How likely is it that Vladimir Putin will ever appear before a courtroom as the ICC issues him an arrest warrant?
I met President Joe Biden, the ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, in the US State Department a few weeks back.
Beth Van Schaack was the woman that the president assigned to pursue the Russian leader to the dock.
I asked her: “Many people will find it inconceivable that Vladimir Putin could face trial for war crimes.” “How important is it to seek justice, no matter how unlikely it may seem?”
Ukraine war: Latest: Judges issue an arrest warrant for Putin in relation to alleged war crimes
She said …”, disagreeing with my question… “Augusto Piochet, Slobodan Millosevic, Hissene Habre, Chad?” They never imagined they’d ever see a courtroom, and I doubt any of those men did.
“We must play a long-term game here. You never know what situations might change.
“And so long as you have evidence and produced dossiers about responsible individuals, then you can stand ready until some court around the globe is able suddenly to assert jurisdiction. Then the prosecutors will move.”
A global effort to bring justice
The US Office of Global Criminal Justice is headed by Ms Van Schaack. Her role is to advise the Secretary Of State (Antony Blinken), and other leaders in the US on matters of justice and accountability.
Her team worked closely with international prosecutors and human rights organizations to collect evidence from Ukraine and build a case against Russian people that would eventually lead to Mr Putin.
“We have seen war crimes committed in a systematic manner across all the areas Russia has troops deployed. There are terrible stories that civilians were targeted by excessive force, being held in Russian custody, killing civilians, and then trying to cover them up …”, she said.
“We have seen satellite imagery, and other imagery, even taken from ordinary CCTV cameras, on the front yards of people. The bodies are lying behind their backs, with hands tied behind their backs. This is clear evidence of torture or summary execution-style killings.
“There are also attacks on theatres and train stations of fleeing civilians. There are attacks on civilian convoys that are trying to escape; ordinary people going to work carrying their grocery bags and leaving behind their groceries .
She said, “These images stick in your head.” These images are searing and searing and are now being collected not only by the prosecutor general, but also other investigative organizations such as the UN Commission of Inquiry and the International Criminal Court. They are all part of a growing unity of effort to pursue justice.
Connecting the dots
Ambassador Van Schaack explained how crimes can be connected and drawn lines to show that there is reasonable ground to believe that Vladimir Putin was responsible for these crimes through his authority.
“We must connect the crimes that we see on the ground – of which we have very clear digital proof – with those in command and control.
“So, go up the chain – who ordered these offenses? They were committed by who? Who failed to investigate and prosecute those most responsible? Who failed to supervise their subordinates properly? This is the real challenge: that linkage evidence.
She said that she was concerned about the possibility of President Putin’s arrest.
“Someone will fall, someone will travel. They will slip in with false identities and people will recognize them on the streets. Law enforcement will be ready because we have evidence since the beginning of this terrible conflict. We will be ready for that moment.
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There are many avenues to justice
Ms. Van Schaack outlined several avenues to pursue justice, and three are currently in operation.
“Number 1 is the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, who investigates these cases in his domestic system, along with his colleagues and with the support of the international community. She said that the United States, the UK and the EU have brought many cases to trial, and some have been convicted. Many cases are still ongoing.”
“Avenue number 2 is the International Criminal Court currently seizing this matter, looking into cases that might be more appropriate to an international court to adopt.”
This is how the arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin was issued.
She added: “Avenue three should not be forgotten is domestic courts around world. A number of European countries have created a joint investigation team to exchange information about potential abuses and possible responsible persons.
Ukraine also seeks a mechanism that will allow it to prosecute aggression-related crimes.
Ms. Van Schaack stated that Ukraine considers the initial act of aggression the root cause of all the war crimes and atrocities we see in the country.