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Ukraine Russia Conflict: What Is a War Crime?

What Is a War Crime?
What Is a War Crime?

During the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russia is being accused of targeting civilians. After these allegations, the investigation of a possible war crime case in Russia has started.

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that evidence of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide is being collected. The International Criminal Court has taken this step after 39 countries demanded an investigation.

On the other hand, Russia has denied allegations of targeting civilians. But the big question is, what are the war crimes Russia is being accused of?

The laws that define war crimes are called the Geneva Conventions. However, in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, cases of war crimes were investigated under the International Criminal Tribunal.

What is the Geneva Convention?

Now the question is also what is the Geneva Convention? It is a series of international treaties that set international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in any war.

The first three conventions set out provisions for the protection of soldiers and prisoners of warfighting in war, while the fourth convention was included after World War II, under which civilians in the war zone are protected. The Geneva Convention of 1949 was ratified by all the member states of the United Nations including Russia.

The Fourth Geneva Convention’s definition of war crimes includes:

  • intentional murder
  • torture or inhumane treatment
  • intentionally causing serious bodily injury or harm to health
  • Mass destruction of property, the widespread destruction and use of property even when military is not needed
  • take hostage
  • Unlawful deportation or illegal imprisonment

The Rome Act of 1998 is also an important international treaty in the field of armed conflict. It is considered a useful guide to understanding international law and its violations. According to this war crime is-

  • Deliberately direct attacks on civilians or intentional attacks on those who are not involved in the war.
  • Deliberately committing such attacks which are known to cause death or harm to the general public.
  • Attack or bombardment in any way on towns, villages, residences or buildings without shield.
  • It states that hospitals, buildings related to religious faith, or education cannot be deliberately targeted.
  • It also prohibits the use of poisonous gases along with certain weapons.

How are war crimes tried?

The International Criminal Court was established in 1998 in The Hague, Netherlands under the Rome Act 1998. It is an independent body to prosecute and hear those accused of the most serious crimes of harm to the international community.

It investigates war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. Any country can try suspected accused in its courts. The ICC can only exercise jurisdiction where any country is not prepared to do so or cannot. It is a ‘system of last resort for justice’.

But this court does not have its own police force and is dependent on the cooperation of the country concerned for the arrest of the accused.

The International Criminal Court has 123 member countries, Russia and Ukraine are not members. But Ukraine has accepted the jurisdiction of the court, that is, now the International Criminal Court can investigate certain alleged crimes in Ukraine. The US, China, and India are also not among the members of the International Criminal Court.

Have war crimes charges been investigated before?

Millions of people were killed during the Second World War. Most of the Jewish people were targeted by Germany’s Nazi army. After this, common citizens and prisoners of war had to face a lot of atrocities on both sides.

Allied forces later prosecuted those they believed to be responsible for the situation. During the Nuremberg hearings of 1945 and 1946, 10 Nazi leaders were sentenced to death. A similar procedure was adopted in Tokyo in 1948 when seven Japanese army commanders were hanged.

Inevitably, these hearings led to the practice of subsequent punishment as well. In 2012, Congolese chieftain Thomas Lubanga was the first to be indicted by the ICC, when he was found guilty of recruiting and using children as soldiers in its rebel army in 2002 and 2003. He was sentenced to 14 years.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a United Nations body. This organization, which ran from 1993 to 2017, was formed to punish the culprits of the Yugoslav war.

It indicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in 2016 for his role in war crimes, genocide, conflict, and crimes against humanity. Bosnian Serb forces military commander Ratko Maladi was also convicted of the same crimes in 2017.

Other Adhoc courts have also tried individuals in Rwanda and Cambodia for genocide and crimes against humanity. The International Tribunal for Rwanda was the first to recognize the use of rape as an instrument of genocide.

What are the charges against Russia?

In the last few days, there have been many attacks on Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson. Ukraine’s President Zelensky has accused Russia of a war crime for targeting civilians after an airstrike on Russia’s Kharkiv. Russia is also accused of using cluster bombs inside Kharkiv. Cluster bombs are weapons that are used to attack with the use of small arms.

After the Convention on the Use of Cluster War Materials in 2008, the use of this bomb is banned in many countries. But due to not joining the agreement, neither Russia nor Ukraine has banned its use. Human rights groups and Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations have also accused Russia of using vacuum bombs in the attack on Ukraine’s north-eastern city of Oktarka.

The vacuum bomb is a thermobaric weapon that can cause massive destruction by igniting a cloud of vaporized fuel. There is no international law specifically banning their use, but if a country uses them to target civilian populations in under-construction areas, schools, or hospitals, it is considered a war crime under the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. maybe held guilty of.

However, the Putin administration has denied committing a war crime or using clusters and vacuum bombs, calling the allegations fake news. The country’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, “The strikes have been carried out only on military targets and exclusively with high-accuracy weapons.”

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Cartoonist Irfan

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