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MRG statement on the situation in Ukraine

23 September 2014

Human Rights Council – 27th session

Thank you Mr. President,

Mister High Commissioner,

The issue of minorities, their place in the Ukrainian society, the safeguard of their rights, and their participation in the political decision-making processes have been at the center of the crisis in Ukraine. All parties to the conflict accuse the other of disregarding minority rights, be it to the detriment of Russian speakers in Ukraine, or of Crimean Tatars in Crimea. Indeed, the political tensions, aggravated by rhetoric used by media, and the takeover of parts of the territory by armed groups, have prompted an environment conducive to hate speech, discrimination and violence targeting minorities.

MRG firmly believes that, as rightly stressed in the report of the Monitoring Mission, the protection of minorities is not only a challenge and a human rights imperative for Ukraine, it is also part of the solution of the conflict, and a way to prevent further degradations. Ukraine is home to a rich diversity of ethno-linguistic minorities, with not only a large Russian speaking minority, but also Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Poles, Hungarians, Jews, Roma among others. These groups should be fully confident that their right to equal participation in public affairs and public life, as well as their linguistic rights, will be guaranteed.

Mister High Commissioner,

MRG also shares your view that the Government of Ukraine should ‘prioritize addressing systemic and structural issues affecting human rights through institutional reform’. It is not only about reassuring minorities. Ukraine should proceed with a number of long standing issues relating to its legal and policy framework for minorities. The government should take a number of steps in that regard.

  • Firstly, the Ukrainian domestic law lacks a clear definition of what constitutes a national minority and does not provide any affirmative action to guarantee minority rights. This should be addressed.
  • Secondly, all minority languages should be protected by law. This includes not only the Russian language, but also the language of Crimean Tatars, which has been classified by UNESCO as severely endangered, as well as Krymchak, Karaites, Bulgarian, Hungarian and others.
  • Thirdly, special attention should be devoted to the Roma population, which is particularly marginalized, and suffer high levels of poverty and systemic discriminations. While MRG welcomes the adoption of the ‘National Action Plan on Roma Inclusion’, the supporting budget is still needed, and more efforts should be made to include fully the Roma communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of this action plan.
  • Lastly, it is regrettable that only a few community representatives are members of the Council and Committee in charge of minority-related issues, and that these issues are kept within the narrow remit of the Ministry of Culture. Again, participation of minority communities in the policies affecting them is key to guaranteeing their effectiveness.

Finally, the situation of Crimean Tatar and Tatar activists is an ongoing motive of concern for our organization. One of our partners on the field, Nadir Bekirov, has been assaulted last week and his passport has been stolen, effectively preventing him from attending the UN World Conference on Indigenous peoples. Intimidation, discrimination and persecution has been continuously reported. They must be investigated and measures should be taken to ensure that this indigenous population remains free from violence and discrimination.

Mister President,

This crisis should be an opportunity to tackle these long-standing issues and establish safeguards to minority rights. It will be key to allow all components of the society to find their place in a new democratic, stable and inclusive Ukraine.

I thank you.