Ukraine is investigating the forcible relocation of Ukrainian children into Russia as evidence of genocide, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters in an interview while visiting The Hague Friday.
Proving that children have been moved out of their national or ethnic group could meet the criteria in the Genocide Convention, a United Nations human rights treaty written in 1948 in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
“From the first days of the war, we started this case about genocide,” Venediktova said. “That’s why this forcible transfer of children is very important for us.”
According to the Genocide Convention, one of the sufficient criteria for genocide is “forcibly transferring children of [a national, ethnical, racial, or religious] group to another group… with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, [the group].” Both Russia and Ukraine are parties to the treaty.
International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan would ultimately be responsible for prosecuting the genocide allegations.
Only three genocides – Bosnia, Cambodia, and Rwanda – have been internationally prosecuted since the 1951 ratification of the Genocide Convention.
While the prosecutions resulted in convictions of a few perpetrators, there have been many more than three serious allegations of genocide since 1951.
In Ukraine, prosecutors gathering evidence of the forcible relocation of children face hurdles as the war continues.
“To this day we don’t have access to territory. We don’t have access to people who we can ask, who we can interview,” Venediktova said. About one fifth of Ukraine’s territory is currently under Russian control, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week.
According to Ukrainian government estimates and numbers repeated by Russian state media, between 1.2 and 1.5 million Ukrainians have moved into Russia since the beginning of the war. Between 210,000-260,000 are children.
Russia claims the numbers consist of Ukrainians seeking refuge and willingly looking to settle in Russia. But according to many reports, including the testimony of Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko, the Russian military is forcibly pushing tens of thousands through filtration camps, where their biometric identifiers are recorded and their Ukrainian passports seized.
British news outlet The I reported in April that Kremlin documents revealed Russia was relocating around 100,000 Ukrainians to as far as Siberia and the Artic Circle. The I said it was not able to independently verify the documents.
Russia has a history of relocating prisoners to remote villages. In fact, the Gulag was a system of Soviet labor camps which housed political prisoners and criminals from the 1920s to mid-1950s. At one point, the Gulag imprisoned millions.