A special team are gathering evidence of genocide in Ukraine
During a discussion at the Centre for European Politics in Brussels (CEPS), Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andrei Kostin described how the country’s prosecutors are gathering evidence of the ‘crime of crimes’. “A special team at the Prosecutor-General’s Office is working on cases of genocide,” he commented, “and we are gradually putting together a complete set of evidence.” Kostin had no doubt that Ukraine’s rights activists working in collaboration with world-class specialists would gather “a sufficient amount of evidence to convict those accused of committing such crimes”.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General also described how a Special Tribunal was being set up and gave an account of the work being undertaken by The International Centre for Prosecution for the Crime of Aggression (ICPA). Members of the main group for setting up a Special Tribunal are presently discussing the juridical model it should adopt, said Kostin. They are focusing on two basic conditions proposed by Ukraine: the international dimension of such a Special Tribunal and the need to prosecute Russia’s highest military-political leadership.
“The main goal is that those who initiated the aggression [against Ukraine] and continue to wage an aggressive war should be punished,” Kostin emphasised. “Such a Tribunal should also have an international dimension since this aggression is not a regional conflict but a global war. Not a single country in the world has been unaffected by this armed aggression.”
The Prosecutor General also referred to The International Centre for Prosecution for the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine: it has been at work in the Hague since July 2023 and is helping to gather evidence for the future Special Tribunal.
“A team of prosecutors from Ukraine and from Member States of the Joint Investigative Group, supported by prosecutors from other countries, including the USA, are already at work, documenting the crime of aggression,” explained Kostin. “They are preparing the case so that it will be ready for the future Tribunal.”
Russia’s genocidal war
On 12 October, 2023 deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed a Resolution about Ukraine which stated, among other things, that the Russian Federation was waging a genocidal war there: “the hideous character of some crimes including the deportation of Ukrainian children and sexual violence, and the rhetoric of the authorities indicate an attempt by the Russian Federation to annihilate the Ukrainian nation, waging a genocidal war”. Since it began its full-scale invasion and occupation, the Resolution continued, “has not hesitated to use migrants, energy, ecocide, economic leverage, the passportisation of Ukrainian citizens, and the forcible deportation of Ukrainian children as weapons. Illegal fake elections and referendums organised by the Russian Federation in the illegally and temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”.
In accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, noted Iryna Skachko of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), the deliberate use of starvation as a means of waging war and depriving the civilian population of items essential to their survival, constitutes a war crime. During the siege of Mariupol, however, Russia went further and destroyed the city’s inhabitants, resorting to genocide.
At the end of August 2023, the Tribunal for Putin project (T4P), presented a lengthy submission to the International Criminal Court, detailing the acts of genocide committed by Russian forces in Mariupol. For the first time in the present conflict Ukraine’s rights activists offered a juridical definition of the “crime of crimes”: Mikhail Romanov, KHPG expert and co-author of the August submission described how genocide in and around Mariupol took three forms: Killing; creation of conditions leading to the destruction of the protected group; and the deportation of children. Another of the submission’s author’s Yekateryna Buryakovska, has described in detail how the Russians, using starvation and the lack of drinking water, destroyed the inhabitants of Mariupol. Eyewitness accounts tell how people drank rainwater, collected and melted snow, or used water from the central heating system in order simply to wash their hands. On 6 March 2022, the Mariupol city council announced that a six-year-old girl had died of dehydration; her mother died earlier, said Buryakovska, of gunshot wounds.
International and Ukrainian experts had already commented on Russia’s use of starvation to blackmail the world and its use of mass hunger as a weapon. Mass hunger is described as a weapon in the dossier on Russian war crimes compiled by Global Rights Compliance, a firm of lawyers and rights activists that is working together with the Office of the Ukraine’s Prosecutor General. The corresponding document will also be submitted to the International Criminal Court where it may form the basis of a criminal indictment and help to bring charges against Vladimir Putin. The senior attorney with the Global Rights Compliance Yusuf Said Khan remarks that “the use of food as a weapon has proceeded in three stages”, starting with Russia’s full-scale invasion last February. Stage One occurred when Ukrainian towns and cities were surrounded by Russian forces and food supplies were halted. Stage Two embraced both the destruction of food and water supplies, and the destruction of energy supplies across Ukraine: Lawyers refer to sites and installations “essential to the survival of the civilian population”. Stage Three, according to lawyers, is made up of Russian attempts to prevent or limit Ukraine’s export of foodstuffs. The Global Rights Compliance team included the case of Mariupol in their dossier. When the city came under the control of Russian forces it was no longer supplied with food. Then Russians began to block or bomb humanitarian corridors. As a result, says the dossier, the residents of Mariupol had no food and were unable to escape from Russian occupation.
People trapped on the upper floors of residential buildings during the siege of Mariupol, notes KHPG director Yevhen Zakharov, died of hunger and thirst. No one could reach them. Russian forces in Ukraine, therefore, resumed Stalin’s attempt to destroy Ukrainians in a new wave of genocide. During the Holodomor (1932-3) the Soviet Union concealed what it was doing: only after the USSR collapsed and an independent Ukraine appeared was it possible to investigate the murder of countless men, women and children during that man-made famine. Everything is different today, comments Zakharov. Everything is taking place before the eyes of Ukraine and the whole world and an investigation of genocide could be conducted much faster. “It depends mainly on when Russia loses the war. When it is defeated, the regime will change and a new government will be forced to admit the crimes Russia has committed,” says Zakharov. “Then everything will take place much more swiftly.”