Lincoln Memorial University Law Review Archive

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War. One word can conjure up so much: suffering, instability, chaos, destruction, and death. It is no wonder then that many countries have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Though many governments have given aid to Ukraine and sanctioned Russia, much of the world has still been somewhat paralyzed, recognizing the danger that Russia’s lawless actions have put the world in, but unable to do anything about it. Now, as talk has turned to war crimes tribunals, it is vital that we remember a critical feature of international criminal law: the crime of aggression.

The crime of aggression, also known as crimes against peace, is the prohibition of engaging in aggressive warfare. Prosecuted after World War II at both Nuremberg and Tokyo, the crime of aggression has entered a stage of disuse, with many advocating for Vladimir Putin and others to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity while the crime of aggression has remained, in many cases, conspicuously excluded. This is compounded by the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s inability to prosecute the crime of aggression in this instance and a lack of a clear definition of it.

Despite these hurdles, it is critical that, to reestablish international peace, security, and justice we breathe new life into the crime of aggression. To do this, the United Nations General Assembly, not Security Council, must create ad hoc tribunals to investigate and try instances of alleged criminal conduct and adopt a definition of the crime of aggression more in line with the Shape and Influence standard adopted at Nuremberg. These measures will aid in peacebuilding and ensure perpetrators of this war are brought to justice.

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