Centre for Prosecuting Crimes of Aggression Opens in The Hague

July 4th, 2023 - by Lisa O'Carroll / The Guardian

Displaced Ukrainian refugees crossing into Poland.

Centre to Investigate Sexual Violence,
Child Kidnapping and Civilian Displacement

Lisa O’Carroll / The Guardian

LONDON (July 3, 2023) — A centre for the prosecution of crimes of aggression committed in Ukraine has opened in The Hague with the backing of the EU, the US and the international criminal court (ICC).

Ursula von der Leyen said the aim of the centre was to bring to justice those involved in “unspeakable horrors” such as sexual violence, kidnapping of children and displacement of civilians.

The European Commission president said: “We will leave no stone unturned to hold [Vladimir] Putin and his henchmen accountable.”

The ICC has already issued an arrest warrant for Putin — accusing him of personal responsibility for abduction of children from Ukraine — but legal experts, including its chief prosecutor, have long felt there was a need for a centre to build cases against “crimes of aggression”.

The establishment of the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression (ICPCA) was driven by the perceived need to start collecting data, interviewing victims and building evidence files before the war ended.

A group of experts and four prosecutors, including one seconded from the US, started on Monday with the task of collecting evidence and building case strategies to help both international and national prosecutors bring criminals to justice.

The EU justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, said the centre would ensure “the perpetrators of this war do not go unpunished”.

Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, told reporters the centre would collect evidence for possible cases against Russian military and political leaders.

“Justice gives rise to peace,” he said. “There can be no peace without the arm of justice reaching all planners or architects of this crime that has threatened not only Ukraine’s sovereignty and freedom but stability and functionality of international security and legal system.”

The ICPCA — the first platform of its kind in judicial history — will operate a joint investigation team comprising, to date, prosecuting teams in Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and Romania.

Ladislav Hamran, the president of Eurojust, the EU agency for criminal justice cooperation, said the centre would not prepare indictments but collect evidence and share it with national and international courts to help strategize the best way to get justice.

He said it was vital to “secure crucial evidence and start building up the case now. We don’t want to wait until the end of the conflict.”

A tribunal dedicated to crimes of aggression is also under consideration by the EU, the US and Ukraine.

“If the crimes of aggression would not have been committed there would be no other 93,000 incidents of war crimes,” Kostin said. This day “is evidence that the establishment of a special tribunal is now inevitable”, he added.

Karim Khan, the ICC prosecutor, said: “Today is a significant day. I do give Ukraine a lot of credit. This is the first time … that in the middle of conflict and such a violent conflict, there is a focus on justice. It’s not simply survival or territorial gain.”

He said the establishment of the centre would be the beginning of the process to bring justice to the people who needed it most, whichever country they were from.

Khan said: “We are not on the side of Ukraine. We are on the side of justice. We are independent and impartial.”

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David Swanson — This turns “crime of aggression” (their usual phrase for “war”) back into “war crimes” (improper types of war horrors) and turns the so-called rule of law into part of the prosecution of one side of a war.