Russia's violent acts in Ukraine do not amount to genocide within the current legal definition, Attorney General Andres Parmas said on Thursday. He believes the legislation should be broadened.
On Thursday, the Riigikogu adopted a statement calling the crimes committed by Russia's political leadership and armed forces in Ukraine genocide. Latvia adopted a similar statement several hours before.
The attorney general said Russia has committed war crimes including attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, hostage-taking, deportations, extrajudicial killings and murders — in short, crimes of aggression.
However, Parmas said these crimes do not match the definition in the UN's Genocide Convention, which he called very narrow and specific. This is mainly due to the countries that negotiated the convention.
"This convention was agreed and negotiated in 1948 and the Soviet Union and China, as negotiating countries, worked very hard to ensure that some of the actions and goals that are currently being realized in Ukraine, for example, were not covered by this definition," he said.
Under international law, the crime of genocide can only be applied when the goal is to destroy "in whole or in part" a group of people due to their nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. But a political group, such as Banderites or Nazis, which Russia has said it wants to destroy in Ukraine, does not fall under this definition. Neither does wiping out culture or the destruction of identity by assimilation.
The legal expert thinks it is now time to widen the definition.
"The legal wording of genocide leaves a lot to be desired. It really isn't very comprehensive or logical about what is and what is not covered by this crime today," he said, adding it would be good if these statements lead to the concept of genocide being expanded.
Parmas said criminal proceedings related to war crimes in Ukraine are currently underway in several countries including Estonia, which is also considering joining a transnational investigation group.
Evidence can be gathered here in the form of witness statements from refugees seeking safety in Estonia. "We may also find some perpetrators," he said.
The attorney general said while the legal process needs to be followed, the trail will lead back to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I would dare to say that there is reason to suspect Putin personally of more or less every evil deed that has been done in Ukraine, evidenced if only in that the perpetrators of the Bucha massacre, the entire unit, was given an honorary title and mentioned by the Russian president. Disgusting. Unfortunately, we cannot legally classify someone as a criminal based on that alone," he said.
Editor: Helen Wright