September 30, 2016, Oliver Loode, a member of the Minority Rights Group and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, made a statement on the banning of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people.

Statement on the decision of Russia’s Supreme Court to uphold ban of the Mejlis

Yesterday’s decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to uphold the ban of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, the representative body of Crimean Tatars, regretfully completes the process of denying collective rights of Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Crimea, by the occupying state. Moreover, it lays the groundwork for a new wave of harassment and violence towards Crimean Tatars.
As I have previously stated, the original decision by the “Supreme Court of Crimea” on April 26 to ban the Mejlis on grounds of extremism directly violated the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which affirms the right of indigenous peoples to, among else, “maintain their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions” (Article 5) and whereby “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions” (Article 19). After yesterday, these violations of collective rights of Crimean Tatars have received full state support.

Moreover, yesterday’s decision by Russia’s Supreme Court completely ignores Recommendation No. 22 of the 15th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), adopted in May 2016, according to which “The Permanent Forum calls upon States to support the activities of representative institutions of indigenous peoples and to avoid any practice of limitation of such activities. The Forum urges all States to enable the functioning of indigenous peoples’ institutions, in accordance with articles 5, 18 and 19 of the United Nations Declaration, as well as its spirit and intent.”

In fact, the decision by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to uphold a ban of a representative institution of an entire people is unprecedented in the 21st century, which has seen many States instead strengthen their commitment to protecting both collective and individual human rights of indigenous peoples.

What makes this most recent banning of the Mejlis by the Russian Federation particularly disturbing is that, in addition to ignoring the global consensuson minimum standards of human rights of indigenous peoples, it constitutes a state-sanctioned attack against CrimeanTatar people as a whole, effectively denying their self-identification as a distinct people. By labelling the Mejlis, and by extension a large part of the Crimean Tatar population as “extremist”, Russia has finalized the judicial framework that will now enable it to harass even more Crimean Tatars, leading to more criminal charges, political prisoners and victims of violence.  

As such, yesterday’s decision to uphold the ban of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people bears a resemblance to the first wave of Anti-Jewish legislation of Nazi Germany in 1933-34, both in its symbolic significance and potential consequences. It is a moral duty of the international community, including the United Nations system, its Member States and international civil society to apply pressure to the Russian Federation to revoke the unjust ban on the Mejlis, and to eventually restore the rights of Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Crimea in line with international law and norms.

Oliver Loode
Member, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)