The US Embassy in Kyiv said Friday that Russia committed a war crime by attacking a nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
Alleged Russian use of cluster bombs and so-called vacuum bombs in densely populated areas with many civilians was also described as a war crime.
“I want to be very clear about this, that Mr. Putin is a war criminal,” former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk told the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday. “He must sit behind the bars of the International Criminal Court.”
However, if justice in general moves slowly, international justice barely moves. Investigations at the ICC take many years. Only a handful of convictions have been won.
Here is a very broad overview of war crimes and the international justice movement.
What is a war crime?
Specifically, targeting civilian populations, violating the Geneva Conventions, targeting specific groups of people and more could be potential Russian war crimes.
What are cluster bombs and vacuum bombs?
The dreaded use of prohibited weapons intended to kill indiscriminately is what people are now discussing as a very specific war crime.
Does Russia use these weapons?
The United States fears that Putin and the Russian military will become more brutal since the invasion does not go as well as they had expected.
What are world leaders saying?
President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have both said Putin appears to be targeting civilian areas.
But Biden on Wednesday stopped saying that Putin had committed a war crime.
“We are following it very closely,” Biden said. “It’s too early to say that.”
What is the International Criminal Court?
Most countries on Earth – 123 of them – are parties to the treaty, but there are very important and notable exceptions, including Russia and the United States. And, by the way, Ukraine.
Who can be judged by the court?
Anyone accused of a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court, which includes ICC member countries, can be tried. The tribunal judges people, not countries, and focuses on those who hold the most responsibility: leaders and officials. Although Ukraine is not a member of the Court, it has previously accepted its jurisdiction.
Putin could therefore theoretically be indicted by the court for having previously ordered war crimes in Crimea.
What crimes does the court deal with?
The ICC is meant to be a court of “last resort” and is not meant to replace a country’s judicial system. The tribunal, which has 18 judges serving nine-year terms, tries four types of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes.
How does the ICC prosecute?
Judicial proceedings can be initiated in two ways: Either a national government or the UN Security Council can refer cases for investigation.
Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a right of veto over the actions of the Council. It was the demands of 39 national governments, mostly European, that triggered this ongoing investigation.
What will the ICC investigate regarding Ukraine?
In its new investigation into Russia’s possible war crimes, the ICC said it would examine all actions in Ukraine from 2013 to the present day.
How long do these surveys take?
ICC investigations can take a very long time.
Why would a prosecution in Ukraine be any different?
The international outcry against Russia is unique, and it could give the court the ability to operate differently, according to Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University and co-editor of Just Security, an online forum.
“It is difficult to judge the ICC investigation based on past practice,” Goodman said in an email. “In the situation in Ukraine, the prosecutor is backed by an extraordinary outpouring of support from dozens of countries, which I hope will be followed by an injection of resources.”
How would an ICC case affect the conflict?
‘For better or worse, the ICC investigation may affect the diplomatic space for negotiations,’ Goodman said, saying Putin and other Russians might not want to risk arrest if they travel outside the country.
The investigation could also, he argued, weaken Putin at home.
“The Russians might realize that’s another reason why Putin can no longer serve their country,” Goodman said.
What happened before the ICC?
This all stems from the precedent of the Nuremberg Trials to bring Nazis to justice after World War II and held by the Allies, including the United States, Soviet Union, France, and Germany.
It is therefore interesting to note that neither the United States nor Russia are members of the ICC.
Why are the United States and Russia not members of the ICC?
The United States and Russia are both signatories to the treaty that created the tribunal — meaning their leaders signed it — but neither is a member of the tribunal.
At the time, France also accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria.
As for the United States, if President Bill Clinton signed the treaty creating the court in 2000, he never recommended that the Senate ratify it.
“The President (George W. Bush) believes the ICC is fundamentally flawed because it exposes the US military to the fundamental risk of being tried by an entity that is beyond America’s reach, beyond US law. and may subject American civilians and military personnel to arbitrary standards of justice,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said at the time.
How did the United States support the tribunal?
Opposing America’s membership in the court did not mean that the Bush administration opposed the court itself. He supported the ICC’s efforts to seek justice for the genocide in Sudan.
This story and headline were updated with additional developments on Friday.