MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today, we are very honored to be joined by Ambassador Michael Carpenter, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
And with that, let’s get started. Ambassador Carpenter, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Great, thanks so much and thanks, everyone, for joining. So today in the OSCE’s Permanent Council, we received a briefing as well as a final report prepared by the fact-finding mission that was convoked under the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism. So just to remind everybody, 45 out of the 57 participating states in the OSCE, including Ukraine as the host country, invoked the Moscow Mechanism in early March to investigate violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, possible war crimes, and possible crimes against humanity. The mission’s mandate ran from February 24th to April 1st. And I just want to say at the outset that we’re very grateful to the experts who led the mission. Those are Professors Wolfgang Benedek, Professor Veronica Bílková, and Professor Marco Sassòli.
So the mission found, quote, “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by Russian forces in their conduct of hostilities,” end quote. It also found – and I want to underline this point – that some patterns of violent acts violating international human rights law, such as targeted killing, enforced disappearances, or abductions of civilians, including journalists and local officials, if committed with the knowledge of the act, would constitute crimes against humanity.
As I said in my statement earlier today, taken as a whole, the report documents a catalog of inhumanity perpetrated by Russia’s forces in Ukraine. It includes evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting, and forced deportation of civilians to Russia. The mission found that clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by Russian forces and said that it was not conceivable that so many civilians would have been killed and injured and so many civilian objects would have been damaged or destroyed if Russia had respected its international humanitarian law obligations in terms of distinction, proportionality, and precautions.
One of the main findings, one of the main events that was highlighted in the report was the egregious March 9th attack on the Mariupol Maternity House and Children’s Hospital, which I’m sure you all covered. And it determined significantly that the hospital was destroyed by a Russian strike, and it concluded that the attack was deliberate with no effective warning given, and therefore that it constituted a clear violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.
The report also cites evidence showing that Russian forces engaged in widespread and systematic pattern of damage to Ukrainian health care facilities, with attacks on 52 facilities just between February 24th and March 22nd, including the use of – including indiscriminate bombardment and in some cases intentional targeting, which, again, would constitute war crimes.
Now, as I said earlier, the mission’s mandate was until April 1st. And as you all know, since the completion of that mandate, the world has been horrified by the scenes of large-scale civilian killings at the hands of Russian forces in the northern suburbs of Kyiv in Bucha, Irpin, and other areas liberated by Ukraine. And of course, more recently we also had the egregious, barbaric missile attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk on April 8th which killed at least 57 civilians and injured many, many more.
So I’d just remind the fact that the mission’s mandate was from February 24th to April 1st. It’s critical that the information collected in this report, first of all, be made available to all the relevant accountability mechanisms as well as national, regional, and international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these affairs, and it’s also important that we carry this work forward after April 1st.
As you all know, I think a lot of the crimes perpetrated in Bucha were likely perpetrated during the period where this team had a mandate but when the evidence was still unavailable. That evidence came to light mostly in early April. And so there will need to be follow-on investigations that – and the collection of evidence in order to build cases in the future. The United States, as I think you all know, is going to continue to use the full range of tools and resources that we have to support documentation and accountability efforts together with our allies and partners. And I think I’m going to leave it at that at the outset, and then we can – we can cover more in the Q&A. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much, Ambassador. We will now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing.
Our first question was e mailed to us by Henry Foy of the Financial Times. His question is: “The U.S. is not a member of the International Criminal Court and does not recognize its jurisdiction. However, the ICC has taken an initial lead in investigating war crimes during the invasion of Ukraine. Does the U.S. support this ICC initiative?”
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yeah. Thanks, Henry, for the question. So we welcome the ICC prosecutor’s announcement to open an investigation, in particular his focus on preserving evidence of alleged atrocity crimes and his commitment to full respect for the principle of complementarity. As my colleague, Ambassador Van Schaack, who is the Special Envoy for International Criminal Justice, said, everything is on the table. And we’re considering all the various options for accountability.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Nick Schifrin with PBS. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador. I hope you’re well. Two questions today, one on Mariupol. I know we don’t have full visibility there, but can you describe, given the nature of what we believe is happening there, how Mariupol plays into this narrative of war crimes, possible crimes against humanity by Russian forces who are besieging that city? And the second question is about genocide. Obviously, the President used the language he used. He believes, he feels that genocide is being committed. You have heard examples of Russians saying that Ukraine doesn’t exist, it shouldn’t exist, and people shouldn’t be Ukrainian. And we’ve got examples of children even being kidnapped from Ukraine and forcibly re-educated in Russia. So can you talk about whether you believe genocide is taking place? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Okay. Thanks, Nick. So I’m going to start with your second question first. President Biden was very clear calling the events in Ukraine genocide due to increasing evidence that President Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being able to be Ukrainian, as you noted. This desire to destroy the Ukrainian people has been seen in the horrific images of Russia’s barbaric treatment of civilians in areas that were previously under Russian control. It is also evidenced in the speeches of Russian Government leaders and press articles appearing in the Russian media that deny Ukraine the right to exist as an independent state.
So as President Biden concluded, it will be up to the international law experts to determine if the actions meet the legal definition of genocide under the Genocide Convention, and a legal review based on meticulous collection of evidence is underway. That’s going to take some time to be completed, but in the meantime, the President has been – has made a very clear moral determination on this issue.
Now, with respect to your first question about Mariupol, the Moscow Mechanism fact-finding mission did conclude that there were egregious atrocities committed in Mariupol, and they singled out, as I mentioned in my opening comments, the attack on the Mariupol Children’s and Maternity Hospital, as well as the attack on the Mariupol Theatre, where there were over 300 people killed and, as you know, where there was a giant sign with the word “children” written in Russian that would be plainly visible from the sky.
And the current reports that we’ve seen show that – from Mariupol authorities that something like 80 or 90, maybe even upwards of 90 percent of the city is just completely devastated. I mean, this is a tragedy on an immense, immense proportion. And so the report does go into some of this, and it concludes that there are, especially in the case of the strike on the hospital that I mentioned and the theater, that those were war crimes.
As you – I’m not a lawyer, but as you may or may not know, war crimes get adjudicated in a court of law, and individuals are held accountable. But then there’s also the question of whether the systematic nature of these attacks constitute crimes against humanity. And the fact-finding mission from the OSCE Moscow Mechanism leans very heavily into this question and says that it does appear that crimes against humanity may well have been committed. It does not make a definitive judgement but comes very close to that. And so I think as we gather additional evidence, especially on the foreknowledge and the systematic nature of the attacks, we may have additional clarity on it.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Danila Galperovich with Voice of America. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello, Ambassador. Thank you very much for doing this briefing. What instruments does the United States and its allies have to hold Russia accountable within the framework of OSCE? And is there an option to exclude Russia from OSCE as it was excluded from Council of Europe? Because it seems that Moscow is using its membership in international organizations like UN and the OSCE only to maintain the appearance of legitimacy of its actions. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, thanks for the question, Danila. On the OSCE, there is no clear procedure by which we could expel Russia. There was suspension of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but that requires consensus minus one, and since you have Russia and Belarus as co-aggressor states in this war on Ukraine, it is unlikely that we would find a procedure that would enable us to expel Russia.
But I think there is – well, I’ll say a couple of things on this. So, first of all, I think there is a pretty near isolation of Belarus and Russia in the OSCE. There are 57 participating states, and only Belarus and Russia defend each other. Every other participating state in the Permanent Council has either condemned their actions or, in a few cases, remained silent. The fact that we had 45 out of 57 participating states endorse this Moscow Mechanism and the report that was produced by the fact-finding team I think shows you just how isolated Russia and Belarus are.
And so we, frankly, see the OSCE as a tool to hold Russia accountable by documenting these human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. And we also think that the OSCE can play a useful role on the ground. In fact, the OSCE has a presence in Ukraine right now. As you know, the special monitoring mission was evacuated, but there is a presence on the ground in Ukraine that is helping to distribute humanitarian relief to those areas that need it. And so the OSCE has a role to play, and it is awkward to have the Russian ambassador spewing disinformation and lies and propaganda, but he is almost completely isolated in the Permanent Council, and that really comes through when you listen to the various sessions that take place.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Pavlo Shtelmakh with Ukrainian Television. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello, dear Ambassador. Please, can you tell me does the OSCE consider Belarus as an accomplice to the Russian war crimes that they commit in Ukraine? As we know, many missiles and planes and troops are coming from the territory of the Republic of Belarus. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yes. So again, I’m not a lawyer and I can’t tell you whether there are implications for Belarus in terms of war crimes committed in Ukraine. Again, war crimes are crimes that are – well, all crimes are committed by individuals, but when we talk about crimes against humanity we’re talking about crimes perpetrated by states and war crimes being perpetrated largely by individuals who are then held individually accountable.
In the Belarus case it’s clear. We see Belarus as a co-aggressor in this conflict. I have said so numerous times in the Permanent Council. And Belarus is facing consequences for its actions supporting this war and allowing its territory to be used as a launching pad. And so we have imposed unprecedented sanctions and other measures on Belarus just like we have on Russia.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. We have a question from Tomas Miglierina of Swiss – the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. He has a follow-up question to the one asked by Henry Foy of the FT. So he says – he asks: “When you say all options are on the table, does that mean that the U.S. may reconsider its position vis-à-vis the ICC? And what happened with the material that was collected by the OSCE? Is it being handed over to the ICC?”
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: So, thanks for the question, Tomas. By all options, we’re looking at all the various accountability mechanisms. And yes, the information and evidence that was collected by the fact-finding mission under the Moscow Mechanism will be shared with other jurisdictions such as the ICC and the ICJ. It can also be shared with national courts that may claim jurisdiction.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Joel Gehrke with The Washington Examiner. Please go ahead. Joel, do we have you?
Question: Yeah, sorry about that. I was muted. Hi. Thank you for doing this. Two questions. One is about your theory of the case as you document these war crimes. Do you think that that – that we are looking at atrocities that are happening because of a policy decision or by political leadership that things that – things like what we’ve seen in Bucha and the reports of sexual violence advances some objective? Or do you think it’s more likely that we’re seeing uncontrolled Russian soldiers in a permissive environment committing crimes of opportunity?
And then secondly, there have been reports and I think we’ve even seen the Ukrainian Government allege that there – something like 121,000 children have been taken to Russia and are possibly at risk of a sort of expedited adoption process, so-called. Have you seen any evidence of that? Are you aware of that? And what’s your sense of the information available on that claim? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yes, so thanks for the questions. So first of all, I just want to clarify: it is not me as ambassador to the OSCE that is making pronouncements on either war crimes or crimes against humanity; it is this panel of experts on international humanitarian law and international human rights law that has come out with this – I think it’s a 104-page report that catalogues what they saw happening in Ukraine from February 24th to April 1st.
So to your question, however, on whether this is sort of – I’m paraphrasing now – one-offs or whether this is systematic, there is a determination in the report that some of these patterns of violent acts that violate international human rights law, which have been repeatedly documented, may well – especially if committed with knowledge of the act, the report is very clear: they would constitute a crime against humanity. So that’s on your first part of your question.
On the second part of your question, we are aware of reports of women and children being forcibly taken to Russia, and obviously this is abhorrent and would also be a violation of international law. There is some reference to this in the report as well. I can’t confirm numbers and I can’t confirm what’s happening with these individuals in Russia. But obviously this is something that is going to require thorough investigation and follow-up because it’s just beyond the pale of not just civilized behavior, but beyond the pale of all behavior that we would consider normal.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that. We have a question that was emailed to us from Katerina Sokou with Skai TV in Greece. “As regards accusations of genocide, what indications do you have, if any, and what are you looking for to determine whether genocide has taken place in Ukraine from a legal perspective?”
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Okay, so thanks for the question, Katerina. On the question of genocide, that was not part of the mandate of the Moscow Mechanism fact-finding team. There is a Genocide Convention. It’s an international convention; I believe it was adopted in 1948. And there is a definition in that convention of what genocide is, and then there – the convention elaborates on how determinations get made as to whether genocide has been committed. So that was not the purview of this particular fact-finding team, but certainly it’s something that, as President Biden has said, international law experts are going to be looking into in the coming days and weeks.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Paul Shinkman with U.S. News. Please go ahead, Paul.
Question: Yeah, hi. Thanks very much for doing the briefing. Can you say the extent to which – or to what extent do you understand the findings of this report are tied to the administration’s decision-making process on what kinds of weapons it plans to send to Ukraine, particularly new kinds of weapons or particularly more potent kinds of weapons? Are these acts that you’ve documented Russia having carried out influencing those decisions?
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yeah, look, I would say – I would distinguish between this report, which obviously we called for it and we supported the fact-finding team and we endorsed many of the conclusions contained in the report, but let’s step back a little bit. We’ve all seen the barbarity and the viciousness and just the monstrosity of Russia’s war in Ukraine over these last seven weeks. It doesn’t take this report for us to understand that what Russia is doing is just absolutely brutal and barbaric. And we’ve had a policy since before February 24th of supporting Ukraine’s ability to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and part of the ability of Ukraine to defend itself involves having sophisticated weapons and military capabilities that it can employ against, in this case, a much larger adversary in the case of Russia. And so I think we’ve provided upwards of $2.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of this conflict, everything from Javelins and Stingers, counter-drone radars, counter-artillery radars, helmets, air defense capabilities – just a variety of different platforms to enable Ukrainians to defend their neighbors and their cities and their country. And that’s going to continue.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. We have time for about two more questions. We have a question here from Oskar Gorzynski of the Polish Press Agency, and he asks: “There are reports about Russia using filtration camps for the people it forcibly relocates from places like Mariupol. Is this confirmed? What do we know about this practice?”
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: So, I think as you’ll recall, we warned – I personally warned in the Permanent Council in early March that we had reports that Russia was getting prepared to institutionalize these filtration camps, and we have seen reports in the last, well, five or six weeks of exactly this, of Russia setting up these camps and looking to pull out people, whether it’s dissidents or just people who are pro-Ukrainian. And we’ve seen a lot of enforced disappearances of local officials, of journalists, of civil society, and I don’t know whether that’s happening through these filtration camps or otherwise. But, I mean, these are exactly the sort of things that would qualify as violations of international humanitarian law – in other words, possible war crimes – and if they’re systematic in nature, they’re possible crimes against humanity.
MODERATOR: Great. And our last question comes to us from Stephanie Liechtenstein in Switzerland. She has a two-part question. The first is: “Given the crimes documented in this report, how responsible [sic] is it that the OSCE still asks national staff members to work for the organization’s SMM [Special Monitoring Mission], noting that one person was abducted and another one died tragically?” And then her second question is: “Will you relaunch the Moscow Mechanism?”
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, I think we’re going to – so I’ll take the second question first. So I think we’re going to have to look carefully at, obviously with our allies and partners, at whether we will reinvoke the Moscow Mechanism. I would note that the UN Human Rights Council has launched a commission of inquiry. To my knowledge, it is not yet up and running, which would suggest that there may be utility in reinvoking the Moscow Mechanism, but I don’t want to get ahead of any announcements from the OSCE on that.
And then on your question of Ukrainian nationals who work for the SMM, well – and whether it’s – well, let’s just put it this way: The SMM has – the mandate has ended, and so the monitors have been evacuated and the mandate has ended. Now, that said, nationals – Ukrainian nationals who worked for the OSCE, many of them are still in Ukraine, and many of them are suffering from the horrific war that we’re all seeing, and it is also possible that some of them may be targeted because of their involvement with the OSCE. And so we’re working with the OSCE secretary general and others to ensure that – I mean, their safety is obviously top of mind for us and we’re doing everything we can. I mean, this is an absolutely brutal war, and, I mean, you’ve all seen the tremendous human and humanitarian tragedy that has happened as a result, and that includes, unfortunately, national members of the OSCE who work in Ukraine, including Maryna Fenina, who was killed in shelling in Kharkiv in early March.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that, Ambassador. Unfortunately, that is all the time we have today for our questions and answers. Thanks to all the reporters on the line for your questions, and thank you, Ambassador Carpenter, for joining us. Before we close the call, I’d like to see if you have any closing remarks for the group, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: No, thanks so much. Thanks, everyone, for being with me.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you very much, Ambassador Carpenter. Very shortly, we will be sending the audio recording of this briefing to all the participating journalists and we will also provide a transcript as soon as it becomes available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another press briefing soon. This concludes the call.