On 11 March 2014, Swiss Foreign Minister and OSCE Chair Didier Burkhalter stated that in its current form the so called referendum in Crimea scheduled for 16 March 2014, is in contradiction with the Ukrainian Constitution and must be considered as illegal.
For any referendum regarding the degree of autonomy or sovereignty of the Crimea to be legitimate, it would need to be based on the Ukrainian Constitution and would have to be in line with international law, he said. In that context, Burkhalter called upon all actors to refrain from supporting unconstitutional activities.
The Chair also ruled out the possibility of an OSCE observation of the planned referendum of 16 March as the basic criteria for a decision in a constitutional framework was not met. Furthermore, an invitation by the participating State concerned would be a precondition to any observation activity in this regard.
International experiences, including experiences in Switzerland, showed that processes aiming at modifying constitutional set ups and discussions on regional autonomy were complex and time consuming, sometimes stretching over months or even years, he added. Political and legal adjustments in that regard had to be consulted in an inclusive and structured dialogue on national, regional and local level. Burkhalter said that all stakeholders had to be on board, otherwise processes like that would provoke tensions instead of leading to sustainable solutions and addressing concerns of parts of the population, including minority rights.
The Chair reiterated his readiness to engage in discussions with all sides, possibly in the form of a Contact Group, regarding possibilities to find ways out of the current situation. The Chair took note of significant concerns signaled by his Personal Envoy on the situation in the Crimea. He invited all participating States to support an early decision and subsequent deployment of an OSCE Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.
Please, also find attached the Declaration by President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe Herwig Van Staa on proposed Crimean Referendum.
Declaration by Congress President on proposed Crimean Referendum
Reacting to the announcement of a referendum in the Crimea on 16 March on whether it should join the Russian Federation, Congress president Herwig Van Staa declared:
“I cannot but deplore this initiative. To hold a referendum, at such short notice, using closed questions, without consultation with the national authorities and in the unauthorized presence of military forces, in flagrant violation of international law, is a travesty of the democratic process and one that I condemn. It would be a serious step backwards for the democratic development of this region. As President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, Europe’s Pan-European Assembly of elected representatives of Europe’s towns and regions, I strongly support the development of greater regional autonomy in our member states. Moreover, in its 2013 Recommendation to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, on Regions and territories with special status in Europe, the Congress urges member states to make greater use of the special status model to address the specific needs of regions with special historical and cultural characteristics, of which the Crimea is a striking example. I would like to point out that the Crimea already enjoys a special status of autonomy within Ukraine. If the people of Crimea wish to further deepen and extend that autonomy, the legal framework exists, within Ukraine to revise those constitutional provisions. The Congress would be ready to assist and advise on any such developments.”