Accusing Putin of war crimes – here’s how the world can bring him to justice

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Bombing a maternity hospital, bombing residential buildings, shooting fleeing refugees and destroying any infrastructure that supports the lives of innocent civilians… are all war crimes under international law.

Anyone involved in the chain of command who gave the orders – right up to the head of state – can and should be charged. This means Russian President Vladimir Putin should be charged with war crimes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP, File)

There is no doubt who issued the orders. The invasion of Ukraine and the cruel bombing campaign cannot be blamed on a rogue Russian general. It was organized and led by Putin himself. He admitted it in his maniacal wishes to destroy his perceived enemies in neighboring Ukraine.


Historically, gathering evidence for the prosecution has been both difficult and time-consuming. Perpetrators cover up their crimes and witnesses are reluctant to speak out for fear of their own lives. But the atrocities in Ukraine are different.

On a daily basis, the world has observed in real time many war crimes committed by the military forces controlled by Putin. Using modern technology, the evidence was collected by journalists with cameras, as well as by Ukrainians on their cellphones or other devices. Satellite images confirm death and destruction.

Compiling and authenticating damning evidence is no longer a hurdle as it once was. It has already been communicated electronically around the world and stored. We have seen it unfold with our own eyes.

The horrific video of the bombings as they happened, the photographs of the mutilated bodies of women and children, the images of mass graves and the personal accounts of the carnage by those who watched in horror are proof of this. obvious.

In the town of Mariupol alone, some 1,200 civilians were massacred. This number seems to be increasing hour by hour. The names of the victims and how they were massacred by Putin’s heavily armed troops have been meticulously recorded.

The UN should establish a special tribunal, as it did for the mass atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

A total of 18 healthcare facilities in Ukraine were bombed in the Russian assault. Shops, schools, apartments, orphanages, markets, pharmacies and private businesses were destroyed. The extent of human suffering and bloodshed is commemorated in searing images and documents.

Putin’s crimes fall into three distinct, but related, categories set out by international law.

The first is called “crimes against humanity”. It is defined as “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population”. Invading a sovereign nation without provocation and deliberately killing noncombatants, including women and children, is clearly permissible. The same goes for Putin’s use of cluster bombs and his acknowledged deployment of thermobaric explosives that destroy the lungs of any nearby civilians.

The second is known as “war crimes”. They also involve the deliberate killing of civilians, inhuman treatment, destruction of property and intentionally causing great suffering. The barbarism of Putin’s military actions meets this definition. Millions of civilians have fled as entire communities have been devastated by indiscriminate shelling – their lives and livelihoods shattered.

The third offense is identified as “crimes of aggression”. This includes any unwarranted attack or invasion by armed forces, bombardment, military occupation of territory and annexation. Again, this has been established.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, has announced the opening of a war crimes investigation. This may sound impressive, but the Court’s record is not. The ICC is notoriously hampered by inertia, dysfunction, weak leadership, endless jurisdictional disputes and weak prosecutions.

A better idea would be for the United Nations to bypass the ICC and establish a special tribunal, just as it did for the mass atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia during the Balkan Wars in the 1990s. 161 people have been charged for their crimes, including former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Yes, Russia would veto the creation of a special tribunal in a vote of the five members of the UN Security Council. But the General Assembly has the power to override the veto under a rather obscure provision called Resolution 377. The wording provides ample leeway.

A United Nations vote should be undertaken expeditiously and the criminal tribunal organised. Since the evidence already exists, Putin and his cronies could be indicted quickly.

Placing Putin in the dock to account for his heinous crimes is a trickier business. The court itself would have no police powers to arrest him in Russia where the dictator is protected – yet.

This means that it will depend on the Russian people. The case of Milosevic is instructive. Massive anti-war protests against his brutality eventually forced him out of office, as up to 200,000 members of his army abandoned him. Milosevic was arrested by his family and taken to the special court for trial.

The same fate could befall Putin if Russian citizens grow tired of his authoritarian rule and his suppression of their human rights. With the impending economic disaster, they might in the near future get angry with him.


If Russians continue to suffer the dire effects of their own changing financial situation and living conditions deteriorate to unbearable levels, fury towards Putin could grow exponentially. Their willingness to tolerate a tyrant who has rained death and terror on neighbor Russia in its thirst for power could be reaching a breaking point.

Desperate conditions deserve desperate actions on the part of the people. Poverty and hunger lead to revolutions. This has already happened twice in Russia in the last century. History can and must repeat itself.

It is undeniable that Putin is an evil dictator who continues to commit monstrous acts in Ukraine. No sensitive person would claim otherwise.


Putin is clearly guilty of the heinous war crimes I have described. And no, I will not grant him the presumption of innocence. But the special tribunal will.

Hurry up. Bringing Putin and his comrades to justice must be a top priority.



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