How will war crimes be investigated?

Frédéric Leclerc-Imhof, photo correspondent for BFMTV, died while covering the war in Ukraine, Monday, May 30, 2022 – BFMTV

Our reporter Frédéric Leclerc Imhof was killed by shrapnel while covering the evacuation of Ukrainian civilians near Lyschansk, in the east of the country invaded by Russia. It was next to him in the same armored car, our colleague Maxime Brandsteiter was shot in the leg. The Ukrainian defender who accompanied them – Oksana Lyuta – was not injured.

While traveling in Ukraine, the Secretary of State, Catherine Colonna, immediately contacted local authorities to demand a “transparent investigation” in order to shed light on the circumstances of the journalist’s death. But for now, it was listened to in Paris. Dans la foulée, le parquet national antiterroriste (PNAT) a en effet annoncé l’ouverture d’une enquête de flagrance pour crimes de guerre, confiée à l’Office central de lutte contre les crimes contre l’humanité, les génocides et les crimes from the war.

There are many questions about these investigations of acts committed on foreign soil. From necessary cooperation between Ukrainian and French judges to investigative stakes, evaluates the progress of the procedure.

• How is a war crime defined?

The human nature of the process covered by our journalists is central to the proceedings. Because besides revealing all the facts that led to the death of Frédéric Leclerc-Imhof, the investigators will have to prove that they fall under the concept of war crimes in an indisputable way.

William Jolly, a Paris bar lawyer who specializes in international law, explained to us on Tuesday: “We will have to determine if this convoy was shot, knowing that it was transporting civilians, and if so, it is a war crime.” “

The lawyer then explained that Frédéric Leclerc-Imhof’s death in the exercise of his duties as a reporter was also decisive: “Journalists are protected – like civilians – under the Geneva Convention, so a journalist knowingly targeted, it is also a war crime. . “

At least eight journalists have been killed in Russia’s war in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, according to a report by Reporters Without Borders. On the French side, the National Counter-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office is already conducting its sixth investigation into this invasion. However, this is the first time it has been said to be “blatant”, a statement that makes it conceivable to speed up the action.

• The Ukrainians and the French: Who will conduct the investigations?

open investigation Accordingly, the French Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office, on Monday evening, related to the suspicion of committing a war crime. The PNAT is competent to trigger such a measure, even though the incidents complained of occurred on foreign soil, as long as the victims are French nationals.

The investigation conducted by the Central Bureau for Combating Crimes against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes was placed under the following three headings: Deliberate attack on the life of a person protected by international armed conflicts. Deliberate attack on civilians not participating in the hostilities; Deliberate attack on persons and vehicles used in the context of a humanitarian operation.

But French justice must rely heavily on its Ukrainian counterpart. “Ukrainian judges will be the first to investigate because it is on Ukrainian territory,” highlighted Patrick Seuss, our editorial writer for international cases, before noting however: “Since the French National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation, a judicial investigation will allow the French investigators in particular Investigators of the Central Bureau for Combating Crimes against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes to go immediately.

The Vice President of Amnesty International France explained this distribution of tasks in our dual antenna. “It is the principle of complementarity that applies,” asserted Jean-Claude Samueler, who quickly clarified: “First, it is the justice of the country of facts that works, but in principle other countries can act under universal jurisdiction.”

• How do you investigate under the bombs?

Thus, the Ukrainian investigators and judges are on the front line and their French counterparts are in the second row. But if we know who will conduct these investigations, we will see how these investigations will be conducted. The mission seems more dangerous because it is located in the middle of a war zone. Our editorial editor Patrick Seuss summed up: “We should conduct a police investigation in the midst of the bombs.”

Whoever says “police investigation” says field trip, collect evidence, and establish suspects and responsibilities. It will be all about speed and efficiency. “We must investigate immediately because this area where Frederic was killed may be Russian in three days,” said Patrick Seuss. “It is an investigation that should have started yesterday,” US attorney specializing in international law, Reed Brody, supported on our antenna.

“We have to preserve the evidence that is there: the car, but above all the shrapnel of the shell. Because we will have to source it as accurately as possible. So you have to see the brand, the caliber, the weight,” it explains.

Here the experience of NGOs in this field can prove invaluable. The Vice-President of Amnesty International called on France to stress the importance of domestic investigations in such cases.

“First of all, we have teams on the ground who are questioning the victims or relatives of the victims, who are reviewing this information by questioning witnesses who are in the area. We are also collecting ammunition and ammunition fragments to see if this is not ammunition prohibited by international law,” Jan said. Claude Samueler in the beginning.

“Then we review this information from the field with information collected by satellite images or online videos to ensure that the facts actually happened on this day, at such a time, in such an area, in order to send certified items to International justice. The indisputable,” activist chains.

• Is it possible to identify those responsible?

In any murder investigation, the first issue is, of course, the identification of the offender. But the challenge is formidable when he is in the middle of the battlefield and death falls from the sky in the form of artillery fire. According to our editorial writer for international cases, it is moreover, by force of circumstance, a matter of principle not about persons: “The challenge is not so much to have someone behind bars as to be convicted of a war crime and to find out why. Frederick and Oksana are affected.”

But attorney Reed Brody wanted to clear up any potential frustration: “It is not impossible that the services actually knew which unit was responsible, and indeed only through the soldiers’ social networks can we find out who the members were.”

“US intelligence may be able to provide images, for example:“This shot came from Russian locations,” Patrick Seuss admitted. Finally, Jean-Claude Samueler called not to stick to the identification of the only shooter: “We have to see who gave the order to bomb, and he stepped up in the chain of command.

• Is it possible to hold a trial in France?

The figures revealed by Ukrainian actions in this area give reason to be optimistic. Forty suspects have already been arrested by local justice as part of investigations into possible war crimes, and three trials have been completed. One had previously seen the conviction of a Russian non-commissioned officer. If the other two sessions were still going on, the anxious Russian soldiers would have pleaded guilty there.

If we assume that the murderer of Frédéric Leclerc-Imhof has been identified and that the latter has been captured, then the French outcome is possible in this case. A lawyer registered with the Paris Bar, William Jolly, raised the possibility of a trial in France. “It is possible, under the so-called negative jurisdiction,” he said, “that the arrested people could be subject to an extradition request, and then the trial of those responsible for the shooting could remain in France.”

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