Expert steps in to investigate war crimes in attacks on civilians and hospitals in Ukraine


JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – Indiscriminate attacks against civilian areas. Massacre of civilians. And more recently, a Russian airstrike and a series of bomb explosions hit a maternity ward in Mariupol.

A senior regional police officer who stood in the ruins said it was a war crime without any justification. The World Health Organization said it had confirmed 18 attacks on health facilities and ambulances since the fighting began, killing 10 people. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has already opened a war crimes investigation. But building a case against Russian President Vladimir Putin can take time.

“What they’re going to have to do is they’re going to have to accumulate evidence to a point where they can identify specific chains of command, for example, that would lead to Putin where they can then indict individuals.” , said the professor. Gregory Gordon, war crimes expert and member of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Law School. “Putin would be the ultimate, but it could end up being that the evidence is further down the chain of command.”

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“I think that might be the biggest challenge in a case like this,” he said. “So what, you have two elements to prosecute war crimes. So if it’s a war crime under article 8 of the Rome Statute, you have your list of war crimes, let’s say it’s killing civilians. OK, you have this crime, you have evidence of this crime. Then the question is who is connected to this crime? And remember that the International Criminal Court, which we talked about, wants to prosecute those most responsible. You have several options. You can look at section 25 of the act, then you have everything from direct principle to aiding and abetting to liability for contributions, right? »

And all have different standards, according to Gordon.

“And then you have what we call command responsibility under section 28, where you have to demonstrate a superior reporting relationship and a series of other elements,” the war crimes expert continued. “That’s probably where a lot of the action will be in terms of successful prosecutions, of course, the issue of Putin’s arrest before he can stand trial.”

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There are a number of challenges. Yes, there are plenty of videos showing what happened. They call it the “TikTok war” because much of it has been documented on social media in real time, showing attacks on children’s hospitals, schools and civilians. This will certainly help prosecutors. But attack authentication is another story.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, well, I saw on TikTok or I saw on Instagram or Facebook, this film or these images of these ongoing war crimes.’ But when you go into court and you have to authenticate yourself and you have to make sure you have the right metadata or whatever, that will be part of that evidence on social media to prove that it’s been sufficiently verified,” Gordon said. “Remember that the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The other thing I would point out is that often social media evidence will only be good to the extent that it corroborates stronger evidence,” Gordon said. “Testimonies or documents or even satellite intercepts from other sources. So it will all kind of work together, I think, and there will be a case built on the combination of those layers of evidence.

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Then, says Gordon, there is the issue of Putin’s arrest before he can stand trial.

“Well, and I mean, unless there’s a change in diet, I think it’s going to be really tough,” Gordon pointed out. “Right now he is pretty, I think, well protected by the layers of his political machine, his army, but you could have people on the ground. For example, commanders or even lower level soldiers who are captured in Ukraine and you may be able to start there and then eventually progress. Often these cases work with lower level prosecutions and then you get evidence and work your way up the chain of command.

Many world leaders say there is no doubt that these are indeed war crimes. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and helpless.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the strike “definitive proof, proof that a genocide of Ukrainians is taking place”. It remains to be seen whether they will be prosecuted as such and who can be held responsible.

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