By Edith M. Lederer | Associated press
UNITED NATIONS – For the first time, key actors seeking accountability for atrocities committed during the war in Ukraine have come together in an informal meeting of the UN Security Council to boost investigations into abuses that many Western countries blame on Russia.
Wednesday’s session included the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, the chairman of the UN commission of inquiry, the chief prosecutor of Ukraine and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who has opened more than 8,000 investigations into alleged violations of the laws and customs of war, said “Russia’s actions constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes” and that the scheme “resembles the crime of genocide”.
Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka, who co-sponsored and chaired the meeting, said that as a member of the Security Council with veto power, Russia is supposed to be the guardian of international peace but has “launched a war of choice against a neighbour”. committing immeasurable crimes in the process.
France’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Nathalie Broadhurst, the other co-sponsor, said the images of atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and other areas after the withdrawal of Russian forces ” are intolerable” and may constitute war crimes.
Beth Van Schaack, U.S. Goodwill Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, said the U.S. has concluded Russia committed war crimes, pointing to credible reports of individuals being killed in the style of execution, bodies showing signs of torture and “horrifying accounts of sexual violence”. against women and girls. She said Russia’s political and military leaders and the base will be held accountable.
The legal chief of the Russian UN mission, Sergey Leonidchenko, rejected their statements, saying: “What we heard today was another part of unsubstantiated allegations and even counterfeits seasoned with lies, hypocrisy and pompous rhetoric.”
Russia has denied responsibility for the atrocities and has repeatedly blamed Ukrainian nationalists and “neo-Nazis”.
Leonidchenko said that the Ukrainians responsible for all these “heinous crimes will be brought to justice”. He said Russia was collecting witness statements and evidence from across Ukraine, including the besieged city of Mariupol. He said Russia planned to hold an informal council meeting on May 6 to present what he claimed were “facts, not fakes.”
The other board members – Mexico, Gabon, Ghana, Brazil, India, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates – did not seek blame. They said investigations must establish the facts behind the killings and attacks.
China, which is close to Russia, said the cause of civilian deaths must be established and verified. “Any accusation must be based on facts before the full picture is clear,” said Chinese diplomat Huang Lijin.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said a record number of 43 countries had referred the situation in Ukraine to the court, which is responsible for prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It opened an investigation on March 2 and said nine other European countries were also carrying out investigations. On Monday, he said, the ICC for the first time signed an agreement for a joint investigative team with Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.
“This is a time when we must mobilize the law and send it into battle, not on the side of Ukraine against the Russian Federation or on the side of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, but on the side of humanity to protect, to preserve, to protect people… who have certain basic rights,” Khan said.
Calling it “a critical moment”, he said it was time to uphold the law and move quickly to gather evidence. He said he deployed a team to the area immediately after announcing the investigation and had visited Ukraine twice and would do so again.
Khan told the council that he had sent three communications to Russia and received no response, and he welcomed Leonidchenko’s presence before the Russian spoke. “My door is open,” Khan told her.
Leonidchenko criticized the ICC, saying the court is not impartial. Khan then told reporters he was neither for nor against Russia or Ukraine, saying the court was only interested in upholding the law.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed strong support for the ICC after seeing the devastation in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha on Thursday and called on Russia to cooperate with the court. He said the “horrible” scene in Bucha, where tortured bodies and mass graves were found after Russian troops withdrew, made him feel how important it is to have “thorough investigation and accounts To give back”.
British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said the UK “supports international efforts to deliver justice” and will provide £1 million ($1.25 million) in additional funding to the ICC.
France’s Broadhurst said her government sent two judges and 10 investigators to join the ICC team in Ukraine and made an additional contribution of 500,000 euros ($525,000) to support its work.
Van Schaack said the United States, which is not a party to the ICC, supports his investigation into the atrocities in Ukraine.
Norwegian judge Erik Mose, who chairs the UN Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry, said he was recruiting staff and would investigate all alleged violations of human rights and international law humanitarian aid, building on the work of United Nations human rights monitors in Ukraine. He said he would establish contact with the ICC “in the near future” and seek to contact Russia and Ukraine, victims, civil society groups, governments and others.
Mose emphasized the independence of his commission and its mandate “to identify, to the extent possible, individuals and entities responsible for human rights violations or abuses of international humanitarian law or other crimes related”.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s human rights chief, reiterated that war crimes may have taken place “and that efforts to redress violations must begin now”. As of Wednesday, she said, her office had documented and verified 2,787 civilians killed and 3,152 injured, with actual numbers “significantly higher” and increasing.
Amal Clooney, who represented the Clooney Foundation for Justice, urged the council not to let the efforts falter.
“What worries me as I sit here today is that the resolute action we have seen in the first 50 days of this war will prove to be the culmination rather than the starting point of the legal and diplomatic response – your actions slowly blending into a predictable pattern, a multitude of investigations, committees and reports and a dearth of prosecutions, convictions and sentences, politicians seeking justice but not delivering it.
“We can’t let this happen,” she said.