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Statement by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities on her recent visits to Ukraine
05 April 2014 10:54

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has been closely following developments in Ukraine since the office was established in 1993 to act as an instrument of conflict prevention at the earliest stage. The successive High Commissioners have paid particular attention to the inter-ethnic situation in Crimea, legislation regulating minority rights and language use, and the education of national minorities.

The High Commissioner’s mandate requires that she works behind the scenes and in confidence. She therefore issues few public statements. This statement provides an update on her most recent visits. Currently, High Commissioner Astrid Thors’ main concerns are language policy and the situation in Crimea.

Thors visited Kyiv, Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa from 23 to 28 March 2014, and Kiev from 1 to 3 April. She made an earlier visit, which also included a trip to Crimea, on 4 to 6 March as part of a high-level OSCE delegation together with Ambassador Tim Guldimann, the Special Envoy of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. Her office is also contributing to a Human Rights Assessment Mission, in co-operation with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

During her most recent two visits, Thors was pleased to hear that the interim Government does not intend to make any hasty decisions regarding language policy. “There can be no doubt that the 2012 Law on the ‘Principles of the State Language Policy’ remains in force, and, legally, nothing has changed regarding the status of languages,” she said. “Therefore, there is no need for the Ukrainian Parliament to rush to make any new decisions. I hope that all political forces can adhere to this opinion.”

She reiterated her comments made in her public statement of 24 February [www.osce.org/hcnm/115643] that, to avoid increasing tensions, the authorities should ensure that the concerns of all ethnic and linguistic groups are taken into account and that consultations also encompass international organizations to ensure that any new language legislation meets European standards. She added that time is also needed to evaluate the merits and shortcomings of the 2012 Language Law, as well as its implementation in practice.

The High Commissioner has been able to speak to a wide range of interlocutors to assess the situation on the ground. She expressed particular concern that she heard a lot of conflicting impressions that are contributing to a climate of fear and confusion. Contradictory information leads to an “information war”. Any measures taken to restrict access to cross-border transmission of media should strictly comply with international standards, as stated by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media [www.osce.org/fom/116888]. In addition, many people told her they are concerned about security and the presence of militarized groups with an unclear status. Thors commended the interim Government’s efforts to address the security issues in the country, including the disarmament of armed groups that exist outside of the legal framework, in order to combat such perceptions.

Thors also remains concerned about the situation in Crimea. Following her statement on 6 March [www.osce.org/hcnm/116180], the High Commissioner reminded the authorities in effective control of Crimea that they remain responsible for the human rights, including minority rights, of all persons residing on the peninsula. “The people in Crimea, in particular the Crimean Tatars and the Ukrainian community, are in a precarious position. I urge the authorities in effective control to refrain from actions that exclude people from employment in the public and private sectors or force them to give up their property.”

She again drew particular attention to The Bolzano/Bozen Recommendations on National Minorities in Inter-State Relations, which state that while a State might have an interest in supporting persons belonging to national minorities in other States, “no State may exercise jurisdiction over the population or part of the population of another State within the territory of that State without its consent” because “the respect for and protection of minority rights is primarily the responsibility of the State where the minority resides.”

Astrid Thors
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities
The Hague, 4 April 2014

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