Ukraine begins first rape trial of Russian soldier, Swiss probed for timber trafficking: June war crimes round-up

The illegal timber trade (like timber pictured here an seized in west Africa) is estimated to be worth up to $152bn a year, according to Interpol. The world’s most widely traded illegal wild product is rosewood. (Credit: Interpol)

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, litigation continues in Ukraine with a case on sexual violence; however, trials are now expanding to include people who fought alongside the Ukrainians, both in Ukraine and in Russia. The debate about how much the political factor plays into these trials is only just beginning.

Every month this round-up shows the diversity of these cases, and it also shows how much Geneva has become over the years a key city for extra-territorial cases – with two of these being facilitated by some of the most active organisations in the world working in this field, TRIAL International and Civitas Maxima”.

-Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima

First rape trial of Russian soldier in Ukraine

The first trial against a Russian soldier charged with raping a woman during the Russian invasion began on 23 June before a Ukrainian criminal court. Thirty-two year old Mikhail Romanov is accused of murdering a civilian in the Kyiv suburb of Bohdanivka together with another soldier and then repeatedly raping the civilian’s wife whilst threatening her child.

Because it seems like the accused is currently back in Russia, he can only be tried in absentia. In the event of a verdict, an arrest would only be possible if he leaves Russia again. The Ukrainian Public Prosecutor’s Office is currently investigating up to 50 similar cases, according to news agency Reuters.

Britons sentenced to death in Russian ‘show trial’

A court in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine on 9 June sentenced two British men and a Moroccan national to death on charges of “terrorism”. The men were captured while they were fighting alongside the Ukrainian army. Because this made them active soldiers in an armed conflict, they should be protected by the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war, which forbid such trials against combatants. British officials swiftly condemned the ruling. On Twitter, UK foreign secretary Liz Truss, said: “They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy”.

Charges against former Liberian general before US court

A US court in Philadelphia announced the unsealing on 23 June of an indictment against Moses Wright, a former Liberian General of the government group AFL (Armed forces of Liberia). Wright was specifically mentioned by the Liberian government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for being involved in a massacre during the First Liberian Civil War in which 27 families were killed.

He was charged in the United States for lying to the authorities during his immigration process regarding the atrocities he allegedly committed during the Liberian Civil Wars. Geneva-based NGO Civitas Maxima and Liberian sister organisation GJRP provided assistance to the US authorities in order to advance the case. It marks the fourth public criminal prosecution in Philadelphia related to the Liberian Civil Wars.

Criminal Investigations against Swiss businessman

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has opened criminal investigations against businessman Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu in a case involving rosewood looting, Swiss television station RTS reported.

Bogdan Buzaianu allegedly worked together with former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh in illegally exporting wood of the protected Rosewood tree from the Casamance region in Senegal. Because large areas of the regions he traded in were in conflict and under the control of armed separatist groups, his actions can be defined as the war crime of pillage under Swiss criminal law.

Geneva-based NGO TRIAL International filed a criminal denunciation against the Swiss businessman in June 2019. Now, Switzerland has requested international legal assistance from The Gambia for the investigation. According to TRIAL International, progress in this case may “put an end to the widespread impunity of economic actors who destroy the environment and illegally exploit natural resources, thereby fueling the causes of conflicts”.

Germany probes hundreds of Ukraine war crimes

Germany is investigating several hundred possible war crimes committed by Russians in Ukraine, chief of the German Federal Bureau of Investigation, Holger Muench, told newspaper Die Welt last month. The investigations will facilitate future convictions of perpetrators who committed crimes in Ukraine and who can be tried in Germany under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction. Additionally, JusticeInfo reported that German investigators could be sent to Ukraine to support Ukrainian personnel in the event of an international mandate.

Netherlands: conviction of Dutch-Ethiopian perpetrator

A Dutch appeals court convicted Dutch-Ethiopian Eshetu Alemu for war crimes on 8 June. Alemu was involved in the so-called “Red Terror”, a purge committed by the regime of former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam between 1977 and 1978. Human Rights Watch described the purge as “one of the most systematic uses of mass murder by a state ever witnessed in Africa”. The convict was the representative of Haile Mariam’s military junta in the province Gojam, and thus complicit in the crimes committed by the regime there. He lives in the Netherlands and holds Dutch citizenship since 1998, which is why he was tried in the Hague under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction.

Karim Khan in Kharkiv

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) visited the city of Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine on 15 June. In this third official visit to the country since the Russian invasion, Karim Khan met with president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as the prosecutor general of Ukraine, Iryna Venediktova. In a statement following the visit, he confirmed the opening of a field office of the ICC in order to support the court’s personnel working within Ukraine, and emphasised the cooperation between the ICC and the Ukrainian Office of the prosecutor general Venediktova in prosecuting war crimes.

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