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The EU says Russia’s attack on a dam in Kherson, Ukraine, qualifies as a war crime

  • The EU says Russia’s attack on dam in Kherson, Ukraine, qualifies as war crime

This Tuesday morning, Europa Press reported that the European Union has accused Russia of committing a war crime with the attack on the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant on the Dnipro River early this morning. The attack, which the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, described as "unprecedented", will cause major flooding in the Ukrainian region of Kherson, the extent of which is not yet known.

The President also recalled that "the destruction of civilian infrastructure clearly qualifies as a war crime" and that Russia and its proxies will be held accountable for this violation of international law. 

Shocked by the imminent flooding in different communities near the dam, the former Belgian Prime Minister announced that the state of the matter and the aid to the victims will be the subject of the next meeting of European leaders, scheduled for the end of this month.

According to the newspaper El Mundo, the Nova Kajovka dam was built in 1956 and has a capacity of 18 million cubic metres of water. Last November it was partially damaged after several attacks that the British intelligence service attributed to the Russian army. According to its estimates, calculated on previous attacks, its destruction would cause the flooding of at least 80 communities along the Dnipro River.

Although Russia and Ukraine have accused each other, the President of Ukraine, Volodimir Zelenski, has attributed to this attack the category of "terrorist", and has called for the evacuation of the communities in the "critical zone", in which it is estimated that there may be around 16,000 citizens affected, on the right bank of the river, controlled by Ukraine.

The Southern Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine continues to investigate the extent of the damage, as well as the possible course of the floods.

Dams in International Humanitarian Law

In the document War Crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and their sources in International Humanitarian Law, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which expands and diversifies the content of the Rome Statute in a comparative table with other sources of IHL, dams and other water infrastructure are within the category of "works or installations containing dangerous forces" and for which "special" vigilance is demanded, according to Europa Press sources. 

In this comparative table, we can see that, although the statute of the International Criminal Court does not include the above mention, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 establish as a grave breach - P I, Art. 85 (3) (c) - "launching an attack against works or installations containing dangerous forces in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects".

Although there are exceptions if the installations are for military purposes or close to military objectives, and civilian objects are destroyed "in their path", the protection of the population remains paramount.  The ICRC warns that "tens of thousands of people are suffering from flooding and are at risk due to the destruction of the dam". The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is investigating the situation in Ukraine, but has not yet specifically assessed the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam.

According to Europa Press sources, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described the destruction of the New Kakhovka dam in Ukraine as one of the most serious attacks on civilian infrastructure, for which Russia could incur a war crime. The ICRC has also warned that "tens of thousands of people on both banks of the Dnipro River are already suffering from flooding, putting their lives at risk." The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is investigating the situation in Ukraine, but still needs time to examine the destruction of the New Kakhovka dam.

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