Delivering justice – collecting evidence, obtaining a charge, holding a fair trial – is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Thus, few cases of war crimes lead to sanctions. Although the ICC can prosecute any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime, a charge of the crime of aggression – the one that applies most to Mr. Putin and his lieutenants – should be committed by the United States. United Nations Security Council, where it would face a certain Russian veto. Moreover, Russia does not recognize the ICC and would not hand over suspects.
Ukraine is also not a party to the treaty that established the court, but granted it jurisdiction over crimes committed on Ukrainian soil. The United States, for its part, has its own history of hostility to the ICC, and in accusing Mr. Putin of war crimes, Mr. Biden did not specify which forum should be responsible for the prosecution.
Yet none of these obstacles should prevent a quest for justice. Even though the process is difficult and spans months and years, it is important that the story remains a credible, verified, forensic, and forensically processed record of specific crimes in Ukraine. They must be named, their actions specified and, if possible, the culprits must be locked up. The very fact that Russia claims the atrocities were all made up requires a detailed and irrefutable judicial response.
The Biden administration and its allies have done an admirable job of piercing Kremlin propaganda with accurate intelligence. An authoritative war crimes registry would serve the same purpose in the future.
It would be nice if the Biden administration found a way to cooperate with the ICC in gathering evidence, even if the law bars it from helping fund the effort. There are other options – a special tribunal could be created without UN approval, and several nations, including the United States, could claim universal jurisdiction and hold their own trials. But too many investigations would also dilute the public impact of the judicial process, and no court holds the authority or mandate of the ICC.
Either way, seeking justice against Mr. Putin and others responsible for war crimes in Ukraine is a longer-term goal. Russia is not backing down. He repositioned his forces for an assault in the east. And Russia’s participation in failed peace talks increasingly looks like a ploy. Bucha’s horrors have prompted talk of offering Ukraine more deadly weapons and imposing even more sanctions. These must be at the center of Western efforts to help Ukraine.
But it is also imperative to ensure that the horrific evidence of atrocity crimes on display in Bucha and so many other places is quickly collected while it is still there and that witnesses are interviewed while their memories are still raw. . Posterity must know what really happened. Justice must have a chance.