European court agrees to hear Ukrainian case on rights violations in Crimea

KYIV/MOSCOW (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hear part of a case brought by Ukraine alleging Russian human rights violations in the Crimea peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, the court said on Thursday.

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Abuses alleged by Ukraine including enforced disappearances, unlawful detention and suppression of non-Russian media had been deemed admissible and would be followed by a judgment at a later date, an ECHR statement said.

The court said there was not enough evidence for Ukrainian allegations of a pattern of killings and shootings and detentions of foreign journalists or the alleged confiscation of Ukrainian soldiers’ property.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in the Donbass conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed 14,000 people since 2014.

A statement from the Russian justice ministry focused on the allegations thrown out by the court, including the most serious, that civilians had been murdered.

The Kremlin-backed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, wrote on social media that Ukraine’s allegations were false and that the court should instead investigate real human rights violations perpetrated against Crimeans by Ukraine not Russia.

He said the European court’s rulings on Russian matters were often biased and politicised.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the ruling a victory for his country.

“This is an important step towards bringing Russia to legal responsibility for aggression against Ukraine,” he said. “And with each step the price of this responsibility will grow.”

The Strasbourg-based ECHR said the case was not concerned with whether the annexation was lawful under international law but had taken into account Russia’s increased military presence in Crimea in January-March 2014 without Ukraine’s consent.

The annexation has not been internationally recognised and prompted the West to impose sanctions on Russia, sending relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.

Members of the Council of Europe are supposed to abide by the judgement of the court, which can include demands for reform or compensation, but sometimes states ignore them.

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Andrew Osborn; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Philippa Fletcher