Investigations into possible war crimes and human rights violations in Ukraine have been ongoing for a long time.
The UN Human Rights Council set up a commission of inquiry almost a year ago. Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) is expected to appeal to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday for the investigation to be extended.
On March 3, 2022, the UN Human Rights Council decided to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate crimes committed in the Ukraine war. It is tasked with investigating violations of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and securing evidence for trials. In an interim report in September, UN investigators identified “numerous war crimes” in Ukraine. These were acts committed at the beginning of the Russian invasion in the Kiev, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions.
The commission’s mandate was initially limited to one year. Germany is aiming for an extension by another year and an expansion of the mandate to include the kidnapping of Ukrainian children to Russia.
ICC responsible in The Hague
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is responsible for prosecuting war crimes. He has also been investigating crimes against humanity and genocide since 2002. Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan is investigating the case of Ukraine and is being supported by Germany and 13 other EU countries.
However, neither Russia nor Ukraine are contracting parties to the ICC. However, following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine recognized the jurisdiction of the Criminal Court for all crimes committed on its territory.
Investigations are also underway in Ukraine itself, and the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office in Germany has already initiated so-called structural investigations into possible Russian war crimes.
Ukraine calls for special tribunal
Ukraine and its allies also want to hold Russia accountable for the crime of aggression. This involves the planning, preparation and execution of the attack on Ukraine, such as the invasion, bombing and blockade of ports. The Hague Criminal Court has theoretically been able to take action here since 2018. However, since Russia does not recognize the court, the ICC cannot take action against Moscow for the crime of aggression. Although the UN Security Council could commission the court with such an investigation, Russia could block it with its veto.
Ukraine is therefore demanding a special tribunal for Russia’s “aggression”. Baerbock supports this and in mid-January proposed a tribunal based on Ukrainian law with international judges. For the time being, however, Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin could not be prosecuted for reasons of immunity.
Many countries therefore prefer an international special court. However, the hurdles are high: either the UN Security Council would have to agree, where Russia has a veto right – or there would have to be a two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly.