There is a serious risk of genocide in Ukraine amid evidence that Russia has committed atrocities intended to destroy the Ukrainian people, according to a new independent report into allegations of genocide in the war zone.
The 47-page report was led by the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, founded by human-rights lawyer and former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, and the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington-based foreign policy think tank.
While the report provides evidence of “genocidal intent” from Russia’s criminal aggression and mass atrocity crimes, it does not go as far as to clearly declare the situation in Ukraine a genocide.
It concludes that the serious risk of genocide in Ukraine triggers a legal obligation under Article I of the 1948 Genocide Convention for all member states, including Canada, to prevent and punish the international crime.
In an interview Friday, Mr. Cotler said Canada should use multilateral forums, such as the G7 and NATO, to ensure other countries live up to their legal duty under the convention.
“This report makes it clear that nobody can any longer say, ‘we do not know.’ We know. We have to act and that act is a legal responsibility, a legal obligation to prevent and protect,” said Mr. Cotler.
More than 35 international law, genocide and Eastern Europe experts who contributed to the report found that Russia breached two articles of the convention, to which is it bound.
The report says Russia violated Article II, which defines genocide as committing acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” by killing members of the group, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, imposing living conditions intended to destroy them, preventing births and forcibly transferring children out of the group. It specifically cited the forcible transfer of more than 180,000 Ukrainian children to Russia and reports of public executions as breaches of the article.
The report said Russia’s “escalating propaganda campaign” against Ukrainians constitutes a breach of Article III (c) of the convention, which says the “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” is punishable. It said there is considerable evidence demonstrating Russian soldiers have internalized state propaganda by carrying out atrocities or expressing genocidal intent; for instance, a Hostomel, Ukraine resident recalled a senior Russian officer telling an eight-year-old girl “we will liberate you from Nazis.”
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said “war crimes and crimes against humanity would fit the pattern” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown, but noted it is up to experts to decide if genocide has occurred.
“Genocide is a legal determination which will be confirmed by international legal professionals in the appropriate bodies,” said press secretary Adrien Blanchard.
The International Criminal Court is one of those bodies. In March, Canada was one of the first countries to refer the situation in Ukraine to the ICC over alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Canada has also sent a specialized team of RCMP investigators to the court in The Hague to gather evidence. Ms. Joly announced Thursday that Canada will provide $1-million to the ICC to help strengthen accountability for conflict-related sexual violence and support the investigation in Ukraine.
In addition to Canada, 42 other countries have referred the situation in Ukraine to the ICC. The U.S. is not among the referral countries, as it is not a state party to the 1998 Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC.
The House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion in April declaring Russia’s war on Ukraine to be a genocide. The Parliamentary declaration came shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden accused Russia of genocide in Ukraine.
Friday’s report is meant to put member states “on notice” about their legal obligations under the convention.
“With the word genocide so commonly used – and similarly disputed – allowing for a looseness of definition is unhelpful. A clear reckoning of the facts using the opportunities of modern methods of investigation together with legal analysis pursuant to applicable law is essential,” said Azeem Ibrahim, director of special initiatives at the New Lines Institute, in the report. Mr. Ibrahim initiated the report after travelling to Ukraine earlier this year.
NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson, who sponsored April’s motion in the House of Commons, said she is hopeful more countries will join Canada in recognizing the situation in Ukraine as genocide.
“It checks almost every single box of what is the definition of a genocide and if the global community doesn’t act, doesn’t do what they’re required by law to do, then we’re implicated as well,” she said.
In a statement, Conservative Foreign Affairs critic Michael Chong said Russia has clearly committed war crimes in Ukraine that “may constitute genocide” and the perpetrators must be held accountable.
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