Putin Pulls Russia Out of Convention on War-Crime Probes

(Bloomberg) -- President Vladimir Putin is pulling Russia out of a key element of the Geneva Conventions that authorizes investigations into alleged war crimes against civilians.

Putin issued a decree dated Wednesday to withdraw from Protocol 1 of the 1949 convention “relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts,” citing “exceptional circumstances affecting the interests of the Russian Federation and requiring urgent action.”

The protocol authorizes the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to investigate alleged war crimes and other “grave breaches” against civilians caught up in armed conflicts. The commission, established in 1991, comprises 15 independent experts elected by the 77 states including Russia that have recognized the body, according to its website.

It carried out a 2017 probe into the death of a paramedic working for the Organization for Security and Cooperation’s monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine during the conflict between government forces and Russian-backed separatists. It also discussed the wars in Syria and Yemen at its annual meeting in Geneva in April.

Putin’s order came two days after the Defense Ministry in Moscow denied a New York Times report that the Russian Air Force bombed four hospitals in Syria in the space of 12 hours during an operation in May to crush resistance to President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime.

‘Risks of Abuse’

“In the current international environment, the risks of abuse of the commission’s powers for political purposes on the part of unscrupulous states are increasing significantly,” Putin said in a letter sent to Russia’s lower house of parliament.

He accused the commission of “not actually fulfilling its function” since its foundation and said Russia had no representative on the body, while paying annually into its budget.

“Russia does not recognize any external international bodies where it doesn’t have a veto, which could render verdicts and establish the guilt of the Russian Federation or its clients and allies,” said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and foreign policy analyst in Moscow.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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