Statement by Secretary of State Blinken, as delivered in The Hague by Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Zeya.
Thank you to the Netherlands, the European Union, and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for convening this conference.
As this meeting takes place, Russian forces continue to commit atrocities in Ukraine with harrowing intensity, as they have done since invading their sovereign neighbor on February 24th.
With each day, the war crimes mount. Rape. Torture. Extrajudicial executions. Disappearances. Forced deportations.
Attacks on schools, hospitals, playgrounds, apartment buildings, grain silos, water and gas facilities.
These are not the acts of rogue units. They fit a clear pattern, across every part of Ukraine touched by Russian forces. And they fit a clear pattern with Russia’s previous actions in conflicts in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine starting in 2014.
Every one of these attacks has victims.
Like the 47 people killed, including a nine-year-old boy, in a Russian strike on an apartment complex in Chasiv Yar last weekend. That number will likely rise, as first responders continue to dig through the rubble.
This is just one of more than 20 attacks… in one day… in one region of Ukraine.
Every atrocity sends out waves of suffering that most of us cannot comprehend – inflicting wounds on victims and their loved ones that may never fully heal.
It is our responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable – and deliver justice and support for the growing number of victims.
We can support Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General in its efforts to hold accountable perpetrators in the country’s justice system, and to coordinate with international inquiries – as the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom are doing through the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group.
We can support national courts when they establish jurisdiction over individuals accused of committing international crimes in Ukraine – and against Ukrainians deported to Russia.
We can support existing international and multilateral efforts to collect and examine the mounting evidence of atrocities in Ukraine, including those by the International Criminal Court.
We can undertake our own efforts to gather evidence of war crimes, and make it available to national and international investigations, as we are doing through the Conflict Observatory.
We can support the work of civil society groups documenting abuses and providing support to survivors. And we can better integrate their findings into investigations.
We can provide survivors with access to medical care, psychosocial services, and other vital assistance. And when we gather evidence from these individuals, we can ensure we engage in a way that is survivor-centered and trauma-informed, so that we don’t exacerbate their suffering.
Countries in every part of the world are already supporting many of these efforts, which is testament to our global unity in standing with victims in Ukraine. But this attention makes our coordination crucial.
The same goes for justice efforts worldwide.
Since February 24th, I’ve spoken with human rights defenders from around the globe, and they’ve consistently offered two warnings about this crisis.
First, allowing grave abuses in Ukraine to go unpunished will not only embolden the Kremlin, but brutal regimes everywhere.
And second, the international community must bring greater attention and resources to bear on other parts of the world where atrocities are being committed with impunity.
They are right.
We don’t have to choose between focusing on justice in Ukraine and other crises.
Everything we are doing to lay the foundation for accountability in Ukraine, we can and must do wherever atrocities are being committed. All victims of grave international crimes deserve equal access to justice – regardless of where they take place or who perpetrates them.
So let us use the clarity and unity of this moment to broaden our ambition – knowing that steps we take toward justice anywhere will advance the fight against impunity everywhere.
For the history of the pursuit of justice teaches us that these efforts can take years, or even decades. Just ask some of the countries represented here. Like Colombia. Ireland. Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Or ask the victims of the Assad regime’s Branch 251, where thousands of civilians were tortured at the outset of Syria’s civil war. From 2011 to 2012, that facility was overseen by Syrian Colonel Anwar Raslan. He was detained in Germany in 2019, and later tried in a German court. In January 2022, Raslan was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison.
A single conviction may seem small alongside the atrocities committed in Syria, but in the words of one survivor who testified in Raslan’s trial, “It is the beginning of a path.”
We owe it to victims everywhere – and those vulnerable to such atrocities – to work relentlessly to stop these crimes. And we owe to them to stay on the long path to justice. So that when perpetrators are eventually forced to stand for their crimes – and that day will come – the case against them will be unimpeachable.