On the 1st of April 2001Slobodan Milošević, the former president of Serbia (1989-1997) and president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1997-2000), surrendered to police special forces to answer charges of genocide and crimes against humanity arising from his leadership role in the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. Milošević died in February 2002, before his trial by a UN tribunal in the Hague was concluded. His Bosnian Serb ally Radovan Karadžić and the Bosnian Serb military leader, General Ratko Mladić, were successfully prosecuted and are both serving life sentences. Last Tuesday, the trial began of Sudanese Warlord Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman. He is accused of crimes against humanity and was referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague by the UN Security Council. The arrest and prosecution of these murderers is something that Vladimir Putin should take note of. Presidents and their henchmen are not exempt. 

War crimes are defined, inter alia, as the deliberate or wilful targeting and killing of civilians and the destruction of property not justified by military necessity. President Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” for his bombing of hospitals, maternity wards, schools and kindergartens and regular air strikes and shelling of residential areas by the Russian armed forces. In a powerful video-link speech, Ukrainian President Zelensky told the UN that Russian war criminals must face a new Nuremberg-style trial. Horrific atrocities on civilians, committed by retreating Russian troops in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv are quintessentially war crimes. 

The intentional air strike of the drama theatre in Mariupol where over 1,000, mostly women and children were sheltering, could certainly be called a war crime. The word “CHILDREN” had been written in huge Russian letters on each side of the venue. It is believed that more than 300 died in the dust and rubble of the collapsed building. As the person who ordered the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has clear ‘command responsibility’. Although Russia is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Putin, if we can get our hands on him, could nevertheless be hauled before a special tribunal set up by the US, UN, NATO and the EU.

Lieutenant Colonel Azatbek Omurbekov commanded the 64th Separate Motorised Brigade who butchered innocent men, women and children in Bucha and he must face justice in the international courts. Putin’s favourite general, Mikhail Mizintsev, should also be indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Dubbed ‘The Butcher of Mariupol’ for his relentless bombardment and wanton destruction of that city, Colonel-General Mizintsev had previously honed his skills in the levelling of the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo. In 2016, Russian forces under Mizintsev’s command, joined with pro-Iranian Shi’ia militias, Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s military, to bombard Aleppo into submission, almost wiping it off the map. 

Putin’s solid collaborator in Syria has been the fanatical supreme leader of the fundamentalist Iranian regime, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who, unsurprisingly, has supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine and blamed the Americans for instigating the war. Facing the collapse of the Iranian economy in the wake of decades of corruption, sanctions, untrammelled financing of proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon and an accelerating bid to build a nuclear weapon, Khamenei desperately engineered the sham election of Ebrahim Raisi as president of Iran. Khamenei hoped that this hard-line religious hanging-judge, known as ‘The Butcher of Tehran’ for his central role in sentencing over 30,000 political prisoners to death in 1988, would frighten the West into lifting sanctions and re-joining the tattered nuclear deal, abandoned by Trump in 2018.

Khamenei’s plan has backfired spectacularly. When Iranian/British survivors of the 1988 massacre heard that Raisi was intending to travel to Glasgow in November last year to attend the COP26 climate change summit, they lodged a dossier of evidence with the Metropolitan Police and Police Scotland, calling for his arrest for crimes against humanity and genocide, under universal jurisdiction. Raisi quickly cancelled his plans to come to the UK. The message must surely now be clear to Raisi, Khamenei, Bashar al-Assad and Putin that being a president does not provide impunity for crimes against humanity and human rights abuse. 

In March 2016, only 6 years ago, Radovan Karadžić was found criminally responsible for the horror that tore Yugoslavia apart. Sentencing him to 40 years jail for ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, the judge told him that he was the author of a plan “to commission murder, terror and unlawful attacks against civilians.” The parallels with the horrors unfolding in Ukraine are disturbing. There must be no impunity for monsters like Ebrahim Raisi, Ali Khamenei, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and their henchmen. The civilised world must hold them to account.