First trial of a Russian soldier in Kyiv | “I received the order to shoot”

“I was ordered to shoot,” Vadim Chichimarine, a 21-year-old Russian army sergeant, said at the start of his highly publicized trial in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. in the wake of the Russian invasion.

This trial, which opened on Friday, is the first to implicate a defendant for war crimes since the start of the Russian offensive.

Vadim Chichimarine is accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian riding a bicycle in the northeast village of Choupakhivka by shooting him in the head. The case dates back to February 28, four days after the start of the conflict.

“I received the order to shoot,” said the young man, who showed up with a downcast face, shaved head and wearing a tracksuit in the dock surrounded by glass. I shot him. He fell. And we continued. »

This trial risks being the first of a very long list, if the Ukrainian authorities are to be believed.

On Tuesday, the Kharkiv region prosecutor, Olexandr Filchakov, indicated that nearly 10,000 war crimes investigations had been opened since February 24 and that 622 suspects had been identified.

Outstanding issues

However, several complex legal issues remain to be resolved in such cases. Starting with knowing who will defend the accused.

“Which Ukrainian lawyer is going to have the courage to do that? wonders Philippe Larochelle, lawyer in international criminal law for 20 years. This lawyer is going to have a lot of pressure! It’s going to be very difficult. And who will pay for it? And the judge who hears this evidence? He’s got a lot of pressure too. Imagine the judge acquitting a Russian soldier. Good luck getting a future nomination. We are in a more difficult situation than in normal trials. »

As required by the Third Geneva Convention, Sergeant Chichimarine will be tried before a military court. And, recalls Moussa Bienvenu Haba, legal adviser at Avocats sans frontières, Quebec section, he benefits from the rights inherent in this agreement.

“When such a procedure is initiated, the accused has the freedom to choose his lawyer, recalls Mr. Haba. Alternatively, the state can help the accused find a lawyer. And failing to fulfill one of the first two options, the State will automatically appoint a lawyer. If a state deprives an accused of their right to full answer and defence, it is a serious violation. »

Defense lawyer Philippe Larochelle believes that such a case must be examined from several angles.

“We are entering a difficult test with all sorts of nuances to be made, he believes. One can wonder, for example, if the victim had a link with the Ukrainian forces. Was she on a mission? Was she taking part in the hostilities? There may be evidence, such as text message exchanges, to support possible participation in hostilities. If the Russian soldier wants to mount a defense, he might have difficulty getting information from the Ukrainian forces. There are so many scenarios! »

Same thing with possible witnesses. If the accused and his lawyer want to call Ukrainian soldiers who were near the scene of the event to testify to build their defense, will they be able to find them and bring them to appear?

According to Mand Larochelle, there is still a lot of data to be clarified.

Why not the ICC?

For several weeks, it has been known that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed in Ukraine. This week, the UN Human Rights Council also opened its own investigation.

Isn’t there an overdose of judicial investigations carried out at the same time? No, answers Amissi Manirabona, associate professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Montreal.

“The ICC doesn’t have to try everyone,” he said. She will often seek to limit her search for responsibility among those most responsible for war crimes. »

A country that has an adequate judicial system will deal with cases like that of Sergeant Chichimarine.

“For Ukraine, this trial is important, believes Mr. Manirabona. It will help the country to consolidate the law internally, help it to better equip its legal system. I imagine it will be done fairly, without political influence. Even if it is not obvious! »

According to texts published Friday by news agencies, if the accused is found guilty, he risks life in prison. There was no question of the death penalty.

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