A.Kubilius. Lukashenko to the Hague Tribunal for the sufferings of the opposition! Putin will follow!

2023-06-14 | Belarus

On June 12th, Vilnius hosted an important international conference on “Responsibility of Lukashenka’s regime for crimes against humanity and migrant crisis: prospects for international justice”, organised by the Ministry of Justice and the Justice Hub/Law and Democracy Centre, headed by Professor Dainius Žalimas.
Last year’s first Vilnius Conference was the place where the road was paved towards an International Tribunal against Putin for the crime of war aggression. Such a Tribunal is now being established. This year, the second Vilnius Conference is paving the way towards an international tribunal against Lukashenko for crimes against humanity. Such a tribunal for Putin would follow. 

I also have had the opportunity to address the conference. My main theses:

The main conclusion we must draw from the last decades is that if the international democratic community does not stop an authoritarian regime at the very beginning, when it is just beginning to violate human rights and democratic norms, then in the long run it will evolve into an international aggressor (Russia, Belarus).

At the same time, over the last few years it has become clear that the known instruments of international law and policy, such as personal sanctions or instruments of universal jurisdiction, which have traditionally been aimed at stopping the violations of human rights and democratic norms by authoritarian regimes, unfortunately do not have the desired effect – regimes do not suspend their criminal activities.

It must therefore be stated that the international democratic community has so far demonstrated its inability to stop the crimes that authoritarian regimes are committing against their citizens. The question is whether there are any instruments of international law that have not yet been used that would help the democratic community to protect the human rights of the Belarusians persecuted by Lukashenko? Can ordinary Belarusians receive international justice and can Lukashenko face international criminal responsibility for the crimes that he has committed against the Belarusian people? The same would apply to the protection of rights of Russians who are being persecuted by the Putin regime, as well as to Putin’s international criminal responsibility: not only for the crime of war aggression, not only for the criminal deportation of the Ukrainian children, but also for the crimes of persecution of the Russian opposition and of civil society, for the crimes against Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Ilya Yashin, Alexei Gorinov, who are currently in jail, for the murders of Boris Nemtsov, Galina Starovoitova, Alexander Litvinenko and the other regime critics.

Under international law, if a regime’s crimes against the human rights of its own citizens reach such a level of mass scale and deliberate criminal policy that it is recognised by the international community as amounting to crimes against humanity, the regime’s crimes must be investigated by the International Criminal Court, commonly referred to as the Hague Tribunal. If the Hague Tribunal does not have the mandate to investigate such crimes in the case of a particular country (e.g., because the country has not ratified the Rome Statute, as is the case with Belarus and Russia), a Special International Tribunal must be established.

The international community has already agreed to do so in relation to the investigation of the crime of war aggression committed by the Putin regime: a Special Tribunal will be established to investigate this crime.

A Special International Tribunal to investigate the crimes against humanity committed by Lukashenko against the Belarusian society would be a strong step by the international community in giving the Belarusians the right to international justice. At the same time, it would also be a signal to Lukashenko’s elite that it is time to make up their minds whether they really want to go to The Hague Tribunal together with Lukashenko.

In order to go down this road and establish a special Tribunal for Lukashenko, it is first of all necessary for the international community to declare that Lukashenko’s criminal actions amount to crimes against humanity (ideally by the United Nations General Assembly). This is how the road to the establishment of the Special Tribunal to investigate the crime of Putin’s war of aggression began last year: at the start of the war, the General Assembly declared that Putin’s military action was not a special operation, but a criminal act of war of aggression in breach of all the rules of international law laid down by the UN.

The journey towards the international community recognising Lukashenko’s actions as amounting to crimes against humanity has already begun. I recently wrote that the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights has published an investigative report in which he has found that Lukashenko may have committed crimes against humanity by persecuting people who protest against his regime.

The way forward: A resolution of the United Nations General Assembly confirming the conclusions of the same UN Commissioner for Human Rights’ investigation that the crimes committed and being committed by Lukashenko against the people of Belarus amount to crimes against humanity. This would open the door to the creation of the Special Tribunal to investigate such crimes.

Putin’s crimes against Russian citizens should be treated in the same way. Putin’s crimes are of the same nature and scale as Lukashenko’s crimes. Therefore, the path of international justice should be similar: firstly, a thorough investigation by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, which is likely to recognise that such crimes amount to crimes against humanity, then a special resolution of the UN General Assembly and then a special tribunal.

Thus, Putin (and Lukashenko) are facing three tribunals: a Special Tribunal in The Hague to investigate the crime of war aggression (Lukashenko as an accomplice in the aggression); an ICC Tribunal in The Hague to investigate the crime of the deportation of the Ukrainian children (an arrest warrant has already been issued for Putin, and Lukashenko’s involvement in the crime is under investigation); and we are now proposing the establishment of Special Tribunals to investigate the crimes against humanity committed by Lukashenko and Putin in the persecution of their own nationals.

Democracies must learn to defend themselves and defend human rights where they are criminally violated. Autocrats must know that democracies are not toothless and that tribunals await autocrats. Lithuania can play a very important role in this process.