Kakhovka Dam: Why are laws and customs of war powerless? IPN debate

The destruction of the Dam of the Kakhova Hydroelectric Plant on June 6 this year is one of the most serious catastrophes that happened in the last decades in this part of Europe. This catastrophe affected tens of thousands of people, localities and the environment in which these people lived until then. The European Parliament already described this catastrophe as a war crime. Experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Kakhovka Dam: Why are laws and customs of war powerless?” discussed the goals of this action and its consequences and what actions should be taken to prevent such crimes in the future.

According to Igor Boțan, the permanent expert of the project, the laws and customs of war were coded in the second half of the 19th century and in the 20th century. In the history of international relations, the first codification of laws and customs of war was done in the first (1899) and second (1907) Peace Conferences in The Hague. “In the first Conference in The Hague, there were adopted three conventions, while in the second Conference – 13 conventions. One of the most important conventions is The Hague Convention with respect to laws and customs of war on land. The conventions were developed so that a delicate balance between the legitimate military necessity and the essential requirements of humanism was imposed even in war. In time, the international community started to take new actions aimed at regulating the laws and customs of war and at improving the existing rules. Among the most important of these are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the additional protocols to these, concerning the protection of victims of international armed conflicts,” stated the expert.

After World War II, together with the founding of the United Nations Organization and the adoption of the UN Charter, a new step was taken to adjust the basic human rights and freedoms, which was accompanied by the adoption of multiple international instruments in the field. “International humanitarian law and international law are two different branches of law, which simultaneously complement each other. Each of these branches of law protects the individual from arbitrary and abusive actions. The human rights in an essential way belong to everyone and offer protection both in times of peace and in times of war. International humanitarian law is applied only in armed conflict situations. This way, during an armed conflict, it is applied the law on human rights and international humanitarian law,” said Igor Boțan.

Ion Manole, executive director of “Promo-LEX” Association, said that what is happening in the immediate vicinity of Moldova is an ecological, humanitarian and economic catastrophe. Together with the destruction of the dam and the flooding of those territories, tens of villages became full of mud, oil, chemicals, bodies of animals and people. No one knows the real figures of people who died in those conditions. The Black Sea turned into a waste dump, especially in Odessa region. That waste reportedly moves towards Romania and Bulgaria and even towards Turkey. An unknown quantity of mines and munitions reached the sea. Different explosives and munitions also remained after World War II and still pose threats in the Balk Sea.

“What happened in Kakhovka was anticipated in the public sphere in the Russian Federation long ago. There were calls to blow up that dam when it was necessary. Regrettably, after this tragedy, there are voices who urge to act similarly with regard to the dam that is situated close to Kyiv, which can wipe out a large part of Kyiv if it is destroyed. Such calls full of hatred should be stopped and must not be neglected,” noted Ion Manole.

Doctor habilitate of history Anatol Petrencu, chairman of the Association of Historians of the Republic of Moldova, stated that compared with the fighting before this war, the bloodiest battles were given during World War I. “For the first time, there were applied chemical gases with disastrous effects for the people. In World War II, those who fought did it without compromise. When he war between Hitter’s Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union started, being surprised by that quick offensive of the German troops, Stalin ordered to evacuate all the property that could be carried and to destroy the property that could not be taken. The Soviets applied the scorched-earth policy. When they reached the Dnieper in 1941, the Soviets, when retreating, blew up the Dam of the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station in order not to allow the German troops to cross the Dnieper and that deed has been considered a heroic act. In another case, at the last dam between the White Sea – Baltic Canal in 1941, when Finland entered the war alongside Hitler’s Germany to regain the territories occupied by the Soviets in 1939-1940, the Soviets, when retreating, without warning the people who were in that area, blew up the dam at night. The water wiped out everything on its way, including the town situated nearby. Those tactics were justified by the then Stalinist policy,” said Anatol Petrencu, noting the tactics in the current war in Ukraine are yet similar.

The public debate entitled “Kakhovka Dam: Why are laws and customs of war powerless?” was the 13th installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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