Senators urge Biden to send evidence of Russian war crimes to ICC
A bipartisan group of senators on Friday called on President Biden to order the US government to share evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, despite Pentagon resistance to such a move.
In a letter to Mr. Biden obtained by The New York Times, the senators – including Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, respectively chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee – noted that In December, Congress amended a law to allow greater cooperation with tribunal investigations stemming from Russia’s war in Ukraine, and said it was time for the government to do so.
“Last year’s bipartisan congressional action to build that support was done in collaboration with your administration to balance all perspectives on the United States’ relationship with the ICC,” the senators wrote. “Yet months later, as the ICC scrambles to build cases against Russian officials, including Putin himself, the United States has reportedly yet to share key evidence that could aid in those prosecutions. .”
The letter came a week after the court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and another senior official in his administration, accusing them of orchestrating the kidnappings and deportations of thousands of children. areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia.
The arrest warrants drew attention to a standoff within the Biden administration, first reported by The Times, over whether the United States should transfer evidence collected by intelligence agencies. on kidnappings and other alleged war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
“Despite the urgent need to hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable, as evidenced by the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin, recent reports suggest that your administration has yet to use this new authority to provide much-needed assistance to efforts of the ICC,” the senators said. writing.
The letter was also signed by Senators Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee; Sheldon Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the Budget Committee; Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina; and Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut
Since the International Criminal Court was established a generation ago as a permanent court to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the US government has maintained a relationship of mistrust with it, fearing that it is not used to prosecute Americans.
Administrations on both sides have taken the position that the tribunal should not exercise jurisdiction over citizens of countries that have not signed the treaty that created it – including Russia and the United States – even if the alleged war crimes have taken place in countries that have signed it. , such as Ukraine or Afghanistan.
At the very beginning of the tribunal, Congress prohibited the US government from assisting its investigators in various ways. But Washington’s broad desire to hold Mr. Putin and other members of his chain of command accountable led to a thaw, and lawmakers included a provision in a major appropriations bill at year’s end. the latter which creates an exception, allowing the United States to assist in the legal investigations stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to officials familiar with the internal deliberations, however, the Pentagon continued to oppose sharing evidence with the court, arguing that it would set a precedent that could make it easier for the court to one day try to prosecute Americans.
Other parts of government — like the State and Justice Departments — want to transfer the evidence, officials said, and Mr. Biden has not moved to resolve the standoff.
The White House has stressed it supports efforts to hold Russia accountable for war crimes, including providing assistance to Ukrainian prosecutors, but has not publicly addressed the internal dispute over the war crimes tribunal in La Hague. A spokesperson for the National Security Council declined to comment further this week.
“Knowing your support for the important cause of accountability in Ukraine, we urge you to move forward quickly with support for the work of the ICC so that Putin and others around him know unequivocally that accountability and justice for their crimes are to come,” the senators wrote.