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Representatives from the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) top office will head back to Ukraine to investigate more allegations of war offenses and crimes against humanity following Russia’s retreat from the northeastern region of Kharkiv this month.
Speaking at the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, ICC Prosecutor General Karim Khan said a team from his office would be returning to the war-torn nation to look into “allegations emerging from the east of the country” and to provide clarity.
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“The process of accountability of collecting evidence and sieving it and weighing it and determining what is shown is not simply an academic exercise,” he told the U.N. council. “It is critical in order to pierce the fog of war.”
The ICC first launched investigations into war crimes and accusations of gross human rights abuses on March 2 following Russia’s invasion less than a week earlier.
By May, it had launched its largest field deployment ever and instated a permanent field presence.
Thousands of investigations have been opened across Ukraine over the last seven months relating to reports of torture, rape and the mass killing of civilian populations.
“We’re now at the stage of continuing forensic, objective and impartial, sometimes very painstaking, work to grapple with the facts, to separate truth from fiction and to build a picture of what actually happened,” Khan said.
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While several countries have applauded the work of the ICC and have even opened their own investigations, like the U.S., China on Thursday said the investigations should not be used as a political tool.
“Investigations into violations of the international humanitarian law should be objective and fair based on facts rather than an assumption of guilt and without being politicized,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said without directly mentioning the ICC.
“We must earnestly ease the humanitarian situation,” Yi said. “It is vital to observe the international humanitarian law, prevent any attacks against civilians, civilian facilities and minimize civilian casualties.”
China’s comments again toed the line when it comes to Moscow’s war in Ukraine, acknowledging the deadly consequences of Russia’s invasion but again without condemnation.
The ICC chief said the investigative body will present its findings to a third party who will “further scrutinize” its works and then “decide where the truth lies.”
“This exercise is essential if we’re to have confidence in the rules-based system, this function and this alone is the focus of my office. It’s not a tool of politics,” Khan added.
The ICC said the international body needs to renew its pledge to commitments made following the Nuremberg trials to uphold basic human rights.
“There’s no statute of limitations to war crimes and to march forward together,” he said.