Ukraine – Україна
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.
Five years after the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine began, and there is little sign of resolution. Though ‘Europe’s forgotten war’ no longer dominates international headlines, countless people have been – and continue to be – subjected to a wide range of human rights abuses, including: arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, forced labour and torture. The European Court of Human Rights has received over 4000 individual applications related to the annexation of Crimea or the hostilities in eastern Ukraine, many of which have been lodged against both Russia and Ukraine.
EHRAC and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) are at the forefront of representing victims of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In Spring 2018, we replied to the European Court’s questions and the Ukrainian and Russian Governments’ observations about what happened to four people who were detained by armed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. All four individuals claim that they were ill-treated and made to perform forced labour for the militants. In another 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 demilitarised humanitarian corridor. We also represent a man who was seriously injured while engaged in military duty on behalf of the Ukrainian authorities in the Luhansk region of the country. He was first detained in hospital and then imprisoned by representatives of the unrecognised Luhansk People’s Republic. The inhuman conditions he was kept in hampered his recovery. The man was later released in September 2016 as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia. As well as establishing responsibility for human rights violations in the Luhansk region, this case highlights the need for greater clarity on prisoner exchange in Russia and Ukraine.
We are litigating the first group of cases stemming from the conflict in eastern Ukraine. These cases will set a crucial precedent for how the European Court examines thousands more. Our cutting-edge litigation – which has attracted international media attention – 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 (the laws of armed conflict) and human rights law. We recently commissioned Forensic Architecture, a digital investigations agency based at the University of London, to gather and present evidence of Russian military presence in and around Ilovaisk in August 2014. They have created a publicly viewable online platform of evidence identified and verified using open source investigation techniques and specially programmed web-crawling algorithms based on machine learning. This evidence will be appended to a case that we are litigating on behalf of 25 Ukrainian volunteer combatants who fought in the Battle of Ilovaisk. The volunteer combatants were first captured by Russian Armed Forces before being unlawfully handed over to separatists from the unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic who detained and ill-treated them until their release between December 2014 and June 2015. It is the first time that evidence of this type has been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights.
We act for the Crimean Mejlis (the body representing the Crimean Tatars) as they seek to challenge designation as an ‘extremist’ organisation and their subsequent ban by authorities in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, alongside our partners UHHRU and Memorial Human Rights Centre. The Crimean Tatars are the indigenous people of the Crimean peninsula, and the Mejlis was set up to represent their interests to the Ukrainian Government following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1944 more than 180,000 Crimean Tatars (most of the indigenous population at the time) were deported to Central Asia under the Stalinist regime in an act of ethnic cleansing. One of the aims of the Mejlis is to address the consequences of the brutal deportation, along with protecting and exercising the rights of Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people.
Since the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, the Mejlis has consistently refuted that Crimea is part of Russia. It is thought that the banning of the Mejlis, as well as other systemic repressive measures against Crimean Tatars, is a form of retribution against them. The activities of the Mejlis have been suspended, and some Mejlis members have been harassed, prosecuted or jailed by the Russian authorities. Other members have been forced to leave Crimea and relocate to Kyiv. We lodged their case at the European Court in March 2017. It is the first case that EHRAC is litigating jointly with both Ukrainian and Russian partners, an important moment for our international collaboration on human rights litigation.
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.
Ukraine’s judicial system has long been beset by endemic corruption and undue political influence. We represented Oleksandr Volkov in a landmark case concerning his dismissal as a Judge in the Ukrainian Supreme Court due to an alleged “breach of oath” in May 2010. The European Court later ruled that Ukraine had violated his rights. Volkov’s case was the first in which the European Court has ordered a person to be reinstated. He was ultimately reinstated as a Supreme Court Judge in 2015, after the Ukrainian parliament voted decisively to overturn its 2010 resolution to dismiss him. Ukraine has since undertaken root-and-branch constitutional and legislative reform – with the aim of improving the independence and impartiality of the judicial system – as a direct result of the Volkov judgement.
Building on the success of Volkov v Ukraine, we won yet another case on behalf of eleven Ukrainian domestic court judges in 2017. They had all been dismissed from their posts between 2008 and 2013 following proceedings brought against them for alleged “breach of oath”. A further case, Denisov v Ukraine, was relinquished to the Grand Chamber of the European Court. We represented the applicant, Anatoliy Denisov, who had been dismissed from his post as President of the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal, by the Ukrainian High Council of Justice (HCJ), in absentia (while on leave seeking medical treatment) in 2011. In September 2018, the European Court found that Denisov’s right to a fair trial had been violated, and that the HCJ was not sufficiently impartial and independent.
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.