U.N. Warns of Grave Dangers in Crimea as Monitors Arrive
In the buildup to Crimea’s referendum on joining Russia, senior United Nations human rights officials highlighted the dangers involved for Tatars, an ethnic minority in the area, as well as journalists reporting on the state of affairs in the region. Word of beatings of activists and widespread fear among Tatars have emerged from Crimea despite limited access ahead of the March 16 referendum, the U.N. news center reports. Monitoring in the region by the U.N. has already begun.
Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, told reporters on March 14 that a team of monitors headed for Crimea couldn’t enter the area when authorities said there was no way to guarantee the mission’s safety. The U.N. officials reported that fear among Ukrainian Tatars was palpable though there were no signs they had begun to flee Crimea en masse.
Meanwhile, civilian activists and journalists told U.N officials of being tortured and harrassed at security checkpoints on their way through Crimea, with armed men simulating executions on some before letting them pass. Several remained missing in Crimea at the time of writing. Simonovic was unwilling to call the beatings, kidnappings, and intimidation tactics as directed specifically at ethnic Tatars, saying it may be old-fashioned political backlash in Crimea. However, the level of concern was high.
“I have been informed about cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture…and other human rights violations committed by members of unidentified armed groups,” Simonovic said, per the U.N. news center. “Paramilitary forces must be disarmed and the rule of law must be re-established in Crimea by those who have the power to do so.”
Despite the difficulty of bringing the U.N. team into Crimea, the Geneva-based alliance of nations said monitors would be on the ground in the Ukraine indefintely.
In addition to verifying and reporting to the news media on the state of affairs in Crimea and the Ukraine as a whole, Ivan Simonovic said the U.N. monitors would try to combat the effects of propaganda “for manipulation, promotion of political agendas or to spread fear and insecurity in the country.”
One group fearing the worst in Crimea is the Tatars, a Sunni Muslim group that makes up 12 percent of the population. According to Reuters, Russian officials have tried to court Tatar leaders with promises of enhanced rights and representation in governing bodies. Currently, many Tatars are unable to own property.
U.N. officials said they saw no systemic mistreatment of Tatars in their latest fact-finding mission, but nearly all Tatars interviewed were quick to declare their fear about the events ahead, especially the shift to Russian rule. The U.N.’s monitors hope they can provide some relief in these very chaotic times in Crimea and the rest of the Ukraine.