Borys Babin

In April, 2021 Association presented own submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Including its Causes and Consequences Mr. Tomoya Obokata to his questionnaire on issues of the role of organised criminal croups with regard to contemporary forms of slavery, regarding the situation on the Crimean peninsula. Such submission was granted for the Special Rapporteur’s forthcoming report to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly [1].

Our Association already informed the Special Rapporteur in March, 2021 on issues of nexus between forced displacement and contemporary forms of slavery, regarding the situation on the peninsula; this submission is now available on the UN’s sources [2]. Both Association’s responses address the issues identified by the Association in the course of its work, namely the issue of intentional and organized Russian policies undermining the civil and labour rights of the residents of Crimea.

So we have already informed the Special Rapporteur that the policy of Russian de-facto “authorities” in Crimea includes the discrimination of the citizens of Ukraine in Crimea that refused or could not get the so-called “Russian citizenship” after 2014, when Russia declared Crimean peninsula as allegedly “own territory”.

Such Ukrainian citizens resided in Crimea before the attempted annexation or resettled to the peninsula later due to Russian aggression on the East of Ukraine and the ongoing armed conflict there. Such Ukrainian citizens in Crimea are determined by the Russian de-facto “authorities” as “foreigners”, which have to get the “residence permits” and the “special allowance” to work. But in reality thousands of such persons cannot have the “residence” and the “special allowance” in the Crimea, due to the system of total corruption, bureaucracy and politic position of the Russian de-facto “authorities” in this region [2].

As it is now reflected on the UN sources, some of the cases of this type were used by Russian state propaganda, for its hate speech activities against Ukraine, Ukrainians, and citizens of Ukraine. For example, in February 2018 Russia’s official media “Rossiyskaya Gazeta”, published by the Government of Russia, published the article “23 Ukrainian Gastarbeiters Were Deported from Crimea” devoted to the illegal “punishment” by the Russian Administrative Code’s articles 18.8 and 18.10 of the group of workers, used in the kindergarten’s reconstruction in Novoozernoye settlement (Western Crimea) [3].

Even the term “gastarbeiters”, used before by the Nazi regime in Germany, shows by itself the real attitude of the Russian de-facto “authorities” to the Ukrainian citizens’ labour rights. Therefore, all such Ukrainian citizens in the Crimea are vulnerable, since their work is labelled as “illegal” without any guarantees and with minimal possible payments. As we have previously informed the Special Rapporteur, such work of Ukrainians in own State’s territory, illegally occupied by Russia, is de-facto a specific contemporary form of slavery. It is worth noting that Russia in own submission to the Special Rapporteur gave only short review of its own legislation, but no any practical data on issues of forced labour. At that, Russia did not provide information on the issue of Crimea and other territories of Ukraine, illegally controlled by the Russia [4].

Due to the role of organised criminal groups in contemporary forms of slavery, we informed Special Rapporteur in April, 2021 additionally on those issues regarding the situation on the Crimean peninsula. “ARC” stated to the Rapporteur that in our submission, we shall not touch upon such kinds of forced labour in the Crimea as works of “prisoners” and persons subjected to “administrative arrest” by Russian de-facto “authorities” and of Crimean residents, “conscripted” illegally to the Russian army.

Those issues, as a key part of illegal Russian state policy in the contested peninsula, constitute international crimes that are now under consideration of the International Criminal Court [5]. However such crimes, related to forced labour of Crimean residents, are committed exactly by the Russian de-facto “authorities”, not by the separate criminal groups. So the “ARC” brought the Rapporteur’ attention to other following facts, of the “private” criminal groups’ activities, and on their relation with Russia’s de-facto “authorities” and with punitive structures in the Crimea.

Submission pointes that criminal groups, involved in contemporary forms of slavery, are closely connected to Russia’s special services and to the so-called “Crimean republican authorities” [6]. As there abundant evidence of slavery in the Crimea exists first of all in area of housing industry and building the infrastructural projects of Russia in peninsula. Our Association gave to the Rapporteur the information concerning such facts in Foros, Yalta, Yevpatoria, Sevastopol, and other places [7-9].

The abovementioned use of forced labour for the reconstruction of kindergarten in Novoozernoye settlement has the same nature. Despite of this, no “criminal cases” or “court decisions” have been initiated or finalized in the Crimea by Russia de-facto “authorities”. In 2015-2017 (no recent information is available from open sources) no “criminal cases” on issues of the forced labour (articles 127-1 “Human Trafficking”, 127-2 “Use the Slavery Labour” of the Russia’s Criminal Code, illegally implemented in Crimea since 2014) have been under consideration in the Russia’s “courts” illegally established in Crimea [10].

We pointed to the Special Rapporteur that relevant criminal groups have features of etnic-grounded criminal entities that operate in Yalta, Alushta and other places [11-12]. They have close connection with “Crimean republican authorities” as the “Head of the Republic of Crimea” Sergey Aksyonov [13], “Head of State Council of the Republic of Crimea” Vladimir Konstantinov [14], head of “Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea” Igor Radionov [15] and others. We pointed to the UN high-level officer that Sergey Aksyonov played a key role in the criminal group “Seylem” before 2014, while Vladimir Konstantinov is a de facto boss of the building concern “Consol” closely connected with the criminal world. Thus, the criminal groups that use forced labour in Crimea (mostly in building industry), are subordinated and closely cooperate with the Russian de facto “authorities”.

So our submission states that these criminal groups operate internationally, with connections to some regions of Russia like Moscow Region, Ossetia, Chechnya, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Ukraine’s mainland [16-18]. The ethnic criminal group from Yalta is connected with child trafficking and child pornography, as well as with forced labour in building sector, and in the same time this group is the key sponsor of so-called “Friends of Crimea” project [19], co-ordinated by the Russian government, with participation of some extremist and marginal politicians from Austria, Italy, Germany, France [20-21] etc. 

“ARC” stressed that the nature of criminal groups’ involvement in contemporary forms of slavery in the Crimea is broad. Their primary form is the use of forced labour in the residence housing construction sector, however, such forced labour is also used in agricultural and trading sectors. The key areas of illegal activities where individuals are being exploited by the organised criminal groups are the drug distribution and prostitution in the Crimea. The “Crimean authorities”, including the highest “judges” are totally corrupted and connected to the organised criminal groups that enjoy impunity, and the participation of such Crimean criminal groups in contemporary forms of slavery poses additional challenges to the identification of victims as there are no effective remedies in the occupied peninsula as a “grey zone” [22].

“ARC” also pointed that the legislative frameworks to combat the contemporary forms of slavery are absent in the Crimea, as Russia illegally applies its own legislation on the occupied territory since 2014, including in “criminal and administrative proceedings”. Ukraine has no possibility to use its own legislation effectively, as it does not control this region. Russia does not provide the current punitive statistics regarding Crimea and from 2017 there was any “case” related to combating of human trafficking or forced labour in Crimea, and there is no information on any “court” proceeding against the forced labour in the Crimea. More, the illegal application of Russia’s criminal legislation and “Russian law enforcement system” combined with total corruption lead to the involvement of organised criminal group to not punished activities.

“ARC” also stressed in its submission that Russia’s de-facto “authorities” do not promote “intelligence-led law enforcement” to combat contemporary forms of slavery, as they use such technologies only for persecution their politic opponents and pro-Ukrainian civil initiatives in the Crimea. And more, Russia’s de-facto “authorities” do not support any “legislative frameworks” providing for sufficient safeguards against abuse in the Crimea. Russia’s de-facto “authorities” do not protect witnesses in “criminal proceedings” involving organised criminal groups, and more, since 2014 any “criminal proceedings” have been initiated against organised criminal groups in the Crimea. The victims and survivors of forces labour have no access to justice and to remedies in Crimea; any types of assistance are not provided to victims enslaved by the organised criminal groups in the Crimea, no compensations are paid, no protection is provided.

We stressed in the Association’s submission that the key challenge to combating contemporary forms of slavery committed by organised criminal groups in the Crimea is exactly the illegal occupation and the attempted annexation of the peninsula by Russia that directly caused the emergence of corrupted model of de-facto “authorities” in the region, closely connected to the criminal groups. “ARC” pointed to the Rapporteur that the Russian officials use the tactics of appointing the representatives of the criminal clans for the positions at the “government” and “administrative” structures in the Crimea, which gives the Russian federal authorities total control over such persons.

Association invited the Special Rapporteur to Ukraine, including the Crimea; as such visit would contribute to collection of information, and would enable the Rapporteur to make a first-hand impression of the situation with contemporary forms of slavery in the occupied peninsula.