THE HAGUE – The International Criminal Court's prosecutor said Friday that a preliminary probe has found “a reasonable basis at this time to believe” that crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed in Ukraine which merit a full-scale investigation.
The six-year preliminary probe by prosecutors at the global court looked at allegations of crimes starting with the brutal crackdown on pro-European Union protests in 2013-14, the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the drawn-out conflict in eastern Ukraine. Fighting there between Ukrainian forces and separatist rebels has killed more than 14,000 people in the last six years.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the suspected crimes and the failure of courts in Ukraine and Russia to successfully prosecute them mean that the next step for ICC prosecutors will be to request authorization from judges to open a formal investigation. She did not give a timeframe for that to happen.
Ukraine is not a member of the court but has twice accepted its jurisdiction, asking it first to investigate the crackdown on protesters in 2013-2014 under former president Viktor Yanukovych and later extending the jurisdiction to cover conflicts in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Russia is not a member of the court and does not accept its jurisdiction.
Without going into details of the alleged crimes, Bensouda said in a statement that her preliminary investigation found three “clusters of victimization;” crimes committed during hostilities, during detentions and crimes committed in Crimea.
“My Office furthermore found that these crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were also sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by my Office, both in quantitative and qualitative terms,” Bensouda said.
The ICC is a court of last resort that only takes cases when member states do not or cannot prosecute them in domestic courts.
Earlier Friday, Bensouda whose term as prosecutor at the ICC is drawing to a close, said she also was ready to seek authorization for a full-scale investigation into the conflict between Nigerian forces and the Boko Haram extremist group.
She said that with her office stretched financially and facing the challenge of working amid the global coronavirus pandemic “we will need to take several strategic and operational decisions on the prioritization of the Office’s workload, which also duly take into account the legitimate expectations of victims and affected communities as well as other stakeholders."