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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has invoked the Geneva Convention and its protocols relating to the treatment of civilians and the type of weapons used. The conventions and protocols form the backbone of international humanitarian law, regulating armed conflict conduct and limiting conflict’s negative impacts on people not actively participating (Kent, 2019). Protocols I and II of the Geneva Conventions are of interest in examining whether Russia has committed war crimes. Protocol I forbids murder, physical torture, mental torture, mutilations, corporal punishment, humiliation, degradation, enforced prostitution, sexual assaults, hostage taking, collective punishment, and threats to commit the preceding acts (Kent, 2019). Protocol II prohibits terrorism acts, slavery, slave trade, and pillage (Kent, 2019). The Geneva Convention also addresses the use of weapons. It prohibits the “employment in armed conflicts of weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering” (ICRC, 2005, p. 11). The analysis of news reports of Russia’s military conduct in Ukraine through the lens of the Geneva Convention protocols shows that Russia has committed war crimes against civilians and by using forbidden weapons.
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Crimes against Civilians
Russia has engaged in the deliberate killing of civilians. In March, in a Kyiv suburb named Bucha, Russian paratroopers marched male Ukrainian civilians at gunpoint to a place behind an office building they turned into a makeshift base and shot them (Al-Hlou et al., 2022). They were only part of widespread civilian killing in Kyiv. At least 500 dead bodies have been found since Russian soldiers left the city (Gunter, 2022). Russian soldiers committed similar crimes during their capture of Keminna City in Luhansk. In the city, they reportedly shot at four Ukrainian civilians fleeing the war in their cars and attacked at least 191 civilians, including the elderly (OSCE, 2022). Civilian deaths at the hands of the Russians were even greater in Mariupol, where the fighting continued until soldiers and civilians eventually had to shelter in the steel plant. When the Ukrainian soldiers surrendered, it came to light that more than 20,000 civilians died in Mariupol, having been massively damaged by Russian bombings (Sullivan & Wamsley, 2022). Russia’s killing of civilians instead of protecting them evidences its violation of the Geneva Conventions.
In addition to the murder of civilians, Russia has violated the Geneva Conventions in different ways. In Bucha, Russian soldiers kept twenty-five girls between fourteen and twenty-four years old in a basement and continually gang-raped them (Smolinski, 2022). In another instance, Russian soldiers had people watch sexual violence. It involved forcing family members and loved ones to watch their children and partners being raped (Smolinski, 2022). The act amounts to degradation, humiliation, and mental torture. The three violations also apply to another gruesome image. Civilians had to see the bodies of a man and three naked women burned in a blanket by fleeing Russian soldiers (OSCE, 2022). A similarly disturbing act by the Russians is mutilations. In the Bucha village of Zabuchchya, eighteen mutilated bodies of children, women, and men were found in a basement (Smolinski, 2022). The state of the bodies indicated that they had been tortured. For example, some bodies had their teeth pulled out, and others had their ears cut off (Smolinski, 2022). The mutilations, mental torture, physical torture, sexual violence, humiliation, and degradation committed by the Russians violate the stipulations of the protocols of the Geneva Conventions.
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The Use of Forbidden Weapons
The Russians have reportedly used banned weapons or used weapons inappropriately. They have used unguided weapons, for example, artillery rockets and howitzers, without monitoring where they land (Ivory, 2022). The indiscriminate firing has put civilians, important facilities, and homes in the firing line. The Russian military has also used weapons with devastating warheads. Blasts from the warheads of the 300-mm Smerch, 9N210 sub-munitions, and OF-56 Projectile can shatter concrete in nearby structures, damage people’s internal organs, and penetrate the warhead’s fragments into people’s bodies (Ivory, 2022). The Russians have also deployed cluster munitions, weapons that break open in the air and release smaller sub-munitions over a broad area. About 20% of the sub-munitions fail to explode on impact and can detonate later if handled by anybody (Ivory, 2022). The soldiers have also used the POM-3, launched by a rocket and parachuted to the ground. If it detects a person’s presence, it launches a warhead that explodes midair into fragments that can kill a person 50 feet away (Ivory, 2022). All these weapons can cause unnecessary death and harm to women, children, and civilians.
The examination of Russia’s military activity has shown that it has violated the Geneva Conventions and its Protocols. Russian soldiers have needlessly killed Ukrainian civilians in significant numbers. Their victims include children, the elderly, and women, not just men. Russian soldiers have also committed sexual violence against girls, boys, women, and men and, in some cases, forced partners and loved ones to watch. They have also carried out physical and mental torture, mutilations, and slavery. Moreover, they have used weapons banned by the Geneva Conventions. The weapons are unguided, indiscriminate, and destructive, causing superfluous injuries and deaths to both combatants and civilians. It suffices to conclude that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine.
- Al-Hlou, Y., Froliak, M., Hill, E., Browne, M., & Botti, D. (2022). New Evidence Shows How Russian Soldiers Executed Men in Bucha. The New York Times. Retrieved 30 July 2022, from https://web.archive.org/web/20220528185253/https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/19/world/europe/russia-bucha-ukraine-executions.html.
- Gunter, J. (2022). Collecting the dead in Bucha. BBC News. Retrieved 30 July 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61085810.
- ICRC. (2005). Convection on Prohibition or Restrictions on the use of Certain Convectional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurous or have Indiscriminate Effects (pp. 11-12). Internation Committe of the Red Cross (ICRC). Retrieved from https://www.icrc.org/en/doc/assets/files/other/icrc_002_0811.pdf
- Ivory, D. (2022). What Hundreds of Photos of Weapons Reveal About Russias Brutal War Strategy. The New York Times. Retrieved 30 July 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/06/19/world/europe/ukraine-munitions-war-crimes.html.
- Kent, A. (2019). Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and Additional Protocol. The Encyclopedia Of Women And Crime, 2(3), 1-5. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118929803.ewac0232
- OSCE. (2022). Report on the Violations of International and Humanitarian Law, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1O9B5bzxC_3MMElGQxcv9BECPSZGZ25CH/view
- Smolinski, P. (2022). New report details Russian torture of Ukrainian civilians. Cbsnews.com. Retrieved 30 July 2022, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-report-details-russian-torture-ukrainian-civilians/.
- Sullivan, B., & Wamsley, L. (2022). Mariupol has fallen to Russia. Here’s what that means for Ukraine. National Public Radio (NPR) [Podcast]. Retrieved 30 July 2022, from https://www.npr.org/2022/05/18/1099885151/mariupol-falls-ukraine-russia-what-it-means.