24 February 2023, 11:28

Ukraine one year on: IBA reiterates condemnation of Russia’s invasion and looks ahead


Today, 24 February 2023, marks exactly one year since Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordered the illegal invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign nation. On this anniversary of the start of the war, the International Bar Association (IBA), founded to promote and protect the rule of law and international justice, reiterates its condemnation of the invasion and looks at what the future holds for holding to account the aggressor and others who may have committed war crimes.

In October 2022, at the Opening Ceremony of the IBA Annual Conference in Miami, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed delegates by video in which he referred to members of the audience as ‘defenders of the law and human rights’. He outlined the vital role of lawyers in ensuring justice is served to the instigators of the Russian invasion.

IBA President Almudena Arpón de Mendívil Aldama commented: "We have witnessed a flagrant breach of the law for a year now. We are experiencing a great threat to democracy and justice. The international legal community, with the IBA acting as its common voice, has reacted not only by supporting Ukraine on all possible legal fronts, but also by reaffirming the fundamental values of our profession. I wish to use this anniversary to signal that the IBA will make every possible effort to ensure there will be legal accountability, including individual criminal liability. Finally, I express again today my solidarity and admiration for our Ukraine colleagues who continue performing their duties before their clients and their country in the worst circumstances".

With the articles of international law that govern how war is conducted being violated en masse, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Andriy Kostin, and the IBA have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation to ensure accountability for war crimes and other international crimes including the crime of aggression. To ensure the effective representation of cases concerning war crimes, the IBA has also signed an MOU with Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice and the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid Provision that sets out the terms of support for free legal aid provision. In addition, an IBA-Ukraine Ministry of Defense MOU is being drafted with a focus on the improvement of the legislative framework to ensure proper defence in cases concerning military crimes.

Since condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the IBA has ringfenced more than USD 200,000 for humanitarian and technical support for the Ukrainian Bar Association (UBA) and the Ukrainian National Bar Association (UNBA), the latter of which the IBA has partnered with to deliver training on international criminal law for lawyers engaged in trials.

IBA Executive Director Dr Mark Ellis, who at the outset of Russia’s invasion was determined that IBA expertise be employed to its fullest extent to support Ukraine, travelled to Ukraine for a week of high-level meetings in September 2022. He commented: "Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unconscionable, and as we mark one year since the military assault, it is important not only to reflect on the events that have unfolded since 24 February 2022, but to look ahead. At this time, the conflict in Ukraine shows no signs of abating. That widespread, systematic indiscriminate attacks against civilians and other serious violations of international humanitarian law have been committed over the course of this war is indisputable. The international community has a responsibility to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice and work towards long-lasting peace in Ukraine. Discussions with Ukraine’s Prosecutor General on establishing special tribunals and the various MOUs between the IBA and Ukraine’s offices of justice are vital. The IBA will continue to provide expert knowledge and training to Ukraine to support efforts towards accountability and justice".

Since the start of the war, Ukraine’s legal organisations and Prosecutor General have encouraged the widespread use of the IBA-founded eyeWitness to Atrocities app to capture potential evidence of war crimes. This tool is being used to amass verified documentary evidence of potential war crimes in a way that is compliant with international legal standards in domestic or international trials. To date, more than 32,000 images and videos have been received, with items submitted to the United Nations-mandated International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine.

Ukraine’s legal profession has found much support from the IBA’s vast network of lawyers from across the globe, who in solidarity have provided pro bono efforts in numerous areas, including anti-trust, environmental damage, war crimes and asset recovery, as well as hosting webinar discussions and interviewing Ukrainian lawyers who remain working in Ukraine. The IBA’s flagship publication, Global Insight, has also covered the war and its ramifications extensively, with articles on the impact the war has had on the global energy market and food security, as well as sanctions, refugees and prisoners of war.


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