20 January 2000
Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General
Dear Secretary General Schwimmer:
We welcome the recent decision of the Ukrainian Constitutional Court that outlawed capital punishment in their country. No doubt, this is an important step toward improving Ukraine's record in the area of human rights. We hope that similar measures will be taken to comply with the articles of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. In his report, "Repatriation and Integration of the Tatars of Crimea," dated 8 October 1999, Lord Ponsonby of the Parliamentary Assembly noted: "The local Slavic population displays a regrettable degree of xenophobia vis-a-vis returnees and, at best, is disinterested in their plight." The Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains a land where Crimean Tatars, who consider themselves indigenous people, are discriminated against not only by the Slavic population, most of whom settled there within the last 50 years, but by local authorities as well.
Only last week, on 11 January 2000, a group of 200 armed militia surrounded the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (Assembly) building in Simferopol to confiscate some records and prevented the people from leaving the building. An official from the Ukrainian Interior Ministry later apologized for the unnecessary use of the armed security forces and their rude behavior. The incident perhaps reveals the apparent intent of certain local officials to intimidate the Crimean Tatars.
At the political level, Crimean Tatars are not represented in the Crimean Parliament. The constitution of the Autonomous Republic, which was approved by the Ukrainian government in December 1998, does not allow for their political participation. Crimean Tatars are unable to elect their own delegates because they do not form a majority in any given voting district. Their own democratically elected Mejlis is not officially recognized. In terms of government employment, about 1 percent of official positions are occupied by Crimean Tatars. There is a very high degree of unemployment among Tatars (over 50 percent), and many have to work at jobs not commensurate with their skill and education. There have been reports of job discrimination, cases in which Crimean Tatars have been forced out of their government positions, only to be replaced by individuals of Slavic origin or of Communist ideology.
At the cultural and educational level, Crimean Tatars feel that they are not getting their share of public support for schools and related cultural activities while they pay taxes. Opportunities for learning their native language in schools are very limited, and only 14 percent of the Tatar children get any instruction in their native tongue. The use of the Latin alphabet, which they consider phonetically more suitable for Crimean Tatar, is not approved by the authorities. Recently, funding for Crimean Tatar publications has been reduced to a minimal level, so has the time allocated for broadcasting in Crimean Tatar on the public radio from 10 hours to 4 hours per week. Even more disturbing are the negative images of Tatars and muslim people perpetuated in the Crimean media, and the failure of authorities to take any action.
The International Committee for Crimea is very concerned that the current political and social conditions in Crimea are not conducive to maintaining a pluralistic and democratic society where the cultural, linguistic and religious identity of ethnic groups is respected. Crimean Tatars have the right to live in their ancestral homeland with constitutional guarantees, in accordance with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. We respectfully ask you to prevail on the Ukrainian government to take measures to eliminate discrimination against the Crimean Tatars. We further hope that the recommendations of Lord Ponsonby for alleviating the complex problems confronting the Tatar population will be implemented by the Council of Europe.
Inci Bowman, Ph.D.
International Committee for Crimea
c. Lord Ponsonby