In the harrowing days of 1945, the world lay bleeding and breathless after years of all out war. It was a time of uncertainty regarding what happens next. Could mankind survive another world war? What was the pathway towards a more stable world, a world that would turn to dialog and discussion versus recrimination and the use of force? The answer was an organization whose cornerstone was peaceful dialog in settling disputes, not the use of force. In 1945, in San Francisco, the United Nations Charter was signed and a pathway was created towards international peace and security.
Now, several decades later, with a history of disappointments and successes, the United Nations faces one of its most serious challenges to world order—the aggression by the Russian Federation upon the Republic of Ukraine. A founding member of the United Nations and a permanent member of its operative arm, the Security Council, has deliberately and without justification attacked a member state. This aggression was the type of act that the United Nations was designed to prevent. The horrific actions by Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s were a basis for creating a world body that settled its disputes peaceably, not using force. Its unstated purpose was to avoid acts of aggression.
This aggression by the Russian Federation is an affront to the United Nations paradigm and international peace and security. All of mankind has been attacked, making a peaceful future uncertain. This is an attack against all free peoples. Regardless of politics and culture, in this interconnected world, the foundations of a global village are created through the internet and social media; where ideas, concepts, trade, and monies flow uninterrupted around the world bringing all nations together in an interdependent association under the United Nations, the invasion by the Russian Federation weakens the ties that bind us all in so many ways. The Russian Federation has stepped away from the family of nations and has sought a different path. It is now a rogue state.
The aggression by the Russian Federation also is an attack on democracy. The idea that citizens in all member states of the United Nations have some voice in how they are governed is critical to a more stable world. To date, democracies around the world have condemned this aggression in several resolutions passed by the United Nations General Assembly by overwhelming majorities. Because the UN Security Council no longer has any credibility related to upholding the UN Charter, the UN General Assembly must take the lead, particularly related to Russian aggression. Democracy must face down tyranny around the world and the Russian Federation in particular.
In Europe, the democracies that make up the European Union have stood shoulder-to-shoulder against this aggression. A united NATO has shown its mettle and has even expanded before the Russian threat against democracy. This invasion in the hopes of weakening the European Union and NATO was a gross miscalculation by President Putin and he will pay a price for it now and into the future.
Recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted the sitting President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. An independent judicial body, the ICC laid down an important marker for all mankind that the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of the gun. It’s a proud moment for all who believe that no one is above the law. For the second time in the modern era, a sitting head of state will be held accountable for their international crimes in an open and fair trial before the world. This may not happen in the near future, if at all, but that is not the point. The message is clear to all tyrants and strongmen around the world that they are not immune from the law and they are now on notice.
Alas, the ICC cannot deal with the crime of aggression perpetrated by the Russian Federation. Yet it must be dealt with in some form or another. The most efficient and effective model is a UN-created international tribunal. A Special Tribunal for Ukraine on the Crime of Aggression will send the signal to all tyrants and strongmen that the use of aggression as a matter of policy is wrong and will be dealt with by the United Nations. Aggression is an international threat to peace and security.
Importantly, the establishment of a UN created tribunal will lay the ground work for a more stable 21st century. The certainty that the United Nations will act using the rule of law to counter aggression assures each member state that all nations are protected against the darker forces of tyranny. In a politically and diplomatically stable world, trade and commerce will flourish, international peace and security will be the keystone for a prosperous future. All member states will benefit, as will all mankind.
A Special Tribunal for Ukraine on the Crime of Aggression must be created in 2023. As was shown a few decades ago in West Africa, when President Charles Taylor, a head of state who committed international crimes, was humbled before the law, he learned that the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of the gun. Today we must humble President Vladimir Putin before the law. Under the United Nations banner, let us choose peace, security, and the rule of law over fear, uncertainty, and tyranny. As Eleanor Roosevelt, a founding signatory of the United Nations Charter, declared: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
Founding Chief Prosecutor, UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. A founder of the Global Accountability Network. Member of a group of practitioners, diplomats, and academics who have drafted a package that creates a UN created Special Tribunal for Ukraine on the Crime of Aggression.
Suggested citation: David M. Crane, A UN Tribunal for Aggression in Ukraine Would Be a Global Game-Changer for Peace and Security, JURIST – Academic Commentary, May 5, 2023, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2023/05/UN-special-tribunal-aggression.
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