Parliamentarians ally to respond to atrocity crimes in Ukraine

26 September 2022
Parliamentarians are often underutilized in efforts to counter mass atrocity crimes. An initiative seeks to turn the tide and construct more strategic responses to the atrocity crimes committed in Ukraine by the Russian military.

Co-founded by GAAMAC’s partner the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS), the Global Parliamentary Alliance Against Atrocity Crimes (GPAAAC) is an international network of parliamentarians and experts working to foster deeper and further collaboration between parliamentarians from Canada, Germany and EU-member states.

The initiative consists of four closed-door meetings with legislators, experts, policymakers, and civil society members, as well as a series of podcast discussions, policy papers and discussions on Twitter Spaces.

If (the war in Ukraine) can teach us anything, as it should, is that inaction and impunity beget further crimes” wrote Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab, co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response, in an op-ed for GPAAAC.

Summary of the inaugural session

The first session, “Building a Network with an Eye on Ukraine” focused on introducing GPAAAC and providing an overview of the current situation in Ukraine.

Citing the Rome Statute, a participant provided an overview of the alleged atrocity crimes committed by the Russian army. “These are not single or unrelated incidents”, he warned, “but part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population.”

All participants highlighted the risk of impunity for these acts. While the International Criminal Court (ICC) is looking into the atrocities perpetrated in Ukraine, it lacks jurisdiction for the crime of aggression. Ukrainian Parliamentarians have called on the EU to set up a special international tribunal to punish the crime of aggression.

It was agreed that GPAAAC can help develop a comprehensive legal strategy to support the establishment of a hybrid tribunal for the crime of aggression and/or of an Interagency Coordinating Group at the governmental level. It can also support public educational efforts to counter Russian misinformation and disinformation, as well as direct and public incitement to genocide.

Summary of the second session

The aim of the second meeting of GPAAAC was to delve into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russia in Ukraine, and to explore ways to hold Russia accountable.

Experts agreed that the war was not simply an aggression, but a total and wholesale assault on the fundamental rights of all people, a war on freedom and democracy. Two experts focused on the forcible transfer of people of Ukrainians into Russia. Forcible transfer is a war crime under international humanitarian law and may, under certain circumstances, constitute a crime against humanity.

However, experts also emphasized that Ukraine presented a unique opportunity to be inspired by. The ability to be on the ground to collect evidence almost in real time is unprecedented. There has also been a unique reaction from the International Criminal Court, which opened an investigation within the first weeks of the war. New technologies are also providing new ways to gather, verify, map and document data that could be used to hold Russia to account for war crimes.

Finally, speakers agreed that the power of parliamentarians to counter mass atrocities remains insufficiently recognized, even though they have the power to hold governments accountable and to influence public opinion. In the current situation, Parliamentarians can:

  • Communicate with voters about the importance of siding with Ukraine;
  • Speak with one voice about Ukraine with their Parliament and put pressure on their government to act;
  • Take a position on matters such as impunity for crimes against humanity, for war crimes, and for the crime of aggression;
  • Define priorities for the government on matters related to Ukraine;
  • Pioneer new ideas or creating legislative structures, such as setting up a special tribunal for the crimes of aggression.

GPAAAC will hold two more expert sessions on 19 October and 24 November 2022. For more information, visit the website of GPAAAC.

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