WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday bluntly called Russia’s Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” for the ongoing attack in Ukraine, where hospitals and maternity wards have been bombed. But declaring someone a war criminal is not as simple as just saying the words. There are specific definitions and procedures for determining who are war criminals and how they should be punished.
The White House has avoided applying the designation to Putin, saying it requires international determination and investigation. After Biden used the term, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president was “speaking from his heart” and re-stated her statement that there is a process to make a final decision.
However, in common usage, the phrase has a colloquial meaning as a general term for someone who is bad.
“Obviously Putin is a war criminal, but the president is speaking politically about this,” said David Crane, who has worked on war crimes for decades and served as the country’s chief prosecutor. The United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, where former Liberian President Charles was tried. Taylor.
Investigations into Putin’s actions have begun. The United States and 44 other countries are working together to investigate possible violations and abuses, after the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing an investigative committee. There is another investigation by the International Criminal Court, an independent body based in the Netherlands.
“We are in the early stages,” said Crane, who now heads the Global Accountability Network, which works with international courts and the United Nations. On the day of the invasion, his team formed a task force to gather criminal information for war crimes. He is also drafting a sample indictment against Putin. He predicts an indictment against Putin could happen within a year. But there is no statute of limitations.
Here’s how it all works:
WHO IS THE CRIMIN OF WAR?
The term applies to anyone who violates a set of rules adopted by world leaders, known as the laws of armed conflict. The rules govern how nations behave in times of war.
Those rules have been revised and expanded over the past century, drawn from the Geneva Convention after World War II and the protocols added thereafter.
The rules are intended to protect those not participating in combat and those who are no longer able to fight, including civilians such as doctors and nurses, wounded troops and prisoners of war. Treaties and protocols regulate who can be targeted and what weapons are used. Certain weapons are prohibited, including chemical or biological agents.
WHAT SPECIAL Crimins Make Some People War Crimes?
So-called “grave violations” of the conventions that define war crimes include willful murder, mass destruction and misappropriation of property not justified by military necessity. Other war crimes include intentionally targeting civilians, using disproportionate force, using human shields, and taking hostages.
The International Criminal Court also prosecutes crimes against humanity committed in the context of “a widespread or systematic attack on any civilian population.” These include murder, extermination, forced transfer, torture, rape, and sex slavery.
The best way Putin can become a war criminal is through the widely recognized legal doctrine of command responsibility. If commanders order or even know or are in a position to know about crimes and do nothing to prevent them, they can be held accountable by the law.
WHAT IS PATIENT TO JUSTICE?
In general, there are four avenues for investigating and identifying war crimes, although each has limitations. One is through the International Criminal Court.
A second option would be if the United Nations transferred the work of the investigative commission to a joint international war crimes tribunal to prosecute Putin.
The third is the establishment of a tribunal or tribunal to try Putin by a group of interested or relevant countries, such as NATO, the European Union and the United States. The military courts in Nuremberg after World War II against Nazi leaders are an example.
Finally, some countries have their own laws to prosecute war criminals. For example, Germany is investigating Putin. The United States does not have such a law, but the Justice Department has a section specifically focusing on acts including international genocide, torture, recruitment of child soldiers, and female genital mutilation.
WHERE IS MIGHT PUTIN TESTED?
It is not clear. Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and will not send any suspects to the court’s headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. The US also does not recognize the jurisdiction of the courts. Putin can be tried in a country chosen by the United Nations or a union of countries concerned. But getting him there will be difficult.
HAVE NATIONAL LEADERS BE DISCLOSED IN THE PAST?
Yes. From the post-World War II courts in Nuremberg and Tokyo to the more recent special courts, senior leaders have been prosecuted for their actions in countries including Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda.
Former Yugoslavia leader Slobodan Milosevic was tried by a United Nations court in The Hague for causing bloody conflicts during the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. He died in his cell. before the court can issue a ruling. His Bosnian Serb ally, Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb army leader General Ratko Mladic have been successfully indicted and both are currently serving life sentences.
Taylor of Liberia was sentenced to 50 years after being found guilty of sponsoring atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone. Chad’s former dictator Hissene Habre, who died last year, is the first former head of state to be found guilty by an African court of crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Corder reports from the Netherlands. New York-based news researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.