THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Well, good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. My name is Doris Robinson, and I am the briefing moderator. It’s my pleasure to welcome our distinguished briefer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack. Ambassador Van Schaack will discuss U.S. policy on justice and accountability around the world. And just as a reminder, this briefing is on the record. We will post a transcript later today at fpc.state.gov. After we hear from the ambassador, we will open for question and answer.
And with that, I’m going to turn it over to you, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. It’s really great to be here. It’s an honor to address you. I’m the sixth Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice. My office, which is the Office of Global Criminal Justice, advises various components of the U.S. Government on policies to prevent, mitigate, and respond to atrocities around the world.
To this end, we generally engage in multilateral diplomacy; we build partnerships with like-minded states; we look for ways to strengthen the whole system of international justice; we encourage the adoption of inclusive and comprehensive transitional justice programs and processes in states that are emerging from conflict or authoritarianism; and we deploy a small programming budget in order to build capacity for this work, often with civil society organizations.
As we seek to advance accountability for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity around the world, we are motivated by the recognition that accountability for those most responsible, coupled with an honest assessment of the past, is extremely important to instantiate a durable peace following conflict. The whole field of transitional justice – which embodies a mix of judicial and nonjudicial measures, formal and informal measures, and retributive and restorative justice measures – all provide a set of tools for societies emerging from armed conflict or repression to address legacies of mass violence, authoritarianism, or impunity, to comprehensively rehabilitate survivors and their communities after violence, but also to engage in truth telling, to engage in mechanisms of nonrecurrence and other institutional reforms that will prevent a recurrence of conflict in the future.
By layering and sequencing these various mechanisms, a program of transitional justice can promote accountability, rebuild social cohesion, restore trust in formerly abusive institutions, and prevent the recurrence of such violations. As we’re seeing now in the field more than ever, survivors and their communities are organizing amongst themselves to pursue justice even before conflicts ends. To be effective, we know that any justice mechanism has to be responsive to the needs and preferences of survivors in their communities, particularly those most affected by violence, including women and girls but also ethnic and religious minorities and others who might have been marginalized within societies.
As such, in this work we take pains to ensure survivor-centered and trauma-informed approaches to justice at all times. These measures can promote psychosocial healing, the rehabilitation of survivors and their communities, and also to enable them to pursue their life paths with dignity.
In these opening remarks, what I’d like to do is highlight a couple of signature engagements of the Biden-Harris administration to promote accountability for atrocities around the world, and to emphasize some new innovations in evidence collection and institutional design. I hope that these remarks will serve as a survey of the current state of play in the system of international justice at a time when the world is increasingly united around the imperative of justice for the commission of international crimes.
Although much attention has been paid, of course, to the terrible situation in Ukraine in connection with the unprovoked war of aggression by Russia in that country, this has galvanized justice efforts around the world. I do want to focus on a number of areas elsewhere around the world to show the global solidarity around the pursuit of accountability and also efforts and demands at justice by survivors.
So a little bit now about the architecture of international justice. The last decade has seen incredible innovations in this field. The institutional framework is increasingly decentralized and multipolar. And while the International Criminal Court is an important element of this larger system, there are justice activities happening elsewhere at the domestic and international levels.
In particular, states are taking it upon themselves to adjudicate cases of international crimes in their own courts when they have access – when they can exercise their jurisdiction over those who are responsible. These cases are proceeding under expansive principles of extraterritorial jurisdiction, including universal jurisdiction.
We also see national war crimes units – based in the equivalent of our Department of Justice here in the United States – increasingly coordinating amongst themselves to share evidence, strategies, information, to cooperate around international arrest operations when defendants are within their jurisdictional reach. And states have also expanded their use of sanctions, visa restrictions, and import/export regulations for the benefit of victims and survivors, and to hinder the ability of bad actors to perpetrate, fund, and benefit financially from their criminal conduct.
Nongovernmental organizations, many of them who are funded by the U.S. State Department, have emerged as important players in these proceedings. These organizations, which are often survivor-led, are collecting and evaluating potential evidence in real time, pursuant to international standards, to inform accountability processes. This includes sophisticated open-source investigations that rely on the ability to geolocate photos and other digital artifacts, to scrub social media platforms for actionable information, and to access satellite-based data that had in the past only been available at certain resolutions to particular governments. For example, the Conflict Observatory, which is a collective of open-source investigators funded by the U.S. State Department, is one source of information about the conflicts in Sudan and Ukraine. Likewise, the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, which is supported by over a dozen governments, including the United States, is a consortium of civil society organizations working together to share information about abuses and violations in Belarus.
Civil society actors, youth, human rights defenders, diaspora communities have a stronger role than ever in these justice processes, despite the great risks and difficulties often associated with doing this work. Across the board, we’re seeing continued progress in promoting techniques of documentation, investigation, and evidence preservation that are survivor-centered and trauma-informed. What we’ve seen over the years is that applying these best practices leads not only to better and expansive and more high-quality evidence for accountability purposes, but also allows for investigations to proceed in a responsible manner that mitigates harm to survivors and also minimizes the risk of re-traumatization.
The importance of good documentation cannot be overstated, because it will undergird any justice efforts that might be underway. Furthermore, what we’ve seen is that even if pure accountability can’t be achieved for whatever reason, victims and survivors appreciate seeing naming and shaming of perpetrators, removing privilege of anonymity that perpetrators enjoy, to truth telling and also to the establishment of accurate historical records, particularly when accountability options are limited, where there are efforts at propaganda and misinformation to tell a different narrative, and also to just acknowledge what survivors and their communities have faced. The development of high-quality documentation will counter-efforts by perpetrators to deny the commission of crimes.
So just to highlight a few examples around the world where the Biden-Harris administration is engaged in pursuing justice: In Colombia, a comprehensive Peace Accord in 2016 ended a half century of conflict that was marred by disappearances, forced displacement, and other atrocities and abuses. The accord has finally now given voice to victims and survivors in pursuing truth, justice, and reparations. Colombia is now a model for societies around the world looking for ways to create a comprehensive transitional justice program, which has sequenced and layers different mechanisms, but also implementing a gender-sensitive approach that have enabled the voices of women and girls in all of their diversity to be heard and for the perpetrators of gender-based violence to face accountability.
In October 2022, Secretary Blinken announced that the United States would become the first international accompanier of the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Accord. This is in recognition of the United States longstanding support for the inclusion of marginalized racial and ethnic communities in Colombia’s peace-building processes. And in May of this year, we were able to announce that to address the legacy of the past, three former military officials would be designated, pursuant to Section 7031(c), for their involvement in gross violations of human rights, but also their efforts to undermine the transitional justice processes underway in Colombia. I was very honored to be in Bogotá to be able to deliver this announcement at the premises of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.
Turning to situations in Africa, over 10 years after the genocide in Rwanda, we saw men on horses and camels beginning to sweep into non-Arab communities in Darfur to kill, rape, and destroy everything in sight. Now, almost 20 years later, the country is again engrossed in conflict, civilians are trapped in the crossfire, and we are confronting a dangerous déjà vu all over again. We’ve heard appalling reports of sexual violence in Darfur and in Khartoum. Women and girls have reported being assaulted in their homes, kidnapped, held for days. Often these rapes involve multiple perpetrators. And for every rape that we know of, we know that there may be dozens more that are not reported due to shame, stigma, fear of future violence, and the lack of humanitarian services available.
The picture emerging from West Darfur is equally as alarming. Refugees escaping the region have relayed chilling reports of the rapid support services – Rapid Support Forces and allied militia perpetrating conflict-related sexual violence, ethnically based violence against civilians, and attacks on journalists, community leaders, and human rights monitors. This violence serves as an ominous reminder to the horrific events that led the United States to determine in 2004 that a genocide was underway in Darfur.
Of course, there are no easy answers to the atrocities being committed in Sudan, but we do have a few more tools in 2023 than we had 20 years ago. Thanks to the bravery of Sudanese survivors, human rights activists, and journalists, we have compelling testimony about what is happening on the ground in real time. The United States is working to augment civil society efforts at documentation to work – that are working inside and outside of Sudan.
For example, we’ve provided upwards of $3 million to fund human rights documentation programs that are collecting and preserving evidence of abuses throughout Sudan to eventually be fed into justice and accountability processes. While some of these in-person activities have had to be paused given the violence, much of it is still ongoing, and there are teams working together to coordinate this work, including developing and implementing investigation plans into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Among the U.S. Government-funded projects is the Sudan Conflict Observatory, a remote platform that leverages commercially and publicly available data collection technologies – including digital photos, videos, and other information shared online – to carefully document conflict developments to inform responses, including on the justice front. This includes damage to the civilian infrastructure, the movement of troops, rapid population movements within the civilian population, and possible international crimes. The Sudan Conflict Observatory is committed to sharing this information publicly – a critical aspect of why we have funded this platform. Reports are released publicly on a regular basis as new information is collected, aggregated, and analyzed. All of this can be fed into existing and future accountability mechanisms.
Most importantly, the International Criminal Court has been engaged on Darfur since 2005 when the Security Council referred the matter to the court. The current prosecutor recently testified before the Security Council that his investigation will be expanded to include contemporary violence in Darfur. We welcome the ICC’s investigations and prosecutions, including in the current violence in Darfur, and we are taking steps to bolster the court’s investigations, and particularly to locate and apprehend fugitives.
In Ukraine, the United States and our allies and partners have responded to the death and destruction the full-scale invasion of Ukraine has wrought with an array of accountability initiatives. Most importantly, we’re tracking closely the cases that Ukraine has brought in its own domestic courts, but also before the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, we have seen the opening of investigations in more than a dozen states around the world, working often under the rubric of the Eurojust network within Europe.
And of course, the United States has also funded an additional conflict observatory that is dedicated to documenting the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities in Ukraine. Notwithstanding international efforts, including at the International Criminal Court, which are of course central to the quest for justice, the main engine of accountability for the war in Ukraine will be Ukrainian courts themselves.
My office, in partnership with the Ukraine Office of the Prosecutor General, is funding teams of investigators and prosecutors drawn from the world’s war crimes courts to help assist Ukrainian prosecutors and investigators in their efforts to bring cases in Ukrainian courts. This initiative is supported by both the European Union and the United Kingdom and is designed to ensure that the donors are adequately coordinated to be able to provide the best assistance possible to the Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General.
We are also trying to ensure the recruitment of the best experts around the world to assist in this challenging but critical work. We are now taking the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group one step further with the creation of a multinational fund. We invite other states to join us in this effort with contributions, no matter how large or small, in order to ensure the sustainability of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group and the ability to support the work in Ukrainian courts.
Elsewhere in Europe, of course the Lukashenka regime in Belarus continues to carry out a brutal three-year crackdown on civil society, members of the democratic opposition, journalists, and ordinary Belarusians who are exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms and seeking a democratic and fair future. The regime has carried out politically motivated prosecutions against more than 4,000 persons and holds nearly 1500 political prisoners. The United States is committed to promoting accountability for these abuses and violations within Belarus, and we stand with the Belarusian people as they demand respect for their rights and pursue democratic aspirations. Along with 18 other governments, the United States has supported the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, which works to collect and preserve evidence.
Elsewhere in the world, it is equally important for us to keep global attention on the ongoing suffering of the Yezidi people and remember that what happened in 2014 was a genocide, particularly given that 3,000 Yezidi are still missing and survivors are still to this day being found in captivity. The United States determined that ISIS was responsible for genocide against Yezidi Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled. Furthermore, we concluded that ISIS was responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against these groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.
Although there is widespread impunity for these atrocities against Yezidi and other victims, we are committed to seeking accountability and there are glimmers of justice. National prosecutorial authorities are stepping up and bringing cases in their national courts. We’ve had the first case alleging genocide against an ISIS member in courts in Germany, for example. A German court found Taha al-Jumailly guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and human trafficking in a landmark case involving the death of a five-year-old Yezidi girl. The case ended up in a life imprisonment sentence for the perpetrator. In 2022 the German – Germany convicted another former Syrian official, Anwar Raslan, for life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, and a new arrest has happened most recently in August. Other states such as Sweden and Canada are investigating and prosecuting ISIS members through structural investigations within their systems.
We are also closely following the Lafarge case in France. This is the first case in which a major multinational corporation has been accused crimes against humanity – in this case, in northern Syria. This follows on the heels of a major settlement here in the United States that generated a fine and forfeiture valuing more than $700 million. A number of organizations and victims advocates are exploring whether portions of such large financial settlements can be used to promote healing and post-traumatic growth for victims of the responsible organizations. More creative thinking needs to be done to how these settlements by those who profited from abuses can ultimately benefit survivors of atrocities.
Two international organizations have supported many of these prosecutions in national courts: the United Nations Investigative Team to Prosecute Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh, UNITAD; and the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria, the Triple-I M. Both entities continue to collect information and evidence, share it with investigators and prosecutors who are pursuing cases against alleged perpetrators.
The United States is proud to have supported both of these entities to provide multiple pathways to justice. This includes over 14 million to UNITAD and 3.5 million to help stand up the Triple-I M. But of course, more remains to be done. The United States has welcomed the passage of the Yezidi Survivor Law in Iraq. It is past time, however, to see the law fully implemented in a survivor-centric way to enable funding for reparations and the rehabilitation of survivors for their ongoing trauma. Implementation of the new law must also take account of the multiple difficulties associated with displacement and relocation and the life paths that have been so disrupted by the terrible crimes of ISIS.
The Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government must also take steps to fully implement the Sinjar agreement in consultations with Yezidis and other Sinjaris to address security, administrative, and reconstruction needs within Sinjar so that displaced community members can return to their ancestral homes.
We also urge Iraq to codify genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity into its domestic penal code. This will enable ISIS members to be tried in Iraq for these underlying crimes in addition to acts of terrorism. It will also ensure that UNITAD is able to live up to its full potential and promote national prosecutions in Iraqi courts and not just in European courts and courts elsewhere around the world. This will finally ensure that Iraqi prosecutors can charge ISIS members with the full range of crimes they have committed against Yezidis.
Turning to Asia, in Burma the current military regime and previous governments were complicit in genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing against Rohingya, and there are no prospects for justice inside the country. This persistent impunity has emboldened the military regime, which continues to wage a campaign of violence against civilians, including those peaceably advocating for change and a more promising democratic future.
Despite the regime’s refusal to halt and address these atrocities, there are various pathways to justice that give us hope. This includes the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and domestic courts around the world exercising universal and other forms of extraterritorial jurisdiction. In 2019, the Gambia, with encouragement from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, brought a case against Burma before the International Court of Justice under the Genocide Convention. The United States applauds this case and we have shared relevant information with the Gambia as it presses its claims under the convention on behalf of other treaty members. We also welcome the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s financial support to the Gambia as it confronts a genocidal regime intent on the destruction of a mostly Muslim ethnoreligious minority.
The ICC investigation, which was authorized in 2019, is looking into atrocities committed against Rohingya in Burma who fled to neighboring Bangladesh, which is a member of the court. It is anticipated that the main charge will be forcible deportation of the civilian population, because an element of that crime occurred on the territory of Bangladesh. The United States has also indicated that it is in favor of a full-scale Security Council referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, which would enable the court to address a broader range of crimes committed against Rohingya but also with respect to crimes committed against peaceful protesters advocating for a democratic future. We are, however, of course, cognizant that China and Russia would likely block such an effort.
Victims and NGOs have filed criminal complaints in Argentina and in Germany based on universal jurisdiction involving those deemed most responsible for these abuses. The case in – filed in Germany includes victims and survivors from other communities as well in addition to Rohingya. Last June, with the assistance of State Department funding, seven witnesses traveled from Cox’s Bazar to Buenos Aires to give testimony about what they had witnessed and what they experienced during the 2017 rampage. I was in Cox’s Bazar prior to that point. I met with victims and survivors, and everyone expressed their sincere hope that the international community would not forget their community and would focus on pursuing justice in whatever pathway exists.
While these judicial pathways are being pursued, the United States has taken other concrete actions to promote accountability on behalf of victims and survivors, including Global Magnitsky sanctions and other designations under 7031(c). In addition, all of these justice experts – efforts have been assisted by a United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, the Double-I Double-M. The mandate of the Double-I Double-M is to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of atrocities committed in Myanmar since 2011, and to facilitate criminal and other legal proceedings in any court with jurisdiction.
Following the 2021 coup d’état, the Triple-I M is also investigating post-coup violence that may constitute atrocity crimes. Consistent with the recently passed BURMA Act, we will continue to support this institution through our votes and our interventions at the United Nations, with State Department funding for witness protection and open-source investigations, and by sharing relevant information in our possession.
Turning to Ethiopia, in March of this year the Secretary announced his determination that war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing had taken place during the conflict in the north. The Ethiopian Government and people must ensure that transitional justice efforts are inclusive, transparent, and credible to allow for lasting reconciliation, and we will continue to support them in this effort. My deputy is leaving for Ethiopia tomorrow in order to attend an expert gathering on transitional justice that will also review the results of an innovative population-based survey that has asked ordinary Ethiopians what their hopes, expectations, and preferences are for justice and accountability. What such surveys show is that even with dire needs on the humanitarian and security front, people still want to know the truth about what happened and they also want justice to be served – not only for the direct perpetrators but also for those most responsible.
Finally, while it is very challenging to create pathways to justice for the atrocities being committed in China’s Xinjiang region, it does not mean that we sit idly by or are silent. First, we must continue to call these atrocities by name: these are crimes against humanity and genocide. The Secretary of State has determined that authorities of the People’s Republic of China under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party have committed crimes against humanity and genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members – other members of religious and ethnic groups within Xinjiang. As these atrocities continue, the world must stand firm against them both in word and in deed. Documentation is ongoing. Academics and independent researchers are scrutinizing policy directives and websites. Witnesses are sharing their experiences. NGOs are analyzing commercial satellite images of detention centers and destroyed Muslim cemeteries and mosques. Supply chains tainted with forced labor are being tracked and analyzed. This documentation is incredible.
Although pathways to justice for addressing these atrocities are limited now, this documentation has been crucial to informing other responses. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was enacted in 2021, and established a rebuttable presumption that goods mined, produced, or manufactured in whole or in part in Xinjiang or by any entity that’s named on an entity list are made with force labor and there are – therefore are prohibited from importation within the United States.
Since 2020, we have designated 12 persons connected with serious human rights in Xinjiang under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program and we have imposed visa restrictions on several PRC and CCP officials for their involvement in gross human rights violations in Xinjiang. And in March 2021, we coordinated with the EU, the UK, and Canada to impose sanctions on several individuals and entities. The Department of Commerce has imposed export controls and import restrictions on entities associated with abuses in Xinjiang, and the Customs and Border Protection office has issued withhold release orders on products from Xinjiang that are produced with forced labor. We’ve also issued a Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory to highlight the heightened risk to businesses with supply chains and investments in Xinjiang given the entities complicit in forced labor and other human rights abuses there and throughout China.
So these are just a few examples of how the United States is trying to lead the way in imposing costs on individuals and entities in connection with atrocities around the world, and we will continue to work towards the day that these brutal acts cease and that those responsible are held accountable.
I’ve only talked about a few situation countries where the United States is working along with partners and allies within the international community. Appallingly, the list of atrocities continues to grow and there are many other circumstances that I could have mentioned this morning. All pathways to justice are challenging and take time; even in situations where there is strong political will, this remains difficult. I am fortunate to have a dedicated team within the Office of Global Criminal Justice and across the U.S. Government who are working tenaciously to advance the cause of justice and accountability wherever atrocities occur.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yeah.
MODERATOR: We’ll open for a question-and-answer period now. We’ll start in the room and then we will go to Zoom. If you have a question, please raise your hand. I’ll call on you. Please state your name and your media outlet.
Let’s go to Dmitry.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Hi.
MODERATOR: Oh, you can just – yes.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: There’s no —
QUESTION: Okay. We don’t have a mike, no?
MODERATOR: No – okay.
QUESTION: Dmitry Anopchenko, Ukrainian television correspondent. Ma’am, thank you so very much for this opportunity, and my thanks to Foreign Press Center for organizing this. Two short questions on Ukraine. Firstly, could you tell more about the efforts of your office and the efforts of the U.S. Government in helping Ukraine to collect the evidences? Because right now (inaudible) is the most important thing. What effort it should be or it is already the team which might be on the ground and to advise, to help on the ground? So could you share more details, please?
And secondly, from what I heard from you today, you told the main role is for Ukrainian courts itself, and I heard your position even from this podium that you support the idea that the final topic should be the court which will work under the Ukrainian law. But speaking to experts and even speaking to your predecessors, I heard the doubts that the single country cannot prosecute at its own system a foreign chief of state – so, for example, Ukraine doesn’t have an ability to go after Putin or after Shoigu; that under the Ukrainian constitution, you cannot have the international judges and so on and so on. So could you clarify your position? And do you believe that maybe international court like the Court for Sierra Leone may be built, may be created? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes, thank you very much for the question, Dmitry. First, on the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, essentially what we are doing with the United Kingdom and the European Union is to deploy teams of experts to work side by side with their Ukrainian counterparts in Ukraine, in Kyiv, but then also out in the field. They’re doing this in order to ensure that evidence is collected to international standards and also is relevant to pursuing whatever war crimes charges might be able to be brought under Ukrainian courts. As you well know, a number of cases have been ongoing involving war crimes and acts of aggression within Ukrainian courts against perpetrators, some who are in the custody of Ukraine, and some of these cases are proceeding in absentia.
So just as an example of the kind of experts we’re providing, the individual who helped to prosecute the siege of Sarajevo before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague is now working with his colleagues in Ukraine to help prosecute the siege of Mariupol. This is the kind of support that the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group is providing, and we hope that other states will join the EU and United Kingdom in this multinational fund in order to ensure that – the sustainability of this work.
We know that this is a multigenerational process, potentially. Cases can happen years later. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda only recently in the last several weeks found, identified a fugitive that had been on the run since the genocide in 1993. He was found in South Africa and now will be brought finally to justice decades later. So this is a long-term effort, and we are committed to staying on the course on that effort. The arm of justice is law – is long, and it’s also quite patient.
Turning to your second question, there are essentially five pathways to justice for Ukraine. I’ve already talked about war crimes cases being brought in Ukrainian courts. Of course, the International Criminal Court is seized. An unprecedented 43 state parties have referred the matter to the court. The court has issued arrest warrants against President Putin himself and the children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova – I have to put that in quotes because it’s such a misnomer – has issued arrest warrants for the forcible deportation or transfer of Ukrainian children into Russia and Russia-controlled areas. So those are two pathways.
The third pathways are cases being brought in potentially European and other courts. We have a war crimes accountability team here within the Department of Justice that is researching and investigating how to use our new war crimes statute that Congress amended last term to press charges against responsible individuals who may fall within the United States’ jurisdiction.
The fourth pathway are these cases in the United States, and then the fifth pathway – the pathway you mentioned – is for the crime of aggression. There are proposals to pursue some sort of a special tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression, because the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction over that crime. The two proposals that have emerged are an international tribunal that might be created through the United Nations, and more of an internationalized domestic tribunal with a lot of international investment.
As I think you know, the United States favors the latter model, in part because we think it builds the domestic capacity within Ukraine but also does not confront some difficult legal issues with the United Nations Charter and the power of the General Assembly to create an institution with coercive powers. Under the UN Charter, the General Assembly can only make recommendations. It cannot order states to cooperate or to enact any measures. It can only make recommendations. And we’re also quite concerned that there may not be the necessary votes within the General Assembly to create a new standalone institution. So from our perspective, the most expedient way to immediately create a body, a tribunal with the ability to prosecute the crime of aggression but with strong support from the international community, would be to do that within the domestic framework.
Now, as you note, there are limitations within the Ukrainian constitution that might make it difficult to have international judges, for example, serve side by side with Ukrainian judges, or to have Ukrainian judges sit extraterritorially. We understand and respect those limitations within your constitutional system. We do think, however, that there are creative ideas for getting around those. We also know that the International Center for the Prosecution of Aggression has been stood up in The Hague. That is like a proto-prosecutorial office. So this work is already underway while we work out some of the issues that will need to be addressed in order to create an internationalized tribunal within the domestic legal system. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s go here to Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you so very much. Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency. Ambassador, welcome to the Foreign Press Center.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Thank you.
QUESTION: I have multiple questions. I want to – I do want to pick up from where you left off with Dmitry, but before that, news of the day. What do you know about – for certain about Prigozhin and the state of Wagner Group after his being murdered? According to Kremlin, Wagner Group has no legal existence. That doesn’t scream justice and accountability when it comes to their actions in Ukraine. Just give a sense of, please, where that position is standing in terms of going after Wagner as of now.
Second question, you mentioned five avenues. I do want to talk about ICC in particular. Now that you have presidential go-ahead in terms of sharing your data with the ICC, can you please put into percentage how much of data has been already shared since last month and where the wind is blowing in terms of when it comes to five avenues? Are you really leaning towards ICC when it comes to punishing Putin and others?
And number three, Russia has never been sanctioned for blowing up Kakhovka dam. This is the largest manmade disaster in decades that went completely unpunished. Why? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Great, thank you. So with respect to your first question, obviously we’re still trying to understand exactly what happened there. All indications seem to be that there was some sort of an explosive on board that brought that plane down. We can only speculate as to who caused that, but I think information will continue to emerge over time.
What we are left with, though, is a leaderless organization, which is extremely dangerous. Wagner has – it’s essentially a malign force anywhere that Wagner personnel have been deployed, and we’ve seen the results of those deployments in Mali, in the Central African Republic, in Libya, in Syria, and elsewhere. Wagner is associated with the extraction of resources from those areas. They’re brought in to enhance security and they end up undermining security. We’ve also seen extreme violations of international human rights committed by Wagner forces in civilian populations. And so all of these – anywhere that Wagner has been deployed, we have seen death and destruction to follow. Now we have a situation where that organization does not have a leader, and we understand that those forces are still out in the field, and so it’s an extremely uncertain situation.
When it comes to sharing information, you will have seen that President Biden has mandated that the Intelligence Community and agencies within the Executive Branch share information with the International Criminal Court as it pursues its investigation in the Ukraine (matter). And so we are in the process of responding to that mandate from our President. We do not discuss the specifics of requests that come in or what sort of information we share, in part to respect the confidentiality of the work of the prosecutor and his investigative trajectory. But rest assured that we are looking for ways to be supportive of that investigation and of all the five pathways to justice that I discussed.
Now when it comes to the dam, that of course was an environmental disaster. I understand that there are still investigations being undertaken within Ukraine to understand the cause of what happened, and so that is why there has not been any accountability measures yet with respect to who precisely may have been responsible for that act.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go – we’ll take a couple of questions online and then we’ll come back to the room. Let’s go to Juan Silva with W Radio, Colombia.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Hi, Juan.
QUESTION: Hi, is my audio okay, right?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Ambassador, I would like to know – you spoke a little bit about Colombia, and it is known that a ceasefire was recently announced, and President Petro is making efforts in dialogues with ELN that is different than the process – the peace process than it was in 2016 and 2020 with another group called FARC. What can you tell us about why Colombia is an example in peace implementation, and what do you think of this new process with ELN? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes, thank you so much, Juan. It’s extremely important to continue to work towards peace within Colombia. As you mentioned, there was a comprehensive peace accord in 2016 with the FARC, but there were certain remnants of FARC and also the ELN who did not participate in that peace accord. And as you mentioned, President Petro is working hard to try and bring those groups into the fold in order to create a more peaceful, democratic, inclusive society for all Colombians going forward.
So we applaud those efforts at peacebuilding, and we hope that some sort of a comprehensive agreement can be reached with these other organizations in order to bring peace to all Colombians not only within Bogotá itself but in some of the far-flung regions of Colombia that were hardest hit during the conflict period and are still wracked by violence today given that these groups are still at large.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s go to Rahim Rashidi with Kurdistan24.
QUESTION: One second.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Hi, Rahim.
QUESTION: Do you hear me, Doris?
MODERATOR: We can.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes, thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much, Ambassador, for this great opportunity.
I would like to ask you: How do you assess the assistance of the Kurdistan Regional Government in the case of genocide of victims of ISIS crimes, and especially Yezidis case?
And second question is: Do you think Iran’s massacres against civilians can be regarded as genocide? Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: You asked about Iran’s massacre of civilians?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Great.
QUESTION: And this has publicly happened – many international organizations recognize Iran killed publicly thousands of demonstrator in peacefully demonstration in Iran’s and especially in Iranian Kurdistan as well.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Great, thank you so much for the questions. First, with respect to the KRG, there is a special role for that regional government in helping to ensure the return of Yezidis and other displaced populations to their ancestral homes and ensuring the full, complete implementation of the Yezidis Survivor Law. Most of the crimes that ISIS has committed were crimes – atrocity crimes, and yet the larger Iraq penal code does not include genocide crimes against humanity or a full range of war crimes that are available to be prosecuted.
And so as such, the criminal cases that have been brought have only generally involved crimes of terrorism. The UNITAD, which is the major United Nations investigative body that has been created in order to support justice for the crimes committed within Iraq, is only able to share information for the commission of – for cases that are pursuing the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide. And so UNITAD is not able to be particularly helpful in those terrorism cases. That’s why it’s important for Iraq, out of Baghdad, to enact a larger crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide act to enable those charges to be brought, to enable UNITAD to support those charges with the evidence and information that it has collected. And that will ensure that the full range of crimes that members of ISIL stand accused of can be prosecuted in local courts.
Justice, we know, needs to be seen to be done. It’s more important for cases to be brought locally than to be brought in far-flung courts around the world. We welcome those cases; we welcome the exercise of universal and other forms of extraterritorial jurisdiction in Europe and elsewhere. We here in the United States have enacted statutes that enable us to use expansive forms of jurisdiction. But perpetrators often will not travel; victims and witnesses are not located near those courts. And so we really put the onus on the national system to take accountability seriously for its people, for its citizens. So that’s why it’s critically important that Iraq address this.
When it comes to the situation in Iran, of course, we have seen now decades of repression against individuals who would seek a more democratic future. And in recent years, we’ve seen terrible attacks on the streets of peaceful protestors, but also attacks on schoolgirls, which seem to be involving chemical weapons or other forms of biological harm. All of these crimes need to be investigated. The United Nations has created a fact-finding mission with extremely – with expert personnel associated with that that have started to collect information, including from within Iran, from diaspora groups, from human rights organizations around the world that have been working for years to document crimes committed within Iran.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s go to Jahanzaib from Pakistan.
QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from (inaudible). (Inaudible) Taliban falls within the category of global criminal justice and accountability, as there is no justice there and no accountability of Taliban? There is no democracy. Taliban also joined forces with some of the deadliest terrorist groups, posing dangers to the region and beyond. Moreover, crimes against humanity of gender, persecution against women and girls.
I have one more question, if you’ll allow me. We have seen – many times we have seen when it is about – when it is in the interest of United States of America these values and these words like justice, democracy, accountability, war, like crimes against humanity – doesn’t matter anymore. I mean, we have seen like recently United States gave immunity to MBS, who was involved in the killing of a senior journalist. We have seen many cases with Israel; we have seen many cases with India, and which involved in crimes in Kashmir and Indian Punjab. So don’t you think these are the double standards? And why these are the double standards here?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes, thank you. So first, your question with respect to the Afghan Taliban. Indeed, we do track violations that we see associated with not only the Taliban but also some of the non-state actors that you mentioned, particularly gender persecution against women and girls within Afghanistan, but also attacks on other minorities, such as the Hazara, who have been subjected to extreme persecution not just from the Taliban but also from ISIS and other groups operating within Afghanistan.
The International Criminal Court does have an open investigation and has indicated that it is prioritizing crimes committed by the Taliban and other non-state actors and that the prosecutor has appointed a senior special advisor on gender persecution who has put forth a very comprehensive policy on how the Office of the Prosecutor should prosecute gender persecution before the International Criminal Court. Now, no charges have been forthcoming, but we do anticipate that they will be, and so that’s an area to watch.
And on your question of double standards, of course the system of international justice is incomplete. There are some states that are members of the International Criminal Court and there are some that are not. There are complicated bilateral relationships that the United States have with states around the world. And sometimes justice is at the top of this list, and sometimes it slips down the list. But rest assured that there are people within the United States Government that are always pushing to ensure that we’re documenting what’s happened, that to the extent that we have relationships with difficult governments we do so with our eyes wide open as to the truth of what’s happening, and we always use opportunities to converse with those representatives from those states in order to try and bring those countries’ conduct into alignment with international human rights.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s go here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much, Ambassador, for this opportunity. I have two questions. One is —
MODERATOR: Please state your name and your media outlet.
QUESTION: Yeah, sure. Aref Yaqubi from Afghanistan International TV, based in D.C. and London. So my first question is about some Taliban’s leaders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, which was recognized by the United States as a terrorist and still his picture and his name, his information, is on the State Department’s website as a terrorist with $10 million bounty on his head. So will the justice – will he be – I mean, will the United States take any action to bring justice on him? What is the United States position right now? If he is not a terrorist anymore, why his picture and his information cannot be removed from the website? If he is still a terrorist, why the United States doesn’t take any action? So where is the justice when it comes to Sirajuddin Haqqani?
So my second question is about the girls’ education. So it’s almost two years the Taliban didn’t allow the girls to go to school, as my colleagues asked it. So what is the clear strategy from the United States to put more pressure on Taliban that they allow girls to go to school? And many human rights activists called that as a gender apartheid in Afghanistan, so what is the strategy and what is your position on that? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes, great. Thank you so much. Indeed, the United States has several rewards programs that we use in order to identify, locate, and bring to justice individuals who are associated with acts of terrorism, for example, or transnational criminal organizations – or my office, which administers a program called the War Crimes Rewards Program. We designate individuals into those programs, and that enables us to offer rewards for information leading to the capture, transfer, or conviction of those individuals before courts of law around the world.
I don’t administer that particular program; it’s a different office that administers that program. But those rewards programs exist in order to try and encourage individuals to come forward with actionable information to help law enforcement authorities identify the location of persons who are at large, who are fugitives from justice, and ultimately bring them in so that they can face justice for the charges against them. And if he remains on that – in that particular program, then he remains considered to be eligible for – individuals who would bring information forward with respect to that individual would be eligible to receive rewards for that information in the event that person is eventually brought to justice.
When it comes to girls’ education, indeed this is one of the most unconscionable acts of the Taliban, to deny young girls the ability to plan their own life paths, to operate in public, to have – to contribute to the growth and vibrancy of that particular society. And so in all of our engagements there we are constantly pushing to have some of those restrictions be relaxed. We have a special envoy who’s dedicated to women and girls and their plight within Afghanistan, and she is constantly engaging with officials in an effort to improve the situation and life for girls and women.
We have seen, of course, that term “gender apartheid” being used with respect to the situation in Afghanistan. We don’t have a position per se on the concept. We know that the idea of racial apartheid emerged in South Africa. It was the formal name for a legislated system in which individuals, persons of color were subjected to extreme discrimination and persecution. It has always been defined in terms of harm along racial grounds, but many of the same characteristics that we saw in Apartheid South Africa, we are of course now seeing with respect to women and girls in Afghanistan.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one more question. And we will go here.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ambassador, for your time. My name is Amr Hassan.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Hi, Amr.
QUESTION: I work with the Al Jazeera Mubasher. And I have a question along the lines of my colleague here which is about the press freedom, whether or not it falls under the jurisdiction of your office, and more specifically on Egypt. The press freedoms in Egypt are not in the best scenario, and more specifically, two of our colleagues – you have (inaudible) – they are under arrest right now. They have been detained for three years and two years without a single trial. So are there any ways or channels of communication between your office and Egypt to maintain the bilateral relationships while working on the press freedom issues?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes, thank you, Amr. That is not really within the jurisdiction of my office, but we do, of course, have our Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor – DRL, as we call them – Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. They have the full brief of human rights more generally, including the persecution of journalists and press freedoms, freedom of association, freedom of speech. These are the types of international human rights that we find in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which is reaching a very important anniversary in terms of its establishment – and they push for the full implementation of those rights within domestic systems, including within Egypt.
Every year, the office of – the bureau puts forward a report of human rights violations around the world, and you will see that the situation in Egypt does discuss some of the types of persecutions we’ve seen against the particular rights of assembly, of speech, of the press, et cetera. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Ambassador, I’ll throw it back to you for closing remarks.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Thank you, Doris. I really appreciate the interest taken amongst the foreign press in the developments that we’re seeing within the system of international justice. It is a growing system; it is a system that is increasingly interoperable. It is a system in which survivors and their communities are able to participate actively. They’re not simply witnesses, for example, for the prosecution, but they are helping to design justice mechanisms around the world.
And my job in the Office of Global Criminal Justice is to ensure that the United States is a partner in these efforts – whether it be in Ethiopia, in Iraq, with respect to the Yezidi in Xinjiang – working with survivors, their communities, diaspora communities to document abuses around the world and look for ways to promote justice in whatever forum may have jurisdiction.
So thank you so much for your interest, and I look forward to re-engaging with you in the future.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. And thank you all for joining us. This concludes today’s briefing.