Expert discusses how difficult it would be to hold President Putin accountable for war crimes

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
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Thousands of people have been killed since the start of the war in Ukraine. Thus many world leaders, including President Biden, say Russian President Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and that he must be held accountable.

For more than six weeks, the world has watched in horror as cities have been reduced to just rubble, and bodies lined the streets. Hospitals full of people, including pregnant women, have been bombed. A train station saw thousands of civilians trying to flee their war-torn home targeted.

John Czarnetsky is the dean of Ave Maria’s law school. “I think everyone agrees there should be legal consequences for that, but practically speaking, how are we going to do it,” Czarnetsky said.

He’s also a legal advisor to the “Holy See Mission,” the church governing body to the United Nations. Czarnetsky was part of the team which negotiated the International Criminal Court.

“The International Criminal Court was born of a very idealistic notion in the wake of WWII and the holocaust. The idea was never again should we have in the modern world holocausts and crimes against humanity and genocides,” said Czarnetsky.

The keyword here is idealistic. Despite what is deemed clear evidence of war crimes and despite the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor opening an investigation into Russia, justice in the international realm faces low odds.

“To enforce a court order in the American system well the sheriff goes out and enforces a court rotor. Who’s the sheriff in the international world when the International Court of Justice orders Russia to do something? Well, there is no sheriff,” Czarnetsky said.

“The way that defendants are brought before the International Criminal Court case if you’re a member state you have an obligation to turn over your citizens that are indicted by the court. Russia is not a member state, so it has no such obligation,” said Czarnetsky.

The Nuremberg Trials, a tribunal set up to prosecute nazis, were only successful because Nazi Germany lost the war. The former Yugoslavian President only stood trial because he was overthrown and handed over.

So, why investigate war crimes if the International Criminal Court’s decisions are worth little more than the paper they’re written on? “The answer is a political one to bring political pressure to bear… to stop the war and number two preserving the small nevertheless not zero possibility that one day, maybe, they could get ahold of a defendant that has committed war crimes,” Czarnetsky said.

The practical issue outweighs the legal questions. The process could take years, but it seems that Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy is gearing up for that fight as well.

When he appeared before the United Nations Security Council last week, he pushed for peace. He also asked other countries to support him in holding Russia accountable in some sort of criminal court.

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