A TEAM of top lawyers and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown are calling for a new international tribunal to prosecute Putin for the crime of aggression.
Currently the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague does not have the ability to prosecute the crime, with senior legal figures arguing Putin’s action in Ukraine should be classed as aggression by the state.
While the ICC is investigating claims of war crimes, such as the use of illegal weapons and the targeting of civilians, the group say that a special tribunal to look at the crime of aggression could be beneficial in further holding the Russian government to account.
They also suggested some of Putin’s closest allies may want to turn on him to avoid prosecution as the list of crimes committed by the Russians grows with every day the conflict continues.
A declaration, published today and distributed to governments and institutions across the globe, has been signed by senior legal and political figures including Mr Brown, Professor Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law at Oxford and Member of the UN International Law Commission; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC; Mykola Gnatovskyy, Ukrainian law professor and adviser to the Ukrainian foreign minister; and Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and former Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
It states that the ICC, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg and International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is unable to prosecute the crime of aggression, and adds: “The creation of a special tribunal with a limited focus on the crime of aggression, which cannot be addressed by the three other courts.
“The Special Tribunal for the Punishment of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine can be set up with speed.
“During the second world war, nations met in London in 1942 to draft a resolution on German war crimes, which led, at the end of the conflict, to the creation of an International Military Tribunal and the Nuremberg trials.
“To help beat back President Putin’s heinous attempts to destroy peace in Europe, it is time for us to create such a Special Tribunal.”
Speaking at a briefing to launch the plan, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “When blocks fall on your cities, when soldiers rape women in the occupied cities, and we have numerous cases of unfortunately, when Russian soldiers rape women in the Ukrainian cities, it’s difficult to speak about the efficiency of international law.
“But this is the only tool of civilisation that is available to us to make sure that in the end, eventually, all those who made this war possible will be brought to justice and the Russian Federation as a country that committed an act of aggression will also be held accountable for its deeds.”
Former PM Gordon Brown said that while “Putin’s army may capture Ukrainian territory and people’s homes, he will never capture Ukrainian hearts and minds” as he explained the need for such a tribunal.
He said: “Already far too many lives have been destroyed. But Ukraine’s resolve is indestructible.
“Hearts have been broken every hour of the day, but the unity of Ukraine is unbreakable
“The people of Ukraine now need us to confront the enormity of the challenge that President Putin’s actions pose to them and the very existence of the post- 1990 international order.”
He added: “As we encourage the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes that may include the targeting of civilians, the use of vacuum bombs and the threat of nuclear terror, we must also address Russia’s responsibility for aggression, crimes against peace, starting and continuing in the war with no ceasefire without safe passage on humanitarian grounds.”
Philippe Sands QC, University College London professor, said that such a tribunal could be established if there was the “political will” to do so.
He said: “Where there is the political will, it is possible to create tribunals. It’s as simple as that. If states want to do it, it can and will happen.”
The barrister added that it was the responsibility of the legal community around the world to “marshal the ideas, show how it has to be done and it is then for governments to take forward those ideas…But law and experience tells you that the impossible is sometimes capable of happening.”
He cited the example of the Nuremberg trials in 1945, and how senior figures around Adolf Hitler turned on the Nazi regime to avoid prosecution – something he thought could happen in Russia now.
He said: “The imminence of the creation of the Nuremberg tribunal was the basis for negotiations with some very senior people around Adolf Hitler, which caused them to cut deals and to avoid prosecution themselves.
“I think one of the ideas would be that those in [Putin’s] inner circle might at some point say to themselves, ‘Do I really want to be associated with this? Am I willing to break ranks and I willing to assist in these investigations?’
“Who knows? But it’s not impossible.”
The group urged those attending the Chatham House briefing to contact their governments, and the UN, to urge them to support the establishment of the tribunal.
Gordon Brown and Professor Sands also confirmed they had been in talks with the governments in the UK, France, Sweden and others about the plans.