The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has announced plans to launch an investigation into the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying that there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that war crimes have occurred during the conflict.
Karim A A Khan said on Monday that the probe would look into alleged crimes committed by “any party to the conflict on any part of the territory of Ukraine”, adding that his office will proceed with the investigation “as rapidly as possible”.
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The decision comes less than a week after Russian forces launched an all-out attack on Ukraine with the stated aim of demilitarising the country.
“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine,” Khan said in a statement.
Established in 2002, the Hague-based court investigates and prosecutes genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Last week, Khan warned the warring parties that his office has jurisdiction over Ukraine because the Ukrainian government accepted the ICC’s mandate in 2015, despite the country initially not being a party to the Rome Statute that established the court.
“I will continue to closely follow developments on the ground in Ukraine, and again call for restraint and strict adherence to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law,” Khan said on Monday.
The Russian attack on Ukraine came after a months-long standoff that saw Moscow amass as many as 200,000 troops near the Ukrainian border. It has spurred widespread international condemnation and a slew of Western sanctions against Russia.
The United Nations General Assembly was meeting on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis, after Russia vetoed a UN Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution on Friday that would have condemned the invasion.
“The fighting in Ukraine must stop. It’s raging across the country from air, land and sea. It must stop now,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the assembly on Monday, adding that “the guns are talking now, but the path of dialogue must always remain open.”
The assembly, which includes all 193 UN member states, is expected to vote on a draft resolution denouncing the invasion later this week. Russia and the other four permanent members of the UNSC do not have veto power at the General Assembly.
Earlier this year, Russia repeatedly denied US and European allegations that it was planning to invade Ukraine, insisting that it had legitimate security concerns about Kyiv’s deepening alliance with the West – and demanding guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO.
Numerous rounds of talks between Russian, European and American officials had failed to end the impasse.
The United States and its allies have been piling sanctions on the Russian economy since the invasion began. Russia’s central bank was hit by penalties from the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada on Monday.
Fighting has been intensifying across Ukraine during the past days, with Russian troops closing in on major cities, including Kharkiv, and the capital, Kyiv. More than 500,000 people have already fled Ukraine since Russia launched its offensive, the United Nations said.
Russian and Ukrainian officials began talks at the Belarusian border on Monday, with Kyiv demanding an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.