Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lisa O'Carroll in Brussels

Ukraine presses EU to allow extradition of war criminals

Andriy Kostin, the prosecutor general of Ukraine
Andriy Kostin, the prosecutor general of Ukraine, says about 700 extradition orders have been issued by Ukrainian courts since the war started. Photograph: Ukraine government

Ukraine is pressing up to 10 EU member states to allow the extradition of criminals to the country, including suspects involved with the Wagner group and those accused of large-scale corruption.

Andriy Kostin, the prosecutor general of Ukraine, will tell EU justice ministers gathered in Brussels on Tuesday that the country has addressed concerns over security and conditions for prisoners on remand awaiting trial during a war.

He declined to name the EU member states that have concerns but it is known that several countries including France, Austria and Finland recently refused to send suspects back to Ukraine to face justice.

About 700 extradition orders had been issued by Ukrainian courts since the war started, he revealed.

Among the requests are a demand for the founder of a neo-Nazi operation associated with the Wagner group accused of being involved in terrorism, who was found to have entered Finland under an alias.

Yan Petrovsky is in custody in Finland but the supreme court ruled in December he could not be extradited, citing inhumane prison conditions, according to a Reuters report at the time.

Austria and France also recently rejected a Ukrainian requestto extradite the former head of a bank and an ex-MP and businessman, both of whom are accused of embezzling.

“Of course we all understand that the decisions on extradition are taken by courts. But we see that some of the countries … are resistant because of their understanding of the conditions of detention, which we are improving. And I will speak about this [to justice ministers],” he said.

Kostin said countries would be assured that extradited detainees would be held in centres in the west of Ukraine, far from the frontline, and “conditions [of detention] will be in line with the rules and standards of the European Union and especially the European convention on human rights”.

“Ukraine will invite those states hesitant about extradition to visit the country and see for itself the conditions under which a suspect would be held,” he added.

In an interview with the Guardian, Kostin also laid bare the scale of the judicial task in the years ahead, with 123,000 incidents of war crime already identified and only 357 so far sent to court.

The crimes include rape, destruction of property, pillage and illegal abduction of children, with 531 suspects of war crimes identified. Among the most egregious crimes are the rapes of women and men, which he said had taken place in almost every place invaded by Russia.

“Rape was everywhere in the Kherson region and Kharkiv region, everywhere every territory which was under occupation faced not only cases of rape and other sexual violence, but also torture on a massive scale. And, in many cases, torture was combined with sexual violence,” he said.

Special units have been set up to deal with these crimes and offer medical and psychological care, and in some cases relocation.

Under a government mandate systems have been put in place to train more than 100 officials with help of international partners to act as “bridges” between victims of sexual assaults and enforcement agents.

Sir Howard Morrison, a former international criminal court judge, is also advising on the training of 100 judges in war crimes, while defence lawyers are also being trained up to ensure Russians receive a fair trial in line with international law.

It was important to prepare for justice and even to hear cases in absentia, Morrison said, not only for the victims but for the rule of international law. Russians who committed war crimes should be made aware that there would be no statute of limitation for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, he added.

“The experts who help us now, international experts who started as very young lawyers in former tribunals in early 90s, all of them told me that they never imagined that they would have seen people like [Slobodan] Milošević and others behind bars.

“But they did their job. Then time changed. And in eight, 10-plus years, this long arm of justice reached these people. And this is very important. It it not our goal or our aim to speculate when we will capture these people. Our task is to build and to prepare cases, to document, to collect evidences, to have cases ready,” he said.

At the same time, Ukraine is pursuing crimes of aggression with further discussions taking place between about 40 countries and the international criminal court in The Hague to finalise the precise legal footing of the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression, also in The Hague.

In the meantime, prosecutors from Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania and a special prosecutor from the US are preparing cases for the hearing.

“The are already preparing strategy, collecting evidence, preparing mapping. So they are preparing case for the future tribunal,” Kostin said. “Our prosecutors are already preparing cases so we’re not losing time.”

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.