MOSCOW, June 21 (RAPSI) — The draft law on the indigenous peoples of Ukraine is a tool for playing the Crimean card in the international arena, member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, chairman of the NOM Association Alexander Brod has observed.

When interviewed by RAPSI, the human rights activist reminded that since the adoption of the first post-Soviet version of the Ukrainian Constitution in June 1996, the concept of "indigenous peoples" has appeared in the legal framework of this country. Thus, the rights thereof, as well as the need for the adoption of special legal acts taking into account relevant international standards were mentioned in this document. Nevertheless, Brod noted, no practical steps to adopt the respective laws had been taken despite repeated appeals from the OSCE and international human rights organizations.

One of the major challenges for developing protection mechanisms for indigenous peoples is the lack of a clear definition thereof, since there is no any unambiguous definition in international law, Brod said. Thus, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by a General Assembly resolution in 2007, contains 48 paragraphs, which spell out the rights of indigenous peoples in detail. However, the very concept of indigenous peoples is absent from the document. Legal scholars have pointed out this legal uncertainty in their writings. It was also emphasized that, in fact, the problem of “indigenous peoples” was traditionally interpreted in the context of decolonization. As such were defined those ethnic and racial communities that lived in a particular territory, as autochthons, but then were subjected to pressure from the colonialists (assimilation policy, repression, deportation). This understanding was present in various comments of experts and UN officials, but in the end was not included in the Declaration of September 13, 2007, the human rights activist said.

The rights activist noted that it was in this context that the Ukrainian authorities considered the problem of indigenous peoples until 2014. Before the tragic events of the Euromaidan, they had been in no hurry to introduce this issue in the legislation. For two decades, the OSCE recommended Kiev to adopt an act recognizing the Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people. But the Ukrainian authorities were in no hurry with this. However, they were also careful in resolving other issues, whether it was the rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars who suffered from Stalin's deportation or the legitimization of the Kurultai, which claimed to express the opinion of the entire Crimean Tatar community of the country. In the same Kurultai, which declared back in 1991 an independent Crimean Tatar statehood, the authorities saw a separatist threat, Brod said.

According to the Human Rights Council member, the situation changed dramatically in February-March 2014, when Kiev faced efforts of self-determination and becoming a part of Russia on the part of the population of the Crimean peninsula. He reminded that then the Kurultai and the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people became strategic allies of the new Ukrainian authorities. Those began to promoted these organizations almost as the only representatives of the opinion of all Crimean Tatars, although in reality, until 2014, and after the accession of the peninsula to Russia, various public organizations of the Crimean Tatars operated on its territory. At the same time, many leaders of this movement were integrated into the power structures of two new subjects within Russia, and the language of the Crimean Tatars became the third state language in the Russian Crimea. But the authorities of post-Maidan Ukraine and their Western allies prefer not to see this diversity, reducing the entire problem of the Crimean Tatars to the activities of the Mejlis, Brod noted. According to him, it is significant that the very introduction of the bill on the indigenous peoples of Ukraine to the Verkhovna Rada was made by President Volodymyr Zelensky on May 18 of this year, on the Day of Remembrance of the deportations of the peoples of Crimea. However, in the text of the law, only the Crimean Tatars, Karaites and Krymchaks were defined as “indigenous peoples,” although among the victims of Stalin's deportations there were also Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks who had lived on the peninsula until May 1944. There is an attempt to use the concept of "indigenous peoples" (which in international law is tied to the processes of colonization-decolonization) to promote the anti-Russian Crimean discourse on the world stage, in which the Mejlis and Kurultay will be portrayed as spokespersons for the "indigenous people" of Ukraine, which are being discriminated by Russia and protected against this discrimination by Kiev. This plan is a simple one as it seeks to play on the feelings of the Crimean Tatars, to equate the crimes of the Stalinist regime with the so-called "Russian occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol." To advance this goal, the so-called "Crimean Platform" should be convened in August 2021; in its framework representatives of thirty countries should condemn Moscow for "annexation and occupation, Brod stressed.

The human rights activist also reminded that today representatives of Kiev say that the text of the bill has nothing to do with discriminatory practices and fully complies with all UN standards. However, on the example of the peoples of Crimea, we already see their division into first and second grade. After all, the Greeks, Bulgarians and Armenians have the right to "roots" on the peninsula no less than the Crimean Tatars. But the most important thing is the key definition of the bill. According to its text, only that an autochthonous ethnic community, which has formed on the territory of Ukraine, is a bearer of a distinctive language and culture, has traditional, social, cultural or representative bodies, considers itself an indigenous people of Ukraine, is an ethnic minority in the country and does not have its own sovereign state outside Ukraine. As a result, only the Crimean Tatars, Krymchaks and Karaites fell under this definition, Brod explained. 

He also noted that in the 2007 UN Declaration such restrictions as the presence or absence of "one's own state" are not spelled out. Moreover, the residents of Crimea, about whom the representatives of the Kiev authorities, including the Crimean Tatars, are concerned, now have Russian passports. And, therefore, they are not citizens of Ukraine. Their participation in the social and political life of Crimea and Sevastopol as part of Russia is completely ignored. On the other hand, Article 7 of the draft law states that the indigenous peoples of Ukraine, through their representative bodies, have the right to determine priorities and develop strategies to realize their right to development. This right includes participation in the development and implementation of state and regional programs, as well as other strategic and program documents on the basis of free, prior and informed consent on issues related to the rights and legitimate interests of the indigenous peoples of Ukraine, as well as the integration processes of Ukrainian society. Again, there is an identification of the entire Crimean Tartar people with the Kurultai and the Mejlis, which Kiev, without any election procedures, recognized as the spokespersons for the interests of the "indigenous groups", Brod emphasized. 

As the Human Rights Council member noted, at the same time, not a single ethnic minority on the territory of Ukraine is mentioned in the draft law in spite of the fact that, for instance, in the Beregovsky district of the Transcarpathian region of the country, the Hungarians make up 43% of the district's population. According to the 2001 census, there were 258.6 thousand Moldovans, 151 thousand Romanians, 144 thousand Poles in Ukraine. Even if the thesis that small ethnic groups are “indigenous peoples” is to be accepted, then all the representatives of different peoples listed above were formed in Ukraine and did not know another homeland. However, they did not fall under the definition of "indigenous peoples", just as the Transcarpathian Rusyns, who have their own identity, did not fall into this category, Brod said. 

According to him, in Ukraine there is no special law that would determine the legal status of indigenous peoples of Ukraine and establish clear guarantees for the realization of their right to self-determination. On the contrary, the proposed project directly contradicts the interpretations of the UN. No less indicative are the predictions given by the authors of the project that the adoption of this act will allow the indigenous peoples of Ukraine to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms defined by the norms of international law, as well as provided for in the Constitution and laws of Ukraine." It is not an idle question to what extent the division of the population into privileged and second-class people can help to promote high standards in the field of human rights, Brod said. 

The human rights activist stressed that the central issue of the current discussion is the absence of the Russians among the "indigenous peoples" of Ukraine. Brod noted that the answer is easy to get if one turns to the above-mentioned UN declaration. Thus, Article 2 of the document states that indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination,  in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity. Even more eloquent is Article 3: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." By adopting these norms, the authorities in Kiev will be forced to recognize the right of the Crimeans (including the Crimean Tatars) to express their will regarding the status of the peninsula, the right of Donbass residents to protect their cultural and linguistic rights (from the first days of the confrontation in southeastern Ukraine, opponents of the “Euromaidan” positioned themselves as supporters of federalization, not separatists). In the current conditions, these realities are unacceptable for the Ukrainian authorities. And therefore they give their own original interpretations of the concept of “indigenous peoples”, taking advantage of the existing legal inaccuracy in the definition of this phenomenon itself, Brod observed. Also, the second paragraph of Article 3 of the draft law states that indigenous peoples have the right to equal legal protection. Any discrimination against the indigenous peoples of Ukraine in the exercise of their rights is prohibited. However, why in this case Kiev singles out only three groups out of all the ethnic diversity of Ukraine, and in fact promotes a number of loyal socio-political structures? Discrimination against the Russians in Ukraine continues as exemplified by restrictions on education in Russian, rabid anti-Russian rhetoric, insult to WWII veterans, not to mention the shelling of Donbass, as a result of which civilians are killed and civilian objects are destroyed, the Human Rights Council member stressed.

According to Brod, the draft law on indigenous peoples is nothing more than a tool for playing the Crimean card in the international arena. Kiev, under both Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, refrains from making contact with representatives of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass. And thus there is a slowdown in the peace process, negotiations are not substantively conducted. In these conditions, it is important to turn the attention of the world community to Crimea, to present the position of Kiev as a defender of "small indigenous peoples" from the "Russian occupation", and also to provoke interethnic contradictions on the peninsula. This project has nothing to do with the rights of ethnic minorities inside Ukraine, the human rights activist concluded.