THE DONBAS CONFLICT: RUSSIA’S CULPABILITY UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW

During the ongoing armed conflict between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatist insurgents in the Donbas region of Ukraine (the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts) that began in April 2014, numerous human rights violations and violations of international law have been noted on the part of the separatists affiliated with the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR). In a report from the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission, Ivan Šimonović, UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, wrote about targeted killings, torture, abduction, illegal detention, and intimidation of election officials in the self-proclaimed pro-Russian republics, and called for urgent action to prevent a Balkans-style war. He also warned of a humanitarian crisis due to a failure of social services in the region, and an exodus of people from affected areas. The UN also reported threats against, attacks on, and abductions of journalists and international observers, as well as the beatings and attacks on supporters of Ukrainian unity.

A similar report by Human Rights Watch said: “Anti-Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine are abducting, attacking, and harassing people they suspect of supporting the Ukrainian government or consider undesirable…anti-Kiev insurgents are using beatings and kidnappings to send the message that anyone who doesn’t support them had better shut up or leave”.

The use of abductions as a method to maintain political power and to terrorize the local population into submission appears to have been one of the preferred abusive techniques utilized by the pro-Russian separatist leadership. In early July, 2014, Amnesty International published a report based upon evidence of beatings, torture, and abduction of activists, protesters and journalists by insurgents in the Donbas region. It said that “while most abductions appear to have a ‘political’ motivation’, there is clear evidence that abduction and torture is being used by armed groups to exert fear and control over local populations”. The report also said that some people had been abducted for ransom. The report summarized its finding by stating that “the bulk of the abductions are being perpetrated by armed separatists, with the victims often subjected to stomach-turning beatings and torture.”

A report by the United Nations OHCHR that was released on July 28, 2014 said that insurgent groups continued “to abduct, detain, torture and execute people kept as hostages in order to intimidate and to exercise their power over the population in raw and brutal ways”. The report documents that at least 812 people have been abducted by the insurgents since mid-April, and said that “the majority are ordinary citizens, including teachers, journalists, members of the clergy and students”.

A statement released on August 22, 2014 by the Lithuanian foreign minister said that the Lithuanian honorary consul in Luhansk, Mykola Zelenec, was abducted by pro-Russian insurgents and killed.

A report by Human Rights Watch said that the insurgents had been “running amok…taking, beating and torturing hostages, as well as wantonly threatening and beating people who are pro-Kiev”. It also said that the insurgents had destroyed medical equipment, threatened medical staff, and occupied hospitals. A member of Human Rights Watch witnessed the exhumation of a “mass grave” in Sloviansk that was uncovered after separatists retreated from the city.

Captured Ukrainian soldiers have been subjected to public humiliation and other abuses in violation of international law. Insurgents with bayonet-equipped automatic rifles in the city of Donetsk paraded captured Ukrainian soldiers through the streets on August 24, 2014, the Independence Day of Ukraine. During the parade, Russian nationalistic songs were played from loudspeakers, and members of the crowd jeered at the prisoners with epithets like “fascist”. Street cleaning machines followed the protesters, “cleansing” the ground they were paraded on. Human Rights Watch said that this was in clear violation of the common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The article forbids “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment”. They further said that the parade “may be considered a war crime.” On the following day, the insurgents tied a woman accused of being a spy to a lamppost. They wrapped her in a Ukrainian flag, and had passers-by spit her, slap her, and throw tomatoes at her.

In October 2015, the DPR and LPR banned non-governmental organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and World Food Program from the territory that they control. A report released on March 3, 2016 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that people that lived in separatist-controlled areas were experiencing “complete absence of rule of law, reports of arbitrary detention, torture and incommunicado detention, and no access to real redress mechanisms”.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “The results of a psychosocial assessment of children in Donetsk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine are deeply troubling … and indicate that about half of all children aged 7-18 have been directly exposed to adverse or threatening events during the current crisis.” OSCE monitors spoke to refugees from Donetsk city in Zaporizhia. They said that men were “often not allowed” to leave the city, but were instead “forcibly enrolled in ‘armed forces’ of the so-called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ or obliged to dig trenches”.

By June 2015, the conflict had created 1.3 million internally displaced people (IDPs). According to the OHCHR, this number had grown to 1.6 million people by early March 2016.

As the shaky ceasefire implemented by the Minsk Protocol became increasingly untenable in early November 2014, it was reported that the number of people that had fled insurgent-held areas of Donbas had reached one and a half million. Those forced to stay in the region were largely elderly, destitute, or otherwise unable to flee. Schools had been abandoned, and many had been converted into weapons depots or unlawfully used for other military purposes, as roughly half of the pre-war population of school-age children had left Donbas.

A map of human rights violations committed by the separatists called the “Map of Death,” was published by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in October 2014. The reported violations included detention camps and mass graves. Subsequently, on October 15, 2014, the SBU opened a case on “crimes against humanity” perpetrated by insurgent forces.

Amnesty International reported evidence  of summary killings of Ukrainian soldiers on April 9, 2015. Having reviewed video footage, it determined that at least four Ukrainian soldiers had been shot dead “execution style”. The AI deputy director for Europe and Central Asia said that “the new evidence of these summary killings confirms what we have suspected for a long time”. AI also said that a recording released by Kyiv Post of a man, allegedly separatist leader Arseny Pavlov, claiming to have killed fifteen Ukrainian prisoners of war was a “chilling confession”, and that it highlighted “the urgent need for an independent investigation into this and all other allegations of abuses”.

Russia and its leadership bear substantial responsibility for the War Crimes and human rights abuses committed by the insurgent forces in Donbas, since the insurgents are basically nothing more than proxies for Russia, in its attempt to carve off a large chunk of Ukraine close to its borders. Since Russia aided and abetted the violations of international law committed by the insurgent forces, it may be held legally responsible in U.S. courts and in various international courts for the loss of human life and destruction of property caused by the insurgent forces. Plaintiffs in such a case could be either Ukrainian or other non-U.S. citizens, who could utilize the Alien Tort Statute (28 U.S. 1350), or they could be U.S. citizens or refugees currently within the United States who could seek jurisdiction in the U.S. courts under federal common law, which incorporates customary international law.

Florida’s St. Lucie Estuary Environmental Disaster and the Clean Water Act

A toxic algae bloom in the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River estuaries in Florida has caused an unfolding environmental disaster of enormous proportions. The algae outbreaks are triggered by fertilizer sewage and manure pollution that the State has failed to properly regulate. “It’s like adding miracle grow to the water and it triggers massive algae outbreaks,” Earthjustice spokeswoman Alisa Coe told CNN. The Miami Herald describes the devastated area as being engulfed in blue-green colored water that resembles “guacamole.” NPR reports that the smell of hundreds or thousands of dead animals and fish baking in the sun has created a stench that is unbearable.

A State of Emergency was declared over to July Fourth weekend, emptying the beaches and bringing fishing, boating and swimming to a halt, as the waters covered by green slime were declared too toxic to touch. The tourist industry in the Stuart and Port St. Lucie areas rapidly ground to a complete halt, thus decimating by far the largest industry in the area.  According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, toxic blooms can damage the gastrointestinal system, liver, nervous system and skin. The blue-green algae is called cyanobacteria. It can release toxins that affect the liver and nervous system. No wonder that the tourists and many residents have fled the area.

While Governor Rick Scott has insisted that the problem is primarily a water storage issue, and that the federal government had been negligent in failing to properly fix the aging dike system and to provide for sufficient water storage in Lake Okeechobee during the wet season, there can be little question that the source of the toxic algae bloom is the huge amounts of fertilizer-related nitrogen and phosphorous from the Big Sugar companies and other polluters that has ended up in the Lake and then been released into the St. Lucie and other estuaries.

Most of the public and press attention has focused on the Army Corp’s decision to release polluted lake water into the estuaries to the east and west, rather than permitting more of the natural flow of water southward from the Lake through the drainage basin and complex canal system that has been developed there. The area to the south of the Lake includes the Everglades Agricultural Area, comprising former wetlands that were converted into farm use and have become dominated by what has become known as “Big Sugar,” primarily the U.S. Sugar Corporation, Florida Crystals, and the Sugar Cooperative Corporations. The Army Corp, which maintains jurisdiction of the dike system and the regulation of water releases under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act, has responded by stating that these huge releases of polluted waters were necessary to prevent a breach in the old and outdated Herbert Hoover Dike system surrounding the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee.

Serious allegations have been made that the Army Corp. has failed in its mission to properly regulate and maintain the infrastructure that was designed to keep this complex and delicate ecosystem in balance. There have been many calls for reforms, including the February 2014 letter from the Florida Senate to Congress requesting that it transfer authority over water releases from the Lake from the Army Corps to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). Meanwhile, Governor Rick Scott, who was forced to recently declare a State of Emergency in the area due to the dangerous concentrations of toxic algae in the area, has sought to focus on the need to upgrade the septic systems of property owners and businesses in the area.

However, neither the Army Corp nor the homeowners and residents of the area are primarily responsible for the dangerous build up in the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous “nutrients” in the Lake Water. Rather the primary parties responsible for the agricultural “run-off” of these chemicals are the Big Sugar interests controlling thousands of acres of cane sugar south of the Lake in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).   These huge sugar companies are the continuing beneficiaries of the 1981 Farm Bill, repeatedly renewed in Washington, which guarantees sugar prices for the corporations at levels that are sometimes twice the price of the world market.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, polluters such as the Big Sugar companies, are required to clean up waters polluted by fertilizers or pesticides that are part of the agricultural process before such waters are permitted to be released back into navigable water system. Nevertheless, the Big Sugar companies have failed to adequately clean up the huge quantities of water that they use as part of the cane sugar agricultural process, resulting in the release of significant quantities of pollutants back into the Lake and eventually, the St. Lucie River and other estuaries.

The Clean Water Act (“CWA”) was originally enacted in 1948 to address the growing water pollution problems throughout the United States, with its primary enforcement authority given to the states. See Federal Water Pollution Control Act, Pub. L. No. 80-845, current version at 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1387. Since that time, Congress has amended the CWA on several occasions, including an amendment in 1972 establishing a system of effluent limitations, water quality standards, discharge permits and other regulatory mechanisms “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” 33 U.S.C. § 1251(a).

One important issue addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 was whether wetlands were “navigable waters” covered by the CWA. In Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006), the Supreme Court narrowed the EPA’s broad definition of “waters of the United States” to wetlands adjacent to traditional navigable waters, with Justice Kennedy establishing a test, known as the “significant nexus” test, requiring that for wetlands to be covered by the CWA, there must be “a significant nexus between the wetlands in question and navigable waters in the traditional sense.”

One of the best-known provisions of the CWA is Section 402, which regulates discharges of pollutants from “point sources”, and any entity wishing to discharge pollutants into a water of the United States must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the EPA or from a state agency authorized to run the program. In Florida, the EPA authorized the FDEP to manage the NPDES permitting program within the state. In addition, Congress left control over “nonpoint” and “agricultural” source pollution to the states to manage as each seed fit, so long as minimum federal water quality standards were met. In Florida, the FDEP developed these water quality standards and implemented them with the aid of the five water management districts. In addition, the Army Corps actually transferred operational control of the Lake Okeechobee watershed system to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), including operational control of the complex network of canals and pump stations that artificially divert agricultural, industrial and residential runoff away from the agricultural lands to the south of Lake Okeechobee, which is where the Big Sugar lands are located, into the Lake itself.

Thus, the fertilizer contaminants in the water runoff from the Big Sugar plantations to the south of the Lake are theoretically regulated by the FDEP and SFWMD under the provisions of the CWA requiring states to create and implement water quality-based standards, including standards for nonpoint source pollution from agricultural properties, and must determine the “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) for each pollutant and allocate the allowable daily amount among all of the water body’s polluters. However, since the FDEP and SFWMD claim that they have a lack of resources to properly enforce these standards themselves, they have largely relied upon Big Sugar and other agricultural polluters to “self-regulate” the degree to which they produce phosphorous and nitrogen laced polluted runoff, which is then pumped by the SFWMD into the Lake. In other words, Florida has basically put the wolves in charge of the henhouse leaving it up to the sugar companies themselves to decide whether or not they are in compliance with the state regulations regarding the release of potentially toxic pollutants into the Lake. Not surprisingly, the instances where Big Sugar has turned themselves into the regulators for failing to comply with these emission standards are rare or non-existent.

Adding further confusion and lack of public protection to this regulatory scheme, while the Florida state entities (FDEP and SFWMD) have responsibility for setting standards regarding pollution-levels from agricultural properties and the adjacent canals being dumped into the Lake, only the Army Corps has the responsibility for releasing polluted Lake waters into the St. Lucie and other estuaries. While the Army Corps and the state agencies are, in theory, supposed to coordinate together so that the pollution levels of the billions of gallons of water being released by the Army Corps are known, in practice, it appears that this coordination is far from perfect and that the Army Corps may have no precise idea how much in the way of harmful phosphorous and other pollutants are being released into the estuaries.

As part of the 1972 amendments to the CWA, private citizens were permitted for the first time, to bring a civil action in federal court against any person or government that violated the requirements of the CWA. FWPCA § 505(a)(1), 33 U.S.C. § 1365(a). However, in order for an individual or group to bring a CWA suit under the citizen suit provisions, 33 U.S.C. § 1365 (a), that individual, business or group must have “standing to sue,” which means that the individual business or group must have suffered an “injury in fact” that is actual or imminent, not just conjectural or hypothetical. Sierra Club v SCM Corp. 580 F. Supp. 862 (1984).  Damage to a plaintiff’s aesthetic or recreational interest is sufficient to confer standing, as long as the plaintiff can show that he or she “use[s] the affected area and [is a] person ‘for whom the aesthetic and recreational values of the area will be lessened’ by the challenged activity.” Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 183 (2000). In Laidlaw, the court found sufficient injury for standing in the testimony of the plaintiffs’ members that they had ceased use of the river because of their concern that the defendant’s discharges were polluting the river and causing a depreciation in the value of one of the members’ homes. Laidlaw, 120 S. Ct. at 703.  The loss of recreational and aesthetic benefits, or just the loss of enjoyment caused by the pollution, is sufficient to confer standing. See Mt. Graham Red Squirrel v. Espy, 986 F. 2d 1568 (9th Cir. 1992). Even the probability of future harm, even though none has occurred yet, is sufficient to confer standing. Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Gaston Copper Recycling Corp., 204 F. 3d 149, 160 (4th Cir. 2000).

There must also be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, but a plaintiff need not demonstrate that his or her injuries are caused specifically by the actions of the defendants. SPRIG v. Tenneco Polymers, 602 F. Supp. 1394 (1984). The plaintiff need only how that the defendant caused an unlawful discharge of pollutants; that the pollutants were discharged into a waterway in which plaintiffs have in interest that are or may be adversely affected by the pollutant; and that this pollution caused or contributed to the kinds of injuries alleged by the plaintiffs. See Public Interest Research Group of New Jersey v. Yates Industries Inc., 757 F. Supp. 438, 443 (D. N.J. 1991).

The Clean Water Act requires that a citizen give notice of their claims to any person, including the United States, and/or any other governmental entity sixty (60) days before bringing suit against the alleged violator. See 33 U.S. C. § 1365(a)(1) and (b)(1). This is a mandatory provision and compliance must be pleaded in the complaint. National Environmental Foundation v. ABC Rail Corp., 926 F. 2d 1096 (11th Cir. 1991); Walls v. Waste Resource Corp., 761 F. 2d 311 (6th Cir. 1985). Notice of a violation must be served on the alleged violator or violators. 40 C.F.R. § 135.2(c).

If, after the date that the suit is filed, the defendant continues to violate the CWA, the plaintiff may request both injunctive relief and civil penalties under the Act. See Weiszmann v. District Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 526 F. 2d 1302, 1304 (5th Cir. 1976); U.S. v. Context-Marks Corp., 729 F. 2d 1294, 1297 (11th Cir. 1984). Injunctive relief may be granted under a common law standard to enjoin a continuing a abatable nuisance or trespass. A court may also award costs of litigation, including reasonable attorneys’ and expert witness fees to the prevailing party. 33 U.S. C. § 1365(d).

In addition to statutory claims under the CWA, plaintiffs also have state common law damages claims for nuisance (interference with use and enjoyment of property), trespass (unauthorized entry on another’s property), negligence (breach of a legal duty to conform to a standard of conduct raised by the law for the protection of others against unreasonable risks of harm, and violations of Florida state statutory law.

It is unlikely that there would be a cause of action for damages to “riparian rights” since, in Midenberger v U.S., No. 2010-5084 (U.S. Ct. of Appeals, Federal Circuit June 30, 2011), in a case brought by plaintiffs in the St. Lucie River area, the court found that the plaintiffs had failed to make a showing that Florida law permitted a cause of action for damages to riparian rights by property owners that was different or separate from the rights of the general public.

In short, individuals, businesses and associations who have suffered damages as a result of the toxic pollution of the St. Lucie Estuary have both federal and state law causes of action against the Big Sugar polluters, the relevant Florida state agencies and the Army Corp for the damages that they have sustained as a result of this major environmental disaster.

THE GENOCIDE OF THE CRIMEAN TATARS FROM 1944 TO THE PRESENT

The Crimean Tatars were subjected to an intentional campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing in 1944, when Stalin and the Soviet leadership ordered the forcible deportation of the Crimean Tatars from Crimea. Soviet propaganda sought to justify this mass deportation as a form of collective punishment for collaborating with the Nazi occupation regime in during 1942–1943. Most scholars and commentators, however, agree that the true aim of the Soviet government was the ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars. This constituted the continuation of a policy practiced earlier in the Caucasus, whereby ethnic groups were selected to be deported and then charges of “treason” were fabricated.

Soviet motivations for the elimination of the Crimean Tatars included the strategic location of Crimea next to the Black Sea and close to Turkey. Another motivation was their close historical and cultural ties with Turkey. Since the Soviet Union had a long-term plan to annex of the Ardahan and Karsprovinces of Turkey, and to demand naval bases at the Turkish Straits, the deportation of the Crimean Tatars took place in preparation for a possible future Soviet-Turkish conflict.

At least 238,500 people were deported, mostly to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. This included the entire ethnic Crimean Tatar population. A large number of deportees (more than 100,000 according to a 1960s survey by Crimean Tatar activists) died from starvation or disease as a direct result of deportation. This was a clear-cut case of genocide and “ethnic cleansing.”

Prior to the Stalinist repression, the Crimean Tatars had long been recognized as the indigenous people of the Crimean Peninsula, and the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Crimean ASSR) was established as an integral part of the Soviet Union. Under this administration, Crimean Tatars enjoyed cultural autonomy and the promotion of their culture, and the Crimean Tatar language had co-official language status along with Russian. Crimean Tatar cultural activities flourished, including establishment of cultural institutions, museums, libraries and theaters.

This “golden age” of Crimean Tatar culture and political autonomy ended when Stalin and the other Soviet leaders embarked on a brutal and intentional campaign to wipe out the Tatar people from the Crimean Peninsula. The Soviet leadership ordered the banishment of the Crimean Tatars to the Uzbek SSR. The operation was to be completed before June 1, 1944, and all property left behind would be confiscated by state authorities.

The deportation began on May 18, 1944 in all Crimean-inhabited localities. The forced deportees were given only 30 minutes to gather personal belongings, after which they were loaded onto cattle trains and moved out of Crimea. The deportees were brought to central gathering stations in Simferopol and Bakhchysarai, and after a short waiting period, loaded on trains. At the same time, most of the Crimean Tatar men who were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army were demobilized and sent into forced labor camps in Siberia and in the Ural mountain region.

According to eyewitness accounts, the Russian NKVD officials forgot to deport the Crimean Tatars in the fishing villages of the Arabat Spit. On July 19, 1944, when Soviet authorities learned about these villages, orders were issued that no Crimean Tatar should be left alive within 24 hours. Following this, all inhabitants of these villages were locked up in an old and big boat, which sailed to the deepest part of the Azov Sea and was then sunk. Soviet soldiers waited in a nearby ship with machine guns.

The train journey of the deportees to the destinations was carried out under harsh conditions and resulted in a large number of deaths. According to official Soviet data, 7,889 people, amounting to approximately 5% of the Crimean Tatar population was presumed dead during the deportation, but in all probability, these estimates were grossly understated. The deportation was carried out in sealed box cars, and thousands of deportees died because of thirst. The cars were called “crematoria on wheels” by Crimean Tatars. The doors and windows were tightly bolted to prevent the entry of fresh air, there was no medical care and little food. This led to the deaths of especially elderly people and children, who could not withstand the suffocating conditions and the lack of food. Grigorii Burlitskii, a NKVD officer overseeing the deportation who later defected, reported that “they were packed into wagons like sardines, the wagons were locked and sealed and put under the guard of military detachments”. According to testimonies, the doors of the cars were only opened upon arrival to the Kazakh steppe, where the dead were dumped along the railway track, with the deportees not given the time to bury them.

The deportation was poorly planned and executed. Local authorities in the destination areas were not properly informed about the scale of the matter and did not receive enough resources to accommodate the deportees. The lack of accommodation and food, the failure to provide proper clothing to help the deportees to adapt to new climatic conditions and the rapid spread of diseases further decimated the Crimean Tatar people during the first years of exile.

Upon their arrival in Central Asia, Crimean Tatars were forced to live in special settlement camps, surrounded by barbed wire. Leaving the camps was punished by five years of hard forced labor. Many Crimean Tatars were also made to work in the large-scale projects conducted by the GULAG system. In these forced labor camps, deportees were assigned the heaviest tasks available and awoken before dawn for 12-hour workdays.

In Uzbekistan, Stalin ordered the settlement of Crimean Tatars in kolkhozes (collective farms), sovkhozes (state-owned farms) and settlements around factories for industrial and agricultural production. The deportees partially provided the required workforce for the industrial development of the area. Regardless of their former profession and skills, Crimean Tatars were forced to do heavy labor. Their places of residence consisted of barracks, makeshift shelters, parts of factories and communal housing.

Crimean Tatar activists carried out a census in all the scattered Tatar communities in the middle of the 1960s. The results of this inquiry show that 109,956 (46.2%) Crimean Tatars of the 238,500 deportees died between July 1, 1944 and January 1, 1947 due to starvation and disease.

The Soviet government also efficiently destroyed all remaining traces of Tatar culture.  This included the destruction of Tatar monuments and burning of Tatar manuscripts and books. Tatar mosques were converted into movie theaters and warehouses; gravestones of Tatars were used as building material. Exiled Crimean Tatars were banned from speaking of Crimea, and official Soviet texts, including the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, erased all references to them. When applying for internal passports, “Crimean Tatar” was not accepted as an existing ethnic group and those that designated themselves as “Crimean Tatars” were automatically denied passports.

Soviet authorities also ordered the renaming of all Tatar place names (including mountains and rivers), and a decree of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet Presidium on December 14, 1944 required the renaming of all districts and district centers to Russian-language names. In total, more than 1389 Crimean Tatar towns and villages were renamed.

The Soviet propaganda machine worked hard to hide the true nature of the deportation from the domestic and international media by falsely claiming that it was “voluntary”. The deportations were referred to as “resettlement.” Crimean Tatars were depicted as “bandits” and “thieves,” and were accused of being Nazi agents.

On April 28, 1956, by the decree of the Supreme Soviet Presidium of the USSR, the Crimean Tatars were released from special settlement, accompanied by a restoration of their civil rights. In the same year, the Crimean Tatars started a petition to allow their repatriation to Crimea. They held mass protests in October 1966, but these were violently suppressed by the Soviet military. On June 21, 1967, after a meeting between representatives of the Soviet government and a Crimean Tatar delegation, prompt rehabilitation of Crimean Tatars was promised, but never fulfilled. In August and September 1967, thousands of Crimean Tatars took to the streets to protest in Tashkent.

A decree of the Supreme Soviet Presidium was issued on September 5, 1967 exonerating the Crimean Tatars, but the Soviet government did nothing to facilitate their resettlement back to Crimea, or to make reparations for the loss of lives and confiscated property. In 1968, a token 300 families were allowed to return, but this was only for propaganda purposes. Crimean Tatars, led by the Crimean Tatar National Movement Organization, were not allowed to return to Crimea from exile until the beginning of the Perestroika in the mid-1980s.

The Crimean Tatars began repatriating on a massive scale beginning in the late 1980s and continuing into the early 1990s. The population of Crimean Tatars in Crimea rapidly reached 250,000 and leveled off at about 270,000. There are believed to be between 30,000 and 100,000 remaining in exile in Central Asia.

Finally, in November 1989, after the end of the Cold War, the Soviet government acknowledged responsibility for this clear violation of international law. In November 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR recognized the deportation as a crime against humanity of the highest degree. On April 21, 2014, following the annexation of Crimea by Russia, President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed a decree that “rehabilitated” Crimean Tatars and other ethnicities who suffered from Stalinist repressions in Crimea. However, this decree proved to be hollow, not only because there was no compensation, reparations or restitution offered, but also because Russia instituted a crack-down on Crimean Tatar dissidents who opposed the annexation and favored a continuing relationship with Ukraine. Leaders of the Crimean Tatar opposition have been subjected to prolonged arbitrary detention, which itself is a recognized violation of customary international law, and the general Crimean Tatar community has been subjected to a continuing reign of terror and Crimes Against Humanity, including arbitrary killings, arbitrary confiscation of property, state-sponsored and widespread theft of personal and real property, extortion and harassment of every possible variety.

It can reasonably be argued, therefore, that the genocide of the Crimean Tatars, which started in 1944, continues up until the present.

The mistreatment and persecution by Russia of the Crimean Tatars meets the generally accepted definition of genocide, since it specifically targeted a particular ethnic group for destruction, and implemented calculated policies to achieve that goal.  The Genocide Convention of 1948 specifically recognizes genocide to include: “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part.” This is precisely the policy that the Soviet Union formulated and carried out in 1944, and continues today.