Genocide against the Ukrainian people difficult to prove, ‘Biden uses big words’

With genocide ‘denying the people the right to exist’, the crime is described in the 96th resolution of the United Nations. We soon remember what was done to the Jewish people in World War II. Other examples are the killings of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda.

Was genocide committed in Ukraine as well? That’s what the American president thinks. “Because it is becoming increasingly clear that Putin is trying to eradicate the idea that you can be Ukrainian. There is more and more evidence,” he said. “It’s terrible what the Russians did in Ukraine.”

Historian Thijs Bouwknegt also heard the words of the American president. “There are no legal indications of that,” says Bouwknegt, who is affiliated with the NIOD. According to him, it is not easy to talk about genocide.

He points out that the International Criminal Court in The Hague has launched an investigation to gather evidence of international crimes. “I don’t think this investigation is about genocide, but things like crimes against humanity, which involve the same crimes.”

Bouwknegt explains that non-lawyers always think genocide is worse than other international crimes. – That is not necessarily the case.

The historian explains that there are three major international crimes, which are sometimes confused. These are genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

1. Genocide

First of all, genocide. Under Dutch criminal law, a person is guilty of genocide if committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic or religious group or a group belonging to a particular race, as such, in whole or in part.

Bouwknegt talks about the word ‘exterminate’. “As such, it’s hard to prove. Ukrainians are killing themselves. But how to prove that the Russians explicitly aim to exterminate all Ukrainians?” According to him, that is not known yet.

Defense expert Dick Zandee is also reacting cautiously. “Genocide? It’s ultimately a question for lawyers. Genocide is really under strict excuses. It’s hard for me to say, but I think big words are used very quickly.”

2. Crimes against humanity

The Criminal Court will take a different approach: crimes against humanity. “It’s about the same facts, that is, a systematic attack on the civilian population,” Bouwknegt says.

Examples of crimes against humanity are deportation or forced displacement, torture, slavery, rape and forced prostitution.

3. War crimes

The Criminal Court is also investigating war crimes. It concerns violating the ‘rules’ of war. These rules aim to protect people who do not take part in the war. “When soldiers intentionally kill civilians, we’re talking about war crimes,” Bouwknegt says.

Biden seems convinced: Putin is committing genocide against the Ukrainian population. “We’ll let the international lawyers decide if it will work for him, but I think it will,” he said.

Putin has already talked about genocide

Bouwknegt sees it differently. He states: “Biden uses the term genocide not in a legal but in a political sense. He is also not the first to say that.” The historian points out that Putin has used that word before to legitimize what he is doing in Ukraine now. The Ukrainian government itself allegedly committed genocide against the inhabitants of the Donbas region, in the east of the country.

What international crimes were committed (or were not) in this war: therefore, remains to be investigated. Evidence must first be gathered quickly, says criminal law expert Geert-jan Knoops in this article:

Ukraine as a “crime scene”

Meanwhile, today the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, visited Butya, a city near Kiev where hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were killed. “Ukraine is a place of crime. We are here because we have good grounds to believe that crimes have been committed that fall within our jurisdiction,” Khan told reporters.

If evidence of an international crime is indeed found, the chief prosecutor may request an international arrest warrant. If the judge approves, the suspects will no longer be able to travel to countries recognized by the International Criminal Court.

The word is: do not go to war with Russia

However, what if there are indications that genocide is starting in Ukraine. Is there a greater chance that it will be taken then? “No. I really don’t believe that,” says defense expert Dick Zandee. “Because the line is: don’t go to war with Russia. It just stays.”

He also recently saw unconfirmed reports of the use of chemical weapons in Mariupol. “It was also a red line, just like before in Syria towards former President Obama. It did not lead to the deployment of the US military. Russia is a nuclear power.”

And what about the UN? Can he intervene in the event of genocide? “Well, that doesn’t stand a chance either,” Zandee says. Because there is Russia in the Security Council. “And they will veto it anyway. With China’s support.”

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