The Ukraine Crisis: The International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Dimensions
On June 14, 2022, the Academy of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the Washington College of Law organized a panel of expert speakers, featuring Marti Flacks, Elizabeth Ferris, Robert Goldman and Eric Rosenthal to discuss how human rights have been affected in war-hit Ukraine and how much more has to be done to find a solution to the human rights crisis. Robert Goldman, who is Professor of Law and Faculty Director for the War Crimes Research Office, and Co-Director of Washington College of Law’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, noted that the Ukraine crisis did not start in February 2022, but had begun in February 2014 with Russia crossing the Ukrainian border in an undeclared war.
Marti Flacks is the Khosravi Chair in Principled Internationalism and director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Ms. Flacks has spent more than a decade in the U.S. government, most recently serving at the National Security Council (NSC) as director of African affairs. She noted that within the early hours of the beginning of the war, it became evident that there was a violation of humanitarian law and blatant disregard of the Geneva Conventions and international law. She noted that there have been about 269 attacks by Russian forces on healthcare facilities, which all appeared to be intentional to stall the access to healthcare facilities. Within the first few weeks of the war, the US and other countries said there were war crimes being committed in Ukraine. The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened an investigation in the matter. The process requires evidence of crimes committed, courts with jurisdiction as well as a defendant who could be prosecuted for such crimes and violations. There is ample evidence of the human rights violations in Ukraine provided by professional journalists, civilians taking photographs and sharing with the outside world, drone coverage to capture such images of the war-torn areas as well satellite coverage of such violations. Besides the ICC, there are enough courts willing to extend their jurisdiction to bring justice. However, Ukraine has expressed its desire to prosecute the war criminals on its own soil and in its own courts. There are several European courts which have independently opened investigations into war crimes. Such courts have the power to prosecute for war crimes under their own laws. The ICC has sent a
team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine to advance the investigations into crimes falling into the jurisdiction of the ICC. The biggest problem is identifying a defendant, who can be held accountable for the perpetration of these crimes. Ms. Flacks noted that international co-operation among all the organizations working in Ukraine would make the investigation efficient as well as less painful for the victims. It will save the victims of recounting their stories to different organizations which collect evidence of war crimes.
Elizabeth Ferris is an Institute for the Study of International Migration’s Research Professor at Georgetown University. She has decades of experience working in the field of international humanitarian response for internal displacement. She noted that the Ukraine war has seen one the largest movements of people across Europe, and one of the largest across the world since 1947-48. People displaced by this war have been welcomed in various European nations, which until last year were reluctant to open their borders to asylum seekers. Poland and Slovakia have generously opened their borders to welcome such displaced people. The US has said that it would accept about 100,000 Ukrainians and other displaced people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. The US has started a new program called “Uniting for Ukraine” which is a 2-year parole time period, which is helpful as a temporary solution as an asylum process takes few years to get completed. She noted that the positive response received in acceptance of asylum seekers across different countries could prove to be a silver lining for other asylum seekers as well as there are processes being put in place which have either been slow to execute or did not exist.
Eric Rosenthal is Founder and Executive Director of the Disability Rights International (DRI). DRI reports have brought worldwide attention to the rights of people with disabilities. He noted that people with disabilities are among the worst affected in any war scenario, as their existence itself is ignored. In his work with DRI, he found that of all the international relief received, almost none reaches the disabled children at these institutions. Their caretakers abandoned them and due to shortage of staff, these children are tied to bed at night so that it is easier to control them. In his efforts, Eric brought forward a heart-wrenching situation that non disabled children were moved from East Ukraine to Germany, but disabled
children were moved from East Ukraine to West Ukraine, as such institutions are banned in Germany and most of the world, and there is no place to house these children with disabilities.