What steps are taken in a war crimes trial?

Russia At War

(NewsNation) — Russia’s actions in Ukraine have mobilized the international community, with many calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to stand trial for war crimes.

Todd Buchwald, former special coordinator for the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice, said three things need to happen before Putin is charged with war crimes.

Officials need to build a case, Buchwald said, which is what’s happening now.

“There’s a lot of documentation work the State Department, NATO and other countries are putting together,” he said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America.”

Ukainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) speaks to the press in the town of Bucha, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on April 4, 2022. – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on April 3, 2022 the Russian leadership was responsible for civilian killings in Bucha, outside Kyiv, where bodies were found lying in the street after the town was retaken by the Ukrainian army. (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP) (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden on Monday said he wanted to see Putin tried for war crimes after “outrageous” atrocities around Kyiv. Photos out of the suburb of Bucha show grim scenes of lifeless civilian bodies, some with their hands bound and facing down. Although Biden and U.S. officials have stopped short of calling Russia’s actions genocide, it’s a term Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used to describe the devastation in his country.

An important element of war crimes cases will be whether those in command are responsible for the actions of their subordinates.

“They have to look into it and take appropriate measures to try to bring things under control,” Buchwald said. “And that doesn’t seem to be happening.”

What happens next when putting someone on trial for war crimes is finding a court.

The most prominent of these is the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

They’re already on the case, Buchwald said.

“Ultimately, it’s very likely that there will be cases,” he said.

The third thing that needs to be done for a war crimes trial is the higher-ups have to be placed in custody.

“Experience shows that that’s not easy in the case of very senior leaders, but also, experience shows that you can’t dismiss the idea that it will happen,” Buchwald said. “It has happened.”

As an ambassador for the Office for Global Criminal Justice, Buchwald said, he once saw a case where the former dictator of the country of Chad was convicted in a court set up by the African Union.

“I was sitting there thinking this had gone on for scores of years getting back to the ’80s,” Buchwald said. “The lawyers working on this in the mid-1980s must have thought at the time that the chance of this ever coming to fruition must have been one in a million. But there I was, sitting there and it had happened. And the reason is because things change, and things change in unpredictable ways.”

This is why he says there could also be changes in Russia, too.

At the end of the day, Buchwald said, he thinks it’s important to pursue a war crimes charge for Putin, regardless of whether the authoritarian leader is actually prosecuted.

“It does marginalize him. It is a statement of solidarity with Ukrainians, a statement of solidarity with victims, and it also has the potential of being something of a deterrent effect,” Buchwald said. “You do marginalize Putin and other senior leaders, you make it so that they are fringe figures in the international community.”

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