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US announces support for special tribunal to prosecute Russia for ‘crime of aggression’ in Ukraine

Emergency workers arrive at a residential area hit during a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)

(CNN) — The United States announced it supports the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression — a significant development in the push to hold top Kremlin officials accountable for the war in Ukraine.

“At this critical moment in history, I am pleased to announce that the United States supports the development of an internationalized tribunal dedicated to prosecuting the crime of aggression against Ukraine,” US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack announced Monday.

The announcement of US support for the development of such a body comes after Ukraine and other countries have for months pushed for the creation of the mechanism.

In that time, the US would not say whether it supported a special tribunal, with US officials instead saying there were reviewing the option and supporting other mechanisms like the International Criminal Court.

However, in her remarks Monday, Van Schaack said “there are compelling arguments for why” the crime of aggression “must be prosecuted alongside” crimes that are being investigated by the ICC.

She noted the past example of the Nuremberg trials prosecuting Nazi leaders after World War II, in which “the United States led the prosecution of the crime of aggression — deemed ‘crimes against the peace’ in the lexicon of the era.”

There are a number of different bodies like the ICC which can prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, but they do not have the jurisdiction to prosecute the crime of aggression by Russia against Ukraine.

As such, Ukrainian Ambassador at Large Anton Korynevych in December argued that these existing mechanisms do not do enough to ensure that the decision-makers in Moscow face punishment for their war against Ukraine.

“We have a loophole, a gap in accountability, when we talk about accountability for the crime of aggression against Ukraine,” Korynevych told CNN in Washington, DC, at the time.

“Legally, currently, there is no international mechanism, which can investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression against Ukraine,” he explained at the time.

“The crime of aggression is a leadership crime,” Korynevych said. “We believe that top perpetrators, top representatives of political and military leadership of the Russian Federation, their crime is a crime of aggression. Their crime is a crime of waging aggressive war, because this crime gave birth to all the other crimes.”

Van Schaack said Monday that “although a number of models have been under consideration, and these have been analyzed closely, we believe an internationalized court that is rooted in Ukraine’s judicial system, but that also includes international elements, will provide the clearest path to establishing a new Tribunal and maximizing our chances of achieving meaningful accountability.”

“We envision such a court having significant international elements — in the form of substantive law, personnel, information sources, and structure,” she said.

“It might also be located elsewhere in Europe, at least at first, to reinforce Ukraine’s desired European orientation, lend gravitas to the initiative, and enable international involvement, including through Eurojust,” which is the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, Van Schaack said.

“We are committed to working with Ukraine, and peace-loving countries around the world, to stand up, staff, and resource such a tribunal in a way that will achieve comprehensive accountability for the international crimes being committed in Ukraine,” she said.

Earlier this month the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.