THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Government officials from dozens of nations are meeting Thursday in the Netherlands to discuss with the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor how best to coordinate efforts to bring perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine to justice.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, his military forces have been accused of abuses ranging from killings in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha to deadly attacks on civilian facilities, including the March 16 bombing of a theater in Mariupol that an Associated Press investigation established likely killed close to 600 people.
The AP and FRONTLINE, which are tracking incidents in Ukraine, have so far tallied 338 potential war crimes.
In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Moscow to halt forced deportations in areas of Ukraine controlled by Russia, saying an estimated 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainians have been “interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported” to Russia.
“Moscow’s actions appear premeditated and draw immediate historical comparisons to Russian ‘filtration’ operations in Chechnya and other areas,” Blinken said. “President Putin’s ‘filtration’ operations are separating families, confiscating Ukrainian passports and issuing Russian passports in an apparent effort to change the demographic makeup of parts of Ukraine.”
Blinken said Putin and his government “will not be able to engage in these systematic abuses with impunity. Accountability is imperative. This is why we are supporting Ukrainian and international authorities’ efforts to collect, document, and preserve evidence of atrocities. Together, we are dedicated to holding perpetrators of war crimes and other atrocities accountable.”
Some 40 nations from the European Union and around the world will be represented at Thursday's conference that is hosted by Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan and European Union Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the government representatives in recorded video messages before they meet behind closed doors to discuss coordinating investigations and evidence gathering as the ICC and different countries pursue war crimes cases.
The meeting comes as investigations already are underway at the national and international level. Among the topics is how investigators from different countries can collect and document evidence, including of sexual crimes, so it can be used in other jurisdictions.
Khan opened an investigation in Ukraine in early March after dozens of the global court's member nations asked him to intervene. He has visited Ukraine to see firsthand the horrors inflicted on the country and sent the court's largest-ever team of investigators to gather evidence.
So far, the court has not announced any arrest warrants for suspects in the probe that could reach to the very top of Russia's military chain of command, as well as to the Kremlin.
The ICC is a court of last resort that opens cases when other countries are unwilling or unable to launch prosecutions. The Hague-based court has no police force to make arrests and relies on assistance from other countries to detain suspects.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine are among the court's 123 member states, but Kyiv has accepted the court's jurisdiction. Ukraine, whose Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, plans to attend The Hague conference, has opened thousands of war crimes investigations since hostilities began.
The EU's judicial cooperation agency, Eurojust, helped establish a Joint Investigation Team made up of Ukraine and five other European nations. The team is meant to help facilitate evidence sharing.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Mike Corder, The Associated Press