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PACE unanimously demands an international tribunal to prosecute Russian and Belarusian leaders for the crime of aggression against Ukraine

Oleksandra Matviichuk, Director of the Center for Civil Liberties, winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has unanimously demanded the setting up of a special international criminal tribunal in The Hague to prosecute Russian and Belarusian political and military leaders who “planned, prepared, initiated or executed” Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

“Without their decision to wage this war of aggression against Ukraine, the atrocities that flow from it, as well as the destruction, death and damage resulting from the war, including from lawful acts of war, would not have occurred,” the Assembly pointed out, approving a resolution based on a report by Damien Cottier (Switzerland, ALDE).

Such a tribunal should be “endorsed and supported by as many states and international organisations as possible, and in particular by the UN General Assembly”. The Council of Europe should have an active leading role and provide concrete support.

In an address Oleksandra Matviichuk, the head of Ukrainian human rights NGO Center for Civil Liberties, which was jointly awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, told the parliamentarians: “Yes, this is a courageous step. But we have one strong argument: we must do it because it is the right thing to do.”

No other international criminal tribunal is competent to prosecute and punish the crime of aggression against Ukraine, the Assembly pointed out, noting that the International Criminal Court (ICC) does not currently have jurisdiction. A referral to the Court by the UN Security Council was “highly implausible in present circumstances” given Russia’s veto, while the ICC would continue to have jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and possible genocide committed in Ukraine.

Meanwhile the Assembly said there was “mounting evidence” that Russian rhetoric justifying the war “reveals a genocidal intent” to destroy the Ukrainian national group. Some of the acts committed against Ukrainian civilians, including killings, forcible transfers and the “russification” of Ukrainian children, could fall under the definition of genocide.

Russia should also “make reparation” for the injuries and losses caused by its wrongful acts, the parliamentarians said. They called for an international compensation mechanism for Ukraine, open to all like-minded states, including as a first step an international register of damage and later a commission to adjudicate claims and a compensation fund. The Council of Europe should play a leading role in setting up and managing the future mechanism.

The Assembly added that the UN’s inability to counter Russian aggression due to abuse of the veto right in the Security Council was “an existential threat to the international rules-based order”, and that it supported all efforts and discussions to unblock the situation.

AS/Jur Rapporteur Damien Cottier, opening PACE's debate on accountability for Russia's aggression against Ukraine, holds up a copy of the first Geneva Convention
Members applauding during the speech by Oleksandra MATVIICHUK
Oleksandra Matviichuk, Director of the Center for Civil Liberties, winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize