One of Europe’s top international tribunals will consider a complaint brought by Ukraine into alleged human rights breaches by Russian authorities on the disputed Crimean Peninsula, according to a ruling published on Thursday.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has determined that part of the case, relating to events following the 2014 Maidan uprising in Kiev, falls within its jurisdiction and can be heard by its judges. Specifically, Ukraine’s lawyers insist that Russian troops were an “active participant” when armed locals stormed Crimea’s legislative buildings, and in confining members of the Ukrainian military to their barracks in February of that year.
While the court has not ruled on the veracity of these claims, it has decided that Russia exercised effective control over the region at the time, and therefore can be considered a party to the dispute. Moscow’s lawyers had previously said that Crimea only became part of the country in March 2014, after it was reabsorbed into Russia following a referendum. They add that Russian forces had always been present in the area by agreement with Kiev, and were not responsible for the unrest.
Responding to the news, the Russian Ministry of Justice said that it will continue to defend against the allegations, and noted that the court had concluded that a number of claims were unproven. These, it said, in a statement later on Thursday, included “alleged cases of murder of civilians, groundless accusations of detention and intimidation of foreign journalists, illegal seizure of property of Ukrainian soldiers, and discrimination against ethnic Ukrainians.”
The decision means that the court will now consider the substance of the allegations, and issue a ruling on the long-running dispute at a later date. The panel included judges from both Ukraine and Russia, as well as German, British, Czech, and Azerbaijani justices.
The court notes that there are now three inter-state disputes over events in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and the Sea of Azov, as well as 7,000 individual applications for cases to be heard. Previously, Russia had warned that accepting the basis of the claims risks opening a “Pandora’s Box” of politically motivated lawsuits.
Moscow has previously refused to put international rulings ahead of the country’s domestic laws. In 2016, Russia’s Constitutional Court refused to accept an ECHR decision over prisoners’ rights to vote, arguing that it would contradict the basic principles of the Constitution. In December, the same court said that Russia could refuse to pay what is considered to be the world’s largest legal bill, if a Dutch tribunal rules against the country in a case over the collapsed Yukos oil empire. The judges again insisted that no international agreement could trump the rulings of Russian courts.
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