Special tribunal should prosecute Russia’s crimes in Ukraine, says Swiss lawmaker

“We cannot create lasting peace without justice," says Damien Cottier, a Swiss lawmaker who chairs the Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

The Council of Europe has called for the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian and Belarusian leaders for “crimes of aggression” in Ukraine. Swiss parliamentarian Damien Cottier, who works at the council, agrees that peace is not possible in Ukraine without justice.

This content was published on January 30, 2023 - 17:00
Frédéric Mamaïs, RTS

Debates are raging about the need for a war crimes tribunal to investigate atrocities in Ukraine. Last week Europe’s foremost human rights institution examined the issue.

On January 26, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) unanimously adopted a resolution that called for political and military leaders in Russia and Belarus who planned, prepared and executed “the war of aggression against Ukraine” to be prosecuted at a special international tribunal.

“Without their decision to wage this war of aggression against Ukraine, the resulting abuses, destruction, deaths and damage would not have occurred,” the resolution by the Strasbourg-based assembly stated.

There is an urgent need for a special court for Ukraine, say supporters, as the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, only has jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity and not the "crime of aggression". In addition, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are not signatories to the treaty that established the ICC.

Damien Cottier, who chairs the Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, says it is urgent to create a special court for Ukraine so that violations of international law do not go unanswered. 

“Justice must be rendered for the numerous victims,” Cottier, a member of the centre-right Radical-Liberal Party, told Swiss public radio, RTS. “We cannot create lasting peace without justice.”

“What is the crime of aggression? [It’s] the decision to launch an international conflict illegally,” he added. “Since the end of the Second World War, it has been forbidden to wage war. It is not a legitimate extension of political or diplomatic activity.”

“According to the verdicts of the Nuremberg trials, it is written that the crime of aggression is the supreme crime, because it allows all the other crimes,” said Cottier. “If we do not judge crimes of aggression, we are only doing half the job. It's as if we were only trying half of the criminals.”

PACE lawmakers are urging the 46 member states of the council, Switzerland among them, to establish a special tribunal with the support of other countries and international organisations, such as the United Nations.

They expect the Council of Europe's summit of heads of state and government in Reykjavik, Iceland, in May to give “political support” to the idea.

Cottier acknowledges, however, that much work is still needed to obtain broad support from the international community. And for reasons of impartiality, such a special court should not be created in Ukraine, the Swiss parliamentarian added.

“Will those responsible [for the crimes of aggression] one day end up in court? I cannot tell you. But what is certain is that if we don’t create a special court, they will never [face a trial],” said Cottier, adding that statutes of limitations do not apply to such crimes.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble. Attacks on Ukraine's civilian infrastructure, including energy facilities, are possible war crimes, according to the UN.

Moscow, which says it is conducting a "special military operation" in Ukraine, has denied deliberately attacking civilians or committing other war crimes.

Adapted from French by Simon Bradley

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