Putin’s Acts are Criminal

Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2022
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles

Will Putin get prosecuted for war crimes? That he targeted and killed hundreds of civilians and displaced tens of millions seems clear. What will happen if prosecuted? History shows that whatever label one puts on this invasion, Putin owns it. Many of these acts are criminal.

While war invariably involves killing, wounding, displacements, and ruined lives, a war crime is different.  Aiming to eliminate an ethnic group, wipe out a nation, or take territory by targeting innocents is viewed as horrific and qualifies as a war crime.

Legally, a war crime involves a violation of the “laws of war,” a collection of treaties and conventions for protecting innocents, deterring cruelty, and holding criminally responsible those who promote or allow criminal brutality or genocide.

The so-called “laws of war,” which some might disparage, have a long history. Human recoil at civilian murders, torture, rape, gratuitous terrorizing, and dehumanizing led to these laws.

Customary international law, dating hundreds of years, was gradually codified, especially after WWI and WWII.  The Nuremberg principles, Geneva Conventions, and other authorities created expectations and “universal jurisdiction” over war criminals, refining the Hague Conventions.

Neither soldiers nor heads of state can avoid liability for intentional acts that violate the “rules of law,” but facts must be proved. Violations of the Geneva Conventions include “directing attacks against civilians.” The idea of preventing massacres is prominent.

If all this sounds like how Putin behaved in Ukraine, initiating an unprovoked attack, targeting civilians, indefensible acts, another fact is important: Heads of state are hard to prosecute.

On the one hand, heads of state charged include the German and Japanese prime ministers after WWII.  Similarly, for “crimes against humanity,” “genocide,” and other crimes, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was charged, tried, acquitted, and died in custody in 2006.

Liberian President Charles Taylor, Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, Sudanese head of state Omar al-Bashir, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were all charged. Taylor and Karadzic were convicted, al-Bashir remained incarcerated, and Gaddafi was killed before trial.

On the other hand, Putin presents unique issues. He is Russia’s leader, even if his actions are unconscionable. He is insulated by sovereignty arguments, may claim the death of non-combatants was not his aim, as collateral damage “while conducting an attack on a military objective” is not a war crime.

Strong responses would issue, but a military necessity “permits the destruction of life of…persons whose destruction is incidentally unavoidable by the armed conflicts of the war,” a big loophole.   

On the other hand, “laws of war” do “not permit the killing of innocent inhabitants for purposes of revenge or the satisfaction of a lust to kill,” “destruction of property” not necessary, or “directing attacks against civilians.” 

All this is highly unsatisfying since the egregious nature of Putin’s acts – human suffering, loss of life, the indifference of Putin toward what he has done – is a source of global outrage. Moreover, Putin continues the war – a highly destructive, inhumane, legally indefensible assault on citizens of Ukraine. The horrors continue as resistance builds and Western support grows.

Reality: Putin will never reclaim the legitimacy he had. He is now a de facto war criminal. Whether the acts were ordered by Putin, he bears responsibility – and odds are he ordered them.

The damage done to Russia’s standing in the world is not easily repaired, nor damage to the Russian economy and the lives of the Russian people resulting from his hellacious acts.

The beleaguered Russian people, predominantly Christian and predictably distressed, will suffer. They will suffer economically, spiritually, and in association with Putin. Perhaps 30,000 parents will suffer the loss of a child in uniform to Putin’s folly.

So, in the grand scheme, in the world’s eyes, and perhaps soon in the eyes of Russians, Putin’s war-making will be remembered as indefensible, inhumane, utterly unnecessary, and unconscionable. 

Whether the legal regime and machinery are set in motion to prosecute him for “war crimes” remains to be seen. What is clear is that Putin’s depravity, indifference to life, disrespect for history, the devastation of Christian culture, and unthinkable carnage are hard to deny. Whatever the law says, the world has seen the, shuddered, and spoken. Putin’s acts are criminal.  

URL : https://amac.us/newsline/national-security/putins-acts-are-criminal/