The House voted 418-7 April 6 for the Ukraine Invasion War Crimes Deterrence and Accountability Act, which directs the president to report to Congress on his administration’s attempts to “collect, analyze, and preserve evidence and information related to war crimes” and other atrocities committed by Russia during its invasion of Ukraine. The bill also said it is the House’s sense that Russia’s military has committed a variety of war crimes.
In the other chamber, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said April 5 he plans to introduce a bill soon to hold war criminals accountable, including a prohibition on their entry into the United States.
In general and not just in this context, Miller said the appropriate U.S. response to war crimes would be:
- “Raise awareness. It’s immoral to deliberately turn a blind eye to injustice.
- “Prosecute any war crimes involving U.S. personnel in U.S. courts and under U.S. law.
- “Defeat war criminals on the battlefield. It is weird to me to talk about justice or accountability for war criminals outside the context of the war in which they are committing their crimes. The first and most important step in bringing any justice to this situation is to help Ukraine win the war.
- “After the war, cooperate with any International Criminal Court [ICC] investigations and prosecutions that do not conflict with U.S. interests or sovereignty. We are not a signatory to the ICC treaty and have no obligation to recognize its authority, but there is no particular reason to oppose it either, unless a specific case otherwise complicates our efforts to pursue our interests.”
The idea of war crimes especially materialized more than 120 years ago to ban specific methods of warfare, according to the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their subsequent protocols in 1977 primarily addressed the protection of non-participants in war, the U.N. office reported. All U.N. members have ratified the 1949 Geneva Conventions, but many regulations in other international law treaties are considered binding on all countries even if they have not ratified those agreements, according to the U.N. office.
The definition of war crimes encompasses a myriad of serious violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions or other customary laws, according to the 1998 Rome Statue that established the ICC, which has jurisdiction over such offenses. Unlike genocide or crimes against humanity, war crimes must occur in the context of armed conflict, whether international or non-international.
Acts prohibited under the ICC’s guidance regarding war crimes include: “[M]urder; mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; taking of hostages; intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population; intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historical monuments or hospitals; pillaging; rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy or any other form of sexual violence; conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups or using them to participate actively in hostilities.”
The ICC’s success in bringing war criminals to justice can take years and is far from guaranteed. The trial of a reputed leader of the Sudanese military’s atrocities nearly 20 years ago against civilians in the Darfur region finally began April 5 at The Hague, Netherlands.
Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahmann pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to the Associated Press. Prosecutors say he was a senior militia commander during a campaign against rebels that resulted in the deaths of as many as 300,000 people and the displacement of 2.7 million others in Darfur, AP reported.
Though the ICC announced in March it was opening an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine, Miller is convinced the court will be unable to bring a Russian leader to justice.
“[T]here is a zero percent chance that any Russian official will stand trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes, ever,” he told BP. “The ICC only has as many teeth as the world’s great powers are willing to give it, and against Russia, its bite will be all gum and no tooth.”
He also has “mixed feelings” about Biden declaring Putin is a war criminal.
“It is likely that we will have to live with Putin for years to come, sadly,” Miller said. “Calling him a war criminal, however accurate, locks us into permanent enmity and forecloses any kind of return to normalcy, ever, so long as Putin remains in power. That may be inevitable at this point – and I understand many people believe we should never accept ‘normalcy’ with war criminals – but, honestly, we do that all the time across much of the developing world.