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Pavel Latushka's speech at the Human Rights Foundation panel discussion «Russia’s War Crimes in Ukraine»

1. The role of Belarus in war crimes and the kidnapping of Ukrainian children?

When we speak about the role of Belarus in the war crime of unlawful displacement of the Ukrainian children we speak about the role of Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his accomplices. 

As the findings of the National Anti-Crisis Management show, the decision to bring the children – among them are orphans and children from other vulnerable groups – to Belarus was explicitly agreed upon by Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin.On the day when the National Anti-Crisis Management submitted the first Communication to the ICC, Aliaksandr Lukashenka publicly declared his key role in these displacements. He literally said: I contacted Putin and asked: ‘Listen, let's spend a part of the Union budget on those kids.’ That's how they started bringing them in'. Later he also confirmed this publicly, I quote: 'we agreed with Putin that we would finance these trips from the Union State budget. We did and will do this, regardless of any reproaches'.

The transfers were implemented by Aliaksei Talai, a Belarusian Paralympic athlete known as a confidant of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, and his Talai Foundation, in cooperation with Olga Volkova and her Donetsk-based organization “Dolphins”, as well as the local Russian occupation authorities. 

Additionally, Belarus’s largest potash fertilizer producer, Belaruskali, and its Director General, Ivan Halavaty, have been involved in the displacements, as he ordered to host the children in the Dubrava Camp, located in the Minsk Region and belonging to Belaruskali.

We documented that since August 2021, several groups of children, including orphans, have periodically been transferred from the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine to Belarus, with some of the children taken to Russia and appearing in a publicly available Russian adoption database. However, since September 2022, a systematic campaign to bring Ukrainian children to the Belarusian Dubrava Camp was initiated.

In the period between September 2022 and May 2023, about 2.100 children aged 6 to 15 years, including orphans and children from other vulnerable groups from at least 15 Ukrainian towns under Russian occupation, were brought to the Dubrava Camp, allegedly for “rehabilitation”.

The children were subjected to pro-regime and anti-Ukrainian re-education aimed at erasing their Ukrainian identity. This included meetings with Russian and Belarusian State representatives, pro-regime artists, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, and paramilitary patriotic organizations. For instance, in October 2022, a Belarusian duo, the Gruzdev Sisters, expressed their desire that “Biden dies, God forgive us, Zelensky dies, too, and that Putin prospers and takes control of all of Ukraine.”

Thus, Aliaksandr Lukashenka and persons subordinate to him have organized and are implementing a large-scale program of illegal displacement of minors from Ukraine to Belarus.

2. What can be done to keep Lukashenko to account? What would be the best route, in your opinion, to pursue accountability?

Transfers of the Ukrainian children to Belarus amount to the war crime of unlawful deportation or transfer under Article 8 of the Rome Statute. 

Aliaksandr Lukashenka is individually criminally responsible, not only for directly committing this crime but also for his involvement with others under Article 25 of the Rome Statute and based on superior responsibility under Article 28 of the Rome Statute. 

To address these serious allegations, the National Anti-Crisis Management submitted an Article 15 Communication in June and a complementary submission in November 2023 to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

It is necessary to conduct further documentation of these crimes, using all available practices. This is what the National Anti-Crisis Management does. Having certain capabilities and expertise in Belarus, we are trying to complement the work of international mechanisms and law enforcement in Ukraine. 

We believe it is important to simultaneously actively advocate for the accountability of those responsible for these war crimes, primarily Aliaksandr Lukashenka, in order to give greater relevance to these crimes in the eyes of the international community and the International Criminal Court.

3. With your experience of working both on the events in Belarus in 2020 and now the war in Ukraine, what are the biggest problems that you see in the current international mechanisms? In what ways can they be improved?

I must start with the fact that these two contexts are very different in nature, in the attention of the international community, and in the capabilities that Ukraine has in comparison with Belarusian democratic civil society. Therefore, the vector of problems that need to be solved is very different, although there are certainly common things.

I cannot assess the capabilities of our Ukrainian colleagues, but I regret to state that our civil society was not ready to confront the scale and nature of the crimes that have been occurring in Belarus since May 2020. We were faced from the outset with a lack of personnel who could adequately lead the accountability strategy for core international crimes in the Belarusian context. Belarusian civil society was not represented in the Coalition for an International Criminal Court, one of the key platforms for civil society to promote ideas of accountability before the ICC. The sphere of international criminal law turned out to be simply an undeveloped area of law in Belarus.

We had to learn everything on the fly, we attracted Belarusian experts who worked abroad as well as our foreign colleagues in order to build our strategy for achieving justice and implement it properly. So, to achieve justice in Belarus, we were forced to start from the basics, we needed appropriate personnel and the creation of organizations that could solve these challenges. We need investments in this sphere

Secondly, to work in new contexts, the ICC needs an appropriate budget and the formation of a sufficient number of personnel staff.

Finally, I would like to note, that we must honestly say that international criminal justice has problems relating to the politicization of specific processes.

In order to begin an investigation into the Belarusian situation, it is necessary to use mechanisms (Article 14 of the Rome Statute, for example), which in practice largely depend on political conditions rather than the interests of justice.


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