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On 14 January 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) accepted for consideration [1] the inter-State application lodged by Ukraine against Russia concerning human rights violations in the temporarily occupied Crimea, declaring it partly admissible. In Ukraine v. Russia (re Crimea),the Government of Ukraine provided evidence of repetitive violations of a number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by the Russian Federation, alongside with Russian official tolerance towards it. This decision is of utmost importance for Ukraine, as the complaints’ admissibility is a prerequisite for the Court to pursue the consideration of the case on the merits.

Here are the main aspects of yesterday’s decision.

  1. The Court established that it had sufficient evidence to conclude that Russia had exercised effective control over Crimea since 27 February 2014. This means that the responsibility for the violation of human rights in Crimea as from this date will be borne by the Russian Federation, as the State exercising jurisdiction over the peninsula territory. The start date of the exercise of effective control is also important. In fact, the Court refuted Russia’s argument that its jurisdiction over Crimea only began after the so-called “referendum,” i.e. after 18 March 2014. However, yesterday’s decision paves the way for substantiating Russia’s responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea before the illegal referendum.
  • The Court found that there was sufficient prima facia evidence to confirm 1) the repetitiveness of human rights violations and 2) official tolerance thereof by the Russian Federation. The presence of these two components allows alleging an administrative practice of human rights violations by Russia in Crimea. Among the violations allegedly committed by Russia are the following: enforced disappearances and the lack of an effective investigation in respect thereof, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, unlawful detention, lack of a fair trial due to extension of the application of Russian law to Crimea, suppression of non-Russian media, unlawful interference with the freedom of religion, illegal searches of private housings, ban on public gatherings, suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools, expropriation of private property with no compensation provided, illegal restriction of freedom of movement, and numerous cases of discrimination against Crimean Tatars. Having confirmed the admissibility of these complaints, the Court is going to proceed with their examination on the merits.
  • Several Ukrainian complaints were declared inadmissible by the Court, making it impossible to examine them on the merits. These include instances of killings, detention of foreign journalists and the nationalization of Ukrainian soldiers’ property, which have either been found to be isolated, falling out of the scope of administrative practice, or not substantiated by relevant evidence.
  • Finally, the Court decided to notify the Government of the Russian Federation of another Ukrainian application concerning the transfer of Ukrainian prisoners from Crimea to the Russian territory. The Court joined this complaint to Ukraine v. Russia (re Crimea) and decided to address its admissibility at a later stage.

Overall, yesterday’s decision of the Court became an expected and remarkable victory of Ukraine on the legal front of the fight against Russia. The first stage has been passed: the way to consider the merits of Ukrainian complaints in Strasbourg is now open.

Yaroslava Yudina, Strategic Lawyer at R2P

Text of the ECtHR decision is available