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Baerbock says Germany has a duty to end Russian war crimes

Rana Taha
July 18, 2023

Germany's past obliges it to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told DW.

Annalena Baerbock sits with translator headphones in her ears and a coffee cup next to her in the International Criminal Court.
Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attends a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the International Criminal CourtImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

Germany has an obligation to prevent future wars and crimes due to its historic responsibility for "the most severe crimes in the world," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told DW on Monday in New York, where she was attending a ceremony at the United Nations marking the 25th anniversary of the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision not to extend the deal that allowed Ukraine to export its grain amid the war "shocked" every country and every United Nations delegate, Baerbock said in an interview with DW Washington DC bureau chief Ines Pohl.

She stressed the importance of applying pressure on Putin to reverse the decision, saying the best route is for African, Latin American and Asian countries to "address Putin directly."

"We have seen in the last year that it makes a difference if also other countries in the world, not only European countries, are calling on Putin."

Harvester works on a wheat field in Ukraine
As Russia continues its war on Ukraine, Ukrainian farmers harvest their wheatImage: Amadeusz Swierk/AA/picture alliance

On the sidelines of the ceremony, Baerbock stressed: "It was and still is, our responsibility to strengthen international law in order to prevent future wars, to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity."

Germany's top diplomat acknowledged the difficulty in closing the "accountability gap" using the ICC.

Just over a third of the UN's 193 member states, including the United States, have failed to enact the treaty that established the ICC, known as the Rome Statute. This leaves the court's jurisdiction wanting.

"I feel it is our responsibility also, after the Nuremberg trials, after the setting up of the ICC, to close this accountability gap," Baerbock said.

The Nuremberg trials were held by the four major Allied powers — France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States — after World War II to prosecute the political leaders of Nazi Germany.

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What are the challenges to the ICC?

Baerbock stressed the importance of ensuring that more countries sign the Rome Statute. Currently, there are 123 signatories.

She said the importance of the ICC has become clearer in the past year, amid Russia's war on Ukraine.

Russia is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, collectively known as the P5, along with the United States, China, France and the United Kingdom. 

"Now is really the watershed moment where we have seen that if a war of aggression is being done by a P5 country, this is also a moment where we have to react by law and bringing together those who believe in law and not in war."

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March. Putin is accused of war crimes for his role in forcibly deporting children from Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sits during a meeting
International Criminal Court in the Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir PutinImage: ALEXEY BABUSHKIN/SPUTNIK/AFP

The importance of 'de-risking' with China 

Baerbock also addressed Germany's view of the US's "de-risking" policy toward China, saying Berlin shared a "similar understanding."

"But this China strategy is neither about the US nor about China. It's about us, us Europeans; how we get more resilient, how we get more independent from our dependency we are having so far in China," she said.

Baerbock argued that with Beijing changing over the past few years, Europe's policy toward it must also change.

"We cannot decouple in a globalized world, and this is not what we want. What we want is de-risking. So minimize our own risk," she said.

Last week, Germany released a paper on its China strategy going forward, warning that Beijing uses its economic power to achieve political goals.

Many Western countries are reconsidering their economic relationship with China in the face of Beijing's increasing assertiveness in many territorial disputes, alongside a massive military build-up.

Germany had to stop depending on Russia's 'autocratic dictatorship'

The German top diplomat also referred to how her country had to learn to end its reliance on Russia throughout the past year.

"Our dependency on Russia, on an autocratic dictatorship, was also a danger for our own security, our economic security, our energy security, and therefore also our security as such."

Since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine on February 24 last year, Germany has particularly sought to diversify its energy supply away from Russian gas, among other things by  importing LNG from the US. 

China strategy gives only 'pointers'

Edited by: John Silk

This article was updated on July 18 at 0800 UTC with additional context.

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