As for November 2019, 20% of judges in the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol were citizens of the Russian Federation. Thus, today, in gross violation of international law, at least 104 foreign nationals administer “justice” in the occupied territories. And without the consent of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Regional Center for Human Rights, and the Chrot expert-analytical group conducted research on the judicial process under the occupation of Crimea.
Its results clearly confirm the fact that the Russian Federation does not fulfil its obligations as an occupying power in the field of justice. And pursues a policy aimed at replacing former Ukrainian judges with their own citizens. They openly violate civil rights in Crimea and persecute civilians for political and religious reasons.
Treason in 2014
The extremely unstable political situation that has developed on the peninsula since the end of February 2014 has affected the functioning of courts in the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. Formally, they still remained Ukrainian, but within the courts themselves, the possibility of “joining the peninsula to Russia” was already being openly considered. Ukrainian flags were removed from court buildings. They were also removed from most courtrooms. Judges began to openly ignore the norm of Ukrainian legislation on the use of the state language, using Russian during court hearings.
Even before the adoption of the Law on the “Entry of Crimea into the Russian Federation,” in many courts there were calls to study the legislation of the Russian Federation and the transition to justice on its basis. In particular, the Chairman of the Court of Appeal of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea V. Chornobuk openly called on the judges to do so. Later, he was one of the first to give a lecture to Crimean judges on the “introduction into Russian law,” and the court headed by him posted on its website (on the domain gov.ua) the Russian coat of arms and a link to the website of the President of the Russian Federation.
Only a few judges demonstrated endurance and fidelity to the oath during this difficult time of crisis and continued to listen to cases under Ukrainian law. Most of them later left the territory of the Peninsula and continued to work as judges in mainland Ukraine.
It should be noted that in the first months of the occupation of Crimea for “persons replacing judges” on the territory of the Peninsula, numerous seminars were held to study the legislation of the Russian Federation and the legal practice of Russian courts. At the same time, most judges understood that their level of competence in Russian law could not be compared with judges from the Russian Federation. And in the future, it will be difficult for them to compete with them on an equal footing in matters of appointment. Therefore, some judges saw a way to “serve” the Russian authorities by making decisions that were beneficial to them. Thus, counting on maintaining the status of a judge after the end of the so-called “transitional period.”
As for the judges who remained in the occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, they transferred to the service of the Russian Federation and continued to administer justice under its jurisdiction – the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine opened criminal proceedings, namely, according to Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – high treason. 276 former Crimean and Sevastopol judges were reportedly suspected.
Analysis of the judicial system in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as of the beginning of the occupation (taking into account subsequent changes in the Ukrainian judicial system), allows us to conclude that it has significant differences from the Ukrainian.
The transformation of the Ukrainian judicial system into the Russian one was initiated by the Russian Federation immediately after the decision on the “accession of Crimea” was made at the legislative level and lasted for a little over 10 months. During this time:
– the institute of an investigating judge was liquidated (which has existed in Ukraine since 2012);
– the activity of administrative courts was suspended;
– military courts, which do not exist in the system of Ukrainian justice, were established;
– the institute of justices of the peace, not peculiar to the Ukrainian judicial system, was introduced, and the system of world justice on the Peninsula was created.
With the transition of the courts to the “rails of Russian justice,” the Crimean citizens began numerous searches, “raids” and arrests. For example, during mass searches of Tatars in March 2019, the Kremlin-controlled Head of Crimea Sergei Aksenov publicly supported the actions of the FSB in a special statement:
“The government of the Republic fully supports the measures taken. Thanks to the police for their professional, systematic work. All investigative actions are conducted within the law, within previously initiated criminal cases. Any talk of alleged repression on the Peninsula, lies and demagoguery, are an attempt to give the case a political color. Crime and extremism have no nationality or religion. All members of banned organisations working in the interests of foreign states will be held accountable in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation, regardless of nationality”.
Tetyana Lokshina, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, told Crimea.Realii about her impressions of the monitoring trip to Crimea after the 2019 mass arrests.
“Probably the most memorable level of human grief was the one that flooded. Families who at one moment lost their breadwinners, husbands, parents. These arrests, which we documented last spring, were, of course, political. People were arrested for their civil position, for their disagreement with the Russian occupation. In this situation, it was the arrests of last spring that became a working priority for us, because nothing like this should happen. But a long time has passed, and people remain in prison on trumped-up, politically motivated charges. Now, their fate is of particular concern because we are all in a situation of crisis with the coronavirus, and especially vulnerable are people who are in closed institutions, including pre-trial detention.
In its turn, on 27 July 2020, information on 3,952 victims of property rights violations in Crimea was passed to the International Criminal Court. The report was prepared by the Regional Center for Human Rights and the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea on the basis of monitoring court decisions.
A total of 250 victims were identified who had their real estate demolished. 3,702 people had their land confiscated by the Russian authorities with a total area of at least 355 hectares. The main arguments of the occupiers when the victims went to court were: the illegality of the land transfer into ownership; lack of originals of the necessary documents in the archives on the Peninsula; assignment of lands to places of special regime (after 2014); “illegality” of permits on building issued by Ukrainian authorities.
This is “occupied justice.”