Moderator’s remarks at the side event of the 16th session of UNPFII: “Crimean Tatars in 2017: Keeping the Dream Alive”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This side event is a logical continuation of the analogous event that was held during last year’s Forum, partly with the same team – and audience members. Thank you for those who returned, and welcome to those who are with us for the 1st time. Let me begin by acknowledging organizers and supporters of this event: Mejlis of Crimean Tatar people, Estonian Institute of Human Rights, Crimean Tatar Resource Center, Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine, Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN.

The goal of this side event is to review key events and developments – both negative and positive – that have affected Crimean Tatars during this past year, focussing on the human rights situation in occupied Crimea. Compared to last year, we have an even bigger and more diverse team of Crimean Tatars attending PF and this side event – in particular I welcome the presence of Crimean Tatar youth who are ready to fully integrate themselves into the work of PF.

Before I give the floor to Crimean Tatar colleagues, let me summarize the key topics discussed / conclusions reached last year – so that we would not have to repeat them. We started out with a polemic on whether Crimean Tatars are IP in the international understanding of the word and reached a broad consensus that indeed they are. Then, the discussion centered around the recent banning of Mejlis of Crimean Tatar people – representative body of Crimean Tatars – by a local Crimean court (run by occupying authorities) for supposedly engaging in “extremist” activities – ie, on whether this was a good idea and how Crimean Tatars should respond to that. Again, there was a consensus across nationalities and political loyalties of panelists that due it being a representative body of an indigenous people, it is not a good practice to ban the Mejlis – to put it mildly. At that time in April 2016, there was still a theoretical glimmer of hope that Russia’s Supreme Court might overrule this unjust and uninformed decision of the local court. Except, this did not happen. In September 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the banning of Mejlis and with this, revealed to the whole world Russia’s true face when it comes to respecting the rights of indigenous peoples, and UNDRIP which specifically in Articles 5, 18, 19 attaches central importance to the role of representative institutions in the exercise of IP’s collective rights:

Article 18: “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decisionmaking institutions.”

I have publicly stated before and will continue to say that this was not only a hostile act towards Mejlis as an institution, but an attack against the entire Crimean Tatar people, effectively denying their existence as a people – indigenous or not – and to choose their own representatives through their own procedures. It is this denial of Crimean Tatars’ peoplehood that I personally find one of the most troublesome aspects of Russia’s attitudes and policies towards Crimean Tatars.

Not that this would have deterred or neutralized the politically and socially active Crimean Tatars to the slightest. Compared to the hardships of the 20th century, such as the deportation & genocide for which Russia still has not apologized, this is really a piece of cake. Mejlis continues to operate and Crimean Tatar non-violent resistance is stronger than ever. International stature of Crimean Tatars has been growing with each month, thanks to allies & partners across all continents and in major institutions such as the European Parliament and PACE. And last week this list got one important addition: UN’s  International Court of Justice in the Hague. According to its Order from April 19,  the Court indicated the following provisional measure: “With regard to the situation in Crimea, The Russian Federation must, in accordance with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a) Refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis”. The message to Russia to reverse its behaviour towards Crimean Tatars and the Mejlis could not be stated more clearly.  And the timing – right before 16th session of UNPFII, could not have been better.

Mr. Mustafa Dzhemilev, widely regarded as national leader of Crimean Tatars, commented that this ruling provided strong moral boost to Crimean Tatars. Indeed, but I would go even further – it manifested to the whole world the legal as well as moral supremacy of Crimean Tatars over the Russian regime. It is this gap between Crimean Tatars’ adherence to international law & norms on the one hand, and utter disregard of it by Russia  – the occupying power of Crimea but also one of UN’s most powerful UN member States – that frames the discourse around Crimean Tatars, including today’s event.

So let’s now hear from Crimean Tatars themselves. We will hear prepared statements from 5 Crimean Tatar speakers after which there will be time to ask questions, and to have a discussion.

  • Eskender Bariiev
  • Gayana Yuksel
  • Elvir Sahirman
  • Fethi Kurtiy Sahin
  • Emine Dzheppar

Concluding remarks

Despite all the suppression and violation of their rights by occupying authorities, Crimean Tatars continue to show remarkable resilience and resistance, specifically of the non-violent kind. Unlike the occupying power who invokes mystical & mediaeval concepts like “sacrality” of Crimea for Russia’s statehood to justify its illegal occupation of Crimea and all the human rights violations resulting from it, Crimean Tatars are basing their actions on 21st century international law & norms, including UNDRIP, 10th anniversary of which we are here to celebrate, domestic Ukrainian law and just plain human decency. Which side, and which mentality will eventually win the day?

While the long-term outcome of Crimean Tatar resistance is not pre-determined, it is in the interests of entire civilized world community, including community of IPs, to do everything possible to ensure that Crimean Tatars can once and for all realize their dream of living in their homeland in dignity and freedom, and with ability to fully exercise their collective and individual human rights as indigenous people of Crimea. Whether or not Crimean Tatars will eventually be not only on the right side of international law, but right side of history, depends on all of us.

Thank you!



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