Russian state agents behind 'grave violations' in Crimea: UN

The office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on Moscow to respect its obligations as an occupying power. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - Russian state agents have committed serious abuses, including torture, in Crimea, the United Nations said on Monday (Sept 25), warning that the rights situation in the annexed peninsula had "significantly deteriorated" under Moscow's occupation.

In a fresh report, the UN human rights agency said that Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014 had set off a broad crackdown targeting Ukrainian institutions and culture.

The report found evidence of "grave human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and torture, and at least one extra-judicial execution", the UN statement said.

Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine after the overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych following mass protests in Kiev.

Many Western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia to punish it for the annexation.

In the report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Moscow to respect its obligations as an occupying power, demanding that it investigate all cases of alleged torture, abductions and killings involving members of the Russian security forces and Crimean self-defence.

"There is an urgent need for accountability for human rights violations and abuses and for providing the victims with redress," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.


The report's lead author, Fiona Frazer, told reporters in Geneva that "a lack of impartiality of the judiciary" meant the legal system offered little hope to those whose rights had been trampled.

Hundreds of prisoners have been illegally transferred from Crimea to Russian prisons, according to the report, which added that at least three detainees had died after not receiving adequate medical care in custody.

The report further condemned Moscow's decision to substitute Ukrainian laws with Russian ones, and also to force people to take Russian citizenship.

Civil servants have had to renounce Ukrainian citizenship or be sacked, while Crimea residents who do not legally qualify as Russians have been deprived of basic civil rights in their homeland, the rights office said.

"Tens of thousands (of people) became foreigners and as a result face significant hardship", Frazer said.

Such people left in citizenship limbo "cannot own agricultural land, vote and be elected, register a religious community, apply to hold a public meeting, hold positions in the public administration" or even register their car, the UN probe found.

"Education in the Ukrainian language has almost disappeared from Crimea," it added.

The rights investigators were not permitted to enter Crimea, so their report is based on interviews conducted from mainland Ukraine.

Frazer said the rights office was continuing to push for access through "official communication" with the Russian government, but that there were no imminent signs of a breakthrough.

Kiev also accuses Moscow of backing the pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine's industrial east in a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives since April 2014.

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