International mass media sources are full of information about and photos of atrocities committed by Russia after its invasion on 24 February 2022.
The world has seen an unbelievable picture of war. Thus, in the course of a war there should be respected rules of war and provisions of the international humanitarian law, including the ones of of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols thereto, the Hague Conventions. In Ukraine, almost all types of grave war crimes were committed in breach of the international law and principles of humanity.
Thus, according to the OSCE`s Report, the gravest crimes which, even at the current stage of investigation, are attributed to Russia are targeted killing of civilians, including journalists and human rights activists, cruel treatment of civilians, including rape of women and girls, enforced disappearance or abductions of civilians.
The scale of crimes is so staggering that this led to the pavilion “Russia House” being replaced by the “Russian War Crimes House” at the World Economic Forum 2022 in Davos where Russia was not invited this year.
Thus, during the Russian invasion in March 2022, mass killings and tortures of civilian population were committed in Bucha, Irpin, Vorzel and other settlements of the Kyiv region. Only in Bucha more than 420 civilians were killed, women and children among them. Famous international mass media, such as Bellingcat, Deutsche Welle, The Economist, BBC and The New York Times published proof of atrocities committed by Russia.
Taking into consideration the scale of crimes, on 14 April 2022, the Ukrainian Parliament approved that major violations of the humanitarian law and customs of war committed by the Russian military forces are deemed actions aimed at the annihilation of the Ukrainian people.
Besides that, the Ukrainian Parliament requested the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, as well as governments and parliaments of foreign states, to recognise that Russia is committing the crime of genocide against the Ukrainian people and crimes against humanity and war crimes in the territory of Ukraine.
The committed crimes must remain in history as personalised crimes. Thus, the crimes were committed according to orders. At the same time, they were not committed personally by the Russian army commanders or by the country’s leaders – they were committed by ordinary Russians, soldiers. Information regarding crimes is being collected and will be published in the “Book of Executioners,” the release of which was announced by the President of Ukraine Volodymur Zelensky.
It is worth remembering that the most scary part here is the ruined and broken lives of families of the deceased and victims. Raped women and children, cynically killed civilians in the basement of the Mariupol theatre, torture and slaughters. These are horror stories of deaths and ruined lives as a result of Russian hostilities.
The minimum measure of justice is that perpetrators must be punished according to the liability rules provided for by law.
Who is Responsible?
Liability for war crimes may be put both on countries and definite people. Sanctions, reparations, compensations to Ukraine and its citizens for crimes and harm, criminal responsibility of guilty persons are some measures of responsibility.
Collecting and documenting proofs of damage and arranging for their further compensation is one of the areas of work for Ukraine to remedy the infringed rights. Besides, the issue of responsibility of definite people remains important.
Thus, in May 2022 Ukraine imposed the first sentence on a Russian trooper Vadim Shishimarin, who shot to death an unarmed 62-year-old man a few meters from that man’s house. Prosecutors demonstrated evidence, in particular a gun-machine, which was used to make shots, opinions of forensic examination and results of the investigative experiment. The court sentenced Shishimarin to life imprisonment.
What is more important with such types of crimes, is that not only the person who committed a crime must be responsible, but also his commander, leaders, who ordered to do so or who did not take all feasible measures within their power to prevent or repress the violation. Such an approach to responsibility is enshrined in Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions.
It means that not only the soldiers who committed the crimes should be responsible, but also their commanders and leaders of Russia, including president Vladimir Putin.
It is difficult to believe that numerous acts of violence and killings are being committed without an order from and awareness of the country leaders. In such a case, the task of proving becomes much more complicated since investigation can not find direct, real evidence as was with the Shishimarin case, and it is necessary to prove a link between orders of commanders and their consequences. On the other hand, taking into consideration the scale of crimes in Ukraine, its systematic manner and availability of proof in the public domain, it is difficult to imagine that it is only perpetrators only who must be brought to justice.
How War Crimes are Investigated in Ukraine
Despite broad dissemination of information with regard to crimes in Ukraine, Russia does not take any actions to investigate crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.
According to the General Prosecutor Office of Ukraine, by 24 May 2022, there have been registered 19, 821 war crimes. 234 children died and 433 were wounded.
Apart from investigation authorities and the Prosecutor Office, proofs of Russian aggression are being collected, upon statements by victims and witnesses, on the common platform of the General Prosecutor Office of Ukraine.
Prosecutions have been instigated both by prosecution authorities of Ukraine and by international institutions abroad.
It is highly important that the investigations are being carried out with unprecedented involvement of international experts.
All this bespeaks openness of Ukraine, its readiness to carry out transparent and unbiased investigation, and its belief that truth and justice will prevail.
Thus, according to President of France Emmanuel Macron, French gendarmes and experts Ukrainian and international justice to collect evidence and identify those responsible.
Besides, the International Criminal Court in the Hague opened a large- scale investigation into crimes connected with Russian aggression against Ukraine. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, visited Ukraine twice after the commencement of the war and communicated with witnesses personally, witnessing consequences of the aggression in Bucha. In the course of crime investigation by ICC, there are 39 countries involved, which ensures full and impartial investigation.
Moreover, the European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom established the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA) to coordinate efforts to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes during Russia’s war against Ukraine.
According to the press-release of the European External Action Service, the ACA seeks to streamline coordination and communication efforts to ensure best practices, avoid duplication of efforts, and encourage the expeditious deployment of financial resources and skilled personnel to respond to the needs of the Prosecutor office of Ukraine as the legally constituted authority in Ukraine responsible for dealing with the prosecution of war crimes in its own territory.
It is apparent that the most important thing as of today is to stop the aggressor`s actions, prevent any recurrence thereof and insure security not only for Ukraine but also for the whole Europe. Otherwise, ignoring and impunity will give rise to new crimes.
In this regard, support of Ukraine by EU countries is of paramount importance. Ukraine should become a candidate country of the EU at the nearest time, as the Ukrainian people at the cost of their own lives daily demonstrate loyalty to democratic principles of Europe, ensure the peaceful life of the neighburing countries, and defend freedom and democracy of Europe.
Diana Deguel, MBA, a Ukrainian lawyer with over 20 years of experience, Asters Law Firm