Restoring Justice for Ukraine Conference: opening speech by Minister Bruins Slot

Opening speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot, at the Restoring Justice for Ukraine Conference in The Hague, on 2 April 2024.

Read also: Minister Bruins Slot’s Ministerial Dialogue Group speech and closing remarks at the Restoring Justice for Ukraine Conference.

Enlarge image Minister Bruins Slot opening speech Restoring Justice for Ukraine Conference
Image: Valerie Kuypers & Martijn Beekman


Esteemed guests,

On behalf of both my government and the co-hosts of this conference, I would like to welcome all of you to The Hague. I’d like to extend a special welcome to Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba. And I would also like to thank President Zelenskyy, who spoke in his video message about a very grim anniversary. Two days ago it was exactly two years since the Russian atrocities against the town’s civilian residents were revealed to the world.

An estimated 155 billion dollars. That’s the staggering cost of the damage inflicted on Ukraine’s infrastructure up until January this year. More than 200,000 homes, almost 4,000 schools, and some 400 hospitals, either lie in ruins, or are badly damaged.

The sheer magnitude of these figures defies comprehension. These may be sobering figures. But they only scratch the surface of the true extent of the devastation caused by Russia’s invasion and aggression. They represent only the tangible damage. Only the documented damage. Only the damage to bricks and mortar. Not the damage inflicted on the lives of the Ukrainian people. Not that inflicted on their hearts and souls.

The true extent of the devastation struck me the times I visited Ukraine. I saw it in the shelled houses, once bustling with life. But even more I saw it in the eyes of the Ukrainians I spoke to. Solemn eyes. Defiant eyes. Eyes in which you can see the profound weight of the enormous challenges they are facing.

In Bucha, for example, where I spoke with residents who have lost so much. Here, I was deeply moved by the solidarity of the people. How they seek support from each other. And by their resilience. In Bucha, they are rebuilding everything they can, while knowing that some damage can never be repaired… The deep wounds inflicted upon their souls. And they worry every day about their loved ones, including children, who are still missing.

The war has left tens of thousands dead and injured. It has left millions displaced. And it’s resulted in a long and well-documented list of international crimes. Over 100,000 and counting. That number not only underscores the gravity of this aggression, but also the need to support Ukraine. Because if we don’t, the country’s justice system will eventually collapse under the weight of these atrocities.


Esteemed guests,

We are here today because of our shared beliefs. Our belief in justice. Our belief that crimes cannot go unpunished. Our belief that those responsible must bear the consequences of their actions. Not just in Ukraine, but in all the conflicts we are facing. Because we know that accountability knows no bounds.

And even stronger than that conviction is our shared will. The will to move towards the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. As dark as that tunnel may be, I do see glimmers of light where accountability is concerned. Thanks to the resilience of the Ukrainian people. It’s because of this resilience – this powerful force – that we’ve been able to make such significant strides. And thanks to the dedication and will of all countries gathered here today.

We first joined together at the Accountability Conference almost two years ago. Here in The Hague, we promised to ensure that the Russian perpetrators of aggression face accountability. This promise has resulted in tangible progress.

Take the Register of Damage for Ukraine. Less than eighteen months ago, this was just an idea. As of today, the Register is fully operational. Anyone who has suffered damage as a result of Russia’s aggression can submit a claim. In the context of the international community, this is a great achievement. In the context of international law – to borrow the words of the Register’s Executive Director Markiyan Kliuchkovskyi – it has been ‘lightning fast’. Other key steps include the ICC arrest warrants issued against Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova for deporting children to Russia, and against two Russian commanders suspected of war crimes.

Today we will commit ourselves to even more tangible action. We must agree on how we will continue to strengthen Ukraine’s capacity for domestic investigation and prosecution of international crimes; how we will ensure that those crimes, including the crime of aggression, can be tried at international level; how we will ensure that Russia pays for the damage it has inflicted; and lastly, how we will continue the crucial dialogue we’ve started.


Esteemed guests,

The progress we’ve made so far is largely thanks to an approach I strongly believe in: working together. Together in the broadest sense of the word. With countries from all over the globe. With international organisations and courts. With civil society. And above all with the resilient Ukrainian people, whose strength continues to propel the rest of us forward. They too have an important role in this conference.

Now, it's time to maintain the momentum and step up our joint efforts. With over 100,000 documented crimes, we must strive to achieve justice for all the victims. With such enormous damage, both material and immaterial, we must work to achieve compensation. Aggression and international crimes cannot go unpunished. To ensure peace, let us restore justice together.

Thank you.