May 26 (UPI) — The United States with Britain and the European Union on Wednesday announced the formation of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, which aims to bolster Kyiv’s efforts to investigate Russian war crimes and to prosecute those responsible.
U.N. officials have said their offices are working to verify allegations of Russian war crimes as the Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General said that as of Wednesday it has tabulated nearly 14,000 alleged crimes of aggression and war crimes committed by Moscow troops since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The two nations and the European bloc have repeatedly voiced support for Kyiv’s investigations into these alleged atrocities and have unveiled measures to turn that support into action. The initiative announced Wednesday seeks to reinforce their efforts and to streamline coordination.
“This initiative will directly support efforts by the Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General to document, preserve and analyze evidence of war crimes and other atrocities committed by members of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, with a view toward criminal prosecutions,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The program will bring together experts in various areas from evidence collection to forensics and indictment drafting to provide advice to the Ukrainian investigators and prosecutors, the nations said.
The initiative will include an advisory group of senior war crimes prosecutors, investigators, and military analysts that will be at the use of Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General. So-called mobile justice teams of international and Ukrainian experts will also be formed under the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group to increase the capacity of the Ukrainian prosecutor’s own war crimes unit and will be deployed at the request of Kyiv to regional prosecutors to conduct field investigations.
“The ACA will reinforce and help coordinate existing U.S., EU and U.K. efforts to support justice and accountability for atrocity crimes,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a press conference. “It will demonstrate our international solidarity with Ukraine as it seeks to hold Russia accountable.”
The initiative was announced amid investigations being conducted by the International Criminal Court and other nations with jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Ukraine, with the State Department stating Wednesday in a statement that the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group’s main goal is to ensure Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office “receives the support, advice and resources it needs to prosecute perpetrators of atrocity crimes committed on Ukrainian territory if, and when, that time comes.”
Matilda Bogner, head of the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, said Tuesday that early in the invasion violations her office observed consisted of explosive weapons used in populated areas. However, as the war has progressed, her office has documented unlawful killings, including summary executions, as well as sexual violence, enforced disappearances, torture and ill treatment.
The majority of the enforced disappearances of public officials, human rights defenders and other members of civil society were allegedly conducted by Russian forces but they have also documented some cases reportedly carried out by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies against those who have provided assistance to Russia.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief, told a U.N. meeting earlier this month that her office has been working to verify allegations of violations against international human rights law.
She said they have information about 300 civilians who were killed by summary execution but that she expects that number to increase as more information becomes available.
“The scale of unlawful killings … is shocking,” she said. “These killings of civilians often appeared to be intentional, carried out by snipers and soldiers. Civilians were killed when crossing the road or leaving their shelters to seek food and water. Others were killed as they fled in their vehicles.”