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Ukraine's Zelenskyy calls for special tribunal at The Hague

May 4, 2023

Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a highly symbolic visit to the war crimes court in The Hague. Afterward, he said Russian President Vladimir Putin must be brought to justice for his war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shakes hands with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at The Hague, in the Netherlands
Zelenskyy urged for the creation of an international tribunal during talks with Dutch leaders, including Prime Minister Mark RutteImage: Robin van Lonkhuijsen/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

In a keynote speech during a visit to the Netherlands, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would like to see Russian President Vladimir Putin stand trial for war crimes at The Hague. 

"[He is] the one who deserves to be sentenced for these criminal actions right here in the capital of international law, and I'm sure we'll see that happen when we win," the Ukrainian leader said.

Zelenskyy called for the creation of an international tribunal to deal with "Russia's crime of aggression."

"Whoever brings war must receive judgement," he added.

He said while Ukraine's courts will deal with most crimes committed by Russian occupying forces, "only one institution is capable of responding to the original crime, the crime of aggression, a tribunal." 

The International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, cannot prosecute the broader crime of aggression itself.

"If we want true justice, we should not look for excuses and should not refer to the shortcomings of the current international law but make bold decisions that will correct that shortcomings that unfortunately exist in international law," Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy visits International Criminal Court 

He earlier met top officials at the ICC, which currently probing possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in Ukraine.

In March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, over responsibility for war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The court's accusation centered around the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. Moscow said the warrant had no legal bearing on the Russian president.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy waves as he leaves the International Criminal Court in The Hague
Zelenskyy met top officials at the International Criminal Court in The HagueImage: Michael Corder/ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

The ICC prosecutes individuals charged with severe war crimes and the International Court of Justice is charged with resolving legal disputes between states. But both ultimately have limited power and the idea of a tribunal to deal with the war in Ukraine has been raised in the past by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Russia, like the United States and China, has not ratified the Rome Statute that grants the ICC jurisdiction. It typically does not extradite its citizens.

Ukraine is also not a fully-fledged ICC member, although it did sign a special dispensation giving the court the right to prosecute war crimes on its territory since the conflict with pro-Russian rebels originally broke out in 2014.

Zelenskyy's surprise visit to the Netherlands

The Ukrainian leader was in the Netherlands on a previously unannounced visit.

kraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meets Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Netherlands
Zelenskyy met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who in February saying he did not rule out any kind of military support for Kyiv as long as it did not bring NATO into conflict with RussiaImage: Yves Herman/Pool/AP/picture alliance

He met Prime Minister Mark Rutte and other politicians. 

The Netherlands has been a strong supporter of Ukraine, supplying both financial and military aid. 

Rutte's government recently promised to deliver 14 modern Leopard 2 tanks, it is buying with Denmark next year. 

The Netherlands also joined forces with Germany and Denmark to buy at least 100 older Leopard 1 tanks for Ukraine.

lo/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)