26th Sep 2022


On Ukraine Independence Day — a look ahead

  • We have seen war crime trials already initiated in Ukraine (Photo: Rodrigo Abd)
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Today (Wednesday, 24 August) we are observing the Day of Independence in Ukraine. Putin's violent aggression against the country has been going on for exactly half a year, with no foreseeable ending of the hostilities.

Over the past few months, we have witnessed numerous accounts of documented war crimes, including indiscriminate shelling of the cities, executions of the civilian population, forced disappearances, rapes and enormous material damage on critical civil infrastructure.

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The death toll is still imprecise and far from being confirmed.

Already now, the numbers are counted in the tens of thousands. A humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the war is also manifested in over six million persons internally displaced in Ukraine and more than 10.8 million border crossings recorded out of the country.

While trying to introduce their legal order in parts of Ukraine currently under its control, Russian authorities at home continue to curb any form of independent political or civic activism or the criticism of government wrongdoings.

Once the hostilities eventually end, the affected parties will have to embark on the process of reconciliation.

To initiate this process, certain requirements will have to be met. It is important to collect the facts on mass-scale human rights violations, which can be corroborated. Because of this, the gathering of evidence in real time by a number of international institutions must be supported without hesitation.

In this respect, an important role is played by Ukrainian human rights organisations, who have been systematically documenting war crimes since 2014, and after the outbreak of hostilities in February of this year, have established the Ukraine 5AM Coalition, whose contribution played a crucial part in the report produced under the OSCE Moscow mechanism.

The timely gathering of evidence and data in general will also have a substantial role in tracing the missing and forcibly displaced persons, with which the Russian human rights defenders and civil society are helping.

The second dimension is bringing the people responsible for the outbreak of the war and committing war crimes to justice.

We have seen war crime trials already initiated in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian judiciary will have to prove that it will abide by the judicial practices of fair trial and work independently from the politics, to ensure the fairness of the processes based on international standards, which represents a crucial value of a democratic society.

However, the process of bringing those responsible to justice will be undoubtedly hindered by the unavailability of the alleged perpetrators. Such trials are impossible to realise in today's Russia.

Accepting its responsibility for causing the war will require a substantial change of the prevailing political reality and reinstallment of democratic state institutions, which were demolished by Vladimir Putin's regime. Without this change, Russia would remain immersed in its unlawfulness and political irresponsibility.

The experience of the previous military conflicts in Europe and the world, including the Balkan wars in the 1990s, provide us with enough ideas and concepts of how the international community could facilitate and supplement the process, such as the reconciliation/truth commissions and the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

The jurisdiction of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court could also be used to bring people responsible to trial.

All these serve for the main point — to ensure the possibility of reconciliation and the sustainability of the peace in Europe in the future.

Without a doubt, a process of achieving this outcome will be impeded with tremendous hatred, mistrust and revanchism, as well as rise of nationalistic tendencies.

At the same time, the various communities will have to find a values-based way to live together in order to rebuild their societies and create conditions for a peaceful co-existence, once the situation on the Russian side permits.

The process of transitional justice we are facing, based on the experiences of the wars in former Yugoslavia, will last for decades, and it will require a significant amount of investment of resources and attention of the whole European and international community.

Without an active participation of civil society organisations and institutions from Ukraine, Russia and the European Union in this process, all such attempts would be doomed to fail. Therefore, this is the right time now to support civil society.

Author bio

Nikola Mokrović is an archivist and research coordinator at Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past in Croatia, and co-chair of the board at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, a network of currently 190 NGOs from the EU, Russia and the United Kingdom.


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

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