A year after Russia’s full-scale invasion, President Putin’s war on Ukraine continues to result in extraordinary costs – thousands of civilians killed or wounded; thousands more subjected to forced deportation, sexual violence, and torture; millions forced to flee their homes; and cities pounded to rubble. Although the epicenter of the suffering caused by the Russian government is in Ukraine, the reverberations of this breach of international peace and security are global.
Justice and human rights accountability are central pillars of the United States’ policy on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and the United States is focused on supporting those efforts most likely to bring perpetrators to justice. While the brutal war of choice that President Putin is waging against Ukraine has caused immense suffering, it has also given rise to unprecedented coordinated international action to ensure that those responsible for atrocities in Ukraine are held accountable, whether through domestic judicial processes or international mechanisms and institutions.
The United States has supported a wide variety of accountability efforts led by the Departments of State, Justice (DOJ), and Treasury and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). With support through numerous mechanisms, such as the European Democratic Resilience Initiative (EDRI), these measures aim at ensuring accountability in a variety of fora, including supporting Ukrainian domestic authorities, international efforts, strategic litigation, sanctions and visa ineligibilities, and strengthening domestic laws to ensure that Russia’s crimes do not go unpunished.
Building Capacity of Ukraine’s domestic authorities to hold individuals accountable for war crimes and other atrocities. Through the EDRI, the United States has provided $30 million to support documentation and prosecution of war crimes and other atrocities since March 2022, and is working with Congress to provide an additional $28 million to support efforts by Ukraine’s domestic authorities and other international and foreign domestic courts to hold individuals accountable for war crimes. These various lines of efforts include the following:
- Supporting the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA). Through the ACA, a partnership between the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom to coordinate institutions to Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General (OPG), the State Department provided $10 million to assist the OPG in documenting, preserving, and analyzing evidence of war crimes and other atrocities committed in Ukraine, with a view to criminal prosecutions. The State Department is also working with Congress to provide an additional $10 million to support ACA efforts to deploy experts and other key partners in support of the OPG.
- Strengthening the Government of Ukraine’s accountability efforts. USAID’s Justice for All Activity efforts have strengthened Ukraine’s institutions, including its judiciary, to effectively respond to legal disputes relating to the armed conflict. These efforts include conducting a joint training program for government lawyers at the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and OPG on various international law regimes, the case law of international courts and tribunals, and methods for collecting, evaluating, and synthesizing evidence in line with relevant admissibility rules.
- Providing technical cooperation and capacity building for the OPG. In September 2022, DOJ signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the OPG to facilitate cooperation, coordination, and deconfliction between investigations by Ukraine and the United States regarding the identification, apprehension, and prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes and other violations of law, any related asset forfeiture, and exchange of information and records.
- Providing training on war crimes investigative techniques. The State Department and DOJ are partnering with Ukraine’s National Police of Ukraine (NPU) and State Border Guard Service (SBGS) to provide training and mentoring, including on tactical and criminal investigative assistance and forensics and evidence collection—foundational skills for war crimes DOJ is also working with the NPU through case-based mentoring to present criminal cases domestically and, in some cases, to international venues of justice.
- Supporting survivors. DOJ continues to assist Ukrainian authorities with training on addressing the needs of surviving victims and for facilitating their participation in the investigative and prosecutorial processes.
Supporting prosecution in the U.S. and elsewhere. The high volume of atrocities committed in Ukraine requires pursuit of accountability efforts in a broad array of jurisdictions at the national and international levels. Many countries—including the United Kingdom, Germany, Lithuania, and Sweden—have announced the opening of investigations into atrocity crimes within their domestic legal systems. The United States has also amended its laws and is using an array of tools to help support strategic litigation efforts across various jurisdictions, including within the United States. This includes:
- Launching a War Crimes Accountability Team. In June 2022, the U.S. Attorney General announced the launch of a team to centralize and strengthen the Justice Department’s ongoing work in the United States to hold accountable those who have committed war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. The team coordinates efforts across DOJ and with other federal agencies and foreign partners.
- Amending the War Crimes Act. In December, with strong Administration support, Congress amended the War Crimes Act to establish jurisdiction over persons who are present in the United States after committing war crimes in other countries, regardless of the victim’s or offender’s The legislation also eliminates the statute of limitations for certain war crimes. This provision will facilitate prosecutions of, among others, foreign nationals who commit war crimes in Ukraine and later travel to the United States.
Supporting international accountability mechanisms. The United States supports a range of international efforts to document human rights violations, including atrocities, preserve potential evidence, identify suspects, and prepare cases for prosecution. These lines of effort include support for the following organizations:
- Establishing and supporting the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine. As a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, the United States worked with a cross-regional group of countries to help establish the COI, which has a mandate to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation; collect, consolidate, and analyze potential evidence; identify those individuals and entities responsible; and make recommendations on options for The COI issued its first written report on October 18, 2022, finding that war crimes and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been committed in Ukraine since February 24, 2022. Its next report is expected to be delivered between February 27 and April 4, 2023 during the 52nd regular session of the Human Rights Council
- Supporting the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU). The HRMMU has a mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation throughout Ukraine. The Department of State increased its financial contribution to the HRMMU to gather and examine mounting evidence of war crimes and other abuses in Ukraine, including enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and conflict-related sexual violence.
- Invoking the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Moscow Mechanism. In March and June 2022, 45 participating States, including the United States and with the support of Ukraine, invoked the OSCE Moscow Mechanism. The Moscow Mechanism’s mandate includes establishing the facts and circumstances surrounding possible contraventions of OSCE commitments and violations of international law; identifying possible war crimes and crimes against humanity; and collecting, consolidating, and analyzing this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability fora. To date, the Moscow Mechanism has issued two reports. Both reports found “clear patterns of serious violations of international humanitarian law attributable mostly to Russia’s armed forces…in the territories under the effective control of the Russian Federation” as well as evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, torture, executions, looting, and forced deportation of civilians to Russia.
- Supporting the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on Ukraine. The United States maintains observer status in the Eurojust Genocide Network, which promotes close cooperation between European national authorities investigating and prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Eurojust is supporting the coordination of investigations and prosecutions between Ukraine and Member States through the JIT on Ukraine, which includes Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Romania, and the International Criminal Court.
- Holding Russia to account in other fora. The United States has consistently welcomed Ukraine’s efforts to hold Russia to account in other fora. This includes Ukraine’s initiation of proceedings before the International Court of Justice under various multilateral treaties. The United States has moved to intervene in one of these cases, relating to the Convention on the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Imposing Sanctions and Visa Ineligibilities. The United States has taken numerous meaningful actions, using a range of sanctions authorities, to impose costs on individuals and entities — inside and outside of Russia — responsible for atrocities and other human rights abuses, or that have provided political or economic support to Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine. This includes imposing targeted economic sanctions and visa restrictions on thousands of individuals and entities directly involved in Russia’s military operations, including filtration operations, as well as sham referendums held in areas of Russia-controlled Ukraine.
Combatting Gender-Based Violence, including Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV). Since Russia launched its illegal and unprovoked further invasion of Ukraine, a mountain of credible reports of sexual violence committed by Russia’s forces against civilians—women and girls, as well as men and boys— has grown every day. To strengthen the U.S. government’s efforts to combat CRSV in Ukraine and other settings, in November 2022, President Biden signed a Presidential Memorandum aimed at leveraging sanctions authorities, assistance restrictions, and other tools to promote accountability for perpetrators of CRSV. To further bolster efforts to confront this scourge, the Biden-Harris Administration, through the Department of State, has also strengthened support to the UN Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict, including through committing an additional $400,000 in funding to our annual $1.75 million contribution at the U.N. General Assembly last year, and amplifying the SRSG’s recent statement on the signing of a Framework of Cooperation with the Government of Ukraine to prevent and respond to CRSV.
Strengthening civil society documentation. The United States supports a range of domestic and international efforts to use commercially and publicly available information to identify, track, and document atrocities and preserve potential evidence, including projects to support civil society to investigate and document acts of CRSV in Ukraine. These lines of effort include:
- Launching the Conflict Observatory. In May 2022, the State Department announced the launch of the Conflict Observatory, an independent program that uses commercially and publicly available information and geospatial data to identify, track, and document possible atrocities in Ukraine committed by members of Russia’s military and its proxy forces. The Conflict Observatory has publicly shared reports on Russia’s filtration operations, large-scale damage assessments of the cities Mariupol and Bakhmut, the destruction of crop storage facilities across the country, and damage to critical sites, including medical facilities and energy infrastructure. Recent reporting details a vast network of Russia-run sites and processes used to relocate thousands of Ukraine’s children to areas under Russian government control.
- Rapid support to Ukrainian civil society documentation. The State Department has launched a program expanding ongoing documentation efforts focused on bolstering Ukrainian truth, justice, and accountability processes. The program will facilitate, underwrite, and implement coordinated civil society efforts to gather, document, and analyze evidence of atrocities perpetrated in the context of Russia’s current aggression against Ukraine, and to share such evidence with accountability mechanisms, including national investigative authorities.
- Tracing filtration operations and assisting Ukrainian Prisoners of War (POW). The State Department is supporting a program that traces and documents cases of individuals, including Ukrainian POWs and civilians, subjected to filtration and forced deportations to Russia and territories under its control, and, whenever possible, provides them with relevant legal assistance.
- Documenting human rights abuses. USAID has helped document human rights abuses in Russia-occupied Crimea and Donbas since 2014, and has supported Ukraine’s efforts to counter Russia’s war against Ukraine through litigation in various courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. Since the start of the full-scale invasion, USAID-supported organizations have documented 30,698 incidents of war crimes and have brought over 70 impact litigation cases against the Russian Federation and its representatives in international and regional courts. USAID has also expanded its network of legal aid centers to bolster efforts to document war crimes and damage to civilian property, help victims, and assist Ukraine and international partners in international court cases. This includes expanding a program to provide 24/7 legal assistance and information to conflict-affected civilian populations across Ukraine. USAID has also expanded truth telling efforts, supported advocacy for a stronger legal enabling environment, and bolstered efforts to increase the capacity of legal professionals on issues of international humanitarian law, human rights law, and international criminal law.
- Bolstering media training and operations. USAID, via its Media Program in Ukraine, has focused on training journalists to cover conflict responsibly, monitor disinformation, and conduct oversight over access to information and press freedom in the wartime context. USAID has also worked to safeguard the digital and physical operations of journalists and newsrooms to enable them to continue operations and maintain their communications infrastructure.