The United States concludes that Russia committed “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine
US Vice President Kamala Harris revealed on Saturday that the Biden administration has officially concluded that Russia committed “crimes against humanity” during its nearly year-long invasion of Ukraine, launching “widespread and systematic” attacks on the country’s civilian population.
“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence, we know the legal parameters, and there is no doubt that these are crimes against humanity,” Harris, the former attorney general, told the Munich Security Conference.
“And I say to all those who committed these crimes and their superiors who are complicit in them, you will be held accountable.”
The official decision, which came at the end of a legal analysis led by the US State Department, does not carry immediate implications for the ongoing war.
But Washington hopes to help further isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin and mobilize legal efforts to hold members of his government accountable through courts and international sanctions.
Harris’ speech comes as top Western leaders meet in Munich to take stock of Europe’s worst conflict since World War II.
She said Russia is now a “weak” country after Biden led a coalition to punish Putin for the invasion, but Russia is only stepping up its attacks in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine is planning a counteroffensive in the spring, for which it is seeking more, heavier, and longer-range weapons from its Western allies.
The nearly year-long war has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions from their homes, devastated the global economy, and made Putin a pariah in the West.
Washington had already concluded that Russian forces were guilty of war crimes, as had the UN investigation. However, the Biden administration’s conclusion that Russia’s actions amount to “crimes against humanity” includes a legal analysis that acts from murder to rape are widespread, systematic, and deliberately directed against civilians. In international law, it is seen as a more severe crime.
The UN-backed commission of inquiry into Ukraine has not yet concluded that the war crimes it says it has identified amount to crimes against humanity.
‘Barbaric and inhumane’
In her remarks, Harris cited the dozens of victims found in Bucha shortly after the Russian invasion last February, as “barbaric and inhuman.” The maternity hospital in Mariupol was bombed on March 9, killing three people, including a baby. and the sexual abuse of a four-year-old by a Russian soldier identified in the UN report.
Organizations supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have documented more than 30,000 war crime incidents since the invasion, according to the US government. Ukrainian officials said they were investigating the bombing of Bakhmut only this week as a possible war crime.
Russia, which says it is carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine to eliminate threats to its security and protect Russian speakers, has denied deliberately targeting civilians or committing war crimes.
“Let us all agree: On behalf of all victims, known and unknown, justice must be served,” Harris said.
The Biden administration has sought to bring alleged war criminals to justice, including by training Ukrainian interrogators, imposing sanctions, visa bans, and hitchhiking penalties under US war crimes laws.
Washington has spent about $40 million on these efforts so far and says it is working with Congress to secure an additional $38 million.
But the Biden administration’s ability to force any such efforts outside its borders — and certainly within Russia — is limited. Gathering evidence in the war-torn country has also proven difficult.
International legal bodies are also restricted. In the International Criminal Court, for example, jurisdiction only extends to member states and countries that have agreed to their jurisdiction, such as Ukraine, not Russia. Kiev was pushing for a new international war crimes organization to focus on a Russian invasion, which Moscow opposed.
“If Putin thinks he can wait for us, he is deeply mistaken,” Harris said. “Time is not on his side.”