'Impunity destroys the foundations on which our rights rest'

Speech by minister Wopke Hoekstra at the launch of the Group of Friends on Accountability for Ukraine.

The bombing of theatres and hospitals. The destruction of entire neighbourhoods. The brutal killing of civilians, even in humanitarian corridors guaranteed to be safe.

The reports and images of Russia’s unprecedented and unlawful attack on Ukraine are horrific.

For us, one thing is clear: Russia bears full responsibility for this armed conflict and the suffering of the Ukrainian people.

In this grim reality, bright spots are hard to find.

But one of them has been the overwhelming outpouring of support for Ukraine, exemplified by the adoption of the landmark General Assembly resolution titled ‘Aggression against Ukraine’ by no fewer than 141 UN member states.

I’m also encouraged that our shared sense of justice has resulted in meaningful first steps towards accountability.

Take the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry aimed at finding evidence and the decisive steps taken by ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to open active investigations aimed at bringing perpetrators before the Court.

This has been expedited by 41 States that referred the situation in Ukraine to his office.  
The Kingdom of the Netherlands strongly supports both initiatives.

But to ensure justice is served, we must do more.

I come from a country of water. Much of it lies below sea level, protected by dykes. No matter how high we build those dykes, and no matter how thick we make them, one single gap will allow the water to find a way through.

The same is true of impunity. The fight against impunity relies on the tireless efforts
of NGOs and journalists, of individual activists, investigators and prosecutors,
and – perhaps most importantly – of victims, survivors and next of kin.

Those efforts to seek justice must be made as watertight as possible.

And to that end, we strongly support the initiative in New York to coordinate these efforts: the initiative to launch the Group of Friends of Accountability following the Aggression against Ukraine.

  • To provide a much-needed platform for dialogue, coordination and cooperation.
  • To ensure that evidence-gathering is in line with international criminal-justice standards.
  • To guarantee that witnesses and victims can tell their stories without suffering psychological harm.
  • And to make certain that perpetrators don’t get away with their crimes.

As a proud co-chair of this Group of Friends, we look forward to partnering with you, because we don’t want to go down a slippery slope where valuable rules gradually become worthless.

Impunity destroys the foundations on which our rights rest. We cannot allow the crimes committed by Russia to go unpunished. We cannot allow the world to be set back.

As true friends of justice, as true believers in justice, we must do everything in our power to seek and protect what is so dear to us all.

Thank you.