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Russia: Proposed bill that removes criminal liability for war crimes is ‘impunity made law’

Responding to the adoption in the first reading by the Russian State Duma of a bill that effectively removes criminal liability for crimes committed by Russian forces and their proxies in the occupied territories of Ukraine, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said.

“The bill, which refers to territories whose annexation was announced by Russia on 30 September, envisages legal immunity to those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law carried out on Ukrainian soil, so long as said crimes were committed ‘aimed at protecting the interests of the Russian Federation,

“While the document doesn’t specify what criminal offences would qualify as ‘protecting the interests of Russia’ Amnesty International believes the bill expressly seeks to legalize the commission of war crimes by the Russian forces and their proxies. It turns Russia’s failure to ensure justice for victims into an official policy.

“Russian servicepeople should remember that even if this unprecedented bill is eventually passed, it will not override international law and will not protect war criminals from eventually facing trials abroad under universal jurisdiction.”

Background

On 13 December, the Russian State Duma passed in the first reading a bill concerning the use of Russian criminal law in territories of Ukraine that Russia occupies. The bill includes a provision stipulating that a deed considered criminal under both Ukrainian and Russian laws, is not to be qualified as a crime if it “aimed to protect interests of the Russian Federation”.

International humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which regulates the conduct of armed conflicts and which Russia is a member state of, make it a legal obligation for states to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing war crimes and to bring such individuals to trial. International law has precedence over national law under the Russian Constitution and, of course, under international law, too.