June 21, 2024


The Legal System

Russia has incited genocide in Ukraine, independent experts conclude


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Russia is responsible for inciting genocide and perpetrating atrocities that show an “intent to destroy” the Ukrainian people, a new legal analysis signed by more than 30 independent experts concluded.

The report, published Friday by the Washington-based New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, also concludes that there is “serious risk of genocide in Ukraine,” and that states have a legal obligation to prevent genocide from occurring.

It cited denials from high-level Russian officials and state media commentators of the existence of a distinct Ukrainian identity, and dehumanizing claims that Ukrainians are Nazis and “are therefore deserving of punishment.” The report also points to Russian authorities’ rewarding soldiers suspected of mass killings in Ukraine, among other evidence.

“The purveyors of incitement propaganda are all highly influential political, religious and State-run media figures, including President Putin,” the report says. “There is mounting evidence that Russian soldiers have internalized and are responding to the State propaganda campaign by echoing its content while committing atrocities.”

Genocide, often seen as the ultimate crime, has a precise legal definition: “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

What is genocide, and is Russia carrying it out in Ukraine?

The joint report Friday included input from about three dozen experts on genocide and international law, including several former ambassadors and others who were involved in the creation and proceedings of international criminal tribunals.

Their analysis pointed to a genocidal pattern of Russian forces’ targeting of Ukrainian civilians, including evidence of mass executions and torture of civilians in areas that were occupied by Russian forces, such as the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, as well as deliberate attacks on shelters, evacuation routes and humanitarian corridors; sieges of Ukrainian cities; and indiscriminate bombing of residential areas. The report also cited sexual violence and reports of the forcible deportation of Ukrainians to Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russian forces of carrying out genocide in Ukraine, as have organizations such as Genocide Watch. President Biden first used the term last month to describe Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

But some world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have been more wary of applying the label.

Countries committed under the 1948 Genocide Convention to “prevent and punish” genocide. But that doesn’t necessarily oblige them to intervene militarily, experts told The Washington Post last month.

Countries with “strong political links to Russia” have a greater responsibility to use their influence to stop genocide in Ukraine, the report said — and all countries should help protect Ukrainians by securing humanitarian corridors and access to medical care as well as helping to hold Russian soldiers accountable for atrocities.

“We understand there is a reluctance to invoke the Genocide Convention,” Irwin Cotler, international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre, wrote in an afterword. “But in this instance, the pervasive and systematic atrocities targeting Ukrainians mandate these determinations and the responsibility to act.”


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