International Criminal Court investigates cyberattacks on Ukraine as possible war crimes

The ongoing ICC investigation could potentially set a legal precedent for cyber warfare.

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) is examining alleged Russian cyberattacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure as potential war crimes, marking the first instance of such an investigation by international prosecutors. According to sources, this could lead to arrest warrants if sufficient evidence is collected. The investigation focuses on cyberattacks that have endangered lives by disrupting power and water supplies, hindering emergency response communications, and disabling mobile data services used for air raid warnings.

Ukraine is actively gathering evidence to support the ICC investigation. Although the ICC prosecutor’s office has declined to comment on specific details, it has previously stated its jurisdiction over cybercrimes and its policy of not discussing ongoing cases. It should also be noted that since the invasion began, the ICC has issued four arrest warrants against senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, for war crimes related to the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. Russia, which is not a member of the ICC, has rejected these warrants as illegitimate. Despite not being a member state, Ukraine has granted the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed within its borders.

In April, the ICC issued arrest warrants for two Russian commanders accused of crimes against humanity for their roles in attacks on civilian infrastructure. The Russian defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Sources indicated that at least four major attacks on energy infrastructure are being investigated.

Why does it matter?

The ICC case could set a significant precedent in international law. The Geneva Conventions prohibit attacks on civilian objects, but there is no universally accepted definition of cyber war crimes. The Tallinn Manual, a 2017 handbook on the application of international law to cyberwarfare, addresses this issue, but experts remain divided on whether data can be considered an ‘object’ under international humanitarian law and whether its destruction can be classified as a war crime. Professor Michael Schmitt of the University of Reading, who leads the Tallinn Manual initiative, emphasised the importance of the ICC’s potential ruling on this issue. He argued that the cyberattack on Kyivstar could be considered a war crime due to its foreseeable consequences for human safety.