Week 2: To Process 80,000 War Crime Cases

This week’s conversations, meetings, and introductions to ongoing projects have been incredibly eye-opening. I am often humbled to be a part of such rich, collaborative, and forward-looking dialogues around issues of such global magnitude and consequence.

This week, I got my first research assignment for the Ukraine Task Force. I will be working on a memorandum for my supervisor on how states rebuild their judiciaries in conflict/post-conflict settings, with a focus on states that also had/have EU aspirations like Ukraine. I am looking to understanding how post-conflict states have dealt with and continue to address (1) judicial reconstitution, (2) restarting delivery service, both for day-to-day judicial issues as well as accountability for war crimes, and (3) rebuilding civilian confidence in the justice sector.

The rebuilding of Ukraine’s judicial system is and will be a priority issue for Ukraine, as with all states experiencing violent conflict, because of the war’s destruction of the system’s functioning and infrastructure. To begin to describe the destruction—judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and court personnel have resigned, enlisted, or altogether fled, and Russian forces have destroyed court houses and files. This reality makes the processing of the now over 80,000 war crime cases that have been filed in the national court—alongside the additional backlog of all other cases—a seemingly insurmountable task. But there are many post-conflict or transitional states to learn from, and Ukraine is doing just that.

I was also enlightened on this question of how Ukraine will provide accountability for war crimes in a briefing about the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, a U.S., EU, and UK group of experts that are working on the ground with the Ukrainian government to constitute a judiciary capable of processing war crime cases. There are also huge and impressive international and national efforts (that would take paragraphs to capture) to document war crimes and human rights violations in Ukraine, engage in public outreach and communication of accountability efforts, train lawyers and judges, and build policies to secure peace and accountability. Something that I'm still struggling to grasp and am everyday in awe over is the sheer breadth of efforts, both international and Ukrainian, by governments, justice sectors, NGOs, and IGOs, that are pushing the vision of securing peace in Ukraine forward.