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9th Jun 2023

Strasbourg rights watchdog seeks Russian accountability

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The Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog Council of Europe wants Russia to pay for its crimes in Ukraine.

On Tuesday (28 February), its secretary general Marija Pejčinović Burić told EUobserver this includes setting up a new claims register to gather evidence for eventual prosecution and reparations.

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"We believe that we have the legal framework and the capacity to make this efficient and quick," she said.

Asked if she would like to see Russia's president Vladimir Putin in jail, Burić said it is up to the courts. "I think all perpetrators of the crimes for this horrible war of aggression should stand trial," she added.

The Council of Europe is composed of 46 states, all of which have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights.

For its part, the EU has yet to sign up to the convention, which is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights.

Russia was kicked out of the Council of Europe last March, following its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

The following May, Burić met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Burić says Zelensky had asked her about setting up an ad hoc tribunal.

This led to the idea of creating a claims register to record and document evidence of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

"We have the European Court for Human Rights that has been dealing with cases that are coming from this war," she said.

"So we have a knowledge how to assess the claims, whether the claims are eligible," she said.

But it is unclear when the register will be up and running.

Burić says she is making a formal proposal this week and hopes a decision will take place at a Council of Europe summit in May in Reykjavik, its fourth summit in 74 years.

She also says that anyone can join the register, even those who are not members of the Council of Europe.

People before buildings

A similar proposal was floated earlier this year by a Russian human rights lawyer Olga Gnezdilova.

Gnezdilova represents victims of the Russian state at the European Court of Human Rights.

Although Russia is no longer a part of the Council of Europe, some 17,000 pending cases can still be deliberated at the court.

Along with Ukrainian counterparts, she said they are seeking to create a pan-European system to support sexual abuse victims of crimes perpetrated by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

The hope is that the support network would entice victims to come forward given that some shun discussing their stories, while others have no where else to turn for help. This includes refugees throughout the EU, she said.

"We know that a lot of NGOs and International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators and other institutions they are ready to document these cases," she said.

"The European Court of Human Rights could deal with such cases, but Russia did not implement the judgments, so this option is closed and the ICC is also an option but it will be available not for every victim," she said.

Gnezdilova said victims should also be compensated by seized Russian oligarch assets in Europe.

"People before buildings. The cities should of course be rebuilt but after the victims," she said.

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