Putin’s plot to avoid consequences with law granting lifelong immunity from prosecution

Ukraine invasion to mark end of 'arrogant' Putin says Ben Wallace

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned last night that Russia’s invasion will not stop in Ukraine. In an interview with ABC News, he said: “We will come first, you will come second. Today, war is here. Tomorrow, it will be in Lithuania, then in Poland, then in Germany.” Vladimir Putin’s relentless bombardment of Ukraine continued throughout the night, with heavy artillery fire in the Kyiv suburb Bacha. In the west of the country, tens of thousands in the city of Lviv are facing starvation and homelessness.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer last night called for a Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunal for the “crime of aggression” against Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already started investigating events in eastern Europe, probing Putin and his regime for potential war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Yet Putin took measures to protect himself in 2020, unearthed accounts reveal.

In late 2020, changes to the Russian constitution effectively reset Putin’s term limits, allowing him to run twice more for President and potentially remain in office until 2036.

The bill also gives former presidents and their families immunity from prosecution for crimes committed during their lifetime.

Putin and his predecessors are also exempt from questioning by police or investigators, as well as any searches or arrests.

Prior to the constitutional changes, former presidents were immune from prosecution for crimes committed only while in office.

Such all-encompassing immunity could be overturned in the extremely unlikely event of agreement of both the supreme and constitutional courts, as well as two-thirds of the vote in both houses of parliament.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and fierce Putin critic, wrote in the Washington Post at the time that Putin fears being held accountable upon a change of regime at the Kremlin.

He wrote: “The fear is understandable.

“Over his two decades in power, Putin has done many things for which he could be held liable both under domestic and international law — from rigging elections, jailing opponents, silencing media outlets, and other abuses of power to atrocities committed during conflicts in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine and Syria.”

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said last week that his investigation has begun because “there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine”.

If a court moves to prosecute, the individuals who directed the crimes would be targeted, rather than Russia as a whole.

The ICC’s creation at the end of the Nineties stemmed from the signing of the Rome Statute that freshly defined war crimes, among other international crimes.

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The “crime of aggression” is the most serious of all, when a country invades another without defensive justification.

However, the ICC cannot prosecute a case unless the United Nations Security Council refers to it, or if the aggressing country accepts its jurisdiction over the crimes.

Putin withdrew from the Rome Statute in 2016 after his annexation of Crimea was labelled an “ongoing occupation”.

Russia does not accept the jurisdiction of the ICC either, further decreasing the likelihood of Putin being seen in court.

However, Nina HB Jørgensen, a barrister and professor of international law at the University of Southampton, said there is another option.

However, Nina HB Jørgensen, a barrister and professor of international law at the University of Southampton, said there is another option.

She told Al Jazeera last week: “Experience shows that a trial would be unlikely while Putin remains in power, but the likelihood increases in the event of a future regime change.

“There are several examples of justice catching up with alleged war criminals, some of whom have been indicted while sitting presidents.”

Among those to have had justice catch up with them are Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, former Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milošević and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.

Ms Jørgensen added: “Putin and other senior leaders could potentially be linked to the conduct on the ground through evidence demonstrating that they gave orders or failed to prevent war crimes when in a superior position with effective control of their forces.”

The ICC investigation will either result in the issuing of arrest warrants or a decision not to prosecute due to a lack of evidence, but either outcome is not expected to come any time soon.

Even with an arrest warrant, it is unlikely Putin would appear before The Hague as he may not leave Russia for the foreseeable future, and a change in Russian governance may not happen for some time yet.

Yvonne McDermott Rees, professor of Swansea University’s School of Law, told Al Jazeera that if sufficient evidence could be gathered and Putin could be brought before the court, a guilty verdict could be accompanied by a prison sentence of several decades.

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