Ukrainian, Dutch and British lawyers discussed challenges in war crimes proceedings

Earlier this week, on March 11-12, two days of trainings took place, which became a platform for professional conversation about mechanisms for protecting human rights, in particular through the observance of all aspects of the right to a fair trial in war crimes cases.

The event was organized by the Asser Institute and Global Rights Compliance as part of their MATRA-Ukraine project "Strengthening Ukraine's Capacity to Investigate and Prosecute International Crimes", the Ukrainian Bar Association and the International Bar Association.

During the trainings, participants had the opportunity to express their views on issues related to justice in war crimes cases. Speakers and participants actively shared their experiences and points of view, which allowed for a comprehensive vision of the situation.

The speakers included both international and national experts:

  • Gabriela Radu, Asser Institute;
  • Iryna Levandovska, Global Rights Compliance;
  • Marie O'Leary, Defense Counsel, International Criminal Court;
  • Lionel Blackman, British criminal defense lawyer and trial monitoring expert;
  • Olga Salenko, national expert of the Ukrainian Bar Association project "Monitoring of War Crimes Trials in Ukraine. Version 2.0" (hereinafter - the Project), Associate Professor, Associate Professor of the Department of Justice, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv School of Law;
  • Oksana Rasulova, Head of the Court Monitoring Project, Media Initiative for Human Rights. 

The event also brought together participants from various fields, including representatives of civil society organizations, journalists and lawyers, which demonstrates the broad public interest in this issue.

The trainings covered a wide range of issues, including those related to the ethical aspects of defense in conflict-related cases. Human rights defenders and lawyers actively shared their experience and expressed their opinions on professional ethics. Recognizing and adhering to ethical norms is an important aspect of ensuring justice and effective human rights protection. A clear understanding of these aspects helps human rights defenders to avoid conflicts of conscience while ensuring respect for the rights and interests of their clients.

In addition to the above, the role of the International Criminal Court was discussed. Participants had the opportunity to comprehend international legal norms and their impact on Ukraine's domestic legal system, which is key to ensuring that national legislation complies with international standards.

The trainings became an important step in strengthening cooperation and exchange of experience between Ukrainian and international human rights defenders on these issues.

Olga Salenko, national expert of the Project, had the opportunity to outline observations and interim conclusions on the results of the second phase of the Project during both days of the training.

One of the aspects discussed was access to justice. As of now, information on court proceedings is publicly available. However, there are cases when information is not available or is displayed in a fragmented manner. The second aspect concerns physical accessibility to court hearings. In general, the Project monitors and experts have the necessary access, but there are cases that may limit or complicate public access.

The issues of publicity and openness of war crimes trials were also addressed. In most cases, the courts allow the participation of the public and media representatives, but sometimes they may impose restrictions.

To date, there have been no documented cases of violations of the right to an independent and impartial court. The courts appear to be objective and impartial.

It was also noted that the courts usually facilitate a reasonable duration of the process, but there are systemic problems that can complicate the consideration of cases.

The procedure for reviewing war crimes criminal proceedings in absentia was discussed separately, as well as the lack of proper mechanisms for appealing against a decision in absentia.

Olga also drew attention to the fact that no acquittals have been recorded in this category of criminal proceedings to date, which may be of interest to the international community.

Attention was also drawn to the problems associated with the appointment and participation of defense counsel in war crimes cases. These include frequent replacement of defense counsels, systematic replacement for formal reasons, as well as the effectiveness and reality of legal aid. The importance of guaranteeing the right to a fair trial for all, including war criminals, was emphasized. Ensuring this right is an important element of Ukraine's European integration aspirations and contributes to the prevention of international conflicts.

In conclusion, Olga emphasized that moral dilemmas may affect the participation of lawyers in the defense of war criminals, but it is important to remember Ukraine's international obligations to ensure human rights and fair trial for all without exception.


This publication is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the framework of the Human Rights in Action Program implemented by Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.

Opinions, conclusions and recommendations presented in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government. The contents are the responsibility of the authors.

USAID is the world’s premier international development agency and a catalytic actor driving development results. USAID’s work demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience, and advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity. USAID has partnered with Ukraine since 1992, providing more than $9 billion in assistance. USAID’s current strategic priorities include strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting economic development and energy security, improving health care systems, and mitigating the effects of the conflict in the east. For additional information about USAID in Ukraine, please call USAID’s Development Outreach and Communications Office at: +38 (044) 521-5753. You may also visit our website: or our Facebook page at

Do you have an interesting idea for an event?