Ukraine identifies 600 Russian war crime suspects: Prosecutor

Kyiv’s top prosecutor says Ukraine has started prosecuting about 80 Russian war crime suspects.

Bodies are seen being exhumed by forensic technicians in Bucha, Ukraine
Forensic technicians exhume the bodies of civilians who Ukrainian officials say were killed during Russia's invasion and then buried in a mass grave in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv [File: Volodymyr Petrov/Reuters]

Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russian war crime suspects and has started prosecuting about 80 of them, Kyiv’s top prosecutor said.

The list of suspects includes “top military, politicians and propaganda agents of Russia”, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told a news conference in The Hague on Tuesday as she met her counterparts from other countries.

She added that “200 to 300 new cases of war crimes are added every day”.

Venediktova said Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia had decided to join an international investigation team in Ukraine, which was originally formed by Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland in March to enable the exchange of information and investigation into suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity.

They are working with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which launched its investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine in early March.

Ukraine's top prosecutor Iryna Venediktova speaks during an interview with Reuters following a news conference on investigations into alleged war crimes, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in The Hague, Netherlands May 31, 2022.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor Iryna Venediktova international support was vital to Ukraine’s efforts to investigate all possible war crimes [Eva Plevier/Reuters]

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s office has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine and Khan on Tuesday said the ICC was “working toward opening an office in Kyiv” to support the investigations.

Venediktova said international support was vital to Ukraine’s efforts to investigate all possible war crimes.

“We should collect and protect everything in the right way. It should be acceptable evidence in any court,” the prosecutor said.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes while it carries out what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

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Venediktova said Ukraine has identified several thousand suspected war crimes in the eastern Donbas region where Russian forces are pressing their offensive.

“If we speak about war crimes, it’s about possible transfer of people, we started several cases about possible transfer of children, adult people to different parts of the Russian Federation,” she said.

“Then, of course, we can speak about torturing people, killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure.”

Ukrainian authorities did not have access to Russian-held areas of Donbas, a region in eastern Ukraine, but they were interviewing evacuees and prisoners of war, Venediktova told the news conference at the headquarters of the European Union judicial agency, Eurojust.

At Eurojust, evidence and witness statements are now to be stored in a central database and made available to all members of the group.

In total, Ukraine had identified 15,000 war crime cases across the country since Russia’s invasion on February 24, Venediktova said.

Toby Cadman, co-founder of the Guernica Group and co-head of Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers in London told Al Jazeera that the timeline for the investigations will be a lengthy one, but it’s important to document crimes as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.

“As we know the International Criminal Court will not be able to deal with everything… War crimes investigations, by their very nature are complex and can take many years, so I think we’ll be looking at the situation in Ukraine for many years to come, as we’ve seen in other conflict areas such as Bosnia and Herzegovina where they’re still prosecuting war crimes from the 1992-1995 conflict,” Cadman said.

“In terms of whether we can get the perpetrators before court, the majority of perpetrators are going to be Russian military and political figures that will not necessarily cooperate with the investigation.

“But that’s why the documentation of these crimes has to occur now so that the evidence is safeguarded. So even if we’re not able to get [Russian President Vladimir] Putin before a court today or tomorrow, we will be able to get the most senior perpetrators before the court one day.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies