THE news from Ukraine is unrelentingly grim. At the weekend the experiences in Bucha, outside Kyiv, were revealed to include the most serious crimes. There are bodies of civilians lying on streets and in mass graves to suggest the systematic targeting, torture and execution of civilians and there are repeated and credible testimonies of sexual violence. These are all war crimes and rest under international law.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky held an emotional press conference where he made claims of genocide. Of course, if you are standing in a small town seeing the horror of what unfolded there it must feel justified to run the claims to the max, but hyperbole doesn’t help.
Genocide is the deliberate killing of a people or a culture with the ultimate aim of the destruction of that people or culture. The term genocide reached legal enforcement after World War Two when new laws were required to meet accountability for the global horrors that engulfed Europe following the election of National Socialism in Germany. There is a great book that tracks the life of the definer of genocide – Raphael Lemkin – called East West Street. I highly recommend it as pertinent to this time.
Of course, the scenes in Bucha immediately led to international statements of horror and calls for accountability. Which was right and fitting. But forgive me if my appreciation for such determination was accompanied by heavy scepticism.
The United Kingdom’s valiant Home Secretary Liz Truss stood up. In a press release she said: “We will not rest until those responsible for atrocities, including military commanders and individuals in the Putin regime, have faced justice.” Which is pretty radical of her considering the Conservative Party is currently attempting to ensure that those responsible for all atrocities in Ireland, including military commanders, do not face any justice at all and has promised to introduce legislation to copperfasten the denial of basic human rights on this island. Not to mention ditching the Human Rights Act itself.
US President Joe Biden also called out the Russians for committing war crimes, and said that while it was not genocide there must be accountability. Fair enough. Except that the place to which war crimes are brought is the International Criminal Court at the Hague, whose foundational document is the Treaty of Rome. Guess which country, along with only six other countries, did not ratify the Treaty of Rome? Yep, the United States.
I say all of this with a nagging voice in the back of my head though. A voice that is also deeply grateful for the US support for the Good Friday Agreement and human rights frameworks here.
It is the US that has prevented the worst Brexit imaginable on this island. It is Irish America that has led the charge against the amnesty legislation plans and appears, on the face of it, to have succeeded in securing the icing of the plans in the very short term. Irish America stands where others wobble or sit when it comes to the defence of the entire population of the North, especially those who have experienced violations.
Human rights are not just for the other guy, we must all own them for them to work. At their best the UK and the US can be world leaders advocates for human rights and enforcement. Sadly we see hypocrisy more often than credibility.