The top law enforcement official emphasized U.S. efforts to document war crimes in Ukraine amid broadening international concern.
America’s top law enforcement officer made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Friday to meet with local officials and draw attention to the Biden administration’s determination to prosecute the Russian government for war crimes.
Attorney General Merrick Garland met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor, Karim Khan, and other officials in the western city of Lviv, the metropolis farthest away from the conflict zone in the east.
A Justice Department spokesperson in a statement said Garland “held several meetings and reaffirmed our determination to hold Russia accountable for crimes committed in its unjust and unprovoked invasion against its sovereign neighbor.”
Reported war crimes in Ukraine have gained new public attention in the days around Feb. 24, which marked a year since Russia first invaded. Particular attention has focused on the town of Bucha, one that had been occupied for 33 days by a collection of Russian forces during the initial onslaught before local troops liberated it in mid-March. The local government has documented dozens, if not hundreds, of instances of torture, rape and forced relocation among local civilians.
Russia has consistently denied accusations of war crimes among its troops, dismissing footage of the carnage in Bucha and elsewhere as manufactured Western propaganda.
In a Feb. 24 statement, Garland said his department “reiterates its resolute commitment to standing with our Ukrainian partners in pursuit of justice.”
“Prosecutors with the Department’s War Crimes Accountability Team are working closer than ever before with our Ukrainian counterparts to investigate specific crimes committed by Russian forces, including attacks on civilian targets. At the same time, Congress has expanded our authority to prosecute alleged war criminals who are found in the United States,” Garland said. “Our Task Force KleptoCapture – a group of prosecutors, agents, analysts, translators, and other Department personnel and law enforcement partners – continues to bring prosecutions and effect seizures against sanctioned enablers of the Kremlin and Russian military.”
Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, had invited Garland to attend the “United for Justice” conference in Lviv on Friday along with several other world leaders, including the minister of foreign affairs for the Netherlands, home to the International Criminal Court. The minister, Wopke Hoekstra, announced the formation of a new “Dialogue Group” designed to document crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine.
“Russia’s invasion is not just a war, it’s an attempted colonization, an attack on Ukrainian identity,” Hoekstra said. “All its war crimes and crimes against humanity must be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with international standards.”
Garland’s trip follow’s a high-profile surprise visit by President Joe Biden in February and by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week.
Source: US News