it is “premature” to speak of a “crime against humanity” after the bombing of Kramatorsk, according to a specialized lawyer

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“It’s sordid, one more carnage.” The bombing of the Kramatorsk station, in which at least 50 people were killed, Friday April 8, in the east of Ukraine, is constitutive of a “crime against humanity”said a few hours later on France 5 Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Foreign Affairs. “We need experts quickly, because we have to see quickly. We need to document urgently in order to then be able to provide evidence of crimes against humanity”he added.

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Is the head of French diplomacy right to use this qualifier? What is the definition of crime against humanity? When does it apply? How are such crimes investigated? Franceinfo asked these questions to Clemence Bectarte, lawyer who represents the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French coalition at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Franceinfo: What is a crime against humanity?

Clemence Bectarte: Crimes against humanity are crimes committed as part of a systematic or widespread attack against a civilian population. For example, rape or torture carried out as part of an attack. To talk about crimes against humanity, you need a series of criminal acts. Crimes against humanity are defined as a kind of plan, or policy, to attack civilian populations.

Unlike war crimes, crimes against humanity are not necessarily committed in time of war. War crimes and crimes against humanity do not follow the same logic, but they can coexist. This is why an investigation with the two qualifiers, “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”, was opened on March 2 by the attorney general of the ICC regarding Ukraine.

Is Jean-Yves Le Drian right to say that the bombing of Kramatorsk station constitutes a crime against humanity?

It’s one thing to say it, it’s another thing to define it. It is important to recall these legal concepts, which remain important benchmarks. This has not been done in all conflicts. However, when Jean-Yves Le Drian says so, there are no legal consequences. It is not the word of the politician that will prevail. It is the courts of justice that are empowered to rule on this qualifier. They have the power to assess whether a crime against humanity has been committed.

The possibility of reaching the stage of a crime against humanity is a hypothesis that was considered from the start, since the ICC investigation with this charge was opened seven days after the outbreak of the war. Today, is it true? It is still too early to tell. It’s all the work that is being done: it will be decisive. Moreover, at this time, the crimes continue to be perpetrated. Impossible for justice to act in real time.

“It is not yet known whether the bombing of Kramatorsk station will be included among the incidents listed as ‘crimes against humanity’.”

Clémence Bectarte, lawyer

at franceinfo

Are other abuses in Ukraine likely to qualify as crimes against humanity?

Again, it is premature to say. Only investigations will confirm this. Remember that an investigation before the ICC is opened on a situation, not on specific facts. That is, the ICC chooses an indictment and selects incidents that support it: an attack on a village and acts of torture, for example. This is the difference between international and national justice. In Ukraine, for example, the general prosecutor opened around 4,000 investigations, ie as many investigations as there were incidents. It will be interesting to see how the two fit together.

Are the proceedings and the collection of evidence for crimes against humanity organized as for war crimes?

Yes, the logic is similar. And there is always the issue of preserving evidence. What differs are the elements: you must not collect the same ones. Are civilian populations being targeted as part of a deliberate policy? This is what we will endeavor to demonstrate.

Because with the crime against humanity, we go to another scale. It is a targeted, premeditated crime, either repeated over time or committed in a single sequence. The extent of the acts committed characterizes it. For example, an investigation for “crimes against humanity” was opened before the ICC for a demonstration repressed by the ruling junta on September 28, 2009 in Conakry (Guinea). These events took place in a single day.

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