US Foreign Affairs Committee supports resolution on special tribunal for Russia

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to a resolution on May 16 supporting the establishment of a special tribunal for Russian crimes of aggression in Ukraine.

The resolution was first registered in the House of Representatives on Jan. 31, 2023. According to the resolution, Russia's "unprecedented full-scale invasion of Ukraine has reached a critical point requiring immediate and decisive action by the international community."

One possible step toward establishing a special tribunal includes an agreement between Ukraine and the United Nations following a U.N. General Assembly vote, according to the resolution.

The resolution urges U.S. President Joe Biden to "take all available measures" to support the creation of a special tribunal.

U.S. State Department Global Criminal Justice Ambassador Beth Van Schaak said in late March that the U.S. was in favor of a hybrid tribunal. This system would involve "the integration of professionals, judges, prosecutors, investigators, lawyers, or through the provision of expert assistance at Ukraine's request."

However, President Volodymyr Zelensky is among those who have publicly criticized the option of a hybrid tribunal for punishing Russian war crimes.

Speaking at the Hague on May 4, Zelensky said that the world "should not refer to the shortcomings of the current international law but make bold decisions" that would correct them in order to receive "full" justice, citing the Nuremberg trials as a precedent.

In February 2023, Jennifer Trahan, a professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, expressed concern that a tribunal lacking full international scope could impede the prosecution of individuals responsible for war crimes in Ukraine.

Trahan cited multiple factors to support her concern, including the weight of judgments issued by an international tribunal compared to a non-international one. Additionally, she noted that Ukraine's Criminal Code imposes relatively lenient sentences of seven to 15 years for crimes of aggression.