On June 22nd, on the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the so-called Ukrainian People’s Tribunal convened in the capital of the Lugansk People’s Republic. The tribunal found Ukrainian President Poroshenko and National Security and Defense Secretary Turchinov to be guilty of war crimes in Donbass. Interior Minister Avakov, Verkhovna Rada speaker Parubiy, Defense Minister Poltorak, UAF Chief of Staff Muzhenko, as well as ex-PM Yatsenyuk and current cabinet head Groysman – in short, Ukraine’s post-Maidan leadership – were all declared guilty of war crimes and symbolically sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment.
The People’s Tribunal is a public (social), not a state organization. Its decisions have no legal force. Nevertheless, the tribunal’s justices hope that their cases will be taken up by the Supreme Court of Ukraine for an official verdict when new people come to power in Kiev who will actually fulfill the Minsk Agreements with Donbass.
The Ukrainian People’s Tribunal main interest is examining cases of war crimes committed by Ukrainian authorities in Donbass. The tribunal’s first gathering was held in late March in Donetsk, and it has since drawn anti-fascist refugees from Ukraine into its work. But the tribunal’s main prosecutors are the civilians of Lugansk and the Lugansk People’s Republic who have suffered at the hands of the Ukrainian regime and Ukrainian military.
The tribunal hearing was held on Lugansk’s main square with several thousand LPR citizens present. Ukraine has already characteristically reacted to the People’s Tribunal with promising that the Ukrainian army will “cure” everyone involved (these are the words of Poroshenko’s advisor, Yuri Biryukov). In other words, to address the humanitarian disaster and issue of war crimes in Donbass, Kiev promises to punish those who have already suffered.
In my opinion, are two interrelated issues at stake here: (1) the feasibility of this NGO’s work, and (2) the question: Why are such sentences not being passed by the real judicial organs of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics?
Around April-May 2014, the author of these lines proposed to create an international public tribunal for the former Ukraine which would unite the anti-fascist forces of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Israel, Hungary, and possibly other countries whose citizens have suffered or are still suffering at the hands of Ukrainian Nazism. In particular, I voiced this proposal at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (established by President Putin).
The Ukrainian People’s Tribunal is realizing this idea to a certain extent. In my opinion, it would be more feasible to create an international, not national (much less strictly “Ukrainian”) tribunal similar to how German Nazism and its allies were condemned by a court of the anti-Hitler coalition, so should Ukrainian Nazis and their political companions (like Poroshenko) be sentenced in an international court.
There is the more recent example of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. While the Hague Tribunal was not fair, but merely an instrument for the political persecution of mainly Serbs (and to a much lesser extent Croats), which left Bosnian Muslim and Albanian perpetrators of war crimes and genocide alone despite their actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo and Metohija, the Hague-model tribunal was nevertheless immensely psychologically impressive and can and should be used.
When I was preparing these proposals four years ago, I was certainly aware of the political impracticality of any future tribunal’s decisions, but I believed that the purpose of a tribunal would to cast a resounding moral and legalist condemnation of the criminal regime in Kiev. In my opinion, such an international public condemnation would mean a lot in our cynical and indifferent world.
To sum up, in my opinion, a public tribunal for the Ukrainian leadership’s war crimes is undoubtedly advisable and appropriate. The particular value of such is that it is run by ordinary people, the direct victims of Ukrainian terror in Donbass. However, I think it would be especially useful and even necessary to invite authoritative jurists and public figures from other countries as well and emphasize the humanism of such an initiation. In the future, the work of such a tribunal might form the foundation of decisions by an international court involving states.
The work of public courts and tribunals should be complemented with the work of state courts. Paradoxically, the main work in this direction is being led not by DPR and LPR courts, but by Russia, whose prosecutor has periodically opened criminal cases against those Ukrainian commanders and politicians who gave the orders to exterminate the civilian population of Donbass. If Ukrainian politicians and officers can dismiss the decisions of a Lugansk popular tribunal, then a decision from Russia’s prosecutor’s office could ultimately be fatal for them. I have no doubt that at least some of the sentenced Ukrainian war criminals will appear on the dock sooner or later.