Genocide: What does it mean and is Russia committing genocide in Ukraine?
To demonstrate that genocide has occurred, lawyers must show the existence of a group protected under the Genocide Convention, genocidal acts and an intent to destroy at least part of the group in question.
The first two elements are clearly present in Ukraine, Stanton said, citing the weeks-long Russian siege of Mariupol and the forcible deportation of children to Russia as examples of acts of genocide.
Intent is much harder to prove. One way to do so is to obtain evidence of orders up the chain of command, Hamilton said, but “in most cases, you don’t have a smoking gun.”
Genocidal statements in Kremlin-affiliated media — as well as some recent accounts from Ukrainian rape survivors — could help bolster a prosecutor’s case, though.
Putin has rejected the idea of Ukrainian nationhood. And in recent weeks, Russian officials and media personalities suggested that Russia should “reeducate” Ukrainians and falsely described all Ukrainians as Nazis who must be fought.
Another way to demonstrate intent is to show a clear pattern of actions that would result inevitably in a group’s destruction, such as the siege and shelling of whole cities, Stanton said.
“We’ve got a very clear, systematic pattern of actions that the foreseeable consequences of are to destroy part of a national group, namely the Ukrainian group,” he said.
The United States has made eight formal declarations of genocide since World War II, including the recognition last year of the Armenian genocide more than a century ago. The State Department has traditionally made these determinations.
Most recently, the Biden administration announced in March that the Myanmar military had committed genocide against the Rohingya minority group.
That determination came five years after the height of the mass displacement of Rohingya. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was based on the State Department’s “rigorous fact-finding” as well as “detailed documentation” from independent sources including rights groups and researchers.
The United States is typically cautious about these decisions. Before Biden’s comments, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said U.S. officials had “not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide.”
International courts provide an avenue for accountability. The first genocide conviction at the international level came in 1998, when a former Rwandan mayor was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity at a special tribunal.
In 2002, the International Criminal Court was established to prosecute individuals for grievous crimes including genocide. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, who has opened an investigation into potential war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, traveled to the country this month to help collect evidence.
The court has only charged one person with genocide: former Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Sudan and other countries have not handed him over to face trial.
The International Court of Justice, meanwhile, is responsible for adjudicating disputes between states. “That’s another place where we’re going to see genocide discussed,” Hamilton said.