Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has resulted in devastating human costs, as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack noted at a recent press briefing. “We have seen thousands of civilians killed, millions of Ukrainian citizens forced to flee their homes. Many have become refugees in other countries, and historic cities have been pounded to rubble,” she said.
The government of Russia’s war of aggression against a sovereign state is a manifest violation of the United Nations Charter. Members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the crimes of murder, rape, torture, and, along with other Russian officials, deportation of Ukraine’s population, including children.
“There is mounting evidence,” said Ambassador Van Schaack, “that these mass atrocities are being committed in every region of Ukraine, wherever Russia’s forces are deployed.”
“Winning the war is more than just winning on the battlefield; it also means winning the fight for justice,” she declared. It is imperative that justice and accountability remain a focus of the international community.
The Ambassador observed that currently there are three operational pathways to investigate war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. The first involves Ukraine’s own domestic courts. Ukraine’s prosecutor general has already recorded over 70,000 potential war crimes and other atrocities. The Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, established by the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, is supporting Ukraine’s prosecutor general by sending in experts to help document, preserve and analyze evidence.
The second pathway is the International Criminal court. The ICC is engaged because the government of Ukraine consented to its jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed in Ukraine since February 20, 2014, when Russia seized Crimea.
Finally, Ambassador Van Schaack said domestic courts around the world, particularly in Europe, are opening investigations of war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine under the principles of universal jurisdiction, which allow for the prosecution of crimes committed outside a country’s territory.
“Russia’s war against Ukraine presents a profound moral issue that the international community needs to grapple with,” said Ambassador Van Schaack. “It is only if we have robust accountability that the deterrence impact will be at its greatest, so other world leaders will think twice before they launch a war of aggression in a way that President Putin has done so.”