How can war crimes be prosecuted in Ukraine?

These are murders, rape, targeted bombing of hospitals, schools and kindergartens, missile attacks on people queuing for bread on the street or waiting on the platform for the train. It involves the use of weapons whose sole purpose is to kill as many people as possible, regardless of whether they are soldiers or civilians. In short, these are war crimes such as those currently occurring in central Europe, in Ukraine. Presumably this must be said, because much is still not clear.

Who Investigates War Crimes?

Since the start of the Russian hostilities, Amnesty International has verified indiscriminate attacks on hospitals, residential areas and kindergartens and the use of banned cluster munitions. Who investigates and how can perpetrators and perpetrators be held accountable?

Ukrainian scientists help with clarification

Cindy Wittke is an expert on Eastern Europe and holds a doctorate in international law from the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies in Regensburg. She directs the political science research group there. You now you have recently led a very special project: a working group consisting of three scientists who fled the war in Ukraine, two lawyers and a political scientist. Among other things, they must document and analyze war crimes and human rights violations in Ukraine.

“Of course, the project primarily aims to offer these scientists a platform so that they can actually continue their all-important work here safely and, at the same time, of course, give them the opportunity to analyze war crimes documented by Germany,” for example, and also participates in international forums, “explains Cindy Wittke.

International Criminal Court in The Hague

The International Criminal Court in The Hague plays a central role in the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Not to be confused with the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, but which negotiates disputes between states. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has existed for 20 years to take action against individuals. He has negotiated against African militia leaders, is investigating the expulsion of Rohingya from Myanmar and now wants to investigate war crimes in Ukraine.

Can Putin be accused?

A few days after the war against Ukraine began, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, launched an investigation into the Ukrainian case. In principle, Russian President Vladimir Putin could also be brought before the International Criminal Court, says Kai Amboss, an expert on international law from Göttingen. When the head of state leaves his homeland.

But the wheels of international justice also march slowly. The investigation into Ukraine initially concerns the possible actions of both sides before the Russian invasion. Only then should the actuality be examined. But how likely is the Russian president to be accused and sentenced in Germany?

Cindy Wittke of the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Research in Regensburg is not very optimistic. “From today’s perspective, the probability is obviously relatively low and in some jurisdictions it is quite possible to actually conduct proceedings in absentia.” This would mean that the defendant is actually not present.

It is important that various states actually initiate these proceedings on the basis of universal jurisdiction, says Cindy Wittke, “and contribute to this major international, transnational and national initiative to document war crimes in Ukraine, sift and collect evidence, and to effectively evaluate. these tests and in particular to prosecute people who can be put into possession “.

Field investigation teams in Ukraine

The International Criminal Court is present in Ukraine itself with teams of investigators. It’s about talking to eyewitnesses, getting an overview, gathering material for a possible indictment. On the spot, Karim Khan described his mission as follows: “Everyone has rights, especially civilians, and the task now is to find out the truth about what happened so that the judges can decide if anyone should take responsibility. “.

The on-site work can best be described as a kind of blend of detective work and archeology. On the one hand, investigators are actually exhuming the corpses and on the other hand, investigators are running around with cell phones and notebooks, questioning witnesses and packing bullets into sacks.

New form of documentation of war crimes

Digitization also plays a very important role in the work, explains scientist Cindy Wittke: “The government and various government organizations have set up portals where citizens can register and upload evidence of alleged war crimes, which can be used for evaluation.”

The work of the Regensburg researchers together with Ukrainian scientists consists of analysis and evaluation. Wittke describes the work as “a new form of war crimes documentation, a new form of privately created evidence collection and presented via online platforms.”

Cindy Wittke believes there is great potential for international learning here and hopes war criminals will be discouraged in the future. Because anyone with a cell phone can contribute to the documentation of war crimes.

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