Now that Russia is engaged in a campaign to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a man who has engaged in the mass-slaughter of his own citizens, international law experts have pointed out that Vladimir Putin’s Moscow could be brought before international courts on war crimes charges.
Assad has broken international law through gassing his own citizens with chemical weapons, torturing prisoners to death, and using over 2,000 barrel bombs against his enemies, as Josh Rogin of Bloomberg points out. In addition to the mistreatment of opposition forces, the forces loyal to Syria’s Assad have been responsible for the vast majority of deaths during the ongoing civil war in the country.
Russia faces potential charges of “aiding and abetting” war crimes, a charge that has successfully prosecuted former despots such as the former prime ministers of Serbia and Liberia, the report adds.
“The Russians are walking into a situation where they could be held criminally responsible,” agreed Stephen Rapp, the recently retired U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for war crimes. “If you aid the Syrian Air Force in committing war crimes such as dropping barrel bombs on civilians, you can find yourself held responsible right up to the top, including President Putin,” he added.
“For aiding and abetting, you don’t have to intend for horrible things to happen, you just have to know that they are happening. They are responsible and under international law, the commander of the people who are doing that in the field are responsible as well,” Rapp concluded.
Cherif Bassiouni, the former head of the UN Security Council Commission to Investigate Violations of International Humanitarian Law in the former Yugoslavia, agreed that Putin’s actions could be prosecuted under international law.
“The use of barrel bombing is a war crime. The use of indiscriminate attacks on civilians is a war crime,” he told Bloomberg. “To the extent that the Russian or Iranian governments have provided economic assistance, military assistance, and the presence of advisors or supporters, any crimes that are being committed by the Syrian military are also attributable to those who assist them, namely the Iranians and Russians,” Bassiouni said.