Saturday, November 5, 2016

Russian Oppression in Occupied Crimea Takes Center Stage
As has been Russia’s style, its brand of liberation oppression swept across the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in the wake of Moscow’s invading “green men” nearly three years ago. They seized government buildings, schools and civic organizations, banned the Crimean Tatar language and religion, arrested, imprisoned and killed Tatar leaders and activists as they raised the Russian tricolor over what has become occupied Crimea.
A climate of daily brutality that has been condemned by the free world enveloped the peninsula. Russia orchestrated a fabricated referendum that led to its illegal annexation by Moscow. In a blitzkrieg act of aggression, Ukraine and the free world lost administrative control over political, economic and social developments in Crimea. As a result, human rights abuses have become a consistent part of life in Crimea.
Crimean Tatar leaders have revealed that under Moscow’s laws and policies, any resident of Crimea who refuses to take Russian citizenship and a Russian passport, or who tries to retain Ukrainian citizenship, forfeits his or her right to live, to work in, or even to visit the peninsula.
The Atlantic Council, in the executive summary to its 2015 report titled “Human Rights Abuses in Russian-Occupied Crimea,” wrote: “This first land grab on European soil since World War II exposed the Kremlin’s imperialist ambitions and posed a serious threat to the post-Cold War international order. Since the onset of Russian occupation, Crimea’s residents have faced increasingly grave civic, political, and human rights violations. These include discriminatory policies against Crimea’s ethnic Tatar minority, infringement of property rights, and intimidation of independent voices through selective use of the law and physical force.”
The Council further noted that there is “an alarming deterioration of human rights” in Crimea. Russian authorities have resurrected its Soviet predecessor’s inhuman practice of punitive psychiatry against Tatar political prisoners.
“For their refusal to recognize the authority of the de facto government, Tatar leaders have been exiled or banned from public life, their public commemorations prohibited, and their media muzzled. Activists and journalists who simply speak up for human rights have been subjected to torture, intimidated into emigration, and have had their property illegally confiscated. Some have gone missing, with authorities offering little to no evidence that they are investigating the disappearances,” wrote Andrii Klymenko, chief editor of Black Sea News and chairman of the Supervisory Board of Maidan of Foreign Affairs, in the summary.
With willful disregard of international law and order unseen seen Nazi Germany’s invasion of Europe some eight decades ago, Russia has brought war to Europe, occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and spreads repression and terror in with its armed forces and mercenary terrorists.
In a draconian declaration of its thorough authority over the imprisoned inhabitants of the peninsula, the so-called colonial Supreme Court of Crimea on April 26, 2016, and the Supreme Court of Russia on September 29, 2016, declared the Mejlis, the self-governing institution of the Crimean Tatars, to be an extremist organization and banned its activities.
The invasion and occupation of Crimea, just like the war in eastern Ukraine, have been in the forefront of news media since February 2014 and have been the focus of numerous global, United Nations and regional forums. The United Nations reaffirmed its support for Ukraine in a resolution in support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The UN General Assembly again will have the opportunity to address this issue on Monday, November 14. The Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe – the Helsinki Commission – will also review Russian abuses in Crimea at a briefing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, November 10.
Since the illegal annexation of Crimea, the European Parliament, among other institutions, condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The members of the parliament “condemn the unprecedented levels of human rights abuses perpetrated against Crimean residents, most notably the Tatars, an indigenous people of Crimea, and the severe restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
“The Russian Federation, as an occupying power, has a responsibility to ensure the safety of the whole population and should, together with the de facto local authorities, investigate effectively, impartially and transparently all cases of disappearances, torture and human rights abuses by the police and paramilitary forces active in the Crimean peninsula since February 2014,” the European Parliament said.
Despite global denunciation of Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian Crimea, Moscow has not withdrawn from its occupied territories even in the face of economic sanctions that are not expected to be lifted. Nonetheless, the free world must continue to keep a spotlight on Russia oppression of Crimea and eastern Ukraine and keep the Kremlin’s feet to the hot coals until it unconditionally withdraws from all occupied regions of Ukraine.
Human Rights Watch, a respected global observer, also noted “Since Russian forces began occupying Crimea in early 2014, the space for free speech, freedom of association, and media in Crimea has shrunk dramatically. In two years, authorities have failed to conduct meaningful investigations into actions of armed paramilitary groups, implicated in torture, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, attacks and beatings of Crimean Tatar and pro-Ukraine activists and journalists.”
“Under international law, the Russian Federation is an occupying power in Crimea as it exercises effective control in Crimea without the consent of the government of Ukraine, and there has been no legally recognized transfer of sovereignty to Russia. The referendum, held without the authorization of the Ukrainian government or any broad-based endorsement by the international community, and Russia’s unilateral actions afterward cannot be considered to meet the criteria under international law for a transfer of sovereignty that would end the state of belligerent occupation,” the human rights monitor stated.
The resolution that will be discussed in the UN General Assembly has been endorsed by the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Palau, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States.
The resolution, when adopted, is expected to:
Condemn the temporary occupation of the part of the territory of Ukraine;
Condemn the imposition of the legal system of the Russian Federation and the negative impact on the human rights situation in Crimea; and
Condemn the reported serious violations and abuses against residents of Crimea, in particular: extrajudicial killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, politically motivated prosecutions, discrimination, harassment, intimidation, violence, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, their transfer from Crimea to Russia, as well as reported abuses of other fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression, religion or belief, and association and the right of peaceful assembly.
The resolution urges Russia to uphold its international obligations, overturn its abusive policies in Crimea and release all imprisoned Ukrainian citizens. It urges Russia to address the issue of impunity and ensure that those found to be responsible for abuses are held accountable before an independent judiciary. The resolution calls on Moscow to revoke immediately the decision on declaring the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars as an extremist organization and banning its activities and repeal the decision banning leaders of the Mejlis from entering Crimea.
Among other passages in the resolution there is one that recalls UN Resolution 68/262 of March 27, 2014, on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, that affirms the General Assembly’s commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders; and relevant decisions of international organizations, specialized agencies and bodies within the UN system.
There are other worthwhile references but, sadly, there isn’t one that demands the withdrawal of Russian soldiers and officials from Crimea and return of the peninsula to Ukraine’s sovereign rule.
While these and other efforts such as the Minsk process to bring peace and stability to Ukraine and Crimea have been successful and Ukrainian civilians and soldiers are being killed defending their homeland, global efforts such as those that I mentioned here must continue so that no one forgets Russia’s crimes against humanity and, hopefully, it will be brought to justice.

Congressman Pascrell recognized with Shevchenko Freedom Award

Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), a staunch champion of independent Ukraine and critic of Russia for its crimes against humanity, was rewarded for his efforts with the Shevchenko Freedom Award. On Wednesday, November 3, leaders of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America visited the congressman in his Paterson, NJ, office to present him with the award. Pascrell has been the sponsor and co-sponsor of numerous resolutions in support of Ukraine and visited many local Ukrainian events. He is also a member of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, a group of lawmakers committed to advocating pro-Ukrainian issues.