25th Sep 2023


The legal battle for justice against Kremlin's 'untouchables'

  • Makeshift grave for the body of a young female civilian, killed by a Russian shell in Soledar, Donetsk, in December 2022 (Photo: Image Bank of the war in Ukraine)
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Russian leadership is committing unimaginable and unforgivable crimes against the people of Ukraine. Tens of thousands of dead, millions of refugees, deliberate attacks on civilians, and too many massacres like in Bucha.

As long as Europe strives to be a beacon of freedom, democracy and the rule of law for the global community, we must accept our responsibility for the future of Ukraine.

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  • Czech foreign minister Jan Lipavsky: 'I strongly believe that there should be involvement of the UN, to ensure maximum legitimacy and support of the international community (Photo: European Commission)

While the Kremlin could not be dissuaded from starting its dreadful war, we must pursue the punishment of those who started it.

Not only because we owe justice to the tens of thousands of needlessly murdered people, but because this evil must be clearly named in order not to be repeated.

If the international community does not punish the aggression against Ukraine, it would be a clear signal to Vladimir Putin and other dictators that there are no consequences for aggression or invading other countries. That would result in a parade of aggressions in the near future, which would cost Europe not only its credibility, but also substantial resources to defend ourselves.

Legally speaking, war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly also the crime of genocide committed on Ukraine can be prosecuted and punished before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

However, in case of Ukraine, the ICC cannot punish the crime of the crimes that happened there — the crime of aggression, which is the source of all the other crimes committed during the war.

And for that are guilty those who started this senseless war: Putin and his cronies, who planned and gave the orders to storm Ukraine. It is self-evident that those who are responsible for launching this war of aggression must be held accountable.

And it will be possible only before the Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression.

Creating a Special Tribunal is a complex endeavour. There are two basic ways we can accomplish this task.

First, to create the Special Tribunal with UN involvement, second, a hybrid tribunal operating in the Ukrainian jurisdiction with international component.

I strongly believe that, in general, there should be involvement of the UN, to ensure maximum legitimacy and support of the international community.

As a first tangible step, we aim for the establishment of the Interim Prosecution Office in The Hague, to enable the Ukrainian prosecutors to do this utmost important work.

In any case, ratification of the Rome Statute by Ukraine without delay will benefit the legitimacy of such a tribunal. I also believe that the current accountability gap will bring more ratifications of the Rome Statute, including the aggression amendments.

The ICC is the only permanent international criminal court with 123 member states, and it is only unfortunate that it cannot exercise its jurisdiction for the crime of aggression in the same manner as for other crimes under its jurisdiction.

All of those who believe in a just international order based on mutual respect and clear rules should not hesitate to join.

This is no time for complacency, because the future of our rules-based international order is at stake.

Author bio

Jan Lipavsky is the foreign minister of the Czech Republic.


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

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Why the new ECHR Ukraine-Russia ruling matters

The ECHR ruled that Russia was in "effective control" of separatist regions of Eastern Ukraine from 11 May 2014. In doing so, the court has formally acknowledged the inter-state character of the conflict and Russia's culpability for human rights abuses.

Strasbourg rights watchdog seeks Russian accountability

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