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Ukraine: justice efforts must be stepped up

Some of the aftermath of multiple Russian airstrikes on Kyiv last October © AFP via Getty Images

Year on from start of Putin’s war of aggression, international justice mechanisms need greater support

Tens of thousands of cases of war crimes have already been filed

‘The hands of Vladimir Putin and his armed forces are stained with blood’ - Agnès Callamard

The international community must develop a robust plan to secure justice for victims of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Amnesty International said today (22 February), marking one year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 


Amnesty has called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February last year “an act of aggression and human rights catastrophe”, documenting how Russian forces have committed war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law, including extrajudicial executions, deadly strikes on civilian infrastructure, deportations and forcible transfers of civilians, and unlawful killings committed on a vast scale through the shelling of cities. 

Many people living in Russian-occupied areas remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance or medical care, yet are being denied the right to travel to Ukrainian government-controlled territories.  

While the invasion continues and the full extent of the crimes committed in Ukraine remains unknown, demands of victims and survivors for justice and their rights must be prioritised, said Amnesty. 

The international community has a clear duty to ensure that those responsible for crimes under international law know there will be accountability and justice. Tens of thousands of cases of war crimes have been filed, including of sexual and gender-based crimes, but the number of victims of the ongoing conflict will be much higher. The immediate response to the conflict has been encouraging, including a number of international and national-level investigations into crimes under international law committed in Ukraine.  

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“As Russian armed forces appear to be stepping up their offensive in Ukraine, the commitment to hold all perpetrators of human rights violations and war crimes to account is as urgent as ever.

“Let us be clear: the hands of Vladimir Putin and his armed forces are stained with blood. Survivors deserve justice and reparations for all they have endured. 

“With wars raging in every corner of the world, inflicting untold civilian suffering, this must become a blueprint for all conflict. 

“The initial unprecedented response of the international community, including the work of the International Criminal Court, should be the minimum standard in the pursuit of international justice. 

“As well as ensuring the right mechanisms are in place, we must ensure those individuals responsible for crimes under international law are brought to justice and face the consequences of their unconscionable actions. 

“This includes investigating senior military commanders and civilian leaders for war crimes and the crime of aggression under international law.”

International justice

Amnesty is calling for consideration of new national and international mechanisms for comprehensive justice in relation to the Ukraine war, and Amnesty welcomed the decision of the Human Rights Council to set up an independent commission of inquiry last March. These could augment the international justice response to the vast number of war crimes cases. It is imperative, said Amnesty, that investigations consider not only low-level direct perpetrators but those higher up the chain of command. Wherever trials are held, they must adhere to international human rights and fair-trial standards, with the full participation and consideration of survivors and their needs. The international community must support fair, effective and impartial investigations and states should urge Ukraine to ratify the Rome Statute, bringing its national law into line with international legal standards related to international justice, and to strengthen cooperation with the ICC. Countries with universal jurisdiction statutes should explore how these can serve justice for Ukrainians.

International support

When offering support, the international community must identify the specific needs of at-risk groups - such as women, older people, people with disabilities and children - as well as recognising that many Ukrainians, including children, have been deported from Ukraine to Russia or forcibly transferred into Russian-occupied areas and cannot return home safely. These particular groups must be among those prioritised, and all humanitarian assistance provided to them should be tailored to meet their specific needs. Cooperation with Ukrainian civil society organisations will also be essential in prioritising survivors’ needs to ensure the practical application of economic and humanitarian aid. The international community must ensure this collaboration is done in such a way that it ensures transparency, effectiveness and victim-sensitivity throughout the processes focused on humanitarian assistance, recovery, justice and reparations. 

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