The US says Russia committed “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine

By Trevor Hunnicutt

MUNICH (Reuters) – The Biden administration has officially concluded that Russia committed “crimes against humanity” during its nearly year-long invasion of Ukraine, US Vice President Kamala Harris said on Saturday.

“In the case of the Russian actions in Ukraine, we examined the evidence, we know the legal norms, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity,” said former prosecutor Harris at the Munich Security Conference.

“And I say to all those who have committed these crimes and their superiors who are complicit in these crimes, you will be held accountable.”

The official finding, which came at the end of a legal analysis led by the US State Department, has no immediate implications for the ongoing war.

But Washington hopes it could help further isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin and mobilize legal efforts to hold members of his government accountable through international courts and sanctions.

Harris’ speech comes as senior Western leaders gathered in Munich to assess Europe’s worst conflict since World War II.

She said Russia is now a “weakened” country after Biden led a coalition to punish Putin for invading, but Russia is only stepping up attacks in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine is planning a spring counteroffensive, for which it is demanding more, heavier, and longer-range weapons from its western allies.

The nearly year-long war has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions from their homes, battered the global economy and made Putin a pariah in the West.

Washington had already concluded that Russian forces had committed war crimes, as had a UN-ordered probe, but the Biden administration’s conclusion that Russia’s actions amounted to “crimes against humanity” implies a legal analysis that acts ranging from murder to rape, are widespread and systematic, and deliberately directed against civilians. In international law, it is considered a more serious offense.

The United Nations-backed commission of inquiry into Ukraine has yet to conclude that the war crimes it has identified constitute crimes against humanity.


In her remarks, Harris cited the numerous victims found in Bucha shortly after the Russian invasion last February as “barbaric and inhuman”. the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9, killing three people, including a child; and the sexual assault of a four-year-old by a Russian soldier identified in the UN report.

Organizations supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have documented more than 30,000 war crimes since the invasion, according to the US government. Ukrainian officials said they would only this week investigate the shelling of the town of Bakhmut as a possible war crime.

Russia, which says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to eliminate threats to its security and protect Russian speakers, has denied intentionally targeting civilians or committing war crimes.

“Let us all agree: Justice must be served on behalf of all victims, both known and unknown,” Harris said.

The Biden administration has attempted to bring suspected war criminals to justice, including training Ukrainian investigators, imposing sanctions, suspending visas and increasing sentences under US war crimes laws.

Washington has so far spent about $40 million on the effort and says it is working with Congress to secure an additional $38 million for the effort.

But the Biden administration’s ability to push such efforts beyond its borders — and certainly within Russia — is limited. Collecting evidence in the war-torn country is also difficult.

International legal entities are also restricted. At the International Criminal Court, for example, jurisdiction extends only to member states and states that have consented to its jurisdiction, such as Ukraine but not Russia. Kiev has been pushing for a new international war crimes organization focused on the Russian invasion, which Moscow has opposed.

“If Putin thinks he can wait and see us, he’s gravely mistaken,” Harris said. “Time is not on his side.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Alex Richardson)


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