Ireland to use Council of Europe presidency to push to hold Russia accountable on war

Coveney to push body on pursuing Kremlin for ‘crime of aggression’ over Ukraine war

The Government plans to use its six-month presidency of the Council of Europe to build international support to make Russia accountable for the crime of aggression against Ukraine, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has said.

Simon Coveney said the Republic was keen to agree "a collective approach" towards holding Russia accountable for crimes in Ukraine while it leads the 46-nation body, which promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The Minister will be in Turin, Italy on Friday as the Republic assumes the rotating presidency of the council's committee of ministers at its annual session. The State last held the presidency in 2000 and takes charge of the inter-governmental body, which is distinct from the European Union, two months after Russia was expelled over the invasion of Ukraine.

The council is home to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Among the main challenges facing the international body during the Republic’s presidency is how to respond to Russia’s aggression, tackle emerging human rights abuses and maintain support for the ECHR system.

Speaking to The Irish Times before travelling to Italy, Mr Coveney said he had spoken to some council members about how it could be used during the presidency to build consensus for a mechanism to hold Russia legally accountable for the crime of aggression. He said the International Criminal Court had jurisdiction to consider war crimes and crimes against humanity but not to look at the crime of aggression by one country against another.

“It is something that has had quite a bit of political debate internationally but hasn’t really achieved any consensus yet. I think the Council of Europe would be a good body to look at that. That is something that we will try to pursue,” he said.

The parliamentary assembly of the council has already called on all its members to “urgently” establish a tribunal with a mandate to “investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression allegedly committed by the political and military leadership of the Russian Federation”.

The Republic's presidency would mean it is in the driving seat at the council should it press ahead with the assembly's proposal to set up an international criminal tribunal to try Russian president Vladimir Putin and other leaders in Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

The assembly has said the tribunal should be based in Strasbourg "in view of possible synergies with the European Court of Human Rights" and have the power to issue international arrest warrants and not be limited by state immunity or immunity for heads of government.

Founding members

Even though Russia has been expelled, the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to apply to the country until September, six months after its expulsion.

The State is one of the 10 founding members of the Strasbourg-based council, which was established in 1949. All 27 European Union countries are involved.

Mr Coveney said the council was “one of the few forums” that the Republic shares with countries such as Ukraine that are not part of the EU.

“This is an opportunity to focus on the continent of Europe, its values, its respect for international law. Obviously, our presidency is going to be dominated by the ongoing war in Ukraine,” he said.

A number of key meetings of the council will be held in Dublin during the Irish presidency.*

The State will use the Irish presidency to focus the council’s on the challenge of migration under the theme of “Fáilte”, aimed at fostering a “Europe of welcome, inclusion and diversity”.

Mr Coveney said the intention of this theme was to see how the council’s 46 members “cope with and provide protections for the movement of people into and around the continent of Europe – not just Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, but other migrants as well within communities”.

The Republic will also promote the importance of participating in democracy and youth engagement during its presidency, sharing the experience of citizens’ assemblies at home with council members.

*This article was amended on May 20th 2022