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Top ICC Prosecutor Visits Bucha As Court Investigates War Crimes In Ukraine

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court visited Bucha, Ukraine, on Wednesday, as the court continues its investigation into alleged war crimes committed in the war-torn country—and U.S. officials are mulling whether to assist in the investigation despite not being a member of the international court.

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan deemed Ukraine a “crime scene” when he visited Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where Russian forces allegedly executed hundreds of civilians before withdrawing from the area.

Khan said the ICC has “reasonable grounds” to believe crimes within its jurisdiction are being committed.

The ICC’s forensic experts have begun “working in the city,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Wednesday, presumably to examine whether the alleged war crimes took place.

The ICC opened its investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine on March 2, a week after Russia invaded the neighboring country. However, the probe will also investigate alleged crimes committed in Ukraine dating back to 2013, prior to Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. Khan visited western Ukraine last month and has spoken with Zelensky virtually during his investigation. Khan has also requested to meet with Russian authorities as part of the investigation. The court’s probe is expected to be a drawn-out process, and even if Russian President Vladimir Putin or other officials are formally indicted on war crimes charges in Ukraine, the ICC cannot arrest them on its own. The responsibility of apprehending alleged offenders and sending them to the ICC for prosecution falls on the court’s 123 members—a list that doesn’t include the U.S. and Russia. The court was established twenty years ago when several countries signed the Rome Statute in an effort to hold international criminals accountable, and it has indicted 35 people and found 10 guilty since then.


The U.S. is weighing whether and how it can assist in the ICC’s investigation, given that it has resisted joining the court for fear that its own citizens could face international prosecution, the New York Times reported Tuesday, based on unnamed sources. Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby expressed the Pentagon’s discomfort with the ICC in an interview with MSNBC Wednesday, noting that it may target U.S. soldiers for actions taken in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, signed into law in 2002 just after the ICC was formed, prohibits U.S. government support of the ICC for this reason. However, the Biden Administration has been vocal about its desire to hold Putin accountable for alleged war crimes, with Biden accusing Russia of genocide on Tuesday, and some White House officials believe the ICC may be the best route for pursuing accountability for Putin and other alleged offenders, unnamed officials told the Times.


Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) urged the U.S. to join the court in an op-ed for the Washington Post Wednesday, and said she will introduce a resolution to join the court this week: “If we believe Putin should be held accountable for violating international law, then we have to support international law,” Omar wrote.


The ICC indicted longtime Sudanese ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2009 following the war in Darfur, in which hundreds of thousands civilians were killed by the Sudanese government and allied militias. However, Sudan has yet to hand over the former dictator to the ICC 13 years later, and al-Bashir was able to travel to other countries before his 2019 ouster.


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