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Justice to be served

On August 21, 2023, the International Conference "Special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. Justice to be served" gathered more than 400 participants. Among them were Ukrainian and international lawyers, human rights defenders, diplomats, MPs, representatives of academia and the media. The conference was organized by the NGO "Tribunal" (Ukraine) and the NGO "Justice and Accountability for Ukraine" (UK), and with the support of strategic partner Toronto-Kyiv. The event was held under the patronage of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

The crime of Russia's aggression against Ukraine must be duly punished, the conference participants believe. "Since the first days of the full-scale war, we have been talking about retribution and justice as part of our victory. Peace is impossible without justice. Justice is impossible without the responsibility of those who committed this aggression. That is why justice is one of the key points of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's peace formula. Together, we must develop a legal mechanism for justice and accountability that would cover all criminals: those who gave the orders and those who carried them out. We need a Special International Tribunal that will try the highest political leadership of Russia for the crime of aggression," said Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal during the conference.

Ukraine, together with its international partners, is already actively preparing the groundwork for possible formats of the tribunal's work. "Today, the world is not discussing the feasibility of creating such a mechanism. The only issue that remains unresolved is the model of how it will work. Currently, three options are being considered: a full international tribunal implemented through a decision of the UN General Assembly, an international treaty format on behalf of Ukraine, and a hybrid format," explains Andriy Smirnov, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, coordinator of the working group on the establishment of the Special Tribunal.

"This crime is a huge international precedent, which is being watched by authoritarian regimes from around the world. Establishment of the Special International Tribunal would allow us to show that democratic countries and values still have power and prevail," agrees Denys Maslov, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Legal Policy.

Meanwhile, international experts emphasize that the most effective model of the tribunal is already clear. "There are two groups of countries that have different views on the issue of the tribunal. One group, led by Ukraine, believes that it should be a full international Special Tribunal that will deal with a comprehensive review of the crime of aggression. Another group of countries, perhaps smaller in number but very influential (France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany), oppose a full international tribunal and propose a hybrid format. But personally, I am categorically against the hybrid format, because it will be a secondary structure. It should be a full international Special Tribunal," assures Philip Sands, a British professor of law and director of the Center for International Courts and Tribunals at University College London.

"We must remember that all of this is about the victims in Ukraine. But we have to ask ourselves a question. Is the justice that the international community wants the justice that the people of Ukraine want? As President Zelensky said, he wants an international Special Tribunal for the crime of aggression. So let's listen to the people of Ukraine and unite for this. This is not a problem only for Ukraine or only for Europe. We must also take into account that all the powers that be are watching. And if we do nothing, they will be inspired and take regional affairs into their own hands," urged David Crane, an American lawyer and former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The EU representatives also emphasized their support for Ukraine and spoke about the concrete steps that have already been taken to bring the aggressor country to justice. "The Council of Europe reacted immediately. Only a day after the full-scale invasion began, on February 25, Russia's membership in the Council of Europe was suspended. And just two weeks after that, for the first time in the history of the organization, we expelled a member state. The Council of Europe has also created a register of damages, which has already started working in The Hague as a first step towards an international mechanism of compensation for victims of Russian aggression," says Jörg Polakiewicz, Director of Legal Advice and Public International Law at the Council of Europe.

The conference resulted in an official communiqué signed by the participants of the International Conference "Special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. Justice to be served". The document states that the participants strongly support the creation of a full international Special Tribunal as part of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy's peace formula.

"The Special Tribunal should become a legitimate and authoritative justice mechanism that can effectively carry out its work - to bring to justice representatives of the political and military leadership of Russia for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. Therefore, we call on the international community to work actively and effectively on the establishment of the Special Tribunal," the statement reads.

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