War crimes have been committed by Russia in Ukraine, the United States has formally acknowledged after nearly a month.
For four weeks, the U.S. government has declined to officially acknowledge the Russian attacks against civilian residences and refugee shelters in Ukraine as war crimes. While President Biden and other top members of his administration have made private remarks saying they think Vladimir Putin a war criminal, there was no formal accusation until Wednesday.
“Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the US government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources.”
The statement cited “credible reports” alleging indiscriminate attacks, attacks deliberately targeting civilians including the targeting of homes, schools, and hospitals, and attacks targeting humanitarian efforts, such as the destruction of the theater in Mariupol which housed as many as 1300 people seeking refuge.
Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. ambassador for global criminal justice, was approached for statements but said she could not go into specific details about the war crime charges the U.S. will bring against Russia. She said that the U.S. is “looking at the broad range that Russia’s forces are engaged in” in Ukraine.
“As with any alleged crime, ultimately, it will be for a court of law to determine individual criminal responsibility who is directly responsible for these particular cases,” said Van Schaack in a State Department briefing. She did not rule out the possibility that an international tribunal could hold President Vladimir Putin personally responsible for the war crimes committed by any member of his country’s armed forces.
“There are doctrines under international law and domestic law that are able to reach all the way up the chain of command,” she added.
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