THE HAGUE – A “people’s court” without legal powers has confirmed an indictment against Russian President Vladimir Putin for the crime of aggression in Ukraine and called for his arrest.
The symbolic decision Friday came on the anniversary of Russia’s illegal invasion of its neighbor that triggered Europe's biggest and deadliest conflict since World War II.
After a week of hearings in The Hague, a panel of three international legal experts issued the order and called on the international community “to take every step necessary to ensure that a court with legal powers issues an indictment against President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and takes appropriate measures to arrest the perpetrator and put him on trial in an official Ukraine tribunal as soon as possible.”
The judges, including Stephen Rapp, a U.S. prosecutor who once headed the successful effort to bring former Liberian President Charles Taylor to justice for crimes in Sierra Leone, heard testimony from survivors of Russian attacks in Ukraine and from military experts before issuing their order.
The ruling comes amid international efforts to establish a tribunal that could prosecute Putin and other Russian leaders for the crime of aggression. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation in Ukraine, but doesn't have jurisdiction to prosecute the crime of aggression.
The presiding judge at the court, South African Zak Jacoob, said that he hoped the hearings would add to the pressure for a special court.
"Hopefully this is a step to prosecution. As I said, we have no legal authority or force, but hopefully we have the authority of moral force and moral persuasion, which would take us somewhere,” he told reporters.
The people’s court found that evidence presented was strong enough to indict Putin, saying that as head of state he “planned, prepared, initiated and executed — and continues to plan and execute — the Russian Federation’s acts of aggression in Ukraine."
Jacoob, called Putin’s justifications for the war “pathetic.” An invitation for Putin or his legal representatives to take part in the hearings went unanswered, prosecutors said.
“It is an insult to the international community and to the integrity of the world to make the sort of claims that he has made. And I reject them in no uncertain terms,” Jacoob said.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine