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Kakhovka HPP destroyed by Russia: Legal assessment of a war crime

Kakhovka HPP destroyed by Russia: Legal assessment of a war crime Russian military destroyed the Kakhovka HPP (Russian media)

President of the Ukrainian Bar Association Anna Ogrenchuk in her column for RBС-Ukraine explains the legal assessment of another Russia's war crime.

On the night of June 6, at almost 3 am, Russia detonated the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP). It happened exactly as Ukraine had repeatedly warned since the autumn. The hydro facility had been mined for at least six months, and the inevitability of the catastrophe was only a matter of time because the occupiers recognize neither rules nor international norms, principles, or morality.

The destruction of the KHPP is, without exaggeration, the greatest man-made disaster in Europe, which was orchestrated and carried out by Russia and its military-political leadership. Every hour, we receive new information about the consequences.

But I know for sure that the fact of the destruction must be carefully recorded, documented, and investigated, and the consequences and damages must be objectively assessed in order to be included in the list of compensatory measures.

What else does international law tell us?

The dam explosion of the KHPP is irrefutable evidence of a war crime. Since the end of February, Nova Kakhovka has been under temporary occupation, the dam was mined, and missile strikes from outside were not recorded.

Article 8 of the Rome Statute defines such crimes clearly - "intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated."

Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, concerning the protection of victims of international armed conflicts, explicitly prohibits the use of methods or means of warfare that are intended to cause, or are expected to cause, widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment.

Several articles of the Convention - 55 and 56 - are directly related to the protection of the natural environment and structures containing dangerous forces. These include dams and nuclear power plants. Moreover, they should not be the objects of attack even when these objects are military in nature, and if such an attack can cause the release of dangerous forces and subsequent serious losses among the civilian population.

Furthermore, international law expressly prohibits the infliction of harm to the natural environment and any structures of this category as a form of reprisal. Instead, all these objects have been used by the occupying authorities and the Russian Federation as means of blackmail and manipulation. The local population, forced to live under temporary occupation, has essentially become hostages of a criminal regime.

Therefore, firstly, the responsibility for this war crime must be comprehensive, from the executor to those who gave the order for destruction and planned and influenced its implementation. Preliminarily, the KHPP was detonated by the 205th Separate Cossack Motor Rifle Brigade of the Russian armed forces, which had been stationed at the site for a long time. Its commander is also known.

Furthermore, a week before the explosion, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a resolution that exempts the investigation of accidents at hazardous industrial facilities in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. This entire chain of events must be investigated.

Secondly, we must finally stop the discussions about the feasibility or infeasibility of introducing a new type of crime, such as ecocide, into international humanitarian law. The past 9 years and over a year of full-scale military operations in Ukraine have proven that environmental crimes must be treated on par with other international crimes, with corresponding legal assessment and accountability.

Thirdly, I call upon the UN not to be ashamed. Celebrating UN Russian Language Day looks cynical when the Russian regime commits the most significant international crimes in almost 80 years. The UN and the IAEA should be responsible for the safety of technogenic facilities; therefore, I urge them to finally apply all the instruments of international law and establish a demilitarized zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

And finally. Symbolically, on June 6, hearings of the International Court of Justice in The Hague began on Ukraine's lawsuit against Russia for violations of two conventions - the fight against the financing of terrorism and the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, filed back in 2017. International law holds immense significance, and Russia will eventually feel it. Sooner or later.