Two former U.K. prime ministers, Gordon Brown and Sir John Major, are calling for the creation of a new international tribunal modeled on the Nuremberg trials to investigate Russian President Vladimir Putin and his accomplices for their actions in the invasion of Ukraine.
“From Britain—which rightly prides itself in democracy and the rule of law—the message must go out. At Nuremberg we held the Nazi war criminals to account. Now, eight decades on, we must ensure there will be a day of reckoning for Putin.” Brown said in a statement.
The two former U.K. leaders have launched a campaign, called Justice for Ukraine, with a petition that has already acquired over 745,000 signatures. About 140 well-respected members of the international legal community are included among the signatories.
They include Baroness Brenda Hale QC, who was president of the U.K. Supreme Court until 2020; former president of the European Court of Human Rights Sir Nicolas Bratza; the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba; and academics and former presidents and prime ministers from around the world.
Private practice lawyers have also signed on, including two U.S.-based international litigation and arbitration partners from Foley Hoag. Other signatories include many London barristers, such as Patrick Lawrence QC of 4 New Square, and Helena Kennedy QCC of Doughty Street chambers.
The international tribunal they envision would act in addition to investigations into war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), located at The Hague. The ICC is a criminal court that investigates and tries individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The chief ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, has opened an investigation into the war in Ukraine at the request of 39 member states of the ICC. U.K. Justice Secretary Dominic Raab was in The Hague this week to help ensure that “when that prosecution comes, the court will have what it needs,” U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.
While the ICC has the power to investigate any acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, it cannot prosecute the crime of aggression if the act of aggression is committed by a state that is not party to the Statute of that Court—unless the U.N. Security Council refers the matter to the court. Since Russia has not ratified that statute and would exercise its veto in the Security Council against a referral, the ICC cannot, as things stand, investigate crimes of aggression against Ukraine.
The newly formed tribunal would also act in addition to the International Court of Justice (ICJ)—a civil court that hears disputes between countries. At the ICJ, also based at The Hague, U.S.-based Covington & Burling currently is representing the Ukrainian government pro bono. Ukraine is arguing that Moscow’s stated justification for the invasion—to prevent a genocide in eastern Ukraine—is unfounded. In an emergency hearing earlier this month, it also asked the court to order Russia to immediately cease its military operations in Ukraine.
This week, the International Court of Justice granted Ukraine’s request, issuing a largely symbolic 13-2 decision calling for Russia to cease the hostilities. Russia did not attend any of the hearings and is not expected to abide by the decision. The court will hear arguments on the merits of Ukraine’s legal action against Russia in the coming months.
Lisa Shuchman contributed to this report.