can we talk about “genocide” in Ukraine?

Corpses on the street in Bucha near Kiev, April 2, 2022 – RONALDO SHEMIDT


A word not to be taken lightly. After the discovery of several hundred corpses of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, some no longer hesitate to talk about “genocide”. In particular, this applies to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“This is genocide. Destruction of an entire nation and its people. We do not want to obey the policy of Russia. That is why we are being destroyed and exterminated,” he said on the night of Sunday to Monday.

In Europe, some leaders have also chosen to use the term. This is especially true of Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister, who mentioned a possible “genocide”. The head of the Polish government, Mateusz Moriawiecki, for his part, considered the massacre in Bucha a “genocide” that should be “condemned.”

“Lawyers will decide”

But talking about “genocide” is not so simple, since this act has a legal definition, clearly articulated in the Rome Statute of 1948.

According to the text, acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such: killing members of the group; causing grievous bodily harm or mental illness to group members; deliberate creation of living conditions for a group, designed for its complete or partial physical destruction; measures aimed at preventing births within the group; forcible transfer of children from one group to another”.

War crimes, on the other hand, refer in particular to attacks that affect civilians, such as the bombing of apartment buildings or medical facilities, but without the intent to exterminate the population.

According to Cédric Mas, military historian and president of the Action Résilience Institute, “this is at best ‘war crimes’, at worst ‘crimes against humanity’, not necessarily genocide. Everything will depend on a systematic and systemic nature.” He explains on BFMTV that these deaths were allegedly caused by the Russian army not for the purpose of “cleansing”, but rather “revenge on civilians” due to the “backlash against heavy losses”.

“At the stage we are at, we are dealing more with war crimes than with organized genocide,” Philippe De Lara, professor of political science at Panthéon-Assas University, says a lot into our antenna.

“Lawyers will decide,” says Sylvie Bermann, a former French ambassador to Russia and BFMTV consultant, adding that genocide is not qualified by the number of deaths, but by the “intention” at the time the crime was committed. murders. At present, the International Criminal Court has already launched an international investigation into Russian crimes.

History reference

But this term genocide is not accidentally used by Kiev and some of its allies.

“This refers to the goal of the war designated by Vladimir Putin: denazification, the overthrow of power, the liquidation of the statehood of Ukraine, the merger of the two peoples. So, the purpose of this war was that Ukraine as a nation no longer exists,” explains Philippe De Lara.

The latter adds that the question is also historical. Indeed, the term “genocide” was used by Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer known for originating the concept, to describe the great Ukrainian famine of 1933 orchestrated by Moscow. “This genocide is a famine, which consisted, on the one hand, of deliberately starving the peasants, depriving them of all resources and not allowing them to leave the village, and also (…) to eliminate the Ukrainian intelligentsia culture,” he says.

Cautious Ukrainian justice

After the massacre in Bucha, monitors will follow the evolution of Russian troops as they move, especially in eastern Ukraine. “If we have Butch all the time, then we can ask ourselves the question of the systematic nature. Most likely, we are not there,” says Patrick Sauce, editorialist on international politics for BFMTV.


“These are all war crimes. Perhaps, in terms of international law, we are not yet facing a crime against humanity or genocide, because the definitions are very precise, but, undoubtedly, we are facing elements of a war crime,” Jean-Claude Samuillet, Vice President of Amnesty, says on our antenna International France.

The same warning goes for Irina Venediktova, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General. If she claims over our antenna that Kyiv has identified “more than 4,000 Russian war crimes,” she refuses to use the term “genocide” for the time being, ensuring that an investigation is ongoing. Eric Dupont-Moretti, the French keeper of the seals, promised her “French operational support in the investigation of war crimes.”

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