The G-word – Biden has accused Russia of ‘genocide’. So what does it mean?

US President Joe Biden has leveled an accusation of genocide against Russia in relation to its war in Ukraine.

The word carries a certain gravity – it’s widely considered one of the worst imaginable atrocities, the “crime of all crimes”.

However, simply saying “genocide” has occurred and proving it in a court of international law are two different things.

So what is the significance of the US President escalating the rhetoric?

What exactly did Biden say?

His declaration was made in an unlikely place: during a speech in Iowa about fuel prices.

“Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away,” Mr Biden said.

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US President Joe Biden calls for an invasion in Ukraine of “genocide”.

He later doubled-down as he prepared to board Air Force One.

“Yes, I called it ‘genocide’ because it has become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of ​​being able to be Ukrainian and the evidence is mounting,” he said.

What is genocide?

The Genocide Convention was the first human rights treaty to be adopted at the UN General Assembly in 1948, and it came to signify the promise of “never again” after the Holocaust.

Legally, genocide includes five acts committed with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”, according to the UN.

Those acts include:

  • killing members of the group
  • causing them serious bodily or mental harm
  • deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction in whole or in part
  • imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
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ABC hears of alleged war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Leila Sadat, an expert on war crimes and international law at Washington University in St Louis, told National Public Radio the crime requires proof of intent.

“We are definitely seeing evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” she said.

“Genocide requires this special intent, so we actually have to show that they’re committing all these terrible crimes in order to destroy, in part or in whole, the particular group.”

How significant is the ‘G-word’?

Dr Ángel Alcalde – a lecturer in history at the University of Melbourne – said such a declaration can form international public opinion, but can also have legal consequences.

“Politically, it is very significant to invoke the concept of ‘genocide’, not just because of the meanings attached to this notion, but also because of the legal obligations for states under the United Nations Genocide Convention,” he said, adding the US , Ukraine and Russia are signatories to the convention.


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