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Russia: War Crimes in Ukraine

Volume 837: debated on Wednesday 17 April 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in creating an ad hoc international tribunal, and in repurposing Russian assets, in response to Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to push for accountability for Russian war crimes in Ukraine, including via active participation in the core group established by Ukraine to explore options for a tribunal for the crime of aggression. We are clear that Russia must pay for the damage it has caused to Ukraine and we are working closely with allies to explore all lawful routes by which immobilised Russian sovereign assets can be used to support Ukraine.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Has he seen the latest economic estimates, beyond the suffering, chronic injuries and fatalities in Ukraine, that the costs are likely to come to some £1 trillion to rebuild Ukraine? To facilitate some of that rebuilding, yesterday the House heard the Foreign Secretary say that he is eager to see the £44 billion of Russian assets frozen in the UK, along with the EU’s €260 billion of frozen assets, repurposed to help Ukraine, including the £2.5 billion sale of Chelsea Football Club. Could the Minister outline to the House the obstacles placed in the way of the repurposing of assets, the creation of a special tribunal, which he referred to, to prosecute the mother of all crimes—the crime of aggression—and the circumvention of sanctions? Will he commit to chairing a regular private meeting here in the House with Members of your Lordships’ House until the obstacles and disagreements are ironed out and progress is made in bringing to justice and to account those responsible for the terrible deprivations and suffering that Ukraine has experienced?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s last point, I and my noble friend Lord Cameron will of course keep the House updated on progress on this issue. I know that my noble friend has made the issue of the seizure of assets a key priority. Noble Lords would have heard directly what the Foreign Secretary said. He was in Israel today, but he is travelling to the G7, where I know Ukraine will be discussed in terms of accountability, sanctions and the leveraging of the sanctions imposed on these assets. We have previously discussed the EU and the steps it is taking. As my noble friend said yesterday—it is a point I have made several times from the Dispatch Box—we want to work in unison with our G7 partners and, importantly, with our partners in the EU, in particular regarding the assets currently held in Belgium, to ensure there is a real implication. So far, just the sanctions have meant that we have denied Russia $400 billion that would have been used for the Russian war machine.

My Lords, one of the war crimes that Russia has committed in Ukraine is the forcible abduction of 20,000 children from their parents. This morning on Válasz Online, we got an indication of what that means in reality from a young Ukrainian called Denis, who suffers from diabetes. He went to tell the Russian authorities that he was running low, and he was told, “We do not supply insulin to pro-Ukrainians, so become pro-Russian or die”. What kind of regime is that?

My Lords, first, I recognise my noble friend consistently raising the abhorrent crime of taking children from Ukraine to Russia. I know I speak for every Member of your Lordships’ House when I say that this abhorrent practice must stop immediately. We are working with key agencies, including the UN, to ensure the rapid return of these children. It is regularly raised at G7 level and bilaterally as well. On the final point, it is another appalling example of what Russia is doing not just to the Ukrainian people but to the future of Ukraine as well.

My Lords, in addition to the totality of the consequences of the aggression on Ukraine, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, there are hundreds of thousands of individual victims who are being recorded on the Ukrainian register for damages. Does the Minister agree that the tribunal has a good opportunity of being the basis upon which repatriation and support for individual victims can be operated? Does the Minister also agree that there is nothing preventing the UK instituting a windfall tax on the asset values now, rather than seizing assets, so that we can start to provide support for individual victims, especially women who have been the victims of sexual aggression?

On the noble Lord’s final point, he will know that, as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, I am very much seized of this and we are working with the first lady of Ukraine on the issue. The register is an important element; that is why the UK has been a strong advocate—indeed, at a previous meeting with our European partners, I signed that register on behalf of the United Kingdom. On the accountability mechanism, we are working with key partners, including the US, to ensure that we get the right mechanism to ensure that it is legally based, internationally founded and applied and ultimately provides accountability and support to the tragic victims and survivors of the crimes to which the noble Lord alludes.

My Lords, I fully support the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but can the Minister assure the House that the penalties dished out to Mr Putin and his cronies will be limited to those people responsible for the war crimes in Ukraine? I lived and worked in Russia for several years, and I know a lot of senior Russians who are utterly decent and who would never support the war crimes committed in Ukraine. I appeal to the Minister to assure us that care will be taken in punishing only those responsible.

I can assure the noble Baroness. On a personal anecdote, the noble Baroness talks about Russians. Our fight is not with the Russian people. I know of a child who is at my son’s school whose mother is half-Russian and half-Spanish, and he is not going back to Russia to see his grandparents because of the fear of what consequences may face a young child who has just started off in life.

My Lords, I do not think that the Labour Benches have yet had a chance, so if I may.

As we are talking about war criminals and crimes committed by the Russians, there is a matter of concern that the International Criminal Court Act 2001 confines prosecutions of war criminals coming into this country to people who are nationals or who have residency here. I wonder whether we are making any progress on amending that legislation so that we can prosecute people who come through here, often coming to look at schools or universities for their children or to shop at Harrods. Can we do something about providing the ability to arrest those people?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that we work very closely with international agencies, most notably with the ICC on the warrants that have been issued against key Russians, including the President of Russia. Of course those would apply. I know the noble Baroness has raised this issue with me directly as well, and I think that we need to look at what mechanisms can be applied but ultimately—as we have heard from the Cross Benches as well—those responsible for these abhorrent crimes should be held accountable.

My Lords, can I return to the issue of Chelsea Football Club? We heard from my noble friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday and sensed his frustration. This is £2.5 billion which is effectively frozen, we are told, because of disagreement between ourselves and others in Europe. Surely, this is completely unacceptable. Can the noble friend—I mean my noble friend—the Minister reassure this House that across government we are working very hard to release this money? It has been sitting for far too long, and it should be spent where it was meant to be spent on alleviating the suffering of the Ukrainian people.

First, on a lighter note, I am charmed that my noble friend referred to me as “the noble friend” and I take that on board. Equally, on his more serious point, I agree with him, and the Foreign Secretary is also seized with this matter.

My Lords, can I push the Minister on how we hold to account the President of Russia for the act of aggression? We have had discussions in the G7 since April 2023 on establishing a special tribunal so we can actually prosecute the people responsible. Can he update us on the discussions in G7 so we can move this matter forward speedily so we can be guaranteed that we hold these people to account?

I have already alluded to the fact that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary will be meeting G7 partners in Italy during the course of this week and this is one of the points that will be raised. There are various options on the table. We are working very closely with the ICC—the ICC prosecutor has particular views on this—but equally we are aware of the independent tribunal the Ukrainians have asked for and there are some other variations on that. I assure the noble Lord that, as these progress, we are very much prioritising this. We want to see accountability but in a manner which can be applied consistently with all key partners.