According to Kamala Harris, the Biden administration has publicly declared that throughout Russia’s nearly one-year-long invasion of Ukraine, crimes against humanity were committed.
The US vice-president and former prosecutor said in prepared remarks delivered in a speech at the Munich security conference on Saturday:
“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity,”
“And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in those crimes, you will be held to account.”
The formal decision has no immediate repercussions for the war and was reached after a thorough legal and factual investigation undertaken by the US state department.
Yet, Washington aspires to use it to further isolate Vladimir Putin’s regime and inspire legal actions to hold its members accountable through international tribunals and sanctions. Senior Western leaders gathered in Munich to discuss Europe’s most significant conflict since the Second World War at the time of Harris’ address.
She claimed that after Joe Biden organized a coalition to punish Putin for the invasion, Russia was a “weakened” nation, but Russia is stepping up its attacks in eastern Ukraine. In preparation for a spring counteroffensive, Ukraine is asking its allies in the West for more, stronger, and longer-ranged weapons.
Tens of thousands have died in the conflict, millions have been displaced from their homes, the world economy has been devastated, and Putin has become despised in the west.
The Biden administration’s conclusion that Russia’s actions amount to “crimes against humanity” implies a legal finding that actions ranging from murder to rape are widespread, systematic, and intentionally targeted against civilians.
Washington and an UN-mandated investigation had already concluded that Russian forces were guilty of war crimes. It is considered to be a more serious offense under international law. The UN-sponsored commission of inquiry into Ukraine has not yet determined whether the alleged war crimes constitute crimes against humanity.
In her remarks, Harris referred to the numerous victims discovered in Bucha soon after Russia’s invasion last February as “barbaric and inhumane,” as well as the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9 that resulted in the deaths of three people, including a child, and the sexual assault of a four-year-old by a Russian soldier that was named in the UN report.
Since the invasion, more than 30,000 war crime instances have been reported by organizations funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), according to the US government. According to Ukrainian officials, this week’s bombardment of Bakhmut is considered a potential act of war.
Russia has denied purposefully attacking people or committing war crimes, claiming that its “special military operation” in Ukraine is meant to defend Russian speakers and eliminate threats to state security. Harris said:
“Let us all agree: on behalf of all the victims, known and unknown, justice must be served.”
To bring alleged war criminals to justice, the Biden administration has trained Ukrainian investigators, imposed fines, denied visas, and increased punishments under US war crimes legislation.
“I’m in Germany for the Munich Security Conference and will consult with our allies and partners on the path forward in Ukraine.”
I’m in Germany for the Munich Security Conference and will consult with our allies and partners on the path forward in Ukraine.
One year into the war, the Transatlantic alliance remains strong and united. pic.twitter.com/bVfHw9SMK7
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) February 16, 2023
Washington has already invested $40 million (£33 million) on the campaign and claims to be negotiating with Congress for an additional $38 million.
Nevertheless, the ability of the Biden administration to enforce any such attempts outside of its borders—and undoubtedly within Russia—is constrained, and gathering evidence in Ukraine has been challenging.
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International legal organizations are likewise restricted. For instance, the authority of the international criminal court is limited to member states and governments that have consented to it, such as Ukraine, but not Russia. Moscow has rejected Kyiv’s efforts to create a new international war crimes organization concentrating on the Russian invasion.
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