The International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected soon to not only announce their seeking of arrests of Russian officials, but also to open further investigations into alleged cases of war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Primarily these cases related to the forceful deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia, and the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure. Both of these efforts have been openly paraded by Russia as being core components of their efforts to demoralize and Russify the Ukrainian population. Russia will certainly reject any arrest warrants issued against its officials or military, a move which will continue to isolate them from the some parts of the global community as the list of countries which have backed the investigations by the ICC is extensive.
ICC reports their official investigations into Ukraine opened March 2nd, 2022. However the first requests to open cases came in 2013-2014 “The first declaration lodged by the Government of Ukraine accepted ICC jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes committed on Ukrainian territory from 21 November 2013 to 22 February 2014. The second declaration extended this time period on an open-ended basis to encompass ongoing alleged crimes committed throughout the territory of Ukraine from 20 February 2014 onwards. On 28 February 2022, the ICC Prosecutor announced he would seek authorization to open an investigation into the Situation in Ukraine, on the basis of the Office’s earlier conclusions arising from its preliminary examination, and encompassing any new alleged crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court.” ICC also notes that while Ukraine is not a State Part to the Rome Statue (which oversaw categorization of international judicial processing of war crimes), that it has twice exercised its prerogatives to accept the Court’s jurisdiction over alleged crimes.
Russia, while denying in response to accusations of targeting civilian infrastructure, has on the other hand openly advertised their attacks on vital systems. These targets have included electrical grids, power substations, power plants, NPPs, water pumps, dams, waste and water processing plants, and beyond that other civilian infrastructure such as bus stations, train stations, hospitals, and schools, have been struck numerous times across a multitude of regions in Ukraine. These strikes have been explicitly for the purpose of depriving heat, power, and running water to all of Ukraine, both military and civilian use. To demoralize and force to submission, to cause such suffering that capitulation looks appealing to Ukrainian leadership and populace. This is the war waged currently.
In terms of deportation, Russia has openly shown the mass transfer of women and children from Ukraine to 43 Russian processing camps and facilities (as well as orphanages), assigned Russian passports and educated to reject Ukraine and Ukrainian nationality. As well, put up for adoption for Russian families. Maria Lvova-Belova, a Putin aide and the presidential commissioner for children’s rights, has said at least 350 children had been adopted by Russian families and that more than 1,000 were awaiting adoption. In February a Yale study this number was likely significantly higher, with at least 6,000 children confirmed sent to camps in Russia. Videos and photos have shown children being heavily encouraged to be “Russian” with national anthem songs, carrying of the flag, teaching of the Russian language over Ukrainian (in occupied regions), and the covering of Russian and Soviet history as taught state authorities. Firearm training was also given to children reporting although Yale researchers said no evidence pointed towards children being sent back to fight in Ukraine.
One camp reportedly is even located in Magadan region of Russia, roughly 6,230km (3,900 miles) from Ukraine, putting it “roughly three times closer to the United States than it is to the border of Ukraine,” Ukraine’s government recently claimed that more than 14,700 children had been deported to Russia, where some had been sexually exploited. Although in the past this claim has climbed to hundreds of thousands, it seems Ukraine has adjusted that to a lower figure.
In June of 2022, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed “As of June 23, 2022, over 2 million people, almost 325,000 of them minors, have been evacuated from dangerous regions of Ukraine and Donbass republics to the Russian Federation. All these people travelled to our country voluntarily, saving their lives and lives of their children,” noting additionally that after years of conflict hundreds of children had died or been injured. TASS reports that she underscored that Russian institutions continue their active work on provision of addressed humanitarian and medical aid to children, including psychological rehabilitation and search for relatives. “The Convention on the Rights of the Child cements children’s right for life, survival and development, as well as right for water, food, shelter, healthcare, education and protection from all forms of violence. Children are entitled to special care and help. Russia helps children of Donbass to implement these rights,” she added.
In August, Mikhail Mizintsev, chief of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, said “Since the beginning of the special military operation, as many as 3,420,866, including 555,902 children, have been evacuated.”
Russia’s embassy previously responded saying: “Russia accepted children who were forced to flee with their families from the shelling,” and, “We do our best to keep underage people in families, and in cases of absence or death of parents and relatives – to transfer orphans under guardianship.” The Yale report said some parents were pressured to give consent to send away their children, sometimes in the hope they would return. Others, the report said, “are sent with the consent of their parents for an agreed duration of days or weeks and returned to their parents as originally scheduled… A significant portion of these families are low-income and have not been able to afford to make the trip. Some families were forced to sell belongings and travel through four countries to be reunited with their child,”
The Ukrainian children transported to Russia range in age from teens to toddlers, says researcher Nathaniel Raymond reports NPR. “In some cases there is adoption, other cases summer camp programs where the kids were slated to return home and never did,” he says, “and in some cases they are re-education camps.” The Yale report is the most extensive look at the program so far, says Raymond. “It shows scale, it shows chain of command, it shows logistical complexity,” The report documents a start date for transporting Ukrainian children to Russia, days before the full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022. “These first transports of children in early February 2022 included a group of 500 purported orphans ‘evacuated’ from Donetsk Oblast by Russia. The reason given publicly at the time was the supposed threat of an offensive by the Ukrainian armed forces,” according to the report. Some of those Ukrainian children were later adopted by Russian families.
By their definition, U.N genocide convention defines “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” as one of five acts that can be prosecuted as genocide. When Reuters asked if the ICC charges against the Russian officials could include genocide, a source said: “It looks that way.”
The Rome Statute established four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Those crimes “shall not be subject to any statute of limitations”. Under the Rome Statute, the ICC can only investigate and prosecute the four core international crimes in situations where states are “unable” or “unwilling” to do so themselves; the jurisdiction of the court is complementary to jurisdictions of domestic courts. The court has jurisdiction over crimes only if they are committed in the territory of a state party or if they are committed by a national of a state party; an exception to this rule is that the ICC may also have jurisdiction over crimes if its jurisdiction is authorized by the United Nations Security Council. (wiki)
The ICC prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the cases. Russia’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
Konstantin Kosachyov, deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said the ICC had no jurisdiction over Russia since it withdrew its backing in 2016. “The ICC is an instrument of neo-colonialism in the hands of the West,” he said. Russia has pushed back against previous accusations that it had forcibly moved Ukrainians.
While the current cases discussed circulating on forced deportation of children, and military targeting of civilian infrastructure, these are not the only war crimes that have transpired in Ukraine over the past year, or nine years. The Bucha massacre, which led to between 100-400 deaths (U.N versus Ukraine estimates), was carried out by retreating Russian troops north of Kyiv early in March of 2022. Additionally both sides have accused the other over war crimes committed against both civilians and POWs, videos have surfaced of violent POW executions and torture from both sides, and both sides regularly report the other is shelling/striking civilian areas.