Withers Joins New Task Force On War Crimes In Ukraine

Law360 (March 31, 2022, 3:55 PM EDT) -- International law firm Withers is providing pro bono advice to the Ukrainian government as part of a new war crimes legal task force, according to an announcement.

The Task Force on Accountability for Crimes Committed in Ukraine will advise the Eastern European government on proposals for winning accountability for Russian war crimes committed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, legal cases concerning those crimes, and Ukraine's cooperation with the International Criminal Court, the announcement from Withers said.

The task force was launched Tuesday and was originally announced by the Ukrainian prosecutor general. It has already begun its work, according to Emma Lindsay, Withers international arbitration partner and chair of the firm's U.S. pro bono program.

"As a lawyer, a pro bono advocate, and a compassionate human being it is my hope that ultimately the work of the task force will play an important role in preserving the lives and dignity of fellow human beings, and the restoration of the rule of law," Lindsay told Law360 Thursday.

"I am honored to serve on the task force with the support of a team of dedicated Withers lawyers from across our offices worldwide," she said.

The task force's legal advice could potentially cover efforts to use the United Nations and regional organizations to hold Russia accountable for war crimes, according to Lindsay. It could also encompass possible representation in civil and criminal cases under universal jurisdiction laws aimed at winning criminal accountability and reparations.

Over 15 Withers attorneys from the firm's U.S. and U.K. offices will participate in the task force, according to the firm's announcement.

The task force will also include law firms Covington & Burling LLP and Sygna Partners, as well as several international human rights lawyers, the head of the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute and a former president of the U.K. Supreme Court, the announcement added.

The Consulate General of Ukraine in New York did not respond to requests for further comment Thursday.

Withers, which recently represented Ukraine in arbitration with an Estonian casino operator, is not the only law firm to leap to the country's defense in the weeks since Russia's invasion.

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP recently announced that it was representing Ukraine in its case against Russia before the European Court of Human Rights.

Morrison & Foerster LLP is providing pro bono counsel to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office, including guidance on Western sanctions imposed after Russia's invasion, the firm said in a filing with the U.S. Department of Justice.

And the country has enlisted the help of Covington & Burling in a proceeding at the International Court of Justice in which Ukraine has asked the court to order Russia to stop all military action.

The ICJ did order Russia this month to halt its invasion of Ukraine amid allegations that the Kremlin's actions violate international law, but Russia has not participated in the proceeding, claiming that the court lacks jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, a coalition of international law professors, barristers, human rights officials and former heads of state has also proposed establishing a Nuremberg trials-like tribunal to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials for the country's invasion.

Other firms have stepped up to help Ukrainian refugees and asylum-seekers and to take on projects such as fundraising, advocacy and the documentation of war crimes.

--Additional reporting by Caroline Simson, Humberto J. Rocha, Lauren Berg, Jessica Corso and Emma Cueto. Editing by Patrick Reagan.

Update: This story has been updated with more information about the task force and comment from a Withers partner.

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