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"The international community must unite to put an end to the occupation of Crimea "- Plotnikov

25 April 2021

On Monday, April 26, Olexiy Plotnikov Ph.D., Expert of Association of Reintegration of Crimea during the side event "Threats to sustainable development of IPs in conditions of interstate conflicts on the example of Russia-occupied Crimea" said that the international community must unite to make the Russian Federation to comply with its obligations, to put an end to violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and put an end to the occupation of Crimea. 

Speech by the Expert of Association of Reintegration of Crimea Olexiy Plotnikov

Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this historic forum today.I thank you for the privilege to speak today at this historical forum. In my capacity as an expert of the Association of Reintegration of Crimea, I will address the issues already raised by other distinguished participants, who provided comprehensive information and assessment of the situation with the rights of indigenous people in Crimea. I will proceed with the legal side of the problem and explain why the actions of the Russian Federation are not only contrary to the Development Goals, including Development Goal 16, but also entirely illegal from the point of view of international law.

To begin with, there exists a state of armed conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine in the sense of international humanitarian law, which is law applicable to armed conflicts. According to the findings of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, that armed conflict commenced at the very latest on the 26 of February 2014. Ever since that date, the Russian Federation has occupied the integral part of Ukraine – an Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, which I will further refer to as Crimea.

Under the generally accepted rule of international law, the Russian Federation as an occupying power bears the entirety of responsibility for the well-being of civilian population in Crimea. The same standard applies in international human rights law. If one state occupies a part of the territory of another state for whatever reason, that occupying state is responsible for the observation of human rights on the occupied territory. And it is without doubt, that the same standard should apply in the emerging set of international norms governing the rights of the indigenous people. By occupying the territory of the indigenous people, the Russian Federation accepted full responsibility for ensuring that the rights of that people are not violated.

However, the Russian Federation not only fails to protect the rights and interests of the indigenous people, but itself commits flagrant violations of those rights. I will not speak now of the violations of the rights of individual representatives of the indigenous people, like murders, torture, forced disappearances. I will concentrate only on the collective rights of the indigenous people as an entity.

For sure, the targets set out under Development Goal 16 are strictly speaking not obligatory. However, they are reflective of binding international instruments, to which the Russian Federation is a party. Most importantly, but not limited to this, it is the UN Charter, the International Covenants on human rights of 1966 and the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Let’s take a look at the target 16.6, which is to develop effective accountable and transparent institutions at all levels and 16.7, which is to ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. These targets are in clear parallel with the common Article 1 of the 1966 Human Rights Covenants, according to which all peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. That provision, which is so fundamental for international human rights law, that it precedes all other rights in the Human Rights Covenants, is now openly and audaciously disregarded by the occupying power.

An important feature of the Development Goals, including Goal 16, is the ever repeated requirement to ensure equality, representation and inclusiveness. To the contrary, the Russian Federation in Crimea acts in an oppressive and discriminatory fashion.

Speaking of discrimination, the Russian Federation is a party to the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Under its article 5, the Parties undertook to guarantee to everyone without discrimination the enjoyment of political rights, including to participate in public affairs at all levels. The same Article speaks of the right of everyone to freedom of thought, consciousness, religion, expression, peaceful assembly and association. Further, under Article 6 of the same Convention, the Parties are to assure everyone within their jurisdiction effective protection and remedies through the competent national tribunal.

The Russian Federation, however, does not assure this right neither in its domestic courts, nor it respects international courts. Ukraine applied to the Court of Justice of the United Nations claiming violation of the Anti-Discrimination Convention. As part of these proceedings, the Court in 2017 ordered the Russian Federation to put an end to its discriminatory practices against the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea, most notably, to cancel the ban of the Mejlis. This order, however, remains on paper, as Russia openly disregards it, thus not only failing to comply with its obligations under the Anti-Discrimination Convention, but also undermining the very foundations of the UN system, which is based on the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes.

Honorable participants, since the time is very short, I will limit myself only to these out of many other violations committed by Russia in Crimea. My call to you is straightforward: there is no other solution except the legal one, and the international community must unite to make the Russian Federation comply with its obligations, put an end to violations of the rights of the indigenous peoples, and put an end to the occupation of Crimea. Thank you.