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Georgetown Law Center on National Security provides legal assistance in holding Russia accountable for war crimes

A girl walks past an apartment building damaged by recent shelling in Donetsk, Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2022, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in Ukraine. (CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters)

WASHINGTON– Justice for Ukraine and the Ukrainian victims of Russia’s invasion of the country will require international legal support, experts said at Feb. 1 event hosted by the Georgetown Law Center on National Security.

The center at the Catholic law school has a partnership with Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General to provide international assistance for its legal response to Russia’s atrocities. At the event, Andriy Kostin, prosecutor general of Ukraine, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a graduate of the law school, delivered remarks calling for international cooperation in holding Russia legally accountable for the invasion.

Kostin said that as Ukraine approaches the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion later in February, it is seeking the “full accountability of the Russian state and individual perpetrators in line with international law” for their roles in the invasion.

“Apart from being a flagrant violation of territorial integrity and sovereignty, it is characterized by ruthless attacks against civilians and residential areas, along with widespread and systematic atrocities committed by Russian armed forces,” Kostin said.

Russia’s crimes, Kostin said, “are not incidental or accidental.”

“They include indiscriminate shelling of civilians, willful killing, torture and ill treatment, conflict-related sexual violence, forced displacement and pillage on a massive scale,” he said.

Durbin, a Catholic, said he and Kostin would meet later the same day with “several of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, a chance to show our national support for Ukraine is bipartisan, and really reflects the courage and determination of the people of Ukraine.”

“There’s not much consensus in Washington these days, but when it comes to Ukraine, we already know that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle understand that Russia’s invasion is not just a threat to Ukraine, it’s a threat to every free nation on earth,” Durbin said.

Durbin said the U.S. must not only provide military resources to Ukraine, “but legal resources as well.”

“We have a responsibility to hold (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his henchmen accountable for every single war crime they have committed,” he said.

Ukraine’s victory requires that Russia faces legal justice, Kostin said.

Kostin said that “from a legal perspective, Ukraine needs international humanitarian law and international criminal law specialists to assist with case building and establishing linkage to high level perpetrators.”

“Crucially, Ukraine needs this support on the ground,” he said, adding that “advice sent from abroad or brief visits to keep are beneficial, but they barely scratch the surface of what is truly needed.”

“We need sustained assistance on the ground,” he said. “The inherent part of accountability is that the responsible party faces financially the devastation that is caused.”

In Nov. 22, the Georgetown Law Center on National Security announced it was selected to coordinate international efforts to support the Ukrainian government in its investigation into and prosecution of war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion, funded by an initial $10 million grant from the Department of State. The center was designated the lead implementing organization of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, a joint effort of the U.S., the United Kingdom and European Union in May 2022 for Ukrainian justice efforts, according to the Center on National Security.

In remarks at the event, William Treanor, dean and executive vice president of Georgetown University Law Center, cited Archbishop Oscar Romero, who said, “Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.”

“There are now cemeteries in Ukraine — some formal and some makeshift — cemeteries that contain thousands of people who have perished in these conflicts,” Treanor said. “We cannot allow their voices to remain silent.”