The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor says he has sent a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine as part of a probe into suspected war crimes during Russia’s invasion.
- The International Criminal Court has sent 42 investigators to Ukraine to search for evidence of war crimes
- US says new program will document evidence of Russian war crimes to be used in ongoing and future accountability mechanisms
- Serbia says it received nearly 100 bomb threats at schools and public venues because of the country’s refusal to sanction Russia
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said that the team “will significantly enhance the impact of our forensic and investigative actions on the ground”.
Mr Khan says the team will improve the gathering of witness testimony, the identification of forensic materials and help ensure that “evidence is collected in a manner that strengthens its admissibility in future proceedings” at the Netherlands-based court.
It comes as a Ukrainian court on Friday held a preliminary hearing in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia’s February 24 invasion, after charging a captured Russian soldier with the murder of a 62-year-old civilian.
Several thousand civilians are believed to have died since Russia’s invasion, but figures are impossible to verify.
Incidents of summary executions and the use of cluster bombs by Russian forces have regularly been reported.
To be classed as crimes against humanity, attacks have to be part of what the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, calls “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population”.
Mr Khan says that “now more than ever we need to show the law in action” in Ukraine.
The ICC said on April 25 it would take part in a joint team with Ukrainian, Polish and Lithuanian prosecutors investigating war crimes allegations against Russian forces.
US launches program to document war crimes
The US State Department on Tuesday announced the launch of a new program to capture and analyse evidence of war crimes and other atrocities allegedly perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine, as Washington sought to ensure Moscow was held accountable for its actions.
The State Department in a statement said the so-called Conflict Observatory would encompass documentation, verification and dissemination of open-source evidence of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Reports and analyses would be made available through the Conflict Observatory’s website.
US President Joe Biden has hammered Russia over what he calls “major war crimes” committed in Ukraine, and has underscored his resolve to hold Moscow accountable for launching the largest land war in Europe since World War Two.
The Kyiv government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.
Russia denies targeting civilians and says, without evidence, that signs of atrocities were staged.
The US State Department said the new program, which is being established with an initial $6 million ($8.5 million) investment, will analyse and preserve information, including satellite imagery and information shared on social media, so it can be used in ongoing and future accountability mechanisms.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the United States has been engaged through a variety of mechanisms to collect and document evidence of potential war crimes and atrocities with relevant prosecutors, state entities and organisations.
But the new program, he told reporters, would share those findings for the public and authorities in areas of appropriate jurisdiction, including within Ukraine and possibly the United States, “so that prosecutors can potentially even build criminal cases based on the material that is published.”
Ukraine has little experience in prosecuting such cases. Its parliament last year adopted legislation to provide a legal framework for war crimes prosecutions in line with international practice, Zera Kozlyieva, deputy head of the war crimes unit in the prosecutor general’s office, said last month.
She said the country had only convicted three individuals previously for crimes between 2014 and the February invasion this year. Those were related to the conflict in the disputed Donbas region and Crimea, which was annexed by Russia.
Serbian PM’s bizarre bomb hoax claim
Serbia’s Prime Minister alleged on Tuesday that nearly 100 bomb threats that have prompted mass evacuations of schools and public venues were part of pressure from abroad over Belgrade’s refusal to sanction Russia over the war in Ukraine.
Emailed threats have been sent to more than 90 schools, and venues including the presidency building, bridges, shopping malls, restaurants, Belgrade’s zoo and a football stadium.
No explosive devices were found when bomb disposal teams searched the locations on Monday and Tuesday.
Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said, without providing evidence or giving further details, that the hoaxes originated from abroad because of Serbia’s stance on Russia.
Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said the bomb hoaxes were part of special warfare against Serbia, adding that the police, which come under his ministry, were investigating.
Serbia, a candidate for EU membership, is almost entirely dependent on gas and oil from Russia, a traditional Orthodox Christian and Slavic ally.
It also maintains close political and military ties with Moscow.
In April, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Ukraine and an unidentified EU country of being behind a series of hoax bomb threats against Air Serbia planes which maintain regular flights to Moscow.
Ukraine dismissed Mr Vucic’s allegations as “baseless”.