Ensuring that Russia answers for its killing of children in Uman and countless other war crimes
Six children were among those killed in a Russian missile strike on an apartment block in Uman on 28 April. The Russians struck at around 4 a.m., killing at least 23 civilians in Uman (Cherkasy oblast), an important place of pilgrimage for Jews from all over the world, and a city hundreds of miles from the frontline. In a separate attack on a residential building in Dnipro, a 31-year-old mother was killed, together with her 2-year-old son. The death toll from these attacks on civilian targets would certainly have been higher had Ukraine not succeeded in intercepting most of the missiles.
Russia began bombing and shelling civilian targets from the beginning of its full-scale invasion, with the regime presumably assuming that it would enjoy the same impunity as it had earlier in Chechnya and then in Syria. In those parts of Ukraine which are currently under Russian occupation, the aggressor state is endeavouring to ‘rewrite history’, with Ukraine claimed to be behind such war crimes as the bombing of the Mariupol Drama Theatre and maternity ward. Among the many Ukrainian and international organizations determined to ensure that Russia is held to account for its crimes in Ukraine is the civic coalition of human rights NGOs Tribunal for Putin [T4P]. Despite the coalition’s name, its members are well aware of the need to ensure that all war and other crimes under international law are recorded, and all those responsible, not only Russian president Vladimir Putin, are identified. To this end, representatives of one of the coalition’s members, the Cherkasy Human Rights Group, set off immediately for Uman to document the crimes and to provide advice to the victims or their relatives.
In , Cherkasy Human Rights Group Chair Taras Shcherbatiuk explained that they had gathered information about the 23 people killed, and those 17 who were injured, one of whom is in critical condition. They also recorded the destruction or damage to three apartment blocks, as well as to cars. All of this information is then systematized and added to a secure database which will be used for investigations by the International Criminal Court [ICC] at the Hague.
Around 20 people who have suffered as a result of Russia’s missile strike have thus far turned to the NGO for advice. The NGO explains that it is vital for them to first and foremost ensure that Ukraine’s enforcement bodies initiate criminal proceedings and that they are recognized as victims / aggrieved parties. They should also scrupulously record the damage to property sustained. The human rights group also provides advice on approaches to various international bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights and UN committees.
The International Criminal Court began investigating likely war crimes within just over a week of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In a matter of days after ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan hinted that it would expedite matters if individual member states called for an investigation, 42 states had filed such applications. The reasons are entirely clear, since the definition of war crimes in Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court reads like a list of Russian crimes in Ukraine. As Shcherbatiuk stressed, with reference to the war crimes committed in Uman (the deliberate targeting and killing of civilians and damage to civilian sites, etc.), that war crimes are under universal jurisdiction and are never time-barred.
That, however, is likely to be of little comfort to those in Uman and Dnipro, since there was already a huge weight of evidence of Russia’s targeting of civilians many months ago. Russia was ordered by the UN’s International Court of Justice to end its bombing of Ukraine on 16 March 2022. It ‘responded’ by committing one of its most heinous war crimes to date, the bombing of the Drama Theatre in Mariupol that was sheltering over a thousand civilians. An international tribunal needs to be created over Russia’s crime of aggression, and faster means introduced to ensure that Russia is held to account for its crimes now.