I would like to thank the Secretariat of UNESCO for organizing this meeting, and UNESCO partners (Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Amnesty International and ICOMOS) for their participation and respective inputs.
These days we are marking a tragic 5th anniversary of the occupation of Crimea that have resulted in increasing degradation of human rights situation, icluding the areas of UNESCO responsibility, caused by a purposeful policy of the Russian authorities aimed at drastically limiting or denying a large part of Crimea’s population the possibility to exercise its legitimate rights and freedoms to education, expression, conscience and religion; the right to a peaceful assembly and association; freedom of the media and access to information. This alarming negative evolution has been condemned in the latest UN General Assembly Resolution A/73/L.48 “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine”of 22 December 2019.
Brutal attacks unleashed by the Russian occupying authorities against Medjls, representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, its leaders and members are in brazen defiance of the Order of the International Court of Justice that stipulated illegality of the ban imposed on the Medjlis activities by Russia. During the days preceding this meeting the occupying authorities have unleashed one of the biggest waves of repressions targeting Crimean Tatars: 25 homes were illegally searched, at least 24 people were detained, dozens of innocent people were brutally beaten. It shows again that the world is witnessing what Crimean Tatars qualify as their “creeping deportation”.
An ever-growing pressure is being exerted on religious communities in Crimea in order to suppress those who are considered “disloyal” to the occupation regime. In particular, the major cathedral of the newly created Ukrainian Orthodox Church – the Cathedral of Saints Volodymyr and Olha in the center of Simferopol – has been recently confiscated by the Russian authorities that are trying to drive this Church out of Crimea. On the 3 March 2019 Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea Klyment was detained without any legal grounds for several hours by a local police at the central bus station in Simferopol. Archbishop, being the head of the Orthodox mission to help victims of human rights violations and persons deprived of their freedom, was going to attend court hearings on the case of Ukrainian political prisoner Pavlo Hryb in Russia's Rostov-on-Don. Obviously, the detention of Archbishop Klyment was a revenge of the occupying power for his human rights activities and his efforts to save the cathedral from brutal confiscation.
Linguistic and educational rights are of particular concern, since the constant violations of the UNESCO 1960 Convention against Discrimination in Education are widespread in the occupied Crimea. The education in and of the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages is disappearing in Crimea due to massive compulsory “re-education” of secondary and high school personnel for teaching in Russian as well as through direct and indirect pressure on school administrations, teachers, parents and children to discontinue teaching in and of this languages, which further limit the presence of the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian culture on the peninsula. In particular, the attitude of the occupying power to ensuring the education in Crimean Tatar language is far from meeting the requirements of safeguarding this language, which, according to the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, has a status of “Severely endangered” one. At the same time, the militarization of secondary education is becoming more and more visible, with introduction of subjects related to military training and establishment of "military-patriotic camps" with shameless use of children's recreation facilities, including "Artek", which before the occupation had the status of UNESCO category 2 center.
Together with degradation of the state of conservation of the cultural heritage and its ongoing misappropriation, illegal excavations and illicit trafficking in the valuable objects of art in total disrespect to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) have become sad realities of the period of occupation.
The scope of illegal archeological activity in Crimea is growing at alarming rates: 38 scientists from different institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and 6 state institutions engaged in illegal archaeological excavations on the Crimean peninsula have posted official records upon the results of their activities in the journals of the mentioned Academy as well as in their reports to numerous scientific conferences, some of which were held in the occupied Crimea.
One of the most recent examples are the illicit archeological excavations at Bakhchysaray Crimean Khans Palace. This site of unique cultural significance has already been put to the brink of destruction and loss of its historic authenticity due to so-called restoration works maintained in a total defiance of international law, in particular of UNESCO 1954 and 1972 Conventions, which is being continuously communicated by Ukraine to the World Heritage Center and ICOMOS. The so-called archaeological expedition led by a dean of the history faculty of the so-called Crimean federal university named after V.Vernadskiy already boasted of having unearthed over 10 thousand artefacts in the course of ravaging of this unique historic site authorized by the occupying authorities.
A total lack of transparency and an atmosphere of impunity of the perpetrators of these violations further aggravate the deplorable human rights situation in the occupied Crimea. According to Freedom House freedom of speech index in Crimea has fallen to one of the lowest in the world since 2014. The organization’s report reads that on a 100-point scale, where 100 is the worst index, the peninsula got 94 points and was included in the list of “worst of the worst” territories in the world.
It attests again to the importance of the monitoring human rights situation in Crimea by international organizations and bodies. Thus, I would like to express our appreciation of the work done by the UNESCO Secretariat to launch the direct monitoring activity aimed at collecting the first-hand evidence of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine) within the areas of its competence. In fact, their first visit to the continental Ukraine constitutes an important step, which should lead to the creation of UNESCO’s comprehensive monitoring mechanism, where the core element of direct monitoring will be efficiently complemented by the indirect one based on the exchange of information with the institutional partners of UNESCO. We believe that this step has made the implementation of the relevant decisions of the Executive Board irreversible, and fully support the announced intention of the Secretariat to continue the positive practice of programmatic visits before the 207th session of the Board. This activity should eventually allow to cover all the main fields within UNESCO’s mandate.
On behalf of my country, I would like to assure you that Ukraine remains open to further dialogue with the Secretariat, members of the Executive Board, member States of UNESCO in order to fully implement the decisions of the Board concerning the follow-up of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukraine), and to find the practical ways to redress the situation in Crimea within the spheres of this organization’s competence.