THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The European Union’s judicial cooperation agency, Eurojust, said Thursday that it is setting up a new center to support efforts to gather evidence of the crime of aggression in Ukraine.
The announcement came on the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and amid international calls for accountability for war crimes in Ukraine and the prosecution of the crime of aggression by Russia’s leaders.
Pressure is mounting for the establishment of a special tribunal to try Russia’s leaders for the crime of aggression — the illegal invasion of one country by another.
“It is Ukraine’s firm belief that the accountability efforts should also include the prosecution of the leadership of the Russian Federation for the crime of aggression,” Ukraine’s representative to Eurojust, Myroslava Krasnoborova, said. “The impunity for this supreme international crime should never be accepted.”
The new International Center for Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression should be operational by summer, Eurojust said in a statement. The agency said the center will “support and enhance investigations into the crime of aggression by securing key evidence and facilitating case building at the earliest possible stage.”
It remains unclear when and where a prosecution for aggression could happen. The International Criminal Court, which is investigating in Ukraine, does not have jurisdiction. Krasnoborova said “all options are on the table” for a possible venue.
Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, on Wednesday called on the United Nations to set up an aggression tribunal.
She is not alone. The European Union’s legislature passed a non-binding resolution in January calling on the 27-nation bloc to work “in close cooperation with Ukraine to seek and build political support in the U.N. General Assembly and other international forums … for creating the special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine.”
Amid the international efforts to ensure accountability, Ukrainian prosecutors are working on thousands of cases in their country.
Krasnoborova said Ukrainian authorities already are investigating the crime of aggression and Ukrainian prosecutors have registered more than 71,000 alleged war crimes since the war began. She said 99 cases have been sent to courts and 26 verdicts have been reached.
At a separate event in The Hague, Ukrainian human rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk, who shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said her organization has recorded more than 31,000 crimes and said all can be traced back to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“All these crimes became possible because of one leader’s decision — Putin and his surroundings — to initiate, to plan and to start the war of aggression. And this is a separate crime, which is called crime of aggression. And this crime has also to be punished,” she said at a “people’s tribunal” with no legal powers that has been set up by activists this week in The Hague.
Matviichuk also backed calls for an international tribunal to try the crime of aggression.
“We ask for justice, not for revenge, because there will not be sustainable peace in our region without justice,” she said.
Eurojust also said Thursday that it has formally opened a digital database for evidence of war crimes and other atrocities committed in Ukraine.
“This database is a real game changer in the prosecution of international crimes,” Eurojust President Ladislav Hamran said.
Eurojust already is facilitating the work of a Joint Investigation Team made up of prosecutors from seven nations including Ukraine that also cooperates with the International Criminal Court prosecution office, which opened its own investigation in Ukraine almost a year ago.
The investigation team’s efforts in The Hague are part of a broader hunt across Europe for accountability for war crimes in Ukraine. Prosecutors in Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, France, Slovakia, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland have opened investigations of their own.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine