JUSTICE Without Borders
Vanity Fair US|June 2024
Inside the effort to prosecute Russians for Ukraine war crimes in Argentina
Janine di Giovanni
JUSTICE Without Borders

THE AMERICAN PEACE advocate Norman Cousins once said, "Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside of us while we live." The quote has often been linked to Ariel Dorfman's profoundly moving play, Death and the Maiden. Therein, a middle-class Chilean woman who is a trauma survivor, having been subjected to torture and other unspeakable torments, confronts the man who had terrorized her years earlier during her country's brutal dictatorship.

For decades, I have documented torture and war crimes, first as a journalist for Vanity Fair and now as executive director of the Reckoning Project (TRP), an organization that gathers evidence of the systematic horrors Ukrainians have endured since Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022. When survivors tell me how they managed to bear it all, a common description I have heard is that they had to kill something deep in their psyches.

How can these survivors ever hope to heal? One way which is the main mission of TRP is to ensure that some of those who have committed war crimes are held accountable in court. If authoritarian leaders remain in power-as in Argentina in the 1970s and '80s and in Russia today accountability is impossible. The question then becomes how to create a legal framework so these victims and crimes don't go unnoticed.

One method gaining traction in this regard utilizes a principle known as universal jurisdiction, which allows laws to be applied to serious crimes in territories outside conflict zones. In many ways, this is justice without borders.

Consider the ongoing war in Syria. Two years ago, in Koblenz, a nondescript town on the Rhine, a verdict was handed down by a German court in the world's first criminal case involving state-sponsored torture in Syria.

This story is from the June 2024 edition of Vanity Fair US.

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This story is from the June 2024 edition of Vanity Fair US.

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