May 28, 2022 - World

Independent experts accuse Russia of inciting genocide in Ukraine

A fireman helping extinguish a fire in a factory in Bakhmut, Ukraine, struck by artillery on May 27.
A fireman helping extinguish a fire in a factory in Bakhmut, Ukraine, struck by artillery on May 27. Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

Independent legal scholars and human rights experts in a report Friday accused Russia of inciting genocide and perpetrating atrocities that reveal an "intent to destroy the Ukrainian national group."

Driving the news: There is "a very serious risk of genocide" and states have a legal obligation to prevent it, warned the the report signed by more than 30 experts and published by the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Under the 1948 Genocide Convention, genocide is defined as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

  • Acts of genocide to those groups include killings, serious bodily or mental harm, measures to prevent births, and forcible transfer of children from one group to another.
  • Friday's report said that a "genocidal pattern of destruction targeting Ukrainians" has been established in Ukraine, citing mass killings, deliberate attacks on shelters, evacuations routes and humanitarian corridors, the destruction of vital infrastructure, including health care, reports of sexual violence, and the forcible transfer of Ukrainians, including thousands of children to Russia.

The report also said that there are "reasonable grounds to conclude" Russia is responsible for "direct and public incitement to commit genocide."

  • It cited high-ranking Russian officials and state media commentators denying the existence of a Ukrainian identity, justifying atrocities through propaganda that dehumanizes Ukrainians and Russian authorities denying atrocities committed by its forces in Ukraine and rewarding soldiers suspected of mass killings in the country.
  • “The purveyors of incitement propaganda are all highly influential political, religious and State-run media figures, including President Putin,” the report said. “There is mounting evidence that Russian soldiers have internalized and are responding to the State propaganda campaign by echoing its content while committing atrocities.”

The big picture: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly accused Russia of carrying out genocide, pointing to atrocities committed in Ukrainian cities like Bucha and Mariupol, and mostly recently during Russia's military offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

  • The UN said Friday that more than 4,000 civilians, including over 260 children, have been killed since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 23, though it stressed the actual figure is likely considerably higher. Russia has repeatedly denied it targets civilians, despite evidence contradicting those claims.
  • President Biden first used the term "genocide" last month, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin is "trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian." But other leaders have been more reluctant to label Russia's actions in Ukraine as "genocide."
  • The International Criminal Court, which can bring about war crimes and genocide charges, announced earlier this month it had sent 42 experts to Ukraine — its "largest ever" single field deployment — to investigate alleged war crimes.

The bottom line: "We understand there is a reluctance to invoke the Genocide Convention ... but in this instance, the pervasive and systematic atrocities targeting Ukrainians mandate these determinations and the responsibility to act," Irwin Cotler, international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre, said in the afterword of Friday's report.

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