Prosecuting the ‘unprosecutable’:Dead end or a way forward?

By Efe Ozkan & Mingma Doma Sherpa

Since passing the one year mark for the start of the war in Ukraine, the conflict has been elevated to a new level – a war lasting years, not an operation lasting days. Accusations of war crimes and misconduct have developed as a political platform calling for persecution and justice against the Russian Federation. In a state like the Russian Federation, the government cooperates on all levels, primarily through the knowledge and orders of Vladimir Putin himself. The question now is, who are these accusations directed against? Do we hold Putin responsible for war crimes because the soldiers were just “following orders”? Prof. Plesch and colleagues have uncovered a relic from the past, available on, that may present an answer.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the world has witnessed such events. Neither is it the first time that justice has been attempted against the perpetrators of these events. The United Nations War Crimes Commission- the predecessor to the ICC and many other tribunals- was the first international organisation to address the prosecution of war crimes. Thanks to Prof. Plesch and his colleagues, who have uncovered the legal documents surrounding the indictments against Nazis, which were in far greater number than those at Nuremberg, we are one step closer to answering the how of prosecution against Russia and Russians.

The UNWCC documents could be used as a credible source of reference as we navigate through the Russia-Ukraine war to hold the perpetrator/s accountable for the war crimes alongside the debate of the immunities of the head of state. However, Russia being a member of the P5 with the power to veto might bring the entire case to a dead-end. Nevertheless, perhaps Ukraine could be supported much as the UNWCC supported Poland and other states.

The final question here is: is there a practical way to enable prosecutions Will the world be able to find a way forward?