Unprecedented investigative work on thousands of war crimes

While the fighting rages and no one sees an end to the armed conflict, Ukraine continues to wage its fight for justice. Never before in contemporary history has a country attempted to investigate on the spot, from the first weeks of the Russian invasion, into each crime and each violation of international humanitarian law.

At the diplomatic and judicial level, Kiev is fighting on all fronts at the same time: work carried out in cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which has the mandate to judge crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, to its own national jurisdictions, through bilateral exchanges with allied states with laws of “universal jurisdiction”and therefore able to judge crimes which were committed neither by their citizens nor on their soil.

Ukraine also continues to advocate for the creation of a special international tribunal to try the crime of aggression. Five European countries have sponsored the opening, in The Hague, in 2023, of an ad hoc office, the International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression, placed under the authority of the European agency Eurojust. But the allied powers of the United Nations Security Council (United States, Great Britain and France) remain reluctant to create a real tribunal, fearing a precedent which could one day target their military interventions abroad.

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In kyiv, Yuriy Belousov, head of war crimes investigations at the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, recalls that the creation of a court on the crime of aggression would not only ” legitimate “, when one state attacks another as Russia did with Ukraine, but there is, moreover, no guarantee that Russian President Vladimir Putin will one day be tried for crimes of war by the ICC, even if the latter issued an arrest warrant in 2023 against the head of the Kremlin over the deportations of Ukrainian children to Russia. A court on the crime of aggression would thus be, according to Yuriy Belousov, a means of “pursuing the Russian troika protected by diplomatic immunity: the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister”.

Titanic task

The day-to-day work of the head of investigations, however, is far removed from these diplomatic considerations. The latter leads, ten years after the origin of the conflict in Crimea and Donbass and two years after the invasion of the country, 120,774 investigations recorded to date for war crimes. A titanic task. Carried out on the prosecutor’s side by a team of around 600 prosecutors and investigators, the investigations are coordinated with the Security Service of Ukraine and the police, who have already collected evidence from more than 40,000 crime scenes. They concern 11,817 Ukrainian civilians killed, including 522 children. This figure does not take into account the territories still occupied, such as the city of Mariupol, where kyiv fears to discover, in the event of reconquest, tens of thousands of additional cases of assassinations, torture and rapes.

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