Crimean Tatars: exposing human rights violations behind Covid-19 pandemic

After seven years since incorporation into the Russian Federation, not only has the humanitarian situation in Crimea shown no sign of recovery, but the outbreak of Covid-19 has also opened the doors to new scenarios of human rights violations

Chiara Pontin Chiara Pontin

Since the dawn of its incorporation into the territory of the Russian Federation, Crimea has been the scene of numerous and severe human rights violations, and the members of the Crimean Tatar community have undoubtedly been the most affected. Over the past two years, the situation has deteriorated even more, and this is largely attributable to the outbreak of Covid-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic has opened the doors to new scenarios of human rights violations on the Crimean territory.

Many Ukrainian NGOs have denounced the occurrence of unprecedented events during the past year. In April 2020, for example, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported several cases in which Crimean Tatars, especially activists, journalists and members of the national movement were forbidden to wear masks to protect themselves from contagion under the pretext of countering extremism. It is surreal that, at the same time, no Ukrainian citizen was allowed in public spaces without proper face protection.

The health crisis also affected prisoners and the conditions in local jails. The Crimean Human Rights Group declared that, among the most vulnerable groups were inmates and individuals in custody, who were prevented from undergoing virus testing and receiving necessary medical care, even in the presence of the unmistakable symptoms. Overcrowded prisons and unsanitary environments have made detention deadly during the pandemic.

Finally, news outlets reported that under the rulings issued by Russian courts, several large-scale evictions and displacements  occurred on an alarming scale. Both are prohibited under international humanitarian law. But according to some estimates, in October 2020, approximately six hundred Ukrainian citizens faced forced eviction from Crimea.

The humanitarian situation

In autumn 2020, the representative body of the Crimean Tatars – the Mejlis – invited both the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to the Ukraine and the United Nations’ Human Rights Monitoring Mission to the Ukraine for a visit to the territory in order to evaluate the humanitarian situation. The Mejlis denounced, among others, high numbers of infections, an insufficiency of hospital beds, and a shortage of medicines, and accused the Russian Federation of not taking “measures to protect the health and lives of the population of the occupied territory”.[5]

These new cases of human rights violations were finally exposed on December 16 2020 when the UN General Assembly issued a resolution condemning Russia for impeding the Crimean residents to exercise their human rights, due to unnecessary and disproportionate restrictive measures imposed under the pretext to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest developments on the issue date back to June 24 when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution condemning the violence that has been and continues to be perpetrated against the Crimean Tatars. At the time, PACE cautioned Russia to not implement its own law on the territory, especially with regard to terrorism and extremism.

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