Ukraine: Robert Badinter: “The Bucha massacre is a war crime” | International
The French lawyer and politician Robert Badinter has just celebrated his 94th birthday and acknowledges that he would never have imagined that, at this point, he would witness, once again, how a war and a massacre like the one in the Ukrainian town of Bucha threaten Europe and the values of justice and democracy for which he has fought all his life. Minister of Justice under François Mitterrand, Badinter abolished the death penalty in France in 1981 and two years later obtained the extradition from Bolivia of the former head of the Gestapo in Lyon, Klaus Barbie. The nonagenarian jurist has dedicated a good part of his life to denouncing and prosecuting the crimes against humanity that he suffered in the first person (his father died in a Nazi concentration camp) and to the creation of international bodies to judge them. . A legal architecture that, he warns, today is experiencing its “hour of truth” with the war in Ukraine and the massacres on the outskirts of kyiv that, he stresses, will have to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The massacres discovered in Ukraine constitute war crimes,” says Badinter. “Its systematic nature entails the responsibility of its authors before the ICC”, adds who is considered one of the moral consciences of contemporary France and Europe. For this reason, the jurist insists, it is “necessary and legitimate” for the ICC prosecutor “to carry out an investigation on the ground and collect testimonies and evidence that can support the subsequent prosecution of the perpetrators of these crimes.”
The Russian offensive in Ukraine, he warns, represents “the hour of truth for international criminal justice and international law.” “It is a great test. We are going to know if all the instruments that we have created are effective or not”, he insists throughout the long hour of meeting with the correspondents of the group of European newspapers LENA, in the office that he still maintains in his apartment in Paris. It is a room full of books, with the notes of a lifetime dedicated to law and politics —during his long years as a socialist senator, until 2011, he only had to cross the Luxembourg gardens that his house overlooks, to enter the Senate-. They are memories and vestiges of key moments in history, such as an original copy of the newspaper’s cover L’Aurore of January 13, 1898 with the famous letter I accuse by Émile Zola in defense of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.
Remembering the past is very important for those who have seen the most terrible face of humanity. Because for Badinter, war is not just something he has read about. The son of Jews who fled pogroms in imperial Russia at the turn of the 20th century, he was 12 years old when the Germans arrived in his native Paris and just 17, he recalls, when World War II ended. By then, his father had already died in the Polish Sobibor concentration camp to which he was deported in 1943, after being detained in the presence of his son.
“I haven’t forgotten anything. I know what the horror of war means and that it is not just words, but a reality”, she stresses. He also knows the importance of prosecuting those responsible, as was done with the Nazis in the Nuremberg trials and as is now being done with Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the offensive against Ukraine.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Although its effectiveness is still uncertain, the two main international legal instruments have already been activated. In mid-March, the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued precautionary measures ordering Russia, as requested by kyiv, to “immediately suspend the military operations that began on February 24 on Ukrainian territory.” Thus, he dismissed Moscow’s arguments regarding the alleged genocidal intentions of the Ukrainian government. “For the TIJ to make such a firm decision so quickly is exceptional,” he says.
More importantly, he indicates, is that, at the request of 41 countries, including Spain, the International Criminal Court (ICC), which can try individuals, announced at the beginning of the month that it was opening an investigation for war crimes against Russia.
On the contrary, he is not convinced by the idea of creating a new special court in charge of investigating Putin and his acolytes for a “crime of aggression” in Ukraine, as specialists, including law professor Philippe Sands, propose. “You have to use the legal arsenal that exists. We have the instruments. We are not in the Europe of 1945, we are not starting from scratch. We already have a certain volume of jurisprudence and experience. But it is necessary to provide the necessary means to the institutions and expand their powers”, he explains.
He also warns against the temptation to go exclusively against Putin. “Who is responsible and who can be prosecuted? Not just the powerful dictator. He is not alone! All those who accept the commission of a crime against humanity or war, and who carry it out knowingly, are criminally responsible”, he recalls and lists “chiefs of staff, senior officers, those who participate in industrial decisions , those who make weapons knowing what they are going to be used for” and, also, the oligarchs. We cannot stop Putin in the Kremlin. But his numerous accomplices, military and civilian, also bear criminal responsibility”, he recalls. And these are crimes that do not prescribe, with which both oligarchs and officials could be persecuted by international justice “all their lives.”
Now, more than ever, Badinter insists again, it is the “hour of truth” for international justice and the States that built that architecture. “Justice cannot resurrect the dead. But those crimes cannot go unpunished”, he concludes.
Follow all the international information in Facebook and Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limits