A war crime is a serious violation of the laws and customs of war (also known as international humanitarian law) giving rise to individual criminal responsibility. From Wikipedia
What began as a localized crisis in Crimea has now become a de facto state of war between Russia and Ukraine. After pro-Russian forces seized control of the Crimean parliament and government last week, Russian troops began occupying strategic sites throughout the autonomous republic on Friday and Saturday. On March 1, President Vladimir Putin escalated the conflict by submitting the following appeal to the Russian parliament:
In connection with the extraordinary situation that has developed in Ukraine and the threat to citizens of the Russian Federation... I hereby appeal to the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to use the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the social and political situation in that country is normalised.
Needless to say, the Council of the Federation gave its approval immediately. The extraordinary aspect of this request is that it gives Putin carte blanche to deploy Russian troops, not just in Crimea, where "citizens of the Russian Federation" are supposedly under threat, but "on the territory of Ukraine" -- that is to say, anywhere "citizens" might be under threat. Insofar as actual or alleged Russian citizens can be found everywhere in Ukraine, Putin has now arrogated to himself the right to deploy Russian troops in, and in effect occupy, all of Ukraine. And since he will be the one to define when "the social and political situation in that country is normalised," that occupation could last as long as he likes -- possibly resulting in permanent annexation.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that pro-Russian forces have seized administrative buildings and called for Russian assistance in a variety of Ukraine's southern and eastern provinces: Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Mykolaiv, and Dnipropetrovsk. Whether they represent anyone beside themselves is unclear, but there is no doubt that pro-Russian sentiment does exist among many ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians in these provinces. More often than not, locals want an expansion of their regional powers and more cultural-linguistic autonomy. These are the normal demands made by regions and minorities in most contemporary states. If Putin were not a factor, authorities in Kiev should be able to hammer out some deal that would satisfy the rebellious provinces.
If, however, Putin decides to intervene militarily in Ukraine's southeast, the tussle between Kiev and the provinces automatically will become a question of separation, dismemberment, and Russian aggression. Both Moscow and Kiev know that Russia's military is superior to Ukraine's. Russian armed forces number about 750,000 troops; Ukraine's about 150,000. Russia has been aggressively spending on its military in the last decade, while Ukraine has actually been cutting back. In any armed conflict, Russia would win. Ukraine's only hope would be to threaten to inflict enough casualties to affect Putin's calculation of costs and benefits. And the farther Russian troops march into Ukraine, the more popular resistance they will encounter -- and therefore the more civilian casualties they will inflict. Is Putin willing to start a war over all or most of Ukraine, or will he confine himself to annexing Crimea or, say, a few southeastern provinces?
The costs of a military incursion beyond Crimea would rise with the extent of the incursion. Annexing Crimea would outrage the Ukrainians and Central Europeans, but might, with some finessing, escape the ire of Brussels, Berlin, and Washington. Invading Ukraine's southeast would be a naked imperial land-grab that would probably usher in a new cold war and shut off Russia from the international community. Launching a full-scale war with numerous civilian casualties, massive human rights violations, and possible ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians from the southeast would transform Putin into a pariah and earn him the reputation of a war criminal. Russia, meanwhile, would be completely isolated and possibly subjected to increasing claims on its own territory, by non-Russians within the country and by large powers (such as China) on its borders.
If one considers Russia's interests, none of this -- the armed intervention in Crimea, the claimed right to intervene anywhere in Ukraine -- makes sense. Putin's arguments simply do not hold water. As objective observers will confirm, there is absolutely no threat to Russian citizens anywhere in Ukraine. There may have been a diminution of overall law and order following the collapse of Viktor Yanukovich's regime, but that affects all Ukrainian residents equally. Nor is the Kremlin's claim that putative "fascists" from Western Ukraine are about to descend on Crimea and the southeast even remotely true. By the same token, intervention, war, international isolation, and the like will not enhance Russians' living standards or their sense of well-being. There may be a temporary spurt of excitement at seeing the Russian tricolor hoisted in Donetsk, but that enthusiasm will quickly fade when Russians realize that these regions will impose an enormous economic liability. And, finally, there is no way that a truncated Ukraine's transformation into a hostile anti-Russian state and a permanent occupation by Russian troops of potentially rebellious provinces -- after all, there are also large numbers of pro-Western Ukrainians in the southeast -- could possibly serve Russia's interests.
There is only one reason Putin has embarked on what Russian democratic opposition leader Boris Nemtsov calls "folly": flexing his military muscle enhances Putin's authority as a strongman who will reestablish Russia's grandeur and brook no people-power in former Soviet states.
Putin's incursion suggests that he must fear Ukraine -- so much so that he is willing to risk Russia's prosperity and stability. Putin the rational Bismarckian geostrategist has clearly given way to Putin the irrational and impulsive leader -- possibly as a result of the triumph of the democratic revolution in Ukraine. This may be the only ray of light in an otherwise catastrophic picture. Bad leaders make bad mistakes and, when they do, their power often disintegrates. Unfortunately, thousands of Ukrainians and Russians may have to die before that happens.
Heads of state & government
To date, the present and former heads of state and heads of government that have been charged with war crimes include:
German Großadmiral and President Karl Dönitz and Japanese Prime Ministers and Generals Hideki Tōjō and Kuniaki Koiso in the aftermath of World War II.
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević was brought to trial for alleged war crimes, but died in custody in 2006 before the trial could be concluded after more than 4 years of proceedings.
Former Liberian President Charles G. Taylor was also brought to The Hague charged with war crimes; his trial stretched from 2007 to March 2011. He was convicted in April 2012.
Former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić was arrested in Belgrade on July 18, 2008 and brought before Belgrade's War Crimes Court a few days after. He was extradited to the Netherlands, and is currently in The Hague, in the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The trial began in 2010 and is expected to continue until 2014.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Omar al-Bashir, current head of state of Sudan, for actions in Darfur.
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was indicted for allegedly ordering the killings of protesters and civilians during the 2011 Libyan civil war, however he was killed before he could stand trial in October 2011. From Wikipedia
Ukraine's government says Russian forces stormed a military base in Crimea and killed a Ukrainian officer, escalating tensions in the region
Tensions in the disputed region of Crimea reached new heights Tuesday as Ukraine said a military officer was killed shortly after Russia formally annexed the breakaway peninsula.
Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk blamed Russian forces—whom he said stormed a Ukranian military outpost near the city of Simferopol—for the killing, and warned the conflict is “shifting from a political to a military stage.”
“Today, Russian soldiers began shooting at Ukrainian servicemen,” he said, according to AFP. “This is a war crime.”
His claim could not be immediately verified, but if true, it would mark the first fatality in clashes between the two countries’ militaries during the weeks-long crisis in Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, delivering a televised address to the country’s parliament on Tuesday, defended his country’s decision to absorb the region after it voted Sunday to split from Ukraine.
Revealed: Russia's worst war crime in Chechnya
From The Guardian
Her face burnt almost beyond recognition, she lies prone on her hospital bed and tells in a child's whispers of the day her mother, father, her two brothers, her sister and her cousin - among 363 people from the same village - were wiped out.
At eight years old, Taisa Abakarova is an eyewitness to the worst war crime in the savage campaign of Russia's acting President, Vladimir Putin, against the 'terrorist fighters' of Chechnya.
The village of Katyr Yurt, 'safe' in the Russian-occupied zone, far from the war's front line, and jam-packed with refugees, was untouched on the morning of 4 February when Russian aircraft, helicopters, fuel-air bombs and Grad missiles pulverised the village. They paused in the bombing at 3pm, shipped buses in, and allowed a white-flag convoy to leave - and then they bombed that as well, killing Taisa's family and many others.
The Observer , in a joint investigation with Channel 4's Dispatches , went to Katyr Yurt and saw what was left: a landscape as if from the Somme, streets smashed to matchwood, trees shredded, blood-stained cellars, the survivors in a frenzy of fear. The village was littered with the remains of Russian 'vacuum' bombs - fuel-air explosives that can suck your lungs inside out, their use against civilians banned by the Geneva Convention.
Local witnesses, astonished by the first visit by Western outsiders to their village, ringed west and east by special troops from the Russian secret police, the FSB, said they had counted 363 corpses piled two or three high in the street - 'so many you couldn't get a car past them' - before the Russians took many of the bodies away and dumped them in a mass grave.
Taisa has a cruelly burnt face, both hands burnt and bandaged, a broken right leg swathed in plaster, a left knee pinioned by iron bolts and internal bruising, and yet she wanted to tell us what happened. Taisa's father, Mansour, 45, a builder; her mother, Hava, 45, a school teacher; her brothers, Magomed, 14; Ruslan, 12; her cousin, Hava, eight; and her sister, Madina, six, were squashed into the family's black Volga saloon. She explained how the convoy left Katyr Yurt for what they hoped was safety. 'There was a white flag on our car, flying from a wooden stick,' she said. 'Then two planes came and they hit us and my dad and mum were sitting in front of us and my brother and me were sitting in the back seat. Then we were blown up. I fell to the mud in the ground.'
Taisa winced as her aunt, Tabarik Zaumajeva, swabbed the burnt skin around her eye. The aunt said: 'At night she is scared to close her eyes. She told me that she was afraid the whole picture would come back.'
The worst is that Taisa's aunt cannot bring herself to tell the little girl she is the only survivor of the seven people in the family car: 'I don't know how to tell her. If we tell her now, she wouldn't be able to bear it. She's already afraid to close her eyes at night. Last night she woke 10 times and we can't calm her down.'
Katyr Yurt, to the west of Grozny, was quiet, calm and untouched on the night of 3 February. But Grozny had fallen and Chechen fighters had fled Russian revenge. Some of them passed through Katyr Yurt. There is one story that two Russian soldiers were kidnapped or killed that night. On the morning of 4 February, all hell began.
Putin has consistently denied human rights abuses in Chechnya. Putin's denials have mollified Western leaders, and only last month Foreign Secretary Robin Cook met him in Moscow and went out of his way to praise the ex-KGB secret policeman who gave out hunting knives to his troops on New Year's Day. Cook said of Putin: 'I found his style refreshing and open, and his priorities for Russia are ones that we would share.'
What follows is the evidence The Observer/Dispatches has obtained about what his forces did to the civilians of Katyr Yurt, evidence that might call into question the Foreign Secretary's endorsement of Putin's priorities 'that we would share'.
Rumissa Medhidova is 27, but her face is so sick with grief and horror she looks 30 years older. She became a widow on 4 February. 'All the Russians left the village and at around 10am they started to bomb.They used everything. In the centre of the village, not one house is left standing. In one family there were three children around their dead mother. They had been shot in the leg by Kalashnikovs. At half past four, they said: "We will give you two hours". They sent buses in with white flags.'
People rushed around to find white sheets or anything at all white to mark their cars. There was even time for a joke: 'I saw a cow with white on its horns and people were laughing.'
The convoy set off, each car showing a white flag, some cars showing two or three, packed with mainly women and children - the men held back, to make more room for children, said Rumissa. It headed west towards the town of Achoi Martan and safety. 'When we were on the open road, they fired ground-to-air rockets at us. It was a big rocket, not as big as a car. It was strange. It didn't explode once, it exploded several times. Every car had flags, how many cars I don't know. It was a mess, lots of them. They hit us without stopping.'
Could the Russians have mistaken the white-flag convoy for fighters? 'No, they couldn't mistake us. They knew very well there were a lot of refugees: 16,000 refugees and 8,000 locals in the village. In front of us was a big car full of children, not grown-ups. They burnt before my eyes.'
Her husband stepped out of the car and was killed by shrapnel. With her children, she ran from the carnage and made it Achoi Martan: 'I saw a lot of bodies but I don't know how many. There were a lot of people lying on the road. I didn't count them. I also saw different parts of burnt bodies collected in buckets.'
And then the cover-up began: 'The Russians wouldn't allow the people in the village to collect the bodies. They only allowed people on the fifth day to go and collect the bodies. When people arrived there, they asked: "Where are the bodies of our people?" The Russians said some had already been burnt. People say the Russians took the bodies and threw them in a mass grave.'