The Hague –
Prosecutors investigating war crimes cases in Ukraine have been investigating allegations of forcible deportation of children to Russia since the attack as they sought to prosecute genocide, the country’s top prosecutor said in an interview.
International humanitarian law classifies forced mass deportations of people during conflict as a war crime. “Forcible transfer of children” is particularly worthy of genocide, the most serious of war crimes, under the 1948 Genocide Convention which outlaws the intent to completely or partially destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova, who oversees several war crimes investigations in Ukraine, said: “We have more than 20 cases of people being forcibly relocated to Russia from various parts of the Eastern European country since the invasion began on February 24.
“From the first day of the war, we started this issue of genocide,” Venediktova told Reuters. She said that in the midst of the chaos and destruction caused by the Russian invasion, focusing on the removal of children offered the best way to secure the evidence needed to meet the strict legal definition of genocide: “So this forced transfer of children is very important to us.”
Venedictova declined to say how many victims had been forcibly relocated. However, Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova said in mid-May that Russia had transferred more than 210,000 children during the conflict, part of the more than 1.2 million Ukrainians deported by Kiev against their will.
A Kremlin spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on Venediktova’s remarks or on the status of Ukrainians on Russian soil. Russia has said in the past that it would provide humanitarian aid to those seeking to flee Ukraine voluntarily.
Russia’s TASS state news agency quoted an unnamed law enforcement official as saying on Monday that “more than 1.55 million people from Ukraine and the Donbass region have crossed the border into the Russian Federation. Among them, more than 254,000 children.”
Russia has called its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegations are baseless and that the war is an unpredictable act of aggression.
Genocide Convention – The treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly following the Nazi genocide specifies five actions, each of which could be a crime if committed for the purpose of genocide: killing members of a group, inflicting serious physical or mental harm on them, destroying the group, preventing births, and forcibly removing children. Improving living conditions for the purpose of relocation.
Venedictova said the investigation into the genocide – covering child deportation and other acts – targeted areas ranging from northern Ukraine to the southern coast of Mykolaiv and Kherson. But because of the war, she said, the task of gathering evidence was becoming more complicated.
“Until today, there is no access to our area. We don’t have access to people who can ask, who can we interview, “she said.” We are waiting to see when this area will be occupied. “
In addition to the genocide, other alleged war crimes are being investigated in the regions of Kiev, Kharkiv, Lviv, Sumi and Zhitomir, the prosecutor’s office said. Ukrainian officials say they are investigating allegations of rape, torture and extrajudicial killings by Russian forces, deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Venedictova said Ukraine had identified more than 60,000 Russian war crimes suspects and was prosecuting 80 of them, a small number of whom were being held as prisoners of war. He did not say whether any of them were targeted for forced deportation.
Russia has vehemently denied that its troops committed war crimes in Ukraine, and instead accused the Ukrainian military of mistreating prisoners of war. Kiev has said allegations of abuse will be investigated.
The legal framework for establishing genocide is high, legal experts say, and it has been cemented in humanitarian law, with only three conflicts – Bosnia, Rwanda and Cambodia – proven in international courts.
However, some legal scholars say there is mounting evidence to support the case of genocide in Ukraine against Russian criminals, including a pattern of cruelty that could help meet the stringent standards required to justify specific genocide intent.
This week, reports from the Newellins Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington and the Raउl Wallenburg Center for Human Rights in Montreal quoted more than 30 legal experts as saying that children were forcibly transferred to Russia or Russian-controlled territories. Regions can support the genocide issue.
“They should focus entirely on the forced transfer of children. This is the strongest evidence in this particular situation,” Melanie O’Brien, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia and president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, told Reuters.
“We certainly see a risk of genocide in this case,” he added.
A spokesman for the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF in Geneva said it had been unable to reach areas near the border with Russia and had not been able to verify any reports of children being forcibly deported from Ukraine.
Venedictova said Ukraine’s genocide investigation would rely on the help of international war crimes experts hired to form a mobile justice team, which would make it easier to gather evidence. He said any criminal should be tried in the International Criminal Court, the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal.
Ukrainian officials say its courts are likely to handle hundreds of war crimes cases at full capacity and are considering sending large cases to the ICC. The International Court of Justice has experts with experience in prosecuting such complex cases, and the national legal system is allowed to take action when needed.
Venedictova spoke after a meeting with ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan in The Hague on Tuesday. Any decision on whether to prosecute for genocide or other war crimes at the International Court of Justice will be in Khan’s hands.
“We are aware of the allegations and reports of deportations, including of children, and we will ensure our ability to gather evidence that can be evaluated or judged in a timely manner,” Khan told Reuters last month.
An ICC spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ukraine’s genocide.
The ICC opened its own war crimes investigation into Ukraine in early March, but Khan declined to go into details on Tuesday. It has sent 42 experts, prosecutors and staff to Ukraine and plans to open an office in Kiev, he said.
British lawyer Wayne Jordas – co-chaired the Atrocities Crimes Unit created in May by the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union to coordinate and provide expertise in Ukraine’s war crimes investigation – should be ready to launch mobile justice teams. In the middle of which their work.
Asked about attempts to bring up the issue of genocide based on forced deportation, Jordas said: “Evidence is growing that this is happening in various places. The exact nature of this is not yet clear.” He did not elaborate.
War crimes in Ukraine are the focus of domestic investigations and are also being watched by 18 nations enforcing so-called sovereign jurisdictions, allowing the most serious international crimes to be prosecuted anywhere.
Local Ukrainian courts have already tried two war crimes cases, with three arrested Russian soldiers sentenced to 11 and a half years in prison.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Daniel Flynn)