Leaders from across Europe were wrapping a two-day summit on Wednesday, putting the final touches on a system to establish the damage Russia is causing during the war in Ukraine, in the hopes it 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 the Council of Europe discussed how the continent’s preeminent human rights organization can support Kyiv.
The most tangible outcome of the meeting — the first summit the Council of Europe has held in nearly two decades — is the creation of the register of damages. Expected to be housed in The Hague, the register will allow victims of the war to report the harm they have suffered.
“When we think in terms of reconstruction it’s an enormously important judicial element to have this register of damages to give justice to the victims,” said European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, speaking at the opening of the summit late Tuesday.
The record is “intended to constitute the first component of a future international compensation mechanism” according to a Council of Europe document. The operation 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 Zelenskyy 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, announced ahead of the summit 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.
Not all of the Council of Europe’s 46 members are backing the damages register, however. Ten countries, including Hungary, Turkey and Serbia have refused to sign up. Switzerland has also not joined, but this is a result of domestic legal requirements, according to Swiss officials, and the Alpine nation plans to become a signatory as soon as possible.