Association of the Bar of the City of New York The Need for a Special Tribunal on the Crime of Aggression in Ukraine

Statement by the Permanent Representative of Estonia to the UN H.E. Mr. Rein Tammsaar
8 February 2023

Let me start with a confession: I wholeheartedly support the establishment of a special tribunal for the crime of aggression by the UN – not only because this is the position of the Estonian government – but even more so as I am profoundly convinced that this would be the right thing to do from a legal, moral and political point of view.

First, we have to acknowledge that the main goal of the Russia´s full-fledged aggression against Ukraine remains the same: to exterminate Ukrainian nation and to erase a sovereign state of Ukraine from the map. Kremlin is obsessed with swallowing Ukraine and with the restoration of its former imperial grandeur. This aggression therefore is not provoked but rather a conscious and rational decision by Kremlin.

Secondly, I would bring in a bit of historic perspective by claiming that not only we overslept the militarization of Russia but we have also underestimated the fact that the atrocity crimes committed by the Soviet Union during the Second World War were left unpunished. There was never a Nuremberg Tribunal for communism or Soviet totalitarian crimes. What we see today is a direct result of this. Impunity in the past is leading to crimes today. We really need to end this vicious circle.

Thirdly, it is not Slavic tribes fighting for influence in Eastern Europe. This war goes against the core of the rules based international order, with the UN at its core. This is about preserving the significance of the UN Charter. Russia´s aggression erodes the credibility of entire security architecture upon which we have been relying. If we do not respond decisively to the Russia’s aggression in the 21st century, the sovereignty and equality of each and every state, small and big, is under threat. That is also, why, in our opinion, the UN has to stand behind the Special Tribunal. In this way, the UN can protect itself, its core principles and its Charter.

Fourth, the crime of aggression is not just an abstract, political crime against another state. While we are speaking here, people are dying. And not only soldiers but civilians who are being killed, some raped. Kids as well. It is a tragedy. The aggression is essentially the “original sin and the mother of all crimes” which opens the floodgates for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. It inflicts real human suffering beyond imagination.

Finally, from the perspective of the country that has been a victim of aggression by more than one totalitarian regime and having witnessed all the horrors and atrocities similar to what we see today in Ukraine, be it in Bucha, Kharkiv or Hostomel. We should not allow Putin and his henchmen to hide in a judicial loophole. We should establish a special tribunal for the crime of aggression by the UN, as soon as we can, because people are dying as we speak. We need to send the strongest possible political signal that the crime of aggression will never pay off. We need to make a decisive step in order to prosecute the Troika. I do not see any other way how the ultimate justice could be served for all the victims of Russian aggression. I am profoundly convinced that this would be the right thing to do: legally, morally as well as politically.

The recording of the panel discussion can be found here.