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Russians May Face First Hague War Crimes Case by End of Year

(Bloomberg) -- The International Criminal Court is aiming to put forward its first case over alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine as early as this winter, according to people familiar with the matter.

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An initial case could be presented by the end of the year or early next year, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity. A definitive date has not been set and the process could slip as it takes time to prepare a case, the people added. The people declined to disclose the specific details of the case being considered.

A joint investigations team comprising several European judicial authorities was set up in March to gather evidence of alleged Russian crimes in Ukraine. The office of the prosecutor of the ICC is a participant in the investigative team, whose work is supported by the European Union’s agency for criminal justice cooperation, Eurojust.

Separately, the ICC and Ukraine are in talks about Kyiv delivering at least one Russian official -- a prisoner of war -- to the court, according to the people. The Russian official may be willing to testify against senior Russian commanders, the people said.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded more than 11,500 civilian casualties. As of July 12, at least 5,024 civilians have been killed, including about 300 children, but the agency expects the actual figures are considerably higher.

Russian forces have been accused of targeting civilian buildings and committing atrocities in a number of Ukrainian towns, such as Bucha, where evidence of mass graves, torture and executions has been widely reported.

US Role

The Biden administration doesn’t intend to formally join the ICC’s investigation team, but is considering the circumstances under which it can cooperate without running afoul of US law and policy, a Justice Department official said. The US is not a member of the ICC.

The US Justice Department is in contact with nations in the investigative team and other international partners on how to help with the investigations and prosecutions, the official added.

The ICC prosecutor’s office declined to comment, saying that absolute confidentiality is crucial to its work.

A spokesperson for the US National Security Council said the Biden administration was working to document war crimes and other atrocities carried out by Russian troops in Ukraine and was helping with various international efforts, including those of the ICC and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Reports by experts from the OSCE have documented a number of instances that they claim amount to violations of international law and human rights committed by Russian troops in Ukraine, including targeted killings of civilians, torture and abductions.

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