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Russia has drawn international condemnation for alleged war crimes

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden said this morning that he will be adding new sanctions against Russia because of what has happened in the town of Bucha. He also called for a war crimes trial against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight, and we have to gather all the details so this can be an actual - have a war crime trial. This guy is brutal.

MARTIN: For more on this, we have called on Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper. He was a war crimes prosecutor for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and later served President George W. Bush in a senior role as U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes.

Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Based on your experience, in your estimation, has Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine?

PROSPER: Well, it would appear that they have, based on the reports that we are seeing. We're seeing, effectively, the unlawful killing of civilians. We're seeing potential acts of torture, rape, all of the things that are outlawed by the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you. Spain's prime minister said what's happening in Ukraine may amount to genocide. Poland's prime minister described it that way, too. That is a very specific term that carries legal weight and attached responsibilities. Is that the right term to use here?

PROSPER: Well, it does. It carries significant weight because under the Genocide Convention, nations are obligated to act. But I think right now we should not necessarily be focusing on labels because a determination is a process and requires deeper analysis to define genocide. But what we need to be doing is really focusing on the actions themselves. It is clear that atrocities are being committed. It is clear that - based on the reports - that there are violations of the laws of war. And that should be sufficient for nations, not just the West, not just the United States, but the entire international community to act.

MARTIN: Which is very complicated - and, as you say, when you call something a genocide by the international standard - legal standard, it compels countries, the international community, to intervene. I mean, do you let the process of the investigation keep going, or do you just make the determination now based on what you've seen?

PROSPER: Well, I think the international community needs to take action regardless. An investigation does take time. A determination does take time. But that should not withhold the action of the international community. When you see civilians being killed, their hands tied behind their backs and executed, that should be sufficient. We have seen the international community take actions in other areas when civilians have been in harm's way. So this should not be any different.

MARTIN: So what would that look like?

PROSPER: Well, I think - obviously, I don't have the information that the United States government, NATO and others have. But I do think we need to continue to support the Ukrainian government, give them the materials they need to defend themselves. The United States and others should see what other actions are capable. But I think what's really important is what you are doing here. And what we are doing is we need to continue to shine a light on the actions of the Russian government because we have to make sure that this is undeniable. And the more that we can get the global community - and I'm talking Europe, United States, Asia, Africa, Latin America, everyone - to condemn and put pressure on the Russian government, hopefully it will begin to curb - not only curb the action, but promote an action of accountability. Hopefully, it will promote dissent from within, where the Russian people themselves see that there is a problem.

MARTIN: But it's such a messaging war, right? I mean, we've seen these hideous images coming out of the town of Bucha outside of Kyiv. And Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov is already saying that this was a Ukrainian provocation. How do you hold Russia accountable by standards and a process that the country is likely to claim is illegitimate?

PROSPER: Well, we've been here before. And, I think, with every war, we've heard this exact same rhetoric. But I think what we have here is we have the fact that the media is present. We have NGOs, human rights groups that are present. I'm sure that the United States and other nations have detailed satellite imagery and other information that could be put forth to the relevant bodies. So I think we can expect the - this rhetoric and - or propaganda from the Russian government. But I think it's time for a objective analysis and action by the global community.

MARTIN: Former war crimes prosecutor Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper - thank you so much for your time and perspective this morning. We appreciate it.

PROSPER: Great. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.