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The EU aims to find a way to hold Putin responsible for war crimes in Ukraine

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Europe is also looking for new ways to hold Russia accountable for war crimes in Ukraine. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says it's time for a new tribunal.

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URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Russia must pay for its horrific crimes, including for its crime of aggression against a sovereign state. And this is why, while continuing to support the International Criminal Court, we are proposing to set up a specialized court backed by the United Nations to investigate and prosecute Russia's crime of aggression.

MARTÍNEZ: Let's go now to Luis Moreno Ocampo. Between 2003 and 2012, he served as the first chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. So let's start off, Luis, with this new court, the one proposed by the EU. Is that the best way to hold Russian leaders accountable?

LUIS MORENO OCAMPO: No. No way. What they're missing is - what they're learning might - I had experience to investigate head of states in the full pursuit of Bashir and Gaddafi. And the problem I learned - in fact, I'm the only one who had this experience. The problem I see is the political leaders should harmonize the solutions. And they are not - they're talking about sanctions, but they're not talking how to end the war. And the paradox is that President Putin should be accountable for criminal behavior but at the same time is the person to negotiate the deal to end the war and end the nuclear risk. We are in a conflict with a nuclear power. So it's not just about sanctions, it's about how to end the conflict. And so how to do investigations against President Putin and at the same time negotiate, that is what we discuss - we can discuss. And to do that, you don't need a new court. You just can implement - you have the beauty of having an independent International Criminal Court up and running. Use it.

MARTÍNEZ: But what can the International Criminal Court do if Russia does not accept their jurisdiction?

OCAMPO: Well, for the aggression crime, which is the most obvious crimes committed by President Putin because it's the use of armed force against the territorial integrity of another state - and that's obvious what's happened. The problem is Russia is not a party. And the law in the current situation requires that both states, the aggressor and the country like Ukraine, in this case, should be a part of the ICC. But for other crimes, that request is not needed. They - the International Criminal Court can investigate the crimes against humanity committed by President Putin himself. And that the way to make President Putin accountable. And interestingly, there are two important factors here. President Putin has immunity before national court but has no immunity before the International Criminal Court, except the Article 28 of the statute say specifically, head of state should not have - in no case be exempt of criminal responsibility.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned, Luis, we're dealing with a nuclear power here.

OCAMPO: Yes.

MARTÍNEZ: Is that something that - are we in unchartered waters, so to speak, in that we've never dealt with anything like this before with this kind of scale?

OCAMPO: Well, you had the Cuban missile crisis in the '60s. And that's the closest for this, I believe. And that's why President Kennedy's goal was, yes, to attack, but at the same time, to negotiate. And that's what we are missing here. Economic sanctions did not work in Darfur. U.S. did a big effort to ban oil from Darfur. But everyone bought the oil - China, in particular, bought the oil in Darfur, so would not work. And the ICC could work. The interesting thing is, we don't need a new court. We just need an indictment against President Putin now.

MARTÍNEZ: But when it comes to some form of restitution for Ukraine, I know that EU member states have frozen 300 billion in Russian central bank reserves. If that ever gets unfrozen and sanctions get lifted, could some of that money be tied to some kind of peace agreement, so that way Ukraine gets some measure of being whole again?

OCAMPO: Well, that's exactly the political issue to discuss. How to - OK. We need the International Criminal Court indictment. We have this money frozen. How we can combine these to put pressure on President Putin to make a deal, to make a negotiation, to stop the crime? And that's the paradox because the war is not well-organized. The criminal is, at the same time, the person who can make peace. And that's the paradox. But the interesting point is that in the International Criminal Court, they can indict him. But then the U.N. Security Council could decide to suspend investigation. So that what President Obama did in Darfur. He used the arrest warrant against Bashir as leverage to force Bashir to accept the South's independence. So that's what we need now. Harmonize a criminal investigation. Indict President Putin. And then negotiate with him to end the conflict.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. Luis, thanks.

OCAMPO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.