A recent report describes fear culture and serious human rights violations. The people of Crimea pray that the world must not forget them.
The Norwegian Human Rights House Foundation establishes and supports Human Rights House in Eastern Europe. In September, representatives from the Human Rights Houses in Belarus, Azerbaijan and Ukraine visited Crimea. It is the first international delegation to document the human rights situation since 2016. The UN has not had access to the peninsula since its annexation in 2014. The delegation interviewed over 50 people, including families of political prisoners, bloggers, journalists, lawyers and activists.
The findings are included in the report Breaking the wall of silence and contribute to the UN expressing concern and condemning Russia's occupation of Crimea, in a resolution adopted on 18 December.
The Human Rights Houses report states that Crimean Tatars are subjected to severe discrimination on an ethnic basis and that the offices and homes of those who participate in corporate life and speak publicly are systematically raided. After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the number of associations has halved from over 4000 to 1800 and the number of media has been reduced from 3000 to 232.
Being human rights defenders in Crimea is dangerous. Many have therefore fled. Those who remain can at any time be arrested and accused of being a pro-Ukrainian separatist or extremist. Russian law is applied and imprisonment of up to 20 years is imposed. Many political prisoners are accused or penalized for statements they posted on social media before the annexation.
Accusing the guilty - those who believe otherwise - of extremism or other criminal acts has long been widespread in Russia. Now the practice is introduced in Crimea. A farmer who flags with the Ukrainian flag has been in prison for 5 years.
Many of the criminal cases are fabricated. Police are planting drugs or weapons to arrest dissidents. Basic rule of law is violated daily. Lawyers defending political activists and human rights defenders are themselves subject to persecution. A blogger told the delegation that she has sewn the pockets on the cover again to prevent police from planting drugs on her.
Many have been beaten up by police custody and the prison conditions on the peninsula are termed inhumane. Most people choose to focus on their own everyday lives and family, avoiding exchanges of views and associations. Even the Belarusians who participated in the delegation from the Human Rights Houses, who themselves have lived under an authoritarian regime for over 20 years, were struck by the extent of the repression in Crimea.
The people of Crimea need the support of the international community in the fight for fundamental human rights. Don't forget, the main message was from the activists, journalists and families of political prisoners the delegation met.
The Human Rights House Foundation calls on the Norwegian authorities to remain principled and address the attacks on journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders in international forums, demanding that Russia comply with international law. Norwegian authorities and politicians must talk about what is going on in Crimea, and help keep Crimea high on the international agenda. The UN must have access to Crimea in order to be able to monitor the situation must be an absolute requirement. In addition, Ukrainian authorities must make it easier for international observers to access the peninsula. It is important to point out that Russia not only violates international law, but also basic human rights in Crimea.
ANE TUSVIK BONDE
HUMAN RIGHTS HOUSE FOUNDATION