March 31, 2023

By Mariana Barillas

United States Ambassador-at-large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack announced at an international assembly of human rights advocates hosted by The Catholic University of America that the U.S. supports creating a special tribunal to prosecute Russia for crimes of aggression against Ukraine.

The University convened “The Nuremberg Principles: The Contemporary Challenges” March 27 to discuss lessons learned from the legacy of the Nuremberg Trials, which were organized in the aftermath of World War II to hold Nazi leadership accountable.

The long-planned gathering proved especially timely as in the weeks leading up to the conference, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arrest and a U.N. report accused his forces of war crimes.

 “At Nuremberg, the United States led the prosecution of the crime of aggression … and now at this critical moment in history I can announce that we are also supportive of the development of the dedicated tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression against Ukraine,” said Van Schaack to applause.

The historic trials were a major step forward for human rights as the “Nuremberg principles,” codified by the U.N., established that individuals can be punished for violating international law.

Dean of Theology and Religious Studies and Ukrainian Catholic priest Father Mark Morozowich, S.E.O.D., said Van Schaack’s “momentous announcement demonstrates the importance of gatherings such as these to demonstrate how the principles of Nuremberg can be applied to modern-day conflicts.” He praised the international gathering of ambassadors, renowned scholars, and attorneys as an example of “the University’s leadership role in advocating for justice in war-torn areas.”

Ambassador-at-large of the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry Anton Korynevych addressed the assembly over Zoom to “bring a message to the international community” about the importance of pursuing legal action to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage.  

 “The devastation … which the Russian Federation has caused to our cultural sites, cultural heritage, and cultural property is done with special purpose to destroy, to diminish our national identity,” said Korynevych.

University President Dr. Peter Kilpatrick said during his welcome address that he hoped the conference led to “fruitful outcomes in service of justice and peace.”

The last living Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz Esq, Ph.D. (hon. causa) joined remotely to encourage attendees to advance “equal rights for all people. That’s what I have stood for, what Nuremberg stood for, and what I hope you will stand for.”

Herbert Reginbogin, collegiate fellow and professor of law at the Institute for Policy Research, said during his presentation that Nuremberg set an important but imperfect legacy, as the “victorious powers narrowly construed the tribunal’s jurisdiction” to crimes committed by Axis powers. Reginbogin said selective prosecution of war crimes in the decades since undermines the rule of law.

“The renewed commitment to the law over brute force on display today in response to Russia's invasion could be a turning point,” said Reginbogin.

Eli Rosenbaum, who leads the U.S. Department of Justice’s team investigating suspected war crimes committed against U.S. nationals in Ukraine, said, “We have already identified several suspects and we are also working shoulder to shoulder with our brave Ukrainian counterparts assisting them in any way we can.”

 Watch the morning session:

Nuremberg Principles MORNING SESSION from Catholic University on Vimeo.

Watch the afternoon session.

Nuremberg Principles AFTERNOON SESSION from Catholic University on Vimeo.