Honorable delegates and colleagues. It is an honor and privilege to address you as the sixth U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice.
Sitting here, with all of you, I am struck by the power of place. I am particularly humbled speaking with you here, today, in Lviv. This beautiful and historic city has been the target of attacks by Vladimir Putin’s forces, which have launched numerous strikes, including aimed at its critical infrastructure. The most recent attack came just two weeks ago, when electricity was knocked out for thousands of residents during the depth of winter. But the city prevails.
Lviv’s true character manifests not only in its ability to fend off Russia’s aggression, but also in the fact that Lviv and its residents have offered sanctuary for hundreds of thousands who have been forced to flee their homes elsewhere within Ukraine. The bravery, generosity, and humanity exhibited by this city cannot be overstated, and I am honored to have this opportunity to be here with you.
Lviv has also played a critical role in forging the principles of human rights and today’s system for international justice. Lviv nurtured two great international lawyers—Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin—born within three years of each other, who studied at the law faculty here and went on to originate the legal concepts of crimes against humanity and genocide. Today’s convening honors their legacy and their vision of the part international law can, and should, play in holding perpetrators of atrocities account.
The Terrible Impact of Putin’s War
We are now a year into Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, a war that continues to result in devastating human costs with thousands of civilians killed, millions forced to flee their homes, and historic cities pounded to rubble.
There is no question that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a manifest violation of the UN Charter. This is a war being waged through the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities. Indeed, Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in every region in which they have been deployed. These include the unlawful transfer or deportation of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia as part of Russia’s filtration operations, which is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Just a few weeks ago, Vice President Kamala Harris announced at the Munich Security Conference that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has determined that members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials have committed crimes against humanity. This determination followed extensive analysis by the Department, including my office, of information indicating that members of Russia’s forces have committed, among other things: execution-style killings of Ukrainian men, women, and children; the torture of civilians in detention, including through beatings, electrocution, mock executions, and threats of summary execution; and rape, primarily (but not exclusively) of Ukrainian women and girls.
In addition to this litany of atrocities, members of Russia’s forces, alongside other Russian officials, have deported thousands of Ukrainian civilians. This includes children, some of whom have been subjected to “adoption” by families in Russia even though they have guardians in Ukraine, as detailed by the U.S.-funded Conflict Observatory in a new report.
As Secretary Blinken explained in his statement “[t]hese acts are not random or spontaneous; they are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population.” The images, documentation, and witness accounts suggest these atrocities are not the acts of rogue units or individuals; nor are they isolated or incidental acts. Rather, they are part of a deeply disturbing pattern of reported abuses across all areas where Russia’s forces are deployed. And they are consistent with what we have seen from Russia’s military engagements in Chechnya, in Syria, and in Georgia.
While the epicenter of this suffering is in Ukraine, Russia’s war of aggression has negatively impacted the most vulnerable communities around the globe in the form of rising food insecurity, disrupted supply chains, and an emergent energy crisis.
Support for Accountability
All of us here know that winning this war is more than just winning on the battlefield. It also means winning the fight for justice. And winning the fight for justice means taking that fight to every venue, every jurisdiction, and every court possible; to strengthen our laws and open our courtroom doors; and to bolster existing justice mechanisms to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.
So that that there is no impunity for their atrocious acts. So that future perpetrators learn that there are severe consequences when international crimes are committed. So that victims, including those here in Lviv, receive recognition and redress for the atrocities they have endured.
Given the justice and accountability imperatives Ukraine is facing, the U.S. government is contributing to, and stands ready to assist, the range of documentation efforts underway and all pathways to accountability. Our contributions to justice include: training and technical assistance for civil society efforts to gather, document, and report on violations of international humanitarian law; expanding access to justice for victims and survivors of atrocities and other abuses; data collection, reporting, and information sharing on human rights abuses and atrocities including through analysis of satellite imagery and other data feeds; forensic assistance focused on the missing and disappeared, laying the foundation for restorative justice; and enhancing the ability of civil society, journalists, and other partners to safely and securely share information.
It also includes supporting existing pathways to accountability in Ukraine’s courts, but also cases that might be brought in courts around the world if they can establish jurisdiction over individuals accused of committing international crimes in connection with the war in Ukraine.
The International Criminal Court occupies an important place in the ecosystem of international justice, and the United States supports the investigation by the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, who received an unprecedented referral by 43 States Parties last year, as well as those conducted by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine and the OSCE.
We are also continuing our support to Prosecutor General Kostin and his office. They have already identified thousands of incidents that may constitute war crimes and other atrocities—and this without yet knowing all that is unfolding in areas still under Russia’s occupation or control.
Mr. Prosecutor General, we are honored to partner with Ukraine to assist your efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for their war crimes and other atrocities through the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group for Ukraine (ACA) launched with the European Union and the United Kingdom. Under the ACA umbrella, we and our implementing partners have deployed teams of multinational and multi-disciplinary international investigators and prosecutors to Ukraine—including to sites of alleged war crimes—to assist the Office of the Prosecutor General in its critical efforts to document the commission of crimes, preserve potential evidence, engage witnesses and survivors in a trauma-informed way, prepare war crimes dossiers for prosecution, and ultimately pursue effective and fair cases in Ukrainian courts.
To impose additional costs and promote accountability for malign actors, we have used our sanctions authorities to designate a wide range of individuals and entities responsible for carrying out, and assisting, Russia’s acts of aggression. And we have steadily declassified an unprecedented amount of information to inform the world of Russia’s actions and to counter intense Russian disinformation campaigns.
Support for Investigating and Prosecuting the Crime of Aggression
In my public remarks, I often emphasize that we are at an historic moment for international justice. Today’s efforts reflect the tremendous legacy of the Nuremburg and Tokyo Tribunals established after World War II, the work of the ad hoc international tribunals dedicated to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and the plethora of international justice mechanisms that have followed since.
These were times when the world came together to deliver justice in the face of atrocities. I am proud that at each of these moments, the United States supported the advancement of international criminal law and accountability. At Nuremburg, for example, the United States led the prosecution of the crime of aggression—deemed “crimes against the peace” in the lexicon of the era.
Again now, and as affirmed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, the United States supports efforts by the international community toward accountability for the crimes of aggression committed against Ukraine—crimes that assault the very principles the U.N. Charter was designed to uphold: sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and the right of all of us to live a life of peace and dignity. We will work with Ukraine and close partners to find the most effective and legally sound way to accomplish this goal.
We thus support international efforts to consider appropriate actions to ensure accountability for the crime of aggression, including through establishing an appropriate justice mechanism for that purpose. These efforts must be mindful of the legal norms cultivated by all of us over the past century and faithful to our most deeply held values.
To lay the foundation for accountability for the crime of aggression, we support steps that can be taken now while the various options are under consideration. In this regard, we welcome the new International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression (ICPA) based at Eurojust in The Hague. As envisioned, the ICPA’s efforts will be complementary to existing pathways to promote justice and accountability. Apart from assisting any eventual prosecution of the crime of aggression, the evidence ICPA gathers could be of value to the ICC and national investigations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide; for further sanctions designations; and in any compensation claims related to tremendous damage caused by Russia’s aggression that will be collected by the registry of damages being stood up. As the first post-WWII institution to actively investigate acts of aggression, such an international center could advance accountability for the crime of aggression in the context of an egregious set of facts evincing a manifest violation of the UN Charter.
Finally, we welcome the formation of the Dialogue Group that has been announced today, which is aimed at enhancing multilateral coherence of action across accountability efforts for Ukraine. We are proud to participate in that group and look forward to collaborating with our partners to deliver justice.
This is truly a historic moment in international criminal law. Just as the Allies at the end of the Second World War advanced the imperative of justice and ushered in a new era of accountability for the worst imaginable crimes, it falls to all of us to ensure that the promises of Nuremberg are not mere history.
The United States remains unwavering in its support of the government and people of Ukraine as they defend their country and their freedom. The people of Ukraine deserve justice, and we must all remain united in holding those responsible to account, no matter how long that takes.