The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its admissibility decision in the interstate case Ukraine v. Russia (re Crimea)


On 14 January 2021 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its admissibility decision in the interstate case Ukraine v. Russia (re Crimea) (application nos. 20958/14 and 38334/18) regarding systematic human rights violations committed by the Russian Federation in Crimea.

In its decision the European Court of Human Rights has, by a majority, declared the application partly admissible. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

In its application lodged with ECtHR, Ukraine has complained of a pattern of systematic human rights violations by Russia in the occupied Crimea. The allegations were merged to 17 key points. Ukraine affirmed that the Russian Federation spread in Crimea the “administrative practice” (systematic violations that were not investigated) of the following human rights violations: 

  1. enforced disappearances and killings of the abducted persons; 
  2. ill-treatment;
  3. unlawful detention; 
  4. extending the Russian Federation’s laws to Crimea;
  5. imposing Russian nationality in Crimea;
  6. arbitrary raids of private dwellings;
  7. harassment and intimidation of the religious leaders that do not conform to the Russian Orthodox Church, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property;
  8. suppression of non-Russian media;
  9. prohibiting public gatherings and manifestations of support;
  10. expropriation of property from civilians and private enterprises; 
  11. suppressing the Ukrainian language in schools and harassing Ukrainian-speaking pupils;
  12. restricting the freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine due to de facto transformation by Russia of the administrative borderline into the state border;
  13. harassment of Crimean Tatars on grounds of religious belief and in violation of their right to private life;
  14. restricting freedom of movement of Crimean Tatars; 
  15. systematic killing and shooting;
  16. intimidation of foreign journalists and confiscation of their equipment;
  17. nationalization of the property of Ukrainian soldiers.

Firstly, the ECtHR identified the scope of the issue before it and held that what was to be decided was whether the alleged pattern of human-rights violations by Russia in Crimea during the relevant period, namely between 27 February 2014 and 26 August 2015, was admissible. The Court held that it was not called upon in the case to decide whether Crimea’s admission, under Russian law, into Russia had been lawful from the standpoint of international law.

Before considering the allegations of an administrative practice, it had to consider whether Russia had “jurisdiction”, within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention, over Crimea as from 27 February 2014 and therefore whether it had competence to examine the application. It found that the facts complained of by the Ukrainian Government did fall within the “jurisdiction” of Russia on the basis of effective control that it exercised over Crimea as of that date. When coming to that decision it took into account in particular the size and strength of the increased Russian military presence in Crimea from January to March 2014, without the Ukrainian authorities’ consent or any evidence to prove that there was a threat to Russian troops stationed there under the relevant Bilateral Agreements between them, valid at the time. It also found the Ukrainian Government’s account coherent and consistent throughout the proceedings before it; they had provided detailed and specific information, backed up by sufficient evidence, to prove that the Russian troops had not been passive bystanders, but had been actively involved in the alleged events.

The Court went on to identify and apply the applicable evidential threshold and its approach to the standard and burden of proof and declared admissible, without prejudging the merits, all but a few of the Ukrainian Government’s complaints of an administrative practice of human-rights violations by Russia. The three complaints: systematic killing and shooting, intimidation of foreign journalists and confiscation of their equipment, nationalization of the property of Ukrainian soldiers, were rejected by the Court as inadmissible. The Court found that the incidents referred to had not amounted to a pattern of violations, but concerned one-off episodes in early 2014.

That conclusion is without prejudice to the question of Russia’s responsibility under the Convention for the acts complained of, which belongs to the merits phase of the Court’s procedure.

January, 2021