December 1, 2020

Despite criticism of the UN for its inability to resolve international conflicts and extinguish hotspots around the globe in quick and effective manner, UN agencies are, in fact, doing a tremendous job when they monitor carefully the existing conflicts and promptly publish the reports on the situation in the above-mentioned hotspots. One of the problems closely monitored by UN agencies is the human rights situation on the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

As of today, both states consider the peninsula an integral part of their territory. However, de facto Russia, which faced international sanctions due to the illegal occupation of the peninsula in 2014, keeps a tight rein on the former Autonomous Republic of Crimea (as part of Ukraine) and a separate administrative unit – the city of Sevastopol.

For the past six years, the UN (together with the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the G7) has been working hard to succeed in sending the monitoring missions to the Crimean Peninsula which would assess and cover the real situation in Crimea on an ongoing basis for the international community. Unfortunately, Russia, under various pretexts, cynically forbids most of these missions to cross the borders of the occupied peninsula. Instead, Russian diplomats themselves choose observation missions to cooperate with seeking from them prejudiced final reports in a variety of ways which reflect a picture drawn by the Kremlin solely. For example, a similar situation occurred with the mission of Gerard Studman (representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland). However, no matter how difficult it may be to gain free access to the Crimean territory, UN observers keeps trying to monitor and drawing objective reports assessing the situation in Crimea.

Recently, representatives of various UN agencies have taken part in a number of activities aimed at a comprehensive study of the situation in Crimea.

Thus, on October 29, the 11th Information Meeting on monitoring the situation in the occupied Crimea and the city of Sevastopol within UNESCO’s mandate was held. The event was attended by Assistant Director-General of UNESCO Firmin Edouard Matoko, representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, representatives of the UN Secretariat, representatives of UN member states, as well as other international organizations – OSCE, Amnesty International and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). The significant deterioration of the human rights situation in Crimea and the harassment of national minorities on the peninsula were discussed.

A week before, on October 21, the Ukrainian city of Kherson hosted an international conference “On challenges of water supply and use of water resources in the Crimea under Russian occupation” initiated by official Kyiv. In addition to spokespersons for Ukrainian government agencies, representatives of the United Nations, the OSCE, USAID and a number of foreign diplomats took part in the event online. Russia’s violations of international environmental law in Crimea, militarization of the peninsula, and human rights violations were discussed.

Also in October, UN officials discussed with the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry a Crimean Platform initiative of the Ukrainian diplomacy, which is a new format for consolidation of international efforts pursuing deoccupation of the peninsula, prevention of further deterioration of human rights situation in Crimea, and protection of the peninsula’s ethnic diversity and cultural heritage. UN representatives took a close look at Kyiv’s proposal. The importance of regular monitoring of the situation on the peninsula by various UN agencies (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNESCO) was reiterated.

It is worth mentioning that the UN institutions are governed by the official documents of the Organization within the framework of the Crimean issue. Thus, on March 27, 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine”, which clearly stated that Crimea belongs to Ukraine.

Later, 4 UN General Assembly resolutions on human rights violations in Crimea, as well as 2 resolutions emphasizing the unjustified militarization of the peninsula were adopted. At the same time, following the request of Ukrainian diplomats, the UN General Assembly and the UN Secretariat officially use after 2016 the term “temporarily occupied territories” in relation to the Crimean Peninsula and the city of Sevastopol, instead of “annexed territories” (which was inaccurate).

Generally, the UN representatives state that today Russia and Ukraine do not have any dialogue about Crimea, but only make accusations and advance claims against each other regarding the current situation on the peninsula.

Moscow constantly accuses Kyiv of cutting off water flowing through the North Crimean Canal from the Kakhovka Reservoir (in Kherson region of Ukraine) to the Crimea (for the needs of agriculture and industry). According to the Kremlin, it is improper fresh water supply through the mentioned canal to the Crimea that could cause a humanitarian catastrophe. According to Ukraine, the occupied peninsula has enough water resources to meet the needs of both the local population and the agricultural sector. At the same time, the industrial enterprises (which were not exposed to modernisation since Soviet times and remained extremely energy- and water-consuming), as well as the Russian Black Sea Fleet, numerous military bases and huge military infrastructure that Russia has built on the peninsula for the last six years face real shortage of the available volumes of water. Kyiv insists that Ukraine sought to create an attractive tourist and recreational zone in Crimea, while Russia unreasonably militarized the peninsula, turning it into a serious threat to all the Black Sea basin countries.

For its part, Kyiv’s charges Moscow with permanent violation of human rights in Crimea. Thus, as a result of the occupation of the peninsula by Russia in 2014, about 140,000 people left Crimea immediately (mostly to mainland Ukraine). After that, the Russian authorities deliberately set out to substitution of the population of the peninsula. The new authorities exert systematic and uncovered pressure on ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars – more than a thousand people have been served with court orders for forced eviction, while other pro-Ukrainian Crimean residents are being extruded from the peninsula in various ways. In an attempt to change the social and ethnic structure of the local population, the Russian authorities relocated about 300,000 ethnic Russians (mostly military retirees) and representatives of Tatar sub-ethnic groups from the Volga region, Cisurals and Siberia to the peninsula. There is also an obstacle to religious freedom in Crimea. These include the de facto blocking of purely Ukrainian religious organizations (the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) and a number of Protestant denominations, as well as uncovered pressure on the peninsula’s Muslim community (there are more than a hundred unjustified allegations of religious extremism and Islamism).

The UN is listening carefully to all parties to the conflict and studying the facts. Generally, the UN institutions keep taking an active part in solving the problem, and, consequently, the Organization will further keep Crimea in its focus.

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