European prosecutors join forces to bring justice to Ukraine | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

More than 100 days of war.

Over 15,000 alleged war crimes, with hundreds more occurring every day.

And Iryna Venediktova counts the points. “We all know who is responsible for this war, for these deaths, for everything that is happening in Ukraine, of course,” Venediktova, the first woman to serve as Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, told DW. “The President of the Russian Federation and his team, who actually started this war, to kill civilians, rape civilians, torture civilians.”

And day by day, Venediktova is accumulating more resources to bring to justice those she accuses, she said, on behalf of all humanity.

“It’s the main goal of everyone who is civilized, of everyone who talks about the rule of law, about justice, about international law,” she told DW, “that the people who are responsible for the death of other people, who are responsible for the crime of aggression, who just came to neighboring states and took the land and killed people, in fact, they should be punished.”

This is also the aim of a new Joint Investigation Team (JIT) based in The Hague, the Netherlands, with coordination and funding from the European Union judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, the participation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the first time, and a growing number of individual governments, who consider prosecuting cases themselves under the legal principle known as “universal jurisdiction”.

Eurojust President Ladislav Hamran said it would become the biggest such operation ever.

“Never in the history of armed conflict has the legal community responded with such determination,” Hamran told reporters this week.

International legal cooperation

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said the effort could become a model for international investigations.

“I think that’s what we need for crimes of the scale that we often see at the ICC. We need to build partnerships,” Khan told reporters. “There is no dichotomy between cooperation and independence. Cooperation does not mean competition. Collaboration does not mean challenging one’s independence. We must join hands in the common interest of humanity as officers of justice.”

One of the most important ways for the JIT to streamline and assist judicial processes is by centralizing the storage of evidence at Eurojust, evidence gathered by experts in Ukraine or any other jurisdiction.

Eurojust will provide the ECE with technological assistance to collect data on war crimes and will offer interpretation and translation to the investigation teams as well as their evidence.

“We will ensure that everything collected within this joint investigative team is truly shareable with all parties involved,” Hamran said, adding that it would be done quickly and without the need to make any fuss. formal and time-consuming requests.

Act against aggression

But even with better cooperation, war crimes cases, such as those of murder or especially genocide, often take years to come to trial due to the extremely heavy burden of proof.

Human rights lawyer Lotte Leicht suggests there is a faster path to justice: prosecuting the crime of ‘aggression’, which targets those in power for making the decision to attack , rather than those executing the order.

Human rights lawyer Lotte Leicht advocates creation of tribunal to try crimes of aggression

“[Aggression] is not a crime where you have to prove that war crimes are actually committed,” Leicht said. “The mere fact that you launched the war illegally against another country is enough. It’s a much easier crime to prove, and it’s a lot easier to figure out who’s responsible because it was announced publicly on television. [by Russian President Vladimir Putin]. It’s no secret who approved him. It’s no secret who the top generals are running it now.

“Every bomb, every shelling…every Russian tank” in Ukraine is considered a crime of aggression, she added.

Ukraine can also try these cases, Leicht said, but the law prohibits indicting current officials. This means that another international court should be set up to deal with these cases, on the same model as the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War, where Nazi leaders were tried.

Leicht said she thinks this is likely to happen under the auspices of Europe’s top human rights body, the Council of Europe. Ireland, the current chairman of the council, has expressed its intention to establish such a tribunal by the end of its mandate in November.

All of this cooperation should make Kremlin insiders sweat a little, Leicht said.

“To all those who have always relied on impunity, for very serious crimes, including the crime of aggression, they should look to history,” she said. “Those who made the exact same calculations in Europe – Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic – were wrong. They ended up in court in the end.”

In The Hague on Tuesday, flanked by Lithuania’s top prosecutor on one side and the ICC on the other, Iryna Venediktova expressed hope that this is how her legal battles would also end.

“I feel, I have confidence and I hope that with my international colleagues, with the international community of lawyers, we can talk about justice,” she said. “We need justice. We want accountability.”

Edited by: Catherine Schaer

Mary I. Bruner