Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, thousands of people have been killed, and millions have been displaced. Amid the constant violence, the UN and local and international civil society have produced consistent, credible reports of widespread and systematic crimes committed by Russian forces: executions, sexual violence, torture – the list is nearly endless. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s authorities are overwhelmed and under-resourced as they seek justice for survivors.

History and overview

The war in Ukraine began in 2014 following the Russian annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine by Russian proxies. A ceasefire agreement in 2015 froze the conflict, but low-level hostilities continued in the east.

On 24 February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and attempted to take the capital of Kyiv and the major cities of Kharkiv and Odesa. Since then, Ukraine has been under near daily attack by drones and missiles, and each town liberated by Ukrainian forces brings with it news of atrocities committed by Russian troops.

Legal context and legal needs
Ukrainian authorities are committed to prosecuting Russian war crimes domestically, but limitations of the criminal justice system undermine their efforts. Local courts are overwhelmed – over 100,000 incidents are under investigation, and cases are advancing slowly, if at all. Further, a lack of substantive law on command responsibility and crimes against humanity makes pursuing accountability for those most culpable impossible. Many survivors of sexual violence, including LGBTQ+ people, are hesitant to come forward due to social stigma.

The International Criminal Court is also investigating the situation in Ukraine. However, given the Court’s limited capacity, they are unlikely to go beyond the most senior Russian officials – like President Vladimir Puttin, who was indicted in March 2023.

Global attention is slowly shifting away from Ukraine, and questions of justice are often an afterthought on the world’s stage, with military matters taking precedence. LAW’s programme will ensure that Ukraine’s survivors are not forgotten and empower them to achieve justice.

Rationale for intervention
LAW’s Ukraine programme seeks to close the impunity gap and hold the most culpable to account, applying creative legal strategies and going after perpetrators that are unlikely to fall under the mandate of Ukrainian authorities or the ICC.

LAW works in Ukraine as part of a consortium of local and international organisations, going beyond casebuilding strengthening local capacity and empowering survivors to lead justice processes.

Ongoing projects(s)

Securing Accountability and Reparation for Atrocity Crimes in Ukraine
The primary goal of LAW’s programme in Ukraine is to file three criminal or civil cases abroad concerning international crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. Currently, we are investigating a range of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, sexual and gender-based violence, environmental crimes, and crimes against cultural objects.

As with all of LAW’s programs, each case will put survivors at the centre of accountability processes, strengthen local capacity, and advocate for long-term change

In Ukraine, LAW leads a consortium that brings together an unprecedented amount of expertise in every aspect of international criminal justice work.

JurFem, the primary recipient of capacity-building support, is a women-led legal organization that is at the forefront of documenting gender-based crimes, including conflict-related sexual violence. LAW will support JurFem with training and help the organization monitor domestic war crimes trials and file amicus curiae to promote survivor-centred justice processes in Ukraine.

LAW’s other partners include OPORA, a Ukrainian civil society organisation that provides support for Ukrainians abroad who fled the war; Yale’s Humanitarian Research Lab, a pioneering open-source evidence centre; as well as the Clooney Foundation for Justice, a consultative partner with experience building universal jurisdiction cases.

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