The Putin regime’s abduction of Ukrainian children demands justice
April 10, 2023
Russia’s assault on Ukraine is not an arcane border dispute. It is an attempt to suppress and extirpate a nation. The evidence lies in the brutality meted out to Ukraine’s population, through indiscriminate bombing of hospitals, schools and residential areas, as well as shooting and maiming civilians at close quarters. Most of all it is evident in a crime so barbarous that it is hard to find a modern counterpart: since the invasion began in February last year, Russian forces have been systematically abducting and deporting Ukrainian children.
The torment of parents whose children are kidnapped can scarcely be imagined. It is not arbitrary cruelty but a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate children into the notion that Ukrainian nationality is a bogus construct. It is, in the literal sense set out in the UN convention of 1948, an act of genocide. And it underlines the need for the Putin regime to be held to account at a war crimes tribunal, however long it takes and whatever the logistical difficulties in arraigning its leading figures.
Reliable statistics are elusive but the government in Kyiv claims that some 19,500 Ukrainian children have been kidnapped and transported to Russia for adoption. It is heartening that some have been reunited with their families owing to the efforts of a charity, Save Ukraine. The fortitude of mothers who, after long journeys, withstood long interrogations by Russian security services in order to secure their children’s release is deeply moving. But despite such heroism, the numbers of families that have been restored are meagre.
The latest rescue mission, which we report today, freed 31 children, bringing the total to about 360. Thousands remain trapped in Crimea, illegally annexed by the Putin regime in 2014, or Russia, probably forever separated from their parents and exiled from their homeland.
There is a type of sophistry in international affairs that will only classify as genocide the deliberate annihilation of an ethnic, national or religious minority. Destruction of a people encompasses far more than this: it can include the suppression of language and the deprivation of the means of a community to reproduce itself. This is what Russia’s depredations against Ukraine involve. And it is a war crime of the utmost gravity.
History provides many such lessons. Ben Ferencz, who as a young lawyer helped to bring Nazi war criminals to justice at the Nuremberg trials in 1945, died last week at the age of 103. With his passing, the direct experience of prosecuting Nazi crimes against humanity has slipped beyond human memory. Periodically (and even at the time) some faulted the tribunal as an exercise in “victors’ justice”. That was false. It was, rather, an imperfect but vital historical accounting for barbarous crimes and thereby an instrument for reconciliation between nations and peoples.
On the same principle, ad hoc international tribunals for the conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda were established by the United Nations in the 1990s, to be succeeded by a permanent tribunal, the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC issued an arrest warrant last month for Vladimir
Putin on grounds of these child abductions. If the Russian president is forever confined to his own country for fear of arrest and transportation to the Hague, he may escape justice but the indictment will stand. And the symbolism of an embattled autocrat will remain a reminder of universal standards of jurisprudence and civilised conduct.