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As we are learning about the massacres in Bucha, it is becoming apparent there are two camps in receiving this news on the world stage:

  • It's real, it happened. This is certainly Ukraine and the West's position.

  • Fake news, staged, never happened. This has been Russia's position. Probably will be that of its supporters as well.

The camp of neutral countries, who can be expected to bear witness is limited. For example, Switzerland would have been a natural choice, until last month.

The ICJ can investigate, but even if the investigation or its finding doesn't get vetoed, the capability to bring senior Russian politicians to justice is very limited in the near and medium term (even a changed Russian government would find it politically awkward to ship off Putin).

Article 94 establishes the duty of all UN members to comply with decisions of the court involving them. If parties do not comply, the issue may be taken before the Security Council for enforcement action. There are obvious problems with such a method of enforcement. If the judgment is against one of the permanent five members of the Security Council or its allies, any resolution on enforcement would then be vetoed.

Another aspect is that neutral coverage on the ground is limited, if you look at coverage in press like India's:

"All the photos and videos published by the Kyiv regime, allegedly testifying to the 'crimes' of Russian servicemen in the city of Bucha, Kyiv region, are another provocation," Russia's defence ministry said in a statement. It called the footage "another staged performance by the Kyiv regime for the Western media."

Or:

Reuters was not able to independently verify who was responsible for killing the dead residents.

But three bodies seen by Reuters reporters on Sunday -- the corpse with the hands bound and two others which did not have bound hands -- bore bullet shots to the head consistent with what Bucha mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk and his deputy described as executions.

How can the truth of what was observed best be preserved now for the future, using as much as possible, sources that can't be claimed to be siding for one side rather than the other? To take an example, a Serb nationalist can claim Srebenica never happened and that sanctions against Serbs are just bigoted bullying. How can this be documented in the least-deniable fashion?

How can you get people who really really can't be argued to be "Western stooges" to certify what they've seen, first hand?

To clarify: this is less about swaying public opinion, future political penance or criminal investigations now than it is about laying a solid groundwork towards gathering as much neutrally-sourced evidence first hand as possible, while the crime scene is fresh.

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  • I think you should give the Times of India more credit. That is a single short article from Reuters (not even ToI directly). They also have articles like this or this. Some quote only Russian sources, some quote only sources criticizing Russia, and some quote a mixture.
    – Obie 2.0
    Apr 4, 2022 at 19:55
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    @Obie2.0 Oh, I did not mean to put down the Times of India. But how can you get people who really really can't be argued to be "Western stooges" to certify what they've seen, first hand? Apr 4, 2022 at 20:00
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    It's a great question! I think that "get(ting) people who really really can't be argued to be 'Western stooges'" is an impossible task. Anyone can be argued to be a stooge, and stooge-arguers can often base their name calling on nothing more than support or decision for a position that is not in opposition to someone the stooge-calling party opposes. In other words, they will inevitably be labeled as stooges anyway, so it's pointless to try to avoid it. Instead, I think just stick with norms and procedures and broadly international efforts.
    – uhoh
    Apr 6, 2022 at 7:23
  • Getting the guilty parties to face charges in a court of law is, unfortunately, unrealistic. To the very least, the Russians will insist on doing any sentencing by themselves. Basically to reciprocate the law the US passed (under Bush IIRC) not to allow American soldiers to be judged in an international court. Whatever the outcome of such a court case, if any, will not satisfy many people in the West. Apr 6, 2022 at 9:27
  • The suggestion to have forensic experts do their analysis, and then report their findings, may be the best we can do. Those found guilty will have a hard time keeping the information forever inaccessible to their own people. Call me a pessimist, but I think war crimes are an inevitable consequence to wars. The junior officers (who conceivably could stop triggers being pulled) have been trained to A) fulfill their mission and B) keep their own troops out of harm, to the extent possible. Quite irrespective of the colors of the flag they salute. Police forces are better at stopping crimes. Apr 6, 2022 at 9:35

1 Answer 1

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Bearing witness is all kinds of things: photos, coroner reports, forensic analysis, satellite images and above all testimonies of local people. Be as transparent as possible about it, just record it all and make it all freely available to the public as soon as possible. Gather as many international experts on the matter (journalists, forensic scientists) and let them sign their work. Let the data speak for itself and refrain from interpreting too much. Let people do it for themselves.

Maybe with a bit of luck and in a few years you can also get some eye witnesses from the Russian army. They will have had the most direct observation possibility and theoretically even one potentially remorseful Russian soldier would be enough to shed additional light on what happened and why.

Other witnesses except Ukrainians living in Bucha and Russians soldiers will likely not be available and in general won't in a war. That's why I suggested to collect as much data as possible afterwards and to make it freely available.

However (now to the bad news) that won't make a difference at all in the short run. The Russian army, government and people supporting this war have nothing to gain from thinking about that. The only conclusion could be that they themselves might be more the Nazis than the Ukrainians here. I think that the current Russian attitude (the Russian foreign minister calling it all fake and the Russian people seeming to continue to support their government) is complete denial and kind of moral disengagement. They won't be convinced of anything because they don't want to be convinced.

For a blueprint of how long that takes and how difficult it is, look at denazification and German collective guilt after World War II. Allies basically forced that upon Germans with posters like "These atrocities, your guilt".

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    "...Russian foreign minister calling it all fake and the Russian people seeming to continue to support their government..." - from my observations, there wasn't any other opinion on Russian media so far. Though saying "it's not a fake" in Russia could be enough to spend 15 years in a prison cell, so you may see that there is not much choice for common people in what to believe in this situation. Moreover, it seems some western countries have started to adopt the same policy regarding "the wrong opinions". Lithuania and Latvia, as an example.
    – anemyte
    Apr 5, 2022 at 10:51
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    @anemyte You mean it's not complete denial? Russians may know of and may find Ukrainian news coverage of possible Russian war crimes actually believable, are equally unsatisfied as the rest of the world and would demand that those responsible are hold accountable but keep silent because of fear of persecution. Sure, that is also possible. The true Russian public opinion is difficult to estimate. My impression was that most Russians are still standing behind their government. But it's not that certain.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 5, 2022 at 11:07
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    @anemyte I see. So many if not most Russians believe their own government more than any other source of information (of which they also have much less available). While they assume that all others are lying they also assume that their own government is not lying. The question is always: what could they have known and what could they have done. Being more critical of their own government's information is surely something that one could expect reasonably. But history says that doesn't happen very often. That's why I wrote about being in denial and a long way to go. If only one could shorten it.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 5, 2022 at 11:45
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    I have nothing more to say other than I totally agree with you.
    – anemyte
    Apr 5, 2022 at 11:51
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica There is an example of correlating two videos taken at different dates from different people showing shooting at a cyclist in Bucha in one video and a dead person with a cycle at the same location in the second one and an expert analysis of it corroborating that Russian forces shot a civilian there. This might be a good example of what you can get. However it's behind a paywall and not freely available and it would not convince somebody who doesn't want to believe in it.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 6, 2022 at 7:22

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