International Tribunals to Investigate Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

This Monday, Ukraine will speak at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The United Nations tribunal, charged with settling disputes between two countries, is considering an injunction that Ukraine has sought against Russia under the United Nations Genocide Convention.

Kyiv wants UN judges to call the Russian attack a genocide and at the same time reject Moscow’s claim that Ukraine was committing genocide against the Russian minority in the east of the country.

On Tuesday, Kremlin lawyers will vehemently dismiss the case as Russia denies the jurisdiction of the court in The Hague. Moscow will argue that since no genocide is being committed by Russia, there is no case and therefore no competent court.

A question of competence

The difficulty with any case before the International Court of Justice is that the claimant and respondent states must both recognize the jurisdiction of the Court.

Russia – and also the United States – have generally never recognized the UN tribunal, but only do so on a case-by-case basis, Professor Kai Ambos, an expert in international criminal law from Göttingen, explained to DW.

It is therefore highly unlikely that this week’s hearing will lead to tangible results for Ukraine. But the trial draws attention to international courts and how they will deal with Vladimir Putin’s war.

A second trial

A second trial is also underway before another international court: the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has already opened investigations to determine whether the Russian president or other Kremlin figures are responsible for war crimes or crimes against the humanity in Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court is responsible for enforcing international law and determining the guilt of individuals. Unlike the International Court of Justice, it does not look at states, but rather at individual defendants.

“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to believe that alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine,” said the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, in The Hague. He instructed his prosecutors to investigate and obtain evidence. The first teams are already in Ukraine, Khan said last week.

“It’s extraordinary,” Ambos told DW. “Since the creation of the criminal court, we have never seen the prosecutor react so quickly without the involvement of the UN Security Council.”

Khan of the ICC has already begun its investigations

Wide international support

Investigator Khan’s investigation is further bolstered by the fact that 38 countries led by the UK support the case. This means a quick and thorough investigation is possible, without the need for scrutiny by a so-called “trial chamber” with three judges, according to British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

“An ICC investigation into Russia’s barbaric acts is urgently needed and it is right that those responsible be held accountable,” Truss said in London. Besides Germany, countries supporting Russia include almost all EU members, but also Canada, Zeeland and Costa Rica.

Professor Ambos from Göttingen thinks it is important that many countries show solidarity with the Court, as this will give it more legitimacy. One problem, however, is that Russia is not a signatory to the treaty on which the Court is based, the Rome Statute.

Like China, Russia is an “enemy” of the court, Ambos explains. “Only the signatory states are obliged to cooperate. This does not apply to Russia.” Ukraine is also not a signatory but has said it will accept the decision of the judges in The Hague.

Putin as the accused?

Will Russian President Vladimir Putin ever be in the dock if the trial continues? “It’s not completely ruled out, but it’s unlikely that Mr. Putin will have to appear in court at some point,” said Kai Ambos.

Leaders like Putin generally remain in office until their death and therefore will not be extradited. One solution would be for Putin to be overthrown in Russia and for a new government to extradite him to The Hague.

That’s what happened to Sudan’s former president, Omar al-Bashir, who was extradited by the country’s new government last year. “We can’t predict the course of history. You’d have to be a big optimist,” Ambos told DW.

No more lawsuits against Ukraine

During a trial, the criminal court could issue an international arrest warrant for Putin and other alleged perpetrators. They could then be arrested when they travel to signatory States of the Court.

It is also possible that state prosecutors will launch their own investigations, as happened in Lithuania on Thursday. Such procedures would also be possible in Germany. In January, a Syrian doctor was found guilty of crimes against humanity in the Syrian war during a trial in Germany.

Such proceedings based on the “principle of universal law” are generally also possible against Russians involved in the war against Ukraine. Anyone can file a criminal complaint with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office.

Legal proceedings could also be brought before the European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. In the case of the Yugoslav wars, the UN created a special court, a special tribunal. In Russia’s case, however, this could fail due to Moscow’s veto power in the UN Security Council.

This article was originally published in German