The summit of heads of state and government of the Council of Europe held in Iceland has concluded this Wednesday with an agreement of 40 countries, for the implementation of a register that records the damage caused by Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. Although this is only a first step and there are still many unknowns to be resolved, this is the first pan-European agreement that seeks to ensure that war crimes do not go unpunished and that victims can be reparated when the war ends. The General Secretary of the Council, Marija Pejcinovic Buricdescribed this initiative as “historic” in a statement.
This new mechanism will be located in The Hague, considered the legal capital of the world, with a satellite office in Ukraine that will provide information. The operation of this registry will have an initial period of three years and its main purpose is to document the damages and losses caused by Vladimir Putin’s troops.. At a later stage, it is expected to approve a new instrument that may include a commission to collect complaints and a compensation fund to be paid for by Russia.
The 46 countries that are part of the Council of Europe have met this Tuesday and Wednesday in Reykjavik, a year after Moscow was expelled from this forum that is not part of the European institutions and on which the Strasbourg Human Rights Court depends. Despite the fact that the purpose of this summit (the fourth of its kind in its almost 75-year history) was to show unwavering support for Ukraine, six member countries (Turkey, Hungary, Serbia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Bosnia) did not have joined this initiative while Andorra, Bulgaria and San Marino have promised to do so soon. The United States, Japan and Canada will participate as observer members of the Council of Europe. Budapest has justified its refusal in Ukraine’s treatment of Magyar minorities.
The European chancelleries have been studying for months how to rebuild Ukraine when the war ends and how to repair the victims. The problem does not seem easy to solve. Although European countries and their G-7 partners have immobilized financial assets and property of Russian oligarchs, these cannot be seized and later sold if it is not proven that there is a link between their obtaining and a crime, such as money laundering or terrorist financing. The lack of harmonization of the European criminal codes also complicates this task, since the freezing of assets must be carried out by the corresponding national authority.
In addition, when the conditions for this immobilization of the assets have disappeared – the sanctions regime is temporary and the punishments are extended according to the circumstances – the owner has the right to be able to recover them. Apart from the frozen properties of personalities linked to the Kremlin, the Twenty-seven have also managed to block a total of 300,000 million euros in the reserves of the Russian Central Bank. In the short term, Brussels is studying a plan to manage these liquid funds and invest them in the financial markets. The yield of these 300,000 million euros can be used for an aid fund for Ukraine, although at the moment it is unknown how much this figure could amount to and what will be the risk profile of the investments and, therefore, of the benefits reached. Diplomatic sources do not rule out that in the future, Moscow may be obliged to allocate these 300,000 euros in war reparations, after hypothetical peace negotiations.
In the criminal aspect there are also many fringes to complete. Ukraine has sued Russia before the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, for more than 70,000 war crimes which he claims to have documented. Although this international court is investigating all the accusations and Brussels supports these efforts, the European Commission has promised to create an ad hoc international court supported by the United Nations, so that there is no loophole for impunity.
The Baltic countries have been pressing for the implementation of a specific court as they consider that the statute of the CPI is not clear enough to sanction those ultimately responsible for issuing the orders. At the moment, the Community Executive is in contact with other international partners to work on the implementation of this new court. Ukraine has asked for a court similar to the one that tried Nazi leaders in Nuremberg after World War II.