Geneva Solutions's monthly "war criminal hunt" round-up, in collaboration with Geneva-based NGO Civitas Maxima.
“As we continue our monthly round-up on cases involving international crimes, Ukrainian prosecutors have secured the first conviction for war crimes, sentencing a 21 year-old Russian soldier to life in prison. This case was tried within 10 days by judges who are still themselves experiencing the war in their own country, which raises legitimate questions.
While it seems that both national and international courts will be busy for years to come with cases involving the war in Ukraine, this round-up also gives you an update on extra-territorial cases, complaints and arrests in France, the Netherlands and Germany, linked to alleged crimes committed in Syria or the United Arab Emirates, where, like in many other countries, impunity fully prevails.”
- Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima
First Russian soldier sentenced for war crimes in Ukraine
Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin was sentenced to life in prison on 23 May by a Ukrainian court after the 21-year-old pleaded guilty to the murder of an unarmed civilian in northeastern Ukraine. This is the first war crimes case to be tried since Russia’s invasion in February. The verdict can be appealed within 30 days.
The case will likely set the stage for upcoming war crimes trials in Ukraine, as Oxford professor Dapo Akande told NBCNews. Ukrainian Prosecutor Iryna Venediktova called the trial a “clear signal that every perpetrator, every person who ordered or assisted in the commission of crimes in Ukraine shall not avoid responsibility”.
The context of the trial is unusual because Shishimarin is a captured soldier in an ongoing conflict. It also sparked controversy because of the quick sentencing – within 10 days after the hearing–, and the tough sentence, despite prosecutors acknowledging mitigating circumstances such as sincere repentance and assistance to the investigation.
On 17 May, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan confirmed the deployment of investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine in order to help the country’s authorities and bring ICC-investigations to Ukrainian territory. Khan said it represented the “largest ever single field deployment” by the ICC prosecutor’s office since its establishment.
In light of efforts to prosecute war crimes in Ukraine, human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Civitas Maxima, TRIAL International, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, have called on improving legal conditions for the prosecutions of international crimes, the enhancement of war crimes units, closer cooperation between states and a strengthening of the ICC. A joint statement was issued on EU Day Against Impunity on 23 May.
Philip Grant, director of TRIAL International, said that “effective and impartial justice for serious crimes is achievable where there is the right combination of appropriate laws, adequate resources, and political will”.
Paris appeals court upholds charges against Lafarge
The court rejected on 8 May the French cement firm’s request to dismiss all charges of complicity in crimes against humanity for its operations in Syria. Lafarge, which merged with Swiss-listed construction firm Holcim, in 2015, allegedly paid off the Islamic State and other armed groups to keep a factory running in Syria for more than three years after the civil war broke out in 2011.
Investigations have been ongoing before the French criminal courts since the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed a complaint together with NGO Sherpa and 11 former Syrian Lafarge employees in 2016.
According to Sherpa’s executive director Sandra Cossart, “with this decision, it becomes more difficult for big corporations to hide behind their business activities to escape liability for the gravest crimes and shift the blame for faulty actions to their foreign subsidiaries”. This could be a big step forward in holding war-mongering companies accountable for their crimes, and perhaps lead soon to trial against Lafarge.
Paris court investigates torture allegations against Interpol chief
French prosecutors opened an investigation on 11 May into allegations against the president of the international police agency, Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi. Human rights lawyer William Bourdon, NGO Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), and two British citizens filed a criminal complaint against Al-Raisi with the Paris court in June 2021 and January 2022.
The head of Interpol is currently Inspector General of the United Arab Emirate’s Ministry of Interior. He can stand trial in France under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Despite the serious allegations against him at the time, Al-Raisi was elected head of Interpol in November. One possible reason, according to German weekly journal Die Zeit, is that the UAE are Interpol’s second largest contributor.
Rwanda official tried in France
The trial against 78-year-old Laurent Bucyibaruta began on 9 May in Paris. The former Rwandan official faces charges of genocide, complicity in genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 1994 genocide, which he denies. This is the fourth trial in France against Rwandan officials for taking part in the slaughtering of some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus, and is expected to last two months.
Islamic State returnee convicted in Germany
A Naumburg Court gave 22-year-old Leonora Messing a two year suspended sentence on 18 May for becoming a member of a terrorist organisation abroad. The young woman, who was brought back to Germany during a repatriation operation in 2020, had travelled to Syria at the age of 15 in order to join the Islamic State. Messing was acquitted of charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.
A Syrian-born man was also arrested by Dutch police on 24 May, JusticeInfo reported. The un-identified man was allegedly a member of the Assad-loyal militia group Liwa al-Quds. According to the spokeswoman for the Dutch prosecution, such groups constitute an “important link in a widespread and systematic attack on civilian population” in Syria. The man is suspected of having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the ongoing Syrian Civil War.