BRUSSELS (AP) — A Ukrainian human rights lawyer who shared last year's Nobel Peace Prize called Thursday for more international investigative and legal help to deal with the staggering amount of war crimes cases since Russia invaded its neighbor almost a year ago.
Oleksandra Matviichuk of Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties told a session of the 46-nation Council of Europe, the continent's foremost human rights organization, that Ukraine had documented some 31,000 cases of potential war crimes since the Feb. 24, 2022 invasion.
But the glut of work the process entailed left the legal system unable to properly deal with most of them, Matviichuk said.
“The war has turned people into numbers. The scale of war crimes grows so large that it’s become impossible to recognize all the stories,” she said, insisting it remained essential to give each individual a sense of justice done.
The war crime allegations against Russians involve the rape, torture and murder of innocent civilians, forced deportations, child abductions and the destruction of churches, schools and hospitals, the human rights lawyer said.
“I work with people who have survived hell,” Matviichuk continued, “and I’m certain that above and beyond their own lives, ruined families, ruined vision of the future, these people crave to restore their trust that justice exists, even though delayed in time.”
The United Nations human rights office said that as of Jan. 23, 7,068 civilians had been killed in the war.
While Ukrainian officials have called for modern tanks and advanced weapons to beef up the defense of their nation, Matviichuk wants a similar effort to reinforce its legal capabilities. “We must ingrain international elements into the level of national investigation and national justice,” she said.
She called on the Council of Europe to help set up a system where more international investigators and judges could be brought in to reinforce Ukraine in prosecuting cases.
In October, Matviichuk's organization, the Center for Civil Liberties, was named a co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize along with Russian human rights group Memorial and Ales Bialiatski, head of the Belarusian rights group Viasna.
In her impassioned Thursday speech in the hall of Council of Europe, she also rued with a trembling voice that the International Criminal Court was centering on a select few cases and had no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, for which many in the international community want Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top Kremlin officials prosecuted.
The European Parliament and the European Union's executive commission have called for the establishment of a court to prosecute the crime of aggression, and Matviichuk urged the Council of Europe to also take a leading role in it.
Something has to happen soon, she said, because, as a legal expert, she only has one answer for her nation's plight: “Provide Ukraine with modern weaponry because now the law doesn’t work.”
Follow AP's coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Raf Casert, The Associated Press