Ukraine: war crimes tracker
Everyone who has information about a war crime should report it. War crimes are always extremely serious. They are amongst the worst acts man can do to man. If you know of war crimes, you have a moral obligation to report them.
War crimes are universally recognised criminal acts that can be committed only during the midst of war (what is known as 'in theatre'). They are special sorts of crime that cannot be committed during conditions of peace. As a general rule, only soldiers (or those purporting to act as soldiers, such as mercenaries or militia members), plus their commanding officers and in some cases responsible political leaders, can commit them. They tend to be very grave crimes, at the most serious end of the scale of criminal liability. They are defined in an interlocking array of international treaties and domestic statutes
The sorts of actions that may be considered war crimes are widespread. However there is a commonly accepted list of eleven categories.
Intentional targeting of civilians without underlying military purpose. (This might include individual executions of persons known to be civilians; or the intentional targeting of exclusively residential buildings with artillery or other armaments, when that building is known to harbour no military purpose.)
Mistreatment of surrendering soldiers or Prisoners of War. This can include failing to respect a White Flag (i.e. continuing to attack an opposing military position even though they have raised a White Flag indicating surrender); or executing or otherwise mistreating Prisoners of War. (There are a lot of rules about how you may and may not treat Prisoners of War.)
Rape of or other sexual violence civilians or soldiers in theatre.
Torture of civilians or soldiers in theatre.
Actions intended to expel the whole or a proportion of an ethnic or other group from an area of territory. (This is the clipped definition of the crime of genocide.)
Use of certain types of weapons internationally agreed to be prohibited (including biological weapons, chemical weapons and in some cases but not all, landmines; the general rule is that landmine use is a crime unless it is clearly indicated where they have been placed, e.g. by fencing off a mined field.)
Conscription of minors.
Intentional destruction of civilian property, including pillaging.
Perfidy (deceitfully taking advantage of an agreement to surrender or other agreement in theatre, to attack the opposing party contrary to the terms of the agreement).
Deportation (that is to say, movement of persons across borders against their will without an appropriate extradition or deportation process based upon law).
These are some of the principal categories but there are several others. There is a lot of definitional detail in war crimes treaties and legislation, much of which is unnecessary because war crimes are obvious and everyone in theatre knows, or ought to know, where the boundaries lie.
The fact that people have died, or buildings been destroyed, or that there is heavy human suffering, is not on its own sufficient indication of a war crime. These things are unfortunately ubiquitous in every war. However if these things are indicative of intentional wrongdoing and/or disproportionate use of force falling into one of the above eleven categories, then your claim will be admissible. If people are dead because a residential area was shelled and it is obvious that the armed forces did not care for the welfare of civilians, then there may be a war crime. In practice, the distinction tends to be fairly clear.
Where in doubt, the best reference material containing the fullest definition of war crimes is Article 8 of the so-called Rome Statute, the text of which appears here:
It is not just individual soldiers who may be liable for war crimes. Other categories of people liable may include:
Other soldiers present who did not intervene to prevent the war crime or who "went along with it".
Commanding officers of those who committed the primary unlawful act, in principle without limitation up to the top of the military structure, provided that the doctrine of command authority can be satisfied, that is to say the commanding officer was aware that soldiers under his command were committing acts of this nature and he or she did nothing (or too little) to prevent it.
Civilians, including militia members, acting in the manner of a military force or in concert or cooperation with it.
Politicians who either gave orders to the effect that war crimes be committed; or encouraged them; or oversaw tainted operations; or knew of the commission of war crimes who did nothing or insufficient to prevent them.
The following never excuse war crimes liability.
Drunkenness / intoxication
Poverty / misery of the conditions of the culpable soldiers
Negligence in failing to train soldiers on the boundaries of war crimes law
Unusual nationality of the defendants
Unusual nationality of the victims
Poor military equipment or resources
Confused or contradictory orders
War crimes are typically some of the most serious criminal offences known to mankind. Where a defendant is convicted, it is typical that he or she may never be released from prison for the rest or their lives, by reason of the extremely long sentences of imprisonment courts typically impose in such cases
Historically, war crimes were seldom prosecuted save in distinctive political situations. However modern international and increasingly domestic law takes the view that war crimes should be investigated and prosecuted, in order to deter others in future wars and in order to instil into modern military structures the concept of legal obligations that might improve their conduct in theatre. Also there is evidence that war crimes prosecutions, if successful, can bring some closure for the victims and/or their families. Prosecution of war crimes is expensive; but generally considered worth it.
We are inviting persons with evidence of war crimes in the context of Ukraine to write to us with the evidence and information we have, so that we may create a public database of prima facie war crimes and their details and evidence; and we can then pass our database on to the relevant authorities once war crimes investigations begin in earnest.
In parallel with reports we receive, we are also opening our own investigations into specific war crimes incidents and these will be included on our database. The database will be made public in some way shape or form at an appropriate juncture, so that we may present our conclusions as to just how common war crimes have been in the course of the war in Ukraine
Anyone can report a war crime to us who has evidence that a war crime has occurred. You do not need to be a witness, family or friend, although please tell us if you are. We accept war crimes reports from people as varied as journalists, public officials (including the Police), academics who have studied events, witnesses, family members, friends and those with no direct interest except seeing justice done. However please do not make a report to us if you have just heard of an apparent war crime through third parties but you cannot point us towards any evidence (such as a witness, some photos, or some video footage, for example). In every case, witness evidence will need to be collected before a prosecution can begin. Even if the principal evidence is photos or videos, a witness will be necessary to explain how the photos or videos came into existence.
We accept claims of the occurrence of war crimes against Russian armed forces / authorities; Ukrainian Armed forces / authorities; and against anyone else, as long as the events alleged took place on either Ukrainian territory or the territory of an adjacent state. (For the avoidance of doubt, allegations of war crimes said to have taken place in any of Crimea, the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic are all accepted.) We accept claims in relation to events taking place in 2014 onwards.
There are several ways of prosecuting war crimes, and a different forum may be appropriate in each case. The choices are:
The jurisdiction in theatre (i.e. Ukrainian courts)
The jurisdiction of the defendant (e.g. Russia - although this may or may not be suitable in different cases)
A third party jurisdiction that has so-called "universal jurisdiction" rules to try war crimes cases irrespective of where the crimes were committed or by whom (three examples of these are the United Kingdom, Belgium and Spain).
As a last resort, the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
We can advise in each case which jurisdiction might be most appropriate, and how to initiate the procedure.
Please note that we are not receiving accusations of the crime of aggression, a controversial category of war crime aimed at prosecuting political leaders. Rather we are focusing upon specific crimes in theatre with identifiable victims.
If you have information about and supporting evidence of a war crime that has been committed in theatre in Ukraine, then please write to us at email@example.com with the details. Here is how to set out your email:
Subject line: Location of war crime; date or range of dates or period; category of war crime. (e.g. Melitopol 1-3 March 2022; perfidy. This is an entirely fictitious example.)
The body of the email should set out the following information, in the following order.
Location of war crime incident, as accurately as possible (town / city, address, road name, building address, GPS coordinates, what3words code).
Location of the persons committing the war crime, again in as much detail as possible, if different from above.
Type of war crime alleged. (e.g. murder of civilians; execution of PoW's.)
Date and time of acts, in as much detail as possible.
Identities of the victims, in as much detail as possible, including (where known) names, dates of birth, nationalities, usual addresses, photos. Where the victim is still alive, please provide their contact details if you have them.
Identities of the victim('s) families or closest friends, in the same level of detail.
Identities of witnesses, in the same level of detail.
Any and all information available about the perpetrators of the war crimes, even if just as basic as the unit or regiment (together with its location(s)) in your possession- plus the nationality of the forces believed to be responsible.
A summary of what happened, in not more than one page of A4 typed text (save in the most complex of cases), attached to the email as a PDF.
Please exhibit copies of all relevant evidence: photos (with dates and times indicated), ID copies, witness statements.
Your opinion as to the type of weapon(s) or armour used to perpetrate the crime, with as much detail as possible, and any reasons why you think that particular weapon or piece of armour were used.
Any corroborative or other ancillary evidence useful to pursue an inquiry.
The names, organisation and contact details (if known) of any journalist who witnessed experienced or reported upon the crime.
Your name, nationality and contact details, whether you are a civilian (if so provide profession) or a member of a military unit (if so which one).
If you consider yourself a whistleblower, please indicate this and if possible outline the retribution you fear if it is made clear that you are the source of the report.
Copies of any reports you have made to anyone else about these events (if any).
Your submission will be read and considered by a legal staff member with experience in war crimes legislation, within a prescribed period; and then you will receive an answer about what we intend to do in follow-up to your report.
No submissions will be read or considered unless they are sent to firstname.lastname@example.org only, without cc to any other Paladins contact coordinates. We do not accept submissions by social media or private messaging. We reserve the right to block anyone breaching these rules.
This service is free to use at all points by those making submissions. If anyone tries to charge you for using this service, please contact us immediately at email@example.com with the details of the attempt.
We will never make the identities or contact details of those making submissions public or reveal them to third parties, save without first obtaining their consent; unless we consider a report so manifestly fraudulent that it merits a reference to law enforcement authorities for a crime akin to deception. This is a serious and important legal process that may well result in the prosecution, trial and incarceration of persons; therefore we ask all persons making submissions to treat the procedure with the highest levels of integrity. We welcome all good faith reports. We do not welcome palpably bogus ones.
We appreciate donations to keep the administration running. Anyone interested in donating to help keep this project continuing over the weeks, months or years of this ongoing war is warmly welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will explain how to do that.
Our objective is to secure criminal accountability of liable persons; it is not to pursue compensation for victims (at least not at this stage - that may come later). If you would like us to pursue an individual mandate for a compensation claim, please contact us using the details on our contact webpage https://www.the-paladins.com/contact in the usual way appropriate to a client engagement, not using email@example.com.
We realise that being a witness to or victim of war crimes is extremely distressing. We will therefore work patiently with the author of any report made in good faith, to assess the claim objectively.
All submissions will receive an acknowledgment setting out next steps in the procedure. If you do not receive one of those very promptly after submitting your allegations, please contact us separately.
As a result of your reports we will:
Create an international public database of war crimes in Ukraine.
Pass on reports to international investigators as and when they come to be appointed.
Press vigorously for a team of international investigators to be established under an international umbrella organisation.
We will never pass on your reports to the authorities of Ukraine or any of her neighbouring states without your consent.
Establish a tracker that counts the number of people killed in theatre as a result of war crimes or otherwise.
Promote the plight of war crimes victims and the existence of war crimes in Ukraine.
In due course this page will be translated into Ukrainian, Russian, Polish Romanian and any other languages that appear helpful to facilitate the reporting of war crimes. Submissions can always be made in any language.