NPR journalist Deborah Amos discusses international war crimes with students

February 21, 2023 (Volume 46, Number 12)
Article by Brian Vernellis

two women on stage, seated, with audience in front

Deborah Amos, NPR international correspondent, answers questions from students February 6. Polly Diven, director of the international relations program, is at right.

The news reports emerging from Ukraine regarding the atrocities committed to its citizens have drawn global attention and condemnation. The international calls for justice intensify, but will Russian President Vladimir Putin ever face charges in front of the International Criminal Court?   

There is some precedent in a nation’s leader answering for the crimes committed, but the road to bring Putin before the ICC is a winding one with many obstacles, said National Public Radio international correspondent Deborah Amos. 

Amos visited the Allendale Campus on February 6 for a discussion with Polly Diven, director of the international relations program, and questions from students on war crimes in Ukraine and the Middle East. 

While the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, has the authority to prosecute war crimes, pursuing them is another matter, said Amos. 

“That's the 64,000 ruble question, and why it's so important is because you can't have a war crimes tribunal in absentia,” said Amos. “You can issue arrest warrants, but the perps have to show up. So the question is, first is that possible, but second in what venue?”

Amos also addressed another point that makes prosecuting a leader like Putin or members of his staff even more difficult. 

“Those who put together the International Criminal Court made sure that crimes of oppression weren’t part of the ICC mandate, so you don’t get a clean leadership trial,” Amos said.

There have been a few national leaders to face international justice, Slobodan Miloševiof Serbia and Charles Taylor of Liberia, for example, but Amos believes as strong as the West may push for Putin’s time in court, it faces a litany of challenges.

“This is hard to do because you can't call for a tribunal through the United Nations Security Council because Russia and China will veto it,” said Amos.

“The lobbying has not begun, but it is what the Ukrainians want and they have said so, and the Americans are not committed to it yet.”

Amos was in Grand Rapids as a guest speaker for the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan "Great Decisions" series.

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This article was last edited on February 21, 2023 at 11:50 a.m.

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