Russia’s invasion towards Ukraine leaves a devastating trail in its wake, threatened communities and impacted infrastructure serve as a prominent proof of the hostile armed conflict between the two. Yet, despite its militant attempt, Russia keeps upholding its claims of “Pre-emptive strike” and “Preventing Genocide” while coating its armed troops as peacekeeping operations. This paper aims to asses several violations conducted according to International Treaties and how it impacted vulnerable groups within their borders.
International Treaties and The Rules of War
Under the Geneva Convention within the International Humanitarian Law, regardless of Russia self-labelled “peacekeeping troops” and “pre-emptive strike to prevent genocide”, Russian troops in Ukraine are considered as an occupying force according to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and its first additional protocol of 1977 (Protocol 1). This could be indicated by the harsh act by Russian troops in entering Ukraine’s territory and causing widespread damage of public infrastructure such as but not limited to hospitals, schools, or airport on both sides of the 427-kilometer line of contact.
Neither the concept of sovereignty nor the recognition of independence by the Russian government in self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” could whatsoever invalidate the applicability of the international law of occupation. International Humanitarian Law seeks to protect innocent civilians and non-armed parties from the hostilities during a warfare, which include the conduct of hostilities, the means and method of warfare by all parties of a conflict. Civilians must never be a target of armed attacks, and parties should resort to viable combat strategy that prevent harm to civilians or causalities and damage to the public infrastructure. The laws of war strictly limit attacks to targets that fall within the definition of “military objectives.”
The 1974 General Assembly UN Resolution 3314 also defined the concept of aggression, which consist of several acts that Russia has done in Ukraine such as military occupation, invasion, bombardments, and the passage of armed groups. As the member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia is clearly subjected to this resolution.
Furthermore, the Helsinki Conference which was conducted in 1975 constitutes the respect of borders in Europe and gave birth to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where Russia is listed as a member. Its Charter provide the principles of inviolability of borders, territorial integrity of states, peaceful settlement of dispute, non-intervention in internal affairs, while also acknowledge basic human rights of minorities, equal rights of states, and the right of self-determination. Legitimizing the armed presence at the Ukrainian border by claiming it as a “precaution” method clearly an attempt to dissimulate a conscious and complete violation to the treaty. Moreover, Russia is subjected to refrain the use of force under the Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Within said memorandum, Russia pleaded the refrain of use of force in exchange for Ukraine surrendering its nuclear reserve that it inherited after the collapse of Soviet Union.
This indicates that there are multiple violations to several international treaties occurring at the same time. Yet, there are also several convention and treaties used to justify Russia’s action on Ukraine despite of the significant impact on communal and regional level within its borders. Therefore, attempts to give humanitarian aid could be severely hindered.
Claims of Pre-emptive Strike and Responsibly to Protect
Russia claims that their attempt at mobilizing armed forces were simply a form of pre- emptive strike. It is true, that right of self-defence could be pre-emptive according to the customary international law. State can act before a full-scale armed assault are conducted towards them, if they could present solid evident that there was a necessity to take the pre- emptive method, which described as “Instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation” by the customary law.
Beside the claims of pre-emptive strike, Russia has also stated that their attempts were made to prevent mass genocide within the Donbass Region allegedly done by Ukraine. The Genocide Convention did apply obligations to other states to prevent the act of genocide, where the International Court of Justice has acknowledged to have extra-territorial application. This constitutes the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) amongst nations.
Moreover, Russia is trying to justify its attempts by using several arguments, such as the threat posed by NATO expansion to Russia in tandem with its increasing military presence in Ukraine, alleged extreme nationalists and Neo-Nazis in Ukraine which could potentially lead to a coup, and the sounds of crying for help by the self-proclaimed Donbas independent region. Therefore, by using these evidences, Russia claims that their act is still in accordance with the
Article 51 Part 7 of the UN Charter and does not violate the aforementioned International Treaties.
However, there is no evident proof that Ukraine has conducted nor intent any genocide attempts towards the people of Donbas region. There has been no prominent armed-military hostile presence in said region despite the Russia’s claim of increasing threats in recent times. Therefore, although Russia might consider the alleged increasing military activity in Ukraine overwhelming, there is no necessity in conducting the pre-emptive strike towards Ukraine, nor the right of self-defence applied to Russia because of the customary law definition of said rights. Russia still has a room for deliberation where there is no instantaneous element occurring whatsoever. Moreover, since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has all the rights of being sovereign country which indicate that they are entitled to their autonomy to act as a state. Yet, despite of these solid evidence, Russia’s status in United Nation and as superpower state still grants them the veto rights, even within the Security Council. This grants them the rights to vote against Security Council resolutions which is needed to enforce the verdict from International Court of Justice.
Power politics and clash of interests tends to serve as prominent cause of conflicts, and as Samuel P. Huntington predicts in his “Clash of Civilizations,” we could see a shifting to a more geopolitical-oriented conflicts in Russia-Ukraine warfare. Moreover, this also help explains how intersecting identities shape state’s perception of threats when combined with the concept of intersectionality. The invasive action of Russia could not be justified as within the Rules of Law itself, the casualties, death tolls, and damage to public infrastructure of hostile warfare that still seeing an increase in numbers is a clear violation of civilian’s rights to safety whatever their defensive claims may be. Russia has been over-exercising their power as a first world country, and civilians, especially the vulnerable and marginalized groups as intersectionality put it are more prone to layered threats based on their identities alone.
Intersecting Identities: Vulnerable Groups during Warfare
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in the last 8 years, millions of women and other marginalized groups have lived within the threats of conflict in Ukraine. This affects their wellbeing and subjecting them to further violence and abuse. Recent Russia’s invasion could further pose them to danger as the hostile conflict keeps escalating as we speak.
As of June 4th 2023, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has estimated that there are roughly 24,425 civilian casualties, where 8,983 has been killed and the other 15,442 injured. Amongst the death toll, over 1,500 of them are confirmed to be childre. Most of these deaths were caused by using heavy weaponry, such as but not limited to shelling and explosives. This further proves the violation of international treaties where civilians should not be subjected to a hostile warfare. Moreover, UNICEF also stated that the warfare could affects approximately 3.4 million more civilians, which include children in Donbas region where most of them has been separated from their families and relatives. In addition, displacement occurred to reportedly around 6.5 million people in Ukraine internally, and thousands more are attempting to abscond over borders unto neighboring countries such as Romania, Poland, and Moldova according to UNHCR.
Using the 7 areas Human Security framework, this prolonged conflict could take its toll to Ukraine’s already devastated infrastructure and its citizens especially the already vulnerable marginalized groups. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected deeply Ukraine’s economy and health-care. Food and other resources scarcity would most likely occur, and public services will most likely see a decline in viability. Vulnerable groups do not have equal footings as the others; thus, their already limited accessibility could worsen as the conflict escalates.
This warfare has also impacted the invading country, Russia too. Their government has confirmed as of June 18th 2023 that there were 4,789 deaths on their region which include armed forces. The Russian BBC also concerned that there are findings where death tolls amongst lower-ranking soldiers were not reported, indicating there are far more than the previously announced toll.
Furthermore, an attack has also been made to public infrastructure that host marginalized community and the freedom of expression. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Iryna Venediktova addressed that supposedly Russian’s armed forces has opened fire towards an orphanage in Vorzel, near Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv. Three journalists from Radio Free Europe have also been detained following their attempts to cover a rally against Russia’s invasion by the law enforcers using force, while clearly, they were a representative of the press. According to OVD-Info, there are more than 13.912 people detained for actively participate in anti-war protests towards the Russian Government since February 24th 2022 to March 13th 2022 alone.
Marginalized groups faced a prominent threat during this warfare, alongside aforementioned children. Oppressive and masculine system has succeeded in implementing their agenda here, where power relations come into play. Take account of Indigenous community who has been impacted by the conflict. According to BBC, 10 members of Ukraine’s ethnic Greek community was killed during the assault on their village. Furthermore, Russian troops have also supposedly sexually harassed and abused several women within warfare. Women are subjected to sexual violence, and this is clearly could be classified as war crimes. Their armed troops have also been suspected to apprehend and allegedly tortured around 300 innocent civilians according to eyewitnesses in Bucha region.
Previously, there has been alleged scheme of another plan involving Russia’s attempt to silence the voice of minorities as well. The United States on February 20th 2022 reported to United Nations that it has a feasible information that present Russia’s apparent “to be terminated or sent to camps after the military occupation” list. This plan would involve physical torture, enforced disappearance, unjust apprehending, and targeted assassinations. Aggravating the tensing conflict, the individuals listed mostly consist of journalists, anti-corruption activist, religious & ethnic community, and the members of LGBTQI+. The information also addressed Russian troops are allowed to exercise lethal measures to subdue contesting parties and any form of resistance towards the government. This plan could be seen as a byproduct of sexist and misogynist ideals in their attempts to silence the minority and keeping its power in check.
Threats to Safety: Proof of Misconduct
Marginalized community, as member of civilians, are protected under the International Humanitarian Law and several other treaties that acknowledge Human Rights as the utmost importance during a warfare. Russia, as a state, is subjecting them to harm, even undermines their right to freedom of assembly and safety. Their intersecting identities as vulnerable groups pose more threat to them as they are also subjected to layered discrimination within the hierarchical structure. Threats to the stability of seven areas of Human Security framework, especially economy, food, political, personal, and community security also put their welfare at risk. Therefore, Russia’s invasion that put vulnerable groups to threats also serves as prominent proof of misconduct and a clear violation to any of International Treaties.