US and allies: Hold Russia accountable for Ukraine crimes

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States and its allies vowed Thursday to hold Russia accountable for crimes committed by its forces that invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and gave strong support to investigations by the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and other bodies.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Uzra Zeya told a U.N. Security Council meeting on strengthening accountability and justice for serious violations of international law that in nearly 100 days the world has seen Russian forces bomb maternity hospitals, train stations, apartment buildings and homes and kill civilians cycling down the street.

“We’ve received credible reports of Russian forces torturing and committing execution style killings of people with their hands bound behind their back,” she said. “We’ve received reports of women and girls being raped, some publicly, and children taken away into Russia and put up for adoption. And we know that Russian forces continue to deny safe passage to civilians fleeing violence, and to humanitarian organizations trying to reach those in need.”

Zeya said the United States is working with its allies to support a broad range of international investigations into atrocities in Ukraine. And she said the Biden administration has a message for Russia’s political and military leaders: “The world is watching you, and you will be held accountable.”

Ireland’s Attorney General Paul Gallagher welcomed the many efforts over the last three months to support calls for justice in Ukraine. He said Ireland was one of 41 countries that quickly referred the situation in Ukraine to the ICC, which has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff to investigate Russian crimes and support the country’s efforts.

Ireland is also encouraged by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s establishment of an Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine and the “significant and welcome coordination” of investigation efforts, he said.

“If we are to achieve justice for victims and survivors, it is essential that we ensure that this momentum is maintained and that these investigations ultimately result in fair and impartial criminal prosecutions where there is evidence to support them,” Gallagher said.

Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador James Kariuki called Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified aggression against Ukraine” a violation of international law and the U.N. Charter.

While Russia’s veto power has blocked the Security Council from taking action on Ukraine, he said, it has not prevented “the international system from taking steps to pursue justice.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Western nations of “hypocrisy” for suddenly seeking international criminal justice over what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine,

In sharp contrast, he claimed that during NATO attacks in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria “international law was perceived only as an annoying impediment” and alleged war crimes went unpunished.

Nebenzia also accused the West of using the ICC “as a political tool,” claiming that “neither the ICC nor the West are bothered about numerous crimes of the Kyiv regime” that came to power in 2014 and continues to attack civilians in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The Russian military recently launched a major offensive in Donbas and its officials have said Moscow’s main goal is to “liberate” the region which is the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces there since 2014, when Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president was driven from office by protests.

The Security Council meeting was presided over by Albania’s Prime Miniater Edi Rama who spoke more broadly about accountability saying “basic values enshrined in the growing body of international law, humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international criminal law continue to be systematically and grossly violated.”

Rama, whose country holds the council presidency this month, said that by failing to hold the Syrian regime accountable “for its crimes against its own people” during the country’s 11-year war “we may have encouraged atrocities elsewhere.”

He said Russia’s “reprehensible” aggression against Ukraine “has violated everything this council stands for — the values, the norms, the law and the respect we owe each other as responsible members of the same community of nations.”

“Horrible crimes committed are uncovered every day,” Rama said. “This calls for accountability.”

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that “impunity fuels and intensifies” many crises and “emboldens perpetrators, silences victims and undermines prospects for peace, human rights and development.”

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