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BELARUS: Journalist Yauhen Merkis sentenced to 4 years in prison

Journalist Yauhen Merkis sentenced to 4 years in prison on extremism charges

CPJ (30.05.2023) — In response to a Belarusian court sentencing journalist Yauhen Merkis to four years in prison on Tuesday, May 30, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

“The sentencing of Belarusian journalist Yauhen Merkis to four years in prison on retaliatory extremism charges is the latest expression of authorities’ vendetta against those who dared cover nationwide protests following the disputed 2020 presidential election,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should drop all charges against Merkis, release him immediately alongside all other imprisoned journalists, and stop retaliating against members of the press for their reporting.”

On Tuesday, a court in the southeastern city of Homel convicted Merkis of creating or participating in an extremist formation and facilitating extremist activities, according to those reports and reports by the banned human rights group Viasna and the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group operating from exile. The court also confiscated the journalist’s car, laptop, and phone.

Authorities detained Merkis in September 2022. Merkis, a former freelance reporter, contributed reporting about the 2020 protests and was repeatedly detained and fined in connection to his journalistic activity, Viasna reported. He stopped working in journalism after authorities labeled several independent media outlets he worked with as extremist organizations, BAJ reported.

Merkis’ trial began on May 11, 2023, and was held behind closed doors. Authorities accused the journalist of sending pictures about the presence and movement of Russian military equipment in the Homel region to Telegram channels labeled “extremist” by the authorities.

CPJ was unable to immediately determine whether Merkis intends to appeal the sentence. His lawyer signed a non-disclosure agreement, and whether the journalist pled innocent or guilty has not been made public, BAJ reported.

Belarus was the world’s fifth worst jailer of journalists, with at least 26 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2022, including Merkis, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.

Photo Credit: Belarusian Association of Journalists

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SUDAN: Journalists shot, beaten, and harassed covering the conflict in Sudan

Journalists shot, beaten, and harassed covering conflict between Sudan’s rival military groups

CPJ (30.05.2023) – On May 1, freelance Sudanese photographer Faiz Abuabkar was filming clashes in Khartoum when, he says, he was shot in the back by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group vying for power with the Sudanese military. The RSF then held him for three hours at a checkpoint, where he was threatened at knife point and beaten. 

“I was ready to die,” he told CPJ. “They accused me of being a spy for the Sudanese army, and when they searched my Facebook and found out that I am a freelance journalist who is not working for a specific outlet, they let me go.”  

Battles between RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), former allies who jointly seized power in a 2021 coup, have made headlines around the world. Hundreds of civilians have died, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and thousands of foreigners have been evacuated. But Sudanese journalists have been hampered in covering the events since fighting broke out April 15 due to tensions over the Sudanese army’s integration of the RSF. The two sides signed a shaky ceasefire in late May, but it has been repeatedly breached. 

According to reporters on the ground and statements by the local trade union, the Sudanese Journalists Syndicate, journalists have been beaten, detained, and interrogated. While the RSF appears to be responsible for most of the incidents, SAF forces also beat BBC correspondent Mohamed Othman last month, the syndicate said. (Othman and the BBC did not return requests for comment; CPJ’s emails requesting comment from the SAF and the RSF were not returned.) 

In general, the fighting has proved disruptive to newsgathering as many journalists, along with other civilians, have been trapped at home or work due to violence on the street. There have also been internet blackouts

On May 16, RSF soldiers detained Al-Jazeera journalists Ahmed Fadl and Rashid Gibril at a checkpoint in Khartoum. The journalists were held overnight. The next day, RSF soldiers raided Fadl’s house, where Gibril happened to be at the time, and threatened and beat the journalists and stole their cell phones, money, clothes, and Fadl’s car. On May 18, RSF forces also beat and robbed freelance journalist Eissa Dafaallah while he was filming the aftermath of fighting in the city of Nyala.  

Salem Mahmoud, a correspondent for Saudi broadcaster Al-Arabiya, was delivering a live report on April 29 when an RSF military vehicle parked nearby and interrupted his coverage. Video of the report shows RSF soldiers asking Mahmoud about his work before driving away. 

“Moving between Omdurman and Khartoum to cover the news is very difficult,” Mahmoud told CPJ in a phone interview. “Whenever we go anywhere, we come across a checkpoint where soldiers stop us, ask us who we work for, what we are reporting on. You never feel safe while working. They can arrest you at any moment. And when they do, they can confiscate your equipment before letting you go.” 

News organizations have also been targeted. On April 15, the RSF raided and seized control of the state television headquarters in Omdurman and stopped its broadcast. (The army denied that this happened at the time, according to Reuters.) Fifteen journalists and media workers were trapped inside the building with no food, Sudanese Journalists Syndicate chairman Abdel Moniem Abu Idris told CPJ. One group was released after two weeks and another after three following negotiations with RSF soldiers. As of late May, the broadcast has not resumed and RSF soldiers are still in control of two state television buildings, he said. 

Hala 96, a local independent radio station, shut down due to signal interruptions on April 15, according to the outlet’s social media officer Mohamed Hashem. He told CPJ that the station’s employees believe that RSF forces occupied the building weeks later when a widely circulated video showed armed individuals inside using the office equipment and threatening the military.  

According to the syndicate, closures like these have forced dozens of journalists out of their jobs.

Some journalists have also fled. Freelance journalist Ismail Kushkush was trapped in his apartment in downtown Khartoum for over a week with no electricity. He covered the conflict from inside his apartment, before fleeing to Egypt. 

“We knew that the building was surrounded by RSF soldiers, so we were concerned that they might storm the building and take over our apartments,” he told CPJ. “Personally, I was concerned about them finding out I am a reporter since I heard from one resident in the building who spoke to an RSF soldier that they wanted to make sure that there were no SAF soldiers or reporters in the building. So, when I was leaving the building, I hid my phone in my pants so they don’t find any of the footage I took from my balcony.”  

Abuabkar, the journalist who was shot by RSF forces, is now also in Egypt. 

“Once my wound got better, I went to Cairo temporarily. Even though there isn’t a lot of opportunities for us [journalists] over there, but it is just safer,” he said. “Honestly, if the current clashes continue in Sudan for a much longer time, I think I will have to go anywhere in Europe and try to start a new life from scratch. It is just too dangerous in Sudan right now.”

Photo credits: AFP

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УКРАИНА: повреждение 110 религиозных объектов проверено ЮНЕСКО

Упавший купол возле храма Пресвятой Богородицы («Всех скорбящих Радость»), разрушенного российской авиабомбой 18 января 2023 года в Богородичном, Украина. Global Images Украина

Эмблема щита ЮНЕСКО, защищающая религиозные и культурные ценности


УКРАИНА: повреждение 110 религиозных объектов проверено и задокументировано ЮНЕСКО

Вилли Фотре, директор организации «Права человека без границ»

European Times (25.05.2023) – По состоянию на 17 мая 2023 г. ЮНЕСКО подтвердила причинение начиная с 24 февраля 2022 г. ущерба 256 объектам: 110 религиозным объектам, 22 музеям, 92 зданиям, представляющим исторический и/или художественный интерес, 19 памятникам, 12 библиотекам, 1 архиву.

Отчет Украинского института религиозной свободы (январь 2023 г.)

По данным Украинского института религиозной свободы (ИРС), в результате полномасштабного российского вторжения в Украину не менее 494 культовых зданий, богословских учреждений и святых мест были полностью разрушены, повреждены или разграблены российскими военными.

ИРС представил эти последние обновленные данные о влиянии войны на украинские религиозные общины 31 января и 1 февраля во время Саммита по международной религиозной свободе (IRF Summit 2023), который проходил в Вашингтоне, округ Колумбия.

Больше всего церквей, мечетей и синагог было разрушено в Донецкой области (не менее 120) и Луганской области (более 70). Масштабы разрушений огромны и на Киевщине (70), где велись отчаянные бои при обороне столицы, и на Харьковщине – более 50 разрушенных культовых сооружений. Налеты российской авиации, в том числе с использованием иранских беспилотников, затронули практически все регионы Украины и продолжаются по сей день.

В наибольшей степени от российской агрессии пострадали храмы Украинской православной церкви (принадлежащей Московскому патриархату) — не менее 143 были разрушены.

Огромны масштабы разрушения молитвенных домов евангелических церквей – их не менее 170, из которых больше всего пострадали церкви евангельских христиан — 75, молитвенные дома евангельских баптистов — 49 и церкви адвентистов седьмого дня — 24.

Обновленные данные ИРС также содержат информацию о разрушении Залов Царства Свидетелей Иеговы – всего 94 культовых сооружения, из которых семь полностью разрушены, 17 сильно повреждены, 70 повреждены незначительно.

политика ЮНЕСКО

ЮНЕСКО проводит предварительную оценку ущерба, нанесенного культурным ценностям*, сверяя сообщения об инцидентах с многочисленными заслуживающими доверия источниками. Эти публикуемые данные, которые регулярно обновляются, не налагают на Организацию никаких обязательств. ЮНЕСКО также разрабатывает совместно со своими партнерскими организациями механизм независимой скоординированной оценки данных в Украине, включая анализ спутниковых изображений, в соответствии с положениями Гаагской конвенции 1954 г. о защите культурных ценностей в случае вооруженного конфликта.

*Термин «культурные ценности» относится к недвижимым культурным ценностям, как они определены в статье 1 Гаагской конвенции 1954 г., независимо от их происхождения, права собственности или статуса регистрации в национальном реестре, а также объектам и памятникам, посвященным культуре, включая мемориалы.

Организация находится в контакте с украинскими властями с целью обозначения культурных объектов и памятников отличительной эмблемой «Голубой щит» согласно Гаагской конвенции 1954 года о защите культурных ценностей в случае вооруженного конфликта, чтобы избежать преднамеренного или случайного повреждения.

Объекты, внесенные в список Всемирного наследия, такие как объект “«Киев: Софийский собор и связанные с ним монастырские постройки, Киево-Печерская Лавра», считаются приоритетными.

Комментарий Одри Азуле, Генерального директора ЮНЕСКО

Первая задача состоит в том, чтобы обозначить объекты и памятники культурного наследия и напомнить об их особом статусе охраняемых территорий в соответствии с международным правом.

На сегодняшний день ни один объект всемирного наследия ЮНЕСКО не пострадал.

ЮНЕСКО также помогла украинским властям обозначить культурные объекты отличительной эмблемой синего щита. Этот символ указывает на то, что собственность находится под защитой Гаагской конвенции 1954 года. Поэтому любое нарушение считается нарушением международного права и может преследоваться в судебном порядке. Следует также отметить, что ни один из семи объектов всемирного наследия ЮНЕСКО на сегодняшний день не пострадал.

Закладка фундамента для будущей реконструкции

Регистрируя и документируя повреждения и разрушения культурных объектов, ЮНЕСКО не только предупреждает о серьезности ситуации, но и готовится к будущей реконструкции. Хотя еще слишком рано начинать работу, организация ООН уже создала фонд, посвященный действиям в поддержку Украины, и обратилась с призывом к своим государствам-членам для быстрого реагирования.

Список поврежденных религиозных и культурных объектов по регионам  по состоянию на 17 мая 2023 г. (полный список ЗДЕСЬ)

Донецкая область: 71 поврежденный объект

Харьковская область: 55 поврежденных объектов

Киевская область: 38 поврежденных объектов

Луганская область: 32 поврежденных объекта

Черниговская область: 17 поврежденных объектов

Сумская область: 12 поврежденных объектов

Запорожская область: 11 поврежденных объектов

Николаевская область: 7 поврежденных объектов

Херсонская область: 4 поврежденных объекта

Житомирская область: 3 поврежденных объекта

Винницкая область: 2 поврежденных объекта

Днепропетровская область: 1 поврежденный объект

Одесская область: 1 поврежденный объект

Предыдущие оценки и некоторые декларации ЮНЕСКО

На 23 июня 2022 г., согласно проверкам, проведенным экспертами ЮНЕСКО, в результате боевых действий частично или полностью разрушено 152 объекта культурного наследия, в том числе 70 культовых сооружений, 30 исторических зданий, 18 домов культуры, 15 памятников, 12 музеев и семь библиотек.

Комментарий Одри Азуле, Генерального директора ЮНЕСКО

“Эти неоднократные нападения на украинские культурные объекты должны прекратиться. Культурное наследие во всех его формах не должно подвергаться нападению ни при каких обстоятельствах. Я повторяю свой призыв к соблюдению международного гуманитарного права, в частности Гаагской конвенции о защите культурных ценностей в случае вооруженного конфликта.”

 8 марта 2022 года ЮНЕСКО опубликовала заявление, в котором говорится, что она находится в постоянном контакте со всеми соответствующими учреждениями, а также с украинскими деятелями культуры для оценки ситуации и усиления защиты культурных ценностей.

ЮНЕСКО предоставила специалистам в области культуры технические консультации по защите зданий. Были определены необходимые инвентарные работы и меры защите объектов, возможных к перемещению, а также были усилены противопожарные мероприятия.


Комментарий Одри Азуле, Генерального директора ЮНЕСКО

Мы должны охранять культурное наследие Украины как свидетельство прошлого, но также и как катализатор мира и сплоченности для будущего, которое международное сообщество обязано защищать и сохранять.

Контактное лицо ЮНЕСКО для прессы: Томас Маллард +33145682293

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IRAN: UN rights experts ‘deeply alarmed’ at continuing executions of Iran protesters

UN rights experts ‘deeply alarmed’ at continuing executions of Iran protesters

EUROPEAN TIMES (19.05.2023) – The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Iran, said in a statement that the executions on Friday of Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirhashemi and Saeed Yaghoubi, were “profoundly concerning in view of the reported involvement of these individuals in the protests that commenced in Iran on 16 September 2022, and allegations of their having been convicted and sentenced through confessions obtained under torture.”

The three-person body, which is mandated to investigate all alleged violations relating to the protests, had previously asked Iranian authorities for information in relation to imposition of the death penalty on some of those exercising their right to protest.

“The Fact-Finding Mission reminds all State authorities and individuals involved in this process, that any execution following a fair trial violation would amount to arbitrary deprivation of life and a violation of international law”, the statement concluded. 

End ‘horrific wave’ of executions: Rapporteurs

In a separate statement, three concerned UN independent rights experts, or Special Rapporteurs, condemned the executions of the three men, urging the Government to “halt the appalling wave of executions in Iran.” 

“We are alarmed by reports of unfair proceedings in the case and deeply disturbed that these men have reportedly been subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment to extract forced confessions,” the experts said.

The three men were reportedly arrested on 21 November 2022 during protests in Esfahan city following the uprising sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on 16 September, in police custody.

The men were accused of participating in the killing of three Iranian officials, and sentenced to death after being charged with were sentenced to death and charged with moharebeh (which translates as “enmity against God”).

‘Scant regard’ for international law

“The executions of the three men this morning underlines our concerns that the Iranian authorities continue to have scant regard for international law,” the experts said. “The death penalty has been applied following judicial proceedings that failed to meet acceptable international standards of fair trial or due process.”

The three experts – Javaid RehmanSpecial Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran;  Margaret Satterthwaitethe expert on independence of judges and lawyers; and Morris Tidball-Binzwho investigates extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – said that reports indicated the extent of the defendants’ alleged involvement in the officers’ deaths, was highly uncertain and questionable.

The officers were allegedly killed by gunshots during protests in Isfahan Province, yet the charges against the defendants do not explicitly accuse them of “murder”.

The three men appealed the verdict on 6 May, but Iran’s Supreme Court upheld their death sentences, despite a pending request for judicial review. On 17 May, their families were called in to visit and were told by the prison authorities that this would be the final meeting.

Violation of the right to life

“The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment,” the independent experts said.

At least 259 executions have reportedly been carried out since 1 January – mostly for drug-related offences and including a disproportionate number of minorities, the experts said.

“We are shocked that the authorities went ahead with the executions despite the pending judicial review,” the experts said. “We urge the Iranian Government to stop this horrific wave of executions.”

Special Rapporteurs and other rights experts are all appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.

Photo credits: UN Photo

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RUSSIA conceals diagnosis after effectively torturing abducted civic journalist

Russia conceals diagnosis after effectively torturing abducted civic journalist for over six months

Iryna Danilovich is in constant agonizing pain which the occupation prison authorities have been ignoring for over seven months


By Halya Coynash

KHPG (17.05.2023) – The Russian penal service has refused to provide information about the diagnosis (if any) made in the case of political prisoner Iryna Danilovych.  The 43-year-old Ukrainian nurse, civic journalist and human rights defender is facing a seven-year sentence on absurd charges, and was recently forced to resort to a hunger strike because the prison staff were refusing to provide any medical treatment for an excruciating ear inflammation.  Iryna only ended her dry hunger strike when her captors promised to place her in a civilian hospital, however, according to her father, the promise was not kept.

Olga Mazurova, a Russian doctor and civic activist, sent a formal request for information about the diagnosis. In a letter signed by Vadym Bulgakov, head of the occupation Penal Service for Crimea, she was told only that Danilovych “is under the dynamic observation of staff from Medical Unit No. 1”.   The letter goes on to excuse the refusal to provide information on the entirely formal pretext that Iryna’s letter providing authorization for Mazurova to receive the diagnosis did not provide Mazurova’s full name.

According to Bronislav Danilovich, a different excuse for refusing to provide information about his daughter’s condition was given by officials at the SIZO.  Both SIZO Head Viktor Kharchenko and the head of the medical service whom he approached claimed that Iryna had not permitted disclosure of the details.  The contrary is true and Iryna’s father recalls how, at the end of his last meeting with his daughter, she said she was ready to hang a sign over her head saying that she gives permission for her medical information to be passed on.

Bronislav Danilovych is under no illusion about the real reason for such secrecy.  As he explained to Crimean Solidarity, he is certain that Iryna was not properly examined, and that she risks becoming an invalid because of the failure to provide her with the necessary medical care.  She has constant pain and noise in her ear, as though on a turbojet.   All of this is making it much harder to even read the material for the appeal hearing, and if she just turns her head, she suffers agonizing pain.  Bronislav Danilovych stresses that his daughter has been in this condition for over six months, with ‘judge’ Natalia Kulinskaya from the occupation ‘Feodosia municipal court’ also refusing to take any proper measures.  Kulinskaya ignored the manifestly fabricated nature of the charges, as well as glaring irregularities and violations of Iryna’s rights when, on 28 December 2022, she sentenced Iryna to seven years’ imprisonment.  She then unwarrantedly ended the period during which Danilovich could read through the file and prepare for the appeal hearing, despite the clear difficulty that Danilovych was experiencing because of her ear infection.

That violation was effectively acknowledged by the occupation ‘High Court in Crimea’ when, on 2 May 2023, it ordered that the case be sent back to the ‘first instance court’ to rectify mistakes, and specifically the failure to allow Danilovich enough time to acquaint herself with the case material.

As a civic journalist and activist, Iryna Danilovich wrote for Crimean human rights initiatives following cases of political persecution.  She also headed the Crimean branch of the Alliance of Doctors trade union and had taken part in attempts to obtain the promised, yet never provided, pandemic-linked supplementary payments for medical workers. Despite understanding that she was likely to face reprisals, she spoke publicly about the lies that the occupation authorities were telling about the real number of covid patients.  All of this made her acutely vulnerable in Crimea under Russian occupation.

Danilovych was essentially abducted by the FSB as she waited for a bus home from a night shift in the morning of 29 April 2022.   She was held incommunicado for over a week, despite constant efforts by her lawyer to find out her whereabouts and speak with her.

She has described the torture she endured during this period when the FSB used her total isolation to try to break her into ‘confessing’ to non-existent contacts with foreign organizations and ‘state treason’.  When all such methods failed, they decided to claim to have ‘found’ explosives in her glasses case (under Article 222.1 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code).

The names of the FSB officers implicated in her abduction and torture are known.  Yury Chevalkov; Oleg Savchenko; Sergei Suvorov; and Ruslan Narimanov) were convinced that they could abduct and torture Danilovych, and then concoct wildly implausible charges against her with total impunity, and thus far they have been right.  ‘Prosecutors’ Dmitry Liashchenko (and Yulia Matveyeva demanded a 7-year sentence and 60 thousand rouble fine and ‘judge’ Natalia obliged, with the only change being a small reduction in the fine.  Kulinskaya can have been in no doubt about the absurdity of the charges as she removed the part in the indictment about obtaining the explosives as the FSB had not even bothered to explain how Danilovich was supposed to have obtained them, yet still provided the sentence demanded by the prosecution.

HRWF additional information: Journalist and other Ukrainian citizens detained by the Russian occupation forces

HRWF has recently received a list of Ukrainians detained by the Russian occupation forces, including a journalist who is still missing. The source is a Ukrainian journalist (Aleksandr Tarasov) who had been missing since March 2022 and finally regained his freedom in 2023 (See his case in a former press release we published on 31 October 2022):

-Sergiy Tsygipa – journalist, participant in protest actions in N. Kakhovka, Kherson region

– Oleksandr Babich – mayor of Hola Prystan, Kherson region

– Mykyta Chebotar – Crimean resident, volunteer, member of the Hola Prystan resistance movement

– Mariano Garcia – Spanish citizen, volunteer

– Mykola Vidmuk, Yegor Kisel – members of the Kherson resistance movement

– Andriy Seryozhenko – member of the Kherson resistance movement

– Oleh Pronko – member of the Kherson resistance movement

– Dmytro Zakharov – entrepreneur, Genichesk, detained for sending SMS with the message “Russian soldier surrender”

– Ivan Kozlov – helped the Armed Forces of Ukraine, sent coordinates of the location of the Russian military

– Roman Ishchenko – former serviceman, war veteran

– Yevhen Volodin – civilian, relative, employee of a special police unit, kept weapons in his garage

– Oleh Bohdanov – volunteer, former head of the Kherson City Hall Transportation Department, taken to Moscow and accused of terrorism.

– Konstantin Reznik – a member of the Kherson resistance movement, taken to Moscow, accused of terrorism


People are not given access to a lawyer, the Red Cross, or an opportunity to communicate with their families. All of them were subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. 


We need your help in voicing these violations at the UN level, assistance in representation in the UN specialized committees. As well as coverage of this topic in the European media



My phone number is ±4915231410290




Photo provided to Graty by her family

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RUSSIA: Prosecuting Russia’s crime of aggression in Ukraine

A view of the exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor has put combatants and their command

Image by picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Peter Dejong ©

RUSSIA: Prosecuting Russia’s crime of aggression in Ukraine: A tribunal like no other

A special tribunal for the crime of aggression could help secure justice for Ukrainians harmed by Russia’s invasion. Such a court would have three major implications

Fredrik Wesslau, ECFR Alumni · Director of the Wider Europe Programme

European Council on Foreign Relations (23.02.2023) – One year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the pursuit of accountability for atrocities has emerged as a central tenet of the West’s response. And not without reason – the Ukrainian prosecution has registered more than 70,000 cases of suspected war crimes, a number that rises by the hundreds every day.

Ukrainian law enforcement has already made prosecuting war crimes a top priority. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating not only war crimes, but also crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide. The United States, European Union, and several European states, as well as Ukrainian and international NGOs, are also heavily involved in accountability efforts.

Despite all this, there is a gaping hole in accountability efforts: no mechanism yet exists to ensure the Russian leadership is held accountable for the crime of aggression. Russia’s rulers are the masterminds and instigators of this war. Their decision to launch the war was the original act enabling all other crimes to be committed in Ukraine. But there is no international tribunal or court that has jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. There is an absurdity in that courts can hold foot soldiers and their commanders accountable for war crimes but not the leaders for the crime of aggression.

If this crime is not investigated and prosecuted in the particular case of Ukraine, the crime risks becoming meaningless. Such an absence of action would water down the prohibition against the use of force in international relations, as set out in the UN Charter. It would strengthen the notion that ‘might makes right’ and that leaders enjoy impunity for the “supreme international crime.” This would encourage other would-be aggressors around the world.

Since the invasion started, Ukraine has been pushing for the establishment of an international special tribunal for the crime of aggression. The prospect of such a tribunal coming into being seemed farfetched only six months ago, as support for the idea appeared lacklustre. Today, however, diplomatic efforts to set up some sort of court are moving forward. The EU, along with others such as the United Kingdom and Canada, are united in wanting to establish a judicial mechanism to try the crime of aggression. Even the US has made positive noise around establishing a mechanism. A first step has been taken by the EU in setting up an International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression in Ukraine in The Hague, which can help collect evidence for use in future prosecutions. Important details have still to be worked out by proponents of a mechanism. Will it be a tribunal endorsed by the UN General Assembly? Will it be established by a treaty between willing states and Ukraine? Or will it be a hybrid court under Ukrainian jurisdiction with international judges and prosecutors? ECFR’s Anthony Dworkin has set out some of the issues here. Despite the challenges, the arguments to proceed with a tribunal are compelling. Beyond the central importance of achieving justice for those harmed by Russia’s war, the creation of a tribunal could have three big implications.


Playing the long game

The magnitude of the war and the scale of the atrocities committed in Ukraine means that accountability will be central to Western relations with Russia for years, if not decades. It will frame Western engagement with the country in a similar way that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has framed the West’s engagement with the countries of the Western Balkans.

Seeking accountability is a way to play the long game with the Kremlin

Seeking accountability is a way to play the long game with the Kremlin and counter its strategy of holding out until Western unity and resolve collapse. Once the mechanisms of international justice kick into action, they take on a life of their own and are virtually unstoppable. They move ahead regardless of what may seem to be politically expedient in the moment.

In this sense, therefore, supporting the establishment of a special tribunal is a strategic policy towards Russia. A tribunal will contribute to maintaining international resolve over time and counteract calls to return to ‘business as usual’ with Russia. A tribunal will challenge the Kremlin’s belief that it has time on its side. The pursuit of accountability will continue beyond any end of hostilities – and carry on regardless of how the war ends.


Peace and justice

A realpolitik argument against a special tribunal may be that it would undermine efforts to end the war through negotiations and a peace agreement or ceasefire – that a tribunal would disincentivise Russian leaders from making compromises if they believed that they would end up in The Hague regardless. The pursuit of justice, the argument could go, would come at the expense of peace.

However, there is nothing to indicate that Moscow is serious about good faith negotiations or is looking for a peace agreement. Russia has not given up on its strategic objective of subjugating all of Ukraine, an objective Moscow continues to pursue with military means. Russia’s willingness to negotiate might, of course, change in the future. But the most important factor for determining whether Moscow pursues negotiations or war is what happens on the battlefield rather than in The Hague.

Justice does not have to stand in the way of peace. There are leaders who have negotiated peace agreements despite international indictments hanging over them. This was the case with President Omar al-Bashir, who had been indicted by the ICC for genocide when Sudan negotiated and reached several agreements with South Sudan in 2012. The pursuit of accountability can in fact help the cause of peace and reconciliation. This happened with President Hashim Thaci and the prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, in Kosovo when they faced indictments. They become more constructive because of the prospect of an indictment.

In the end, the pursuit of accountability probably has a limited impact on a leader’s willingness to negotiate. Nevertheless, it can play into domestic political dynamics, empowering political opponents: the ICTY’s indictment against President Slobodan Milosevic contributed to international isolation and stigmatisation, accelerating his downfall.

That indictment also led to resentment in Serbian society. In the case of Ukraine too, a special tribunal will no doubt create more bitterness in Russia towards the West. But this is the necessary price for defending justice and the international order. At some point in the future, the tribunal’s judgments might even play a part in helping Russians come to terms with the crimes committed in Ukraine.


The international community

Whatever mechanism is set up, there will be states that oppose it, even if it receives UN General Assembly endorsement. In practice, some states will recognise the tribunal’s legitimacy and others will not. Many in the global south will decry double standards or fall back on supporting Russia because of Soviet backing for the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war. Such opposition may well be inevitable but is not in itself an argument for not moving ahead with setting up a tribunal or court. The existence of parallel legal realities is nothing new in international relations. It exists, for instance, in relation to the ICC, whose Rome Statute has 123 state parties. Broad international support will nevertheless be important for the mechanism’s legitimacy and international character.

Russia, of course, is neither Serbia, Kosovo, nor Sudan. Russia is a nuclear power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Its leaders will scoff at a tribunal, try to discredit it to the best of their abilities, and continue to pursue what they believe is in Russia’s – or, rather, their own – interest. But the tribunal will still be lurking out there, ready to pounce. And it could end up forming an essential component of Western support for Ukraine in the long war that Russia chose to start.

Fredrik Wesslau is a former director of ECFR’s Wider Europe programme and was until recently deputy head of the EU’s Advisory Mission in Ukraine. He has previously worked in Kosovo as well as Sudan and South Sudan.

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