April 13, 2022 By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has weighed in on growing calls to declare Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide, saying it is “absolutely right” that the term is being used given rampant allegations of war crimes and other human rights violations.
Trudeau made the comments during a news conference in Laval, Que., on Wednesday, after U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters the previous day that Russia’s conduct in Ukraine appeared to his eyes to be a genocide.
While both North American leaders noted that it will be up to lawyers to determine whether Russia’s actions meet the international standard for genocide, they were nonetheless united in welcoming use of the term.
“As President Biden highlighted, there are official processes around determinations of genocide,” Trudeau said. “But I think it’s absolutely right that more and more people be talking and using the word ‘genocide’ in terms of what Russia is doing.”
The prime minister went on to list a series of war crimes and human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by Russian forces under the direction of President Vladimir Putin, including deliberate attacks on civilians and the use of sexual violence.
“They’re attacking Ukrainian identity and culture,” Trudeau said. “These are all things that are war crimes that Putin is responsible for. These are all things that are crimes against humanity.”
He went on to say that Canada has dispatched RCMP investigators to help the International Criminal Court collect evidence to ultimately hold Putin and other Russian leaders to account.
Biden last week had stopped short of saying Russia’s actions amounted to genocide, but reversed course in a speech on Tuesday.
“Yes, I called it genocide,” he told reporters in Iowa shortly before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington. “It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian.”
The U.S. president said it would be up to lawyers to decide if Russia’s conduct met the international standard for genocide, as Ukrainian officials have claimed, but added, “it sure seems that way to me.”
“More evidence is coming out literally of the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine, and we’re only going to learn more and more about the devastation and let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies,” he said.
Biden’s comments drew praise from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had encouraged Western leaders to use the term to describe Russia’s invasion of his country.
“True words of a true leader, POTUS,” he tweeted Tuesday. “Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil. We are grateful for US assistance provided so far and we urgently need more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities.”
French President Emmanuel Macron declined to take his rhetoric that far in comments Wednesday.
“I am prudent with terms today,” Macron said. “Genocide has a meaning. I look at the facts, and I want to continue to try the utmost to be able to stop the war and restore peace. I’m not sure if the escalation of words serves our cause.”
Macron added that it’s been established the Russian army has committed war crimes in Ukraine.
A United Nations treaty, to which the U.S. is a party, defines genocide as actions taken with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
World leaders have often dodged formally declaring bloody campaigns such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as genocide, hesitating to trigger an obligation that requires countries to intervene once genocide is formally identified.
In 1994, that obligation was seen as blocking former U.S. president Bill Clinton from declaring Rwandan Hutus’ killing of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis as a genocide.
— with files from The Associated Press