Another Perspective: Tech allows Ukraine to identify war criminals

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Much of the world reacted in horror at Russian atrocities in the town of Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, one month ago. After the Russian army retreated, Ukrainians found the bodies of hundreds of civilians, and the full extent of the terror became known.

Now, through the use of novel investigative methods, including facial recognition software, Ukrainian officials have made it possible for some Russian soldiers to face accountability for their actions. We applaud those who are seeking justice for the victims.

Last week the Ukrainian government published the names and photos of 10 Russian soldiers they said had committed war crimes in Bucha. The investigators reached this conclusion after a painstaking effort to compile bits of evidence into a larger picture. The methods they used included satellite images, radio intercepts, security camera footage, social media posts, and witness interviews.

Ukraine’s European allies have decided to join in this effort to bring war criminals to justice. France has sent forensic experts to the area. Britain will send in specialists, including those who deal with conflict-related sexual violence. The International Criminal Court has begun an investigation.

These killings violate the Geneva Convention, to which Russia is a party. President Vladimir Putin and his military brass will never be brought to justice for war crimes while they still hold power. But their soldiers can be.

Unless they have been captured on the battlefield, it will be difficult to apprehend Russian soldiers. However, Ukrainian officials say all suspects will be tried, whether in person or not.

While it might be useful to convict alleged war criminals in absentia, it also violates almost all understandings of proper due process. At the least, should a soldier convicted in absentia be captured later, he should receive a new, in-person trial.

Ukraine and its allies remain scrupulous about not violating the very democratic principles they are fighting for. They deserve our gratitude for upholding the understanding of just warfare the Geneva Convention represents and the Russians violated.

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