Can we talk about a “genocide” committed by the Russian army in Ukraine, as Volodymyr Zelensky says?

“These are war crimes and the world will recognize them as genocide.”. Two days after countless civilian corpses were discovered in the streets of Bucha, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, went to the suburb of Kyiv, on Monday, April 4, to denounce the actions of Russian soldiers there, which were discovered after the city was retaken by Ukrainian forces. The head of state used a serious word full of history “Genocide”.

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kyiv was already using this term to refer to the deadly siege of Mariupol. After the horrific images of Butch and other martyrs’ towns were discovered, the accusation took on another field. Spain and Poland in particular took the lead. But others have avoided it, such as the President of the United States, Joe Biden, who when asked about the term “Genocide”preferablywar crimes”. Franceinfo answers the questions raised by this discussion.

clearly defined crime…

The crime of genocide was created in 1948 by a United Nations convention, and its definition has not changed since then. Identifies specific acts (mainly murders) committed in “Intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

So this narrow definition excludes many scenarios. “Genocide cannot target a political or cultural group”Explains Jan Guruvic, a public law lecturer at the University of Paris-Saclay, who has collaborated with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). While some jurists believe that a term is needed to denote the eradication of a culture, it does not fall within the generally accepted scope today.

Moreover, it is necessary to prove “A policy that aims to destroy the group as such, just because it exists.” In contrast to massacres aimed, for example, at occupying an area, al-Faqih explains: “In this case the motive is not hatred of the other.”. On the other hand, there is no minimum number of victims, as long as it can be shown that the goal is to eliminate the target population.

Jan Yurovich remembers: the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the genocide of the Jews in September 1941, and the Tutsi extermination of April 1994. The recognized genocide can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Hereros, people of Namibia, by Germany from 1904: If “We lack the elements from a legal point of view” To make the decision more than a century later, Germany recognized it in 2015.

…but this does not correspond to the Ukrainian context

Many of the components of the genocide, as we know it, are absent from the situation in Ukraine, in the eyes of Jan Yurovich. perpetrators of genocide with the intent of eliminating the group they target, “Attack everyone they meet.” This was not what apparently happened in Butch, where it was clear that many of the victims were civilians who were arbitrarily executed, but where She saved the lives of other residents as they witness today. The number of victims reached hundreds, but the Russian army did not exterminate all the 37,000 inhabitants of this city.

Although Russian forces surrounded some towns, they did not ‘They prevented all Ukrainians from leaving’, another aspect that would help describe the will to spare no one. There is no indication of existence “Killing Centers”. And the Russian military does not specifically target women and children, who are priority targets during genocide, because the target then is ‘To destroy the group permanently’Jan Guruvics decrypts.

In a very common message on Twitter (in English)Genocide expert, historian and political scientist Eugene Finkel of Johns Hopkins University in the United States said Monday that he is convinced that there is genocide, especially after the publication of an article by the official Russian agency RIA. RIA Novosti. Published on Sunday and summarized in English by Belarusian journalistthis text advocates a very broad view of what Russia describes “De-Nazification” Ukraine, intention Putin has repeatedly claimed: all Ukrainians who took up arms should be eliminated, and the majority of the Ukrainian population supports the Nazis, in particular, writes the state press service. “One of the clearest statements I have ever seen with the intent to destroy a national group.”Eugene Finkel thinks, himself an Israeli, but he was born in Ukraine.

But here again, jurist Jan Yurovich disagrees with this analysis: Russian discourse is not aimed at “Biological group”But supporters of a political idea (whether real or not). “The simple test, to determine if it is genocide, is to ask if the victim has a choice. For example, Tutsis can no longer choose not to Tutsi anymore”, he explains. On the other hand, the rhetoric of Russian power leaves Ukrainians with the option to abandon their defense of the country’s independence and national identity. “In practice, this is a very limited option.”The lawyer knows. But he distinguishes the rhetoric of Russian power from the rhetoric of genocide, “that would link political thought to a biological standard”.

Other possible qualifications

Joe Biden called for a war crimes trial on Monday, an easier qualification to establish. Attacks against civilians in particular are war crimes, and they have been documented and multiplied since the beginning of the Russian invasion at the end of February, in Bucha, Mariupol or Kharkiv.

Crime against humanity is another possible description. It designates, according to Yann Jurovics, The policy of depriving individuals of basic rights because of their identity.

“If the Russian authorities attack civilians in the context of an armed conflict, this is a war crime. If the population is targeted because they are Ukrainians, this is a crime against humanity.”

Jan Yurovic, public law lecturer and former member of the law at the International Criminal Court


However, it is necessary to establish that the actions of the Russian army are the result of a coordinated policy, as this specialist explains. “It is difficult without written evidence, and confessions are almost non-existent”, warns. But iteration of certain methods can make it possible to prove: “If we realize that the Russian army left behind a mass grave in all the cities it occupied, then this can testify to a policy that was set at a higher level.” The International Criminal Court (ICC) already opened an investigation into all acts committed in Ukraine at the beginning of March, even if the possibility of seeing Vladimir Putin one day on trial is remote.

“Crime against humanity is no less serious than genocide”, recalls Jan Gurovich. For legal professionals, these two crimes describe different situations. “But the name ‘genocide’ is sometimes invoked because there is an impression of a hierarchy.” In awe, which will be the final stage. The use of this term, right or wrong, is understandable at a time when it comes to prompting the international community to respond. But the lawyer remembers “that there was no military intervention to stop the genocide, in Rwanda for example”.

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