US House resolution: Russian abduction of Ukrainian children is genocide

For the past month, the Russian military has targeted Ukraine’s civilian population and energy infrastructure with some of its largest nationwide missile and drone attacks since the start of the full-scale invasion just over two years ago. These bombardments underscore the urgency of a renewed push in the United States to pass a stalled military aid package for Ukraine.

Members of the US House of Representatives recently demonstrated that they understand what is at stake and are well aware of the crimes being committed by Russia in Ukraine. On March 19, the US House overwhelmingly passed a resolution “condemning the illegal abduction and forcible transfer of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation” by a 390-9 margin.

Russia’s systematic and coordinated abduction of Ukrainian children from occupied regions of Ukraine has attracted global condemnation, and has led to International Criminal Court arrest warrants for Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Russian government official Maria Lvova-Belova. Following in the footsteps of American allies in Europe, the recently adopted US House resolution signals a major bipartisan US policy shift in labeling and shaming Russian perpetrators.

Although nonbinding, the House’s condemnation officially formalizes individual remarks made by Congressional Representatives indicating that Russia is conducting a campaign of genocide in Ukraine. Specifically, this super-majority of Representatives, including key leaders like Speaker Mike Johnson, affirmed that Russia’s abduction, transfer, and forcible adoption of Ukrainian children is “contrary to Russia’s obligations under the Genocide Convention and amounts to genocide.”

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By invoking the UN Genocide Convention, the House’s resolution stresses the severity of Russian crimes in Ukraine. Critically, it also denotes the resulting legal obligations to prevent and punish further genocidal acts against Ukrainians. In other words, Congress has finally recognized what countless experts and advocates have been asking them to acknowledge for much of the past two years.

As a principal author and a key contributor on two independent legal inquiries into the question of Russian genocide in Ukraine published by the New Lines Institute (Washington, DC) and Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (Montreal, Canada), we applaud the House’s unequivocal language regarding these crimes and resulting legal obligations.

Our investigations have detailed the Kremlin’s escalating violence against the Ukrainian population over the past two years. Russia’s most recent actions targeting the civilian population fit into a broader pattern of genocidal objectives evident throughout the invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, prominent Russian media personalities closely tied to the Kremlin continue to advocate for the eradication of Ukraine.

Amid mounting international efforts to hold Russian perpetrators to account for crimes taking place in Ukraine, it is important to stress that the central duty of the UN Genocide Convention is prevention rather than punishment. This implies active steps from signatories to ensure that further crimes are not committed and to keep Ukrainian children safe from abduction.

At the same time, the stark reality remains that no genocide has even been stopped in a courtroom. While accountability is vital for surviving victims, international legal processes often take decades and lack the enforcement mechanisms required to decisively end genocides in real-time. Instead, the duty to stop a genocide in motion falls squarely on every country that has ratified the Genocide Convention.

Human rights advocates are currently racing against the clock to locate Ukraine’s missing children and end the daily deportations that continue in Russia-occupied Ukraine. Once Ukrainian children are seized, experts have traced the Kremlin’s efforts to hide these young victims, while subjecting them to frightening surveillance and camps designed to eradicate their Ukrainian identity. The resolution adopted by the US House of Representatives in March confronted this issue squarely, declaring that “the Russian Federation is attempting to wipe out a generation of Ukrainian children.”

Numerous survivor testimonies confirm that the best genocide prevention mechanism in Ukraine today is a fully-equipped Ukrainian army with staunch Western backing. Ukrainian officials know this all too well. With their troops now forced to ration ammunition amid growing supply shortages, they are urgently appealing for the international military aid they need to save their nation.

While the recent US House of Representatives resolution’s clear articulation of Russia’s genocidal crimes in Ukraine is a step in the right direction, Western leaders must follow such statements with the necessary actions. It is vital for Congress, along with the rest of the US government and governments around the world, to act without further delay and enact policies worthy of Ukraine’s courage and sacrifice. History is watching, and so is Vladimir Putin.

Kristina Hook is Assistant Professor of Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Christopher Atwood is a specialist on Eastern Europe and the Head of the Advisory Board at the Souspilnist Foundation.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center’s mission is to enhance transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East.

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Image: The hand of a child is seen through a bus window at a temporary accommodation centre, after fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Korczowa, Poland, March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi