Bringing Putin to justice: Prosecutor describes how she is being investigated in The Hague

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has opened an investigation into the Russian invasion of Ukraine on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity. How does such an investigation take place? And will the country’s president be brought to justice?

Hostem I ask Anna Richterová, prosecutor of the former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and current complainant at the Office of the Supreme Prosecutor General in Brno, was the prosecutor.

The Russian Air Force bombs Ukrainian cities, leaving behind a trigger and growing civilian dead, including children. The head of President Zelenský’s office describes that looting, robbery and murder begin immediately where the Russian army arrives. The Ukrainians are calling for the rapid establishment of humanitarian corridors so that they can receive medicines, necessary food or evacuate the wounded.

Meanwhile, the democratic world is driving Russia into growing isolation. After financial sanctions and trade restrictions, states, including the Czech Republic, shut down pro-Russian propaganda and disinformation sites. And the pressure on the Kremlin is also increased tenfold by the current decision of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into suspected war crimes in Ukraine. The Hague has been approached by 39 countries, including all the countries of the European Union.

Is it clear that Russia violated international law by attacking Ukraine? And what are the powers of the International Criminal Court in The Hague?

You can start the whole conversation in the intro video, audio, or in your favorite podcast app.

What was said in the interview?

1:00 – This “war crimes” investigation is always very difficult at a time when the conflict is ongoing. Evidence is needed to prepare the indictment. It’s better to collect it on the spot and it’s not possible, but we have experienced it at the ICTY, where we are currently in a better position to progress in the collection of digital evidence and we do not depend only evidence that we obtain directly from the crime scene, but we can use evidence from satellite images, the so-called battlefield archives, i.e. evidence obtained directly from the areas of combat, it is mostly intelligence information that can be translated into evidence. We have a lot of evidence in the media, on social media, at companies like Bellingcat, who can analyze videos and photos and provide information, including what weapons were used and who used them.

4:00 – It’s not like I have a picture on my cell phone, and that’s going to be proof. It is necessary to create a puzzle to confirm the veracity of what is in the relevant images, these images can also be manipulated. Ideally, you have witnesses who can confirm images and videos. Then the experts who verify the authenticity will intervene. Oh yes, the video recording could also be used as evidence.

6:00 a.m. – It will take a long time for the trial in Ukraine to begin. I don’t want to give people any illusions, but I’m not sure the trial can take place soon. The actual investigation is underway, but will take months. When I compare it to the Yugoslav conflict, the investigation lasted for years there. You can have very good evidence in your hands, but the question is also how to physically bring the offender to court, it’s not that simple. When a court approves the issuance of an arrest warrant based on evidence, the court itself has no police, no army, who could execute the arrest warrant. As for the arrest of perpetrators who are, for example, in Russia, no one has the possibility to arrest them there unless they voluntarily surrender to court.

7:00 – The Member States announced it yesterday, which is a tremendous step forward in relation to the conflict in Yugoslavia. States themselves launch an investigation, resp. collect evidence, because on the territory of Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic refugees are heading who can provide evidence, but they are more likely to come. Those in affected areas who may have witnessed the bombing of hospitals, housing estates or other attacks on civilians.

10:30 – Country membership shows how states are responding to this unprecedented movement. We did not experience anything like this in the early 1990s, not even in the case of the genocide in Rwanda, in which case the action was immediate. But I am not optimistic that the perpetrators could be brought to justice in the near future. However, if an international court issues an arrest warrant, these people will be isolated and unable to travel.

11:00 – Even in the case of Slobodan Milosevic (former Serbian president tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the court in The Hague) we didn’t think he could make it to court and it happened. The political situation in Serbia changed and he was handed over to the court in The Hague. Everything can happen. Until now, no one believed that Ukraine could face the invasion of another state, just as the political situation in Russia could change. (…) But the immediate response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine showed that the world community will not tolerate such action.

14:00 – The crimes of leading politicians are difficult to prove. They are not the ones who would take up arms and shoot each other. It is always important to prove the link between a political or military official and the events taking place on the ground. What is important is the documentary evidence that exists in all states – that is, ordering another person to act in one way or another. In the case of Yugoslavia, an effort was made to have witnesses among senior officials, who can also better explain what was happening at the time, what the plans were. Or what was not explicitly addressed in the document, but what can be meant by it. (…) We often talk about a plan, it will be important to prove what was the plan and the purpose of the operation.

I ask

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