Concern over the whereabouts of thousands of orphans in Ukraine
“You talk about war crimes as if they were traffic tickets. These are mass murders of civilians, rapes, torture. What vile things does Russia have to commit for them to abandon political correctness once and for all?
The phrase was blurted out yesterday by a Ukrainian journalist to the three diplomats sent by the UN to investigate the human rights violations committed in Ukraine. Erik Møse, president of the investigation commission, had just explained at a press conference in Kyiv that during the ten days they have spent in the country they have collected a multitude of testimonies about possible war crimes perpetrated by the Russian forces, but that it is soon to draw conclusions. “At this stage we are not in a position to make factual findings or rule on issues relating to the legal qualification of the events,” the Norwegian judge stated.
The UN commission of inquiry asks for time to collect evidence on the alleged crimes
Diplomatic jargon is now more indigestible than ever for Ukraine, under the onslaught of an invader who brushes off all accusations of atrocities as mere fake news . Without military victory, Ukraine is thirsty for justice. But if ordinary justice is slow, international justice is much slower. On April 5, a long-awaited trial began in the Court of The Hague: a militia leader implicated in the genocide in Darfur… 19 years ago.
The Ukrainians are in a hurry. Rush to put, black on white, figures to summary executions, raped women, murdered civilians. There is also a rush to clarify the fate of the thousands of children who, according to the Ukrainian authorities, have been kidnapped from orphanages in territories now under Russian occupation and put up for adoption in Russia. Complaints that the UN commission has collected and are going to investigate, promised the Bosnian diplomat Jasminka Džumhur, who spoke “of accelerated processes of nationalization and adoption.”
Diplomats have received allegations that the Russians are emptying orphanages in the occupied areas
In Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced an investigation into the alleged adoptions, although she stressed that she could not confirm the accusations or the number of children affected. “We are concerned about the alleged intentions of the Russian authorities to allow the displacement of Ukrainian children to families in Russia, which do not seem to include family reunification measures or respect the interest of the minor,” said Bachelet. “We are following the situation closely.”
The three commissioners, diplomats with extensive experience, asked for time in Kyiv to do their job. This is the first visit, and the following ones will be with investigators who will be dedicated to collecting evidence about the alleged crimes. The commission will present a first report to the UN General Assembly in October and the conclusions to the Human Rights Council in March 2023. “We do not doubt the testimonies we have heard or the sites we have visited. The question is whether we have enough evidence to serve legal purposes and to prepare a credible and factually impeccable report,” said Colombian diplomat Pablo de Greiff.
There is a multitude of investigations in Ukraine right now, many without the necessary experts
The diplomat pointed out to this newspaper that on this visit they have not received any complaints of abuses committed by Ukrainian troops, but stressed that his mandate is to investigate “all allegations regardless of who the perpetrators are.” At the moment, however, the only authorities that collaborate are the Ukrainian ones.
The UN investigation is just one of many being carried out in Ukraine to expose Russian war crimes. Most are under the command of the attorney general, Irina Venediktova, but there are also a multitude of organizations that carry out their own.
Europe and the United States send teams to assist the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office in their investigations
It’s problematic, warns British lawyer Wayne Jordash. He co-leads the Advisory Group on Atrocity Crimes, established by the EU, the United States and the United Kingdom precisely to accompany the Ukrainian justice system in this herculean task. There is no precedent for what Ukraine intends to do: a large-scale investigation of war crimes carried out while the fighting rages and by the nation itself under attack.
“It is good that different actors participate but they have to coordinate,” Jordash warns. What I see is a lot of haste, especially on the part of organizations that do not understand how technical and specialized the work of investigating war crimes is. It is not enough to interview a few testimonials. They are not aware of the damage they can cause if they do not collaborate with the Prosecutor’s Office and international experts.”
Even the Ukrainian justice system lacks the resources to carry out these investigations, which require specialized prosecutors, forensic experts, military analysts, experts in ballistics or in so-called open source intelligence. The Advisory Group is deploying “mobile teams” to assist Ukrainian investigators on the ground. The International Criminal Court sent 42 forensic experts and France a team from the Gendarmerie, Slovakia explosives experts. Spain offered in April to send 39 forensic experts, but they have not yet been mobilized, the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences of Catalonia confirmed to this newspaper.
The legal framework is also worrying. Vladimir Zelensky is about to sign a law on war crimes that international law experts consider a serious setback. He dilutes the responsibility of the Ukrainian army commanders in committing crimes, while allowing ordinary soldiers of the enemy side to be prosecuted for crimes of aggression.
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