Experts from the United States and several other countries will begin working with Ukrainian counterparts within weeks to collect evidence and identify individuals involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine who can be prosecuted for the crime of aggression, a U.S. diplomat told VOA.
VOA was told this week that the work, to be conducted by the newly formed International Center for Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression, was given the go-ahead at a meeting in Warsaw of the year-old Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, which comprises the United States, European Union and Britain.
“The United States will be sending the senior prosecutor; the other countries made various pledges,” explained Beth Van Schaack, the State Department ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, on the sidelines of the Warsaw meeting.
“The institution will be launched at the end of this month … bringing together experts who will be working side by side with Ukrainian counterparts in order to lay the groundwork for the application of individual criminal responsibility for the crime of aggression committed in Ukraine,” she said.
Hazel Cameron, head of department at the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told VOA the international partners are helping Ukraine collect evidence to ensure international justice in the future. Britain is already providing expertise and resources, including mobile units for collecting and documenting the evidence, she said.
“In the highest possible standards — justice has to be done and seen,” she said.
The new center, to be based at The Hague, is an outgrowth of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group that was launched in May 2022 to support the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine (OPG) in its investigation and prosecution of conflict-related crimes, according to a State Department website.
More than 80,000 cases registered
In more than a year since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the OPG has registered more than 80,000 cases of war crimes committed by members of Russia’s forces.
In their Warsaw meetings Thursday and Friday, several speakers echoed sentiments expressed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a recent visit to The Hague, where he said impunity from prosecution “is the key that opens the door to aggression.”
“If you look at any war, any war of aggression in history, they all have one thing in common: The perpetrators of the war didn’t believe they would have to stand to answer for what they did,” he said in the Dutch city, home to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March.
‘Crimes against humanity’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his virtual address at this week’s session, said Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including the systematic torture and killings in active regions, are “intended to steal Ukraine’s very future.”
“These acts are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukrainian civilians. They constitute crimes against humanity. And they are still being committed today. The United States is committed to pursuing accountability for Russia’s atrocities, including war crimes.”
U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign Commonwealth Affairs James Cleverly said Russian crimes in Ukraine cannot be ignored. “It’s clear that the scale of the accountability challenge is huge and responding requires a coordinated international approach on several fronts.”
Russia has previously denied targeting civilians and has not responded to allegations that its forces committed atrocities or tortured Ukrainians, including a recent request by a U.N.-backed Human Rights Council commission.
While the effort to collect and document the evidence of Russian war crimes is taking shape, it is still unclear when and in what forum any future trials might take place.
“Everyone understands there is a gap in the international system of accountability,” explained Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin on the sidelines of the Warsaw meetings.
He told VOA the ICC “has jurisdiction, but not in our case. The [U.N.] Security Council will never refer this case to the ICC while Russia is a member of the Security Council,” where Moscow has veto power.
Watch video: Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group Discusses Steps to Pursue War Crimes
As a result, Kostin said, Ukraine has proposed the establishment of a new mechanism “based on the practice of different previous tribunals, starting with the Nurenberg one” that prosecuted Nazi war criminals after World War II.
He said the idea for a special tribunal is gaining ground and now is supported by 37 countries.
Van Schaak said the United States and its partners fully support the creation of a special tribunal.
“Indeed, we are totally united on the need of creating some kind of the dedicated tribunal to prosecute individuals who are responsible for either planning or executing the war of aggression commented against Ukraine,” she said, adding that the world has not seen this scale of atrocities and crimes since World War II.
Kostin said there is no country that has not been affected by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“The world should understand that this is a global war. And the creation of a special tribunal is not only to punish the crime of aggression against Ukraine but also to create the mechanism to deter the future aggression.”