Nations discuss coordinating Ukraine war crimes probes

Government officials from dozens of nations are meeting Thursday in the Netherlands to discuss with the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor how best to coordinate efforts to bring perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine to justice.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, his military forces have been accused of abuses ranging from killings in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. 

In a statement Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Moscow to halt forced deportations in areas of Ukraine controlled by Russia, saying an estimated 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainians have been “interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported” to Russia.

“Moscow’s actions appear premeditated and draw immediate historical comparisons to Russian ‘filtration’ operations in Chechnya and other areas,” Blinken said. “President Putin’s ‘filtration’ operations are separating families, confiscating Ukrainian passports and issuing Russian passports in an apparent effort to change the demographic makeup of parts of Ukraine.”

Blinken said Putin and his government “will not be able to engage in these systematic abuses with impunity. Accountability is imperative. This is why we are supporting Ukrainian and international authorities’ efforts to collect, document, and preserve evidence of atrocities. Together, we are dedicated to holding perpetrators of war crimes and other atrocities accountable.”

Some 40 nations from the European Union and around the world will be represented at Thursday’s conference that is hosted by Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan and European Union Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the government representatives in recorded video messages before they meet behind closed doors to discuss coordinating investigations and evidence gathering as the ICC and different countries pursue war crimes cases.

The meeting comes as investigations already are underway at the national and international levels. Among the topics is how investigators from different countries can collect and document evidence, including of sexual crimes so that it can be used in other jurisdictions.

So far, the court has not announced any arrest warrants for suspects in the probe that could reach the very top of Russia’s military chain of command, as well as the Kremlin.

The ICC is a court of last resort that opens cases when other countries are unwilling or unable to launch prosecutions. The Hague-based court has no police force to make arrests and relies on assistance from other countries to detain suspects.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine are among the court’s 123 member states, but Kyiv has accepted the court’s jurisdiction. Ukraine, whose Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, plans to attend The Hague conference, has opened thousands of war crimes investigations since hostilities began.

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