By Emily Young, University of Michigan
If change in international legal bodies is something we've asked for this week, the United Nations has responded promptly as Russia's standing invitation to the Human Rights Council, a table of forty-seven, has been rescinded. It's the first time a permanent Security Council member has been removed from the Human Rights Council, and you don't need to be a student in International Studies to see why. Although their removal has been widely attributed to the aerial bombings of Aleppo and their affairs in Syria's civil war, Russia's involvement in the heightened number of refugees and human rights violations in Crimea alone should kick them off their seat as a permanent Security Council member.
While the U.S media gives a lot of airtime to the refugees displaced from civil war and conflict in Syria, very little is given to another victim of Russian's neglectful practices: the Crimean Tatars. Although the Tatars are a pro-Ukrainian ethnic Muslim group with roots in Crimea, their Russian occupiers have denied their legitimacy as an indigenous population. Despite the lengthy history of Tatars in Russia dating back to their Khanate in the 1400's, under Russian law the people group must exceed '50,000' in accordance with 'Russian Ethnologists,' (and I'm sure one of them is named Vladimir Putin).
The annexation of Crimea has forced 24,000 Tatars to leave the country and those who are left behind face a "hybrid deportation," as explained by Greta Uehling in her lecture on Crimean Tatars at the University of Michigan. This deportation is hybrid because the Tatars do not always move countries, but are internally displaced in Crimea and Ukraine and face malicious conditions. How is it that Tatars face the same conditions as Russians who were forced to evacuate under Bolshevik rule, become stateless, and lose the protection of a nation? The USSR's decree denying soviet citizenship to all former imperial Russians abroad in 1921 must have served as a starting point for the Kremlin's policy on Crimean Tatars.
Putin's claim to "protect indigenous people" was and remains a bald-faced lie as Tatar's existence is threatened daily. Within the first months of Russian occupation, disappearances of Tatars, psychiatric imprisonments and deportations of leaders had begun. Common to Tatar communities today are the searches of homes, finger printing in mosques and perhaps most severe are the denial of voting rights, identity documents, ability to open a bank account in all of Ukraine, and recognition of diplomas. Putin's roll in Crimea has caused immense fear among the Tatars, as they believe it unsafe to even hold open conversation in their homes and their children are taught in schools that their parents are 'bad people.'
In Ukrainian and Russian communities, the word Tatar is made out to be synonymous with treasonous. This stems from a small number of Tatars migration to Nazi occupied territories during WWII, as they believed that they would encounter better living conditions under the Nazi regime than in Russia. The conditions imposed on the Tatars in Ukraine now are rooted in similar motives to the conditions imposed by Nazi Germans in the establishment of their homogenous nation state. Just as Nazi Germans were motivated in the founding of a policy of 'one state one people', Putin's dialogue with the Russian people and content spread by the media conveyed messages of mass approval and desire for a united Russian nation. Putin assured the Russian people of the 'solidarity' Crimea and Russia felt and how there would be a return to a "natural state of affairs;" as if the denial of self-determination and persecution of an indigenous peoples group was anything but inhumane.
Whereas the mass Russian deportation garnered a lot of attention from the United Nations with the establishment of the 1951 UN Convention where refugees were recognized officially for the first time, the Tatars continue to suffer. Even though Tatars are entitled to self-determination by the Declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it makes no difference without sanction to intervene. Russia is still seated at the table where all five countries must agree for any legal action to be taken: The Security Council. Why would an envoy to Putin agree to a policy that would weaken his idea of a nation? Diplomats are moving in the right direction by removing Russia from the Human Rights Council but until they're removed from the Security Council, violations such as these will remain as invisible to the U.S. population as Putin wants them to be.