Ukraine: Prosecuting the Crime of Genocide

“Russia's goal is the destruction of the national group of Ukrainians.”

Ukraine: Prosecuting the Crime of Genocide

“Russia's goal is the destruction of the national group of Ukrainians.”

Yuriy Byelousov heads the war crimes department in the prosecutor general’s office.
Yuriy Byelousov heads the war crimes department in the prosecutor general’s office. © Andriy Dubchak
Tuesday, 28 March, 2023

Prosecuting the Russian leadership for the crime of genocide has been a key aim of Ukrainain justice officials. Yuriy Byelousov, who heads the war crimes department in the prosecutor general’s office, told IWPR’s Anna Steshenko that although the process would be complex, he was confident that investigators would prove the existence of all five signs of this “crime of crimes”.

IWPR: How is the prosecutor general's office working on a case to prove the genocide of the Ukrainian people?

Byelousov: So far, we have recorded more than 69,000 war crimes [and soon] will create a separate department that will deal specifically with crimes of genocide. 

Regarding the proof of the “crime of crimes”, several elements must be taken into account. On the one hand, there are specific crimes that can be qualified as genocide. But on the other hand, proving the intention itself is critically important -  that people committed murders, sexual violence, launched missile attacks on energy infrastructure, carried out forced deportations precisely with the intention of destroying the Ukrainian national group or its parts. That is why proving this "crime of crimes" is difficult. 

First, we are collecting evidence that will prove the existence of such an intention by the top political leadership of the Russian Federation.  We work with public speeches, testimonies of witnesses, victims and prisoners of war. We are collecting documentation and analysing actions to show that everything they committed, or at least a significant part of the crimes, was intended to destroy Ukraine as a separate national group. 

What elements of the crime of genocide have you discovered? 

If we talk about genocide as actions aimed at the destruction of a certain group, then there are five components. According to the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, this is done by killing and causing serious bodily injury or mental disorder. Torture and sexual violence also fall under these two points. The third element is the deliberate creation for a separate group of such living conditions that are calculated for its complete or partial physical destruction. The fourth sign is measures designed to prevent childbirth. The fifth is forced deportation. 

Each of these components is genocide by itself. It isn't necessary to prove all five signs. However, we will work to demonstrate evidence of all these components of genocide.

The key point is that genocide is not simply an act aimed at killing a specific person. The purpose is the destruction of a cultural, ethnic, national group or part of it, which will affect its existence as such. We claim that Russia's goal is the destruction of the national group of Ukrainians, that is, all people who identify as Ukrainians. These can be Crimean Tatars, Jews, Greeks who live permanently in Ukraine.

Another important aspect: do the Russians want to destroy all or part of a national group? Here it’s necessary to understand the words "destruction". Rafael Lemkin, the author of the word genocide, emphasised that the destruction of a group isn’t synonymous with murder. If there are 42 million Ukrainians, does this mean that we must destroy such a number of our citizens? And if 10,000 were destroyed, it’s not genocide? Of course it is, because the occupiers say that Ukraine doesn't exist. The enemy believes that our state and nation are artificial entities. This in itself is a sign of genocide. 

Lemkin emphasised that the killing of the group is first of all, murder based on national characteristics: culture, language, values, history. If you destroy these features, then there will be no group. The Russians are moving along this path…  There are numerous facts about how the occupiers burn Ukrainian textbooks in the occupied territories, destroying objects of cultural heritage, taking away our cultural values. 

Missile strikes on critical infrastructure is also a sign of genocide. The Russians are trying to create living conditions aimed at the destruction of the group. The enemy does not even hide this, deliberately striking infrastructure in the winter with the aim of freezing us. During war, it is allowed to hit military targets if it will add advantages. For example, substations next to military units. But the analysis of Russian strikes on the energy structure shows that it has nothing to do with military superiority. The strikes are carried out in all cities of Ukraine, far from the front line and military units. 

As for the fourth component of genocide — the prevention of childbirth - we initially thought that the evidence here was insufficient. However, we are now convinced that this element will also be there. We are talking about the very common practice of electric current torture of the genitals. We assume that this act was done deliberately to cause sexual dysfunction. Considering the extent of this practice, it’s one of the elements of genocide. There’s also information, which we are currently working on, about the deportation of women of childbearing age. 

The fifth sign of genocide is the forced deportation and violent transfer of children from one group to another. This is probably one of the simplest and most obvious facts for proof of genocide. More than 16,000 of our children have been officially deported so far. 

[The Russian] deliberately simplified the practice of adoption in order to destroy the national identity of our children. There is no physical destruction here, but there is vivid confirmation of the strategy. Deportation of children and adoption are precisely actions aimed at destroying the group. 

They want our children to leave, forget our language, history, culture, parents and grow up Russians. This is a typical example of genocide. 

What about the system of filtration camps in which people were targeted due to their pro-Ukrainian position?

The very fact of creating a filtration system already gives us reason to believe that it can be one of the elements of genocide. Hundreds and thousands of people are involved in the camp system. The enemy prepared very carefully for this. Prisons were specially released for this purpose along the perimeter of occupied Ukraine and on the territory of Russia. They took prisoners out of remand cells in advance, even before the attack on us. That is, a whole system was deliberately created. 

The question is, who are they looking for? I always give an example where small pieces of gold are extracted through a sieve, getting rid of the sand. Who is this gold for them? It is the pro-Ukrainian citizens. At this stage, it isn’t yet genocide . If they were simply found, that’s one thing. However, they kill members of such a group. In all camps, they torture these people, and this is the second sign of genocide. 

What is necessary for Vladimir Putin to actually end up in the dock?

It is necessary to recognise worldwide that Putin is a war criminal. This in itself has very serious consequences for the president. And if it’s a sentence for genocide, then this person will go down in history as having committed genocide against another people. It couldn't possibly be worse. He will also never be able to travel outside of Russia again, and will be forced to stay in his bunker.

All those who are close to him will also be automatically recognised as contributors to the crime of genocide. Most of them are people with serious wealth who live abroad, as are their children or or grandchildren studying in the world's best institutions. However, this practice is being stopped. Their children are expelled, assets are blocked, yachts, planes and villas are seized. And here, for the whole world to see, Putin's inner circle is being called criminals. Therefore, there is hope that, in order to restore the possibility of at least travelling around the world, they will transfer Putin and other senior political leadership to The Hague. I would not rule out this option. 

The European Parliament has recently adopted a resolution to establish a special tribunal to deal with the crimes of aggression against Ukraine. When will this start working and who will it be able to bring to justice? 

I hope that a special tribunal will be established this year. The Rome Statute contains four categories of international crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. The ICC doesn’t have jurisdiction over the latter crime of aggression in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

For war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, it is necessary to prove the entire chain of actions that led to this. It is necessary to prove that Putin himself contributed to a specific war crime, crime against humanity or genocide. Yes, it is difficult, but it’s possible. 

However, the very fact of invading Ukraine, planning a military operation, financing, training

people, equipping them and crossing the Ukrainian border is a crime against peace, ie a crime of aggression. For this alone, the people who planned this invasion should be held accountable. As the ICC doesn’t have jurisdiction, Ukraine insists on the establishment of a separate tribunal. It will have a very narrow jurisdiction - only over the crime of Russian aggression against Ukraine.  Therefore, a tribunal can be set up quite quickly. The crime of aggression is the easiest to prove. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the Russians invaded our territory. A year ago, Putin himself publicly announced the beginning of a "special operation". This video is enough to bring him to responsibility.

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