The election of Dunja Mijatović as the new Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights is great news for human rights.
Dunja Mijatović served as a special representative on media freedoms with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe during some very trying times for human rights in Europe, and particularly in Crimea. Her term coincided with several crises, including the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Mijatović was outspoken on the suppression of free speech in Crimea, and visited the peninsula, under very dire circumstances, in 2014.
With the conflict in Ukraine raging on and Crimea sinking deeper into repression under Russia’s occupation, hopes for a brighter future for human rights in Europe are difficult to muster. Russia’s threats to withdraw from the Council of Europe over sanctions by the organization’s Parliamentary Assembly for the occupation of Crimea puts the Council between a rock and a hard place and makes it even harder to push back against Russia’s rights abuses.
But the alternative is unthinkable. With no access for international observers, Crimea is a black hole where human rights are in freefall. Just this week another Crimean Tatar has been arrested on unfounded extremism charges, thrown into detention and allegedly beaten in custody. A handful of journalists and lawyers continue to fight for the rights of Crimean Tatars and other dissenters on the ground, at a great personal risk. Without international support, they will be left in the dark.
Dunja Mijatović has been a truly principled, unyielding supporter of human rights in her previous post, and now she has her work cut out in Crimea. It is important to keep Crimea’s dire human rights situation on the international agenda. Russia should not be allowed to manipulate international institutions such as the Council of Europe, with its mandate to defend human rights, into backing down.