Victoria Amelina dreamed of a Special Tribunal for Russia's war crimes - then one killed her

We launched #SpecialTribunalNow to keep Amelina's dream alive.

Victoria Amelina dreamed of a Special Tribunal for Russia's war crimes - then one killed her

Last November, acclaimed Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina took her children ​to Courtroom 600 in Nuremberg to show them where the Nazis faced justice for their crimes.

While her children listened to their audio guide, Amelina tweeted that she was dreaming of an international tribunal for Russia's leaders and propagandists responsible for their war of aggression too.

"Tomorrow, I'll stop dreaming and go back to Ukraine to help Tribunal happen," she added.

Half a year later, while documenting Russia's war crimes, Amelina was killed when a russian missile hit a pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk where she'd stopped for lunch.

Wherever in the world you are reading this, I want you to know that there's a way you can help turn Amelina's dream of a Special Tribunal into reality and help end this war being waged against us. We're not asking for donations, nor to put yourself in any danger.

Just read on so I can first tell you more about why a Special Tribunal is so important.

Amelina's dream

I was nearby when Amelina was killed. In fact, I had eaten at the same restaurant the previous day. It could just as easily have been me.

While Amelina returned to investigate war crimes, I also returned to Ukraine after nearly ten years living in France in order to first help deliver aid supplies and document the destruction caused by Russia's war. I'm now contributing to the internal transformation of Ukraine.

Ultimately though, none of this matters without justice. Amelina understood that. Aid can keep patching over the problem, but justice is what will solve it at its root. Even Ukrainian victory, although fundamental, will only be a temporary fix without justice.

Justice for the supreme crime

This is what aid workers in Ukraine are increasingly discussing. We can't delay or suspend justice. We can't compromise over it. It's the topic here while travelling across the country with supplies, while taking cover in bomb shelters, or while trying to steal a fleeting moment of normality, such as having lunch in a pizza restaurant. Amelina herself hosted a panel discussion on the topic of justice for war crimes the day before she left for Kramatorsk where her life would be brutally cut short by a war crime.

Without justice, horrific crimes continue with impunity every day. Families await the nightly terror of more Russian missile strikes on their homes and communities. Their livelihoods are being systematically destroyed through attacks on the civilian infrastructure around them and the sabotage of their economy. Mines are scattered across a third of the country. Nuclear threats have been normalised. Even environmental destruction has become weaponised against us. And we’re the lucky ones not under occupation. Where the Russian army goes, towns and villages are reduced to rubble and wiped off the map. People are cruelly dragged from their homes for torture, rape, and execution on an unfathomable scale. Children are snatched from their families and deported.

These are all crimes. But there is one single crime that enabled them all. Because it was the decision of individuals in Russia to wage this brutal and unprovoked war of aggression against us. And a war of aggression is the supreme crime of international law.

That's what Amelina's children would have learnt as they listened to that audio guide inside Courtroom 600. It was the Special Tribunal at Nuremberg that established the international prohibition on wars of aggression, which subsequent generations benefits from immensely. Amelina's children and all future generations around the world also deserve to grow up in a world where it is prohibited by international law.

In this war too, the path to peace through a Special Tribunal is achievable and is gaining momentum with support from an increasing number of legal experts, peace activists, human rights advocates, public figures, and governments around the world.

Let's return to Courtroom 600 and talk about how the Nazis ended up there.

The Special Tribunal at Nuremberg

The story of the special tribunal at Nuremberg doesn’t start with the fall of Berlin. Nor even with the counteroffensive that started on D-Day.


We actually have to go back to the very darkest hours of the Second World War when victory over the Nazis was very far from certain.

That’s when representatives of occupied and allied nations pledged that justice would be a primary war aim. They agreed that the only way to end the cycle of aggressive wars was through international law and having the proper judicial mechanisms to enforce it.

Their words at the outset of that process remain eerily relevant today:

“Would we win only to live in dread of yet another war? Should we not define some purpose more creative than military victory? Is it not possible to shape a better life for all countries and peoples and cut the causes of war at their roots?”

​This was all part of the Declaration of St James’ Palace. No doubt there would have been naysayers at the time arguing it was pointless to talk about justice while Hitler and his army was rampaging across Europe and that justice would somehow just undermine peace negotiations with them.

But the determination to prosecute the Nazis turned out to be worthwhile. Actually, that is the understatement of the last century.

Their declaration formed the first draft of what is now the UN Charter.​ The special tribunal didn’t just bring justice. It exposed the crimes of the Nazis to Germany and the world. It thoroughly discredited aggression as a tool of statecraft. It laid the foundation for modern international law - and the 80 years of relative peace and stability that the world has enjoyed as a result.

​All that is now in peril.

The war on everyone

When I said there’s a way you can help end this war against us, I didn’t just mean ‘us’ as in Ukrainians. I meant all of us. You too.

Because Russia’s war is not just an attack on Ukraine. It’s an attack on the entire rules-based order that all of our countries signed up to. You wouldn’t just be stopping this war, but also future wars around the world.

If one UN member state can launch a war of aggression in the attempt to erase another UN member state off the map - without legal repercussions for the people who made that decision - then international law would cease to exist.

Aggression would become normalised as a tool of statecraft again. These horrors would not only never end, but spread far beyond Ukraine. The world wouldn’t just be dealing with one aggressor. We would have opened the floodgates to all future aggressors. We would return to an age of warring empires. Your children, and grandchildren would still be dealing with the horrific consequences of our inaction today.

But there is another way forward. It is a path to meaningful justice for those who launched this war of aggression that is achievable and as vital now as it was during the Second World War.

Russia launched this brutal war of aggression as a “special military operation”. The world can end it through a Special International Tribunal.

Let’s get into the legalese

The special tribunal at Nuremberg was clear. It concluded:

“War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

And the world now has an internationally agreed legal definition of that supreme international crime. It’s:

"The planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations."

Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine meets this definition. It is unprecedented in character, gravity, and scale since the Second World War. The aggressor’s frequently stated aim is the annihilation of a UN member state and its identity as an independent nation. They have already tried to change borders by force.


One problem here though.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague currently has its arms tied. That’s because the crime of aggression is different to other international crimes in that those responsible can only be prosecuted if their country is party to the Rome Statute, which Russia is not.

It’s a loophole in the Rome Statute that can and should be closed permanently so that it applies to all countries, regardless of whether they are party to it. But that will take time that Ukraine and the world doesn’t have right now - and it couldn’t be applied to a crime already launched.

However, the United Nations does have the power to authorise a special tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression under international law. That would apply even to individuals with immunities, like Heads of State. And regardless of whether their country is party to the Rome Statute.

Ordinarily, the UN Security Council would do this job when there is a serious international crime that threatens peace - but Russia has a veto there. The UN Charter makes it clear though that it’s then the job of the UN General Assembly to act if the Security Council is unable due to a veto. The UN General Assembly has demonstrated its authority in this way before, such as in the case of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Russia's aggression against Ukraine has already been condemned by the overwhelming majority of UN member states in the UN General Assembly - in March 2022, October 2022, February 2023, and April 2023.

A UN General Assembly resolution urging the creation of a special tribunal for the crime of aggression would be the logical next step. Arrangements between the UN Secretary General and Ukraine to create this special tribunal could then proceed immediately after the vote.

The only thing that’s missing right now is the political will.

Momentum for a special tribunal is building

Globally, one of the first people to support a UN-backed special tribunal for Russia’s crime of aggression was Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor at the Special Tribunal in Nuremberg. There are few people on the planet with a better understanding of what is at stake.

Throughout his life, Ferencz grew into one of the world’s leading experts on international law, as well as a dedicated peace activist.

As explained by CBS, which conducted one of the last interviews with him before his recent death:

Ferencz has joined Ukraine's foreign minister, former world leaders, and legal scholars in advocating for the creation of a special Nuremberg-style international tribunal to try the leadership of the Russian Federation for the war crime of aggression, which is the act of waging an illegal war.

Ferencz said it would be an important move "not only in the context of this case… but to state the principle that you may not commit aggression against a neighboring state, or anybody."


Another group of early backers is the Nelson Mandela-founded Elders, made up of senior statesmen and women campaigning for peace. That includes former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who recently gave an impassioned plea for a Special International Tribunal, noting that momentum for this is growing globally.

Since then, more public figures, legal experts, peace activists, human rights campaigners, and many millions of ordinary people have pledged their support for the Special Tribunal. One petition has gained more than two million signatures.

A number of countries and legislative bodies have declared their support for some form of tribunal, accepting that prosecution for Russia’s aggression is an inevitable requirement for peace. That includes the European Parliament, which voted overwhelmingly for a tribunal. In preparation, the EU has already established an International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression in Ukraine in The Hague to help collect evidence for use in any future prosecutions.

The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were the first governments to specifically back a Special Tribunal authorized by the UN General Assembly, in addition to permanently closing the judicial gap that prevents the ICC from prosecuting the crime of aggression. They’ve pointed out that in their private discussions with other representatives at the UN General Assembly, there has been no outright rejection of the proposal but rather considerable support for measures perceived to preserve the UN Charter and its legal order.

It once again reminds us that all that’s missing is the political will, which everyone, everywhere around the world can help change.

The respected British journalist Edward Lucas has also been outspoken in support of a Special Tribunal. In fact, it was Lucas who inspired this article when he first used the hashtag, #SpecialTribunalNow, in a viral tweet thread and later recommended how we can build on it.

We were discussing it among volunteers when we decided that we should launch a #SpecialTribunalNow campaign in order to keep building the momentum needed to turn the dream that Amelina's had in Courtroom 600 into reality.

So thank you for reading this far, but the next bit is really important.

Join our campaign for a #SpecialTribunalNow

Like many of you, we've been dreaming of seeing Putin in the Hague. We've held up placards and posted memes about it. But now we understand the Hague is not ready (for all the reasons explained above). Fortunately though, there is a clear path towards justice.

It's achievable, it's based on precedent, and support for it is gaining momentum around the world. All it needs is the political will, which will come from global public pressure.

We demand that the UN General Assembly immediately authorises a Special International Tribunal for the individuals responsible for planning, preparing, initiating, and executing Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.

Let's use the hashtag #SpecialTribunalNow, but let's bring it into the real world to show the huge number of real people supporting the campaign in as many different places as possible.

I said at the top of this article that I’d need 15 minutes of your time. So far, I’ve already used 10 of those minutes explaining the need for a Special Tribunal. For the next five minutes, follow these steps:

1. Snap the hashtag

Grab a pen and paper. Make your own sign declaring 'Special Tribunal Now' or '#SpecialTribunalNow'.Grab your camera and snap a picture. You don't have to show your face if you don't want to, but let's show that we are real - unlike many of the accounts supporting Russia's war. If you've literally got five minutes, then a selfie from anywhere works great. If you've got more time, go bigger. Find an interesting location that shows where in the world your support is coming from. Grab your friends or invite strangers to protest with you so you can get a group picture. There's no limit to how creative you can be with the hashtag.

2. Post it

Post it to your favourite social media networks. You can explain why you support a Special Tribunal or just let the picture speak for itself. You can also link back to this website so more people can read about the case for a Special Tribunal and understand our campaign. And don't forget to use the hashtag and/or tag us. ​If many thousands of us do that then we can reach huge numbers of people around the world with our message in their social media feeds.

3. Follow us

We want to start compiling your images from around the world to show the strength of global support for a Special Tribunal. We'll do that on this website and on our social media accounts. As momentum builds, we'll also use those accounts to organise bigger and bolder ways to broadcast that message. Watch this space. So follow the #SpecialTribunalNow campaign on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube, and also join our Facebook group.

Ok, now here's my photo:


The first person to join me in sharing a picture was Tanya Chaikovska, the CEO of Kyiv startup hub Lift99. Since the start of the full scale war, her hub has helped bring a huge amount of aid to Ukraine thanks to volunteers from around the world. As it happens, her background is international law and she previously worked in the Hague so she has provided valuable advice for this article and to help all of us understand the need for a Special Tribunal more deeply. Here's her picture:


The first international person to share a picture is French businessman Arnaud Castaignet, who is one of the volunteers delivering aid supplies to Lift99. Last year, Castaignet succeeded in campaigning for Ukraine to be offered EU candidate status. His petition received more than 300,000 signatures, including high profile names, and generated a lot of media coverage and wider discussions about why Ukraine should join the EU. So I'm really pleased that he's offered to help get the word out about this campaign too, especially after demonstrating that change is achievable. Here's his picture:


Now we want to showcase many thousands more people who can share similar pictures from around the world.

Let’s make sure the whole world is in no doubt: Only a UN-backed Special Tribunal will end the cycle of aggressive wars. We demand a #SpecialTribunalNow.

Let's do it for Ukraine. Let's do it for the world and all future generations. Let's do it for Amelina.