Although Biden’s occasional statements are often described as inaccurate or unintended, the things he’s been saying recently on a repeated basis are worthy of notice: “Putin should be tried as a war criminal.”
If these words were said by an ordinary citizen, it could be regarded as an emotional reaction. But these are the words of the President of the United States. He’s almost calling on global community to take action.
War crimes are defined in Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This article defines war crimes committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes, serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict and in those not of an international character. All acts considered as war crimes are generally grouped under four categories.
- Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949
Wilful killing, extensive destruction, and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, taking of hostages etc.
- Serious Violations of The Laws and Customs Applicable in International Armed Conflict
Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities, intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives, attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended, and which are not military objectives etc.
- In The Case of An Armed Conflict Not of An International Character, Serious Violations of Article 3 Common to The Four Geneva Conventions Of 12 August 1949
- Other Serious Violations of The Laws and Customs Applicable in Armed Conflicts Not of An International Character, Within the Established Framework of International Law
The last two articles above are mainly about acts committed against persons taking no active part in the hostilities and intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population. Accordingly, we could say that the Russian Military Forces have repeated the said acts countless times and that they have persistently and deliberately committed the acts that fall under the scope of War Crimes. Not only did Russian President Putin instructed his forces to avoid inflicting damage to civilians, but he also didn’t hesitate to deploy more military elements in the war zone to commit similar acts.
“War Criminals Are Not Tried in Absentia…”
There are documents and images showing that the Ukrainian elements also committed similar acts, but it is difficult to say in advance whether these acts will be qualified as the self-defence of the citizens of an invaded country.
War criminals are tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The Court investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. Since there is no trial in absentia in this court, the accused shall be personally present at all proceedings. The court can sentence up to thirty years or life imprisonment for very grave crimes. As in the case of Mladić, a person who has been declared a war criminal can either be caught by the security forces of his own country or if he is at large, the security forces of the country where he is in can apprehend him.
I don’t know if Putin will be apprehended and tried for war crimes, but surely Biden’s call for Putin to face war crimes trial is not something that can easily be retracted. I also don’t know if the President of the United States will be able to start diplomatic relations again with someone that he declared a war criminal.