The Crime of Aggression in International Criminal Law

Since the onslaught of the Russian army into Ukraine on February 24, the Kremlin’s refusal to use certain words – notably its use of the term “special military operation” rather than “war” or “invasion” – forces us to reconsider how to justly classify, in terms of international criminal law, the acts committed in the course of this conflict, with a view to de-instrumentalizing the political rhetoric and restoring the real legal contours to the violence being committed.

The Rome Statute provides for criminal jurisdiction at the international level over individuals who commit any crime that affects the international community as a whole. It punishes violations of international humanitarian law and defines the most serious core international crimes: the crime of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide.

Professor Muriel Paradelle examines the elements to be taken into account in order to qualify as a crime of aggression under international law in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. Thus, does the “special military operation” invoked by Russian President Vladimir Putin constitute a war that can itself be qualified as a crime of aggression, as defined by article 8-bis of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court?

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