Why did Zelensky use the term genocide?

Iva Vukusic in Politics Home

De Oekraïense president Volodymyr Zelensky. Bron: Wikimedia/President.gov.ua (CC BY 4.0)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Source: Wikimedia/President.gov.ua (CC BY 4.0)

Ukrainian President Zelensky accused Russia of committing a genocide in Ukraine. Politics Home spoke to Assistant Professor in International History Iva Vukusic about his choice of words and what it means. According to her, it is likely that he used the word ‘genocide’ because it carries more “political expediency” than similar crimes.

Iva Vukusic MA
Dr. Iva Vukusic

Very precise definition

Vukusic points out that ‘genocide’ knows a very precise definition in international law. “The key thing that sets it apart from other international crimes is an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, one of four so-called protected groups — national, ethnic, racial or religious groups”, she explains. In other disciplines, such as social sciences and history, the term is interpreted more broadly, and outside the jargon it is often used as a synonym for large-scale violence.

Crime of crimes

“There is a sense that genocide is ‘the crime of crimes’. But actually, that’s not set in any law.” Yet Vukusic can see why Zelensky chose this specific term. “Crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide — it's all awful. But for some reason, when you say this is a war crime, not so many heads turn in terms of urgency and concern.”