Trudeau welcomes use of ‘genocide’ to describe Russian war effort

Canadian prime minister deems it ‘absolutely right’ to see more people using term to denounce Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped short of directly accusing Russia of committing 'genocide' in Ukraine, but said the use of the word was 'absolutely right' [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he believes it is “absolutely right” to see more people using the term “genocide” to describe Russian actions in Ukraine, where Moscow’s assault is entering an eighth week.

However, Trudeau stopped short of directly echoing Joe Biden’s comments from a day earlier, when the United States president for the first time accused his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of committing “genocide”.

“I think as President Biden highlighted, there are official processes around determinations of genocide. But I think it’s absolutely right that more and more people be talking and using the word ‘genocide’ in terms of what Russia is doing, what Vladimir Putin has done,” Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.

The prime minister pointed to “targeted attacks” against civilians, including a bombing of a train station in eastern Ukraine last week that killed more than 50 people, as well as the use of sexual violence as examples of what he said were war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The way that they’re attacking Ukrainian identity and culture, these are all things that are war crimes that Putin is responsible for. These are all things that are crimes against humanity,” Trudeau said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy previously said that atrocities committed in Bucha and other towns near the capital, Kyiv, where bodies were found in the streets following the withdrawal of Russian troops from the area, constituted “genocide”.

Some European leaders also have levied the charge against Moscow, which has denied targeting civilians in its invasion, but other countries, including the US and Canada, have been more cautious about using the term.

In line with long-standing protocol, the Biden administration had stopped short of using the “genocide” descriptor because of its strict legal definition and the heavy implication the accusation carries.

Tuesday marked the first time that Biden used the term since Russia’s invasion began in late February, saying it was justified because “evidence is mounting” that Putin is seeking “to wipe out the idea of being able to be Ukrainian”.

“We’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me,” he told reporters.

Zelenskyy welcomed the US president’s remarks as the “true words of a true leader”.

“Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil,” the Ukrainian president tweeted, thanking Washington for its assistance and calling for more “heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities”.

For its part, Russia denounced Biden’s comments and accused the US of hypocrisy over its own crimes. “We categorically disagree and consider unacceptable any attempt to distort the situation in this way,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“This is hardly acceptable from a president of the United States, a country that has committed well-known crimes in recent times,” Peskov said.

Russia’s foreign ministry previously summoned the US ambassador in Moscow over Biden’s earlier characterisation of Putin as a “war criminal”, saying the remark risked causing a “rupture” of US-Russia relations.

The United Nations’ Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, including killings and measures to prevent births.

War crimes are violations of international law that happen during times of conflict, including targeting civilians and mistreating prisoners, while crimes against humanity – widespread or planned-out abuses of the rights of civilians – can happen in conflict or during times of relative peace.

The International Criminal Court last month launched an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies