US accuses Russia of ‘crimes against humanity’ in Ukraine

Published February 19, 2023
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference. — AFP
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference. — AFP

MUNICH: US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday accused Russia of committing “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine, saying Moscow’s forces had conducted “widespread and systemic” attacks on the country’s civilian population.

She made the comments at the Munich Security Conference, days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion which unleashed war in Europe for the first time in decades.

“The US has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity,” she told world leaders at the gathering — the first time that the United States has designated Russia’s actions in Ukraine as such.

“Their actions are an assault on our common values and our common humanity. Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population,” Harris added.

Harris levelled a list of allegations at Moscow’s troops — “gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape and deportation, execution-style killings, beatings and electrocution”.

“I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes: you will be held to account...Justice must be served,” said Harris, a former prosecutor.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minis­ter Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the move, saying that Russia had started a “genocidal war”. “Everything that stems from that is crimes against humanity, war crimes and various other atrocities committed by the Russian army in the territory of Ukraine,” he told a press conference in Munich. But he also expressed fears that there would not be enough evidence to prosecute “specific individuals”.

The International Crimi­nal Court is investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen last year also floated the idea of a “specialised court” to put Russia’s top officials on trial over the war.

The three-day conference is being attended by senior figures including the presidents of France and Germany, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, and a large US delegation including Harris and US Sec­re­tary of State Antony Blin­ken. Russia, which used to traditionally send Foreign Mini­ster Sergei Lavrov to the event, was not invited this year.

Outside the venue hosting the Munich gathering, several hundred protesters rallied to show their support for Ukraine, while a separate group staged a demonstration against the conflict.

The second day of the conference on Saturday also heard calls for more military support, with Kyiv doubling down on pleas for quick weapon deliveries to launch a successful counter-offensive.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged allies to “give Ukraine what they need to win and prevail as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe.” After weeks of hesitating, Berlin last month agreed German-made Leopard tanks could be sent to Ukraine. But it has struggled to get commitments from allies to form a coalition to deliver the most modern types.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2023

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