In March 2014, two Crimean men stopped by a train station in the port city of Sevastopol to pick up a package of Ukrainian flags and were quickly apprehended. Blindfolded, their arms tied behind their backs, they were subjected to daily beatings, violent interrogations, and electro shock. The screams of torture around them indicated that the number of captives was growing. Andriy Schekun and Anatoly Kovalsky told Human Rights Watch they believed their assailants included Russian security agents—professionals referred to as “Russian investigators” by the local collaborators. In the 11 days the men were kidnapped, Russian-led militias hastily organized a referendum with one option on the ballot, annexing the peninsula by a vote-at-gunpoint.
Under occupation Crimea has become a cesspool of human-rights violations, but a new report offers some hope. An international team of lawyers, working with Razom, the Ukrainian-American human-rights nonprofit, compiled investigations by Human Rights Watch, the U.N., and other leading organizations as well as accounts from journalists and Crimean residents, into a single report— Human Rights on Occupied Territory: Case of Crimea. The 68-page report is conveniently structured to provide a clear legal framework for Crimeans and policymakers to bring Russian aggression to justice. It also provides a section called “Human Rights Protection Guide,” which includes peaceful-resistance tactics, including some used during the Soviet Union.
Lawyers who worked on the report told The Daily Beast from Kiev, where they are presenting it to the Ukrainian government and civic society groups, that the international legal system is an underutilized resource in the war against Russia. The report comes on the heels of courts in Belgium and France ruling to seize $1.8 billion of Russian government assets to pay Yukos shareholders. Yukos, the Russian oil giant owned by opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was taken over by the Kremlin in 2006; Khodorkovsky was sentenced to prison on trumped-up charges. After a decade of arbitration, Russia ignored court rulings last year, including a $50 billion verdict in The Hague.