The European Parliament has passed a resolution to create a special tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression against Ukraine. The country’s top leadership is responsible for such crimes.
The European Union and its members should push for the creation of a special international tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression against Ukraine committed by Russia’s political and military leadership, according to a European Parliament resolution adopted Thursday, January 19, in Strasbourg. It was voted for by 472 MEPs, opposed by 19 and abstained by 33.
The European Parliament has decided that a special tribunal, similar to the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, where Nazi leaders were tried, must be set up in close cooperation with Ukraine and the international community, preferably through the United Nations. Such tribunals were established by the UN Security Council to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Lift Putin’s and Lukashenko’s Immunity
The main task of the authors of the initiative is to find a common legal way for this, and the main condition is that the court must have jurisdiction to prosecute Vladimir Putin, the political and military leadership of the Russian Federation, as well as Alexander Lukashenko and the leadership of Belarus as the state from whose territory and with whose support Russia wages war against Ukraine.
The fact is that the top leadership of the country is responsible for the crimes of aggression, but it is subject to international immunity from foreign criminal jurisdiction. This means that immunity must be lifted for such a tribunal. This is why strong support from the international community is needed, since the UN Security Council is paralyzed on any issue related to the war in Ukraine, as Russia is its permanent veto-wielding member.
Therefore, the EU and Ukraine should seek support in the UN General Assembly and other international forums, actively using public diplomacy and strategic communication, the European Parliament resolution stresses.
Put Russia’s Assets to Reparation for Ukraine
Moreover, the European Union and its partners were called to discuss legal ways to use the frozen assets of the Russian Central Bank as reparations for Russia’s violations of international law in Ukraine. In particular, to consider the potential denial of protection of sovereign immunity for these assets due to the gravity of the offenses. Without lifting immunity, there can be no talk of confiscating public Russian assets.
The creation of the tribunal would send a clear signal to both Russian society and the international community that Putin and the Russian leadership could be put on trial for the crime of aggression in Ukraine, the European Parliament is convinced. And it should demonstrate to Russia’s political, business elite and Kremlin allies that the country under Putin’s leadership will no longer be able to return to business practices with the West, the MEPs emphasize.
“Paradoxically, Russia itself needs such a tribunal,” Latvian MP Roberts Zile said during the debate, “it is important to stop the imperialist narrative in its society and to ensure that future generations of this country put an end to Russian imperialist militarism.” MEPs are confident that for Ukraine the tribunal will play an important role in achieving justice and for the rest of the world in deterring other states from repeating aggression.
The first stage is the ad hoc international special prosecutor’s office
The most important practical step on the way to establishing a special tribunal should be an international special prosecutor’s office to investigate the crime of aggression against Ukraine, the European Parliament resolution says. European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders mentioned this as well. Speaking to the MPs, he stressed that before a tribunal starts working, a mechanism is needed to investigate the crime of aggression.
The international special prosecutor’s office will be the first step in the fight against impunity for this crime committed in Ukraine. According to Reynders, the EU is already discussing the setting up of a prosecutor’s office with official Kyiv, Eurojust and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide committed on the territory of Ukraine since November 2013. However, it has no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as defined in the Rome Statute because neither Ukraine nor Russia has ratified the Rome Statute and the amendments relating to the crime of aggression. In this regard, the European Parliament and the European Commission stress that it is important that Ukraine ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC and its amendments, as well as formally join the ICC. “This would be an important external and internal signal from Kyiv,” Reynders stressed.
Russia refused to participate in the ICC in 2016 – after the annexation of Crimea was recognized as occupation. A year and a half earlier, Ukraine partially recognized its jurisdiction, which opened the way for the ICC Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague to open an investigation after a full-scale Russian invasion.
Put an end to impunity for aggression against Ukraine
The establishment of a special tribunal for the crime of aggression will not affect the jurisdiction of the ICC, but will only supplement it, the EU is convinced. “Russian leaders cannot currently be held accountable for the crime of aggression in any jurisdiction,” Reynders explained. Therefore, “the creation of such a tribunal would fix a large gap in the structure of international criminal justice,” the European Parliament’s resolution says. For its part, the ICC prosecutor will focus on investigating alleged crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine.
The EU preparations on the special tribunal should be started immediately, the MEPs decided. “Let’s not be late at least with the tribunal, since we are already late with the Leopards,” the Lithuanian MP Andrius Kubilius urged. The Russian crime of aggression against Ukraine “in the interests of global security and the rules-based international order cannot remain unanswered by the international community”, the resolution said.