Analyzing the subject of genocide, it is compelling to take into account the lapse of time, lack of legislation in years gone by, the weakness of international law, and the current improbability of punishment.
It is necessary to recognize the Genocide Convention of 1948, that is, when the United Nations' (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was formally adopted, and to take into account the legal axiom that law does not function retroactively. Perhaps even more so, there is the issue that international law is mostly not implemented or enforced.
However, a discussion of genocides in the modern era that preceded the Convention of 1948 need not exclusively be academic. Morality, although often insignificant in politics and relations between sovereigns, is not an irrelevant topic.
Regarding the Holodomor, the intention was manifested in Joseph Stalin's letter to Lazar Kaganovich from August 1932; the decree closing the borders of the Ukrainian SSR and Kuban from January 1933; and – regarding the Holocaust – the resolution of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, although the process of extermination of the Jews began long before that.
Considering genocide as a crime of the most heinous nature as per the International Criminal Court today, it is instructive to establish three factors, namely: i) the committed crime (corpus delicti); ii) intent (mens rea); and iii) identification of the criminal.
The third factor is probably the easiest to relate to the Holodomor and a contemporaneous state. The Holodomor was perpetrated by Stalin and the leadership of the USSR.
The contemporary Russian Federation succeeded to the assets and privileges of the USSR manifestly and aggressively. Within the UN, the Russian Federation directly took over all the seats of the USSR on its own initiative and, one might say, by aggression, even though this happened outside the framework presented by the UN Charter.
The Kremlin thereby confirmed that it is the same state. Although this behavior of the Kremlin serves against its own interests in assuming the liabilities of its predecessor, it does not give it the legitimacy of membership in the UN. That is, the fact remains that the Russian Federation never applied for membership of the UN nor its Security Council. Its membership was never approved by the UN General Assembly, and therefore, today, the Russian Federation is de jure not a member of the UN. More importantly, it is not a permanent member of its Security Council with the right of veto.
Punishment internationally prior to 1948 was manifested only in relation to Germans and Germany, and not in relation to genocide, but war crimes. Condemnation and criminal punishment of individuals took place through the Nuremberg Trials, and the German state, under pressure, accepted responsibility for financial compensation of the victims, which in some cases continues to this day. It is unlikely that the Russian Federation will ever agree to punishment in any form, or compensation.
However, the moral consideration remains, that is, the recognition by states or international organizations of genocides perpetrated prior to the Convention. The UN has recognized the Holocaust and designated a special day for remembrance. The heirs of the criminal states will probably not agree to this. There remains the rest of the world and an organization such as the UN to recognize the Holodomor genocide.
It is important for Ukraine and Ukrainians that as many countries as possible be familiarized with the Holodomor and recognize it as genocide. This is a moral condemnation, not a punishment, but it probably opens a window to prevent future attempts at genocide against the Ukrainian people such as the current Russian aggression.
The UN Convention of 1948 is called the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” In the real politics in which we find ourselves, this should be enough. Laws are meant not only to punish but to prevent.
Therefore, as a nation Ukrainians should honor the memory of all the victims, and for this to happen, scholars must further research the events of 1932-33. Determining the number of victims is very important for remembering and honoring, as well as for a better understanding of Ukraine's present and the future.
The number of victims is not necessary to establish genocide according to the definition of the Convention, but for a moral recognition and a historical perspective. Although morality seems not of great importance in international politics, it is an indispensable attribute of us as human beings.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter