How do investigators begin to look at the task of investigating war crimes in Ukraine? NPR’s Michelle Martin speaks with Wayne Jordash, managing partner of Global Rights Compliance.
MICHELLE MARTIN, host.
Today we’ll start in Ukraine, where it’s been almost a year since the Russian invasion. The attack leveled huge parts of Ukrainian cities and towns, killed thousands of people, and displaced millions. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference earlier today, Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States has determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity.
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PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS. All those who have committed these crimes and their superiors who are complicit in these crimes, you will be held accountable.
MARTIN — Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Andriy Kostin, says his team has cataloged more than 65,000 alleged war crimes during the war. We wanted to understand how Ukraine might begin to approach an investigation of this magnitude, so we reached out to Wayne Jordash. He is a lawyer and managing partner at Global Rights Compliance. He has been in Ukraine for the past seven years trying to help the Ukrainian government investigate and prosecute possible war crimes. And I asked him if Ukraine is different from other places where such investigations have taken place.
WAYNE JORDASH: Definitely. I’ve worked on a number of conflicts, from the Rwandan genocide to the break with the former Yugoslavia to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and so on and so forth. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a calculated plan to effectively enslave and subjugate millions of people. This is what would happen if the Russian military operation was successful. I mean, it’s embedded in the military operation of war crimes and crimes against humanity and possibly genocide. So most conflicts, crimes, yes, are a mixture of intentional and accidental. But this, there is no mistake. These crimes were a fundamental and inherent part of the military operation.
MARTIN: Can you give us an idea of what you see and what types of crimes are being investigated?
JORDASH: So we’re talking about everything from murder to detention, torture, sexual assault, damage and destruction of cultural artifacts. I mean, you name it, this conflict contains it. The Russian military action effectively takes three approaches. The first is to try to capture and kill all the leaders, the leaders are the military and the police. And then that definition expands as the resistance grows because it’s much more about cultural aspects. Therefore, teachers are being targeted, journalists are being targeted, and human rights defenders are being targeted. Anyone who can help Ukraine organize itself culturally is killed.
The second is to set up these very harsh filtering systems that involve monitoring the population, constantly infiltrating them to ensure that everyone is behaving accordingly so that there is no resistance in society. And after that, what follows is the real goal, which is to remove everything and what is Ukrainian. Therefore, the education system has changed. Children are conditioned to believe in the Russian motherland. Cultural artifacts are attacked and destroyed. It is crystal clear that Ukrainians do not want this. The more they resist, the more crimes flow.
MARTIN: We’re also hearing that, for example, the Yale study that came out earlier this week says that Russia is taking Ukrainian children to be adopted by Russian families, which essentially sort of erases their Ukrainianness. And the study said that this is also a war crime. Have you seen this? And do you work on such cases? And in your opinion, is this also a war crime?
JORDASH: I have read the Yale report and it is consistent with what I have seen elsewhere. If this was just a Russian military occupation plan, you don’t need to deport Ukrainians to Russia. Its purpose is clear. It is essentially enslaving people and putting children in a more pro-Russian position. So, in a sense, the deportation of children, the kidnapping of children really reflects the essence of this criminal program.
MARTIN: So, on the one hand, we’re seeing this staggering number of cases, and then we’re also thinking, I think, of crimes committed by specific people, taking specific actions, even if those actions were determined far away. And I just have a hard time understanding how to explain those two phenomena. Do you understand what I am asking? Like, how is this, how can we think about this?
JORDASH: What you have is a criminal program that clearly emanates from the Kremlin. Now, what we’re seeing, in places like Bucha, in places like Mariupol, is that there comes a point, certainly among the foot soldiers, at some point where the plan has failed so much that the plan inherent violence expands, escalates and explodes. in a frenzy of violence. And that’s why you see this very spate of seemingly random violence in Bucha, for example.
This, as I see it, is the result of the failure of the project, Mariupol was completely destroyed, the city of hundreds of thousands of people was simply flattened. Why? Because he resisted. Because it couldn’t be taken. And so this nihilistic criminal plan turns into this barrage of violence. So you have both a plan coming out of the Kremlin, and then you have the consequences of the plan on the ground, which, in some cases, becomes, of course, it looks like it could be genocide.
MARTIN: What would justice look like in this case? One would think that, you know, prosecutions would take years.
JORDASH: The reality is that we are not going to see many trials very soon. I know that Ukrainians want this. But the reality is that most pedestrians who commit crimes in Russia are dead. And Russia’s top political and military leadership will not leave Russia very often, and certainly not from countries that are fulfilling their obligation to deal properly with international crimes.
Now, I would say that justice, despite this, is similar. I mean, I’m an international criminal prosecutor. I would like to see trials. But my primary motivation, or equal motivation, is to document these crimes as credibly as possible so that we create a foundation of truth and a historical record that can be used to counter Russia’s disinformation.
I think what we need, and what Russia ultimately needs, is a record that clearly shows what Putin has done, et cetera, et cetera, so that even when they deny it, as they undoubtedly will continue to do, the record speaks for itself. . And I think we as an international community should be better at creating a record like this, using a record like this, and having the patience to wait in the hope that we catch some of these individuals and get them out.
MARTIN: It was Wayne Jordan. He is a lawyer specializing in international humanitarian and criminal law, and we reached him in Ukraine. Mr. Jordash, thank you very much for sharing this experience with us. We appreciate it.
JORDASH: Thank you.
MARTIN: We’ve reached out to Russian military press representatives to respond to specific allegations of war crimes, including the abduction of Ukrainian children. They did not respond.
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