What Targeting Of Children Has To Do With Genocidal Atrocities?

December 9 marks the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime. It is a day established by the U.N. General Assembly to raise awareness of genocide and the role the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) plays in addressing it. On the same day in 1948, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Genocide Convention. The Genocide Convention was the first document that defined genocide and imposed obligations on states to prevent the crime and punish the perpetrators.

Over seven decades later, States are still far from fulfilling their duties under the Genocide Convention. They do little if anything to prevent genocide, namely, employ all means reasonably available to them, so as to prevent genocide so far as possible, with this duty arising “at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.” They rarely prosecute the perpetrators for genocide, often resorting to lesser offenses, including terror-related offenses.

As genocide continues to be perpetrated, with growing evidence of the crime in Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine, whole generations of communities are annihilated and scarred. Among others, children are often targeted by prohibited acts. If they survive genocidal atrocities, they carry the pain and suffering with them for life.

In June 2022, the U.N. Secretary-General published its report on “Responsibility to protect: prioritizing children and young people” highlighting the special needs of children and young people in contexts of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The report discusses the extent to which they are targeted and affected by those crimes. The report calls upon States to prioritize the protection of children and young people from atrocity crimes. Among others, as the report emphasized, “young women and girls, but also young men and boys, are disproportionately vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual violence that may constitute a war crime or crime against humanity or may be committed as part of a tactic of war, a campaign of genocide or ethnic cleansing.” In 2020, the United Nations verified more than 1,200 incidences of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children in the context of armed conflicts, one of the highest annual totals since 2005. The United Nations considered this number to underrepresent the reality of sexual violence faced by children and young people, which is largely underreported. This may be due to the fear of reprisal and harmful social norms that survivors experience.

The need to protect children in situations of atrocity crimes cannot be stressed more now with Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine which, among others, target Ukrainian children.

Putin’s atrocities against children in Ukraine fall within the purview of many of the prohibited acts under the Genocide Convention. Hundreds of children were killed in Putin’s war. Children are subjected to serious bodily or mental harm. Children are reportedly abducted, forcibly transferred to Russia and subjected to illegal adoptions there, in line with the prohibited act of forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Furthermore, according to Pramila Patten, Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the United Nations managed to verify more than a hundred cases of rape or sexual assault in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, including the use of the crime on children. According to verified data, the youngest victim was four years of age. Rape and sexual violence are prohibited acts under the Genocide Convention as causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

More evidence of Putin’s atrocities against children will come to light as more and more countries and international bodies collect the evidence and assist with investigations. The evidence must be considered against the elements of the crime of genocide.

The vulnerability of children in cases of atrocity crimes makes them the perfect target for the enemy – including as a means of breaking the spirit and morale of whole communities unable to grasp with the barbarism of the crimes. As children continue to be targeted, States must do more to prioritize the protection of children whenever and wherever atrocity crimes are being perpetrated, or there is a risk thereof. Once such atrocities are perpetrated, children must be prioritized for assistance.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2022/12/08/what-targeting-of-children-has-to-do-with-genocidal-atrocities/