Explain: Can Vladimir Putin be prosecuted for war crimes? | Vladimir Putin

Joe Biden has called for Vladimir Putin to be prosecuted for war crimes following the discovery in Ukraine of mass burials in Bucha and the bodies of related civilians shot at close range. But bringing the Russian president to justice would not be easy.

What are war crimes?

The International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, defines them as “grave violations” of the Geneva Conventions, a body of humanitarian law that must be enforced during war.

Jonathan Hafetz, a scholar of international criminal law and national security at Seton Hall University’s law school, told Reuters that the execution of civilians, according to Bucha, was “the quintessence of a war crime.”

Russia continues to deny its guilt. His defense ministry insisted on Sunday that “no civilians have been subjected to violence by the Russian military.”

How can it be pointing to war crimes to be built?

Jake Sullivan, a U.S. national security adviser, told reporters Monday that there are four main sources of evidence: information gathered by the U.S. and its allies, including from intelligence sources; Ukraine’s own efforts on the ground to develop the case and document the forensic examination of the killings; materials from international organizations, including the United Nations and NGOs; and global independent media findings with photographs, interviews, and documentation.

Can Putin be personally responsible for the actions of his troops?

The prosecution may claim that Putin and his inner circle committed a war crime by directly ordering an illegal attack, or knew that crimes were being committed and failed to prevent them. This case may be difficult to prove on its own, but if it conforms to a broader scheme across Ukraine, it becomes more convincing. The United States has accused Russia of war crimes before Bucha.

Philip Sands, a professor at University College London, told the Associated Press: “You have to prove that they knew or could know or should have known. There is a real risk that in three years you will be tried by middle-level people, and the main people responsible for this horror – Putin, Lavrov, the defense minister, intelligence, the military and the financiers who support him – will go off the hook.

Who would run such a court?

The Interior Ministry opened 20 years ago to prosecute perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity. But the United States, China, Russia and Ukraine are not members of the court, which criticizes for paying too much attention to Africa and applying “electoral justice”.

Interior Ministry Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said in February that he had launched an investigation into war crimes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although Ukraine is not a signatory, Ukraine has previously approved an investigation dating back to 2013, which includes Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Interior Ministry will issue arrest warrants if the prosecutor’s office shows “reasonable grounds” to believe that war crimes have been committed. But there is little chance that Russia will comply, and the Interior Ministry can not judge someone in absentia. The reluctance of the United States to join the court is also diplomatically inconvenient and could provoke cries of Western hypocrisy.

Donald Trump once said at the UN General Assembly: “As for America, the Interior Ministry has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, no authority.” His administration has announced that the United States will impose visa sanctions on Interior Ministry officials involved in a possible U.S. court investigation into alleged crimes in Afghanistan.

But Sullivan said Monday: “The United States has in the past been able to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in other contexts even though it has not signed. But there are many reasons why you can consider alternative places. “

What are these “alternative sites”?

The UN seems to be the obvious starting point. But one problem with passing through the UN Security Council is that Russia is a permanent member. “It would be hard to imagine that they will not try to use their veto to block something,” Sullivan said.

Another option could be a special tribunal organized by a group of countries. The Nuremberg tribunal was set up by the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union to prosecute Nazi leaders after World War II.

Potential models for Ukraine could include tribunals set up to prosecute war crimes committed during the Balkan wars in the early 1990s and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Another example is the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, established in 2002 to bring to justice those responsible for atrocities committed during the country’s 1996 civil war.

What about another charge?

It would be easier to prosecute Putin for the crime of aggression after he waged an unprovoked war against another sovereign country. The Interior Ministry has no jurisdiction over Russia for the crime of aggression because Russia is not a signatory.

Last month, dozens of prominent lawyers and politicians, including Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, launched a campaign to set up a special tribunal to try Russia for the crime of aggression in Ukraine.

How long will the prosecution take?

Probably many years. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia indicted its first head of state, then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, in 1999 and took him into custody in 2001. His trial began in 2002 and continued when he died in The Hague in 2006. .

Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity for supporting insurgents who committed atrocities after four years of hearings in a special Sierra Leone court in The Hague.

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