ECHR: Russia liable for rights violations in Crimea

Ruling in the case Ukraine v. Russia (re Crimea), the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found June 25 that Russia is guilty of a pattern of human rights violations since 2014 in Crimea, as codified under the European Convention on Human Rights and international humanitarian law. These violations include ill-treatment, intimidation, disappearances, forced Russian citizenship, and suppression of Ukrainian media and press.

The Ukrainian government in its application challenged practices by Russian authorities since Feb. 27, 2014, the date that Russia began exercising "extraterritorial jurisdiction" over Crimea. Ukraine asserted that these practices have constituted a "campaign of political repression...aimed at stifling any...opposition and entailed systematic violations of civil rights and freedoms." For actions to be considered an "administrative practice" under the Convention, two elements must be demonstrated: the alleged violations must be repeated and officially tolerated.

Russia responded to the allegations not by submitting evidence or information (despite request), but by saying that the allegations were vague and did not establish a pattern. Russia also contended that Crimea had been admitted, as a constituent entity, into the Russian Federation. This, however, was found by the court not to have been "established by law."

The ECHR relied in particular on the evidence of third-party intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the 2017 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine). In considering the evidence, the court found beyond reasonable doubt a pattern of numerous incidents indicating practices officially tolerated by the Russian authorities, constituting an "administrative practice" of violations of the Convention. The specific practices included violations of Article 2, enshrining the right to life; Article 3, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment; Article 5, the right to personal liberty and security; Article 8, the right to repsect for private and family life; Article 10, the right to freedom of expression; and Article 11, the right to freedom of assembly. 

The court ordred Russia to take certain reparatory measures, including "to ensure, as soon as possible, the safe return of the relevant prisoners transferred from Crimea to penal facilities located on the territory of the Russian Federation." However, the court reserved judment on the question of compensation to injured parties.

From Jurist, June 25. Used with permission.

See our last report on legal challenges to Russia's occupation of Ukraine, and war crimes charges against Russia.