Clooney Foundation for Justice Co-Founder Amal Clooney addressed the United Nations yesterday at a meeting designed to ensure accountability for the atrocities being committed in Ukraine.
“Ukraine is, today, a slaughterhouse. Right in the heart of Europe,” said Ms. Clooney, going on to emphasize that while the international response to the war in Ukraine has been unprecedented, the world, and the UN, could have done more to prevent this and other wars.
“How did we get here?” said Ms. Clooney. “I believe we got here by ignoring justice for too long. For too long, we have watched as perpetrators of mass human rights abuses have murdered, raped and tortured without consequence. From Darfur – to Myanmar – to Yemen.”
“The perpetrators committed these crimes believing they would get away with it. And they were right.”
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, 141 countries voted in the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia’s aggression, UN-led investigations have been set up, and some of the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a global economy.
In her speech, however, CFJ’s co-founder warned that these actions needed to be the starting point, not the highlight, of fighting for justice for the victims of atrocities in the country. She spoke of the parallels she saw between Ukraine and Syria, and the lessons learned from previous cases she had worked including the ISIS genocide of the Yazidi.
“For 11 years Syrians have suffered unabating brutality,” she said “They have been forced to listen to speeches in rooms like this about victims deserving justice and perpetrators paying the price. They are still waiting. As I watched the coverage of the Bucha massacre, it reminded me of the Houla massacre, in Syria. This Council met in an emergency session to decry the killings; and people thought it would be a turning point for accountability. It wasn’t.”
Ms. Clooney, who is part of a legal Task Force on Accountability for Crimes Committed in Ukraine and was asked by Ukraine’s government to provide advice on accountability, also called for governments to take “concrete steps towards justice” for Ukraine, showing clear and unequivocal support for the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction and “making your country a hostile environment for war criminals” and welcoming to refugees.
CFJ has already started to investigate and carry out legal work to advance accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression committed in Ukraine, and pursue justice for victims through national and international courts.
The Docket, CFJ’s initiative focused on justice for victims of international crimes, has a team on the outskirts of Kyiv and will spearhead the investigation and litigation. It will use its expertise in gathering survivor evidence and eyewitness testimonies as well as expert analysis of open-source evidential materials.
The evidence will be used to launch criminal cases in national courts around the world – under the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’ – and to support the work of investigative bodies and of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The Docket will also support the Legal Task Force which will assist the Ukrainian government in bringing perpetrators to justice.
CFJ’s strategic partner The Sentry will also continue to investigate the Kremlin-backed mercenary firm Wagner Group. It has already exposed its involvement in an array of mass atrocities in the Central African Republic linked to the looting of gold, diamonds, and other resources vital to Russia’s attempts to evade the impact of international sanctions. CFJ is also tracking disturbing reports of sexual and gender-based violence committed against civilians in Ukraine. Working alongside local and international partners, CFJ will help ensure that such crimes do not go unpunished.
In closing her address to the UN, Ms. Clooney said now was the time for a possible turning point for international justice. Citing one of her first international trials – that of Slobodan Milošević – she reminded the room that no one thought it was possible for a former President to face trial, but it happened.
“So sometimes, justice takes time,” she said. “You may have to wait for someone to be out of office. You may have to wait for some of their underlings to defect. You may have to wait for them to get old. Or to travel. But if we remain very focused, and very resolute, justice may yet be within our reach.”