Zelensky Calls for War Tribunal for Russia’s ‘Crime of Aggression’

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Europe|Zelensky urges the E.U. to create a war tribunal as he accepts Sakharov prize.


Roberta Metsola stands and applauds Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is shown on a big screen behind her.
Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament, reacting to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his acceptance of the Sakharov prize, the European Union’s top human rights award. Credit…Yves Herman/Reuters

Anushka Patil

President Volodymyr Zelensky called on European leaders to immediately set up a special tribunal to hold Russia accountable for its war in Ukraine, describing it as a “historical responsibility” as he accepted the European Union’s top human rights award on behalf of the Ukrainian people on Wednesday.

“It is necessary to act now — without waiting for the end of the war,” Mr. Zelensky said, citing Russia’s “crime of aggression.” He spoke via video link at a ceremony for the award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, held in Strasbourg, France.

The prize, given by members of the European Parliament, was awarded to the people of Ukraine for what the president of the parliament said was a recognition that ordinary citizens were risking their lives to defend not only their independence, but freedom and democracy across Europe.

Mr. Zelensky was cited as the face of the Ukrainian people’s courage and for his “devotion to his people and to European values.” In his address, Mr. Zelensky said a special tribunal to prosecute “the crime of Russian aggression” was necessary to protect freedom, human rights and the rule of law. He urged European officials to “turn it into reality as soon as possible.”

“This will be the most effective protection of freedom, human rights, the rule of law and other common values of ours, which are embodied, in particular, by this award of the European Parliament,” he said.

Mr. Zelensky and Ukrainian officials have for months championed the creation of a tribunal, which they say could work alongside the International Criminal Court but bypass its long, onerous prosecution process.

Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, who supports the creation of a tribunal, said at the ceremony that Ukrainians were fighting “with nothing but pride as their weapons” for “the values that underpin our life in the European Union.”

In addition to honoring the Ukrainian people, the Sakharov Prize also recognized the bravery of Ukrainian activists, the state’s emergency services and prominent public figures like Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol. The prize’s accompanying monetary award of 50,000 euros, about $49,000, will be distributed among members of Ukrainian civil society.

The prize was established in 1988 and is named after Andrei D. Sakharov, the nuclear physicist and Nobel laureate who helped develop the hydrogen bomb for the Soviet Union and subsequently became a champion of human rights.

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