Can popular media personalities who promote violence be held accountable if their propaganda was acted upon? Could they be held accountable if they promoted violence on the behest of their government? To clarify the question, here are two examples with different outcomes:

Leni Riefenstahl was instrumental in Nazi propaganda, including propaganda directed against Jews prior and during the Holocaust. Although she was arrested, in the end her role was classified as "fellow traveler" and she lived free into the 21st century.

Hassan Ngeze of RTLM called for extermination of Tutsis in Rwanda. His broadcasts caused numerous Tutsis being murdered. He was subseqently convicted as a war criminal.

Since 2014 Russian state-controlled TV broadcasters were spreading vicious rumors against Ukrainians, successfully convincing Russian population that Ukrainians were evil. There's no doubt that they spread the lies knowingly; there is even a direct testimony about that now.

Thus the question: could Russian TV personalities who promote violence against Ukrainians be held criminally responsible for the war crimes?

  • The answers are going to vary wildly based the jurisdiction whose laws might be applied. Are you asking about the likely outcomes in any particular judicial system?
    – bdb484
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 20:15
  • @bdb484, international law. something like en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . Is this doable for Russian propaganda figures?
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 20:40

3 Answers 3


Can popular media personalities who promote violence be held accountable if their propaganda was acted upon? Could they be held accountable if they promoted violence on the behest of their government?

Probably not.

Merely inciting violence or supporting a war, particularly once the war has begun, is usually not a war crime, even in cases where it is illegal activity on other grounds.

Also, in Russia, it is fair to conclude that popular media personalities are not at liberty to speak freely and truthfully about this subject. They face duress and retaliation for failing to "toe the party line" in a regime with a well established pattern and practice of punishing journalists, sometimes with death or prolonged imprisonment, for failing to enthusiastically support government positions on key issue like a war currently being prosecuted by the Russian government.

In this respect, a Russian popular media personality is not in a similar position to Rwandan inciters of the Tutsi genocide. In Rwanda, the personalities promoting the violence were basically the masterminds of the mass violence, rather than merely people complying with government imposed mandates upon them that were primarily initiated and organized by government officials whom the Russian personalities have to obey.


Unfortunately, this depends on who organizes the trials.

The international community is not comparable to a nation. In a nation, the legislative passes laws and the judiciary enforces them. If there is the rule of law, the judiciary enforces the law as it was written and in accordance with general principles of justice. The legislative and judiciary are appointed according to the constitutional process.

In the global community, nations are principally equal and sovereign. That concept is called Westphalian sovereignty, in reference to the treaties which ended the 30 years' war in Europe centuries ago. I wrote "principally" because there is a counter-movement to make human rights violations a global crime, notably the Nuremberg trials after WWII. But the Nuremberg trials happened after Germany and Japan were occupied.

Most of the likely outcomes of this war will see Russia unoccupied, sovereign, and somewhat sanctioned afterwards. The government may or may not be the same. A new Russian government may or may not prosecute the key supporters of the old government. Russia is not exactly known for a rule of law. What the guy in the Kremlin says, goes.

The international community might try to get their hands on key supporters of the Russian government, but look how unsuccessful they were at getting the DPRK or Syrian governments ...


Regarding the trial of Hassan Ngeze, his conviction was secured by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, a court that was established by UN Security Council Resolution 955. Russia has veto power over Security council resolutions, so establishing a special tribunal through the UN, in order to punish Russia, is unlikely to succeed. The Nuremberg Trials were unusual in holding individuals responsible rather than blaming the offending state, and was limited to prosecution of Germans in order to avoid being held to account in international courts. The Nuremberg Charter established a new category of prosecutable crime, in article 6:

(c) Crimes against humanity: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

It should be noted that advocacy of such acts is outside the scope of powers of that court.

Under the assumption that Russia does not enjoy a major regime change, legal actions against media persons in Russia would have to be carried out in the context of existing international law. As far as I know, the International Criminal Court is the only court with plausible jurisdiction in such a case, but that court can prosecute only cases involving members of the ICC, and Russia is no longer "participating", having given notice in response to earlier criticisms over the first Russian invasion in 2016.

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