The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sent its “largest-ever” team of experts to Ukraine to investigate alleged war crimes since the Russian invasion in February, according to the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based court.
Karim Khan said on Tuesday that the 42-member team comprised of investigators, forensic experts and support staff “advance our investigations into crimes falling into the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and provide support to Ukrainian national authorities”.
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The team will improve the gathering of witness testimony, the identification of forensic materials and help ensure that “evidence is collected in a manner that strengthens its admissibility in future proceedings” at the court, he said.
Khan thanked the Netherlands, where the court is based, for sending a “significant number of Dutch national experts” to help the mission.
The experts are to interview witnesses, secure and analyse evidence and support national investigators in securing evidence.
In addition, the team is also to work together with French forensic experts who are already in Ukraine. The work of all those involved in the conflict area must be effectively coordinated, according to the prosecution.
‘Ukraine is a crime scene’
The ICC prosecutor announced an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity just four days after the February 24 Russian invasion.
In April, Khan said that “Ukraine is a crime scene” during his visit to the town of Bucha near Kyiv, where bodies were found lying in the streets after Russian forces withdrew in late March.
To be classed as crimes against humanity, attacks have to be part of what the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, calls “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population”.
Khan says that “now more than ever we need to show the law in action” in Ukraine.
Russia does not recognise the court. Ukraine, however, has explicitly recognised the court’s jurisdiction over its basic territory.
The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said last week that it corroborated 7,061 civilian casualties, with 3,381 killed and 3,680 injured.
The team also said most of the deaths took place from the use of explosive weapons. The high toll suggests that Russian troops are attacking indiscriminately and disproportionately, according to the UN team.
Meanwhile, more than six million refugees have fled the fighting since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. Some 90 percent of them are women and children, it added.
Most have made their way to neighbouring countries including Poland and Romania.