Ukraine Symposium – Russia’s “Re-Education” Camps: Grave Violations Against Children in Armed Conflict

by | Mar 20, 2023


On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Russian president Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation. The warrants allege that Putin and Lvova-Belova are responsible for war crimes against Ukrainian children, specifically, the deportation and unlawful transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. The allegations made in the warrants have been the focus of various investigations since reports of the abduction and forcible transfer of Ukrainian children first came to light. Last month, for example, the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab published a report detailing the scale and organization of Russia’s program of transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children. The report carefully documents the large numbers of children affected, the tactics employed to transfer them to Russian territory, the sprawling network of facilities to which children are sent, and the governmental organization and coordination of the program. The findings further strengthen arguments made in a previous post that Russia’s forcible transfer and forced adoption initiatives amount to violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law standards.

The Yale Report also raised a series of new concerns related to the transportation of Ukrainian children to Russian recreation and re-education camps. It outlines the pressure imposed upon parents to “consent” to children’s attendance at the camps, failure to maintain communication channels between children and their families, and suspension of children’s return from camps. The “education” provided in the camps is reportedly designed to advance patriotic messaging on Russia’s politics, military prowess, culture, and history and there are suggestions that some children have undertaken military training. This post will demonstrate that the Yale Report findings suggest further violations of IHL and IHRL and grave violations against children during armed conflict.


The Yale Report asserts that Russia’s actions in its transfer and treatment of children from Ukraine may amount to abduction. This would constitute a violation of Article 35 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which obliges States Parties, including Russia, to take all measures to prevent the abduction of children for any purpose or in any form.

Abduction is internationally regarded, as noted by the Yale Report, as a grave violation against children during armed conflict (UN Security Council Resolutions 1261 (1999) and 1539 (2004)). Its commission triggers the UN Security Council’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) (Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005)), which seeks to systematically gather information on grave violations in order to inform future Security Council action and ensure compliance and accountability for violations against children. Abduction is a trigger for listing parties to a conflict in the annexes of the UN Secretary General’s annual report on children and armed conflict (Security Council Resolution 2225 (2015)).

In 2022, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict developed guidance (SRSG Guidance) on abduction as a grave violation, including how to identify it. Thus, abduction is defined as:

the removal, seizure, capture, apprehension, taking or enforced disappearance of a child, either temporarily or permanently, including for the purpose of any form of exploitation of the child. The abduction must be perpetrated by a party to the conflict in the context of and be associated with an armed conflict.

The Yale Report’s findings suggest that, at least in some instances, Russia’s actions in removing children from Ukraine amount to abduction, in line with the 2022 guidance. The removals, some temporary and some seemingly more permanent, are committed in the context of and associated with an armed conflict. Children, under 18, are the targets and it is reported that Russian armed forces and occupation authorities are involved in recruiting and removing children. The SRSG Guidance explains that exploitation can include indoctrination, which aligns with reports of a pro-Russian, political realignment curriculum within the camps. Retaliation or intimidation against children, their relatives or others, for political purposes can also amount to exploitation. Indeed, removing children as a means of intimidating the civilian population ought to be considered as a motivating factor in this example.

The act of removing a child for exploitative purposes is sufficient to be considered abduction, and it can be conducted through a number of means, including coercion, fraud, force, or abuse of power. The SRSG Guidance makes clear that children’s assent or consent is irrelevant; they may be de facto or de jure incapable of giving consent and they may do so as a result of threats or coercion. The Yale Report demonstrates that the issue of consent arises in relation to parents in the Ukraine-Russia example, with a number of parents reporting being pressured into giving consent, which in turn raises the possibility of coercion. Abduction is a continuing violation, which lasts until the child is released. Thus, Russia appears to have conducted temporary abductions in relation to children who have been returned from camps. Children who have not been returned from Russia’s camps can be considered continuing cases of abduction.

The Threat of Trafficking

It is acknowledged (Security Council Resolution 2225 (2015)) that abduction is not only a grave violation in and of itself but is closely connected to other violations of IHL and human rights abuses. If children manage to escape from camps in Russia and attempt to make the journey back to Ukraine, they will likely be unaccompanied and consequently vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation, and forced labour, in a region where the threat of trafficking is currently considered high and imminent.

Russia bears further international legal obligations in this regard. Trafficking of all persons is prohibited by international law. Article 5 of the Palermo Protocol (2000), to which Russia is a State party, requires States to criminalize trafficking in domestic law. When it comes to children, the CRC obliges States parties to take all appropriate measures to protect children from trafficking (Article 33) and sexual and economic exploitation (Article 32).  The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography also requires States parties to prohibit trafficking in children for any purpose (Article 3), as does ILO C182 Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (Articles 1 and 3(a)).

Russia’s reported actions in removing children from their homes, detaining them in camps, sometimes with no definite date for return, and denying them the possibility to communicate with family members, raises the risk that children will attempt to leave the camps and undertake dangerous journeys alone, opening them to further exploitation.

Recruitment and Use

There is also a close connection between abduction and the recruitment and use of children in armed forces and armed groups. While the Yale Report does not document any instances of children being used in active hostilities, its investigations uncovered military training camps for Ukrainian children in Chechnya and Russia-occupied Crimea. Indeed, a previous post detailed the manner in which Russia has used Ukrainian children in intelligence gathering. It is particularly concerning to note the involvement of the Yunarmia, an all-Russian military-patriotic movement, in the organization of Russia’s military camps as the possibility that the Yunarmia may use children to serve in occupying forces in Ukraine has already been raised.

Recruitment and use of children is also a grave violation against children in conflict and, as in the case of abduction, triggers the MRM. The direct participation in hostilities of children under 15 is prohibited under IHL (Article 77(2) of Additional Protocol I of 1977) and under international human rights law (CRC, Art 38). For States parties to the OPAC, which includes Russia, all feasible measures must be taken to ensure that children under 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities (Article 1) and compulsory recruitment is prohibited (Article 2). States that permit voluntary recruitment under 18 must ensure that recruitment is voluntary and carried out with the informed consent of the child’s parents or guardians (Article 3). The ILO lists forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict as one of the worst forms of child labour (Article 3(a)) and requires Member States to take immediate action to prohibit and eliminate it (Article 1). Conscripting or enlisting children under 15 into national armed forces or using them to actively participate in hostilities is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 8(2)(b)(xxvi) and 8(2)(e)(vii)) and has been successfully prosecuted by the Court (Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Prosecutor v. Dominic Ongwen).

Any suggestion that Russia is involved in the recruitment and use of children in hostilities will be taken extremely seriously by both the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, which has already issued arrest warrants for the deportation of children and unlawful transfer of children from Ukraine to the Russia Federation under Article 8(2)(a)(vii) and Article 8(2)(a)(viii) of the Rome Statute. The latter has also recently highlighted the effective investigation and prosecution of crimes against children as a key priority.


The conduct exposed by the Yale Report paints a picture of a well-planned and carefully orchestrated series of initiatives designed to exploit and indoctrinate Ukraine’s children and instil fear in the Ukrainian population. They are horrifying in their severity and scale and their direction against the most vulnerable. It can only be hoped that the evidence gathered will contribute to delivering accountability and redress to those responsible in the longer term.


Dr Alison Bisset is Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of Reading, UK.


Photo credit: Mirek Pruchnicki



Symposium Intro: Ukraine-Russia Armed Conflict

by Sean WattsWinston WilliamsRonald Alcala

February 28, 2022

Russia’s “Special Military Operation” and the (Claimed) Right of Self-Defense

by Michael N. Schmitt

February 28, 2022

Legal Status of Ukraine’s Resistance Forces

by Ronald Alcala and Steve Szymanski

February 28, 2022

Cluster Munitions and the Ukraine War

by William H. Boothby

February 28, 2022

Neutrality in the War against Ukraine

by Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg

March 1, 2022

The Russia-Ukraine War and the European Convention on Human Rights

by Marko Milanovic

March 1, 2022

Deefake Technology in the Age of Information Warfare

by Hitoshi Nasu

March 1, 2022

Ukraine and the Defender’s Obligations

by Eric Jensen

March 2, 2022

Are Molotov Cocktails Lawful Weapons?

by Sean Watts

March 2, 2022

Application of IHL by and to Proxies: The “Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk

by Marco Sassòli

March 3, 2022

Closing the Turkish Straits in Times of War

by Raul (Pete) Pedrozo

March 3, 2020

The Abuse of “Peacekeeping”

by Alexander Gilder

March 3, 2022

Prisoners of War in Occupied Territory

by Geoff Corn

March 3, 2022

Combatant Privileges and Protections

by Laurie R. Blank

March 4, 2022

Siege Law

by Sean Watts

March 4, 2022

Russia’s Illegal Invasion of Ukraine & the Role of International Law

by Michael Kelly

March 4, 2022

Russian Troops Out of Uniform and Prisoner of War Status

by Chris Koschnitzky and Michael N. Schmitt

March 4, 2022

On War

by Andrew Clapham

March 5, 2022

Providing Arms and Materiel to Ukraine: Neutrality, Co-belligerency, and the Use of Force

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 7, 2022

Keeping the Ukraine-Russia Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello Issues Separate

by Rob Mclaughlin

March 7, 2022

The Other Side of Civilian Protection: The 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention

by Jelena Pejic

March 7, 2022

Special Forces, Unprivileged Belligerency, and the War in the Shadows

by Ken Watkin

March 8, 2022

Accountability and Ukraine: Hurdles to Prosecuting War Crimes and Aggression

by Lauren Sanders

March 9, 2022

Remarks on the Law Relating to the Use of Force in the Ukraine Conflict

by Terry D. Gill

March 9, 2022

Consistency and Change in Russian Approaches to International Law

by Jeffrey Kahn

March 9, 2022

The Fog of War, Civilian Resistance, and the Soft Underbelly of Unprivileged Belligerency

by Gary Corn

March 10, 2022

Common Article 1 and the Conflict in Ukraine

by Marten Zwanenburg

March 10, 2022

Levée en Masse in Ukraine: Applications, Implications, and Open Questions

by David Wallace and Shane Reeves

March 11, 2022

The Attack at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant and Additional Protocol I

by Tom Dannenbaum

March 13, 2022

The Russia-Ukraine War and the Space Domain

by Timothy GoinesJeffrey BillerJeremy Grunert

March 14, 2022

Fact-finding in Ukraine: Can Anything Be Learned from Yemen?

by Charles Garraway

March 14, 2022

Status of Foreign Fighters in the Ukrainian Legion

by Petra Ditrichová and Veronika Bílková

March 15, 2022

Law Applicable to Persons Fleeing Armed Conflicts

by Julia Grignon

March 15, 2022

Ukraine’s Legal Counterattack

by Michael Kelly

March 17, 2022

The ICJ’s Provisional Measures Order: Unprecedented

by Ori Pomson

March 17, 2022

Displacement from Conflict: Old Realities, New Protections?

by Ruvi Ziegler

March 17, 2022

A No-Fly Zone Over Ukraine and International Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 18, 2022

Time for a New War Crimes Commission?

by Diane Marie Amann

March 18, 2022

Portending Genocide in Ukraine?

by Adam Oler

March 21, 2022

Are Mercenaries in Ukraine?

by Robert Lawless

March 21, 2022

Abducting Dissent: Kidnapping Public Officials in Occupied Ukraine

by Katharine Fortin

March 22, 2022

Are Thermobaric Weapons Unlawful?

by Matt Montazzoli

March 23, 2022

A Ukraine No-Fly Zone: Further Thoughts on the Law and Policy

by Terry D. Gill

March 23, 2022

The War at Sea: Is There a Naval Blockade in the Sea of Azov?

by Martin Fink

March 24, 2022

Deportation of Ukrainian Civilians to Russia: The Legal Framework

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 24, 2022

Weaponizing Food

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 28, 2022

Command Responsibility and the Ukraine Conflict

by Noëlle Quénivet

March 30, 2022

The Siren Song of Universal Jurisdiction: A Cautionary Note

bySteve Szymanski and Peter C. Combe

April 1, 2022

A War Crimes Primer on the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

by Sean Watts and Hitoshi Nasu

April 4, 2022

Russian Booby-traps and the Ukraine Conflict

by Michael N. Schmitt

April 5, 2022

The Ukraine Conflict, Smart Phones, and the LOAC of Takings

by Gary Corn

April 7, 2022

War Crimes against Children

by Véronique Aubert

April 8, 2022

Weaponizing Civilians: Human Shields in Ukraine

by Michael N. Schmitt

April 11, 2022

Unprecedented Environmental Risks

by Karen Hulme

April 12, 2022

Maritime Exclusion Zones in Armed Conflicts

by Raul (Pete) Pedrozo

April 12, 2022

Ukraine’s Levée en Masse and the Obligation to Ensure Respect for LOAC

by Jann K. Kleffner

April 14, 2022

Cultural Property Protection in the Ukraine Conflict

by Dick Jackson

April 14, 2022

Results of a First Enquiry into Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Ukraine

by Marco Sassòli

April 14, 2022

Comprehensive Justice and Accountability in Ukraine

by Chris Jenks

April 15, 2022

Maritime Neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

by David Letts

April 18, 2022

Cyber Neutrality, Cyber Recruitment, and Cyber Assistance to Ukraine

by Nicholas Tsagourias

April 19, 2022

Defiance of Russia’s Demand to Surrender and Combatant Status

by Chris Koschnitzky and Steve Szymanski

April 22, 2022

The Montreux Convention and Turkey’s Impact on Black Sea Operations

by Adam Aliano and Russell Spivak

April 25, 2022

Lawful Use of Nuclear Weapons

by Jay Jackson and Kenneth “Daniel” Jones

April 26, 2022

Litigating Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

by Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne

April 27, 2022

Military Networks and Cyber Operations in the War in Ukraine

by Heather Harrison Dinniss

April 29, 2022

Building Momentum: Next Steps towards Justice for Ukraine

by Philippa Webb

May 2, 2022

Counternormativity and the International Order

by Dan E. Stigall

May 3, 2022

Destructive Counter-Mobility Operations and the Law of War

by Sean Watts and Winston Williams

May 5, 2022

Are We at War?

by Michael N. Schmitt

May 9, 2022

The Ukraine Conflict and the Future of Digital Cultural Property

by Ronald Alcala

May 13, 2022

Neutral State Access to Ukraine’s Food Exports

by James Kraska

May 18, 2022

Negotiating an End to the Fighting

by Michael N. Schmitt

May 24, 2022

Is the Law of Neutrality Dead?

by Raul (Pete) Pedrozo

May 31, 2022

Effects-based Enforcement of Targeting Law

by Geoff Corn and Sean Watts

June 2, 2022

U.S. Offensive Cyber Operations in Support of Ukraine

by Michael N. Schmitt

June 6, 2022

War Sanctions Steadily Degrade the Russian Maritime Sector

by James Kraska

June 7, 2022

The Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group & Ukrainian Prosecutions of Russian POWs – Part 1

by Chris Jenks

June 22, 2022

The Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group & Ukrainian Prosecutions of Russian POWs – Part 2

by Chris Jenks

June 24, 2022

The Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group & Ukrainian Prosecutions of Russian POWs – Part 3

by Chris Jenks

June 28, 2022

Putting “Overall Control” to the Test of the Third Geneva Convention

by Alessandra Spadaro

July 6, 2022

The Risk of Commercial Actors in Outer Space Drawing States into Armed Conflict

by Tara Brown

July 8, 2022

The Release of Prisoners of War

by Jeroen van den Boogaard

July 8, 2022

The Attack on the Vasily Bekh and Targeting Logistics Ships

by James Kraska

July 11, 2022

Lessons from Syria’s Ceasefires

by Marika Sosnowski

July 12, 2022

Documentation and Investigation Responses to Serious International Crimes

by Brianne McGonigle Leyh

July 13, 2022

Rebel Prosecutions of Foreign Fighters in Ukraine

by René Provost

July 15, 2022

Forced Civilian Labor in Occupied Territory

by Michael N. Schmitt

August 2, 2022

Forced Conscription in the Self-Declared Republics

by Marten Zwanenburg

August 8, 2022

Amnesty International’s Allegations of Ukrainian IHL Violations

by Michael N. Schmitt

August 8, 2022

Oil Tankers as “Environmental Time Bombs,” or Not

by Mark Jessup

August 12, 2022

The Escalating Military Use of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant

by Tom Dannenbaum

August 22, 2022

Protected Zones in International Humanitarian Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

August 24, 2022

Photos of the Dead

by William Casey Biggerstaff

August 19, 2022

Deception and the Law of Armed Conflict

by William Casey Biggerstaff

September 8, 2022

Data-Rich Battlefields and the Future of LOAC

by Shane ReevesRobert Lawless

September 12, 2022

Russian Crimes Against Children

by Oleksii KaminetskyiInna Zavorotko

September 14, 2022

Targeting Leadership

by Mehmet Çoban

September 16, 2022

Illegality of Russia’s Annexations in Ukraine

by Lauri Mälksoo

October 3, 2022

Russia’s Forcible Transfer of Children

by Alison Bisset

October 5, 2022

The Kerch Strait Bridge Attack, Retaliation, and International Law

by Marko MilanovicMichael N. Schmitt

October 12, 2022

Russian Preliminary Objections at the ICJ: The Case Must Go On?

by Ori Pomson

October 13, 2022

The Complicity of Iran in Russia’s Aggression and War Crimes in Ukraine

by Marko Milanovic

October 19, 2022

Attacking Power Infrastructure under International Humanitarian Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

October 20, 2022

Dirty Bombs and International Humanitarian Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

October 26, 2022

Doxing Enemy Soldiers and the Law of War

by Eric Talbot JensenSean Watts

October 31, 2022

Are Civilians Reporting With Cell Phones Directly Participating in Hostilities?

by Michael N. SchmittWilliam Casey Biggerstaff

November 2, 2022

Using Cellphones to Gather and Transmit Military Information, A Postscript

by Michael N. Schmitt

November 4, 2022

State Responsibility for Non-State Actors’ Conduct

by Jennifer Maddocks

November 4, 2022

Reparations for War: What Options for Ukraine?

by Luke Moffett

November 15, 2022

Further Thoughts on Russia’s Campaign against Ukraine’s Power Infrastructure

by Michael N. Schmitt

November 25, 2022

Russia’s Allegations of U.S. Biological Warfare in Ukraine – Part I

by Robert Lawless

December 2, 2022

Russia’s Allegations of U.S. Biological Warfare in Ukraine – Part II

by Robert Lawless

December 9, 2022

The THeMIS Bounty Part I: Seizure of Enemy Property

by Christopher Malis and Hitoshi Nasu

December 12, 2022

Classification of the Conflict(s)

by Michael N. Schmitt

December 14, 2022

The THeMIS Bounty Part II: Stealing Enemy Technology

by Christopher Malis, Hitoshi Nasu

December 16, 2022

The “I Want to Live” Project and Technologically-Enabled Surrender

by David Wallace, Shane Reeves

January 13, 2023

UN Peacekeepers and the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant

by Alexander Gilder

January 20, 2023

What’s in a Name? Getting it Right for the Naval “Drone” Attack on Sevastopol

by Caroline Tuckett

January 23, 2023

Ukraine’s “Suicide Drone Boats” and International Law

by Charles M. Layne

January 25, 2023

The Impact of Sanctions on Humanitarian Aid

by Alexandra Francis

January 27, 2023

A Wagner Group Fighter in Norway

by Camilla Cooper

February 1, 2023

The Legal and Practical Challenges of Surrendering to Drones

by William Casey Biggerstaff,Caitlin Chiaramonte

February 8, 2023

Field-Modified Weapons under the Law of War

by Ronald Alcala

February 13, 2023

The Wagner Group: Status and Accountability

by Winston Williams, Jennifer Maddocks

February 23, 2023

The Law of Crowdsourced War: Democratized Supply Chains – Part I

by Gary Corn

March 1, 2023

Reprisals in International Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 6, 2023

The Law of Belligerent Occupation

by David A. Wallace 

March 8, 2023

Seizure of Russian State Assets: State Immunity and Countermeasures

by Daniel Franchini

March 8, 2023

The Law of Crowdsourced War: Democratized Supply Chains – Part II

by Gary Corn

March 15, 2023

“Damn the Torpedoes!”: Naval Mines in the Black Sea

by Ben Rothchild, Mark Jessup

March 15, 2023

Landmines and the War In Ukraine

by Dario Pronesti, Jeroen van den Boogaard

March 20, 2023