Putin and war crimes

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Putin and war crimes

The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

War crimes as a concept is less than 100 years old. The essence of war is not to harm civilians who are not participating in combat and prisoners of war. The Third Geneva Convention “relative to the treatment of prisoners of war” was adopted in 1929. It is not an exaggeration to say that the concept of a war crime was established through the war criminal trials after World War II. The Fourth Geneva Convention “relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war” was adopted in 1949 after the war.

Koreans remember war crimes in reference to World War II. It is often mentioned when Japanese politicians cause controversy by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A war criminals are enshrined. After the war, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East charged the war criminals of Imperial Japan, classifying them into Class A for crimes against peace, Class B for conventional war crimes and Class C for crimes against humanity. Most cabinet members and high-level military commanders of Japan who planned and led the war were identified as Class A war criminals.

Those who were punished for war crimes in modern times are mostly dictators of Third World countries. Radovan Karadzic, who gained notoriety for leading the genocide in the Bosnian War in the 1990s, is a notable example. In 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established as the first permanent international tribunal to criminally prosecute individuals who committed genocides, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression and war. Prime charges include massacre, torture and rape, forced labor and human experimentation.

In the West, the justification of war led to controversy for war criminals at home and abroad. The 2016 “Chilcot Report” — an investigation into Britain’s participation in the Iraq War — states that Britain joined the war without fully reviewing peaceful alternatives. While the families of the war veterans claimed that former Prime Minister Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes, no actions were actually taken.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine outraged the world for inhumane acts as well as lack of cause. Bodies of 410 civilians have been found in the outskirts of Kyiv. There are testimonies that the Russian soldiers gang-raped Ukrainian women. The UN Human Rights Council recently estimated that the invasion resulted in casualties of 3,455 civilians, including 292 children.

As the Russian authorities deny all allegations, a thorough investigation is necessary even as it could take time. I hope U.S. President Joe Biden’s remark that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be brought to trial for war crimes does not end as political rhetoric.
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