War in Ukraine: the Netherlands working to stop war crimes and fight impunity

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is destroying the lives of millions of Ukrainians and severely impacting stability around the world. Russia’s actions must not go unpunished, and the Ukrainian people deserve justice. The Netherlands is working in various ways to help achieve this.

Enlarge image Accountability
Image: ©Royal Netherlands Marechaussee

Why is the Netherlands working to fight impunity in Ukraine?

The destruction of homes and hospitals. Murder and rape. The abduction of children. Since the war in Ukraine began, there has been a steady stream of news reports about what is happening in eastern Europe. Extensive investigation is needed to establish the truth, find the perpetrators and achieve justice for the victims and the next of kin.

The Netherlands stands for a world in which human rights are respected and countries abide by the agreements they make. Only then can we live in peace and security. That’s why it’s so important to achieve justice for the victims and their next of kin, and to send a clear message to Russia. That we see these terrible crimes. And that they cannot go unpunished. Of course, Ukraine must be involved as closely as possible: we can’t talk about them without them.

Impunity in the war in Ukraine: the Netherlands’ perspective and initiatives

Below you can read more about the Netherlands’ positions and initiatives with regard to fighting impunity:

Investigating the abduction of Ukrainian children

On 30 March 2023 the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) launched a mission of experts to investigate the deportation of Ukrainian children by Russia. The Netherlands, Germany and others actively supported the establishment of this mission for the purpose of obtaining new independent data and shedding more light on the child abductions. The team of independent experts will travel to Ukraine shortly to gather information and take statements from victims and witnesses. The Netherlands is part of the working group for the mission and is contributing financially.

The International Criminal Court

On 17 March 2023 the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Russian president Vladimir Putin and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova. The Netherlands regards these arrest warrant as an important step towards justice. At an international conference of justice ministers on 20 March 2023, the Netherlands pledged an additional €1 million for the work of the International Criminal Court. The ICC will soon be opening a country office in Kyiv, to enhance cooperation with the Ukrainian authorities and further strengthen the Ukrainian legal system.

Dialogue Group on Accountability for Ukraine

At the United for Justice conference in Lviv on 3 March 2023, the Netherlands, Ukraine, the European Union, Eurojust and the ICC launched an international network: the Dialogue Group on Accountability for Ukraine. This network offers countries, international organisations and stakeholders from civil society a platform to discuss and align national and international accountability initiatives. An important principle of the Dialogue Group is that Ukraine must be closely involved and remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to international efforts to fight impunity for the war in Ukraine.

The network is a result of the Ukraine Accountability Conference held in The Hague in July 2022, where 45 countries supported the establishment of the Dialogue Group. Besides setting up the network, the Netherlands is also trying to get more countries involved.

International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression to be based in The Hague

On 2 February 2023, the European Commission announced that the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine (ICPA) would be established in The Hague. This international centre will investigate the crime of aggression in Ukraine, with the ultimate aim of prosecuting those responsible for the invasion. The ICPA, to be based at Eurojust, will enable Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate the crime of aggression from The Hague. The ICC is currently already investigating war crimes committed in Ukraine, but has no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression with regard to Russia. That is why the ICPA is being set up, and international discussions are ongoing about a separate tribunal for the crime of aggression.

Aggression tribunal

The Netherlands supports a tribunal for the prosecution of the crime of aggression and would be open to hosting it in The Hague. Before such a tribunal can be established, however, the necessary international support and sufficient staff and funds need to be in place. The Netherlands is part of a core group that is in favour of such a tribunal and would like other countries – including countries outside Europe – to join it.

Register of damage caused to Ukraine

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution recommending the creation of a register of damage suffered by Ukraine as a result of the war. On 17 February 2023 the government announced it would be willing to house the register in the Netherlands. This could also be done via an international organisation, such as the Council of Europe or the UN. Such a register is a necessary first step towards the establishment of a claims mechanism and a compensation fund. It is important to hold Russia liable for the cost of the war damage sustained by Ukraine.

Forensic investigation missions under the banner of the International Criminal Court

At Ukraine’s request, the Netherlands has sent a forensic investigation team to Ukraine on two occasions to support the local authorities in gathering evidence that can be used in the investigation of war crimes. This team from the Royal Military and Border Police operated under the banner of the ICC. Two new missions have been planned for 2023: one in spring (with the Czech Republic) and one in autumn (with Belgium and Luxembourg).

The Netherlands is also pressing for further sanctions against Russia, to address violations of international law and human rights violations.