THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid an unexpected visit to The Hague on Thursday, calling on the international community to back a tribunal to prosecute Russian aggression.
Zelenskyy, who arrived late on Wednesday evening, first visited the International Criminal Court before giving a speech calling for justice for the victims of the war and thanking the Dutch for their support during the conflict.
"Everyone would have preferred to see a different Vladimir here today," the former comedian joked to the crowd during his speech called “No Peace without Justice for Ukraine.”
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with his commissioner for children’s rights, in March. But the world’s only permanent court for atrocity crimes does not have the jurisdiction to investigate the act of aggression, the literal invasion of another country.
Ukraine wants to see the establishment of a new tribunal that could go after Russian leadership, but that process is complicated. “If we want true justice, we should not look for excuses,” Zelenskyy said in his speech.
His visit to the Netherlands came a day after meeting with Nordic leaders in Helsinki, Finland. He denied Ukraine was involved in a drone attack on the Kremlin, which Moscow claims was an attempt to assassinate Putin.
Zelenskyy’s first stop was the Dutch Senate, where he met with leaders from both Houses of parliament, before continuing to the ICC. He was greeted by the court’s president, Piotr Hofmański, under a large Ukrainian flag that had been raised for the occasion.
Karim Khan, the court’s chief prosecutor, was away on a trip to Canada during Zelenskyy’s visit.
As Zelenskyy left the court to head to his next appointment, a small group of Ukrainians shouted “Slava Ukraini” — “Glory to Ukraine” — and the president, wearing his trademark combat-green sweatshirt and boots, waved in response.
The European Union, among others, has called for the creation of a special tribunal to investigate the crime of aggression and the Netherlands has even offered to host such a court. But the pathway to the establishment of such an institution is challenging.
Previous tribunals, like those established following the Yugoslav Wars and the Rwandan Genocide, were created by the United Nations Security Council. As Russia is a permanent member, that avenue is blocked.
Some legal experts have called for a tribunal to be created in a hybrid fashion, operating under Ukrainian law but investigating international crimes, or for the U.N. General Assembly to establish it. International law scholars question whether it would be possible for such an institution to try a head of state, who typically enjoys immunity.
In the meantime, the European Union’s judicial cooperation agency, Eurojust, created the International Center for Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression, which will gather evidence that could be used during future proceedings.
Zelenskyy asked for the Netherlands to think of the Ukrainian victims of war during their Remembrance Day commorations. The country holds two minutes of silence at 8 p.m. on May 4 to remember those killed since World War II.
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