Putin ‘in the dock for war crimes’: It hasn’t happened yet, but here is the case for the prosecution
As Vladimir Putin‘s war in Ukraine enters its second year, investigators are collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
If Putin is eventually put in the dock, his prosecution would be in the tradition of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders which led to our modern system of international justice: when ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ became a part of international law. The opening words at Nuremberg by America’s chief prosecutor Justice Robert H. Jackson, on November 21, 1945, have gone down in history as one of the most influential pieces of oratory in the canon of international law.
Here, we reprint them – but slightly adapted from the charge-sheet against 22 Nazi leaders, including Hermann Goering and Joachim von Ribbentrop, to fit the accusations that might one day soon be laid against Putin.
If Putin is eventually put in the dock, his prosecution would be in the tradition of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders which led to our modern system of international justice
Here, we reprint a slightly adapted from the charge-sheet against 22 Nazi leaders, including Hermann Goering and Joachim von Ribbentrop, to fit the accusations that might one day soon be laid against Putin
The privilege of opening the trial for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility.
The wrongs we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.
The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched.
In the dock sits a broken man. Reproached by the humiliation of those he has led almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those he has attacked, his personal capacity for evil is forever past.
It is hard now to perceive in this man the power by which, as the Kremlin’s leader, he once terrified most of the world.
What makes this hearing significant is that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin represents sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after his body has returned to dust.
We will show him to be a living symbol of the arrogance and cruelty of power.
He is a symbol of fierce nationalisms and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes and impoverishing its life.
As Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine enters its second year, investigators are collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague
Damages after the shelling of buildings in downtown Kharkiv, Ukraine, 03 March 2022
An artillery battery fires, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, January 29, 2023
A view shows destroyed military vehicles on a street amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in the town of Bucha in the Kyiv region, March 1, 2022
He has so identified himself with the philosophies he conceived and with the forces he directed that any tenderness to him is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to his name.
Civilisation can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with a man in whom those forces now precariously survive.
The catalogue of crimes, which we will patiently and temperately disclose, will omit nothing that could be conceived by a pathological pride, cruelty and lust for power. He led his people on a mad gamble for domination. He diverted social energies and resources to the creation of what he thought to be an invincible war machine.
Bestiality and bad faith reached such excess that they aroused the sleeping strength of imperilled Civilisation.
The scope of the aggressions carried out by this man has left but few real neutrals – in spite of the 32 UN members who, on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, abstained from supporting a resolution condemning it, with a further seven voting against.
To pass this defendant a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.
From February 24, 2022, when Putin’s armies crossed the Ukrainian frontier, Russian arms seemed invincible. This war did not just happen. It was planned and prepared for over a long period of time and with no small skill and cunning.
It is my purpose to open the case to achieve ends possible only by resort to Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity.
Ukrainian soldiers are seen on their ways to the frontlines during Russia and Ukraine war in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, January 26, 2023
Ukrainian servicemen walk on the road toward their base near the frontline in the Donetsk region on February 4, 2023
A woman reacts as she stands in front of a house burning after being shelled in the city of Irpin, outside Kyiv, on March 4, 2022
Putin is a man of a rank who does not soil his own hands with blood. He is a man who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We also want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture Europe would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and wracked with the agonies and convulsions of this terrible war.
For it was they, and their leader in the Kremlin, who incited and carried out countless acts of savagery, and subjected the Ukrainian people – a people that the defendant claims to be his fellow Russians – to the most unspeakable of horrors.
Those horrors included the deliberate attacks on civilian centres and hospitals.
Take one example, in Dnipro, in January 2023, when a Russian missile – of a type designed to be used against battleships – hit an apartment building in the middle of the afternoon.
It killed 46 people, six of whom were children.
How is this a legitimate act of war? It is not. It is murder.
To murder people in their homes is horrific, but it takes a different level of evil to slaughter children in hospitals. But that is what the defendant and his lackeys did so many times during this war.
For what reason was the Children’s and Maternity Hospital No. 3 in Mariupol attacked by a ballistic missile on March 9, 2022? For what reason did at least four people die? For what reason were 17 other children maimed?
The prosecution will state that these attacks are nothing more than genocide, for there is no excuse in modern warfare for an electronically-guided missile to hit a hospital, unless such an attack was deliberate.
It was as deliberate, surely, as the use of cluster munitions, which the defendant ordered to be deployed, despite being banned. During the war, they were used thousands of times – too many occasions to remember – but nobody can forget the attack on Kramatorsk railway station in April 2022, when more than 50 Ukrainians were killed and wounded, their body-parts strewn over a vast area.
Ukrainian firefighters work at a damaged hospital maternity ward in Vilniansk, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, November 23, 2022
Ukrainian servicemen stand by an armored transporter outside Kupiansk, Ukraine, February 18, 2023
Servicemen of Ukrainian Military Forces set a fire to get warm in the Luhansk region on March 3, 2022
And let us not forget the times when Ukrainian civilians were not killed by missiles, but in even colder blood, at the very hands of the defendant’s hired assassins.
Let us remember the town of Bucha, a massacre that has become as synonymous with the evils of modern warfare as My Lai in Vietnam in 1968 and Lidice (in today’s Czech Republic) in 1942.
Until March 2022, Bucha was a town of some 40,000 people living peacefully.
And then Putin’s men came.
What they left behind shocked the world, and showed us what sort of man the defendant is.
Cellars with tortured corpses, their hands bound. Streets littered with bodies. Women raped. At least one child raped. Bodies mutilated and burned.
There is a word for this type of killing. That word is genocide.
How else, then, to describe these murders, or indeed the deportations of some two million Ukrainians to Russia and the torture and murder of prisoners of war? By doing this, Putin was showing the world that he did not wish a people to exist. That is genocide – impure and simple.
We must never forget that the record on which we judge this defendant today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow.