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There is a strong and growing chorus of calls for the International Criminal Court to prosecute Vladimir Putin. On Wednesday, the court said it would immediately conduct an active investigation into possible war crimes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The US Embassy in Kyiv said Friday that Russia committed a war crime by attacking a nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
“It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant”, according to the embassy said on his official Twitter feed. “Putin’s bombing of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant takes his reign of terror one step further.”
Russia’s alleged use of cluster bombs and so-called vacuum bombs in densely populated areas with many civilians has also been described as a war crime.
“I want to be very clear about this, that Mr. Putin is a war criminal,” former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk told the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday. “He must sit behind the bars of the International Criminal Court.”
However, if justice in general moves slowly, international justice barely moves. Investigations at the ICC take many years. Only a handful of convictions have been won.
Here is a very broad overview of war crimes and the international justice movement:
Note: Some of the information below comes from CNN’s Research Library, which has compiled information about the International Criminal Court.
What is a war crime? The International Criminal Court has specific definitions for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. Discover them in this guide published by the ICC.
Specifically, targeting civilian populations, violating the Geneva Conventions, targeting specific groups of people and more could be potential Russian war crimes.
“One thing is certain, intentionally directing bombing or targeting civilians or civilian property is a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court,” ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan told Christiane on Thursday. CNN’s Amanpour.
“And even if there is a military necessity, there is a clear obligation for the parties to a conflict not to use disproportionate force, to ensure that the ammunition used and the weapons do not have a very wide in heavy civilian areas,” Khan said.
What are cluster bombs and vacuum bombs? The dreaded use of prohibited weapons intended to kill indiscriminately is what people are now discussing as a very specific war crime.
With a cluster bomb, a missile is fired and explodes thousands of feet in the air, releasing smaller bombs that each explode as they fall to the ground. See an illustration from the Washington Post. Amnesty International said a Russian cluster bomb fell on a Ukrainian kindergarten.
“Vacuum bombs”, or thermobaric weapons, suck oxygen from the ambient air to generate a powerful explosion and large pressure wave that can have enormous destructive effects. Russia previously used them in Chechnya, and a CNN crew spotted a Russian thermobaric multiple rocket launcher near the border with Ukraine late last month.
Read the full analysis here.