The international laws of war dictate what nations can and cannot do in accordance with human rights during times of conflict or war. All parties involved in a conflict have to abide by international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949, The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions and Customary International Law. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 resulted in the creation of four treaties and three additional protocols that establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions aims to help strengthen the protection of victims of armed conflicts and place limits on the way of fighting wars. Finally, Customary International Law holds nations accountable to the international obligations that establish international practices such as those laid out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Social and Economic Costs
Laws of war prohibit willful killing, acts of sexual violence, torture, the inhumane treatment of captured combatants and civilians and pillaging and looting. Armed forces that have effective control over an area have to follow the international law of occupation and international human rights laws. If a nation violates the laws of war, then they are responsible for committing war crimes. With this, the commanders of the occupying forces who know or suspect such crimes are taking place, but fail to act are criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility.
Conflicts such as the one going on in Ukraine cause immeasurable social and economic costs. These include loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, human capital, political instability and uncertain economic growth and investments.
Ukrainians will feel these effects for years to come, especially with a future of economic uncertainty in the country. This conflict however does not just impact those living in Ukraine economically, but worldwide as well with soaring rates of inflation. Within the first three months of the invasion, an estimated 51.6 million people fell into poverty living on or below $1.90 per day. Along with this, 20 million people fell to the poverty line of living on $3.20 per day. The continuous effects of Russia’s invasion are not Ukraine’s burden alone, but trickling into other nations as well.
Current State of Ukraine
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, several bodies such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have been carefully monitoring the conflict for human rights violations in Ukraine and war crimes. The Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian military forces committing war crime violations against civilians in occupied areas such as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv. Russian soldiers were a part of repeated acts of sexual violence, unlawful executions and looting of civilian property. With this, Human Rights Watch has documented multiple reports on the deliberate cruelty towards Ukrainian civilians.
In September 2022, an U.N.-appointed independent committee of human rights investigators confirmed that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Most of the committee’s work has centered around investigations in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. These are the regions where the most serious allegations of war crime violations against Russia have occurred.
Those Working to Help
There are currently multiple different bodies working diligently to prevent human rights violations in Ukraine and make sure that people have access to life necessities. Ukrainian officials suspect that more than 15,000 war crimes have taken place since Russia invaded. That makes humanitarian aid even more crucial for those who are still in the nation and refugees.
In May 2022, the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced the establishment of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA). The ACA aims to reinforce accountability for war crimes and it seeks to advance the commitments made by the European Union, the United States and the U.K. They are also making it their mission to support the war crimes units of the Office of Prosecutor General of Ukraine (OPG) in its investigation and prosecution of conflict-related crimes.
Along with this, they are working to bring together multinational experts to provide strategic advice and operational assistance to OPG specialists and other stakeholders in areas such as collection, preservation of evidence, operational analysis, investigation of conflict-related sexual violence, crime scenes and forensic investigations. Accountability is key when human rights are at stake. If there is no accountability then nations in conflict can commit disastrous war crimes as they please. This group aims to demonstrate international support and solidarity for Ukraine, along with holding those taking part in the conflict accountable for their actions against civilians.
USAID Helping Ukraine
Along with the efforts of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, in July 2022, USAID announced it would provide $74 million in aid to Ukraine. This brings the total amount of USAID spending to help Ukraine to $1 billion. With the continued support of the U.S. and other nations, humanitarian organizations have been able to assist around 11 million people. Their continued efforts are crucial in ensuring the protection of human rights in Ukraine and that Ukrainians are safe from war crimes. The additional funding from USAID will provide emergency hygiene items, health care, mental health care, shelter and cash assistance to Ukrainians. It is also important to recognize that vulnerable populations disproportionately bear the burdens of war. As an acknowledgment of this, the funding will also aim to support those who are within these populations to help meet their life-saving needs.
The continuous commitment of wealthy nations to support humanitarian aid is detrimental to preventing human rights violations in Ukraine and ensuring that nations are held accountable for war crimes. The actions now set a precedent for conflicts in the future. Therefore, nations like the U.S. should continue to set an example of what humanitarian aid should look like, thus creating a model for others to follow.
– Emma Cook