On tonight's show we shall be talking to Experts about the Annexation of Crimea. We are 3 years down the line from when Russia annexed the Autonomous Republic of Crimea which is part of Ukraine, are we really doing enough to return Crimea to Ukraine? Hromadske spoke to 1st Deputy Minister at Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine Emine Dzheppar and Coordinator of the Media Initiative for Human Rights Maria Tomak.
Human Rights Violations in Crimea
Maria Tomak: All of these human rights violations which we have now, including the repression, are a direct result of these resistance meetings.... The problem with the civil hostages started in Crimea, there were dozens of hostages arrested in Crimea by the former ‘Berkut’, the so called ‘Crimean self- defence’ and the ‘little green men’ resulting in some of these people being tortured and beaten later. Some of them have been transferred to Russia, some have been lucky and were released and are still alive. Also we have a lot of people who are still missing. So, what is really important, is that it is not just a Human rights issue, the resistance movement is also partly responsible.
Maria Tomak: The Crimean Prosecutors office [Crimea] are very active now with the new Prosecutors being transferred from Russia, it means we have lost the last three years. But, it is good that it [international law and Crimea panel] has started now, and I hope that in the near future we will have hearings in the International Court of Justice and later in the European Court of Human Rights.
Is Ukraine Responsible for Crimea?
Maria Tomak: Of course it was Russia who annexed the peninsula and is the aggressor and effectively in control. But it does not mean that Ukraine doesn't have a responsibility or obligation towards the citizens of Ukraine who are living there. These issues are personal for me.
The state should now invite NGOs to share all these materials and join our efforts compiling a database and passing them onto the International courts. I think that's of a strategic interest for Ukraine and also one of the most important factors when we talk about returning Crimea under the effective control of Ukraine.... we must check who collaborated with Russia, as not all of the people that remained in Crimea are collaborators of Russia. But those judges, prosecutors, and police officers who were arresting and repressing people should be punished.
Emine Dzheppar: The international forum is supposed to analyse everything that has happened within the last three years of occupation, this could be done by Ukraine, and bring Crimea closer to Ukraine.... It is becoming clear that Crimea is getting further and further away from its own people. People's hearts and minds are becoming distant due to many factors....
I think there is a turning point and core point that really should influence politics, the main issue is that in Crimea we have citizens of Ukraine ‘full-stop’. This alone there should be no other considerations.
Today there is huge myth being spread, Russian propaganda is proliferating all over the world, saying that everyone is happy to live in the Russian reality. The reality is that there was a huge resistance on February 26th, more than ten thousand citizens, mostly Crimean Tatars under the call of Mejlis, blocked it [Parliament] completely and did not let any of the deputies go into the building, to stop them from making decisions that could lead to legitimizing the Kremlin in Crimea, We also had one more act of resistance, more than forty thousand Crimean women under the direction of Mejlis paraded on all major cities with Ukrainian flags and slogans of ‘Russia leave Crime alone’, ‘Crimea is Ukraine’.
Criminal Cases Against Crimean Tatars
Maria Tomak: Currently we have 29 people who are being kept in Crimea for political reasons. These are different cases, starting with Crimean Muslim cases, so-called ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ cases, and also the latest trend is so-called ‘saboteur’ cases, Crimean ‘saboteurs’. We have, in total, 9 people that were accused of being saboteurs, which is very interesting in terms of Russian propaganda, because I think that these cases are made to pursue to the world that Ukraine is an aggressor.
One more recent trends is the mass arrests which we had a few days ago, which resulted in the administrative arrests of 11 people. I think it was the biggest mass arrest during the previous 3 years, but again, in that regard I would like to say that Ukraine has the responsibility...There is nobody or person who is responsible for that problem and we have no one to ask what is going on, what is the position of the state. Of course the state recognises that these people are political prisoners, but nothing more.
I don’t see any chance for any rule of law in all of these cases. And of course, I totally agree with Emil, he said that you cannot accuse a person of being a terrorist when this person has not committed any violent acts, and didn’t even plan to do that.
I think it is very important that Russian lawyers are ready to go to Crime to defend Ukrainian citizens there, but of course it is very bad that these people cannot get the support from the Ukrainian state. I mean, their councillors cannot visit them.
Emine Dzheppar: What is behind this [the increase in cases against so-called Crimean ‘saboteurs’]? On the one hand, occupying powers are trying to squeeze Ukraine out of Crimea, everything that somehow relates to Ukraine- Ukrainian language, culture, history, Crimean Tatar language, history, activists, all those who are ready to speak up on what is happening in Crimea. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who are not ready leave their homeland, like Crimean Tatars who have already paid a high price for coming back and settling on their homeland, they are not ready to leave it or abandon it.
Crimea in the Media
Emine Dzheppar: There are many way to focus on the Crimean Issue, let us try to divide people’s focus on Crimean, first of all one the most sensible targets is the Crimean audience, but unfortunately due to Russian propaganda, Crimea feels itself as an outcast and Ukraine has forgotten them, there are some objective arguments for that of course, because Ukraine is not very well articulated in its politics and implementing them towards Crimea…. Secondly is all the Ukrainians that live on the mainland, how to explain and convince them why we should struggle for Crimea, and the third one is the most distant one which is the international audience, they are not living with the Ukrainian issue, they have Syrian [refugees], ISIS, and terrorist attacks to think of.
Going into the topic of Russian media, I think that Ukraine is on the top of media outcomes that Russia provides. Every single piece of news somehow concerns Ukraine. The idea behind that massive propaganda is to discredit Ukraine on every single level- saying that Ukraine is a corrupted state, it’s a state that cannot deal with these challenges, that Ukraine has forgotten about Crimea, and so many other messages in terms of the Crimean issue.
The world is not as attentive to the issue of Ukraine as we would want it to be, and now we have this information ‘matryoshka’ . When Crimea was occupied there was also a war in Donbas, and whenever there is a war in Donbas, Crimea is not interesting anymore. Then we had the Syria issue and Russia enforced its presence there, and when there are thousands of people dying in Syria, Ukraine is not interesting anymore, and then there are terrorist attacks in Europe, so Ukraine is not interesting anymore. And so there are many things that Russia has done on purpose, I think, in order to stick attention of the international audience on other challenges, because they are really ready to pay a high price for remaining in control over Ukraine. The budget of RT is over 1 billion dollars a year, of course Ukraine does not have this resource, and they produce propaganda. And we believe that we should not produce propaganda because in the long term, that makes people stupid.
For more news and explainers about Crimea and live tweets from the show featuring key points, follow our Twitter: @hromadske