Zelensky Calls for Putin to be Sentenced for War Crimes in Speech at The Hague

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian President Vladimir Putin should be sentenced for war crimes during a speech in The Hague on May 4.

“Of course we all want to see a different Vladimir here in The Hague – the one who deserves to be sentenced for these criminal actions, right here in the capital of international law,” Zelensky said, making a renewed call for a tribunal to investigate Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

“I’m sure we will see that happen when we win, and we will win,” he said, in remarks delivered in English, in the city where the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seated.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March. Credit: Volodymyr Zelensky via Storyful

Video transcript

- Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. For the vise prime minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, His Excellency Mr. Wopke Hoekstra.


WOPKE HOEKSTRA: Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, today is an important day in Netherlands. Today, we remember those who lost their lives in the Second World War and in wars and peace operations since then. But you gentlemen, it is a privilege and an honor to welcome an extraordinary guest today. President Zelenskyy, we are truly honored to have you here today. Welcome in The Hague.


Mr. President, welcome The Hague. Welcome in the city of peace and justice. Ladies and gentlemen, the war in our country and it's almost eight decades ago, and yet the memories still resonate. Almost every family still tells stories of the war, stories of loss, of fear of hunger. But also stories of bravery and resistance, of heroes who have fought for freedom and peace. And 78 years later, this war is still part of who we are.

So every year on this day, we remember. Every year, we think back of those who we lost. And tomorrow on Liberation Day, we remember that freedom must never be taken for granted. People have fought and died for it and they fight and die for it still.

And in Ukraine, as we all know, this freedom is under severe threat. Every day, Russian missiles tanks, drones, and soldiers attack it. And every day, brave Ukrainians step to protect it-- protect what is theirs. And President Zelenskyy, every day, since the illegal Russian invasion, you and your people have shown us what it means to fight for freedom. And we deeply admire you for doing that.

And please know that the Netherlands will continue to stand with you. We have supported you and we will continue to support you. First of all, with weapons because the harsh reality is that there is no substitute for success on the battlefield. But also with humanitarian aids with harboring refugees, and with help in rebuilding your wonderful country just as others have helped us rebuild ours.

Ladies and gentlemen, illegal wars cannot go unpunished. There cannot be peace without justice. It is the only answer. It is the only answer to aggression and war crimes. It is the only answer that will ensure a lasting peace. And that is a lesson we have learned from the war all those years ago. And it is a lesson we must continue to apply today.

Ukrainian prosecutors have registered 85,000 Russian war crimes since the beginning of the war. There is hundreds of crimes every single day. Men, women, and children are being covertly raped, tortured, and murdered. Schools, hospitals, and houses are being bombed. Children are being kidnapped every single day, every single day. And these are ordinary, innocent people who have done nothing to deserve this terrible fate.

And we can never accept this. And we will do everything in our power to ensure that Russia is being held to account. But we can only do this together, together with the International community, together with all those who want peace and believe in justice. And that is why we in the Netherlands strongly support accountability initiatives. It is why we sent forensic teams to Ukraine and is why we are ready and willing to host prosecution centers, damages registers, and courts here in The Hague.

These are important steps, but are only first steps. The road to accountability is long and full of setbacks. It requires perseverance and a special sense and a special kind of resoluteness. The kind I see every time I speak with you, Mr. President, and the kind I see in Ukrainians every single time I've had the opportunity to visit the country.

Mr. President, we're in this together. We will continue to support you, continue to support you in your fight for freedom, sovereignty, and just peace until you celebrate your own Liberation Day. Mr. President, dear Volodymyr, the floor is yours. Thank you.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Thank you very much. First of all-- first of all, I would like to thank you for your attention and your respect for Ukraine. And I have felt-- I have felt today. Thank you very much. This is attention and respect from people who value freedom and do not tolerate tyranny as much as we do not in Ukraine. Thank you very much.

Dear Minister Hoekstra, dear members of parliament, dear ambassadors and journalists, dear representatives of international organizations, political, and judicial communities, dear people. First of all, people, people of the Netherlands. And I am glad to be in your strong country now. Now, the land of freedom and justice, which are universal values. And it is about these things that I will speak today, of course.

Of course, we all want to see a different Vladimir here in The Hague, the one who deserves to be sentenced for these criminal actions right here in the capital of the international law. And I'm sure we will see that happen when we win, and we will win. And when we win not just on the battlefield, not just against this aggression.

Look at how countries around the world are coming together to help Ukrainians defend themselves. What is at the heart of this desire to help? The feeling that more than the faith of one country is at stake. The feeling that more can be achieved than the defeat of one aggressor.

We can now stop force of aggression as such. We can defeat aggression as a criminal idea that originates in the mindset of someone who is used to impunity. Impunity is the key that opens the door to aggression.

If you look at any war of aggression in the history, they all have one thing in common. The perpetrators of the war didn't believe they would have to stand to answer for what they did. They must stand to answer for war. Whoever brings war must receive judgment.

Ladies and gentlemen, defeating impunity of aggressors means destroying the origins of aggression. Victory in the war is won by force of arms. That's how the job gets done. And I'm grateful to you and the Netherlands for every peaceful weapon supplied to Ukraine, for everything that helps us to maintain our defense and gradually prepare our active actions.

But we know that the lasting peace after victory is achieved by nothing else, but the strength of values, first of all, it's the strength of freedom and of law, which must work to the full of ensured justice.

Not hybrid promises instead of human rights. Real freedom. Not hybrid impunity and symbolic formalities, but full scale justice. Not hybrid peace and constant flashes of violence on the front line, but reliable peace. When one respects values, true freedom, true justice, true peace is respected instead of hybrid forms, but it's exactly what we need now.

When I think about our number. Now, this number is 6,139. This is the number-- the tragic number war crimes committed by the Russian occupiers this April alone. These Russian crimes led to the deaths of 207 Ukrainian civilians. Among them are 11 children [INAUDIBLE]. Another 17 children and 400 adults were injured in a month alone.

And the full-scale Russian invasion has been going on for the 15th month just yesterday. It was yesterday. In our Kherson region alone, Russia killed 23 people. 49 were wounded. I'm speaking about civilians. And it all started more than nine years ago with the occupation of our land with the occupation of Crimea and Russia's bloody hybrid war in the Donbas.

Thousands and thousands of war crimes thousands and thousands of victims. The Russian rockets that killed 23 people in the city of Oman and each of the millions of strikes fired by Russian artillery in the Donbas, every person killed by the occupiers in Bucha and every filtration camp that Russia set up on our independent land, every prisoner who was tortured in the Russian captivity, and every city deliberately burned by Russia, and all the pain suffered by the-- by the Dutch people after the downing of MH17 flight with the use of the Russian weapons by the Russian hands, exactly by the Russian hands. And please observe a minute of silence in memory of all those whose lives were taken by Russia by each terror, please.

Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, France, only one Russian crime led to all of these crimes. This is a crime of aggression, the start of evil, the primary crime. There should be responsibility for this crime, and it can only be enforced by the tribunal Europe. And the world have already had to deal with something like this.

As a result, we can see the falling wars in the text of the judgment of the International tribunal in Nuremberg to initiate a war. A war of aggression is not only an international crime. It is a supreme international crime differing only from other-- other war crimes in that, it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

That's absolutely true. We must transform the experience of the Nuremberg process into an operating rule. That's why we insist on the tribunal creation. When there is a tradition of inevitable punishment of aggression, then there will be a tradition of guaranteed non-repetition of aggression.

If we want true justice, we should not look for excuses and should not refer to the shortcomings of the current international law but make bold decisions that we-- that will correct the shortcomings of those norms that, unfortunately, exist in international law. This is exactly what the creators of Nuremberg did. We should do the same now.

It would be a weakness for you, and for us, and for all of the nations to live full justice only to history. It would be unfair to our children and our grandchildren to hand them problems that we can't solve. That's what the tribunal is for.

The-- the sustainability of peace arises from the complete justice towards the aggressor. Ladies and gentlemen, it is wrong that someone in the world is still afraid to give full force to justice. You and I are not afraid, and I am sure most of the world is not afraid.

The aggressor must fear the full power of justice, only him. Yet, this is our historical responsibility of the modern generation to make the total punishment for aggression inevitable to prevent the aggression against our country and also new wars. There are potential aggressors in the world, and the world must see justice to see peace fully, fully secured.

Ukrainian courts will ensure responsibility for most of the crimes of the Russian occupiers. And I'm am very thankful to the International Criminal Court and to their entire team working at-- and with the ICC for the sake of Justice. But only one institution is capable of responding to the original crime, the crime of aggression, a tribunal. Tribunal, not something hybrid that can formally close the topic. Not some compromise that will allow politicians to say that the case is allegedly done but a true.

We need true-- true full-fledged tribunal, true and full justice. And I'm thankful to you-- the people, the leaders of the Netherlands, prime minister, the government, the parliament for being with us on this path. It's so important for us. And I thank you for supporting the establishment of the special tribunal, and I'm grateful that the International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression will work right here in The Hague, and same here in The Hague. The register of damages from aggression will be established.

And this is a step forward to creating a compensation, mechanism. Damages from aggression must be compensated at the expense of the assets of the aggressor himself. And this is also a punishment for war As well as justice.

I thank you for the fact that for you and us, justice really matters. Thank you, the Netherlands. Let's-- let justice really work.

And [INAUDIBLE] today-- as always, and always on the 4th of May at 8 o'clock in the evening, you will all honor-- honor the memory of all those whose lives were taken away by the-- by the wars, by the Second World War. In other words, please, also remember Ukrainians, men and women, adults and children, who would have been alive now but-- but for this aggression. The war we didn't want, the one we have to make the last, and we'll do it [INAUDIBLE] Ukraine. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Minister.