01 Apr 2022

Covington, Withers and French independent Sygna Partners join Ukraine government war crimes task force

Trio will field pro bono teams alongside human rights advocates and academics including Amal Clooney and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

ZHYTOMYR, UKRAINE - March 4, 2022: Russia's war against Ukraine. a Russian bomb hit the school.

According to news reports Russian airstrikes on 4 March hit a school in the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr Sviatoslav_Shevchenko; Shutterstock

US firm Covington & Burling, the UK's Withers and French independent Sygna Partners have been appointed to a legal task force assembled by the Ukraine government to pursue allegations of war crimes and secure reparations in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The trio are teaming up with a high-profile group of international human rights lawyers and academics who will work alongside institutions including the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute and the Clooney Foundation for Justice. 

The legal Task Force on Accountability for Crimes Committed in Ukraine will provide pro bono legal advice on how to make alleged perpetrators of war crimes accountable for their actions. 

The task force has a broad remit that encompasses 'advice on proposals for accountability including through the United Nations and regional organisations; advice and potential representation relating to civil and criminal cases (including under universal jurisdiction laws) to secure accountability and reparations in national jurisdictions; and strategic guidance on Ukraine’s cooperation with the International Criminal Court’.

All three law firms are already representing Ukraine on other matters. Covington was notably instructed to represent the government in a lawsuit brought before the International Court of Justice at the Hague over Russia’s invasion, which began on 24 February. 

Withers’ team is being led by partner Emma Lindsay, who is based in New York, while Covington’s team is being led by partner Nikhil Gore, who is based in Washington DC. Luke Vidal will be leading a team for the Sygna team. 

Lindsay said: “We are honoured to assist Ukraine with the effort to secure justice for Ukrainian civilians who are victims of Russian aggression and associated violations of international law. We look forward to working with the other members of the task force to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in seeking accountability for crimes committed during this terrible conflict.” 

Lindsay added that the task force was “without a doubt the most important project on which we have advised the government to date”. 

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More coverage of the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on the legal profession

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The human rights lawyers included Doughty Street Chambers barrister Amal Clooney and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, head of the IBA's Human Rights Institute, while Lord Neuberger, former president of the UK Supreme Court, is also part of the team.

Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine's attorney general, said: “We are grateful to this esteemed group for their support for Ukraine. Their help and advice will be invaluable in the process of bringing justice to Ukrainian victims and rebuilding our state.”

Clooney said: ‘I am honoured to have been asked by the government of Ukraine to be a member of their legal task force on accountability. Ukrainians deserve to see perpetrators held to account and to recover compensation for the horrific abuses they are suffering. I am privileged to be working alongside such a distinguished group of lawyers and experts in this endeavour to ensure that nobody is above the law and that survivors will have their day in court.’

The creation of the task force comes a week after Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice appointed Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan as counsel in European human rights proceedings being brought against Russia over its ‘unprovoked, unjustified and unlawful acts of aggression’ in Ukraine. 

Last month, a group of senior figures from the legal community launched Justice for Ukraine, an initiative calling for the creation of an international tribunal modelled on the legal framework used to prosecute criminals from the Second World War in the Nuremberg trials to investigate Vladimir Putin and his accomplices for the invasion of Ukraine.

Shortly after the invasion started, the managing partner of Ukrainian law firm Vasil Kisil & Partners told GLP he and colleagues at the firm had already started to collect evidence of war crimes, the justice ministry having initiated a process to systematically gather details of Russian actions.
 

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