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EU Pushes for Special Tribunal Over Ukraine

More than nine months of war have inflicted a devastating humanitarian toll.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a mini plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a mini plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a mini plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels on Nov. 9. VALERIA MONGELLI/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the European Union’s call for a special Russia tribunal, Beijing’s efforts to thwart future protests, and the death of the Islamic State’s leader

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EU Proposes Special Tribunal Over Ukraine

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the European Union’s call for a special Russia tribunal, Beijing’s efforts to thwart future protests, and the death of the Islamic State’s leader. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


EU Proposes Special Tribunal Over Ukraine

The European Union has called for the creation of a special tribunal to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable over his invasion of Ukraine, as more than nine months of war continue to inflict a devastating humanitarian toll on the country’s civilian population. 

“Russia must pay for its horrific crimes, including for its crime of aggression against a sovereign state,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. “We are proposing to set up a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”

The costs of that aggression have become increasingly clear in Ukrainian cities such as Bucha and Izyum, where retreating Russian forces have left behind a trail of mass graves and extensive evidence of torture, executions, and rape

That has left world leaders wrestling with a difficult question: how to best seek justice and punish Putin for invading Ukraine, especially given the legal and jurisdictional challenges in prosecuting international crime?

The International Criminal Court (ICC), for example, has started investigating charges of war crimes committed during the invasion. But the Kremlin hasn’t recognized the court’s jurisdiction, and the ICC can’t take action against top Russian officials—or Putin—for the “crime of aggression” in invading Ukraine. 

Given these limitations, the European Commission put forward two possibilities on Wednesday: either a “special independent international court based on a multilateral treaty” or a “specialized court integrated in a national justice system with international judges—a hybrid court.”

No matter what the court looks like, U.N. support would be key. “For both options, strong backing of the United Nations would be essential,” the Commission said

Within Ukraine, Kyiv has also held domestic trials to prosecute war crimes, including one that convicted and then sentenced 21-year-old Vadim Shishimarin to life in prison after he killed an unarmed civilian. 


What We’re Following Today

Beijing quashes dissent. Just days after defiant protests swept major Chinese cities, authorities have been visiting protesters’ homes and bringing them in for questioning, the Washington Post reported. Across cities, police have also reportedly been inspecting locals’ cellphones for virtual private networks and foreign communication and social media apps.

When the protests first erupted, the initially uncertain police response “likely reflects a certain degree of surprise among local and national leaders rather than a softer approach to political dissent,” a special correspondent reported in Foreign Policy. Now, “the government is actively chasing the protesters to dissuade future unrest.”

Death of the Islamic State’s leader. Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the head of the Islamic State, has been killed in combat, the group announced on Wednesday without offering more information. According to the U.S. military, he died in October. Al-Qurayshi succeeded Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who was killed in a U.S. raid in Syria in February.

In response, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, “We welcome the announcement that another leader of ISIS is no longer walking the face of the Earth.”


Keep an Eye On

Afghanistan’s school bombing. At least 10 students were killed in a bombing attack at a religious school in Afghanistan’s Samangan province on Wednesday. No group has taken responsibility for the attack, although it resembles ones that the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate has previously launched, the Washington Post reported.

“The blast at noon caused 10 deaths and an unknown number of injuries,” said Abdul Nafi Takor, a spokesperson for the Afghan Interior Ministry. “Our security and intelligence forces are trying to find authors of this attack.”

Syria’s cholera outbreak. UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, have shipped 2 million cholera vaccine doses to Syria as it grapples with an outbreak that has killed at least 49 people. Since September, Syrian health officials have recorded 1,556 cholera cases. 


Wednesday’s Most Read

The Perpetually Irrational Ukraine Debate by Stephen M. Walt

Will China’s Protests Survive? by James Palmer

China’s Massive Protests Are the End of a Once-Trusted Governance Model by Lynette H. Ong


Odds and Ends 

UNESCO’s famed cultural heritage list includes sacred worship practices, traditional dances, and now also the iconic French baguette, an addition announced on Wednesday. As the news was unveiled, the French delegation to UNESCO cheered by lifting the lengthy loafs up in the air. 

The announcement was also hailed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who called baguettes “250 grams of magic and perfection in our daily lives” in a tweet.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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