Laws against humanity

Dmitry Glukhovsky, author of Metro 2033, writes a speech for the Russian court where he is tried in absentia for speaking out against the war

Laws against humanity
Illustration by Novaya Gazeta Europe

On 21 March, a Moscow court started hearing the case of exiled Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, who is accused of “spreading deliberately false information about the Russian army” over his statements about the war in Ukraine. Glukhovsky is tried in absentia. He wrote this speech for the court to address his charges.

We need the law to protect the weak from encroachment by the strong, and to protect the strong from the temptation to encroach upon the weak. We need the law to hold criminals accountable and to prevent new crimes. To eradicate the worst in humans and to nurture the best.

There is nothing more important and precious than your life. Your life belongs only to you, and no one else. No one has the right to take it away from you. No one has the right to hurt those who you love. And no one has the right to order you to kill an innocent person.

If they approve a law that forces me to kill the innocent, my duty is to break this law. If they approve a law that forces me to cover up the murders of the innocent, I must violate this law, too. If they approve a law that forbids me from telling the truth about others killing the innocent, no one is obligated to adhere to this law.

It does not matter if the murderers are the soldiers of our own country. It does not matter if they were following orders of their commanders, or if they were following orders by the commander-in-chief. A soldier killing an innocent person is a criminal. He is worse than a regular criminal, because there is an enormous organised force behind him that the victim cannot fight back against.

Why did Russia introduce criminal liability for “spreading deliberately false information about the use of the Russian Armed Forces”?

To stop people from telling the truth about the killings and atrocities committed by our soldiers on Ukrainian land.

About the torture, the rape, the extrajudicial killings. The cases of torture and rape have been documented. The bodies — hands tied behind their backs with white ribbons that Russian soldiers ordered Ukrainian civilians to wear — have been exhumed. These are facts. This has already happened. You cannot ban the truth. You can only try to conceal it, in order to carry on your killings, torture, and rape with complete impunity.

The war against Ukraine is the most destructive and dehumanising thing that happened to Russia in recent memory. My country invaded the territory of its neighbour that we used to consider a brotherly state, without reason or cause. It sent out tanks to seize the Ukrainian capital. It sent out planes to bomb its cities. It ruined countless human lives. It razed dozens of cities and settlements to the ground. It occupied Ukrainian lands and called them their own in violation of international law.

This war has no justification. Its horror and senselessness are too obvious. But the people who ordered it to begin — Vladimir Putin and his close circle — cannot back down. Because by all human laws, they are the real criminals here, and they are afraid of being punished for their crime.

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Russia is ruled by force now. In Russia, the power of force breaks people’s backs, bends the law, steamrolling the court to give them the right to continue breaking the backs of the weak, and to keep bending the law to their will.

This is why Russia is introducing laws that are anti-human by nature.

They forbid us from calling the war a war: we should say “special military operation” instead. This is done so that they won’t have to be held accountable in front of their own citizens and others about how many Ukrainians have been killed for nothing, how many Russians lost their lives in vain. To silence anyone who dares speak out about it. To send them to prison for ten, fifteen years.

They forbid us from calling out their lies and seeing the truth for what it is. They included this definition in the name of the law itself, forcing us to say that proven facts are “deliberately false information”. They allowed the killings of the innocent. They ordered us to cover up their crimes. To cancel the punishment for the criminals. To encourage them to commit more killings.

Those in power are giving us a crash course forcing us to believe that unimaginable evil is normal and even welcome. It forces us to abandon our basic moral principles that we have been taught from childhood by our parents. They are forcing us to get used to lies and murders.

There is a point to this ban on saying the truth aloud and the demand to proclaim lies in public. The point is to rid the new generation of Russians of any self-respect. To break down their dignity, to make them give up on themselves in fear of an unfair punishment, and to make them stomp out their moral imperatives, the natural understanding of what human law is, all by themselves.

The war against Ukraine is the most destructive and dehumanising thing that happened to Russia in recent memory. Unable to dehumanise Ukrainians, the Russian government is dehumanising their own citizens. The scale of destruction in Ukraine is seen with a naked eye, even from space. But although the destructive processes launched in the Russian nation’s soul, in the fabric of our society, by the government out of self-preservation, are unseen for now, they threaten the very existence of Russia.

In order to save themselves now, the Russian government is destroying the beautiful and prosperous Ukraine, and it is also destroying Russia, my homeland. There is nothing I can do to stop it, but I cannot stay silent about it.

I am confident that I am telling the truth by exposing the crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine. I am confident that the Defence Ministry and the Russian leadership are lying and have been lying for a while, trying to justify this terrible, senseless war. I am confident that I am not the one committing the crime against Russia and its future — it is them.

There are laws that no one must ever adhere to. And I won’t adhere to them, either.

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