Ukrainians and their allies continue to urge Congress to declare the Russian invasion of their country a genocide, a step lawmakers and the U.S. State Department have been reluctant to formally take so far, despite mounting evidence.
The latest effort came this week when Razom for Ukraine, a U.S.-based civil society group, released a letter from 50 genocide scholars, human rights activists and international lawyers to the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asking them to bring up a genocide declaration that has languished in the House since last year.
President Joe Biden said in the early weeks of the war that it was a genocide, but his administration has since been much more cautious about the label, which has a legal definition under a 1948 international treaty.
In February, however, the administration got a little closer, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken declaring that Russia had committed crimes against humanity.
“These acts are not random or spontaneous; they are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population,” Blinken said.
In addition to that declaration and help investigating the alleged war crimes, the U.S. has committed about $71.3 billion in help to Ukraine since the war began, with $43.2 billion of that in military aid, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
In the letter, the Ukraine supporters said it was time for Congress to label the war a genocide.
“Although we appreciate that executive-branch processes are also common for such determinations, the Kremlin’s genocidal intent and actions are so clear and so evident that a congressional declaration is not only advisable, but absolutely necessary in the spirit of preventing further atrocities,” the letter said.
Under the 1948 treaty, which was signed by the United States, genocide occurs when there is an attempt to completely or partially destroy a racial, ethnic, national or religious group by at least one of several methods, including killing or causing serious injury to them, creating “conditions of life” meant to destroy the group, imposing measures to prevent births within the group or transferring their children to another group.
“These acts are not random or spontaneous; they are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population.”
– Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in announcing Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine
Though reports of Russian atrocities have mounted, most recently with video of a purported beheading of a Ukrainian soldier and testimony by two men claiming to be former members of the Wagner mercenary group who said they carried out orders to kill civilians, including children, the State Department is not ready to move beyond the “crimes against humanity” label.
“The Secretary has not designated Russian atrocities as genocide. We will continue monitoring the situation in Ukraine and will make that determination when appropriate,” a State Department spokesperson told HuffPost in a statement.
The scholars’ letter was released Wednesday, when the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on war crimes in Ukraine. Lawmakers heard from witnesses who described abducted children taken to Russia and a woman who said she had been beaten and tortured while living under Russian occupation in the Kherson region.
Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said he had visited Ukraine and heard similar tales.
“I personally heard an account from a mother who saw her 5-year-old daughter gang-raped to death by 10 Wagner mercenaries, who then threw her dead body on the side of the road,” he said.
“These are more than war crimes. These are more than crimes against humanity. What we are witnessing in Ukraine is genocide,” McCaul said.
“These are more than war crimes. These are more than crimes against humanity. What we are witnessing in Ukraine is genocide.”
– Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
The committee office did not respond to a request for comment about whether McCaul planned to bring up the genocide resolution authored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), which has 21 co-sponsors, including five Republicans.
In the letter asking for action on the resolution, the experts said, “If we do not recognize this invasion for what it is, we not only fail the Ukrainian people, but we neglect our security interests and our foundational values.”
“The United States must recognize and help end genocide, and not just memorialize it after the ruination and devastation of a nation.”
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