Former German ministers file war crimes complaint on Russia
BERLIN (AP) — Two former German ministers said Thursday they have submitted a criminal complaint with federal prosecutors seeking the opening of a war crimes probe against Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, over Russia’s actions in the war in Ukraine.
It comes as the weekly Der Spiegel reports that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has intercepted radio messages between Russian soldiers discussing the killings of civilians in Ukraine.
Former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and former Interior Minister Gerhart Baum said they want to use German laws allowing prosecution of serious crimes committed abroad to bring to justice those they consider responsible for atrocities in Ukraine.
Germany’s application of the rule of “universal jurisdiction” led to the first conviction of a senior Syrian official for crimes against humanity earlier this year.
Lawyer Nikolaos Gazeas, who compiled the 140-page criminal complaint on their behalf, said it targets not just Putin’s Russian leadership and the 32 members of his security council, but also “a whole series of members of the Russian military.”
The crimes detailed in the complaint range from the attack on a nuclear power plant in Ukraine to the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, he said.
Gazeas added that federal prosecutors could also use information obtained by intelligence agencies when deciding whether to launch a case.
He cited specifically a report Thursday by Der Spiegel that said Germany’s BND intelligence agency has intercepted Russian military radio traffic in which soldiers may have discussed specific killings of civilians in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv.
Russia has denied that its troops were involved in war crimes before they withdrew from Bucha. But the radio recordings the BND shared with German lawmakers on Wednesday recounted specific killings, including the shooting of a person on a bicycle, Spiegel reported.
The recordings also indicated that the Russian mercenary Wagner Group was involved in atrocities there, the weekly reported.
German government officials declined to confirm or deny the report, saying intelligence matters are not discussed publicly.
While prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have also launched an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine, Gazeas said parallel probes in multiple jurisdictions made sense and could be mutually reinforcing.
The complaint specifically alleges crimes against humanity and war crimes, but not the crime of committing a war of aggression, which Germany only prosecutes if the country itself is attacked or German citizens are involved.
“The law is a weapon in this situation,” said Baum, the former interior minister. “And we want to use it.”
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