Biden wants ‘war crimes trial’ for Putin

Russia is party to the International Criminal Court. The US is not

US President Joe Biden joined the global outcry over the purported massacre of civilians at Bucha over the weekend, demanding a “war crimes trial” for Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press briefing on Monday.

He went on to mention the need to “gather the information” and “get all the details” ahead of “an actual … war crimes trial.”

This comes as the US seeks to suspend Russia’s membership on the UN Human Rights Council “in response to allegations that Russian forces committed war crimes in Bucha and elsewhere in Ukraine,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, announced on Monday, calling on the 140 nations that voted last month to condemn Russia’s military operation in Ukraine to “match our words with action.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an investigation in March into alleged war crimes and other offenses committed during Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine, having “already found a reasonable basis to believe crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court had been committed,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement issued at the time.

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Graphic footage from Bucha, a town to the northwest of Kiev, emerged over the weekend showing multiple bodies clad in civilian clothing scattered around. Kiev was quick to blame Russian forces. Moscow categorically denied involvement and claims the incident was staged for the sake of the Western media, with Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN Security Council, Dmitry Polyansky, calling it a “blatant provocation by Ukrainian radicals.”

Despite Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s plea for “serious skepticism” and multiple inconsistencies casting doubt on the veracity of the evidence, US officials from both parties have echoed Kiev’s claims and accused Russian forces of “war crimes,” with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and ranking Republican member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) calling for “accountability” and naming Putin as the one responsible. Last month, the US Senate passed a resolution deeming Russia’s president to be a war criminal.

However, the US is not a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a 2002 treaty establishing the organization as “an independent permanent International Criminal Court in relationship with the United Nations system, with jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”

While the Obama administration enjoyed a working relationship with the Court as an observer, the US stance toward the international legal body reached its nadir under President Trump, who denounced the ICC as part of an “unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy” with “no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority” in a 2018 speech to the United Nations.

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A woman walks in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 3, 2022. © AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd
The truth about Bucha is out there, but perhaps too inconvenient to be discovered

In 2020, the US leveled sanctions on ICC officials in retaliation for its probe into possible war crimes committed by the US in the course of its 20-year war in Afghanistan. When the Biden administration lifted these sanctions in 2021, it explicitly maintained its insistence on US autonomy, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken voicing Washington’s “longstanding objection to the Court’s efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel.”

Moscow launched a large-scale offensive against Ukraine in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.

Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two rebel regions by force.

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