The experts of “ARC” elaborated and sent to Ms. Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the responses to the UN questionnaire , devoted to the report preparation of the counteraction the disinformation issues and defence the freedom of speech. “ARC” pointed in the report the the key challenge raised by disinformation is the fact that it is being used as part of the policies of non-democratic states for the purposes of their aggressive external strategies. Among other things, disinformation is used as a veil for systematic and widespread human rights abuses and international crimes, that is exemplified by the situation in Crimea.
Report points that after Russia has established its effective control over Crimea, in the following 6 years, the invaders banned all local independent media, including TV and radio channels as well as printed media. All media, broadcasting in Crimean peninsula are controlled by Russian de-facto “authorities” and are used for facilitation the Russian state’s tasks in ongoing conflict against Ukraine.
Hate speech against Ukraine, Ukrainians, and the Indigenous Crimean Tatar people, just as against representatives of all other ethnic groups, became a usual feature of the Crimean informational landscape. The disinformation is spread on historical events, and current political, social, economic and environmental questions. At that, no alternative opinions are tolerated, and those who express them are subjected to harassment and persecution. An alarming trend in 2020-2021 is intentional distribution by invaders of fake information about the epidemic situation in Crimea in the light of the COVID-19 emergency.
Apart from control of the media, the Russian de-facto “authorities” of Crimea use the services of the so-called “independent bloggers” and influencers in the social networks and messengers (like “Telegram”) to promote disinformation messages generated by the special services of the Russian Federation. At that, bloggers who express alternative opinions are silenced by all means, including by deportation from Crimea, as evidenced by example of Mr. Evgen Gayvoronsky , who has been forced to leave the peninsula.
The “ARC” pointed in the report its deeply conviction that these and other similar violations can be ended only through international responsibility of actors committing them. States may use sanction policy against the media, networks, channels or persons systematically utilizing disinformation to achieve their purposes. It is imperative that the states modify their judicial system (criminal, civil and administrative limbs) to make it more effective and transparent in combating disinformation. Democratic states must react on the disinformation policy on the international level both by political and legal means.
The transparency of domestic legal systems, combined with the work of international bodies (monitoring, reporting, sanctions policy) may contribute to overcoming the risks for human rights brought by disinformation from non-democratic regimes. The key mechanisms are monitoring and international legal responsibility. Preferably, such responsibility should be imposed not by political, but by legal bodies, such as international courts dealing with individual applications and interstate cases.
It is recommended to bring the attention of the global media players (like major information agencies and social networks) to the problem of disinformation by non-democratic regimes, especially with respect to international conflicts and occupied territories like the Crimean Peninsula. A fresh example was pointed in the report as the “verification” by the “Twitter” of the accounts of the Russian so called “authorities” in Crimea as official ones, which took place in 2021. Such actions contribute to legitimization of such de-facto “authorities” in the eyes of the public, and contribute to violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity .
Measures aimed against disinformation must be fair, transparent and aimed at protection of human rights and freedoms. This should include transparent procedures of decision-making and appeal. As of the moment, no such mechanisms exist to address the grievances, and to remedy the violations. Moreover, there exist no relevant monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and therefore even the scale of the problem of disinformation cannot be identified with certainty.
Measures that may be effective are the action by international organizations, international and domestic courts of democratic states, addressing the violations of the freedom of opinion and expression in the form of disinformation.
The “ARC” expressed its belief in report that that a special research on armed conflicts issues done by the Special Rapporteur may be a starting point for improvement of the situation. It would be beneficial if that research could pay attention to the situation with the freedom of expression and disinformation on the occupied territory of Crimea. The Rapporteur’s visit to Ukraine would contribute to collection of information, and would enable the Rapporteur to make a first-hand impression of the Russian disinformation practices in Crimea, “ARC” added in document. Links on broad variety of exampled and researches prepared by “ARC” in 2020-2021 were attached to the report.