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Andrei Yurov: "In Crimea the space for civil society and independent media has been almost totally closed down" (EuroBelarus)

posted 30 Mar 2015, 06:18 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 30 Mar 2015, 06:27 ]
21 March 2015

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group 

Original source: EuroBelarus.info

In the past year Crimea has been existing in the form of a grey legal zone where the rights and freedoms of citizens have been significantly less, not only in comparison with Ukraine, but also with Russia.

Last week celebrations to mark the first anniversary of the “return of Crimea” were held in Russia. And even though the whole civilised world calls the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula nothing else than an occupation, the same people continue to live there. What sort of conditions have they found themselves in? What sort of fate has taken hold of civil society in Crimea? Human rights activist Andrei Yurov, one of the founders and the first director of the Crimean Field Mission for Human Rights, and a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, talked about the current situation with the EuroBelarus news agency:


“In Crimea the situation is not tragic. They are not shooting people in the street. It is simply consistently bad. I would name three legal bases for this bad situation.

"The first principle: From the point of view of international law, Crimea is a region under Ukrainian jurisdiction, but in fact it finds itself in some kind of legal grey area. For many inhabitants of Ukraine the normal legal mechanisms simply don’t work. These inhabitants, even in the mainland territory of Ukraine, seem to be people with some different status, since they have become hostages to the situation. In Ukraine many documents inhabitants of Crimea now have are not recognized. But the people are certainly not guilty for the situation in which they find themselves. Many of them have certainly not voted for it. Sure, they have said nothing. But at the end of the day these are ordinary people. And the fact that a territory with a population of 2.5 million people has found itself in a legal grey zone is a particularly unique situation. In other words people have been collectively reduced in their rights there.

"The second point is connected to the fact that specifically in relation to human rights the Ukrainian legislation has always been more liberal, closer to European than Russian standards. It is understandable that people have become used to a different level of freedom. They have become used to everything, for example in relation to being dismissed from work, to taking part in a street demonstration. But now they are discovering that they are not allowed to do so. This means that the people living in Crimea thought Russia is a country with the same standards of rights and freedoms as Ukraine, only richer and less corrupt. But they have discovered that Russia really is a country with a stricter life, but not always with less corruption, in some ways richer, in some ways poorer, but in the sphere of rights and freedoms significantly worse. Yes, wages have suddenly become higher, but so have prices. This means that people have found themselves in a very difficult situation, with restrictions on their freedom in the legal sphere to which they are not accustomed.

"After all, for about 15 years in Russia laws have been passed that restrict rights and freedoms. And over these years Russians have got used to this, as indeed Belorussians have. But here people have passed through these 15 years in a single year. And this is complicated. And as a result, many don’t even know on what grounds they can end up facing administrative or criminal prosecution. Because they have lived 20 years in another country where, perhaps, there was more chaos, but their freedom was significantly greater.

"And, finally, the third factor is a legislative system of local bodies which adopt their own laws – about nationalisation, about self-defence, which even from the point of view of Russian law are very dubious. Even within the sufficiently repressive Russian law there are no such laws in the regions of Russia.

"As a result of such threefold pressure, from the point of view of human rights, the region in question has become significantly worse than in the rest of Ukraine. I am speaking about the peaceful regions in Ukraine, and the normal regions of Russia.

"As far as NGOs are concerned, it must be borne in mind, from the point of view of the development of civil society, that Crimea was one of the most backward and underdeveloped regions of Ukraine. Civil society there was rather weak. But in the course of last year all NGO activists have left the region for various regions. As a result the organizations that have remained there have been those of a strictly social profile, able or ready to work for any sort of authorities, or very insignificant marginal groups.

"But they are not able to take the place of those NGOs which earlier had managed to carry on working there in one way or another. It is the same with independent media. They have been practically destroyed. Indeed, in Crimea the space for civil society and independent media has been almost totally closed down. Many people have left, but the majority of those who have remained have ceased all civic activism."

Translated by Frances Robson
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