When can we speak of genocide?

Bombed maternity, mass graves filled with civilians, streets strewn with corpses with their hands tied… The images of Russian abuses in Ukraine have struck the whole world, to the point that certain leaders, Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau in the lead, no longer hesitate to use a strong word: genocide. Opposite, many leaders, including Emmanuel Macron, refuse for the time being to use this terminology, preferring to evoke war crimes. In the midst of this semantic battle, a question arises: what exactly constitutes genocide?

Used for the first time in 1943 by the Jewish-Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, this term then sought to describe the Nazi extermination policies of the Second World War, but also several past actions which were intended to annihilate targeted groups of individuals.

Incorporated into international law and adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the term genocide defines a crime “committed with intent to destroy, or all or part of, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. This can include both murder, serious bodily or mental harm, but also measures aimed at preventing births, with, always in common thread, this will to destroy a specific group of individuals.

In such a crime, anyone who commits, orders, assists or incites genocide can be prosecuted, including elected leaders. It is up to the International Criminal Court to investigate, establish individual responsibility and prosecute genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression. The International Court of Justice in The Hague can also rule on the responsible States.

In the past, several genocides have been recognized by an international court of justice, such as that in Rwanda (1994) and the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1995). Other abuses, such as China’s policy against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, are often singled out as belonging to this branch of heinous crimes.

What about Ukraine?

Is a genocide underway in Ukraine? For the time being, the jurists seem above all to evoke the existence of war crimes. The question of genocide is much more difficult, because it is always difficult to know the intention behind these crimes. In the case of Ukraine, therefore, it is a question of determining whether there is a real planned will on the part of the Russian leadership to annihilate the Ukrainian people.

This criterion of intentionality, inseparable from genocide, cannot be verified in a short time. It requires collecting many testimonies, carrying out multiple investigations, establishing responsibilities… In short, a whole host of elements that take time – a lot of time, in particular because of the scale of these crimes.

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If today there are many voices speaking of genocide in Ukraine, it is partly because of the terrible images that reach us, explicitly Deutsche Welle. “Very often the term ‘genocide’ is loosely used in common parlance to refer to the most serious crime, because it sounds so much worse than war crimes or crimes against humanity,” adds international law expert Valérie Gabard to the German media. It will therefore be a long wait before this term can one day define the atrocities of the war in Ukraine.

Source: Slate.fr by www.slate.fr.

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