"Targeted killings", "birth prevention", "forcible transfer of children": New report finds evi­dence of Rus­sian geno­cide in Ukraine

Guest Article by Dr. Patrick Heinemann


Is Russia committing genocide in Ukraine? In the opinion of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, this is very likely the case. There are "systematic violations of all five prohibited acts" under the Genocide Convention.

The Montreal-based non-governmental organisation Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), founded by former Canadian justice minister and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, had already published a first report on the genocidal nature of the Russian war against Ukraine in May 2022 together with the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy (Washington D.C.). The non-partisan US think tank as well as the Canadian human rights organisation already at that time found reasonable grounds to believe that Russia had engaged in direct and public incitement to commit genocide. This was done in particular through the use of language including "de-nazification", "de-Satanization" and the construction of Ukrainians as an existential threat to Russia in order to justify their destruction as a recognised, national group.

The current report, which Professor Kristina Hook (Kennesaw State University) was in charge of, is, like the report presented in May 2022, largely based on open-source material that the authors of the study say they have verified. The material can be viewed via the footnotes in the report and can thus also be independently verified. The current report assumes that the Russian Federation is not merely calling for genocide in connection with its large-scale attack on Ukraine, which has been ongoing since 24 February 2022. Rather, there are also valid reasons to assume that Russia is responsible for committing genocide against the Ukrainian ethnic group.

The crime of genocide is codified under international criminal law in the UN Genocide Convention of 9 December 1948 and has also been adopted into national law for Germany through § 6 VStGB. It recognises five different acts, which must be carried out with the intent to destroy a protected group – in this case the Ukrainians as a national group – in whole or in part. Due to doubts about the required intent to destroy, the Attorney General refused to initiate genocide investigations in Ukraine (LTO reported). In contrast, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of the EU justice agency Eurojust announced in April that it would also investigate allegations of genocide against Russia.

The current report by RWCHR and the Newlines Institute now sees a pattern of atrocities from which one can conclude the intention of the Russian leadership to partially destroy Ukrainians as a national group. The genocidal events in the occupied parts of Ukraine have also intensified since February 2022 and continue to escalate. In detail, the report sees considerable evidence for all acts of genocide under the UN Genocide Convention.

"Killing members of the group" (Art. II a)

This concerns first of all the act of "killing members of the group" (Art. II a UN Genocide Convention): The Russian armed forces would have directly participated in the killing of Ukrainian men, women and children in a variety of ways, such as summary executions, missile attacks, shelling, deaths caused by torture, and targeted attacks on evacuation convoys. The Russian armed forces knowingly bombed areas offering protection to the civilian population. In addition, Vladimir Putin had personally honoured military units that had taken part in the killing of civilians, such as the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigad deployed in Butcha. Russian state media would celebrate attacks on Ukrainian residential areas or other civilian population centres.

"Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group" (Art. II b)

Actors of the Russian state had also deliberately caused severe bodily or mental harm to numerous Ukrainians (Art. II b UN Genocide Convention). Torture chambers and similar facilities have been discovered in the areas liberated from Russian occupation. This points to a systematic targeting of the civilian population. Russian forces and occupation authorities inflicted bodily and mental harm to eliminate expressions of Ukrainian identity in so-called "denazification sessions". In geographically different areas of Ukraine and Russia, serious physical and psychological injuries of Ukrainian men, women and children by Russian armed forces and authorities would be documented on a regular basis.

According to the findings of a UN report, the practices in question included extensive torture, including in camps and special detention centres set up and financed by the Russian state for this purpose. The report cites in particular the use of extreme physical violence, forced nudity and forms of torture that have been well documented in Russia for almost twenty years and are now being systematically exported to Ukraine to persecute the Ukrainian population on the basis of their national identity. This includes, for example, the infliction of electric shocks through the misuse of Soviet-style field telephones, as reported by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.

It also documented a widespread practice of brutal (mass) rape and other forms of conflict-related sexual violence in all Russian-controlled territories, affecting Ukrainians of all genders and ages, from infants to the elderly. Russian forces have also mined the entire occupied territories to an unusually high military degree. This also affected private homes, food establishments and corpses. They are planting hidden charges with the demonstrable intention of damaging the mental and physical health of Ukrainians.

Russia's regular nuclear threats – there have been at least 34 since February 2022 – also inflict mental harm on Ukrainians, many of whom are Chernobyl survivors. The Kremlin's threats to use nuclear weapons against the Ukrainian people had a particular potential for mental harm in the context of this historically unique nuclear disaster, which was a national trauma for Ukraine.

"Physical destruction of the population" (Art. II c)

Russian forces had also deliberately inflicted conditions of life on large parts of the Ukrainian population calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part (Art. II c UN Genocide Convention). In this respect, too, Russia's actions are systematic and have been escalating since February 2022. Russia has intensified its attacks on Ukrainian settlements, has already largely destroyed numerous cities and has systematically driven millions of Ukrainians from their homes. In a systematic "filtering process" aimed at eradicating Ukrainian identity, Russian forces have forcibly deported Ukrainians to Russia.

The Russian military had demonstrably bombed electricity, water, gas and communications supplies to cities and urban centres in quick succession and in a manner that targeted Ukraine's identity and cultural heritage. A significant escalation had been the massive missile attacks on critical civilian infrastructure (water and gas supplies, heating systems and power plants) that began in late 2022, timed to coincide with the harsh winter in Ukraine and thus the time of year when the physical survival of the Ukrainian population could have been most at risk. The attacks had covered the entire Ukrainian territory and had thus aimed to hit the entire Ukrainian civilian population, even far behind the front line.

The cost of civilian reconstruction is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. As of this writing, 1,004 attacks on the health system alone have been recorded. Finally, a clear indication of the physical toll the Russian invasion is taking on Ukrainians is the doubling of premature births due to excessive stress as well as the rapidly declining standard of living in the eastern parts of the country.

"Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group" (Art. II d)

The report also sees evidence for the act of "imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group" (Art. II d UN Genocide Convention). According to the report, numerous cases of sexual and gender-based violence by Russian forces and authorities in all Russian-controlled territories are well documented. The report had also found that testimonies about the overlap of sexual violence and targeting of group identity were similar.

Rape and conflict-related sexual violence are recognised in international criminal law as criteria for the act of preventing childbirth, as they affect women's and girls' desire for marriage, children or future relationships. In addition, the castration of male Ukrainians in Russian captivity has been documented. In several cases, video footage of Ukrainian prisoners of war being castrated spread via Telegram. New reports indicated that this practice was also widespread and systematic.

"Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group" (Art. II e)

Moreover, the mass transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-controlled areas could be understood as a "forcible transfer of children of the group to another group" (Art. II e of the UN Genocide Convention). This practice had also escalated considerably in the course of the Russian invasion. The exact number of forcibly transferred children is not known, but Ukrainian authorities are currently verifying the identity of around 20,000 children. 

The sheer scale of the deportations of children requires extensive coordination and considerable effort on the Russian side. The deportations were also taking place on a regular basis, which was another indication of a systematic approach. Russian legislation has also been amended to "legalise" forcible transfers without the consent of the children or their guardians.

Given the social stigma associated with adoption in Russia, these procedures also seemed to have the purpose of forcibly depriving the deported children of their Ukrainian identity and citizenship. The formalisation of deportation practices indicated intensive involvement of the state in the deportations. The Russian authorities had demonstrably taken steps to conceal the identity of Ukrainian children or to make it more difficult for them to be returned home.

State community should act

According to Dr Ralph Janik of the Sigmund Freud Private University (Vienna), whose research focuses on international law and war, the report is groundbreaking because it links the mental element of genocide – the intention to destroy a group in whole or in part – with the actual acts committed: "One does not exist without the other. Proving acts of genocide is almost never a problem. It is incomparably more difficult to prove genocidal intent and incitement to genocide," Janik told LTO.

The report cites numerous statements by Russian representatives: "Claims that the Ukrainian people or Ukraine pose an existential threat to Russia; denying the very existence of a Ukrainian nation; announcing the extermination, liquidating or 'curing' of Ukrainians because they have left the 'right' – i.e. 'Russian' – path; or 'Dehumanisation' because they are 'infected' with 'satanic' and 'Western' values."

The report concludes that States Parties to the Genocide Convention need to step up their efforts to fulfil their obligation under international law to prevent genocide. International efforts to prevent further genocide and to protect the Ukrainian ethnic group must take into account the fact that Russia's genocidal war is continuing and that Russian acts of extermination have intensified significantly since February 2022.

This text is a translated version of the text published in German on 8 August 2023.


"Targeted killings", "birth prevention", "forcible transfer of children": New report finds evidence of Russian genocide in Ukraine . In: Legal Tribune Online, 11.08.2023 , https://www.lto.de/persistent/a_id/52470/ (abgerufen am: 14.06.2024 )

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