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Opinion: Russia’s abductions of Ukrainian children are a genocidal crime

Empty cribs in the courtyard of Kherson regional children's home in southern Ukraine in November. [Bernat Armangue/AP]

War is chaotic, inexplicable and devastating to children caught up in it. But war is not an excuse to abduct children from parents and their nation, as Russia is now doing in Ukraine. This is specifically prohibited by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia — and attempts to brainwash them, removing their language and culture — is a genocidal crime that calls for prosecution.

The Post’s Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova reported Dec. 24 on the details of an abhorrent Russian campaign to ship Ukrainian children to faraway cities inside Russia. President Vladimir Putin issued a decree in May making it easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children, and the policy is being “vigorously pursued” by the Russian children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, who “openly advocates stripping children of their Ukrainian identities and teaching them to love Russia,” they reported. Ukrainian children taken to Russia would, at first, insult the Russian leader by singing the Ukrainian national anthem, Ms. Lvova-Belova told journalists, “but then it transforms into love for Russia.” The Kremlin has boasted of the removals, evidenced by the number of photos and videos appearing on its website and on state television.

A playhouse in the courtyard of Kherson regional children's home in southern Ukraine in November. [Bernat Armangue/AP]

While the number of children taken is not clear, Daria Herasymchuk, Ukraine’s top children’s rights official, has estimated that nearly 11,000 Ukrainian children have been taken by Russia without their parents.

The seizure of these children appears to violate the treaty, which seeks to outlaw acts “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The treaty prohibits “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Some international law experts have argued that the genocide convention also prohibits acts to destroy a protected group’s culture, language and religion” — including that of children. The facts Ms. Lvova-Belova and Mr. Putin have acknowledged about assimilating the Ukrainian children into Russia and eradicating their culture provide evidence of intent to commit genocide as defined by the treaty.

The provision in the genocide treaty was adopted in the shadow of Nazi atrocities, including a scheme directed by Heinrich Himmler to snatch children from Poland and place them in German orphanages or with German families to be raised as Germans. The first convictions at the Nazi war crimes trials were for child abductions. Prosecutor Harold Neely declared that “it is no defense for a kidnapper to say he treated his victim well,” noting that “these innocent children were abducted for the very purpose of being indoctrinated with Nazi ideology and brought up as ‘good’ Germans. This serves to aggravate, not mitigate, the crime.”

Russia, successor to the Soviet Union, is a party to the genocide convention. But Mr. Putin has shown little regard for international laws or norms of any kind in his war to wipe out Ukraine’s democracy and its people. He and the other Russian officials complicit in genocidal crimes against children should be held to account.


(c) 2022, The Washington Post


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