War crimes investigators in Ukraine need a new approach to atrocities — Global Issues

War damage at a children’s facility in Ivanivka, Kherson. Investigators want to change the way war crimes are investigated and prosecuted. Credits: Nychka Lishchynska
  • by Ed Holt (bratislava)
  • Associated Press Service

Since Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, there have been tens of thousands of allegations of war crimes committed by the invading forces.

But while there has been unprecedented worldwide support for efforts to bring those behind these alleged crimes to justice, numerous civil society organizations are working to They say that this war, more than any other, underscored the need to overhaul global institutions and individual countries’ approaches to war crimes.

“The whole world and all nations recognize the need for a swift global response to atrocities, that all nations must establish ways of recording war crimes and bring them as well as the perpetrators to light,” said Roman Avramenko, the organization’s CEO. The Ukrainian NGO Truth Hounds is documenting war crimes in Ukraine.

“What we are seeing is the result of inactivity. We’ve been talking about war crimes here for eight years, which started a long time ago. When there is no investigation of criminals and no accountability for them, this leads to even greater brutality and violence,” he told IPS.

Since the start of the full-blown invasion of Ukraine, there has been a constant stream of accusations of war crimes committed by the Russian military – earlier this month, Ukrainian officials said more than 65,000 Russian war crimes has been registered since the beginning of the invasion.

Among the alleged charges are rape, mass murder, torture, kidnapping, forced deportation, as well as indiscriminate attack on civilians and civilian infrastructure, among others. .

Condemnation of these crimes was widely circulated, as did support for their investigation.

In March and April last year, more than 40 countries took Russia to the International Criminal Court (ICC), while a few months later, many of these countries their statement of support for Ukraine in the case against Russia at the International Court of Justice.

Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, told IPS: “There has been a completely unprecedented mobilization among nations demanding justice for Ukraine.

However, while this support has been welcomed in Ukraine, groups like Truth Hounds and others want to see it become effective prosecutions that will play a role in deterring future aggression from Russia. or any other country.

“Russia has gone unpunished for its past human rights abuses and war crimes, and this has led it to continue an aggressive foreign policy around the world,” said Roman Nekoliak, International Relations Coordinator. at the NGO Center for Civil Affairs, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Freedom (CCL).

“The United Nations and the participating countries must address the issue of the ‘accountability gap’ and create an opportunity for justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of war crimes. Without this, lasting peace in our region is not possible. An international tribunal must be established and bring Putin, Lukashenko and other war criminals to justice,” he told IPS.

International leaders and war crime experts have highlighted the specific need to prosecute senior Russian officials for aggression. This crime is often called the “mother of all crimes” because all other war crimes are derived from it.

But it is difficult to bring those behind such a crime to justice – the Rome Statute of which the ICC was established defines a crime as “the planning, preparation, initiation or execution” by a military or political leadership of an act of aggression, such as an invasion of another country.

Ukrainian and European prosecutors are cooperating in investigating war crimes, but they are unable to fight high-profile foreign figures, such as heads of government and state, because of international law grant them immunity.

Meanwhile, the ICC cannot prosecute Russian leaders as neither Russia nor Ukraine have ratified the Rome Statute, and although the case could be brought if referred by the UN Security Council, with As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with veto power over any such resolution, Russia would simply block such a referral.

Indeed, in 2014, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would bring the situation in Syria – where the Russian military was later accused of committing war crimes – to ICC.

“It would be wrong to say that the West is not responding to , but what they are seeing now is what happened there is happening again in Ukraine and it will continue elsewhere if the Russian aggression is not stopped right now,” Olga Ajvazovska said. Ukrainian civil society network Opora is documenting war crimes.

“International societies also now understand that we need to develop stable international bodies to have a way to prevent systematic Russian aggression,” she added.

Various solutions to the problem of bringing high-ranking Russian figures to justice were discussed.

Ukraine wants a special tribunal similar to those established for war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and in early February Ukrainian prosecutors said they believed they had nearly won the support of the United States to create a special court to prosecute crimes of Russian aggression.

Separately, the European Commission announced this month that an international center for the prosecution of aggression in Ukraine would be established in The Hague.

But ICC officials oppose the creation of a special tribunal, concerned that it could disrupt efforts to investigate war crimes in Ukraine, and have called on governments to support efforts. their constant force.

Meanwhile, the profiling and investigation of war crimes continues and those involved are confident that their work will ultimately help justice be served.

They point out that they are working very closely with local and international prosecutors, as well as the ICC, and the experience gained in documenting war crimes in Ukraine before last year’s invasion – Truth Hounds was formed shortly after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the beginning of the conflict in the country’s Donbas region – and learned from war crimes investigations in other countries, proved to be invaluable in ensuring the efficiency of their work.

“During the 2008 Georgia war, both sides reported violations of humanitarian law and war crimes. However, research on them was conducted with limited support from international partners and it was only in 2016 that the ICC joined. In eight years, vital information can be lost, and this is precisely why war crimes in Ukraine need to be continuously recorded, as we and a number of international organizations and partners are. others are doing,” Nekoliak said.

To date, the ICC has only issued three warrants against men for war crimes related to the Georgia conflict.

The nature of the war also enabled them to gather compelling evidence in a way that would perhaps have not been possible in any previous conflict.

“We are in a digital age and cyberspace is much more developed than it was 20 years ago. You can see in real time, everyday, the crimes that have happened, the bombings, the people who died under the destroyed buildings, you can hear their screams.

“It is much easier these days to find someone through technology, such as satellite photos or other data that can help determine which soldiers were in a certain location at the time,” Ajvazovska said. certain when a war crime is alleged to have occurred.

They believe that these, together with the continued international focus on the conflict, and the strong desire of the Ukrainian people themselves to be held accountable for the crimes committed against them, will help bring about even those at the top of Russia’s leadership go to court at some point.

“Trials of wars in former Yugoslavia, 2012 war crimes conviction against former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Félicien Kabuga last year put on trial for the 1994 Rwandan genocide , showing that no matter how much time passes, punishment is inevitable,” Nekoliak said.

“And Russian war criminals will suffer the same fate.”

Report of the UN IPS Office

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service


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