With an ongoing conflict in its eastern region, Ukraine’s government can help to deter grave crimes by becoming a full member of the ICC.
Ukraine is the focus of the Coalition’s Campaign for Global Justice this month.
This week, we sent a letter to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, urging him to ratify the Rome Statute without delay.
Kirsten Meersschaert Duchens, Europe regional coordinator at the Coalition for the ICC:
“Ukraine’s membership in the ICC would send a clear signal that war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide will not be tolerated. Ratifying the Rome Statute would also likely deter the future commission of grave crimes as perpetrators would know that they could face justice in The Hague.”
The Ukrainian government issued a special declaration accepting the Court’s jurisdiction last April following the EuroMaidan protests, but the timeframe was limited to 21 November 2013 – 22 February 2014. This leaves more recent events outside the ICC’s remit.
Eastern Ukraine has been wrought by conflict since early 2014, with armed rebel groups facing off against Ukrainian military forces in several regions. There have been reports of grave crimes which could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity under international law.
Roman Romanov, Human Rights and Justice program director at the International Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine:
“Those who are committed to justice cannot accept a half measure approach. Ratification of the Rome Statute is the only way to ensure that impunity for the worst crimes ends and justice won’t be selective.”
Olexandra Matviichyk, chair, Center for Civil Liberties:
“Even if willing, Ukraine is currently unable to carry out an effective investigation into alleged crimes committed in the territories controlled by organized armed rebel forces. Ukraine’s membership of the International Criminal Court would thus not just meet the requirements of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, but would also serve as a practical tool for prosecution of perpetrators of international war crimes.”
On 12 February 2015, France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine agreed a new ceasefire to prevent further escalation of the conflict. However, the agreement provides for immunity from prosecution for those who allegedly committed crimes in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
Simon Papuashvili, projects manager of the International Partnership for Human Rights:
“Putting an end to the conflict, which has been going on almost a year, should be priority for all sides involved. However, the truth process has to be handled in a way so as not to override the interests of justice. The inclusion of an immunity clause in the truth agreement is a worrying sign. It must not in any circumstances prevent prosecutions of individuals who allegedly committed crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”
Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights:
“The peace negotiations must not overshadow a firm commitment to effectively hold perpetrators accountable for international crimes committed throughout the Ukrainian territory, particularly in Crimea and the Donbass region. In addition to full ratification of the Rome Statute, we call on the Ukrainian authorities to formally extend the ICC’s jurisdiction to include crimes committed since February 2014, in order to close the impunity gap, provide genuine redress for victims, and deter the commission of further grave crimes.”
On 4 February, the Verkhovna Rada—Ukraine’s parliament—passed a resolution calling for the acceptance of the ICC’s ad hoc jurisdiction to be extended beyond 20 February 2014. However, the president needs to submit a formal declaration with the Court for this to take effect.
Although Ukraine signed the Rome Statute in 2000, its constitutional court ruled in 2001 that the Statute was incompatible with the Ukrainian constitution, effectively preventing ratification ever since. However, in 2014 and again in January 2015, several members of Parliament put forward proposals for constitutional amendment to allow Ukraine to join the Court.
In the face of escalating violence, the international community too has begun looking towards the ICC as a suitable mechanism for ensuring that the perpetrators do not go unpunished.
In direct reaction to an attack in Mauriopl, on 29 January 2015, the Council of the European Union issued conclusions encouraging your government to “swiftly take the intended legal steps enabling the International Criminal Court to examine the alleged crimes against humanity, committed on the territory of Ukraine in 2014-2015. The Council reiterates the importance of moving forward with the ratification of the Rome Statute by Ukraine, as it has committed to in the Association Agreement.”
On 19 February, the Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the UN emphasized the need for accountability for the grave crimes that took place in Ukraine, including the downing of flight MH-17 and called on the Ukrainian Government to complete the ratification process of the Rome Statute and allow the ICC to investigate the crimes committed.
The time is now ripe for Ukraine to commit to ensuring accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide wherever they occur. ICC membership would demonstrate Ukraine’s firm support for an end to impunity, and help create a culture of deterrence so necessary for a sustainable peaceful resolution to the conflict.
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