A war crime is a violation of the laws of war. While the architecture of international criminal law has been built over decades, the concept is straightforward. “If there’s no military necessary reason to target something, it’s a war crime. If you’re just shooting like `Mad Max Thunderdome’ then it’s a war crime,” said Crane.

Each day searing stories pour out of Ukraine: A maternity hospital bombed in Mariupol. A mother and her children killed as they fled Irpin in a humanitarian corridor. Burning apartment blocks. Mass graves. A child dead of dehydration in a city under siege, denied humanitarian aid, AP reports.

Such images have contributed to a growing global consensus that Russia should be held accountable for war crimes in Ukraine.

“The world’s strongmen are watching like crocodiles … We have to show tyrants around the world that rule of law is stronger than rule of gun,” said David Crane, a veteran of numerous international war crime investigations.

Even as the conflict rages, a vast apparatus is being built to gather and preserve evidence of potential violations of international laws of war that were written after World War II. Less than a month after Vladimir Putin’s order to drop the first bombs on his neighbor, the United States declared that Russian forces were committing war crimes in Ukraine. But it remains far from clear who will be held accountable and how.

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