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Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Deposit Return Scheme, A9 Dualling, Shark Fins Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Special Tribunal on Russian Aggression in Ukraine


Special Tribunal on Russian Aggression in Ukraine

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-07345, in the name of Jenni Minto, on a special tribunal on Russian aggression in Ukraine. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the support, including among people in the Argyll and Bute constituency, for efforts to seek justice and accountability for the reported atrocities committed by Russian troops during their invasion of Ukraine, as well as for what it sees as the crime of the war itself; considers that the decision by the Russian Federation to launch attacks on Ukraine poses a grave challenge to the post-1945 international order; believes that, in line with international law, the invasion has provided for individual criminal responsibility for those who plan, initiate or execute wars of aggression; notes the support for the ongoing investigations into Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, including those before the International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court and European Court of Human Rights; further notes the calls for the establishment of an ad hoc special tribunal with a mandate to investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression allegedly committed by the political and military leadership of the Russian Federation; notes the suggestions to apply the definition of the crime of aggression based on Article 8 bis of the Rome Statute; further notes the calls for guarantees that accountability will extend to government and political officials; welcomes the reported exercise of jurisdiction by the International Criminal Court over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and attempted genocide on the territory of Ukraine; considers that Russian co-operation with such a trial may be one key metric by which we can judge that Europe is on a path towards peace; believes that a Ukrainian victory is necessary for the integrity of the international system, as are, it considers, justice and accountability for Russian crimes, and notes the view that accountability for the crime of aggression against Ukraine must be secured.


Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

The Czech writer Milan Kundera, in “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, wrote:

“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have someone write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster”.

The international community must not allow that to happen to Ukraine.

I thank every member who has supported my motion and those who will speak in the debate. I highlight the work that my colleague Stewart McDonald MP has done, and continues to do, for Ukraine.

The motion supports

“the calls for the establishment of an ad hoc special tribunal with a mandate to investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression allegedly committed by the political and military leadership of the Russian Federation”

in their illegal and despicable invasion of Ukraine.

I am proud to note that Scotland and its Government and Parliament have already sought to step up to the mark in this Europe-wide crisis, with the limited powers at their disposal, by welcoming more than 23,000 displaced Ukrainians, largely through the supersponsor scheme; supplying millions in humanitarian, medical and military aid; and providing a platform for Ukrainian culture.

One year on from the time when Russian planes were in the air over Kyiv and Russian tanks invaded a sovereign state in an act of aggression, I hope that the Scottish Parliament will add Scotland’s voice to those of the European Parliament and others by supporting the motion.

Watching the news on Monday evening and seeing President Biden walking in step with President Zelenskyy across the cobbles in Kyiv was something to behold. It has been compared with the speeches from both Kennedy and Reagan at the Berlin wall. Biden said:

“one year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands”.

Like several MSPs, I visited the MS Victoria in Leith, and one memory stands out to me. On my phone, I have a photo of a picture that was drawn by one of the young people on the ship. It depicts a beautiful young woman in a pink gown and high heels, dressed as though she is ready to go to a party, but instead of a handbag she is carrying an assault rifle, which is firing at a Russian tank emblazoned with a “Z”.

In Crimea, hundreds of Ukrainian children aged between six and 16 from the Kharkiv region have been stuck in Russian camps for weeks or, in some cases, months. In videos, children can be seen in a school playground in Crimea singing the Russian national anthem. Most appear not to know the words.

In Kherson, a large lime-green cuddly toy marks the spot where a child was killed by Russian shelling while walking along the road. In Scotland, children are safe, but they have been torn out of their homes, their communities and their country. In Crimea, children have been forcibly separated from their families and are being taught the history and customs of another state. In Ukraine, countless children have been killed.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference last week, the US Vice-President, Kamala Harris, said:

“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity.”

She went on to say:

“And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in those crimes—you will be held to account”.

A crime of aggression is the planning, initiation or execution of a large-scale and serious act of aggression using state military force. Crimes against humanity are considered to be among the most serious offences under the rules of war. Those laws ban attacks on civilians, or infrastructure vital to their survival, and are set out in international treaties. For example, in Ukraine, numerous missile and drone attacks in October and November deprived millions of citizens of at least temporary access to electricity, water, heat and related vital services ahead of the cold winter months.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, attacks on 23 November killed or injured more than 30 civilians and interrupted access to power for millions throughout Ukraine. The UN said that the entire population of Kyiv had no access to water for the day and that parts of the Kyiv, Lviv, and Odesa regions were completely disconnected from electricity.

Yulia Gorbunova, senior Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:

“By repeatedly targeting critical energy infrastructure knowing this will deprive civilians of access to water, heat, and health services, Russia appears to be seeking unlawfully to create terror among civilians and make life unsustainable for them”.

She went on to say:

“With the coldest winter temperatures yet to come, conditions will become more life-threatening while Russia seems intent on making life untenable for as many Ukrainian civilians as possible.”

Since the beginning of the invasion, the World Health Organization has reported more than 600 attacks on healthcare facilities, personnel and transport in Ukraine, which have killed at least 100 people. In one of the most notorious attacks, Russian bombs destroyed a children’s and maternity hospital in Mariupol on 9 March 2022, injuring dozens of people and killing four, including a pregnant woman and her baby. That attack was justified by the Russians as the hospital had a supposed presence of Ukrainian armed forces, but the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe concluded, in a fact-finding report, that the air strike was a war crime. Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, said of that attack:

“Horrible pain. We will never forget and never forgive”.

Aggression is one of the core crimes in international criminal law, alongside genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In 1946, the International Military Tribunal ruled that aggression was

“the supreme international crime”


“it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

A crime of aggression is a crime against peace.

In 1991, Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence. Ukraine, as its national anthem proclaims, did not die. The international community cannot stand aside to let the aggressor win.

Slava Ukraini! [Applause.]


Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

I am grateful to Jenni Minto for bringing the debate to the chamber, especially since this Friday marks one year since Russia’s full-scale, illegal invasion of Ukraine. As we reflect on the anniversary, we should reiterate our solidarity with, and our support for, Ukraine and its people.

Millions have had to flee their homes, and tens of thousands of people have been killed. The aggression that Russia has committed against Ukraine, in particular in the past 12 months, has rightfully been condemned, but people must be held accountable, too.

Article 8 bis of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines “an act of aggression” as

“the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State”;

and a “crime of aggression” as

“the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person”

exercising control over the

“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.”

As Jenni Minto set out, there have been calls for the establishment of an ad hoc special tribunal to investigate whether Russia’s political and military leadership have committed the crime of aggression, and to prosecute when that is so.

That would be in addition to the several on-going investigations into Russia’s conduct in Ukraine, including at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Of course, some of the alleged crimes that have been reported pre-date the February 2022 invasion.

Putin’s invasion has led to the deaths not only of brave Ukrainian soldiers protecting their country, but of many civilians. Last week’s figures from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights showed that there have been about 19,000 confirmed civilian casualties in Ukraine, with 7,199 civilians killed. The true figure is probably much higher.

The war has also forced millions of Ukrainians from their homes into safer parts of the country, to neighbours such as Poland and even as far as these isles. Indeed, this is the largest refugee crisis and forced movement of people across Europe since the second world war. It is absolutely right that Europe is united in its opposition to Putin’s actions and that countries do everything that they can to support refugees who are fleeing from terror.

Last night’s event in the Parliament, “Postcards from Ukraine”, highlighted the cultural damage of Russia’s invasion, including the destruction of heritage sites, and reinforced the need for other countries to give solidarity and support to the Ukrainians to fight against Putin and preserve their democracy and culture.

I hope that we see a Ukrainian victory. That is the best outcome for Ukraine as well as for longer-term peace and stability in Europe. Putin’s illegal invasion has rightly seen him and his cronies sanctioned. His Government is ever more isolated on the world stage. However, justice must also be served. A special tribunal on Russian aggression in Ukraine would help to do that by investigating the actions that have been committed under Putin and his generals during this illegal war and prosecuting those responsible for war crimes, crimes against civilians and, possibly, attempted genocide. Accountability for the crime of aggression against Ukraine must be secured.


Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

I thank Jenni Minto for securing this important debate on the appalling Russian aggression in Ukraine.

I declare an interest, given my personal support for a Ukrainian couple who arrived in Aberdeenshire last year. I am delighted to recognise Aberdeenshire’s contribution as one of the largest host local authorities in Scotland, with over 220 refugees.

The Ukrainian war led to a flood of people in the United Kingdom sharing solidarity with the people of Ukraine. It was heartening to see people wanting to offer support, from donating money for efforts on the ground to sending supplies to ensure that people had access to food, toiletries and clothes. It was also truly inspiring to see how many people participated in the UK Government’s homes for Ukraine scheme to help those who were displaced. I was also pleased to assist constituents with the Ukraine family scheme and to have helped to support uniting a family and giving a child a new start for a better future.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is abhorrent. The Russians’ lies and deception have been predominant in destabilising an international response to de-escalate tensions.

Although the debate and this week’s activities are rightly about Ukraine, we should not lose sight of the people in neighbouring countries who are assisting Putin’s agenda and committing their own breaches of international law. President Lukashenko in Belarus should be equally aware that the world is watching and will not stop until political prisoners such as Maksim Imkhavik are freed. I know that other colleagues here and from Parliaments across Europe have become symbolic godparents to those unlawfully detained.

Since the start of the war a year ago, Ukraine has shown remarkable bravery in its continuing efforts to protect its sovereignty. Earlier this month, in the UK-Ukraine joint declaration that was signed during President Zelenskyy’s visit, we affirmed our commitment to support the people of Ukraine in their fight for liberation from Russian aggression. I stand with others in calling for Russia to end the war now to protect the lives of thousands of Ukrainians from needless violence.

We are proud to be the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine after the United States and have worked with Ukraine to help train forces and develop their longer-term capabilities. The UK’s military, humanitarian and economic support to Ukraine since the invasion has reached nearly £4 billion and more than 1,200 Russian individuals and 120 entities have been sanctioned since the invasion.

We are working with international organisations to defend the principles in the UN charter. Through several investigations by the prosecutor general of Ukraine and the UN, it is clear that Russia is responsible for human rights violations carried out in Ukraine. The annexation of Ukrainian territory has been called a violation of international law, and the UK Government is committed to ensuring that Russia’s leaders are held accountable for their atrocities. In March, justice ministers from across the world will meet in London to support the International Criminal Court investigating the alleged war crimes in Ukraine.?

A national minute’s silence will take place at 11am this Friday, to mark one year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I know that I speak for many people when I say that I hope to see peace restored in Ukraine. That can be achieved only by Ukraine’s regaining its territorial integrity and justice being delivered for all of those who have suffered.


Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I thank Jenni Minto for bringing the debate to the chamber and for her passionate speech, which reminds us that the issue is about the people of Ukraine and what they have experienced over the past year.

Collette Stevenson was right to talk about the “Postcards from Ukraine” event last night. It was incredibly moving to hear about the fact that more than 500 historical and archaeological sites have been bombed in an attempt to wipe out Ukrainian culture.

Last night’s “Panorama” documentary, which was incredibly moving, used individual war diaries to show how horrific and hellish the situation is for people.

In June last year, the United Nations Security Council convened a meeting 20 years on from the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which was funded to deliver the Rome statute and aimed to deliver international criminal justice and accountability. At that meeting, the UK noted that an ICC investigation was already under way, with the largest referral in history.

Prosecutorial powers are key. Ukrainian authorities, teams sent by Eurojust and several European countries, including France, have documented Russia’s crimes, but we need to make sure that action is taken following that evidence gathering. It not enough just to gather evidence. If we look at Syria, for example, the United Nations General Assembly had an international, impartial and independent mechanism that documents crimes committed by the Assad regime and ISIS. Without prosecutorial powers, however, we cannot bring people to justice. We need to hold Russia and its allies accountable for the atrocities that are being committed by Russia’s political and military leadership.

It was important that, last week, members of the European Parliament urged the European Union, in close co-operation with Ukraine and the international community, to push for the creation of a special international tribunal to prosecute Putin, his military leadership and his allies. The European Parliament emphasised that the EU’s preparatory work should begin immediately, and when the process begins, we must ensure that the UK is present, supporting our European and Ukrainian counterparts throughout the process, and using our knowledge and resources to ensure that war crimes do not go unpunished.

In an attempt to reverse the current trend and restore credibility to the founding principles of the United Nations charter, the establishment of an ad hoc special tribunal would send a clear message to Russia and the world that use of force is prohibited in international relations between states. We should not just condemn it; we must make sure that international perpetrators of violence, war crimes and possible crimes against humanity are brought to justice.

Gordon Brown wrote

“It is high time that the world took the fight to Putin and his enablers.

The UK and US must act quickly both for Ukraine's sake and to honour the legacy of the Nuremberg trials when the free world stood its ground and ensured war criminals were held accountable.”

Those are words to stand by. If we do not get it right this time, the world will face the risk of history being repeated. It is important that we acknowledge that the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Andriy Kostin, has said that his office has 65,000 registered incidents of war crimes. We need a legal mechanism. We need action, and we need justice because of the act of aggression that began when Russian forces invaded Ukraine last year.

We know that our world leaders, European leaders and the German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has asked for the establishment of a special tribunal, and it is important that we debate that issue in our Parliament today. It is right that the UK has accepted Ukraine’s invitation to join the coalition, because that will bring legal expertise from right across the UK to the table and ensure that Russia’s leaders are held accountable for their actions.

As Jenni Minto’s motion says,

“a Ukrainian victory is necessary for the integrity of the international system, as are … justice and accountability for Russian crimes, and … accountability for the crime of aggression against Ukraine must be secured.”

We need to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, stand up for democracy, deliver justice, do the work that Alexander Burnett talked about and support people in our homes and communities across Scotland, but there also needs to be accountability for those who have led the aggression against Ukraine and its people, and that is why we need to be unanimous in supporting the motion tonight.


Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Jenni Minto not only on the motion but on her excellent and very moving speech. I completely agree with Collette Stevenson that we absolutely must see Ukraine prevail against this aggression, otherwise there is no hope or future in any kind of rules-based world order.

I declare an interest that people will not read in my register of interests; it is one that I wear as a badge of pride—indeed, of honour. I am one of about 300 British politicians to have been sanctioned by name by the Kremlin, along with my friend Douglas Ross and, I believe, the First Minister—maybe Angus Robertson, too, although I do not know.

Let me be blunt: this war is not

“a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”.

Those infamous words do not apply here. The Ukrainians are our near neighbours and we should not let the war slip from our collective line of vision or from our very consciousness.

There is a risk that that is happening already. There was hardly a mention of Ukraine in yesterday’s stage 3 budget debate—a budget set in the context of the global economic impact of Putin’s criminal aggression. That does not speak well of the level of our collective debate or our willingness to keep the war that is raging on our continent at the forefront of our minds. We are kidding ourselves if we think for one moment that we can talk about solidarity with the people of Ukraine and the raw courage of President Zelenskyy and not acknowledge the cost of that support, because it is real.

I am not just talking about the inflationary shock, the effects of which are felt in a global cost of living crisis whose impact we are rightly and collectively attempting to mitigate, especially in respect of the most vulnerable in our society, but about the military material, practical support and training that our armed forces are giving the Ukrainians to equip them with the latest weapon systems in order that they are able to defend themselves.

I must of course mention, too, as did my friend Alexander Burnett, the compassionate support that we are rightly extending to the Ukrainian people who are now living in our homes and among us as our guests. We should remain resolute in the support that we have collectively pledged to Ukraine and in respect of what the UK Government is doing to bolster the Ukrainian war effort as Ukrainians heroically resist the violence that is meted out by Vladimir Putin.

Today, I want to strike a note of caution, because the people of Russia are very close to the hearts of my family. It is right that we continue to talk explicitly about Vladimir Putin and his grisly gang in the Kremlin, and it is right that those crimes are continuously highlighted so that we in the west remember why the people of Ukraine are fighting for their freedom and why we must support them. However, we must differentiate, and beware of giving in to Russophobia, as many of the people of Russia are as appalled as we are with Putin’s gangsterism. Putin is manipulating a whole nation and distorting reality for its people by shutting down independent media outlets, crushing dissent and even murdering his opponents. The Russian people are being lied to.

The Kremlin will be listening to—and no doubt cataloguing—what we say in the chamber tonight. We should make it perfectly clear that we condemn Vladimir Putin and his crimes and demand that he be brought to justice. We want the Russian people to know exactly what is going on—what is happening to their husbands, sons and brothers in the killing fields of eastern Ukraine. As parliamentarians, we have a special responsibility to make it clear, and repeatedly so, that Putin’s invasion—because that is what it is—and occupation of Crimea is illegal, and a violation of the sovereign territory of Ukraine.

Putin should be held to account for the illegal downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. He was at least complicit in—if not downright guilty of—mass murder. It is Putin who ordered the illegal bombardment of civilian areas, the illegal torturing of prisoners and the use of illegal weapons in Ukraine. The horrors that we have seen over the past eight years are down to him. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will one day have to answer for his crimes.


The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

In the spirit of the previous speech, perhaps I should declare an interest as a fellow member of the Scottish Parliament proudly sanctioned by the Putin regime.

I note the support of Jenni Minto’s constituents in Argyll and Bute and, indeed, the support of people across Scotland in seeking justice and accountability for Russia’s war against Ukraine, and I commend the contributions by Jenni Minto, Collette Stevenson, Alexander Burnett, Sarah Boyack and Stephen Kerr.

Let me be clear at the outset: Scotland utterly condemns Russia’s barbaric and illegal war against Ukraine and its people. From the very outset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Scottish Government, all parties in the Scottish Parliament, our local authorities, our community organisations and Scottish families have supported Ukraine and Ukrainians. We successfully lobbied the UK Government to agree to a supersponsor scheme and provided £7 million-worth of support in cash and in kind for basic humanitarian assistance in respect of health, water, sanitation and shelter for people fleeing Ukraine.

We are appalled by the reports of atrocities in Ukraine. Intentionally directing missile attacks against civilians and civilian objects constitutes a war crime. Two weeks ago, President Zelenskyy stood on the steps of Westminster Hall and spoke of “a coalition of values” where justice must prevail. I agree with him, as I am sure all colleagues who have spoken in the debate do.

Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine reminds us how fragile the post-1945 rules-based international order remains and how real the threat to global peace and human rights is. For my generation, the prospect of war on such a scale returning to Europe seemed unthinkable until Russia’s full-scale invasion 12 months ago.

The Scottish Government agrees that those responsible for atrocities committed in Ukraine, including military commanders and other individuals in the Putin regime, must be held accountable. We support the action of the United Kingdom and 42 other countries in referring atrocities committed in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. The ICC investigation is under way, and we call on all nations to assist it.

The Scottish Government also supports Ukraine’s application to institute proceedings against the Russian Federation before the International Court of Justice under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. I agree with the President of the European Commission, who emphasised in Kyiv recently the importance of justice, and I welcome her intent to co-ordinate the collection of evidence via an international centre for the prosecution of the crime of aggression in Ukraine in The Hague.

Stephen Kerr

Does Angus Robertson join me in hoping that the European Union will rein in Hungary, Slovenia, Greece, Bulgaria and Spain, which are now importing more Russian products than they were before the invasion? Surely he would agree that that is to be regretted. The UK has barred 97 per cent of all Russian imports. Those countries are increasing their imports.

Angus Robertson

There should be no let-up in Europe or anywhere else in measures that are aimed at forcing the Russian regime to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

Scotland has always understood and valued the rule of law at home within its distinct and respected legal system. Our judiciary and lawyers have also played their part on the international stage, and they continue to do so. Many Scottish judges and lawyers in the solicitor and advocate branches of the profession have worked in, and have experience of, the ICC or ad hoc courts and tribunals—for example, Lord Bonomy sat as a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Despite having been expelled from the Council of Europe in March, Russia remains accountable in the European Court of Human Rights for human rights violations committed during much of the past year.

Ukraine has proposed the creation of a new special tribunal on the crime of aggression to ensure that Russia’s civilian and military leaderships are held to account for the decision to illegally invade Ukraine.

I note that a core group of nations has been established to pursue criminal accountability for Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and the Scottish Government supports the aim of the group: to create a mechanism that ensures that Russia’s leaders are fully held to account for their actions—a point that was highlighted by Sarah Boyack a few moments ago. There can be no route back to normality or rehabilitation for the Russian Federation unless it complies in full with the judgments issued against it by the relevant international courts.

It is now almost a year since Russia launched its full-scale war against Ukraine; it is some nine years since its first wave of aggression, when it seized Crimea and installed puppet regimes in the Donbas. The international community’s response then proved insufficient in deterring Putin from further violent expansionism. The Ukrainian people’s courage has been extraordinary, and Ukraine’s armed forces have shown that, if they are given the tools, they can defeat Russia—and defeat Russia they must.

History shows that allowing aggressors to commit crimes against their own people and against their neighbours leads to greater suffering. The Russian regime is all too ready to display brutal disregard for human life and human dignity, both at home and abroad. The international community must keep supporting Ukraine to help it win the war, and Scotland will continue to play its part. We will ensure that our companies and institutions uphold sanctions against Russia, we will continue to provide a home for displaced Ukrainians for as long as they need it, and we will always raise our voices to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

We will continue to provide as much as we can to support the Ukrainian people and the war effort. That is essential, both for Ukraine itself and for longer-term peace and stability in Europe.

As President Zelenskyy said in his address to the European Parliament in Brussels,

“This is our Europe, these are our rules, this is our way of life, and for Ukraine, it’s a way home, a way to its home.”

Slava Ukraini! Heroyam slava!

Meeting closed at 18:12.