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How Putin Could Be Indicted As A 'War Criminal' in Ukraine Battle

President Biden flatly called Russia’s Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” for the onslaught in Ukraine, where hospitals and maternity wards have been bombed. There are set definitions and processes for determining who’s a war criminal and how they should be punished. “Clearly Putin is a war criminal, but the president is speaking politically on this,” said David Crane, who has worked on war crimes for decades and served as chief prosecutor for the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone. Investigations into Putin’s actions have begun. The U.S. and 44 other countries are working to investigate possible violations and abuses under a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry. There is another probe by the International Criminal Court, an independent body based in the Netherlands.


“We’re at the beginning of the beginning,” said Crane, who heads the Global Accountability Network. On the day of the invasion, his group set up a task force compiling information for war crimes. He’s also drafting a sample indictment against Putin. He predicted an indictment of Putin could happen within a year. The term "war criminal" applies to anyone who violates a set of rules adopted by world leaders known as the law of armed conflict. Those rules have been modified and expanded over the past century, drawn from the Geneva Conventions after World War II. The rules aim at protecting people not taking part in fighting, including civilians like doctors and nurses, wounded troops and prisoners of war. Treaties and protocols lay out who can be targeted and with what weapons. Certain weapons are prohibited, including chemical or biological agents. Other war crimes include willful killing and extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity, deliberately targeting civilians, using disproportionate force, using human shields and taking hostages. The most likely way that Putin could be accused of being a war criminal is through the legal doctrine of command responsibility. If commanders order or know about crimes and did nothing to prevent them, they can be held legally responsible.

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