The first trial for possible war crimes in Ukraine has begun, with a 21-year-old Russian soldier accused of killing a civilian. On Friday, May 13, 2022, a preliminary hearing was held against Vadim Sisimarin, who confirmed during a brief hearing that he was a soldier. According to reports, the website of the Kyiv district court states that Sisimarin is accused of “violations of the laws and morals of war.”
And the news that just became known on Tuesday: The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced the deployment in Ukraine of a team of 42 investigators and experts, in the most important mission in terms of potential that has been sent on the spot, to investigate crimes committed during the Russian invasion.
But what is defined as a war crime and how can it be proven? Are there incidents in Ukraine that could turn out to be war crimes? Can Russian President Vladimir Putin be ousted?
We are working with the help of Dr. Nikolas A. Ioannidis, PhD in Public International Law at the University Cyprus, to give the answers to the specific questions.
A war crime, according to Dr. Ioannidis, is considered any serious violation of international humanitarian law, ie the rules governing the conduct of armed conflicts & # 8211; international , ie between states, and not international , that is, between states and non-state actors or between non-state actors. Therefore, war crimes can only be committed in times of armed conflict/war.
Some examples of war crimes include attacking civilians and non-military targets, torturing and inhumanely treating civilians and prisoners of war, causing serious/useless pain, destroying property, using prohibited weapons or using conventional weapons. way , the settlement of occupied areas, etc. Only those involved in such acts are criminally liable for committing war crimes. States have no criminal liability.
The national tribunals of warring states and, in the alternative, the International Criminal Court or any other international tribunal set up for this purpose by the international community have jurisdiction to prosecute persons charged with war crimes.
What applies to Ukraine?
Dr. Nikolas A. Ioannidis explains that based on the information we have from Ukraine, which should always be checked, it seems that war crimes have been committed >. That is, among other things, the bombing of residential areas, the use of prohibited weapons, the humiliating treatment of prisoners are considered criminally heinous acts.
Stresses, however, that because great care is needed and we must first cross-reference the facts before assessing the events and reaching conclusions, a team of experts has been sent to Ukraine under the auspices of the International Criminal Court, which is examining on the ground the possible commission of war crimes.
He emphasizes that an investigation into the commission of war crimes concerns both warring parties , not just one of them. That is, the fact that Russia illegally invaded Ukraine does not release members of the Ukrainian armed forces from the obligation to abstain from committing war crimes.
How are they proven?
The academic answers that in international criminal law the procedural rules that we meet in the domestic legal order apply to a large extent. In other words, it must be proven that certain criminal offenses have indeed been committed and that they can be attributed to specific individuals. It is recalled that in criminal law the probative threshold is very high and for & # 8217; This task of the prosecution is quite difficult .
Can state leaders be prosecuted?
In theory, they can be prosecuted even President Putin, is the answer of Dr. Ioannidis. However, he points out, due to the high probative threshold – it has been mentioned above & # 8211; This is very difficult, as the farther away a person is from the battlefield, the weaker his connection to any crimes committed. So, those who are most at risk are the officers who give more immediate orders and the soldiers as natural perpetrators. President Putin could also be prosecuted for the crime of aggression, which is a crime of leadership , that is, only the head of state can give the order to conduct an aggressive war. However, again due to procedural restrictions, this will be difficult.
Is there a precedent?
Asked if there were any examples from previous events, which turned out to be war crimes and the sentences that had been imposed, Dr. Nikolas A. Ioannidis answered that the beginning of international criminal justice is considered to have taken place with the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, where the protagonists of World War II were even punished with the death penalty. Then we had the establishment of special criminal courts for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, where multi-year prison sentences were imposed on those found guilty of committing war crimes. The International Criminal Court has also sentenced people to prison for war crimes. Finally, even national courts have imposed sentences on individuals for committing war crimes.
Dr. Nikolas A. Ioannidis spoke on the morning of Thursday, May 19 on his show “Morning Inspection” Citizen 107.6 and 97.6, in relation to war crimes. Listen to the audio clip, here: