On April 13, President Joe Biden said Russia’s war in Ukraine amounts to genocide, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to “wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian.” Biden previously called Putin a “war criminal”After seeing images showing Ukrainian war crimes, and called for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal. apartment complexes, schools hospitalsBombed out and destroyed
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, has stated that reports of people being tortured and executed in Bucha suburb of Kyiv have also been reported. constitute genocide. Still, Biden said it would be up to lawyers to decide if Russia’s conduct met the international standard for genocide, but that “it sure seems that way to me.” When asked about Biden’s use of the term genocide and whether it was a shift in U.S. policy, both press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesperson Ned Price attempted to separate official policy from what Biden believes is occurring in Ukraine based on what he’s seen. It is worth noting, however, that Biden as president sets U.S. foreign policies. It’s possible that an official statement will be issued soon after what was initially a casual comment.
Since the start of the war, these different terms — “crimes against humanity,” “war crimes,” “genocide” and “atrocities” — have all been used, but few really know what they mean. Some of these terms have legal definitions in international legislation. Others have more complex definitions that are well-known, but are not yet codified.
Defining Atrocity Crimes
The term “atrocities” can mean many things; however, the terms “Mass atrocities” and “atrocity crimes” have a more specific meaning. The term mass atrocitiesThis is a common term that covers atrocity crimes like genocide and war crimes, as well as crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. It is a term of art without a legal definition, but it is often used to describe situations in which civilians are being systematically attacked with violence, whether during war or peace.
Crimes against humanity are, however, systematic and widespread attacks against civilian populations. The violence is directed at civilians. There is no international convention that defines crimes against humanity. Rome StatuteThe International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in the United States. It outlines the specific acts that constitute crimes of humanity. The United States has yet to join the ICC. at timesattempting to undermine the court. However, now is a great time to join ICC and give court more credibility.
However, war crimes are often referred to as international humanitarian law or the laws of war. They can be committed against civilians or combatants during wartime. The most common definition of war crimes can be found in the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols. The Geneva Conventions prohibit violence against civilians. They also outline protections for wounded combatants, prisoners of war, and other provisions.
Genocide is, however, the most extreme atrocity crime. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as, “the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” The definition of genocide does not specify the number of people that need to be killed to constitute genocide. To be found guilty under the United Nations convention of conspiracy to commit genocide or incitement to commit genocide you don’t have to kill anyone.
Is Genocide taking place in Ukraine
The intent is the most important factor in determining genocide. It is difficult to determine exactly what Putin and the Russian government’s intent is. However, one could make the argument that if Russia’s goal is to subsume Ukraine into Russia, thereby destroying the Ukrainian identity, in whole or in part, Russia’s actions in Ukraine could very well constitute genocide.
Some believe that merely stating that genocide is taking place in Ukraine will result in more international action. However, there’s little evidenceThis would seem to be true. The U.S. government determined that genocide takes place in Xinjiang, China, against UyghursIn Myanmar (also known as Burma) against Rohingya. Despite these determinations, the U.S. has committed far more resources to Ukraine’s crisis, where there has not been a genocide determination.
Genocide is often seen as more atrocious than other crimes when we discuss them. While definitions are important, the truth of the matter is when civilians are being systematically killed, it shouldn’t matter whether the targeted violence meets the narrow definition of genocide. Priority should be given to civilian protection and the prevention mass atrocities.
It is important to renew diplomatic efforts to end this crisis. There should also be ongoing investigations to collect evidence against Russian leaders in order to hold them accountable. We will need to wait to see whether an international tribunal can hold individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes versus humanity, or genocide. However, in order for accountability to be possible, there must still be evidence at a trial.
President Biden’s proposed 2023 budget includes a huge increase in military spending, on top of previous years’ increases to the defense budget. It’s clear this is not the correct response to the Ukraine crisis. We must act. more investments in prevention.
The U.S. government should invest more in resources and funding to prevent mass atrocities throughout the world. This means focusing on long-term, upstream prevention efforts that address the root causes and drivers behind violent conflict. U.S. foreign policy is often very reactive. It ignores warning signs until a crisis arises. Then, all that is left to do is provide humanitarian aid for survivors of mass atrocities. Instead, we need to invest more in programs that support civil society and combat corruption and help build just, equitable countries. It also means ending support of dictators masquerading as democratic leaders.
The U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote StabilityIt is a welcome step towards building a prevention-focused foreign policyIt creates a whole of government strategy that is focused on long-term prevention efforts and not the traditional ad hoc responseary approach. The bipartisan Global Fragility Act will direct the strategy to build resilience and prevent violence in nine countries over a period of 10 years. However, the larger goal is to reform U.S. international policy to prioritize prevention. To be successful, Congress must provide more funding. The Atrocities Prevention Fund currently receives $5 million from Congress. With such little funding, it is impossible to expect the U.S. government’s success in preventing mass atrocities.