The downfall of President Viktor Yanukovych on 22 February 2014 following the three month-long EuroMaydan protests in Kyiv set in motion a rapid chain of events in Ukraine’s autonomous Republic of Crimea, culminating in its annexation by Russia.
Virtually overnight, Russian laws in their entirety were extended to Crimea, including those limiting the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, heralding a rapid deterioration in the respect for human rights in the peninsula and a clampdown on dissent, targeting particularly those opposed to Russian annexation and suspected of harbouring pro-Ukrainian views.
The attitude of the de facto Crimean authorities, and their Russian masters, to their opponents is simple: leave or shut up. Many vocal critics have indeed left, spurred also by a spate of abductions in the first few months after the annexation. Several pro-Ukrainian associations and human rights groups have likewise relocated or ceased to operate altogether.
The 200,000 strong Crimean Tatar community has been particularly affected. Many of the rights violations documented in this briefing have been suffered by Tatars. This is not surprising, as prominent Tartar leaders remain the most visible and vocal opponents of Russian rule left in the region. Their distinct way of life, culture, religion, language, names and even appearance further set them apart from the majority of Crimea’s residents. Unlike many ethnic Ukrainian activists who have since relocated to mainland Ukraine, Crimean Tatars for the most part regard Crimea as their only homeland and are unwilling to contemplate relocating.
However, the human rights violations over the past year are not limited to Crimean Tatars.
This document offers only a snapshot of a much longer catalogue of cases of human rights violations in Crimea over the first year that has passed since the peninsula’s annexation by Russia. Unless the ongoing clampdown on human rights, including freedom of expression, assembly and association in Crimea is reversed, and past violations are effectively addressed, the outlook for the people living on the peninsula is bleak.