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The ICC says it will open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine

Marwan Ali
Karim Ahmed Khan, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor, speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Justice in the Khartoum, Sudan, last August. The International Criminal Court's prosecutor has put combatants and their commanders on notice that he is monitoring Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The top prosecutor at the International Criminal Court says there is a "reasonable basis to believe" that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine, as he announced that the ICC will open a formal investigation "as rapidly as possible."

"Given the expansion of the conflict in recent days, it is my intention that this investigation will also encompass any new alleged crimes falling within the jurisdiction of my Office that are committed by any party to the conflict on any part of the territory of Ukraine," wrote Karim A.A. Khan in a statement released Monday afternoon.

The investigation will build on preliminary research by the ICC examining the possibility of war crimes in Ukraine since late 2013.

In November 2013, protests began to spread against pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych, resulting in his ouster early the next year. In February 2014, state police and armed forces killed scores of protesters and injured hundreds in Kyiv, the capital.

Soon after, Russia illegally annexed Crimea and backed separatists in conflict in eastern Ukraine. The long-running conflict between the Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the Donbas had killed more than 14,000 people as of the start of this year.

A preliminary report by the ICC, published in December 2020, found what it called "a reasonable basis to believe" that numerous war crimes were committed during those periods, including murder, rape, torture, unlawful confinement and deliberate attacks on nonmilitary targets.

Founded in 2002, the ICC has 16 other open investigations into war crimes worldwide, including numerous investigations in Africa, one in Venezuela and another examining the possibility of war crimes committed during Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008.

Neither Ukraine nor Russia are parties to the statute that created the ICC, though the prosecutor said the court has jurisdiction to investigate because Ukraine has accepted ICC jurisdiction in the past.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of intentionally targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

"They lied that they would not touch the civilian population. But since the first hours of the invasion, Russian troops have been hitting civilian infrastructure," he said in a video address posted Sunday.

While Russia denies those claims, humanitarian agencies have expressed similar concerns. Investigations by Amnesty International found that Russian cluster munitions had struck a preschool in northeastern Ukraine, killing two adults and a child, and that other strikes had damaged a hospital and residential buildings.

On Monday, as Russia attacked the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, videos appeared to show missiles striking residential buildings. Ukrainian officials say that dozens of civilians have died, though those numbers could not be independently verified.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.