OOn February 24, 2022, the entire world watched as Russia launched an all-out military invasion of Ukraine. This date marks the beginning of Russia’s most brutal and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. It is too late to predict what will happen next. Now is the time for the civilized world to respond firmly Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
All of Ukraine joined the fight against the armed forces of Russia: the President of Ukraine, the government, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the National Guard, diplomats, doctors, firefighters, volunteers, adults and children, and together with them the allied countries that provided Ukraine with military, logistical, tactical and diplomatic support.
There is no doubt that Russia bears sovereign responsibility for what it has done. The Russian soldiers and their commanders who committed military crimes will bear responsibility. However, one question remains open: should the Russian officials responsible for committing the crime of aggression be held criminally responsible? The crime of aggression is often referred to as the “mother of all crimes”—the supreme international crime that swallows up all other international crimes. And yes, we are talking about Putin and the members of Russia’s National Security Council who publicly supported the military invasion of Ukraine.
Over the past six months, the Ukrainian government and international organizations have registered and investigated tens of thousands of criminal cases related to Russia’s war against Ukraine. These include hundreds of criminal proceedings in allied countries, but not a single one for the crime of aggression, the primary crime from which other war crimes stem.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which is investigate Russia’s crimes against Ukraine, can prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. But it is quite difficult to establish a legal link between specific crimes and instructions from the Kremlin, and therefore it is difficult to prove the direct guilt of Putin and Russian political leaders.
Furthermore, the ICC in The Hague does not have sufficient jurisdictional powers. In order for these powers to acquire the necessary scope, Ukraine and Russia must ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC and the Kampala amendments to it on the crime of aggression. Obviously, Russia will absolutely refuse to do so. Since Russia is a member of the UN Security Council, the body is unlikely to formally recognize Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which would allow the subsequent transfer of the case to the International Criminal Court.
Since the first day of the invasion on February 24, we have been looking for an answer to the following question: How to bring to justice those who unleashed the aggression against Ukraine? We weighed all existing mechanisms, including UN resolutions and the ICC. We have consulted with some of the most famous international lawyers from around the world. We concluded that there is a high risk that no one will be held accountable for the aggression, unless a special international tribunal is established, which will limit itself to investigating the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
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We want this international special tribunal to be established. We want to create it by signing an open international treaty with the entire civilized world, with all those countries that are ready to give a legal assessment to the barbaric and cruel military policy of Putin and his ruling clique. We understand that this tribunal should not be located in Ukraine. We expect global leaders to delegate competent judges to the tribunal. We very much hope that while Ukraine fights day and night for its right to exist, international legal doctrine will finally work. Or this world will just be doomed.
This is a question for the whole world. If we don’t follow these principles, are we prepared for the fact that any day a power-crazed dictator will declare new territorial claims on a country? Are we ready for new hybrid wars led by rulers detached from reality? Will we acquiesce in silence to international blackmail and terror, with a truth mutilated by propaganda? Are we ready to accept the death of tens of thousands of innocent people, including many women and children?
I know there is a lot of skepticism about this. I have heard that this tribunal will have a more symbolic meaning for Ukraine, since no one will actually force Putin to appear before it. Yes, we soberly understand that the Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression will be held “in absentia”. But is it symbolic if the tribunal can call an international criminal a criminal? Is it symbolic that the geography of Putin’s international travels will be limited to countries as far removed from democracy as from the stars? Is it symbolic that the international criminal recognized by the Tribunal finds his place in world history precisely as a criminal who cannot enter any country that has joined the international agreement establishing the tribunal, where he can be arrested?
Skeptics also like to repeat the thesis: Vladimir Putin will not go to prison anyway and die peacefully in his bed. This argument is empty and absurd. No one knows how, where and when Putin will die. But did you? the bosses of Nazi Germany to even think in May 1945 that they would be hanged or go to jail? Did Slobodan Milosevic believe in 1999 that he would die in a cell in The Hague in just five years? Did Saddam Hussein have thoughts of his impending death?
The very fact that the International Special Tribunal is preparing indictments and issuing arrest warrants will be an important step towards the recognition of global justice.
The strategic imperative to go after Russia’s leadership is to prevent future wars unleashed by mad dictators. Every evil must be punished and the function of international law has, among other things, a preventive function – as a warning and demonstration of unacceptable behavior and actions.
There is no doubt that the establishment of the International Special Tribunal will also affect the speed of the war’s conclusion. The very fact of the creation of the tribunal will show even the skeptics that it is no longer possible to shake the hand of Putin and the Russian leaders. This will finally send them into international isolation and perhaps begin to change attitudes towards the war against Ukraine in Russia itself.
Our goal is a fair trial and legal retribution. Even if Putin and the entire elite of the Russian Federation do not physically go to jail, they will be locked up in Russia and a small number of countries that still support Putin’s regime for the rest of their days.
That is why we must create an International Special Tribunal to indict Putin and Russian leaders, issue arrest warrants and hand down legal sentences.
Russia has committed all types of aggression specified in UN General Assembly Resolution 3314. Indictments can be written several months after the start of the trial.
Why are some European officials opposed to active work on the establishment of the International Special Tribunal, delaying its establishment? Some may think that in this way they are saving a way out of negotiations with Russia. Others argue that the EU supports the International Criminal Court in The Hague and that court is sufficient (although we have already concluded that it is not).
Let us examine these objections.
First, Ukraine actively cooperates with the ICC. The establishment of the International Special Tribunal for the Crime of Russian Aggression against Ukraine will not affect the ICC’s investigation of crimes in Ukraine.
Second, if Putin starts aggression against EU countries, it will be very difficult for the Europeans to deal with it. Europe lives by the rules established after the end of the Second World War. Russia, on the other hand, is led by Putin, who has been openly violating these rules for more than a decade (since the war against Georgia in 2008).
Third, the international community’s response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014-2015 was clearly inadequate and led to the full-scale Russian invasion of sovereign Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Now is the time to correct the systemic errors.
We must make it clear to all humanity that no one will escape responsibility, no matter how big and powerful the aggressor state may appear, just as Hitler and the leaders of Nazi Germany could not ultimately escape responsibility in the 1940s .
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