What are war crimes? 3 essential readings on the atrocities in Ukraine and the likelihood of prosecuting Putin | Columnists


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Amy Lieberman, The Conversation

(THE CONVERSATION) Russian troops withdrew from Kyiv and the nearby town of Bucha in early April 2022, and new horrors of their occupation have come to light.

Ukrainian forces recovered the bodies of at least 410 civilians, including those killed with their hands and feet tied behind their backs and shot in the head. There would have been bodies of women raped and burned, and bodies of children who were not spared either.

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In response, President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin should face war crimes charges for the reported mass murder. He called Putin a “war criminal”, but refrained from calling the Bucha massacre a genocide.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, however, said on April 3 that the dead were indeed victims of genocide – “the elimination of the whole nation and people”.

War crimes and genocide, while sometimes occurring at the same time, are distinct in international law, several scholars recently explained in The Conversation.

Here are three recent articles that dive into the complex question of what constitutes war crimes — and why Putin is unlikely to face real and imminent consequences.

War crimes fall under the broad umbrella of international law, which is based on agreements between countries regarding the conduct of war and peace. International law in this area is rarely easy to apply.

According to Shelley Inglis, an expert in human rights and international law, war crimes generally refer to “excessive destruction, suffering and civilian loss”.

“Rape, torture, forced displacement and other actions may also constitute war crimes,” writes Inglis.

Russia has a long history of war crimes, Inglis says — mostly direct attacks on civilians during the Syrian war, as well as during the conflicts in Georgia and Crimea.

2. Is Putin committing war crimes or genocide in Ukraine?

There is clear evidence that Russia is committing war crimes by directly attacking and killing civilians, according to human rights and genocide scholar Alexander Hinton.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russian forces have killed at least 1,417 civilians and injured 2,038, according to United Nations estimates.

There are warning signs that Russia is also committing genocide — “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group,” Hinton writes.

A predictor of genocide is a story of massive human rights violations, which Russia did. Other signs include political upheaval in the country and the use of propaganda to demonize people and justify potential genocide. Russia also meets these criteria.

“Has Russia committed acts of genocide? Russia targeted and killed civilians and reportedly forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, including children, to Russia. He bombed a maternity hospital,” Hinton writes.

“There is a significant risk that Russia will commit genocide in Ukraine. It is possible that a genocide has already begun.

3. Will Putin be punished for committing war crimes?

Putin is unlikely to be imprisoned or ousted from power due to war crimes in Ukraine.

There are three main international legal bodies – the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the special international war tribunals – which are designed to consider international war crimes cases. These courts have tried and convicted political leaders as war criminals in the past, including Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia.

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“But it can be incredibly difficult and time-consuming” to hold people accountable through these systems, write political scientists Joseph Wright and Abel Escribà-Folch.

“None of these three tools is likely to have much, if any, effect on Putin’s choices in Ukraine,” they say.

One important explanation for why a prosecution against Putin might not proceed is that the International Court of Justice focuses on state action, not individual leaders like Putin.

Another reason is that Russia is not a member of the International Criminal Court and does not respect its jurisdiction over the country. The court also lacks police forces and relies on other countries “to arrest the defendants and transfer them to The Hague for trial”.

“If Putin stays in power, it will probably never happen,” write Wright and Escribà-Folch.

There is, however, evidence that labeling Putin a war criminal or accusing him of war crimes could fail to stem attacks on civilians.

“Leaders who risk being punished once the conflict is over have an incentive to prolong the fighting. And a leader who presides over atrocities has a strong incentive to avoid leaving office, even if it means using increasingly brutal methods – and committing more atrocities – to stay in power,” say Wright and Escribà-Folch. .

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/what-are-war-crimes-3-essential-reads-on-atrocities-in-ukraine-and-the-likelihood-of-prosecuting-putin-180639 .

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