The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said he would “immediately pursue” an investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine dating back to 2013, when protests broke out against a pro-Russia government in Kiev.
Karim AA Khan said Wednesday night that the investigation was beginning after 39 countries that are parties to the Rome Statute that established the court — including Canada and France — asked the ICC to open an investigation.
“These referrals enable my Office to proceed with the opening of an investigation into the situation in Ukraine as of November 21, 2013,” Khan said in a statement, adding that its scope would include “any past and present allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide committed in any part of the territory of Ukraine by any person.”
The announcement comes a week after Russia launched an all-out attack on Ukraine, prompting condemnation and sanctions from major world powers.
The ICC prosecutor had made public his intention to open an investigation on Monday, saying there was a “reasonable basis” to believe that war crimes were committed during the conflict.
“I have just notified the Presidency of the ICC of my decision to proceed immediately with active investigations into the situation. Our work to gather evidence has now begun,” Khan said in Wednesday’s statement.
Established in 2002, the Hague-based court investigates and prosecutes genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Last week, Khan warned warring parties that his office had jurisdiction over Ukraine because the Ukrainian government accepted the ICC’s mandate in 2015, even though the country was not initially a party to the Rome Statute.
In the days following the start of the Russian troop offensive last Thursday, violence escalated in several major Ukrainian cities, driving hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country in search of safety.
Russian forces entered the southern port city of Kherson late Wednesday, its mayor was quoted by Reuters and The New York Times as saying.
But the Russian military’s advance on the capital Kiev “remains stalled,” the Pentagon said earlier in the day, as Moscow’s forces regroup and face logistical challenges and Ukrainian resistance.
The U.S. on Wednesday created a task force to go after wealthy Russians in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, promising to seize their assets and ensure that a series of financial restrictions are enforced.
But as the fighting in Ukraine continues, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said diplomacy is still possible to resolve the crisis.
“It’s much harder for diplomacy to succeed when the guns are firing, the tanks are rolling, the planes are flying,” Blinken told reporters.”