Ukraine: Arria-formula Meeting on Accountability
Tomorrow (27 April) at 3 pm EST in the ECOSOC chamber, Albania and France will convene an Arria-formula meeting on “Ensuring accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine”. The meeting is being co-sponsored by Council members Ireland, Norway, the UK and the US, as well as a regionally diverse group of non-Council members.
Albania’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Olta Xhaçka will provide opening remarks. The expected briefers are UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, ICC Prosecutor Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova, human rights lawyer and co-president of the Clooney Foundation for Justice Amal Clooney, and Director of Human Rights Watch’s Crisis and Conflict Division Ida Sawyer. Interventions are also expected from the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba and Permanent Representative of France to the UN Nicolas de Rivière.
Participation in the meeting, which will be broadcast live on UN TV, is open to all UN member states, permanent observers, NGOs and the press.
Investigations into alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law were launched within a week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. Khan announced on 2 March his decision to proceed immediately with an active investigation into the situation in Ukraine after receiving referrals from 39 ICC States Parties. Russia is not party to the ICC. While Ukraine is also not a state party, it has accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction for crimes committed within its territory.
On 3 and 4 March, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) held an “urgent debate on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression”. At the debate, Bachelet said that “the Russian Federation’s military attack on Ukraine opened a new and dangerous chapter in world history” and is “generating massive impact on the human rights of millions of people across Ukraine”. The HRC established an independent international Commission of Inquiry (COI) on 4 March to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes in the context of aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation”, and other related matters. On 30 March, the HRC’s president announced the appointment of Erik Møse (Norway), Jasminka Džumhur (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Pablo de Greiff (Colombia) to serve as the COI’s three independent members. (Møse will chair the COI.)
In late March, Russia announced that it would reduce its military activities around the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv and would focus its efforts on the eastern Donbas region. On 31 March, Ukrainian forces regained control of several cities and villages near Kyiv that Russia had taken, including Bucha, Irpin and Motyzhyn. Subsequently, Ukrainian officials and several international media outlets shared evidence (including of mass graves) and local testimonials of the indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians by Russian forces while in control of Bucha. Russia has denied these allegations, blaming Ukraine and the West for fabricating evidence and spreading false narratives. On 18 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an honorary title to a brigade accused by Ukraine of having committed war crimes in Bucha.
Reports of atrocities in the areas retaken from Russian forces sparked widespread calls for investigation and accountability. On 25 March, Ukraine, together with Albania, Colombia, Denmark, the Marshall Islands and the Netherlands, launched the Group of Friends of Accountability following the Aggression against Ukraine to promote the issue at the UN. On 13 April, following a trip to Bucha, Khan described Ukraine as a “crime scene” and said there were “reasonable grounds” to suggest Russia had committed war crimes during its military operation. Khan has since signed an agreement with the prosecutors general of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine to play a role in a joint investigative team mandated to look into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.
The widespread outrage over the reported atrocities also galvanised further actions seeking to isolate Russia in international fora. On 7 April, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution suspending Russia from the HRC. The resolution, which was tabled by Ukraine, the US and several other partners, received 93 votes in favour, 24 against and 58 abstentions. In a 22 April tweet, the Czech Republic announced that it had submitted an official candidature request to take the seat vacated by Russia upon its suspension from the HRC.
On 13 April, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Moscow Mechanism mission of experts—a fact-finding team established on 14 March by the OSCE to investigate abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Ukraine—presented their findings in a report, which documents “clear patterns of [international humanitarian law] violations by the Russian forces in their conduct of hostilities”. The report concludes that a 16 March Russian attack on a theatre in Mariupol “constitutes most likely an egregious violation of [international humanitarian law] and those who ordered or executed it committed a war crime”. The mission notes, however, that the investigation was completed without Russia’s involvement.
According to the concept note prepared by Albania and France, the objective of tomorrow’s meeting is to convene key actors involved in the documentation of crimes committed in Ukraine—such as the ICC, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and the COI established by the HRC—to discuss ways in which all relevant stakeholders can support efforts to establish a chain of responsibility and accountability. The meeting also aims to encourage member states to join the Group of Friends of Accountability following the Aggression against Ukraine to map “existing and potential accountability mechanisms in Ukraine while ensuring knowledge sharing between accountability mechanisms, the UN member states, and civil society”.
The concept note proposes several questions to help guide the discussion, including:
- What additional steps and actions can member states take in strengthening and institutionalising accountability for war crimes committed in Ukraine?
- How can the media, civil society and investigative reporting contribute to establishing the truth about the war crimes committed in Ukraine?
- What are some of the best practices that could be replicated and/or enhanced in relation to documenting and mapping the crimes and identifying those believed to be responsible?
- How can we ensure an appropriate system of reparations for victims so that they can obtain effective remedies for the harm they have suffered?
At tomorrow’s meeting, several participants, including the US and European member states, are likely to condemn Russia’s actions and call for accountability. They are likely to accuse Russia of committing atrocities that may amount to war crimes, including indiscriminate shelling and bombing of populated areas, killing and torture of civilians, conflict-related sexual violence, and attacks against civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
Some member states may be more reluctant to voice accusations against Russia. Several member states that abstained on the 7 April General Assembly resolution suspending Russia from the HRC—including Brazil, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates—noted in their explanation of vote that they believe that a decision on suspending Russia from the HRC should have been taken only after the conclusion of the investigation by the COI established by the HRC. These member states may also suggest that responsibility can only be attributed following the completion of the COI’s independent investigation.