Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000.
Ukrainian lawmakers from the ruling party this week proposed resuming the water supply to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, leading to public outrage. After Russia's 2014 seizure and unilateral annexation of Crimea, Ukraine ceased supplying water to the arid peninsula. Before the occupation, water was supplied from the Ukrainian mainland through the North Crimean Canal. Today, a dam blocks the canal on the de facto border with Ukraine's Kherson Oblast. The shortage of water has hurt Crimean agriculture and industry, although most households rely on local wells. MPs from the ruling Servant of the People party proposed either selling the water to Crimea or using it to leverage a withdrawal of Russian military forces from the conflicted Donbas region in Ukraine's east. But Refat Chubarov, the Crimean Tatar leader who was exiled from the peninsula by Russia after the take-over, responded that any agreement to supply water to Crimea, regardless of the conditions, would be a betrayal of the 500,000 Tatars living in the peninsula. (EuroMaidan Press)
The Italian Senate voted Feb. 12 to lift former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's parliamentary immunity over his treatment of asylum seekers. Under Italian law, Salvini had immunity from criminal prosecution over actions he had taken while serving in the cabinet. But, at the request of prosecutors in Catania, Sicily, the Senate voted 152-76 to strip Salvini of his immunity, thus formally authorizing prosecutors to press charges against him for his decision to refuse entry to approximately 131 asylum-seeking migrants last July.
The only Crimean Tatar TV channel is facing a new threat to its existence—this time not from the Russian occupiers of Crimea, but the Ukrainian authorities. A dramatic cut in state funding for ATR TV has coincided with Kiev's decision to drop Tatar-language services on the state network UATV in favor of a new Russian-language channel to be broadcast into rebel-held territory in Ukraine's heavily Russophone east. ATR deputy director Ayder Muzhdabaev reported Jan. 17 that the station has reduced production of its own programming by 90% due to underfunding. He said that of the 35 million hryvnia allocated to the station in Ukraine's 2019 budget, only 15 million had actually been received.
Activists in Ukraine are protesting a judicial ruling they say defers accountability in the massacre of scores of protesters during the Maidan Square occupation of 2014, popularly known as "Heaven's Hundred." Five ex-officers of the Berkut, the former regime's now-disbanded political police, faced charges of killing 48 protesters and wounding 80 others during the February 2014 repression. Another 21 sought in the violence, also members of the Berkut's elite Black Company, managed to escape to Russia after the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime later that month, and some are now believed to have been incorporated into paramilitary groups by the Vladimir Putin government. The five were ordered released from custody by the Kyiv Court of Appeals on Dec. 28—among the 200 prisoners freed in a swap between the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region. Their release was protested in an open letter to President Volodymyr Zelensky by the group Families of the Heaven's Hundred Heores, who asserted that it violates international law. Lawyers for the families went on a 13-day hunger strike in November in protest of the cases being dropped for the impending swap.
Russia's Interior Ministry has announced that "Cossacks" will be deployed, together with the de facto police, in patrolling occupied Crimea, as well as in "carrying out anti-drug measures and educational work with young people." So-called "Cossacks" were used, together with other paramilitaries, during the annexation of the peninsula in 2014 to carry out violence and brutality that Russia did not want attributed to official security fources, and the group Human Rights in Ukraine believes there are strong grounds for fearing that a similar role is planned again, and that "educational work" means propaganda for the Russian military.
The International Court of Justice ruled Nov. 8 that it has jurisdiction to hear a case filed by Ukraine against Russia over claims of ethnic discrimination in annexed Crimea, as well as Moscow support of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east. The case argues that Russian abrogation of the rights of the Crimean Tatars violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The claims concerning the eastern separatists invoke the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. Moscow had asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that Kiev was attempting to use the proceedings to reach a ruling on the legality of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. This argument was rejected, meaning that the case may now move forward—five years after it was brought.
Spain's Supreme Court on Oct. 14 ordered imprisoned nine Catalan political leaders—with sentences ranging from nine to 13 years for the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds—over their role in organizing the 2017 independence referendum. The sentences are each followed by equal periods of absolute ineligibility for public office. Oriol Junqueras—the former vice-president of Catalonia and the highest-ranking of the defendants—received the longest sentence. Three others were found guilty of disobedience and fined. The sentences have sparked protests in the region, with assembled crowds causing flights to be canceled at Barcelona's airport. Police used batons and rubber bullets to regain control of the facility. Demonstrators also gathered at Barcelona's Plaça San Jaume, the seat of the Catalan government, and erected barricades across roads and rail lines elsewhere in the city. Catalonia's feared anti-riot force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, has been mobilized to clear the streets. (BBC Newsround, Jurist, The Local, Spain; infoLibre, Spain)