Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

War Crimes Trials Aren't Enough

| Apr. 05, 2022

To protect civilians from war crimes, stop them from happening now.

Geolocated and forensically confirmed pictures trickled out this weekend from the Bucha suburb of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, after Russian troops withdrew: adult Ukrainian men executed with their hands behind their backs in the streets, women raped and burned, corpses dumped into sewers.

These atrocities—reminiscent of Rwanda, Kosovo, and Bosnia—cap off a month during which Russian crimes against civilians were already on full display: maternity hospitals being bombed, girls under age 10 being admitted to hospitals with clear signs of sexual trauma, and the encirclement and starvation of urban areas.

In addition, the panic set off by the images of Bucha will likely only reinvigorate refugee flows out of the country, which already number in the millions. All of this is made possible by the ultimate war crime: the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country, long outlawed under the United Nations Charter and now formally prosecutable under international criminal law.

That international institutions are refusing to look away and are calling these crimes what they are—aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, potentially even genocide—demonstrates an international justice system at work.

The International Court of Justice has called on Russia to cease and desist; the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. The newly defined crime of aggression may be prosecuted in national courts under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. And the United Nations has opened a Commission of Inquiry to gather evidence to fuel trials at these and any other tribunals that might be envisioned. Ukraine has asked the ICC to look at Bucha specifically. U.S. President Joe Biden has called for tribunals, and U.S. Congress has held a hearing....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Carpenter, Charli.“War Crimes Trials Aren't Enough.” Foreign Policy, April 5, 2022.