REYKJAVIK, Iceland (CN) — Leaders from across Europe traveled to Iceland this week for the first Council of Europe summit in nearly two decades, where they announced a new system to record the damage inflicted on Ukraine by Russia.
The post-World War II human rights organization decided to hold a meeting following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, looking to strengthen ties across it’s 46 members and look for concrete ways to support accountability for victims.
“We are not gathered here in peace, but under the cloud of war,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Icelandic prime minister, said in her opening speech. Her country currently holds the presidency of the Council of Europe, a rotating position.
Ahead of the summit, the organization announced a number of measures to help war-ravaged Ukraine. The group is backing an international tribunal for the war and, more tangibly, plans to establish a register of damages, where Ukrainians can log the destruction they have experienced in the hope they may get eventually see some financial reimbursement.
The aim of the register is to allow victims to submit their claims for damages, not only for destroyed property but also for injuries or even the death of family members. The Council of Europe intends for that information to be used later to compensate the millions of Ukrainians who have suffered under the conflict.
The organization sees the register as just the beginning. “It is a first, necessary, urgent step" Marija Pejčinović Burić, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, told reporters.
The order, called an enlarged partial agreement in Council of Europe parlance, will establish the register for three years, with funding coming from more than 40 countries that have backed the plan.
That includes, Pejčinović Burić noted, all of the countries in the G7, an informal group of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Canada, Japan and the U.S. are observer members of the Council of Europe and have all signed on the register.
The aim is not to collect evidence of crimes. “This is not about specific perpetrators,” Christos Giakoumopoulos, the director general of human rights and rule of law of the Council of Europe, told Courthouse News in an interview.
That information is compiled by the new International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Russian Aggression, an International Criminal Court-backed repository about the crime of aggression housed at Eurojust. The agency, which coordinates judicial cooperation across the European Union, formed a joint investigation team with Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine less than a week after Russia launched its full-scale invasion. Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia have since joined as well.
While most of the Iceland summit was dominated by discussions of Ukraine, some leaders highlighted other challenges facing the continent. “There’s an inseparable link between the rule of law, democracy and the protection of human rights at national level and peaceful coexistence at international level,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his speech.
The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights is currently dealing with multiple cases stemming from the erosion of rule of law in Hungary, Poland and other countries. In a 2021 ruling, the court concluded the Polish judiciary system is no longer independent and impartial.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not attend the summit - he is in the midst of a challenging reelection campaign - but his country is now the largest source of complaints before the rights court. His government has condemned rulings against his regime, including for failing to release political prisoners and restricting freedom of the press.
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