Ukrainian government taps major law firms for war crimes task force

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The Ukrainian government turned to global law firms Covington & Burling and Withers, as well as human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, to help prosecute war crimes during the Russian invasion of the country .

The Working Group on Accountability for Crimes Committed in Ukraine will work to ensure criminal accountability and reparations in forums such as the International Criminal Court. Covington & Burling and Withers said they were working with the group pro bono.

The Ukrainian government has engaged several major law firms for work arising from the invasion. He has also turned to human rights lawyers like Clooney, a UK-based Doughty Street Chambers lawyer who represented former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and is married to actor George Clooney.

Morrison & Foerster revealed on Monday that it is advising Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials on economic sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the invasion, and to help navigate US policy. John Smith, a former Treasury Department official who is co-head of the company’s national security practice, is leading the effort.

Withers, based in London, said his international arbitration partner, Emma Lindsay, will lead a team of 15 lawyers in the firm’s US and UK offices that assist the Ukrainian government.

“We have worked closely with the Ukrainian government for many years,” Lindsay said in a statement, “and this initiative is without a doubt the most significant project we have advised the government on to date.”

The task force aims to “ensure justice for Ukrainian civilians who are victims of Russian aggression and associated violations of international law,” Lindsay noted in a statement.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova announced the formation of the task force, which also relies on lawyers from French firm Sygna Partners, earlier this week. The group partners with Microsoft to review video evidence of war crimes, investigate those situations, and advise on appropriate international forums to pursue punishment for those crimes, Lindsay said.

Russia is not a member of the International Criminal Court and is not expected to cede authority to the court. Lindsay said Ukraine had accepted the court’s jurisdiction to prosecute war criminals.

Covington & Burling also represented Ukraine before the International Court of Justice, which on March 2 ordered Russia to suspend military operations in Ukraine. Marney Cheek, co-chairman of Covington’s international disputes practice, argued that the Russian invasion was carried out “under the false pretense of preventing and punishing genocide.”

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, based in Los Angeles, also acting pro bono, represents Ukraine before the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. In this case, the lawyers accuse Russia of carrying out “unprovoked, unjustified and unlawful acts of aggression and invasion on the sovereign territory of Ukraine”.

Withers said his work will include advising on accountability proposals, including through the United Nations and regional organizations; advice and possible representation in civil and criminal cases; and guidance on Ukraine’s cooperation with the International Criminal Court.

About 4 million people have fled Ukraine since the fighting began on February 24, more than 9% of the country’s pre-war population.

The United States and its European allies have imposed a series of sanctions on Russia, particularly on its financial institutions, officials and oligarchs.

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