What international crimes are the Russians committing in Ukraine?

Philip Sands:

Listen, Nick, I understand exactly what President Zelenskyy is doing. And, obviously, I have a lot of sympathy, and in view of all these horrors.

He uses the term genocide, I think, in its political sense, which is the killing of large numbers of people. But this is not the legal meaning. The legal meaning in international courts and national courts is that you have to prove something which is very difficult to prove, the intent to destroy a group in whole or in part.

And the courts have been notoriously reluctant to do so. So I – from what I’ve seen, I think it’s going to be difficult to make genocide a crime, even though I think crimes against humanity are happening and war crimes.

And what President Zelenskyy did last night was he called for the establishment of a special court to target leaders with the crime of aggression. I think he knows genocide, crimes against humanity, linking that to leadership can be more difficult. And he wants to bring the best, if you wish, to the top table in the dock.

And I think that’s what President Biden needs to focus on. When President Biden calls Mr. Putin a war criminal, he is probably, in a sense, mixing up the different international crimes. And the question for the administration will be, which of the various crimes do they really want to focus on?


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