Exclusive: Ukraine investigates deportation of children to Russia as possible genocide
- More than 20 cases of forced eviction – Prosecutor General of Kyiv
- International law defines forcible transfers of children as genocide
- Russia says it is providing humanitarian aid to people fleeing
- Russia says quarter of a million children have arrived from Ukraine
THE HAGUE, June 3 (Reuters) – Prosecutors investigating war crimes cases in Ukraine are examining allegations of forcible deportation of children to Russia since the invasion as they seek to draw up an indictment for genocide, the country’s attorney general said in an interview.
International humanitarian law classifies the forced mass deportation of people during conflict as a war crime. The “forcible transfer of children” in particular is qualified as genocide, the most serious of war crimes, under the 1948 Genocide Convention which prohibits the intention to destroy – in whole or in part – a national group. , ethnic, racial or religious.
Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who oversees several war crimes investigations in Ukraine, said “we have more than 20 cases of forcible transfer of people” to Russia from various parts of the Eastern European country since the start of the invasion on February 24.
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
“From the first days of the war, we started this genocide case,” Venediktova told Reuters. She said that amid the chaos and destruction wrought by the Russian onslaught, focusing on the displacement of children offered the best way to obtain the evidence needed to meet the stringent legal definition of genocide: “ That is why this forced transfer of children is very important to us.”
Venediktova declined to provide a figure on the number of forcibly transferred victims. However, Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said in mid-May that Russia had displaced more than 210,000 children during the conflict, part of more than 1.2 million Ukrainians who, according to Kyiv, were expelled against their will.
A Kremlin spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Venediktova’s remarks or the numbers for Ukrainians on Russian soil. In the past, Russia has said it offers humanitarian aid to those who wish to voluntarily flee Ukraine.
Russian state news agency TASS quoted an unnamed law enforcement official on Monday as saying that “more than 1.55 million people who arrived from the territory of Ukraine and Donbass crossed the border into the Russian of Russia. Among them, more than 254,000 children”.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
The Genocide Convention – a treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust – specifies five acts that could each constitute the crime, if committed with genocidal intent: killing members of a group, inflicting serious bodily or mental harm on them, imposing living conditions designed to destroy the group, preventing births and forcibly removing children from the group.
Venediktova said investigations aimed at building a genocide case – covering the forced deportation of children and other acts – targeted areas from northern Ukraine to Mykolaiv and Kherson on the southern coast. But gathering evidence was complicated by the war, she said.
“As of today, we don’t have access to the territory. We don’t have access to the people we can ask, who we can interview,” she said. “We are waiting when this territory will be cleared.”
Besides genocide, other alleged war crimes are being investigated in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Sumy and Zhytomyr regions, the prosecutor general’s office said. Ukrainian officials said they were investigating the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, rape, torture and extrajudicial executions by Russian forces.
Venediktova said Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russian war crimes suspects and has already prosecuted about 80 of them, a small number of whom are being held as prisoners of war. read more She did not specify whether any of them were the target of forced evictions.
Russia has strongly denied that its forces committed war crimes in Ukraine and in turn accused Ukrainian troops of atrocities, including mistreatment of prisoners of war. Kyiv said the allegations of abuse will be investigated.
ASSEMBLY OF EVIDENCE
The legal bar for establishing genocide is high, say legal experts, and it has only been proven in international courts for three conflicts – Bosnia, Rwanda and Cambodia – since it was cemented into law humanitarian. Read more
However, some legal scholars have said there is growing evidence to support a genocide case in Ukraine against Russian perpetrators, including a set of atrocities that can help meet the rigorous standard required. to prove specific genocidal intent.
A report released this week by the Washington-based Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, which cited more than 30 legal experts, said the forcible transfer large-scale shipments of children to Russia or Russian-controlled areas could support a genocide case.
“They should definitely focus on the forcible transfer of children. That’s the strongest evidence in this particular situation,” Melanie O’Brien, associate professor at the University of Western Australia and chair, told Reuters. of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
“We definitely see a risk of genocide in this situation,” she added.
A spokeswoman in Geneva for UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said she was unable to access the area near the border with Russia and was not able to verify reports of forced deportations of children from Ukraine.
Venediktova said Ukraine’s genocide investigation will rely on the help of international war crimes experts recruited to form mobile forensic teams that will facilitate the collection of evidence. She said all perpetrators should then be tried by the International Criminal Court, the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal.
Ukrainian officials said their courts would be operating at full capacity to handle potentially hundreds of war crimes cases and the idea was to forward the most important ones to the ICC. The international tribunal has experts experienced in prosecuting such complex cases and is tasked with stepping in when national legal systems need help.
Venediktova spoke after meeting ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan in The Hague on Tuesday. Any decision on whether to pursue charges of genocide or other war crimes before the international tribunal would rest with Khan.
“We are aware of the allegations and reports of deportations, including of children, and we will do our best to collect evidence that can be assessed or tried in due course,” Khan told Reuters last month.
An ICC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ukraine’s genocide investigations.
The ICC opened its own investigation into war crimes in Ukraine in early March, but Khan declined on Tuesday to go into specifics about the crimes his office would investigate. It has sent 42 experts, prosecutors and staff to Ukraine and plans to open an office in Kyiv, he said.
British lawyer Wayne Jordash – co-head of the Atrocity Crimes Unit, a mechanism created by the United States, Britain and the European Union in May to coordinate and provide expertise to war crimes investigations in Ukraine – said mobile justice teams should be ready to start their work in mid-June.
Asked about efforts to bring a case of genocide based on forced deportations, Jordash said: “The evidence that this is happening in different places is growing stronger. The precise nature of this is not yet clear. He did not provide further details.
War crimes in Ukraine are investigated nationally and are also investigated by 18 countries applying so-called universal jurisdiction, which allows the most serious international crimes to be prosecuted anywhere.
Local Ukrainian courts have already held two war crimes trials, sentencing three captured Russian soldiers to prison terms ranging from 11.5 years to life. Read more
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Daniel Flynn
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.