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How Sweden is working to hold Russia accountable for crimes in Ukraine


Holding Russia accountable for its violations of international law is a key issue for the Swedish Government. It is essential for justice and redress, both for Ukraine as a State and for the victims of Russia’s war crimes, but also to maintain the rules-based world order. Sweden is backing several initiatives in this area.

Support for International Criminal Court investigations

With the support of Sweden and 42 other States, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) were able to begin investigating violations under the Court’s jurisdiction in Ukraine as early as March 2022. These violations include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Sweden has supported the ICC’s work with a contribution of SEK 7 million to the Office of the Prosecutor, on top of Sweden’s annual contribution to the Court of SEK 30 million. In addition, the Swedish Prosecution Authority has seconded three prosecutors to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, and the Swedish Police Authority has seconded six investigators. 

Establishing a tribunal for the crime of aggression

ICC investigations do not include the actual crime of aggression, i.e. the individual responsibility of those in leadership positions for a State’s use of violence against another sovereign State. For this reason, Sweden is part of a core group working with Ukraine to establish a tribunal with jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.

During the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the important decision was taken to establish an international centre for prosecution of the crime of aggression against Ukraine at the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (EUROJUST).

Extensive collaboration to document and gather evidence

Ukraine’s authorities are working hard to prosecute and investigate crimes committed. They have the support of the EU, the UN, civil society and individual States. Sweden is contributing staff to the EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) Ukraine, which provides on-the-ground support to the national authorities. Sweden has also helped the Ukrainian authorities with capacity-building and provided technical assistance and legal advice to facilitate the investigatory work.

Together with other countries, Sweden backed the decision of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2022 to set up the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine to investigate suspected violations and abuses in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Through Sida, Sweden also supports the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), which monitors and reports infringements and violations of human rights, and supports investigating authorities in Ukraine.

Within the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Sweden pushed for the Organisation to send a mission of experts to Ukraine (through the Moscow Mechanism). The experts concluded that there are clear patterns of violations of international humanitarian law by Russian forces. Based on their reports, it may be possible for the ICC and other prosecuting authorities to hold perpetrators accountable.

Preliminary investigation also under way in Sweden

Sweden has universal jurisdiction for serious international crimes. This means that certain acts can be examined by Swedish courts no matter where they were committed, even if the suspect is a foreign citizen. Since March 2022, the Swedish Prosecution Authority has been conducting a ‘structural preliminary investigation’ on serious war crimes in Ukraine. The aim is to gather evidence that may exist in Sweden, such as testimonies from Ukrainian refugees. The evidence can then be used in legal proceedings in Sweden, in courts of other States or in the ICC. Other EU Member States have also launched preliminary investigations. These are coordinated by EUROJUST in collaboration with Ukraine and the ICC.

Russia’s accountability as a State

Ukraine is also pushing for Russia to be held accountable as a State. Sweden has submitted a declaration of intervention in the case brought by Ukraine against Russia on the interpretation of the Genocide Convention before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In its decision of March 2022, the ICJ ordered Russia to immediately suspend its military operations in Ukraine. This decision is binding on Russia.

Sweden has also requested to intervene in the case of Ukraine v Russia before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR has on multiple occasions granted interim measures indicating that Russia must refrain from attacking civilians and civilan objects, and ensure that safety is maintained for the civilian population.

Sweden voted for the November 2022 Resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the UN recommending establishing an international register to document evidence and claims against Russia. The Resolution also recommends establishing a mechanism for reparations.

Under the leadership of the Swedish Presidency, a working group has been established in the EU to investigate how frozen Russian assets could be used to support the rebuilding of Ukraine in a way that is compatible with EU law and international law and within the scope of EU sanctions.

Important progress

  • On 17 March 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova. The Court found that there is reasonable cause to assume that they are guilty of the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia. The arrest warrants are an important step forward in the investigation.
  • Under the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the EU took the important decision to establish an international centre for prosecution of the crime of aggression against Ukraine at the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (EUROJUST).
  • The final report from the fact-finding mission for Ukraine established by the UN Human Rights Council identified war crimes committed by Russian forces, including systematic use of torture, attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions and cases of sexual violence and rape.
  • Reports from the OSCE established clear patterns of violations of international humanitarian law by Russian forces.