The shocking atrocities in Ukraine, believed to be at the hands of Russian forces, have intensified calls to pursue war crimes allegations against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pictures of at least 20 bodies scattered on the street in Bucha, Ukraine, emerged over the weekend after Russian forces withdrew from the area, prompting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Calls for an end to Russia’s “war crimes”. Russia’s hospital bomb and a theater where children are looking for refuge along with its suspected use of cluster bombs and so-called vacuum bombs in areas crowded with civilians have also been described as war crimes.
Here is a very broad look at war crimes and the international justice movement.
What are war crimes?
The International Criminal Court has specific definitions of war crimes, which you can read in This guide is published by the ICC. Specifically, targeting groups of civilians, violations of the Geneva Conventions, targeting specific groups of people and more could be potential war crimes by Russia.
There is a method of gathering evidence from testimony, satellite imagery and elsewhere to meet the burden of proof.
What is the International Criminal Court?
Located in The Hague, Netherlands, and created by the treaty known as the Statute of Rome First brought before the United Nations, the International Criminal Court operates independently. Most countries are parties to the treaty, but there are very large and notable exceptions, including Russia and the United States. And, for that matter, Ukraine.
Who can be tried by the court?
Courts judge people, not nations, and focus on those who hold the highest responsibility: leaders and bureaucrats. Although Ukraine is not a member of the court, it has previously accepted its jurisdiction. Thus, in theory, Putin could be prosecuted by a court for war crimes in Crimea in the past.
However, the ICC do not conduct trial in absentia, so he will have to be turned over by Russia or arrested outside Russia. That seems unlikely.
How does the ICC conduct proceedings?
The court proceedings can be conducted in one of two ways: The national government or the United Nations Security Council can refer cases for investigation.
Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has veto power over the council’s actions. It was the request of 39 national governments, mostly in Europe, that sparked this current investigation.
How long do these investigations take?
If justice in general moves slowly, international justice hardly moves at all. Investigations at the ICC take years. Only a handful of convictions have ever been won.
How will an ICC case affect a conflict?
According to Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University and co-editor of Just Security, an online forum, “For better or worse, the ICC investigation could affect the diplomatic space for law enforcement agents. Negotiations”.
He suggested that Putin and other Russians may not want to risk being arrested if they go abroad.
The investigation could also undermine Putin at home, he added. “The Russians can see this as another reason why Putin can no longer serve their country.”