According to an international law expert, there is “abundant evidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be indicted for war crimes over the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The executive director of the International Bar Association, Dr Mark Ellis, told Breakfast under international law that directing attacks against civilians or civilian property are “grave breaches, they are war crimes, and those are the ones the international community will focus on.”
“If civilians are targeted or targeted indiscriminately, then these would be the most serious and egregious crimes under international law as it relates to the conflict. »
He said there was “ample evidence” of war crimes committed in Bucha, northwest of kyiv, after Russian troops withdrew from the area.
“I can say with certainty, based on the very preliminary evidence that I have seen, that these crimes are in fact committed,” he said. “I have no doubt that the International Criminal Court will also find the evidence to suggest that these crimes are being committed.
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On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern joined world leaders in condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“Reports of Ukrainian civilians being killed, raped and seriously injured by Russian troops are beyond reprehensible. Russia must answer to the world for what it has done,” she said.
“It goes without saying that these atrocities are contrary to international law,” the prime minister said, adding that New Zealand would join other nations in referring the situation to the International Criminal Court.
She refrained from calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, but the evidence pointed to Russia committing war crimes.
Ellis, who served as legal adviser to the Independent International Commission for Kosovo, looked to the example of former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević on what might happen with Putin. Milošević was charged with crimes against humanity for his role in the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but died in custody in The Hague in 2006 before being tried.
He said Milošević is “a great example of someone who was kept in power until the political environment changed, and then he was no longer seen as the most important person, in this case, in the former Yugoslavia, and it was much easier, politically, to get him out”.
“We’ve seen this time and time again… It takes time, but international law is in place for this ‘if not today, then tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then in the future” – that is what international law is.
“International justice, I always say, plays the long game.”
Ellis said there were “two main avenues the international community can follow” to indict Putin for war crimes: the International Criminal Court in The Hague and universal jurisdiction, which would see each state “direct the attention of its legal system towards Mr. Putin and others”. ”.
“In the long term, you are able to see the possibility of bringing these individuals to justice, either in The Hague or by individual states.”
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim AA Khan QC announced an investigation into the situation in Ukraine in February.
“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he will eventually find evidence to seek an indictment against Mr. Putin, hopefully on command responsibility, and other violators of international law,” he said. said Ellis.