Here’s what ‘genocide’ means and why it’s so hard to prove

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President Joe Biden said this week He Russia continued its invasion as the atrocities being exposed in Ukraine qualified as “genocide”.

The announcement is not expected to trigger any immediate change in US policy towards the conflict, US officials familiar with the matter told CNN, although Biden’s remarks indicate a dramatic rhetoric.

“We’ll let the lawyers internationally decide whether it’s worthy or not,” the president said, “but it certainly seems so to me.”

So what exactly does “genocide” mean, and how is it proven? Here’s what you need to know:

United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crime Genocide, which was adopted after World War II, Defines genocide as “acts committed with the intention of destroying wholly or partially a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”, including:

  • murder of group members.
  • Causing serious physical or mental harm to group members.
  • The willful imposition of the collective conditions of life that lead to its complete or partial material destruction.
  • To take measures aimed at preventing birth within the group.
  • Forcibly transferring children of one group to another group.

But world leaders can Designate any incident as a genocide using whatever criteria they choose, according to Leila Sadat, a war crimes expert at Washington University at St. Louis School of Law.

According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the US has made only eight formal determinations of genocide.

The American hesitation to call atrocities “genocide” is rooted in the strict legal definition of the word, which was written in 1948 after the Holocaust.

The United Nations Convention on Genocide obliges countries to intervene when a genocide is underway, saying, “Genocide, whether committed in times of peace or in times of war, is a crime under international law that They do it to prevent and punish.”

Biden administration officials have cited the genocide designation in Myanmar, created just last month, as an example of the process used to generate the label. The United States collected evidence over the years to arrive at a determination that persecution of the Rohingya minority by Myanmar constituted a massacre.

Another option for world governments is to seek prosecution for genocide through the International Criminal Court, although the process is lengthy and proving genocide can be difficult.

“By distinguishing between crimes against humanity – which is a horrific crime – and the subset of crimes against humanity we call ‘genocide’, we must show that essentially the perpetrators in this case are in whole or in part the Ukrainian people.” want to destroy it,” Sadat told CNN.

“And that’s a very high bar,” she continued. “Whether it should be a higher bar is another question.”

a long time.

“The International Criminal Court and national courts are to identify specific persons who have reasonable grounds to believe that those offenses have actually been committed in their individual capacity,” Sadat said.

“And so the criminal investigation will take longer because you have to identify the perpetrators; you have to gather evidence against them. And then eventually you bring a criminal trial to try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they did in fact commit the crime.” committed – either war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide,” he said.

Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are related but different labels, per routine:

  • war crime There is a violation of laws and customs of war.
  • crime against humanity Defined as widespread or systemic attacks directed at civilians.
  • Massacre When crimes against humanity are committed with the goal of eliminating the population.

Sadat describes the three labels as a “tyranny waterfall”.

“Once we have this kind of active aggression with an invasion of a sovereign country, the cascade usually starts with war crimes. Then we see crimes against humanity, and we have crimes against humanity within Genocide are pockets of murders,” she said.

Hypothetically, yes.

The International Criminal Court tries four types of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, and war crimes.

Anyone accused of an offense can be prosecuted under the jurisdiction of the court. The court tries people, not countries, and it focuses on those who hold the most responsibility: leaders and officials. While Ukraine is not a member of the court, it has previously acknowledged its jurisdiction.

Therefore, Putin could in principle be indicted for genocide by the court. However, the International Criminal Court does not conduct trials in absentia, so he must either be handed over by Russia or arrested outside Russia.

In Ukraine, Bidens The comment was welcomed by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who almost immediately tweeted for comment.

“True words of a true leader,” he wrote. “To stand against evil it is necessary to call things by their names. We are grateful for the US assistance provided so far and we urgently need more heavy weapons to stop Russian atrocities.”

But at least one key US ally, French President Emmanuel Macron, balked at the remarks.

“I want to continue to do my best to stop this war and to rebuild peace. I am not sure that the escalation of rhetoric works for that reason,” Macron said.

“What we can say with certainty is that the situation is unacceptable and that these are war crimes. We are living through war crimes that are unprecedented on our soil – our European soil.”


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