Russia warned Europe’s human rights tribunal it risks opening a “Pandora’s box” of politically motivated cases if it accepts Ukraine’s claims that Moscow-led forces committed atrocities in the Crimea.
The legal gambit by Russia’s Deputy Justice Minister Mikhail Galperin came as both sides faced off at the first public hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in the bitter dispute triggered by Russia’s take over of the Black Sea peninsula. Galperin’s move was quickly dismissed by the Ukrainian
side, which pointed to independent evidence from the United Nations to corroborate allegations.
“Ukraine’s written submissions are defective in many ways because they’re political” and are based “more on propaganda than direct evidence,” Galperin told a packed courtroom in Strasbourg, France.
Galperin then told the judges that if they accept the Ukraine case, a subsequent flood of other politically motivated cases “would obstruct the proper role of the court.”
Russia was suspended from the assembly of the Council of Europe, which oversees the human rights court, for its aggression and was only readmitted in June. Ukraine, which has brought four other applications against Russia before the court, also claims Russian militia harassed and intimidated priests and journalists, which Russia also denies.
Ben Emmerson, counsel for Ukraine, said the reason there are not more witnesses and witness testimony is that Russia had deliberately blocked access to investigators in Crimea.
Nevertheless, he said independently corroborated reporting by the United Nations Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights shows human rights violations, including torture of Ukrainian officers using electricity and knives. “The UN assesses there has been a dramatic worsening of human rights violations since Russia’s occupation of Crimea,” he said. “This is serious and credible evidence that requires serious investigation and more than meet the admissibility threshold.”
Michael Swainston, a lawyer for Russia in the case, added that Ukraine’s allegations are “overwhelmingly political that fail to meet the admissibility criteria” and should not be accepted for judgment.
“Where are the witness statements?” Swainston asked the court. “If Ukraine had a genuine case, there would be lots of statements from victims.”
Russia’s readmission to the Council of Europe assembly was supported by Germany and France, and at the G-7 Summit in Biarritz, French President Emmanuel Macron said isolating Russia from Europe would be a “profound” error.
Russia has shown little respect for other international courts where it’s been sued over its annexation of Crimea.