29th Mar 2023


More EU teams needed to prosecute Ukraine war crimes

  • Mariupol, Ukraine. Last week, the ICC deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts, and support personnel to Ukraine to advance its investigations (Photo: Azov)
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Putin's invasion of Ukraine has brought unprecedented atrocities not seen in Europe since the World War II. Eyewitness reports and the preliminary work of Ukrainian investigators suggest Russian military forces have committed widespread war crimes and even genocidal acts in several areas in Ukraine.

We have all recalled in horror at the sight of indiscriminate attacks, and reports of abductions, extrajudicial executions, rape and torture. Unfortunately, what we have heard so far is probably the tip of the iceberg. Reports from Russian occupied regions, for example in Mariupol, are deeply concerning.

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While the European Union has reacted quickly to help Ukraine with aid and to put in place unprecedented sanctions, we must also do everything within our power to help all the Ukrainian victims of Putin's aggression realise their rights to truth, justice and reparations.

Ultimately, this means ensuring that cases are brought for prosecution to the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, the scale of the challenge for the Ukrainian authorities alone to store and preserve all the evidence securely is great. They need the help of friends and allies.

That is why the role of Eurojust, the Hague-based EU agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, is instrumental.

I strongly welcome that the European Commission has proposed to extend the mandate of Eurojust to allow the agency to participate in the identification, investigation and collecting of evidence of war crimes in Ukraine in collaboration with International Criminal Court (ICC).

This week, the European Parliament acted to translate this proposal into reality as soon as possible.

Recently, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, in coordination with Eurojust, set up a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on alleged core international crimes committed in Ukraine, which is a very welcome development.

A Joint Investigation Team is a team of prosecutors, police and judges from different countries who come together under the coordination of Eurojust to synchronize cross-border investigations and bring prosecutions to a successful conclusion. JITs have a track record of achieving results: from the Bataclan attacks to the MH17 investigation.

More member states needed

This is why we need an increased number of EU member states to join the Joint Investigation Team focussed on Ukraine. This sort of close collaboration partnership can enable efficient, rapid and real-time coordination and exchange of information between the involved parties.

Last week, the ICC deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts, and support personnel to Ukraine to advance its investigations.

Around 30 of these investigators were seconded by the Netherlands and it is a clear sign of a new course that the ICC prosecutor is taking in building partnerships and working internationally when prosecuting international crimes. It is also a clear example of how international cooperation and coordination can contribute to bringing war criminals to justice much quicker than we have seen in the past.

A large number of actors are now involved in investigating war crimes in Ukraine.

Over 10 national authorities, the International Criminal Court, and the World Health Organisation, just to name a few. It is my opinion that much more of these efforts should be channelled through the Joint Investigation Team on Ukraine with the support of Eurojust. EU member states should join this investigation team in order to collaborate together to bring war criminals to justice.

As the European Parliament's rapporteur for the regulation that seeks to deepen and facilitate international collaboration in Joint Investigation Teams, I see the strength in the European Parliament's vision for establishing a so-called Joint Investigation Teams Collaboration Platform.

The aim is to set up a cooperation platform to provide technical support to the parties involved in Joint Investigation Teams to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their cross-border investigations and prosecutions. The International Criminal Court needs to be able to better cooperate with Joint Investigation Teams in the future.

Meetings with the president of Eurojust and the prosecutor's team of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, have convinced me that if the Collaboration Platform would already have been in place, we could have much more easily facilitated the cooperation between the current parties of the Joint Investigation Teams on the war crimes committed in Ukraine.

The European Parliament this week adopted a resolution on the fight against impunity for war crimes in Ukraine, outlining many of these recommendations. We need to act on these urgently if we are to do justice for the victims of Putin's atrocious acts.

The road to justice will be long and arduous, but there must be no impunity for the perpetrators of crimes in the months and years to come.

Author bio

Malik Azmani is a Dutch MEP and vice-president of Renew Europe.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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