EHRAC formally started litigating in partnership in Ukraine in 2014, in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ensuing conflict in the Donbas region. We had previously litigated a series of cases concerning the independence of the judiciary, which have led to ongoing constitutional and legislative reform. We are now taking cases concerning the conflict in eastern Ukraine itself, as well as Ukrainian citizens being detained in Russia, discrimination against the Crimean Tatar population, and other issues arising from Russian occupation, both in mainland Ukraine and on the peninsula.
Almost four years after the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine began, there is little sign of resolution. Though the conflict no longer dominates international news, countless people have been – and continue to be – subjected to a wide range of human rights abuses. The European Court of Human Rights has received approximately 3700 applications related to the conflict and the annexation of Crimea, many of which have been lodged against both Russia and Ukraine (December 2017). EHRAC and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) have been at the forefront of representing victims of the conflict: in January 2018, the European Court sought responses from the Ukrainian and Russian Governments about what happened to four people whom we represent, when they were detained by armed ‘separatists’ in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
We are also litigating the first group of cases due to be decided by the European Court stemming from the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which will set the precedent for how it examines thousands more. In one case, a volunteer combatant sent by the Ukrainian authorities to fight ‘separatists’ in Donetsk was killed as his battalion came under heavy fire, allegedly while passing through a ‘humanitarian corridor’. EHRAC’s cutting-edge litigation on this conflict will not only establish the extent of Russian responsibility in this ongoing conflict, but will also strengthen the case law on the interplay between international humanitarian law (i.e. the law of armed conflict and war) and human rights law.
Of course, conflict does not only affect civilians. We also represent a man who was seriously injured while engaged in military duty on behalf of the Ukrainian authorities in Luhansk region. He was detained in hospital, then prison, by the ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’s’ authorities in inhuman conditions, which hampered his recovery. He was released in September 2016 as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia. As well as establishing responsibility for human rights violations in Luhansk, this case highlights the need for greater clarity on prisoner exchange in Russia and Ukraine.
Alongside UHHRU and Memorial HRC, we act for the Crimean Mejlis (the body representing the indigenous Crimean people, the Crimean Tatars) as they seek to challenge their designation as an ‘extremist’ organisation, and subsequent banning by the Russian authorities. Some Mejlis members have been forced to relocate to Kyiv. Since the Russian occupation of Crimea began in March 2014, the Mejlis has consistently refuted that Crimea is part of Russia, and it is thought that the banning of the Mejlis, as well as other systemic repressive measures against Crimean Tatars, is a form of retribution. We lodged their case at the European Court in March 2017.
Mr Klikh and Mr Karpiuk are both Ukrainian citizens who have been detained in Russia since 2014. On 19 May 2016, they were both convicted by the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic of pre-meditated murder and attempted pre-meditated murder of members of the Russian armed forces during the first Chechen war between 1994 and 1995. They both deny the charges against them. EHRAC and UHHRU represent Mr Klikh and Mr Karpyuk in their cases before the European Court of Human Rights, where they argue they have been subjected to torture. The two men are still in prison, and there are concerns about their deteriorating physical and psychological health.
In January 2017, we won a case on behalf of eleven Ukrainian judges from various levels of the judiciary, all of whom had been dismissed for an alleged ‘breach of oath’. As a direct result of a similar case, decided in 2013, in which EHRAC represented Supreme Court Judge Oleksandr Volkov, Ukraine has made substantial changes to legislation and the constitution with the aim of improving the independence and impartiality of the judicial system and judicial accountability. However, the Court decided to relinquish one case from this group to its Grand Chamber, and in October, we represented Anatoliy Denisov, who had been dismissed as President of the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal. We argued that the Government had decisive control over the appointment and removal of the Court President, which fundamentally undermines a key component of the rule of law. The Court President in turn has substantial influence over which judge hears particular cases, and how court decisions and legislation are executed. The judgment in this case is expected in 2018.
UHHRU is the largest association of human rights organisations in Ukraine. The Union brings together 29 non-government human rights organisations. The goal of UHHRU is to protect human rights. UHHRU considers itself as part of the Helsinki movement and continues to promote the traditions and activities of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords on Human Rights – the UHG.
Founded in July 2013, RCHR is focused on human rights protection on both the international and domestic levels. Based in Sevastopol until 2014, members of the organisation were forced to leave the territory of Crimea after the annexation of Crimea by Russia. In July 2014, RCHR re-registered in Kyiv. RCHR is a member of “The Initiative Group on Human Rights in Crimea”, which consists of more than 30 human rights organisations in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Germany, as well as other international organisations. RCHR is also a member of the “Coalition for the International Criminal Court” which includes about 2,500 NGOs from more than 150 countries.