Allegations of war crimes against Russian President Vladimir Putin's government must be treated with utmost seriousness. Justice is important for its own sake, of course. But just as crucially, false narratives must be struck down and the accountability of leaders conclusively established to shame and deter any aggressor from inflicting horror anywhere in the world. In the course of a nearly three-month-old war in Ukraine, attacks on a maternity ward, a theatre, an art school sheltering civilians, a railway station and a nuclear power plant have been well documented. There has been widespread outrage at the shocking discoveries of mass graves and evidence of summary executions as Russian troops retreated from occupied areas.
Last month, 39 governments asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. War crimes cover such acts as wilful killing of civilians, targeting of hospitals, schools, historic monuments and other key civilian sites and attacks that cause disproportionate civilian casualties beyond military objectives. Crimes against humanity include participation in, and knowledge of, widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian population. These are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, a series of universally applicable treaties providing for humane treatment of civilians, prisoners of war and soldiers rendered incapable of fighting in armed conflicts.