18 Mar 2022

International law experts join campaign for 'Nuremberg-inspired' tribunal to investigate Putin

Ukraine foreign minister and two former British prime ministers among signatories of Justice for Ukraine

KYIV, UKRAINE - Mar. 15, 2022: War in Ukraine. General view of a badly damaged residential building in the smoke from the fire that was hit by a Russian shell.

Badly damaged residential building, Kyiv Shutterstock; Drop of Light

Senior figures from the legal community have joined leading academics and politicians in a campaign calling for an international tribunal to investigate Vladimir Putin and his accomplices for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Justice for Ukraine calls for a tribunal modelled on the legal framework created to prosecute criminals from the Second World War in the Nuremberg trials. Its 140 signatories include Ukraine foreign minister Dmytro Koleba, former prosecutor for the Nuremberg Military Tribunal Benjamin Ferencz, and former president of the European Court of Human Rights Sir Nicolas Bratza, as well as former UK prime ministers Sir John Major and Gordon Brown. 

Other signatories include Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, and an array of international law experts with experience appearing before international tribunals. They include: Canada's Yves Fortier, a past president of the London Court of International Arbitration and the Canadian Bar Association and former president of the United Nations' security council; Covington & Burling senior counsel Peter Trooboff; and Delhi-based international law consultant Anjolie Singh. 

The campaign’s website describes the act of invasion itself as a crime against the Ukrainian people and says Putin and those who planned it ‘committed a crime of aggression’.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a separate investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine as a result of the attack. But Justice for Ukraine says there is a gap: the ICC is not able to investigate the crime of aggression unless it is referred by the UN Security Council.

‘Russia, as a member of the UN, has veto rights to this, which it would, of course, exercise immediately,’ it says, but the proposed tribunal would allow for a thorough investigation of Putin and all those who planned or were complicit in the invasion.

Commenting on the launch of the campaign, Brown said: “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. I urge everyone to sign this petition.”

At the time of going to press the campaign’s accompanying petition has amassed more than 1.2m signatures.

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

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A roster of international firms announced they would close or spin out their Moscow offices and terminate their relationships with Russia-related clients in the wake of the invasion. Having been the first western law firm to be accredited to open in the Russian capital, back in 1989, Baker McKenzie became one of the last to announce its departure, saying last week it would spin out its Moscow and St Petersburg offices into an independent law firm.

Other international firms to close their shops in Russia include Allen & Overy, Baker Botts, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Clifford Chance, CMS, Debevoise & Plimpton, Dechert, Dentons, DLA Piper, Eversheds Sutherland, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Kennedys, Latham & Watkins, Linklaters, Mannheimer Swartling, Norton Rose Fulbright and White & Case.

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has temporarily closed its Moscow office pending further developments, while Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom has relocated its lawyers from Russia but will maintain a ‘limited administrative presence’ in Moscow.

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