SHARE
COPY LINK

UKRAINE

German prosecutors launch investigation into Ukraine war crimes

Germany's federal prosecutor has opened a probe into suspected war crimes by Russian troops since the invasion of Ukraine, authorities said Tuesday, amid international outrage over attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure.

A secondary school destroyed in the war, about 30 kilometres south of Kyiv, Ukraine.
A secondary school destroyed in the war, about 30 kilometres south of Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire | Mykhaylo Palinchak

“We will collect and secure all evidence of war crimes,” Justice Minister Marco Buschmann told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

Germany’s federal prosecution office in Karlsruhe has opened a so-called structural investigation to begin collecting evidence, he said.

A source in the office confirmed to AFP that a probe had been opened.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is “a serious violation of international law that cannot be justified by anything,” Buschmann added.

“Possible violations of international criminal law must be consistently prosecuted.”

READ ALSO: Russian energy imports ‘essential’ to Europeans’ lives, says German chancellor

A structural investigation does not target particular suspects, but aims to gather evidence of the suspected crimes and identify the structures behind them, such as the chain of command.

The evidence can then be used in future criminal proceedings against individual suspects.

Der Spiegel weekly reported that German prosecutors were spurred into action by reports of the use of cluster bombs by Russia, as well as images of residential areas being targeted, and attacks on a gas pipeline, a nuclear waste dump and a power plant.

Russia has come under intense criticism for its assault on Ukrainian cities, in operations that Kyiv and Western governments say have included
attacks on schools, hospitals and residential blocks.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that Washington has seen “very credible reports” that Russia has committed war crimes during its invasion of Ukraine.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague already announced last week that he was going ahead with an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion.

Germany has in the past repeatedly prosecuted atrocities committed abroad, including the war in Syria.

It does so using the legal principle of universal jurisdiction — which allows countries to try people for crimes of exceptional gravity, including war crimes and genocide, even if they were committed in a different country.

A German court in January sentenced a former Syrian colonel to life in jail for overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of 4,000 others at a Damascus detention centre a decade ago.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

UKRAINE

Reader question: Can Ukrainians get dual nationality in Germany?

Most non-EU citizens who want to become naturalised German citizens have to give up their existing passport first. Do the same rules apply to Ukrainians?

Reader question: Can Ukrainians get dual nationality in Germany?

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, people with Ukrainian citizenship were treated much like most other third-country nationals: according to Germany’s strict rules on dual nationality, the vast majority were asked to give up their existing passport before naturalising as a German.

However, the outbreak of war on Ukrainian soil has complicated matters significantly. 

Firstly, the majority of Ukrainians who have come to Germany over the past year have arrived as refugees. At the latest count, almost a million refugees had travelled to Germany from Ukraine in 2022 – though some of these may now have returned home.

German immigration law specifies a number of exceptions to the dual nationality ban. One of these stipulates that asylum seekers can keep their existing nationality if they choose to naturalise in Germany. That means that Ukrainian refugees would automatically qualify for dual nationality – as long as they meet other requirements for citizenship, such as at least six years of continued residency and B1 German language skills.

READ ALSO: German citizenship: Can people who apply before the law changes get dual nationality?

Most recently, however, the Interior Ministry passed a further significant change to the law. On September 6th, the ministry agreed to waive the requirement to give up previous nationalities for Ukrainian citizens applying for a German passport. This change applies to all Ukrainians who fit the requirements for citizenship – not just refugees.

The reasoning behind the change is that the government assumes that, given the current conflict, it’s likely to be impossible for Ukrainians to give up their citizenship.

Understandably at a time of war, numerous aspects of everyday bureaucracy have been put on hold in Ukraine. That means that applications to renounce Ukrainian citizenships are currently not being processed at all.

In situations like these, where an application to give up a previous citizenship is not likely to be granted – or is likely to be refused – Germany has another exception in place. In such cases, citizenship offices are required to allow the applicant to become a naturalised German without requiring them to dispense with their previous nationality. 

When is the best time to apply?

According to the Interior Ministry, the relaxed rules for Ukrainians will only apply as long as the conflict continues. That means that, if the situation stabilises and authorities begin processing applications to renounce citizenship again, Germany may well decide to tighten up its rules once more.

That means that it could be advisable for Ukrainians who are eligible to apply for German citizenship to submit their application as soon as possible.

However, it’s also worth mentioning that the government is currently planning to relax the dual nationality rules across the board.

Though it’s unclear when this will take place, it is believed to be a priority project for the SPD-led Interior Ministry, which could mean that citizenship rules are liberalised within a matter of months.

That would mean that everyone could be entitled to hold multiple nationalities in Germany, regardless of their original citizenship.

For more information on the upcoming changes to dual nationality and citizenship rules, see our explainers below: 

SHOW COMMENTS