More than 40 countries at a summit of European leaders have backed a system to estimate the damage Russia is causing during the war in Ukraine, in the hopes Moscow can be forced to compensate victims and help rebuild the nation once the conflict is over.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the dominant topic during the meeting in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavík, where delegations from Council of Europe member states discussed how the continent’s pre-eminent human rights organization could support Kyiv.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom are among the countries that have signed on to the most tangible outcome of the meeting: a new office to set up a register of damages that will allow victims of the war to report the harm they have suffered.
“Today’s decision to establish this register is without doubt historic. After that, we should prepare the necessary legal framework for the confiscation of Russian assets and establish a compensation fund,” said Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the register “a significant contribution to international efforts to hold Russia to account for the consequences of its brutal actions.”
Ten countries of the 46-member international body have not yet formally committed to the new organization, which will be based in The Hague where several major international judicial organizations are already based. A further three countries plan to participate but need time to meet national legal requirements.
The United States, Japan and Canada have also joined. They participate in the Council of Europe as observer states.
Scholz made clear that details of how Russia will pay for the damage to Ukraine remain to be resolved. “The register of damages is a register – that’s quite a bit, but that’s what it is, and this doesn’t resolve the question of how the damages will be paid for.”
Asked to assess the chances of frozen Russian assets being used to pay for damages, Scholz sounded skeptical. He said there were “not many courses of action that are open and are compatible with current law.”
The record is “intended to constitute the first component of a future international compensation mechanism,” according to a Council of Europe document. The running costs will be financed by the signatories.
Such a register could be used to distribute reparations from a proposed tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression, another concept backed by the Council of Europe. In his address to the summit on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his country’s wish for such a court.
“There will be no reliable peace without justice,” he said, speaking to the opening session via video link.
The Council of Europe’s secretary general, Marija Pejčinović Burić said that the body intends to support the international effort to establish a judicial organ to prosecute the crime of aggression – the literal act of invading another country.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another official for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. But the court lacks the ability to prosecute aggression.