US sees “systemic” war crimes by Russia in Ukraine

US sees “systemic” war crimes by Russia in Ukraine


Russians have been killing, torturing and kidnapping Ukrainians in a systematic pattern that could implicate top officials in war crimes, the US State Department’s ambassador to global criminal justice said Monday.

Evidence is mounting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “was accompanied by systematic war crimes committed in all regions where Russian forces were stationed,” said Beth Van Schaack, Ambassador to Large.

Evidence from liberated areas points to “deliberate, indiscriminate and disproportionate” attacks against civilian populations, ill-treatment of civilians and prisoners of war in detention, forcible expulsion or filtration of Ukrainian citizens – including children – to Russia, as well as execution-like killings and sexual violence, she told reporters.

“When we see such systemic actions, including the creation of a huge filtering network, it’s very difficult to imagine how these crimes could be committed without accountability going up the entire chain of command,” she said.

Representing the United States on global panels investigating war crimes and other atrocities, Van Schaack called the current situation a “new Nuremberg moment,” a nod to the war crimes trials that took place in the German city at the end of World War II.

She said in a briefing for reporters that Russia’s nine-month-old attack on Ukraine has sparked an “unprecedented series of accountability initiatives” involving numerous bodies in addition to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The bodies are coordinating to develop priorities and approaches “under all available legal bases,” she said.

Van Schaack declined to say specifically whether Russian President Vladimir Putin could be prosecuted for war crimes in Ukraine.

But she said prosecutors would “follow the evidence where it leads”.

Under international law, the doctrine of senior responsibility allows law enforcement “to go up the entire chain of command,” she said.

She also said human rights advocates are closely examining a video that surfaced over the weekend that suggests Ukrainian troops may have killed Russian prisoners of war.

Russia said the deaths were “murder,” but Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets claimed the prisoners opened fire on Ukrainian forces after the surrender, resulting in them being killed by return fire.

“Of course we are following this very closely. It’s really important to emphasize that martial law applies equally to all parties,” said Van Schaack.

Nonetheless, she added: “If we look at the sheer scale of crime exhibited by the Russian Armed Forces, it is enormous compared to the allegations we’ve seen against Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

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