Russia faces war crimes investigation: What does this mean?

Morning In America

(NewsNation Now) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Tuesday called an attack on the major Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, a “frank, undisguised terror,” blaming a Russian missile and calling it a war crime. 

“Nobody will forgive. Nobody will forget,” Zelenskyy said.

Video from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, with a population of about 1.5 million, showed residential areas being shelled, with apartment buildings shaken by repeated, powerful blasts. Flashes of fire and gray plumes of smoke could be seen. Authorities in Kharkiv said at least seven people had been killed and dozens injured.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor said he plans to open an investigation “as rapidly as possible” into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine — both alleged crimes committed before the Russian invasion, but also any new crimes that either side might have committed since the invasion started.

Essentially, ICC is the only one in the world that can prosecute individuals for committing atrocities or crimes of aggression when that person’s own country won’t or is incapable of doing so.

It can investigate genocide, crimes against humanity (ex. large-scale attacks against civilians), war crimes or crimes of aggression (ex, one state antagonizing another state).

Since the court’s founding, 45 individuals have been prosecuted for committing war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Both Russia and Ukraine are not officially members of the ICC. But Ukraine accepted its jurisdiction so ICC can pursue a case. In fact, the ICC already had an open case from 2014 that found significant evidence war crimes were committed during Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

The court paused the investigation in 2020 due to a lack of resources. Now the head prosecutor says that’s changed.

Notably, the crimes of aggression charge was added in 2018, after the 2014 Ukraine investigation began, which means there is now an entirely new avenue for the ICC to pursue charges against leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A retired U.S. lieutenant general warned that with the ICC investigating Russia, Putin may become emboldened.

“Either atrocities that are fact-based or atrocities that need to be investigated are coming to fruition in terms of those investigation means that Putin is going to really pull out all cards because the momentum for the invasion, there’s somewhat of a slow down, he’s bogged down. He’s off his timeline,” retired Lt. Gen. Richard Newton said on “Morning in America.” “And so you’re going to start to see some atrocities that could compel the International Court and others to really underscore really the how, what a tyrant Putin is in terms of unleashing his weaponry.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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