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Putin Prosecution For War Crimes Unlikely In International Agencies

Even before the outrage over hundreds of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine was accusing Russia of committing war crimes, and many experts back those claims. President Biden on Monday called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to face a war crimes trial. It would be a difficult and long process to bring Putin to account, and even harder to enforce any actions against him, NPR reports. "It's unlikely" that Putin would face a war crimes trial at the highest international levels, said Kelebogile Zvobgo of the International Justice Lab, a William & Mary professor. An array of international judicial institutions have jurisdiction over abuses that Putin's military is accused of carrying out in Ukraine, but few have any leverage over Russia.


The International Court of Justice at The Hague, the United Nations' highest court, was created to resolve inter-state disputes, not to rule on cases involving individuals. Any decisions it makes are implemented by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia holds a critical veto. Ukraine asked the court to order Russia to halt its war on Ukraine early in the conflict, citing the 1948 international convention banning genocide. Russia didn't show up to the hearing. The court granted Ukraine's request, but it has no way to enforce its order. At the International Criminal Court, days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, the ICC's top prosecutor said there was "reasonable basis to believe" war crimes and crimes against humanity were being committed in Ukraine, and a formal investigation would begin. The ICC would handle any prosecution of Putin, Zvobgo said. She added, "they don't have the best track record because nobody wants to turn over heads of state. ... This is a criminal court. This one is actually concerned with individuals. But the challenge is, you have to actually get the people to the place. Who would be willing to arrest and transfer Putin to The Hague — if he even left Russia?"

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