International Law and Cooperation for Humanity
On May 3, 2023, shelling by the Russian military in the Kherson region resulted in the loss of 17 lives and left 45 others injured. These latest casualties add to the tragic toll of the ongoing conflict, which continues to escalate. According to Statista, the death toll in Ukraine has exceeded 8,700 since the war began on February 24, 2022. When accounting for the injured, the number of casualties rises exponentially, with 14,244 injuries reported in April 2023. Even prior to the current conflict, fatalities had already increased due to the conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk from 2014 to 2022. The Office of the High Commissioner of United Nations Human Rights (OHCHR) estimates the number of deaths in that conflict to be approximately 14,400, including civilians.
Indeed, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has resulted in a substantial loss of life, with devastating consequences such as displacement from homes, loss of loved ones, and the absence of a safe environment, all of which are considered fundamental human rights. The war has inflicted both physical and psychological trauma on civilians, depriving them of their basic right to life due to the crimes committed during the hostilities.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned the Russian authorities' violation of international human rights and humanitarian laws, which include war crimes such as intentional killings, torture, sexual violence, attacks on civilians, and the destruction of energy-related infrastructure that is essential for the survival of Ukraine's freezing winters. Furthermore, the Russian Federation has violated human rights and international humanitarian law by transferring and deporting children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation, resulting in indefinite family separations. The United Nations Commission aims to investigate further war crimes, such as the unlawful confinement and torture of civilians at centers controlled by Russia, leading to serious injury, trauma, and death. International organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have accused Russia of committing war crimes against humanity and indiscriminate attacks that have caused significant harm.
As a permanent member of the United Nations (UN) since December 1991, as set out under the 1945 UN Charter, Russia has violated the laws that prohibit “the threat or use of force” in Article 2(4) and the requirement to “settle international disputes by peaceful means” in Article 2(3). Despite being legally bound to comply as a member state of the UN, Russia appears only interested in undermining peace and justice. In 2022, Russia vetoed the UN Security Council's (UNSC) resolution to end the attack on Ukraine by justifying its invasion. Russia claimed that its use of force against Ukraine is lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter, as a means to protect Russia and the Russian people. However, the self-victimization in the statement that claims “collective self-defense” to defend themselves against “armed attack,” specifically towards the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, is baseless. International law experts and analysts criticize this claim as unfounded justification.
Wilmshurst stated that “there have been no threats of force against Russia from Ukraine or from NATO member states. There is nothing to support a legal justification for Russia's military attack against Ukraine.” Weiner also argued that “the right of self-defense is available when a state has sustained an armed attack.” In the case of Russia perceiving Ukraine as a threat to their ethnic Russians in Ukraine, Weiner did not see it as a legitimate claim since Ukraine did not put ethnic Russians in the position of atrocities, which Russia did to Ukraine by aggression up to date. According to analysts, including Bellinger III, collective self-defense does not apply to Russia's justification since Donetsk and Luhansk are not UN member states. Besides, Russia's only recognition of them as independent has not been recognized under international law. Ultimately, nothing can justify Russia's aggression and violation of human rights.
Children and Law
In 2022, Ukraine brought a case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) under the Genocide Convention, disputing Russia's claim that Ukraine was engaged in genocide in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, and requesting provisional measures. The court ordered Russia to immediately suspend military operations in the territory of Ukraine. Also, the International Criminal Court (ICC) initiated an investigation into possible war crimes and genocide, actively gathering evidence to support their investigation. Although neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, the Ukrainian government granted the ICC jurisdiction to investigate war crimes committed by Russia, following the invasion of Crimea in 2015. This allowed for support from the ICC prosecutors and other ICC member parties. As a result, the ICC issued arrest warrants against Putin for the unlawful transfer and deportation of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation under the Rome Statute.
The abduction of children is an outrageous war crime committed by Russia. According to recent data from the Permanent Mission of France in April 2023, over 19,500 Ukrainian children were forcibly detained or deported, resulting in indefinite separation from their families with the aim of adoption within Russia. At least 6,000 children have been transferred and held captive in Russia's custody across 43 facilities, where they are subjected to "re-education" with pro-Russian political views according to data from the Yale School of Public Health. Thousands of children who lost their families due to Russia's attacks have also been found in basements or orphanages in Ukraine and Russia.
By contrast, Russia argues that they are taking care of the children affected by the ongoing war in Ukraine by granting them Russian citizenship and offering them for adoption to Russian families. This move, they say, is a way of protecting these children from the conflict. The Commissioner of Children's Rights, Lvova-Belova, who was implicated in the unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children alongside Putin, claimed that her actions were driven by humanitarian concerns and aimed to ensure the safety of the children. Of course, she has dismissed the allegations made by the ICC as well as the existence of ‘re-education’ camps.
While Russia asserts that their actions are motivated by the best interests of Ukrainian children, their conduct has been viewed as disingenuous and hypocritical. Indeed, the outcomes of their actions speak volumes, with families being tragically torn apart, and children left to grapple with significant emotional distress and trauma as a result. Ironically, Russia's actions contradict their own laws, such as the Family Code Article 165, which stipulates that a child's legal representative from their country of origin must adopt foreign children.
Abduction is a heinous crime that violates basic human rights and is never a form of consent. The actions of Putin in Ukraine, which have caused untold suffering and trauma to countless children and families, must be held accountable under international law as unlawful hostility.
Following the issuance of the ICC's arrest warrant against Putin, what are the next steps in bringing him to justice under the international legal system? According to Flacks, the ICC does not try individuals in absentia, which means that either Putin must surrender himself to the Hague or a cooperating government must arrest and transfer him to the ICC. Therefore, political pressure, as a result of the ICC's arrest warrant for Putin, is unavoidable. Besides, the chances of Putin traveling to ICC member countries are slim due to the potential risks involved.
Despite the challenges of holding Putin accountable for their crimes at the international level, such as their status as a non-member of the ICC and as a permanent member with veto power in the Security Council, international cooperation to protect humanity must continue. The arrest warrant has already had an impact on Putin's global standing among the international community. Also, the war crimes committed, particularly against children, are in stark contrast to the values that Russian families hold dear, as noted by Bowring. It has the potential to negatively impact the level of national support for the invasion within the community.
Upholding international laws and maintaining consistent efforts in cooperation with the international community are crucial not only for holding Putin accountable for war crimes but also for safeguarding the well-being of humanity as a whole.
THIS ARTICLE WAS CREATED BY STELLA BALDWIN