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U.N. Member States:Support The Establishment Of Ad Hoc Criminal Tribunal To Prosecute Russian Crime Of Aggression

Missile attack on residential area reportedly kills 18 civilians, injures more than 70

U.N. member states should support the establishment of an ad hoc criminal tribunal to prosecute Russian leadership for the international crime of aggression, said Fortify Rights today. On April 17, 2024, Russian armed forces carried out a missile attack on a downtown district in the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, reportedly resulting in dozens of casualties.

“Deliberately causing harm to civilians and destroying infrastructure essential to the population's livelihoods is contrary to the laws of war and must be stopped immediately,” said Fortify Rights Human Rights Associate Vyacheslav Likhachev. “Those responsible for orders that led to the attack must be punished for war crimes, and Ukraine’s allies should create a special criminal tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression without delay.”

According to preliminary data reported in the media, three Russian missiles in the Chernihiv attack killed 18 and injured more than 70 civilians. The dismantling of rubble from dozens of destroyed houses in the affected area continues.

This episode is the latest example of Russian daily missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian residential areas and civilian infrastructure. The Kharkiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhzhia regions have been particularly affected recently. The destruction of the Trypilska power plant in the Kyiv region a week ago and the damage to the Zaporizhzhia hydroelectric power station earlier are part of a systemic and conscious effort by Russia to destroy critical civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, said Fortify Rights.

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“Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population” constitutes a war crime and a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.

As part of the investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity during Russian aggression against Ukraine, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has already issued an arrest warrant against Lieutenant General Sergei Kobylash and Admiral Viktor Sokolov for directing attacks at civilian objects and for causing excessive harm to civilians or damage to civilian objects.

In addition to prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, in 2018, the ICC was finally mandated to prosecute the international crime of aggression, following the Kampala Amendments to the Rome Statute in 2010.

According to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the crime of aggression involves “the planning, preparation, initiation or execution” of an act of aggression that “constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.” Criminal acts of aggression include “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.” According to the statute, these acts can include invasion, military occupation, or annexation by the use of force; “bombardment” against the territory of another State “or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State”; and blockading ports or coasts.

However, while the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute war crimes in Ukraine, it does not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in Ukraine because, unlike other atrocity crimes prosecuted by the ICC, such jurisdiction would require the consent of both Ukraine and Russia.

Several States, including Ukraine’s European allies, are exploring the establishment of an ad hoc criminal tribunal to prosecute Russia’s political and military leadership for the crime of aggression. These efforts are broadly supported by the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian civil society.

The establishment of a special criminal tribunal is the only serious avenue to prosecute de-facto Russian President Vladimir Putin and his senior political and military accomplices for launching and pursuing Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine, said Fortify Rights.

“The deliberateness of these attacks against civilians exposes the intentions of Russian military-political leadership, including the de facto President Vladimir Putin, and the Russian Foreign Ministry,” said Vyacheslav Likhachev. “The international community should strengthen efforts to bring these war criminals to justice, and one way to do that is through the creation of a special criminal tribunal.”

Vyacheslav Likhachev added:

"Russian attacks on Ukrainian territory are only possible because of the critical lack of air defense systems in Ukraine. Recent events in the Middle East have shown that modern defenses can prevent virtually all damage from missile and drone attacks. In addition to ensuring accountability for war crimes, the international community should urgently make every possible effort to help Ukraine protect civilians."

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