Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville Location: Geneva Date: 17 May 2016
Tomorrow, 18 May, will mark the anniversary of the 1944 deportation during World War II of some 200,000 Tatars from Crimea. While many eventually managed to return to their historic homeland, the situation of this vulnerable minority in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea* remains a major concern.
Over the past two years, we have documented increasing persecution of Crimean Tatars. Members of the Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatar minority community, and their supporters have been intimidated, harassed and jailed, often on dubious charges.
We are deeply concerned by the ban imposed on the Mejlis by the so-called ‘supreme court’ of Crimea on 26 April. We fear that the designation of the Mejlis as an extremist organization by the ‘court’ will leave Crimean Tatars even more exposed to human rights violations and collective punishment.
Since April 2014, Crimean Tatars have been subjected to arbitrary searches, seizure of books and arrests. Allegations of ill-treatment have largely gone unaddressed by the de facto authorities. On 1 April this year, 35 men, mostly Crimean Tatars, were reportedly taken, without due process, to a police centre for countering extremism in Simferopol, where they spent four hours being interrogated, photographed, fingerprinted and made to provide DNA samples, before they were released. Last year, the authorities shut down a number of Crimean Tatar media outlets, and last week were reported to have also blocked Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Crimea news website.
Most recently, the ‘police’ arrested two Crimean Tatars in Krasnokamenka on 18 April and four in Bakhchisaray on 12 May. They were charged for alleged membership of an extremist organization that is banned in the Russian Federation, but not in Ukraine. Fourteen people in total, mostly Crimea Tatars, are currently in custody in Crimea awaiting trial for their alleged membership in the organization. Four were arrested in 2015, and so far ten have been detained in 2016 There has also been no progress in investigations into the death of Crimean Tatar activist Reshat Ametov, who was killed in March 2014 after being pulled out of a peaceful protest by men in military-style uniforms.
We remind the Russian Federation, which exercises de facto control over the territory of Crimea, that they have a duty to ensure that the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples are respected, and that they are not subjected to discrimination and harassment. We also urge the authorities to immediately lift the ban on the Mejlis, and to ensure that the freedoms of expression, information, peaceful assembly, religion or belief for all the people of Crimea are upheld.
The Crimean Tatars were one of the eight ethnic ‘nations’ who were forcibly uprooted in their entirety from the western part of the Soviet Union by Stalin’s chief of secret police Lavrenti Beria and deposited in Central Asia or Siberia. Starting on 18 May 1944, some 200,000 Crimean Tatars, were rounded up on to trains – most of them in the space of just two days – and sent to Uzbekistan. Thousands are believed to have died during the journey. They were one of the last of the eight “deported peoples” to be finally permitted to return to their original homeland, after a 1999 agreement between Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Subsequent changes in national legislation paved the way for them to return legally without becoming stateless in the process. The process of readmitting and reintegrating the Crimean Tatars received considerable political, legal and practical assistance from the United Nations, and between 240,000 and 250,000 are believed to have returned in all and to have received Ukrainian citizenship. The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People was founded in 1991 and given legal recognition by a Ukrainian Presidential decree in May 1999.
*The status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is determined by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/262.