A Ukrainian human rights activist who is set to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo next week said in a new interview that world leaders should create a special international tribunal to try Russian President Vladimir Putin and large numbers of his military for war crimes.
“We can’t wait,” said Oleksandra Matveychuk, president of the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, who will be honored with the Peace Prize for his work documenting 27,000 war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russian forces since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February.
Speaking to Yahoo News during a brief trip to Washington, Matveychuk said the current system for prosecuting world leaders through the International Criminal Court in The Hague is simply not adequate to deal with the scale of Russian crimes. Instead, she advocated the creation of a special tribunal modeled on the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War II.
I asked myself: To whom did we document all these crimes? Who will bring justice to the hundreds of thousands of victims? Because we are not just talking about Putin and the rest of the top political leadership and the top military leadership, we are talking about all the Russians who have committed these crimes with their own hands. …we don’t need revenge. We need justice.”
As for the Russian leader himself, she said: “Yes, it’s a matter of how Vladimir Putin can be physically arrested.” “But look at history. There are plenty of very successful and convincing examples, when suddenly there appeared in court people who saw themselves as untouchable and when the whole system thought they would. [last] For ages – collapsed.
Matveychuk came to Washington this week to receive him Pioneer Award – along with many other Ukrainian women, including the country’s first lady, Olena Zelenska – from Hillary Clinton at Georgetown University. At the same time, the war in Ukraine has flared up again, with Ukrainian drones striking a Russian airfield 300 miles inside that country’s borders, and the Russians responding with a new series of devastating cruise missile strikes.
What follows is an edited transcript of the interview with Matveychuk.
Michael Isikoff: Lives in Kyiv. You posted some dramatic photos on your Twitter account, showing little kids swirling by candlelight at night, trying to do homework. Give us an idea of what it is like to live in Kyiv now with these Russian missile attacks.
Oleksandra Matveychuk: It’s kinda cold. I don’t have a fever. Ukrainians are now not able to plan even for several hours because you never know when the light will go out, as well as go online. When you don’t have light, you can’t plan when you’ll go shopping, when you’ll go to the post office, or when you’ll meet with your partners to discuss some business, because you have no idea when the air alarm will start.
The Russians attack the electricity grid to cut off electricity from the citizens. How worried are you about getting through what could be a harsh winter?
It will be a harsh winter. But I’m thinking about how the civilized world should respond to this. Because we have now reached a point where the Russians have publicly discussed on Russian TV how to better liquidate the entire civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and freeze millions of Ukrainians over the winter. I will remind you that every injury to civilian objects is a war crime. And now Russia has openly discussed how it would best commit these war crimes. So they really think they can do whatever they want. And this is dangerous not only for Ukrainians. Such behavior, it is dangerous for the whole world.
What is your message to the West now?
For decades, Russia has systematically violated its human rights obligations. But the civilized world continued to deal with Russia as usual. They closed their eyes while Russia liquidated their civil society. They closed their eyes while Russia, for decades, has been committing war crimes in Chechnya, in Moldova, in Georgia, in Mali, in Syria, in other countries of the world. And all this hell, which we are now facing in Ukraine, is the result of the complete impunity that Russia has enjoyed for decades.
I suppose this is the message you will convey when you accept the Nobel Prize next week?
I will definitely mention the importance of human rights for peace in the world. But there is also the second part, because there is an illusion in the belief that Putin will stop if he gets something. Putin will only stop when he is stopped. This means that we must jointly oppose and resist Putin. Because if we cannot stop Putin in Ukraine, he will go further.
One of the messages you have is that Ukraine needs more weapons from the West. And you kept saying it: “We really need weapons. We need fighter planes. We need air defense systems in order to protect Ukrainian airspace.” Do you have a specific checklist of weapons that you want the United States and other NATO countries to provide to Ukraine that they are not providing at the moment?
I’m not a military expert, and that’s not my area of expertise. But I know that Ukraine still does not get the weapons we need. I have one example that I mentioned during the award ceremony at Georgetown University. I have a friend in Andriana Susak. She is a brave woman. She had stopped her commercial career in 2014 and joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine when the war began. When the large-scale invasion began, she left her 6-year-old son behind and continued to fight for his peaceful future. She was among those Ukrainian defenders who liberated the people who took part in the battle for her son. She informed me of the Russian atrocities and the needs of the Ukrainian army in order to stop them. It requested armored vehicles, because it witnessed many accidents when the Ukrainian army used civilian cars, because there were no armored vehicles in them. It exploded on mine.
Several days ago her car exploded. And now doctors are fighting for the life of my friend Andriana Susak. So this is not a theoretical discussion. It’s a real discussion. We need military support in order to save the lives of the Ukrainians and the defenders.
You will receive the Nobel Peace Prize next week. Some might say it is strange for a Nobel Peace Prize winner to talk about trying to get more weapons of war. On the face of it, this appears to be a contradiction.
I can understand this. It’s a really strange situation. And I am angry because I am in a position where I have no legal means to stop Russian atrocities. Like when the entire UN system can do nothing about it. It is not acceptable for human rights lawyers to say that only weapons can save people’s lives in occupied territories. It’s a very dangerous world to live in. But this is true for now. We don’t just need to investigate crimes and bring perpetrators to justice. We need to prevent new crimes from emerging.
Is there no hope for diplomacy?
Putin sees civilized dialogue as a sign of weakness. This is a very important point. But the problem is that this war is supported by the majority of Russians, because Putin rules Russia not only with repression and censorship, but with a special social contract between the Kremlin elite and the Russian people. And this social contract is based on the so-called Russian glory. Unfortunately, the majority of Russian people see their glory in restoring the Russian Empire. This means that the Russian people will tolerate the war criminals who are in power. But they will not tolerate loser criminals.