Commanders’ Accountability: War Crimes Training in Ukraine

December 27, 2023

International humanitarian law explicitly outlines the responsibility of commanders and other superiors for international crimes, including war crimes.

The criminal proceedings against Russia’s military and political leadership, registered by prosecutors of the Office of the Prosecutor General and known as the Main case of ’24th February’, currently involve nearly 700 suspects. However, the process of securing cases that result in indictments for Russian commanders will take time. On this path, it is crucial to build each case properly from the very beginning.

Command responsibility and other forms of criminal command liability represent a complex legal landscape, which demands expertise from investigators, prosecutors, and judges. Recognising this need, last week EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) Ukraine organised three sessions of a tailored one-day training for investigators from the National Police of Ukraine and the Security Service of Ukraine, the prosecutors and judges. The main focus was on the criminal liability of Russian military and civilian commanders for war crimes in Ukraine.

The training explored various modes of criminal liability, applicable to military and civilian commanders under both Ukrainian and international law. Drawing on examples from case law, including that of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and contextualising it with Ukrainian practices, the sessions aimed at enhancing theoretical and practical understanding for the investigation, prosecution, and trial of individuals suspected of war crimes in Ukraine, with positions of varying levels of superior responsibility. The sessions were thoughtfully structured, combining lectures and discussions to facilitate a comprehensive learning experience.

The training featured a lineup of distinguished speakers, including EUAM Senior Adviser on Prosecution Sebastian Van de Vliet, prosecutor Stanislav Petrenko, military analyst Oleh Levchenko, and judge Maryna Bondarenko. They covered aspects ranging from liability modes under Ukrainian law to the structure of the Russian armed forces and the application of the command responsibility doctrine.

A notable contributor to the event was Mr. Alan Tieger, an American lawyer with over 20 years of experience in domestic and international criminal investigations and prosecutions. Mr. Tieger shared insights from his extensive career, including his role in groundbreaking cases at the ICTY, and provided a nuanced understanding of the theory of command responsibility.

This training represents a significant step in further enabling our partners to navigate the complexities of command responsibility and fostering a robust legal framework in addressing war crimes committed in Ukraine. EUAM continues to support Ukraine in strengthening its legal capacities to ensure the accountability of Russian commanders responsible for war crimes committed in Ukraine.