Recently, a draft has been going around a United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York for a Nuremberg-like tribunal to hold Russia responsible for all the war crimes it has committed in its war on Ukraine. Ever since the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24th this year under the order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the country’s military has been accused of various war crimes such as torture and rape of women and children, deliberate civilian killings, attacks in densely populated areas, and the bombing of a Mariupol theater that happened this March in which close to 600 people were killed.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), had already begun investigating these crimes, and it was proposed by British KC Philippe Sands that a special tribunal should be made to charge Russia for all of its crimes after the investigation was complete. Moreover, just last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen backed the idea of establishing a court for the special tribunal. “Russia must pay for its horrific crimes, including for its crime of aggression against a sovereign state,” said von der Leyen in a statement. The plan garnered much support from France, the Netherlands, and Baltic countries, however, the United Kingdom (UK) has not been clear on its position.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on November 9, 2022. (Photo provided by REUTERS/Yves Herman)
Additionally, the United States (U.S.) had been quite opposed to the idea of holding Russia accountable by a special tribunal, however, some persuasion by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has changed that. “It’s something that President Zelenskiy cares deeply about,” said Beth Van Schaack, the US ambassador for global criminal justice. Although Van Schaack says that the US hasn’t taken an official stance on the tribunal, it could declassify documents to make sure those most responsible for conducting the war are charged. “We’re looking at all the angles, and certainly supportive of taking some interim steps, particularly when it comes to preserving evidence,” she said.
However, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Karim Khan, denounced the plan on Monday, stating that his court was more than capable of dealing with the crimes being committed in Ukraine. Khan said that although the ICC wouldn’t be able to prosecute Putin for the crime of aggression, it could still prosecute him and other officials for war crimes and genocide. “The EU has misstated the law,” stated Khan. “We should avoid fragmentation, and instead work on consolidation.”
Other opponents of the plan state that the tribunal could potentially be too diplomatically divisive, and maybe even discourage Russian leaders from sooner reaching a peace deal. Heads of State and foreign ministers could also, under international law, claim functional immunity, making the plan useless.
However, despite this criticism, the general assembly voted 94 in favor of the tribunal, 14 against, and 73 abstained. “So far, all of the [general assembly] resolutions on Ukraine have prevailed. The numbers have been quite strong,” stated Van Schaack. A claims register will be established in The Hague, the Netherlands, to compile all of the claims necessary to prosecute Putin’s government. Ukraine has stated that it wants the tribunal to begin working in late 2023, as by then they expect that there will have been over 26,000 war crimes committed by Russia at that point.