Kyiv, June 3: Prosecutors investigating war crimes cases in Ukraine are examining allegations of the forcible deportation of children to Russia since the invasion as they seek to build a genocide indictment, the country’s top prosecutor said in an interview.
International humanitarian law classifies the forced mass deportation of people during a conflict as a war crime. “Forcibly transfering children” in particular qualifies as genocide, the most serious of war crimes, under the 1948 Genocide Convention that outlawed the intent to destroy – in whole or in part – a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who is overseeing multiple war crimes inquiries in Ukraine, said “we have more than 20 cases about forcible transfer of people” to Russia from various regions across the eastern European country since the invasion began on Feb. 24.
“From the first days of the war, we started this case about genocide,” Venediktova told Reuters. She said that, amid the chaos and destruction wrought by Russia’s assault, focusing on the removal of children offered the best way to secure the evidence needed to meet the rigorous legal definition of genocide: “That’s why this forcible transfer of children is very important for us.”
Venediktova declined to provide a number for how many victims had been forcibly transferred. However, Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said in mid May that Russia had relocated more than 210,000 children during the conflict, part of more than 1.2 million Ukrainians who Kyiv said have been deported against their will.
A Kremlin spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Venediktova’s remarks nor the figures on Ukrainians on Russian soil. Russia in the past has said that it is offering humanitarian aid to those wishing to flee Ukraine voluntarily.
Russia’s TASS state news agency on Monday quoted an unnamed law enforcement official as saying that “more than 1.55 million people who arrived from the territory of Ukraine and Donbas have crossed the border with the Russian Federation. Among them, more than 254,000 children.”
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
The Genocide Convention – a treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust – specifies five acts that could each constitute the crime, if committed with genocidal intent: killing members of a group, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, imposing living conditions intended to destroy the group, preventing births, and forcibly transferring children out of the group.
Venediktova said the investigations to build a genocide case – covering the forced deportation of children and other acts – were targeting areas from northern Ukraine down to Mykolaiv and Kherson on the southern coast. But the gathering of evidence was being complicated by the war, she said.
“To this day we don’t have access to territory. We don’t have access to people who we can ask, who we can interview,” she said. “We are waiting when this territory will be de-occupied.”
Aside from genocide, other alleged war crimes are being examined in the regions of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Sumy and Zhytomyr, the prosecutor general’s office said. Officials in Ukraine have said they are investigating the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, rape, torture, and extra-judicial killings by Russian forces.