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Former British prime minister Gordon Brown has joined calls for a special international tribunal to prosecute the Russian leadership for crimes of aggression against Ukraine.
The proposal, which names President Vladimir Putin in particular, was suggested by a lawyer last week, picked up by Mr Brown and is now receiving broad support among European countries.
As its promoters envisage, the court would be similar to the Nuremberg tribunal set up to prosecute leading Nazis for a broad range of crimes committed during the Second World War.
A special tribunal is required to bridge the gap in international law that would otherwise allow Mr Putin and his close associates to avoid prosecution, said Mr Brown, who served as Britain’s prime minister from 2007 to 2010.
“This act of aggression by Russia — deplored in the strongest terms this week by the UN General Assembly — cannot go uninvestigated, unprosecuted and unpunished,” he told a Chatham House think tank debate on the proposal.
“But there is a serious gap in international law since Russia is not a party to the statute of the International Criminal Court, then this crime of aggression cannot, as things stand, be investigated by the prosecutor.”
He called on the international community to create the special tribunal to investigate the specific crime of aggression for which Mr Putin and his circle “may be found to be individually liable” for “having waged a war that has no conceivable justification, as it is not in self-defence and is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations”, said Mr Brown.
The court could be rapidly formed with support from European countries giving it the power to investigate the principal perpetrators for the crime of aggression.
The think tank discussion also included Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, who joined via mobile phone while sitting in the back of a car in an urban area thought to be Kyiv.
“All those who made this war possible will be brought to justice and the Russian Federation as a country that committed an act of aggression will also be held accountable for its deeds,” he said.
He then made an as yet unsubstantiated allegation that a war crimes tribunal was needed as Russian troops had raped Ukrainian women in the course of the occupation.
“When bombs fall on your cities, when soldiers rape women in the occupied cities — and we have numerous cases of, unfortunately, when Russian soldiers rape women in the Ukrainian cities,” said Mr Kuleba.
“This is the only tool of civilisation that is available to us to make sure that all those who made this war possible will be brought to justice.”
The barrister Philippe Sands, QC, who came up with the suggestion, stated that the crime of aggression was the only offence which allowed “those responsible for the totality of the terrible events we are now witnessing to be held to account”.
The special tribunal would be complimentary to the ICC’s work, added the professor of law at University College London.
He referred to the 1942 meeting in London, when European governments in exile agreed to prosecute German war criminals, though the idea was initially considered to be a “pie in the sky”.
The agreement led, however, to the Nuremberg trials, during which 22 Nazis were charged with crimes against peace, with 12 found guilty and sentenced to death.
Mr Sands added that Nuremberg also formed the basis for senior aides to Adolf Hitler cutting deals to avoid prosecution.
“Those in the [Putin] inner circle might at some point say to themselves, do I really want to be associated with this? Am I willing to break ranks and I willing to assist in these investigations?”