Trailblazing Justice: Ukraine's Innovative Approaches to Prosecuting War Crimes

Innovating Justice Amidst Conflict: A Conversation with Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin

Since assuming the role of Ukraine's Prosecutor General in July 2022, Andriy Kostin has faced an unprecedented challenge—navigating the surge of digital evidence documenting alleged war crimes and human-rights violations by Russian troops. In response, Kostin's office has spearheaded groundbreaking initiatives, including the establishment of a comprehensive database to compile this wealth of information. Utilizing technology, websites, and chatbots, Ukrainians are empowered to categorize and submit crucial digital evidence.

TIME recently engaged in a conversation with Prosecutor General Kostin in Kyiv, delving into the innovative approaches his office is employing to analyze and prosecute war-crimes cases. The discussion sheds light on the evolving intersection of traditional frameworks and cutting-edge technologies in the pursuit of justice.

Q: With the influx of real-time video and photo evidence, along with corroborating data from various digital sources, satellite images, and cell phone providers, how does this challenge fit into the traditional framework for prosecuting war crimes, and what sets your approach apart?

A: Our approach is unprecedented. The primary challenge lies in ensuring comprehensive accountability. Initially, we focus on established elements and lessons from previous types of war crimes, emphasizing physical harm to individuals—those killed, wounded, assaulted, and humiliated. International standards developed in past conflicts now serve as precedents in our cases. Notably, we've incorporated victim or survivor-centered methodologies, particularly in investigating conflict-related sexual violence. These approaches, honed by the international community, are now integral to our strategic documents, guiding all investigators and prosecutors. In this conflict, we're broadening our scope, examining a wider range of war crimes.

Q: What specific war crimes are you concentrating on that have not been prosecuted before?

[The conversation continues, exploring the uncharted territories of war crimes prosecution in the context of evolving conflict dynamics.]

Forging a New Frontier: Ukraine's Prosecutor General on Prosecuting Unprecedented War Crimes

As Ukraine grapples with the devastating aftermath of conflict, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin sheds light on the pioneering efforts to broaden the scope of war crimes prosecution. Beyond the conventional lens, Kostin's office is actively addressing environmental crimes, including damage to nuclear facilities and long-lasting environmental degradation with severe health implications for future generations of Ukrainians.

The international discourse surrounding these environmental crimes has gained momentum, thanks to the allocation of resources for their investigation. By actively creating strategic documents, Ukraine aims to set a precedent for global efforts to investigate and prosecute such offenses. Kostin highlights the importance of establishing tools and standards that transcend borders, sending a powerful message to potential perpetrators worldwide.

Moreover, Ukraine is breaking new ground by investigating and prosecuting cyber attacks as war crimes. Collaborating with tech giants Palantir and Microsoft, Kostin's team navigates the challenging terrain of cyber warfare. This groundbreaking approach, never before undertaken, aims to deter potential offenders through thorough investigation and highlight the severity of such acts as akin to terrorist behavior.

Q: How are you leveraging technology and digital tools to collect and analyze evidence in these complex cases?

Kostin emphasizes the pivotal role of technology in building cases that often rely on seemingly insufficient evidence. Utilizing a multifaceted approach, prosecutors harness the power of new technologies to identify perpetrators, a task deemed most challenging in daily operations. Real-life examples include civilians attacked by Russian forces during evacuation. Survivors provided crucial information, enabling investigators to pinpoint the specific location. Following liberation, open-source intelligence tools and collaboration with NGOs and civil-society organizations came into play.

Kostin's office operates a unique platform, the International Council of Experts, engaging over 45 NGOs dedicated to advancing war crimes accountability. This collaborative effort proved instrumental in identifying perpetrators through social network analysis. Survivors, upon reviewing the evidence, confirmed identities with statements like, 'I saw this face.' This intersection of technology, international collaboration, and grassroots involvement exemplifies Ukraine's commitment to innovative justice in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Technological Frontiers in War Crimes Prosecution: A Conversation with Ukraine's Prosecutor General

As war crimes cases find their way into Kyiv's courtrooms, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin provides insights into the unprecedented use of cutting-edge technology to analyze data and build cases. Leveraging Palantir for comprehensive data analysis and Microsoft for voice recognition in cases involving calls for genocide and aggressive war, Kostin's team is at the forefront of incorporating unique tools to scrutinize voices and faces in the pursuit of justice. The imminent integration of artificial intelligence further underscores Ukraine's commitment to navigating vast volumes of multimedia evidence efficiently.

Q: How are you gathering evidence from the millions of Ukrainian refugees and displaced civilians, and how are international partners aiding in this process?

Beyond identifying perpetrators, the focus is on preserving every piece of evidence. Kostin outlines the challenges of legal interaction across jurisdictions and the potential scattered nature of evidence. To address this, innovative tools like the Core International Crimes Evidence Database (CICED) have been established. This highly secure database facilitates joint investigations by consolidating information from various sources, including reports submitted by thousands of Ukrainians in different countries. Supported by the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, CICED ensures that crucial information is systematically documented and easily accessible for building comprehensive cases.

Q: With the continuous influx of real-time digital evidence during the ongoing conflict, can the international justice system effectively keep pace?

[The dialogue continues, exploring the dynamic relationship between technology, the international justice system, and the evolving nature of evidence in the context of a conflict still unfolding.]

Expediting Justice: Ukraine's Commitment to Swift War Crimes Prosecution

Recognizing the critical importance of timely justice, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin emphasizes the need for a swift judicial process in certain instances, understanding that delayed justice can equate to justice denied. In ongoing collaboration with Ukrainian courts, there's a concerted effort to prioritize war-crime cases, ensuring a responsive and efficient legal framework.

Kostin underscores the significance of proceedings, even in absentia, for many victims and survivors. The aim is to convey a message of unwavering commitment to restoring dignity by exhaustively pursuing every available legal avenue. This commitment extends to leveraging technology as a crucial tool in expediting the judicial process. Ukraine's resolve is clear: utilizing every resource, legal or technological, to ensure that justice is not only served but is served promptly in acknowledgment of the profound impact on victims and survivors.

Forging Justice in the Face of Crisis

In the pursuit of justice for war crimes amid the Ukrainian conflict, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin underscores the urgency of a rapid judicial process. The commitment to expedited proceedings, coupled with ongoing collaboration with Ukrainian courts, reflects a dedicated effort to prioritize war-crime cases and address the critical need for timely justice.

Acknowledging the importance of prosecuting cases, even in absentia, Kostin emphasizes the profound impact on victims and survivors, assuring them that every conceivable avenue, both legal and technological, will be explored to restore their dignity. This unwavering commitment signals Ukraine's proactive approach to leveraging all available resources, recognizing that justice delayed is justice denied.

As the nation grapples with the complexities of war crimes prosecution, the synergy between legal frameworks and cutting-edge technology stands as a testament to Ukraine's resilience and determination to forge a path toward justice, even in the midst of an ongoing crisis. The resolve to expedite justice remains a cornerstone in rebuilding not only the legal landscape but also the lives of those affected by the harrowing consequences of conflict.