THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Investigators from the International Criminal Court set off for “the Ukraine region” on Thursday to start looking into possible war crimes, the tribunal’s top prosecutor said in an interview.
Karim Khan told Reuters his office would see if there was evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide – the offences under the court’s jurisdiction – by all parties in the conflict.
Asked about reports of artillery strikes in Ukraine’s towns and cities, Khan said: “Any side that targets, directly targets, civilians or civilian objects is committing a crime under the Rome Statute and under international humanitarian law,” referring to the statue that created the court.
Hundreds of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians have been killed since President Vladimir Putin sent his troops over the border on Feb. 24.
Russia denies targeting civilians and says its aim is to “disarm” Ukraine and arrest leaders it falsely calls neo-Nazis.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), which has 123 member states, prosecutes individuals responsible for the worst atrocities when a country is unable or unwilling to do so.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC and Moscow does not recognise the tribunal, which opened in The Hague in 2002.
Ukraine signed a declaration in 2014 giving the court jurisdiction over alleged grave crimes committed on its territory from 2014 onwards regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators.
‘LAW OF WAR’
“The law of war continues to apply and we have clear jurisdiction,” Khan said. “This is a reminder to all factions, to all parties to the conflict, that they must conduct themselves in compliance with the laws of war.”
If war crimes are found to have been committed in Ukraine, Khan said, his office would follow the evidence up the chain of command, to the highest levels of political and military office.
“Anybody involved in conflict needs to realise they don’t have a licence to commit crimes,” he said.
The initial prosecution team dispatched on Thursday was made up of investigators, lawyers, and people with particular experience in operational planning, he added.
Prosecutors have said they will also examine possible crimes in the conflict dating back to Russia’s occupation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and the activities of pro-Russian separatists in Donbass. Khan’s office has previously said it had reasonable grounds to believe violations took place in Ukraine.
The prosecutor’s 2020 annual report based on preliminary investigations cited suspected killings and torture in Crimea and attacks on civilians, torture, murder and rape in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by William Maclean, Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens)