THE HAGUE - The European Commission will establish a new international center to enable the prosecution of war crimes committed by Russia during its war in Ukraine. The office will be based in The Hague, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She made the statement on Thursday during her visit to Kyiv where she was set to meet with Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenskyy.
"Russia must be held accountable in court for its odious crimes," Von der Leyen said. "This center will coordinate the collection of evidence. It will be embedded in the joint investigation team which is supported by our agency Eurojust."
Eurojust, which is also based in The Hague, is the shortened name for the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation. The organization coordinates how national authorities in European Union Member States work with each other to tackle international criminality, and with agencies in other nations.
"So we will be ready to launch work very rapidly with Eurojust, with Ukraine, with the partners of our joint investigation team, as well as with the Netherlands. The perpetrator must be held accountable," she said. Von der Leyen also noted, "Prosecutors from Ukraine and the European Union are already working together."
It is Von der Leyen's fourth visit to Ukraine since Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, intensified its attempts to seize territory along its border with Ukraine. "Europe has been by Ukraine's side since day one, because we know that the future of our continent is being written here," she said. "This is a fight of democracies against authoritarian regimes," she continued.
Last year, a majority in the Tweede Kamer pledged their support for a motion calling for a war crimes tribunal to also be established in The Hague. The motion was aimed at preventing Putin and his colleagues from avoiding punishment once the war is over. Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra also said he wanted a tribunal to be set up in The Hague.
The International Criminal Court is also based in the Zuid-Holland city, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was located there from its inception in 1993 until its completion in 2017. The International Court of Justice is also based in The Hague.
The Netherlands sent officers from the Marechaussee to Ukraine to help investigate war crimes in May, and sent another team of forensic experts there in October. Already in May, Eurojust had called the war "the most documented armed conflict in history."