The most vulnerable victims of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine should be prioritised in a future international compensation mechanism, the Council of Europe’s secretary general Marija Pejčinović Burić told Euronews.
The Council of Europe – the continent’s human rights watchdog based in Strasbourg – established a ‘Register of Damage’ in May to catalogue evidence of the damages and losses suffered by Ukrainians and the Ukrainian state as a result of Russia’s war.
The resolution establishing the Register was backed by 40 of the Council of Europe’s 46 member states, with Canada, Japan and the United States also joining. Russia was expelled from the Council in March 2022 following its illegal invasion of Ukraine.
“Certainly, victims and civilians are among those who are the most vulnerable and should probably first see their applications be processed. But of course, it’s for the register and its parties to decide on that,” secretary-general Burić told Euronews in an interview on Monday.
Work is in “full steam” to make the Register operational, Burić said, with hopes that claims for damages can be submitted as early as the first quarter of 2024.
“Right now the Register is already established. Its seat is in the Hague and it will have an antenna office in Kiyv,” Burić explained. “We hope by the beginning of next year we will have (the antenna office) there and we hope that it will be fully operational by the first quarter of next year.”
The Register of Damage is just a first step in ensuring Russia’s crimes in Ukraine do not go unpunished. An international compensation mechanism will need to be established as a next step, Burić said, which could include a special commission to decide on the allocation of payments, and a claims fund to cover the costs.
The Ukrainian government has proposed using frozen Russian assets to cover the damages suffered by Ukrainian civilians and to rebuild the country once the war is over. But a formal decision has not been taken on the funding mechanism.
“We will work together with the international community to establish the commission, the whole compensation mechanism and the fund that will fuel the resources that can repair the damage that is suffered in Ukraine from Russian aggression,” Burić said.
“There is not yet a clear idea of how it can be financed, but there are different ideas on the table. What needs to be ensured is that whatever, however, it is funded, that it is done according to the rule of law and the democratic standards that we have set,” she added.
The Register has been described as a “historic” step to redress the grievances of the victims of war. Similar attempts to compensate in past conflicts have been somewhat unsuccessful. The United Nations’ Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict provided comprehensive documentation of the losses suffered by Palestinian refugees but ultimately failed to provide proper compensation.
Gaza conflict may have “impact on European soil”
While condemning Hamas’ attack on innocent Israeli civilians, Burić said the Council of Europe was calling on Israel – a long-standing partner – to abide by international law in its offensive in Gaza.
“We believe that any reaction of a democratic state to terror should abide by the values that we stand for. So we really call on Israel to go that way,” she said.
Burić said the “enormity of suffering of civilians, especially in Gaza” suggests there should be more humanitarian assistance reaching the besieged enclave.
“The Council of Europe is a peace organisation and asks all the members states of the Council of Europe, but also our partners who are democratic states, to abide by international law,” she said.
Burić also believes the conflict could have a ripple effect on European societies, and that nations should take action to curb anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes.
“No person should be treated differently because of their faith,” she said. “Everyone should feel safe and free to live in Europe and to exercise the right of religion or other rights. This is a very basic requirement by the European Convention on Human Rights.”