Jackson Center Explains Russian War Crimes Through Historical Lens

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JAMESTOWN – A local historical institution is keeping a close eye on the war in Ukraine and Russian War Crimes, explaining the global crisis through a historical lens. 

Kristan McMahon, President of the Robert H. Jackson Center, explained why remembering the history of the Frewsburg native, and Nuremberg Trial Chief of Counsel, is so relevant today, in understanding exactly what a war crime is.

“He helped establish the crimes that were actually prosecuted there. He helped define those crimes, and those are still largely the same crimes that someone would be prosecuted under today,” says McMahon.

The center participates in the International Humanitarian Law Roundtable, which brings together prosecutors to discuss challenges they are facing. They also host guest speakers, including the most recent, David Crane.

“David Crane is the only other U.S. citizen that has ever been a chief prosecutor of an International Tribunal, a founding chief prosecutor,” explains McMahon. “And David was the Chief Prosecutor for the International Trial at Sierra Leone, that’s actually called the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.”

The speaker also discussed the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and how he would go about putting Vladimir Putin on trial. Crane, along with a group, released a white paper with sample indictment.

McMahon says that regardless of his physical presence at a trial, Putin could still be indicted and tried.

“Having the number of countries that have come out and said that what President Putin has done is a war crime also really limits his freedom of movement,” says McMahon. “And to have the international community say this, the United States, most of the European nations, obviously very broad in that really then limits his ability to go anywhere outside of Russia.”

If indicted, Putin effectiveness as a leader would significantly decrease, as his attendance at any major international summit would lead to his arrest.

McMahon explained the major tenets of international war crimes, with the main rule being that civilians are off limits.

“They are not combattants. They have not chosen to be a participant in this, it is something that has been forced upon them. And so especially the fact that the Russian forces seem to be targeting the evacuation routes, they are targeting the hospitals, they are targeting the schools. All of that seems to really bring into play, I would think that he is ignoring that tenant of international law, and that brings it into a war crime,” says McMahon.

Using the Nuremberg Trials as a guide, McMahon says it is likely that Putin’s high-ranking followers would also be indicted. However, it is likely that many do not know the truth behind the war.

“The propaganda machine within Russia especially is very strong. And if that has been your only source of news for x number of years when you think that Russian annexed Crimea almost eight years ago. This has been a condition of at least the last eight years, if not longer, of Ukraine should be part of Russia. Russia’s only doing what it can to support the Russian citizens within the Ukraine. And if that is the only news that you are hearing on a continuous basis, of course that’s what you’re going to believe because you’ve never seen the other side of it,” says McMahon.

The center hopes to educate people on the crisis and similar historical events to encourage continued support for Ukraine.


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