Russia committed multiple human rights violations in Crimea, European court finds

Separate court issues arrest warrants for former Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and leading army general Valery Gerasimov

Russian soldiers guard a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoe, in the Crimea region of Ukraine, in March 2014. Photograph: Sergey Ponomarev/New York Times

The persecution of Ukrainian political prisoners by Russia following its annexation of Crimea amounted to “torture” in several cases, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.

The court found that Russia targeted and suppressed Ukrainian activists and religious leaders in Crimea as part of a pattern of human rights violations after it took the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

The ECHR, which is the Strasbourg-based court of the Council of Europe, ruled on Tuesday that Russia had violated Ukrainians’ rights to freedom of expression, assembly, religion and the right to a fair trial in the region.

The court said there was evidence of “multiple and grave” human rights violations by the security services and police. Ukrainian political prisoners had been beaten, subjected to electric shocks and mock executions to extract information, which the court classed as torture.


Ukraine took the case alleging Russia persecuted Ukrainians as part of a campaign of repression following its annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. The Ukrainian government alleged Russia committed a host of human rights violations, including unlawful detention and conviction without fair trials, and suppression of Ukrainian media and the teaching of the Ukrainian language in schools.

The court said it had “sufficient evidence” to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that there had been a “pattern” of violations, amid a “crackdown” on political opposition. The annexation of Crimea largely coincided with the outbreak of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region. The conflict escalated following the full Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The court noted there had been 43 documented cases of people in Crimea being “disappeared” between 2014 and 2018, with the whereabouts of eight still unknown. The ruling said previous reports had indicated Ukrainian soldiers, journalists and activists had been among those abducted and mistreated. Religious leaders such as Ukrainian Orthodox priests had been harassed and Ukrainian media shut down, it said.

More than 12,000 prisoners had been transferred from Crimea to penal colonies and other facilities in Russian territory, the court noted. In its ruling the ECHR ordered Russia to return prisoners who had been transferred from the contested area to facilities in Russia. In legal applications to the court, the Ukrainian government alleged other political prisoners had been “lured” into Russian territory where they were detained and “tortured”, before being convicted of “fabricated offences”.

The Russian government rejected the allegations of human rights violations as “vague and unsubstantiated”. The court said as Russia had refused to co-operate it had to rely on reports from civil society organisations and first-hand testimony submitted by Ukraine when making its findings.

I a separate development on Tuesday, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Sergei Shoigu, the former Russian defence minister, and leading Russian general Valery Gerasimov for alleged crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It brought to eight the number of arrest warrants issued against senior Russian suspects since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022. They include President Vladimir Putin, who faces charges over the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

The court’s move was welcomed by Kyiv, but dismissed as legally meaningless by Moscow.

The Hague-based court said Mr Shoigu and Gen Gerasimov were suspected of having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity for directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects in Ukraine. – Additional reporting: Reuters

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times