closing of Crimean Tatar media, religious centres and social and cultural organisations. The cumulative effect of these restrictions on civil freedoms and other violations of Crimean Tatars’ human rights has been a worsening of the climate of fear among Crimean Tatars, who are increasingly feeling as being under attack as a people.
In order to avoid further escalation of tensions between Crimean Tatars and the de facto authorities, MRG urges the international community to send a strong message to the Russian Federation, emphasizing its obligation to secure the human rights of Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Crimea. Among else, this means:
• Revoking the ban of Crimean Tatar Mejlis and allowing it to operate as a legitimate representative institution of Crimean Tatars on Crimean territory;
• Dropping all criminal cases opened for political reasons against members of the Crimean TatarMejlis, including Mr. Akhtem Chiyhoz and Mr. Ilmi Umerov, as well as other Crimean Tatar leaders and activists; and
• Thoroughly investigating the forced disappearances of Mr. Ervin Ibragimov and nine other Crimean Tatars who have gone missing since 2014, with the objective to bring them home and to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
Further, representatives of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis are now residing outside of the Crimea in exile and many members of the Crimean Tatar population are living as IDPs in Ukraine. Along with the repression of the Crimean Tatar leadership and community in Crimea, the further status of large numbers of the population as displaced people, provides a potential existential threat to Crimean Tatar culture. We therefore further recommend;
• The government of Ukraine takes continued measures to ensure the preservation and development of Crimean Tatar culture, amongst displaced people, through the protection and promotion of the cultural rights of Crimean Tatars.