Horror pictures are emerging from the city of Buka, Ukraine. Ukraine claims Russian military killed civilians in Buka. The bodies of the dead are lying on the road, many pictures of which have also come to the fore, which are disturbing. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the killings “genocide”.

The city of Bucha in Ukraine is adjacent to the capital Kyiv. The Russian army has returned from here. Now the Ukrainian army has occupied here. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claimed on Facebook that Russian soldiers tied people’s hands and shot them in the head.

Buka’s deputy mayor Taras Shaprawski claimed that more than 300 bodies had been found. Of these, 50 are corpses which have been dismembered. However, Russia has called all of Ukraine’s claims “propaganda”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been called a “war criminal” after such pictures emerged from the city of Buka. Ukraine’s President Zelensky has also called for tougher sanctions, accusing Russia of “genocide”. US President Joe Biden said, “Look what happened in Buka. Putin is a war criminal.” Biden further said that Putin should be prosecuted for war crimes.

Why is the killing of civilians a ‘war crime’?

Between 1939 and 1945, World War II broke out, causing great devastation. More than half a million people were killed in this war. Atomic bombs were also used in this war. In 1949, world leaders gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, to ensure that the devastation of World War II does not happen again, in what is called the Geneva Convention.

Certain rules of war were laid down during the Geneva Conventions. The rules stated that civilians would not be targeted during war and would be considered a “war crime”.

Legal experts believe that if a military base is targeted in a war and many civilians are killed in it, then it will also be considered a war crime.

War is a crime, how will it be decided?

War crime cases are being heard in the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands. Ukraine has already filed a lawsuit against Russia in the ICC. ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan is currently investigating war crimes against Russia.

Experts say investigators can book and record statements of witnesses. James Goldstein, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, a human rights organization, said the alleged images and news reports against Buka had allowed investigators to go there.

The Ukrainian military has claimed that some Russian soldiers have been taken hostage and their statements may be taken. However, some experts also believe that it can be difficult to take statements from the general public by going to the battlefield because the circumstances are such that people can be afraid to say anything.

Can there be a direct case against Putin?

Alex Whiting, visiting professor at Harvard Law School, said such photos would make it easier to prosecute. However, he also says that the biggest question is who will be responsible for this?

Experts believe that it will be easier to prosecute soldiers and commanders, but investigators can also surround the head of state.

Experts say Ukraine needs to provide strong evidence that Putin or any other prominent leader committed war crimes by directly ordering war or that they knew war crimes were being committed and failed to stop them.

Experts believe it is too early to say whether instructions for what happened in Buka were received from high-ranking Russian government officials. But if similar atrocities are encountered elsewhere in Ukraine, it could point to high-ranking officials.

On 28 February, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan called for an investigation into Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine. One disadvantage here is that both Russia and Ukraine are not members of the ICC. However, Ukraine allowed the ICC to conduct its own investigation in 2013.

If the prosecutor provides “true evidence” of war crimes in Ukraine in this case, the ICC can issue an arrest warrant. But since Russia is not a member of the ICC, it is almost impossible to get its cooperation in this investigation.

So is there any other way?

Even if the ICC issues an arrest warrant, the trial cannot begin until the accused is taken into custody or physically present. Experts say that in such cases a separate tribunal can also be created in addition to the ICC. This was done during the 1990 Balkan War and the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Professor Philip Sands of University College London said he was in touch with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kulebo to set up a separate tribunal. On the other hand, Rebecca Hamilton, professor of law at American University, says that no tribunal can initiate a trial without taking the accused into custody. If that happened we would all be in for a harsh awakening.

Has any head of state ever been booked?

From 28 February 1998 to 11 June 1999, war broke out in Kosovo, Serbia. The battle was fought between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Yugoslav Army. Before the war, Kosovo was part of Serbia, but later became a separate country.

The war, which lasted for one year and three months, was devastating. Thousands of civilians were killed. Thousands of civilians are said to be still missing. A case was registered in the ICC against the then President of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic for waging this war.

A lawsuit was filed against Slobodan in 1999. He was detained in 2001. The case against him started in 2002. Slobodan’s body was found in a cell on 11 March 2006. The postmortem report said that Slobodan died of a heart attack.