Are Russia’s transfers of Ukrainian children to re-education and adoption facilities a form of genocide?
- The Ukrainian government has officially identified 16,221 deported children as of early March.
- The transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia has sparked genocide allegations.
- Russia claims transfers are part of a humanitarian project for war-traumatised orphans.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova. Source: AFP / Getty
While this is a significant legal milestone, the warrants might not necessarily lead to an arrest – due to a lack of enforcement mechanisms and the likely reluctance of the Russian state and potentially other states to cooperate.
‘Recreational’ re-education camps and forced adoptions
These transfers date back to the beginning of February 2022; in the case of occupied Crimea, transfers of orphans and children without parental care commenced as early as 2014.
According to an investigation by Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab, children with living relatives in Ukraine have been “recruited” to attend camps in Russia for ostensible holidays.
There have been legislative changes to expedite the adoption of Ukrainian children and financial incentives for Russian families who do this.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba recently said the forced transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children constituted “probably the largest forced deportation in modern history” and “a genocidal crime”.
Is the forced transfer of children an act of genocide?
Article II of the Genocide Convention lists the forcible transfer of children of a group to another group as one of the acts which may amount to genocide if it is done with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
While definite proof of this specialised intent is required, the removal of children from their families, homes and culture suggests the purpose of Russia’s “evacuation” of children may be to erase Ukraine’s identity.
Russia is a party to all of these international instruments and is therefore legally obligated to adhere to them.
Who is investigating this?
The arrest warrants just issued by the International Criminal Court are the first related to alleged crimes committed during the Ukraine war.
The judges of the responsible chambers agreed there were “reasonable grounds” to believe Mr Putin and Ms Lvova-Belova bore responsibility for the “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children.
Why is evidence crucial and is it difficult to collect?
Conclusive evidence to this end will be crucial; the court will not be satisfied with a lesser standard.
Yvonne Breitwieser-Faria is a PhD Candidate and Academic in Law at The University of Queensland
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