While the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into abuses committed in Ukraine, what crimes could the Russian military and its leader, Vladimir Putin, be prosecuted for?
Rape of women, targeting of civilians, torture and slaughter, bombing of maternity hospitals, besieging of cities … The violations committed in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian offensive are numerous. Are they crimes of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or even genocide? BFMTV.com evaluates these different legal definitions.
• “crime of aggression”
For Philip Sands, a French-British lawyer who specializes in international criminal law, there will be, he said, all the elements needed to charge Vladimir Putin with the crime of aggression in Ukraine, does he confirm western France. “The aggression appears to have been set up: it has clearly entered Ukraine,” notes France Inter Rachel Lyndon, a lawyer at the International Criminal Court.
The crime of aggression—the equivalent of the crime against peace in the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II—is defined in the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998.
It is “the planning, preparation, initiation or execution by an actual person in a position to control or direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its nature, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”
In short: a country that uses armed force against another country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence. Acts of aggression can be considered invasion, attack, military occupation, bombing, annexation, dispatch of mercenaries, or blockade of ports or coasts.
• “War Crime”
US President Joe Biden calls for prosecution of ‘war crimes’ After the discovery of several hundred civilian casualties in Buch near Kyiv. The Prosecutor General of Ukraine also reported “more than 4,000 Russian war crimes.” Recorded since the invasion of the country. The French Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office also announced that it had opened three new investigations into “war crimes”.
War crimes are violations of international humanitarian law, United Nations reminder. This means that these are atrocities targeting groups of the population in principle protected by international conventions in times of conflict, such as civilians, humanitarian workers or prisoners. The United Nations specifies that “war crimes almost always occur during armed conflict.”
The Rome Statute catalogs them and makes a long list of them, from deportation, to hostage-taking, to deliberately starving civilians. Inhuman treatment, mutilation, torture, premeditated murder, and rape are war crimes.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, human rights organizations have reported rapes by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian civilians. The media also reported on these violations: girls and boys, sometimes minors, were raped, including in front of their children.
The International Criminal Court also notes, among war crimes, the use of prohibited weapons such as poisonous gases or weapons of a nature to strike indiscriminately; destruction and seizure of property; Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population or civilian objects, as well as against individuals, installations or vehicles used in the course of a humanitarian assistance mission.
• “crime against humanity”
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced his intention to open an investigation into the war in Ukraine, citing possible “crimes against humanity”. A crime against humanity is a planned and widespread attack against a civilian population, whether in time of war or peace.
Crimes against humanity are murder, enslavement, imprisonment, deportation, torture and sexual violence, “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population,” states the United Nations.
The Rome Statute states that “crimes against humanity involve either violence on a large scale, taking into account the number of victims or the significance of the (widespread) geographical area, or a form of systematic (systematic) violence.”
From a legal point of view, “genocide is not more dangerous than a crime against humanity and both are punishable by the same criminal penalties”, Parisian Isabelle Molier is a lecturer in public law at the University of Clermont-Auvergne.
After the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Bucha, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of committing “genocide”. A term that was specifically taken up by the Spanish prime minister and the head of the Polish government but was refuted by the US president.
“You have to prove the intent to destroy the entire population, as in Rwanda or more recently ISIS with the Yazidis,” advice for West of France Advocate Clemence Bechtaart, Coordinator of the Legal Action Group at the International Federation for Human Rights.
Genocide is the intent to destroy all or part of a national, religious, racial or ethnic group. So genocide victims are deliberately targeted — not taken indiscriminately — “because of their membership, real or presumed” in the group, as the United Nations points out.
In history, four genocides have been officially recognized: the extermination of Jews by the Nazis during World War II, the Armenians by the Turks in 1915, the Tutsi by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, and the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. – Herzegovina, in July 1995. Deplores other genocides, such as those perpetrated by the Hottentots in Namibia in the first half of the twentieth century or the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.
Regarding Ukraine, “At the point where we are, we are dealing with war crimes rather than genocide,” Explains on our antenna Philippe de Lara, Lecturer in Political Science at Pantheon-Assas University.
This is why Jean-Claude Samueler, Vice President of Amnesty International in France, “may not yet have faced, in terms of international law, a crime against humanity or genocide because the definitions are very precise, but it is indisputable that we are facing the elements of war crimes.” ‘,” emphasizes our antenna.
• Can a trial be held?
While the International Criminal Court opens an investigation, can the Russian president be prosecuted? France also offered to provide the court with two judges and ten gendarmes. Recently, the International Criminal Court has indicted several heads of state and government of war crimes or crimes against humanity, such as Bosco Ntaganda, the former warlord of the Congo, or the former commander-in-chief of the Serbian army, Ratko Mladic.
But Russia – like the United States – has not joined the ICC. Therefore, it is not required to cooperate with international justice or enforce arrest warrants. The ICC can only try individuals who are physically present at their trial.