The Russian invasion of Ukraine: what the international legal community can do to help

Thursday 21 April 2022

Deborah Farone
Farone Advisors, New York

The webinar titled ‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine: How can the legal profession provide support to Ukraine?’ took place on 6 April 2022 and was expertly moderated by Joanna Weller of LexisNexis, who is also the Co-Chair of the IBA Rule of Law Forum.

The IBA Law Firm Management Committee spearheaded the creation of this webinar as part two of the Russian invasion of Ukraine series and the recording is available here. Part one can be viewed here.

Wayne Jordash QC, Managing Partner at Global Rights Compliance, said that in the future, there will be a need for people who can provide on-the-ground support. ‘People who know their way around the battlefield and search for the ugly truth whenever possible will be needed.’ It will be essential for them to study the local laws. He warned audience members not to go at this alone, but to coordinate with local agencies. ‘You don't want multiple people interviewing multiple witnesses,’ said Jordash. He stressed that this was not a short-term project and that the international community will need to focus on this for the long term.

‘Even in war, international law has its own rules, but not for Russia. They have even managed to create new kinds of crimes,’ said Anna Ogrenchuk, President of the Ukrainian Bar Association, based in Kyiv. She pointed out, ‘this is one of the challenges we as international lawyers have to face.’ Ogrenchuk remarked how grateful her group was for the support of the various bar associations and lawyers worldwide. However, she pointed out the difficulty and intricacies that will still need to be sorted out from a legal standpoint.

Wendy Betts is Director of eyeWitness to Atrocities, an initiative of the IBA. The organisation works with human rights defenders worldwide and has been working in Ukraine since 2017. Their efforts have been made possible through advances in technology, particularly cell phone usage, to record crimes and related volatile situations. As footage and metadata of this type needs to be verified in order to be used for legal purposes, they have developed an app that helps create footage that cannot be edited or deleted, keeping the integrity of the data and saving it in a closed system. The validity is closely maintained through a chain of custody backed by technology donated by LexisNexis.

Jörg Menzer of Noerr leads the firm's Bucharest office and is Chair of the IBA Section on Public and Professional Interest (SPPI). He asked the group specifically what could be done by private practice lawyers and what they should consider as the next steps.

Irina Paliashvili asked that anyone listening to her find some way to support Ukraine. As a first step, Irina said, ‘write letters to your government and your media. In democratic countries, leaders are listening to their people’.

Paliashvili is the Managing Partner and co-founder of RULG-Ukrainian Legal Group and is based in Kyiv. She is also a Member of the SPPI Council Advisory Board. She pointed out that Russia is still a part of the UN Security Council, Human Rights Council and other UN groups, and questioned why that was the case and why they should be allowed veto rights over any decisions. As for the next steps by the UN and NATO, she stressed that a no-fly zone would help save civilian lives.

Ogrenchuk pointed out that she and the Ukrainian Bar Association members feel the support from the global legal community. She had several recommendations and suggested that a first step may be the housing of refugee lawyers. She reiterated that lawyers need to ensure that their firms and clients are not providing services to companies operating in Russia. She stated, ‘all taxes and investments made in the Russian Federation are spent on financing military work and the Russian war machine’.

Jordash said: ‘We live in a vast and fast news cycle. We need stamina. We need to know this will not be over tomorrow. If the war ends tomorrow, it still isn't done.' He pointed out that there will be a need for rebuilding and for the administration of justice.

He also advised that if you are getting involved without local coordination, it may cause more harm than good. Reaching out to him or the Ukrainian Bar Association is an excellent place to start, as they are setting up structures and working with local prosecutors to see where help is needed and what can be done. ‘All of those trials and accountability will occur afterward’, said Jordash. ‘We will need to coordinate and document.’

For more information about what you can do to help, visit this website.