The Genocide of Forced Transfer of Ukrainian Children

18 July 2023 | 16:35 Code : 2020721 General category
The forced transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict has sparked concerns of potential genocide and war crimes. Accusations by the International Criminal Court against Russian President Putin highlight the dire situation, where children are victims of a propaganda campaign, emphasizing the need for urgent protection of the most vulnerable during armed conflicts and addressing the issue of cultural genocide in international law. By Mohammad-Mehdi Seyed Nasseri.
The Genocide of Forced Transfer of Ukrainian Children

(Image source: UNICEF)

Children are a full-view mirror of defenseless persons in armed conflicts. However, all over the world, warring parties ignore one of the most basic rules of armed conflict, which is the protection of children's rights. In fact, one of the calamities of which children have been the main victims throughout history is war. On February 24, 2022, Russia violated many rules of international law with its massive invasion of Ukraine, its western neighbor. Russia committed an act of aggression by violating Ukraine's right to territorial integrity and political independence. Regardless of the reason for the start or continuation of this conflict, groups have been involved in them who have the least means of protecting themselves, and the main and most vulnerable of these groups are children.Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the country's authorities have announced with patriotic fanfare the transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia for adoption and citizenship. On state television, Russian authorities gave teddy bears to newly arrived children, portraying them as abandoned children being saved from war. According to interviews with children and families on both sides of the border, children were brought to Russia whose relatives or guardians want them returned to Ukraine. According to local Ukrainian authorities, some of the children were detained after their parents were killed or imprisoned by Russian military forces. In this regard, on March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court has took an unprecedented action in the history of international criminal law by issuance of arrest warrants against Mr. Putin, the President of Russia, on charges of war crimes through the forced transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia. Also, the prosecutor of the second pre-trial branch of the court, Mr. Karim Khan, has also issued a subpoena against another official appointed by Putin, Mrs. Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the country's children's rights commissioner.

Forced Transfer of Ukrainian Children as Genocide

When Russian forces besieged the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, children fled bombed-out group homes and boarding schools. Separated from their family members, they were looking for neighbors or strangers to the west and were looking for relative security. Russian officials have made it clear that their goal with the transfer is to replace any childhood attachment among Ukrainian children with a love of Russia. The transfer was organized by the Russian Children's Rights Commissioner, Mrs. Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, who in a dramatic gesture personally adopted a teenager from Mariupol. This action by the Russian government is part of Vladimir Putin's broader strategy to treat Ukraine, which he claims is generous. His government has used children, including the sick, the poor and the orphaned, as part of a propaganda campaign to portray Russia as a savior. Unfortunately, the exact number of resettled children is not known and official Russian authorities have not released any information. In April, Russian authorities announced that more than 2,000 Ukrainian children had entered Russia. But according to a new study by researchers at the Humanitarian Research Center of the Yale University School of Public Health, Russia is keeping at least 6,000 Ukrainian children in Crimea and on Russian soil. The report also states that they have identified at least 43 camps and other centers where Ukrainian children are kept for at least four months.It seems that these camps are for the political and ideological rehabilitation of children. These camps have been introduced as part of the integration program. These centers have been approved by the Russian government and their purpose is the cultural, historical and social rehabilitation of children in the desired form of the Russian government. One of the criteria of the International Criminal Court in choosing a crime among the crimes in a subject is to choose crimes whose victims are less visible. As a part of the society, children who need the most support against violence, sexual abuse, malnutrition, and participation in armed conflicts are usually forgotten during times of tension and armed conflict, and are abused by military forces in an atmosphere of impunity. Crimes against children have had a special place since the beginning of the activities of the International Criminal Court until today.For example, in the case of Thomas Lubanga, the senior commander of the Congolese military wing, who was accused in the International Criminal Court of using child soldiers in armed conflicts. The use of child soldiers in conflicts by governments is one of the tragedies that plagues the international community despite the great human achievements in the age of technological phenomena. Genocide is one of the most severe international crimes. The meaning of genocide and the acts that fall under it are defined in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide or the Genocide Convention of 1948 and in Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. According to them, genocide is defined as an act committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, any national, ethnical, racial or religious group.  According to  Article 49 of the  IV Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, it is prohibited, regardless of the motives, to carry out forced individual or mass resettlement or deportation of protected persons from the occupied territory to the territory of the occupying state or to the territory of any other state, regardless of whether it is occupied or not. The Statute of the International Criminal Court recognizes the deportation or forcible transfer of people as a war crime (Article 8 (a) viii))  or a crime against humanity ( Article 7(d)), depending on the circumstances under which such acts are committed. Although the British prosecutor of the International Criminal Court considered the forced transfer of Ukrainian children to be a clear example of a war crime, one should think about whether this behavior of Russia can be considered a clear example of cultural genocide? Although cultural genocide is currently absent from international law, the harms associated with cultural destruction are intrinsically linked to our understanding of genocide as a crime and mass atrocity. Basically, cultural genocide can be defined as the effective destruction of a people through the destruction, erosion or undermining of the integrity of the culture and value system that defines the people and gives them life, systematically (intentionally or unintentionally in order to achieve other goals). Forced transfer of children of one tribe or nation to another tribe or nation can be for their cultural transformation and growth and development in a culture different from the original culture.


Peace and tranquility are the wishes of all nations, however, every day in a corner of the world, we witness a new war and conflict. The main and most vulnerable of these groups are children. In fact, what burns in the fire of war is the image of the happy childhood days of children, whose ashes leave serious and lasting physical and mental injuries for them. Therefore, the mass resettlement of Ukrainian children seems to have clear signs of violation of the Article II (e) of Genocide Convention which defines the forcible transfer of children from one national group to another as genocide, and asloThe forced transfer of Ukrainian children by Russia can be considered a gross violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights, which is considered a war crime.On March 17, 2023, Mr. Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, chose only one charge among the wide range of accusations and the president of one of the great powers of the United Nations Security Council (Russia) accused it of committing the crime of forced transfer and deportation of children to show that during armed conflicts, children should be in the center of attention and their voices should be heard. The forced transfer of oppressed Ukrainian children, which can be a clear example of cultural genocide, can be seen as the beginning of discussions about non-physical and biological genocide in the International Criminal Court, which has never been addressed in any court in the history of international criminal law.

Cultural genocide is a "unique wrong" that needs independent recognition by the international community and should not be limited as a secondary role under some cases of physical genocide. Cultural genocide is often far more sinister than physical attacks, yet existing human rights law fails to recognize and account for the specific harms of cultural destruction and de-identification. Thus, cultural genocide has reached a level that requires individual criminal responsibility and a new international treaty specifically dealing with cultural annihilation. Now we have to wait and see what will be presented in the document containing the charges that the court will present in the future to start the process of confirming the charges? Will there be charges of cultural genocide or not? But the main question is – will the Russians be taken to account for their crime of genocide? Right now, the situation of Ukrainian children in the Great European War is a bitter and shocking story, and it is hoped that by prosecuting the perpetrators of these human tragedies and the violators of the rights of abused children, it will be a lesson for the future so that we will not see such issues repeat in the international community.

* Mohammad-Mehdi Seyed Nasseri is a lecturer and researcher in the field of international children's rights.

tags: Ukraine War

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