A bipartisan group of thirteen senators on Wednesday introduced legislation to probe claims of war crimes that Russia has committed in its invasion of Ukraine.
The bill, a version of which passed the House last month 418-7, would require the administration to produce a report to Congress within 90 days on government efforts to “collect, analyze, and maintain evidence of war crimes and atrocities” in the eight-week-old conflict.
“The reports of Russian war crimes coming out of Ukraine are sickening, and we must ensure these atrocities are properly documented,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “The House of Representatives passed this legislation nearly unanimously, and it is imperative that the Senate quickly do the same so we can prosecute these criminals to the fullest extent of the law.”
The legislation adds to international pressure to hold senior Kremlin officials and Russian soldiers accountable for war crimes committed in Ukraine. The Kremlin denies the abuses and says the Kyiv government has fabricated many of the stories of abuse.
The Biden administration declared last month that Russia’s invading forces in Ukraine are guilty of war crimes, citing Russia‘s targeting of civilian sites such as apartment buildings, schools, and hospitals, many of which had been clearly labeled as non-military locations. President Biden on a visit to Poland said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin must be removed from office for initiating the conflict.
In a report published last month, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further criminal investigations.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed in March that U.S. officials are “documenting and evaluating” evidence of potential war crimes by Russia in Ukraine to assist international investigations and “hold those responsible accountable.” Mr. Blinken said the administration was working with private groups to build a possible case of war crimes against the Kremlin.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence have called on the nation’s intelligence agencies to ramp up their work to document possible Russian military war crimes. Members of the committee said the intelligence community is uniquely situated to document and analyze evidence of war crimes and has a long history of documenting human rights violations.
The International Criminal Court and the Ukrainian Government have also begun collecting evidence for future proceedings to prosecute those responsible for war crimes in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova said on Wednesday that her office has opened more than 9,600 war crimes investigations since the start of the war.
“Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are doing everything in their power to ensure timely and efficient documentation and investigation of all international crimes and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” she told the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
She said she expects the number of investigations to grow as the war continues.