War crimes in Ukraine: easy to see — hard to prosecute

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff

Header Image: Euronews

The world watched with horror as Russia invaded Ukraine in mid-February. Russian forces surrounded Ukraine from the east on the Russia-Ukraine border all the way to the Belarus-Ukraine border to the northwest of Ukraine. Currently, there are an estimated 24,000 deaths and over 565 billion dollars worth of property damage in Ukraine. 

As part of the Russian operations in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin’s forces tried to take Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, but were met with stiff Ukrainian resistance and were unable to take the capital. 

Bucha, Hostomil, Irbin and other surrounding suburbs of Kyiv were effectively destroyed by Russian forces. When those forces withdrew to pursue operations in the east of Ukraine, over 400 civilian bodies were found in the suburbs of Kyiv’s nearby towns. Ukraine has accused Russia of committing war crimes through the unnecessary killing of non-combatants. European leaders, as well as President Joe Biden, have condemned these actions. There have even been claims from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials that Ukrainian civilians have been tortured and killed in cold blood. The amount of civilian property damage, torture and mass killings of non-combatants continues to grow. Mass graves discovered in the town of Bucha contained the bodies of Ukrainian civilians. Others like them have been found in other locations outside of Kyiv.

War crimes are classified as “Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949,” according to the U.N. Office on Genocide Prevention. International laws have been established to maintain humanitarian decency and respect for personal dignity during wars. War crimes are best understood to be cruel and/or unusual acts in which people are unnecessarily harmed during a time of war. Examples would be the willful killing of civilians, genocide, torture or inhumane treatment, taking hostages, unnecessarily destroying civilian property and compelling prisoners of war to fight for an opposing faction.

Zelenskyy described the destruction around Kyiv as “a scene from a horror movie.” He reported that he had seen such atrocities as corpses of women who were raped, killed and then burned. He said, “This is genocide.” He is calling for the West to employ more sanctions on Russia, and is asking for more weapons to defend Ukraine.

Zelenskyy spoke to the United Nations Security Council on April 5, 2022, and said that those responsible for these crimes should be immediately brought in front of a court similar to the one established at Nuremberg after World War II. Zelenskyy told the Security Council, “The Russian military searched for and purposely killed anyone who served our country. They shot and killed women outside their houses when they just tried to call someone who is alive. They killed entire families, adults and children, and tried to burn the bodies. They used tanks to crush civilians just for their pleasure.” He said that the Russians who gave the orders and performed the actions “must be brought to justice immediately for war crimes.”

Biden spoke out on the issue saying that Putin was acting brutally. The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that when looking at the images from Bucha he saw that it was “not the random act of a rogue unit” but “a deliberate campaign to kill, torture — to rape — to commit atrocities.” Blinken said that he found the reports of war crimes in Ukraine to be credible.

How will Russia’s alleged war crimes be investigated and prosecuted? One truism of war crimes is “The victor determines what is a war crime and who gets punished.”

One thought on “War crimes in Ukraine: easy to see — hard to prosecute

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s