International Criminal Court to open probe into alleged Russian war crimes ‘as rapidly as possible’

Prosecutor calls for restraint in Ukraine as court seeks go ahead for investigation

Liam James
Monday 28 February 2022 23:44
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Huge explosion in Kyiv shortly after Ukraine-Russia negotiations end

The International Criminal Court (ICC) plans to open an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine “as rapidly as possible”, the organisation’s chief prosecutor said.

Karim Khan said the investigation will look at alleged crimes committed before the Russian invasion and any new allegations in the days since Moscow’s forces crossed over the border.

Several countries and NGOs had called for an ICC probe as Russian artillery hit civilian targets in cities across Ukraine.

On Monday, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Yevheniia Filipenko, claimed Russia had been “targeting kindergartens and orphanages, hospitals and mobile medical aid brigades”. She said these attacks could class as war crimes.

The ICC has conducted a preliminary probe into crimes linked to the violent suppression of pro-European protests in Kyiv in 2013-2014 by a pro-Russian Ukrainian government and allegations of crimes in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and eastern Ukraine, where Russia has backed rebels since 2014.

In December 2020, then-ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the probe findings indicated that “a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed” in Ukraine.

However, the court's prosecutors had not yet sought permission from judges to open a full-scale investigation.

Firefighters inspect the damage at a building following a rocket attack in Kyiv on Friday

Mr Khan said he now wants to open the investigation envisaged by his predecessor and broaden it to include crimes committed in fighting since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last week.

He said he would continue to monitor developments in Ukraine, where there have been reports of civilian casualties, and called for “restraint and strict adherence to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law”.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet says her office has confirmed that 102 civilians, including seven children, have been killed in the Russian invasion and 304 others wounded in Ukraine since Thursday.

She cautioned that the tally was likely a vast undercount.

Russia and Ukraine are not among the court's 123 member states, but Ukraine has accepted the court's jurisdiction, granting Mr Khan the power to investigate.

A school destroyed as a result of a fight not far from the centre of Kharkiv

Mr Khan has told his team to explore how to preserve evidence of crimes and said that the next step is to seek authorisation from the court's judges to open an investigation.

However, he added that the process would be speeded up if a member nation of the court were to ask for an investigation in what is known as a referral.

He said he also would seek support from the court's member states and the international community to fund the investigation.

“The importance and urgency of our mission is too serious to be held hostage to lack of means,” he said.

Additional reporting by PA

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