Mr. Chairman, Co-Chairman Cardin, ranking members, and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. It is an honor and privilege to address you as the sixth U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice.
There is no question that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has had a devastating impact on Ukrainian children. Thousands of children have been forcibly displaced. Russian forces have targeted and destroyed hundreds of schools. Innumerable precious life paths have been indelibly disrupted. Children have witnessed horrific events that may haunt them forever.
Just last month, the UN Secretary-General issued his annual report on Children and Armed Conflict. The report tracks six violations against children including: killing and maiming of children; recruitment or use of children in armed forces and armed groups; attacks on schools and hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence; abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access for children. The report verified that during the period between January and December 2022 alone, Russian armed forces and affiliated groups were responsible for the killing and maiming of hundreds of children, rape and sexual violence against girls, hundreds of attacks on schools and hospitals, the abduction of children, the military use of schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.
The U.S. government has equally been mindful of Russia’s crimes against children. In February, Vice President Kamala Harris announced at the Munich Security Conference that Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population amounting to crimes against humanity, including gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape, and deportation. This determination followed extensive analysis by the Department, including my Office of Global Criminal Justice, of information indicating that members of Russia’s forces alongside other Russian officials committed, amongst other acts, the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including many unaccompanied children.
As Secretary Blinken explained in his statement, “These acts are not random or spontaneous; they are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population.” When it comes to the abduction and deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children in particular, President Joe Biden observed in his remarks in Poland that Russia has “stolen Ukrainian children in an attempt to steal Ukraine’s future.”
A report issued by the U.S.-funded Conflict Observatory at Yale University details Russia’s vast network of sites and highly organized processes used to relocate thousands of Ukraine’s children to areas under Russian government control and subject them to coerced political re-education. We know from this research that officials at all levels of the Russian government are involved, from President Putin down through local-level officials who facilitate these movements. And we know that this network of children’s facilities now stretches from Russia-occupied Crimea to Russia’s Far East.
Following applications by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, the ICC issued two arrest warrants: for President Vladimir Putin himself and for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, for war crimes committed against Ukraine’s children. As President Biden noted, and as the available evidence attests, these arrest warrants are “justified”.
These crimes against Ukraine’s children is an issue that my office—and the rest of the Administration—is working hard to address.
My office, for example, funds the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA) for Ukraine, a mechanism established by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to coordinate support for Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General on their accountability efforts in Ukrainian courts. The ACA brings together multinational and multidisciplinary experts to aid in the collection and preservation of evidence; the investigation of international crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence; crime scene and forensic analysis; due process protections; and the imperative of conducting trauma-informed and victim-centered investigations in a way that puts the rights, well-being, and dignity of victims at the forefront of all their efforts.
The ACA includes an advisory group to the Office of the Prosecutor General (OPG), made up of senior war crimes prosecutors, investigators, military analysts, forensic specialists, and others drawn from the world’s international tribunals and national war crimes units. Another key element of the ACA involves the deployment of mobile justice teams intended to increase the capacity of the OPG War Crimes Unit to assist investigators and prosecutors in the field.
Addressing crimes against children is a priority for the OPG and, by extension, the ACA. The OPG has established a number of working groups focused on specific topical issues; one of these clusters deals with the deportation of children. To support the OPG’s important investigations, through the ACA we are funding:
- The assignment of eight international prosecutors who have extensive experience working on crimes against children at either international criminal tribunals or in their domestic justice systems (e.g., in Bosnia and Herzegovina). The ACA prosecutors will serve as advisers/mentors to their OPG counterparts and will work collaboratively with them as they develop cases.
- Specialized training to OPG prosecutors focused on crimes against children given their unique vulnerabilities.
- Substantial assistance and expertise to the OPG as it develops a comprehensive victim and witness support capability. This unit within OPG is very attentive to issues related to child victims and witnesses, and ACA advisers are helping their Ukrainian colleagues to enhance their capacity for addressing these specialized needs.
- Providing training on victim and witness support and sharing recommendations on implementing a survivor-centered approach and avoiding re-traumatization.
In addition, other elements of the Department are working with our international partners to reverse and prevent the Russian government’s forcible deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia, the relocation of Ukrainian children to Belarus, and the transfer of Ukrainian children within Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine or from Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine to Russia. And we are deploying sanctions against individuals involved in these crimes.
But we know we must do more.
That is why this Administration is grateful to have worked with Congress to advance a legislative proposal to enact a new statute criminalizing crimes against humanity domestically and give the U.S. government the authority to prosecute perpetrators who are present in the United States. We hope to see continued progress to enact such legislation this year, which would give U.S. prosecutors an important tool to ensure that perpetrators do not find safe haven here or escape accountability for their crimes.
Members of the Commission, we understand that the work ahead of us in ensuring accountability for these atrocities is long and will require durable commitment from all elements of the U.S. government. We are committed to that aim, and we thank the Commission for providing us the opportunity to highlight this horrific element of Russia’s war of aggression and the work we are doing on these important issues.
I thank you and welcome your questions.