posted on Thu 17 Mar 2016 5:27 PM
Arria-Formula Meeting on Human Rights Situation in Crimea

Tomorrow morning (18 March), Ukraine will chair an Arria-formula meeting on the human rights situation in Crimea. The meeting will be open to the wider UN membership as well as to other UN entities. Volodymyr Yelchenko, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine, is expected to make opening and closing remarks, while briefings are expected from: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Mustafa Dzhemilev, Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Affairs of Crimean Tatars; Tetiana Pechonchyk, head of the Board of the Human Rights Information Centre, which documents human rights abuses in Crimea; and Olga Skrypnyk, head of the Crimea Human Rights Group and Almenda, which supports the work of civil society promoting human rights. The briefings will be followed by a discussion moderated by Mark Lagon, the President of Freedom House. This will be the third Arria-formula meeting on the situation in Crimea since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine in 2014. Similar Arria-formula meetings were held in March 2014, shortly after Russia’s annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, and again last March, each focused on the human rights situation in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Council members will be interested in Zeid’s assessment of the human rights situation. The UN, through its Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), produces regular reports on the human rights situation in Ukraine, including Crimea. While the Council has had briefings on these reports, discussions on the human rights situation in Crimea has been confined to the Arria-formula format. In his briefing, Zeid might draw attention to the findings of the 13th HRMMU report, which he presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 3 March. This will be the High Commissioner’s first briefing to Council members on the situation, although Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimunović has briefed the Council eight times on the human rights situation in Ukraine.

The 13th HRMMU report documents a human rights situation in Crimea of considerable concern. This is particularly the case for Crimean Tatars, who face constant prosecution and arrest by the authorities for alleged terrorist activities and their role in the 2014 protests against the annexation of Crimea. The Crimean prosecutor has initiated legal proceedings against Majlis, a self-governing body of Crimean Tatars, which could result in a ban of all activities of this body and classify it as an extremist organisation. Other ethnic and religious minorities face similar treatment. Following the annexation, around 1,000 religious communities in Crimea were required to re-register under Russian law in order to obtain legal status by 1 January. Over 600 religious communities previously registered under Ukrainian law lost their legal status, mainly due to strict new requirements which may have discouraged or impeded some communities from registering.

Given the scrutiny of the Crimean Tatar community, members of the Council will be interested in Dzhemilev’s evaluation of the human rights situation in Crimea. Dzhemilev has been barred from entering Crimea for five years because of activities allegedly aimed at inciting interethnic hatred. On 21 January, the Court in Simferopol issued an arrest warrant for Dzhemilev because of his alleged involvement in the Crimean blockade. According to the HRMMU reports that covered the issue, Dzhemilev was one of the main initiators of the blockade whose main goal was to restrict the flow of goods from and towards Crimea, in an effort to draw international attention to the worsening human rights situation there. The informal blockade ended in January after the Government of Ukraine imposed strict legal restrictions on movement of goods, services, food and personal belongings to and from Crimea. Some Council members might be interested in hearing more from Dzhemilev regarding the objectives of the blockade and his role in it. Members may also be interested in hearing Zeid’s assessment of the effects of the blockade on the human rights situation in Crimea.

Briefings by Pechonchyk and Skrypnyk, as NGO representatives from Crimea, may be of interest to some members who are seeking a more detailed account of the situation in Crimea. Their organisations work closely with individuals who have experienced human rights violations. Pechonchyk and Skrypnyk could additionally provide an insight into the challenges faced by their respective organisations in operating in Crimea.
The Council last met formally on the human rights and political situation in Ukraine on 11 December 2015, when Šimunović briefed the Council on findings of the 12th HRMMU report. This year, the situation in Ukraine was discussed in the Council under “any other business” on 27 January at the request of Ukraine.