A group of Russian lawyers, legal scholars and human rights activists co-signed the Brussels Declaration on accountability for Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and international crimes committed in that context. The statement was presented on the margins of the EU-Democratic Russia forum in the European Parliament and opened for signature last week.

The text of the Declaration was published last Friday on the leading Russian independent media portal Meduza (based in Riga, Latvia) in English, Ukrainian, and Russian. The list of signatories includes prominent experts in the field of international law and human rights, practicing lawyers, including two colleagues admitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) list of counsel, and human rights defenders from Russia. Most of them were forced to leave Russia after February 2022 under the threat or following incidents of politically motivated persecution. As is known, the Putin regime has recently criminalized any cooperation with or support for the international bodies to which Russia is not a party, such as the ICC (or any other accountability mechanisms to be established in the future), as well as assistance in Russia to foreign courts.

The Brussels Declaration unequivocally condemns Russia’s war of aggression and related atrocity crimes in Ukraine, noting the resolution of the UN General Assembly and binding order of the International Court of Justice. It expresses a strong belief that ensuring responsibility for core international crimes should be part of any sustainable peace settlement in the conflict and is the only way to reaffirm and reinstate the cornerstone principles of international law grossly violated by Russia’s aggression and ensuing atrocities in Ukraine. Working toward accountability is a moral and legal duty owed to countless victims of this aggressive war and other core international crimes, and it should be pursued using all available international mechanisms, including the ICC. The signatories of the Declaration condemn and reject in the strongest terms the threats issued by the Russian authorities against the Prosecutor and Judges of the Court.

The Declaration emphasizes the central role of the crime of aggression that made possible the large-scale commission of other international crimes and voices strong support for the initiative of Ukraine, other States and international organizations to establish a special international tribunal for the crime of aggression in this situation. The underlying position is that the international character of the tribunal remains a preferred option for properly tackling this crime. Setting up such a tribunal would not only be in the interests of Ukraine, but also in the interests of the entire international community, not least Russia and Belarus. The Declaration underlines that “this initiative is firmly based in international law and the designation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an act of aggression by the overwhelming majority of the UN member states. Such tribunal will be able to exercise jurisdiction irrespective of official position of defendants and immunities they might enjoy under international and national law.

The undersigned Russian lawyers emphasize that the war of aggression against Ukraine was paved by the persisting impunity for the grave crimes allegedly committed by Russia’s leadership and military previously on its own soil and abroad. They call for breaking the cycle of impunity and express their unreserved support for the efforts to achieve accountability and repair harm caused to the victims.

While many of the signatories have previously publicly expressed the position reflected in the Declaration on an individual basis, this is the first time they do so a consolidated joint statement. They strongly hope that their unified voice will be heard.

IMAGE:  Valentyna Ivanivna, 68 years old, points to the ruins of her apartment in a two-story residential building, hit by a Russian missile, and the only salvaged chair amid the ruins on June 4, 2023 in Pidhorodne, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Ukraine. (Photo by Viktoria Pinchuk/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC”/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)