“No element leads to a finding that a crime of genocide is being committed,” says a lawyer

“There is no element today that seems to lead to the finding that a crime of genocide is being committed in Ukraine”, said Thursday, April 14 on franceinfo Clémence Bectarte, lawyer with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). While several leaders of the international community, including Joe Biden, have denounced Russia’s genocide in Ukraine. Emmanuel Macron does not want to endorse this terminology. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared himself “injured” by the reserve of the French head of state. “You still have to remember that words have meaning and it’s important not to mislead them”says the lawyer.

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franceinfo: Should we use the term genocide?

Clemence Bectarte: Today there is not a single element that seems to lead to the finding that a crime of genocide is being committed in Ukraine. The crime of genocide is in fact defined by the will to exterminate a population as a whole because of, in this case, its nationality. According to information coming off the field today, it really doesn’t seem to be the case. So we must still remember that words have meaning and it is important not to mislead them.

“The fact that genocide is not committed does not mean that extremely serious crimes are not being committed in Ukraine.”

Clémence Bectarte, lawyer at Fidh

at franceinfo

Can we speak of a “genocide” committed by the Russian army, as President Volodymyr Zelensky says?

Is it normal that the international community is divided on this?

Yes, and this is all the more normal because these are legal terms and normally the fact that it is the courts that have to establish the reality of these crimes. It is up to the International Criminal Court to conduct its investigation. It is up to the national courts to do this and to establish legally whether the elements of these various crimes exist. But even today it is very relevant to talk about war crimes. The International Criminal Court has also opened an investigation into possible crimes against humanity.

What is the difference between war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide?

War crimes are crimes committed in the context of war related to an armed conflict. This mainly concerns crimes against persons protected by international humanitarian law, i.e. against civilians. A crime against humanity is a crime that can be committed in peacetime or in wartime, but which presupposes the demonstration of a general or systematic attack on a civilian population. This is beyond a certain level and it would have to be shown that the Russian authorities want to launch a systematic or general attack aimed solely at the Ukrainian civilian population. This is one of the qualifications for which the International Criminal Court has been investigating since the beginning of March. This clearly shows that special attention is paid to this qualification.

“What are now proven war crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine could perhaps reach the level of crimes against humanity.”

Clemence Bectartea

at franceinfo

Does it take time to define the understanding of all these crimes?

Obviously, it is very rare that justice can be exercised in real time. The investigation was opened very early, after the outbreak of the Russian invasion at the level of the International Criminal Court. There are now a dozen states that have also opened investigations in their national courts, including Ukraine, of course. These initiatives are to be welcomed. It is nevertheless very important that the issue of justice and the fight against impunity is placed very early in the international discussion today, very early from the start of this invasion. But despite all that, we must not forget that justice is always a long time to be respected, it is important. Firstly, because it is difficult to prove the crimes, but even more complicated to establish responsibilities, as this is one of the objectives of the International Criminal Court’s investigation, including the determination of the highest responsibilities, both military and politics. †

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