Highlights

  • Who is a war criminal and who gets to decide?
  • Can Vladimir Putin be tried for war crimes?
  • Germany is already investigating Putin for war crimes

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Ukraine Invasion | Biden calls Putin a 'war criminal': Who is a war criminal and what happens

Ukraine Russia War: What does it mean to be labelled a war criminal and who gets to decide who is a war criminal?

US President Joe Biden has called Russian President a war criminal over his invasion of Ukraine.

So what does it mean to be labelled a war criminal and who gets to decide who is a war criminal?

The term applies to anyone who violates a set of rules adopted by world leaders known as the law of armed conflict. The rules govern how countries behave in times of war.

Those rules are drawn from the Geneva Conventions in the aftermath of World War II.

What Makes One A War Criminal?

The so-called “grave breaches” of the conventions that amount to war crimes include willful killing and extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity. Other war crimes include deliberately targeting civilians, using disproportionate force, using human shields and taking hostages.

What happens to a war criminal?

A war criminal can be tried through the International Criminal Court.

Second option if through a United Nations tribunal

Third would be to create a tribunal or court to try a war criminal by a group of interested or concerned states

Finally, some countries have their own laws for prosecuting war crimes. Germany, for example, is already investigating Putin.

So can Putin be put to trial thorugh one of these processes? Unlikely.
Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and would not send any suspects to the court's headquarters in The Hague. Putin could be tried in a country chosen by the United Nations or by the consortium of concerned nations. But getting him there would be difficult.

Have leaders been prosecuted for war crimes? Yes.

Post-World War II tribunals tried senior leaders in Nuremberg and Tokyo. Leaders have been prosecuted for their actions in countries including Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda.

Former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial by a UN tribunal in The Hague for fomenting bloody conflicts as Yugoslavia crumbled in the early 1990s.

Bosnia's Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian Serb military leader, Gen. Ratko Mladic, were successfully prosecuted and are both now serving life sentences.

Liberia's Taylor was sentenced to 50 years after being convicted of sponsoring atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Chad's former dictator Hissene Habre, who died last year, was the first former head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity by an African court. He was sentenced to life.

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