The Ministry of Justice asks the Prosecutor General's Office to launch a pre-trial investigation against Putin and Lukashenko


2022 03 15

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In reaction to an act of aggression against Ukraine being committed by Russia, Lithuania is taking legal action to ensure that the Russian and Belarusian leadership responsible for this act is held criminally liable. 

Those responsible for the crime of aggression shall be tried both before the International Criminal Court and the national courts of states that have established this international crime in their criminal codes. 

An obstacle to the International Criminal Court's pursuit of those responsible for the aggression in Ukraine is the fact that nationals of states that have not acceded to the statute of the International Criminal Court, i.e. Russia and Belarus, can only be prosecuted in the event of an appeal submitted to the ICC by the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member and is able to veto any decision.

It is important to emphasize that this provision applies only to the crime of aggression, but not to crimes against humanity or war crimes, concerning which Lithuania has submitted a referral to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) who has already opened an investigation.

Taking into account the fact that the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania provides for liability for the crime of aggression thus making it possible to prosecute those responsible for it (based on the principle of universal jurisdiction) and to try them in absentia, the Minister of Justice, Ms. Evelina Dobrovolska has addressed the Prosecutor General's Office of the Republic of Lithuania requesting it to carry out an assessment of the aggression against Ukraine perpetrated by the heads of state or government of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. 

The Russian Federation, in violation of the fundamental principles of international law on the non-use of armed force and the peaceful settlement of disputes, is using unprovoked lethal military force against the sovereign and independent State of Ukraine, its territorial integrity and political independence, its civilian population and civilian infrastructure. Belarus is providing its territory for planning and execution of military attacks against Ukraine, i.e., Belarus is also committing an act of aggression. This act of aggression is in full accordance with the concept of aggression developed in international and national law. 

In the words of the Minister, the prosecution of those responsible for the aggression against Ukraine can become a reality if the Prosecutor General's Office assesses all the available information and makes use of the possibility of universal jurisdiction and trial by default provided by the national law of Lithuania. 

The International Criminal Court is a permanent institution complementing national criminal jurisdictions; it is authorized to exercise its jurisdiction over individuals who commit very serious international crimes of concern to the international community.  The Ministry of Justice points out the fact that Chapter XV "Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes" of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania criminalizes internationally prohibited treatment of human beings (Article 100 of the Criminal Code) and aggression (Article 110 of the Criminal Code); in addition, the Criminal Code prohibits an act of war (Article 111 of the Criminal Code).

"The Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania creates legal conditions to prosecute Putin and Lukashenko irrespective of their citizenship and place of residence or the place where the aggression was carried out. Besides, it is not important whether this kind of aggression is punishable under Russian or Belarusian law," says Ms Dobrovolska. 

The Ministry of Justice, in accordance with the Regulations, has no right to interfere with the activities of pre-trial investigation officers, prosecutors or the courts or to issue binding instructions thereto. In this context, the Ministry of Justice emphasizes that the request to launch a pre-trial investigation is not an order of a mandatory nature but rather a request issued by a concerned public authority at a very difficult time calling them to assess all the incoming information of a shocking nature on the actions carried out by the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus on the territory of Ukraine; this request  is the result of a civic duty to uphold the content of principles of justice and humanity.