I would like to extend my appreciation to the Helsinki Commission, Chairs and Ranking Members—Senator Cardin, Senator Wicker, Representative Cohen, and Representative Wilson—for convening this important hearing. I’m honored to speak before this body alongside the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Iryna Venediktova, and Professor Timothy Snyder. Since 1976, the Helsinki Commission has championed the advancement of comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and cooperation in the OSCE region.
It has now been over two months since the Kremlin launched its latest assault and further aggression against Ukraine. Russia’s government has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv and failed in its objective of subjugating all of Ukraine, but we have still seen Russia’s forces inflict massive brutality across the country. Indeed, the United States has assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, based on our careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources.
At first, this violence appeared in reports of deliberate attacks against civilians and infrastructure. Later, when journalists, human rights defenders, and others gained access to areas following Russia’s retreat, we saw reports of violence of a different order, including credible reports of individuals killed execution-style with their hands bound; bodies showing signs of torture; and horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls. We have credible information that a Russian military unit operating in the vicinity of Donetsk was allegedly executing captured Ukrainians, rather than detaining them. If true, this would be in violation of a core principle of the law of war: the prohibition against the summary execution of civilians and combatants who are hors de combat by virtue of surrender, injury or other forms of incapacitation.
The images and reports suggest these atrocities are not the act of a rogue unit; rather, they reveal a deeply disturbing pattern of abuse across all areas where Russia’s forces are engaged. The United States supports all international efforts to examine atrocities in Ukraine, including those conducted by the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and others. The United States particularly welcomes the opening of investigations by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court into atrocity crimes committed in Ukraine. We intend to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve our common objectives in ensuring justice.
Through a joint initiative with the European Union, the United States is also supporting the Ukrainian national authorities, specifically the War Crimes Units of the Office of the Prosecutor General as they investigate and prepare to prosecute war crimes cases. The State Department has funded and deployed to the region a multinational team of international prosecutors, investigators, and other war crimes experts, with years of experience in international criminal tribunals. This team is advising and supporting Ukraine’s authorities in collecting, preserving, and analyzing evidence of atrocities with a view towards pursuing criminal accountability.
The United States government also stands ready to support other national courts around the world in the event they establish jurisdiction over individuals accused of committing international crimes. A number of countries have opened national investigations into these horrific crimes, and we are committed to robust law enforcement and diplomatic cooperation to ensure that there is no safe haven for those responsible for atrocities. We also welcome Ukraine’s proceedings before the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, which can adjudicate state responsibility.
Building a solid foundation of documentation will be essential to laying the groundwork for accountability. The United States helped establish the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry, ensuring it has a mandate to investigate, document, analyze, and share evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses with appropriate entities and to identify the individuals and entities responsible.
The United States joined 44 OSCE participating States, with Ukraine’s support, in invoking the OSCE Moscow Mechanism to establish the fact-finding mission. The report released April 13 provided a meticulous and compelling account of Russia’s violations and abuses of human rights and its violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine. It also cites evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting, and forced deportation of civilians to Russia. All the information collected in the report will be made available to the relevant accountability mechanisms, courts, and tribunals.
The United States also supports the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission, which regularly reports from Ukraine on civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects. As the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights stated, the actual number of casualties is likely much higher than what has appeared in published reports.
Finally, as part of our efforts to further advance human rights and justice in Ukraine, the United States has released information on the immediate priorities of the European Democratic Resilience Initiative. Announced by President Biden in March, this Initiative will provide up to $320 million to support societal resilience, defend human rights, and advance accountability in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, the United States and the EU have been working together closely to implement sanctions on Russia’s leadership, as well as private individuals and entities, in order to strengthen Ukraine’s hand on the battlefield, starve Russia of the resources it is expending to pursue this unprovoked war of aggression, and encourage individuals subject to sanctions to dramatically change course.
Together, every one of these institutions and initiatives make up an inter-linked system of international justice. We now occupy a unique historical moment when there is consensus that the conduct of the Russian state is intolerable and those in command and control must be held accountable. At this critical moment, it is up to all of us to continue to
- coordinate international and multilateral initiatives to advance the imperative of justice and accountability,
- preserve the sanctity of international norms,
- hold accountable those responsible, and
- respond to victims’ legitimate desire for justice.
The people of Ukraine—like other civilians around the globe who bear the unspeakable blows of war—should be able to live their lives without fear of having their homes destroyed by an invader’s shell or being shot with their hands tied behind their backs and left to die in the street. Effective accountability measures for those who are ordering and committing atrocities will make clear that those who engage in this brutality will not enjoy impunity. Together with Ukraine, we and our Allies and partners are united in our resolve to bring perpetrators to justice.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I look forward to your questions.