Top European court finds Russia guilty of rights violations in Crimea

Ukraine wins its first interstate case against Russia over systematic violations of human rights on its occupied peninsula.

European Court of Human Rights
The courtroom in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France [File: Patrick Seeger/EPA]

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found Russia guilty of systematic violations of human rights in Ukraine’s occupied Crimean peninsula.

The verdict on Tuesday in the first interstate case brought by Ukraine against Russia over Crimea said that the rights breaches starting in February 2014, when Moscow occupied and annexed the peninsula, included violations of the right to life, inhuman or degrading treatment, the prohibition of freedom of religion and freedom of expression, among others.

The court based in Strasbourg, France, said in its unanimous judgement that there was sufficient evidence – corroborated by a range of witness testimony and reports from nongovernmental organisations – to find Russia guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

It said the “incidents had been sufficiently numerous and interconnected” and amounted to a “system of violations”.

The court ordered Russia “to take measures as soon as possible for the safe return of the relevant prisoners transferred from Crimea to penal facilities located on the territory of the Russian Federation”.

The impact of the decision is likely to be limited as Russia refuses to recognise the judgements of the court.

The country was expelled from the Council of Europe in the wake of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. As a result, it is no longer a member of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the court in Strasbourg enforces.

However, the court can still rule on incidents that occurred before Russia’s expulsion. The case in question on Tuesday dates back to March 2014.

‘Great achievement’

A top Ukrainian presidential official hailed the ruling as “a great achievement” of international jurisprudence.

“Ukraine has become closer to restoring justice,” Iryna Mudra, deputy head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, said on X.

Margarita Sokorenko, Ukraine’s representative for the ECHR, said the ruling “essentially nullified Russia’s ten-year narrative that human rights are respected in Crimea”.

“This is a crushing decision of the ECHR for the aggressor! The ECHR recognised that the government of Ukraine has proven the existence of systematic violations of our citizens since the beginning of Russia’s occupation of Crimea in February 2014,” she wrote on Facebook.

The government of Ukraine argued in this case that since February 27, 2014, Russia exercised a campaign of repression against non-Russians in Crimea that included disappearances, illegal detentions, ill-treatment, the inability to renounce Russian citizenship, the suppression of the Ukrainian media and the functioning of the Ukrainian language in schools, as well as the transfer from Crimea to remote prisons in Russia.

Russia had previously denied accusations it violated human rights and oppressed political opponents on the peninsula. It stopped participating in the ECHR proceedings in 2022.

Source: News Agencies