The invasion of Ukraine was labelled as a genocide by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently, which was echoed by the US President Joe Biden. Genocide can be defined simply as “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” in the UN Genocide Convention. There are some clear genocidal events in history such as the Holocaust during WWII, and in Rwanda in 1994. Yet whether the Russian invasion of Ukraine should be seen as a genocide needs more discussion and need to be evaluated by the International Criminal Court. It needs more investigations and evidence to prove allegations of systematic killing of civilians, and also the consensus of the world, especially most Western countries in order to have substantive meaning.
When the US echoed Ukraine’s statement, it put the invasion of Ukraine to the international regime to be judged, and involved more countries in this conflict. The prosecutor of the ICC recently initiated a primary investigation, while the UN Human Rights Council also set up a commission to launch investigative efforts. Although the US is not a party to the ICC, it can still throw its influence in it to push for an inquiry into allegations of atrocities. The US can orchestrate the collection of information and deliver it to stakeholders or prosecutors though many sources, such as through intelligence agencies or satellite imagery. In addition, Washington can also support Ukraine in the UN General Assembly to establish a special tribunal, which can make up for the lack of jurisdictional authority in the ICC. Of course all of the efforts should be led by Washington, but they also need its allies to support to achieve its goals.
EU countries, which were seen as traditional allies to the US, responded very carefully. Germany, one of the leaders in the EU, wants to straddle between Washington and Moscow, showing their stance reluctantly during this time. Germany is trying to seek a balance between two powerful states on both the security and economic fronts. Another EU leader, France, still believes the invasion can be handled by high-level dialogue. Never giving up on speaking to Putin, President Macron said he will continue to try to rebuild regional peace, and be careful with such terms, because Russian and Ukrainian peoples are brothers.
Looking back on history, the Lytton Report in 1932 showed the weakness of the League of Nations. The report showed that Japan was an aggressor and not protecting itself, but there were no more advanced steps. The reason for this report is that powerful countries took an appeasement policy and caused the lack of capacity of the regime. If ICC decided to investigate what happened on Bucha, Western countries needs to learn from history and help ICC to develop its functions. Otherwise, such allegations amount to nothing more than words.
To sum up, genocide is widely considered as the most serious crime against humanity. Although it is defined under international law, there is no legal consensus in recent regimes for what constitutes it. What exactly Russian troops did to Ukraine needs more evidence to be made clear, and the evaluation of those crime needs more political consensus to prepare consequences beyond the investigation and attention.
Written by Eddie C.
Edited by Ari B.