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Security of minorities and indigenous peoples vital to stability in post-election period in Ukraine, says MRG

29 May 2014

The security of minorities and indigenous peoples in eastern and southern Ukraine is key to calming the volatile region and re-establishing peaceful dialogue in place of conflict, says Minority Rights Group Europe, following Sunday’s presidential elections and the current instability in Ukraine.

‘When human rights are ignored at the expense of minority communities, a dangerous pattern emerges and the seeds for growing tension are sown,’ says Neil Clarke, the Director of MRG Europe.

The crucial poll took place against a backdrop of increasing instability and amidst conflict between pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces in the country’s restive regions. Many people, including minorities were denied the opportunity to vote, particularly in the regions of eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian groups have taken control and proclaimed autonomy.

While most attention in the international media has focused on the election, as well as the division between pro-Russia and Ukraine sides, many smaller minority communities have also been exposed to increased insecurity.

With reports coming in on 29 May that a Ukrainian government helicopter was downed by pro-Russian forces near Slovyansk, a city within the Donetsk Oblast, the conflict appears to be entering a more intensive – and risky – phase. In fact, many Roma families had already left the area, after reported attacks by an armed group on Roma communities in the city in April.

According to a recent UN fact-finding mission (one of the few comprehensive sources due to limited access to Crimea), minorities and indigenous peoples have been exposed to increasing pressure, harassment or violence in eastern and southern Ukraine. Among the most vulnerable have been the Crimean Tatars, Karays (Karaites) and Krymchaks, Roma, Jews, Muslims, ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians.

After the Russian annexation of Crimea in March, the changing institutional and legal framework evinces human rights concerns related to citizenship, property and labour rights, access to health and education.

‘In negotiations with the new Ukrainian government, led by President Petro Poroshenko, the authorities in Crimea, including the Russian government, need to work to bring an end to violence and intimidation of minorities and indigenous peoples, and ensure a justice system in the whole of Ukraine that identifies and prosecutes perpetrators, especially the ringleaders,’ says Clarke.

MRG has first-hand evidence that access to the Crimea region is limited for non-Russian NGOs, and many NGO workers and activists have left the area or gone underground due to fear of harassment. The rights organisation is concerned that there is a critical gap in the monitoring and reporting of human rights, which typically leaves minority communities vulnerable to abuse.

The registered number of displaced people in Ukraine exceeds 7,000 according to UNHCR. The majority are Crimean Tatars, although there are reports of an increased registration of ethnic Ukrainians, ethnically mixed families and ethnic Russians.

In Crimea, the building of the Parliament of the Crimean Tatar people was recently attacked and female employees were harassed verbally and physically. The ex-chairman of the Parliament, Mustafa Jemilev, was added to the list, issued by the State Council of Crimea, of people declared persona non grata. Jemilev, along with other Crimean Tatars, has been restricted from entering Crimea.

Following the Russian annexation, the Islamic political group Hizb ut-Tahrir was banned, leading to reports that members had fled Crimea due to fear of prosecution. Other Muslims openly practicing Islam, including many Crimean Tatars, fear the religious card will now be played against them.

Based on the findings of her mission in early April to Kyiv, Uzhgorod, Odessa and Donetsk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák, noted that official attention to minority issues had declined in recent years and warned of growing tension in some localities.

‘It creates more conflict if the denial of a group’s identity and land rights, and discrimination and hate speech go un-addressed over and over again,’ says Clarke. ‘All authorities will have a crucial role to play in decreasing violence, hostility and discrimination against minorities and indigenous peoples. Not only are minority and indigenous rights going to be an essential part of any peaceful reconciliation process in Ukraine, but the active participation of minority communities themselves will be crucial to finding effective solutions.’

For more information or to arrange interviews with local partners please contact:

Bernadett Sebály – MRG Press Office
T: +36 1 327 7032
M: +3670 217 2601
E: [email protected]

Twitter: @MinorityRights