Andrei Yurov: Crimea Residents Need to Organize to Protect Their Rights

posted 17 Dec 2014, 12:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 Dec 2014, 12:39 ]
4 December 2014

Interview with Andrei Yurov by Gromadske radio 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

Prominent Russian human right defender, head of the Crimean Field Mission and member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Andrei Yurov, spoke to the program Voices of Crimea about the results of the activities of the Mission in Crimea over the past six months, about the passivity of residents of the peninsula who are reluctant to fight for their rights, about the so-called “Aksenov’s Self-defence Unit”, and the work of the local media. The first question concerned the issues that the human right defenders will be working on the immediate future. 

The main problem that we will definitely be looking into will be all those house searches, arrests and all the investigative activities linked to the events that took place on 3 May. Because these have taken a mass character now. We are talking about hundreds of people. We will be monitoring the way the investigative activities in relation to this case are carried out and the way the justice system works. It is very important, because on the basis of this case we’ll be able to understand how effective or, in contrary, how ineffective the justice system is. 

The next aspect we will certainly talk about will be everything related to migration – citizenship, residence registration and things like that. On one hand, this is related to certain aspects of Russian legislation. It is obvious, that this legislation is not appropriate for this unique legal situation. That is why many things seem unfair and ridiculous. However, they are in accordance with Russian law. In this case the law enforcement bodies cannot do anything about it. On the contrary, to act in a humane way they would have to violate the law. It is clear, however, that there are things that law enforcement could put right. Either at the level of central offices or the regional services. This is absolutely possible. We need to understand what immediate steps we have to undertake to improve the situation. We need to think what we can do about all those crazy queues and unhappy crowds of people outside the offices of the various agencies. 

I’m not sure if we will be able to make an analytical report on the work of the so-called “People’s Militia,” about a number of difficult issues and about the fact that to date their activities aren’t in accordance with any system of legislation. We have been talking since March that we don’t understand what “self-defense” means in terms of federal law. If it is a people’s militia, it is one thing. That means no special military-style equipment. It means no independent actions without the law-enforcement authorities. They are there to assist the police and that’s all. If it is a kind of municipal militia, then we need to look at federal law and see how municipal militia can be formed. The term “self-defense”, however, does not exist in Russian law. That is why I have to use the term “unlawful armed group” to describe them. It’s clear that in March there was a revolutionary situation. And from our point of view, there was a lot that was not in accordance either with international law or with the law of the states involved. Later on, however, it was recognized by a number of parties that there was a kind of legal situation. Within this new legal situation it is absolutely unclear what this “self-defense” is. We cannot use give an example of the violation of the law for the purpose of ‘higher goals’. 

If people act in this way in the name of ‘higher goals’ now, then later they will violate the law in the name of inferior ones. Everyone has their own concept of ‘higher goals’. This is very dangerous. I can believe that one person’s higher goals are good in nature, however, I am not ready to believe that everyone’s goals are good in nature. That is why my attitude towards all paramilitary groups is very simple – they must be strictly within the framework of the law and under civilian control. Only in this way are they to be tolerated. It is not enough, however, to have only one of these factors. It is impermissible that a paramilitary formation should act against the law but be under civilian control. Or the other way round, that it acts in accordance with the law but is without any civilian control. In this case we won’t understand what they are actually doing. The situation can be considered normal when both aspects are in place. Thank God that recently the situation with the police in Russia and the militia in Ukraine has been improving. The degree of civilian control is increasing. This gives hope that the situation will continue to get better. 

Has the Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights achieved any strategy success over the last half year? 

The main purpose of the Mission is above all monitoring. There is a coalition of organizations which is called the Initiative Group on Human Rights in Crimea. And if there are any achievements it will be, first of all, the achievements of the members of the coalition. They have to carry out strategic litigation, they have to work with national and international bodies. Our task is to constantly inform various organizations and structures concerned with human rights issues about what is happening. We want to make the situation more open and transparent for society as well as for decision-makers. We can only inform and make preliminary recommendations. They are preliminary because the Mission does not have experts on every field, especially the issue of amending legislation. That is a job for a research institute. The number of people working in the Mission is small, and almost all of them work as volunteers. None of the staff on the Russian get paid for their work. 

Some things are happening already. And we can claim some of the credit. At the same time people are complaining to the authorities. When these complaints coincide with our assessments, then we can see changes take place. The changes include adopting - or rejecting - a law. For example the law on “People’s Militia”. However, it is hard to tell whether it was entirely our achievement or the achievement of other groups that are taking action. For example, I don’t know whether it was accidental or not that after the speech by Nikolai Svanidze at the Presidential Human Rights Council on the situation of Crimean Tatars (approximately half of which was based on the Mission’s reports), the next day a Contact Group to search for Crimean Tatars who have disappeared was set up. 

I think when we have more experts we shall be able to make considerably more proposals and we’ll have more cases that other human rights organizations will be able to work on. 

The Crimean Ombudsman said that a lot has been done to create new NGOs. What do you think the situation is like today with civil society in Crimea? 

I’m not entirely sure this is a job for the Ombudsman. I believe that civil society needs to grow from the bottom, and it needs to be the initiative of people themselves. The ombudsman’s goal should be to help such organizations. I think, when people approach the Ombudsman, they are getting some kind of help. At least I haven’t had a complaint about not getting any help with starting up or registering organizations. Essentially the ombudsman’s resources to support civil society are really limited, I mean not only in Crimea but in any other region as well. They don’t have any budget in this field. 

- However, I’m ready to believe that there aren’t enough initiatives in Crimea in the area of human rights. Apart from the Contact Group and the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of the Crimean Tatar People nothing has been founded since March this year. For example, quite a lot of organizations were set up by those who left Crimea and are actively defending the rights of migrants. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any groups that are defending the rights of those who remained on the peninsula. Unfortunately, no one except the people of Crimea themselves will do this. There won’t be any “right defenders from another planet” who will land here and protect the rights of the residents of Crimea. All social groups need to understand that if they don’t organize themselves, nothing will happen. No one should create civil society on their behalf. That is why I haven’t any issues with the Ombudsman for not creating civil society. 

- So far as the situation of freedom of expression in Crimea is concerned, I don’t see any serious local media outlets working here. I think the situation remains on the same level as it was in mid-October. I hope that local journalists will somehow get organized and that some kind of organization will appear that will be able to inform us, and not only us, about the situation as regarding freedom of expression and what they need. Our task is to work with groups of this kind and to use the information they have collected to prepare more widely ranging reports and bring this information to the attention of those who can take decisions and provide support. Unfortunately, Crimea lacks these kinds of grassroots organizations which we could support. 

Original source: Gromadske radio 

Translated by Olga Cable 
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