WAR crimes committed by Russian troops in Ukraine can be investigated only once the fighting stops, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. He was speaking on BBC Question Time on Thursday evening.
Responding to a questioner who asked how Russia could be held accountable for war crimes in Ukraine, the Archbishop spoke of his lasting memories of mediation in war zones, particularly in South Sudan in 2014. He spoke of “standing beside — consecrating — a mass grave, with the bodies of those who had been killed at my feet. . .
“When you do that, the first thing you recognise is that you never deal with the war crimes until the fighting stops. So the first priority has to be pressure and encouragement to bring a ceasefire . . . because, while guns sound, nobody is going to deal with war crimes.”
Justice would take a long time to achieve, he said, as it did in Bosnia and Darfur. Speaking of Ukraine and Russia, he went on: “The longer it goes on, the worse war crimes get. Wars get harder, more horrible, more cruel, more foul with every day that passes.
“Yes, we have to investigate the war crimes, we have to make sure that people are held to account, either publicly, or, best of all, in a court. But, first of all, we have to get a ceasefire, and that has to be the top priority. Because, at the heart of this, it’s not the rulers — they will be held to account . . . by God, if not before.
“But I also have been with the victims often enough, in enough places, to know that they’re the ones who matter at the moment. We go for the people who are suffering, and try and stop the suffering before it gets worse. And that’s going to mean sanctions, but it also means diplomacy.”
The debate led one of the other panellists, Dan Hodges, a columnist for The Mail on Sunday, to observe: “Some day, we’re going to have to say ‘Never again’, and mean it.”
Archbishop Welby was also appearing alongside the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, Greg Hands; the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry; and the author and executive editor of Vice UK, Zing Tsjeng.
Asked about climate change, the Archbishop said that, for the Provinces of the Anglican Communion, it was not “a future thing”: floods and changes in rainfall patterns were happening now, and would drive more migration and conflict.
In answer to the question, was the Government’s energy strategy “too little, too late”, the Archbishop spoke of his meeting the previous week with the Primates of the Anglican Communion (News, 31 March).
“We have to do our bit, and make sure other countries do theirs,” he said, describing the strategy as “a good long-term strategy in some ways”; but, with reference to foodbanks and people struggling to pay household bills, he wanted to see subsidies now for home insulation.
Mr Hands attracted ridicule from some of the audience by insisting that the £200 offered by the Government to help households struggling with energy bills was not a loan but a levy. “Don’t patronise us. It’s a loan,” said one.
The non-dom status and tax affairs of the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’s, wife, provoked the question: was the Chancellor “oblivious to people’s finances and struggles?” Ms Thornberry was unequivocal: surely someone made the decision whether they were going to live here permanently or not? Ordinary working people were the ones who paid their taxes. Her call for a change of law on non-dom status went down well with the audience.
The Archbishop observed that, when it came to talking about individuals, “we lose the plot. When you pay taxes, you pay for the benefits of being in the country where you are living. There’s a real problem with non-dom status,” he said.
He spoke of a time when he could not get a job in England, but got one in France, which paid £2200 pounds a year. “I paid tax on my global income: French tax,” he said. “But it is an old established rule that you shouldn’t pay more tax than you [have to] pay.”
Question Time came from Canterbury, and the final questioner wanted to know whether, given the disruption caused by Brexit and the troubles at P&O (News, 18 March; Comment, 25 March), the Government should increase resources to prevent Kent being turned into a giant lorry park. He reported that 22 miles of the motorway had been closed that day. One audience member had spent six hours in his car that week, “just trying to get to work”.
The Archbishop suggested the problem had been going on for years, for a variety of reasons, and, every time it happened, people were unable to get to work and to hospital. “You find absolute chaos in towns near the major roads,” he said. “We have to look at local communities and support them.” Loud applause followed his call for more money for county councils, and more places for lorries to park, with lavatories, water, and food provided.