Senators urge Biden to cooperate with ICC’s Putin investigation

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he gives his annual state of the nation address in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. (Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A bipartisan group of senators are calling for President Biden to share U.S.-collected evidence of Russian war crimes with the International Criminal Court, pushing back against reported objections by the Department of Defense. 

In a letter to the president sent on Friday, senior lawmakers raised concern over reports that the Pentagon is blocking the U.S. from sharing key evidence with the ICC related to alleged Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine.

The letter notes that this would run counter to efforts by Congress to increase cooperation with the international court. 

Congress in December removed a prohibition of U.S. cooperation with the ICC specifically in the case of investigations surrounding Russia’s war in Ukraine, but the letter notes that the U.S. “reportedly has not yet shared key evidence that could aid in these prosecutions.”

“Knowing of your support for the important cause of accountability in Ukraine, we urge you to move forward expeditiously with support to the ICC’s work so that Putin and others around him know in no uncertain terms that accountability and justice for their crimes are forthcoming.”

The New York Times reported earlier this month that the Department of Defense was blocking the U.S. from providing evidence to the ICC despite support from the White House and National Security Council to do so. 

The evidence reportedly includes material about decisions by Russian officials to deliberately target civilian infrastructure and Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children.

The ICC last week issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, for the war crime of forced relocation of children.  

The letter to the president was led by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It was signed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

The U.S. has had a checkered history with the ICC.

It generally supports international efforts at accountability, but is not a signatory to the court’s treaty, the Rome Statute, and walks a fine line over protecting the immunity of non-signatories.

In particular, the U.S. opposed efforts by the ICC to investigate allegations of atrocities committed by American forces in Afghanistan.

The Biden administration has sought to improve relations with the ICC, lifting sanctions on the ICC’s chief prosecutor that were imposed by the former Trump administration. The ICC, in turn, sidelined its investigation into U.S. forces.

And while Congress has made moves to give the U.S. more authority to assist the ICC to investigate Russia’s war crimes, the Pentagon is sensitive to the implications of such efforts on American forces, a congressional aide told The Hill.

That has put the U.S. in a rough spot with the court’s pursuit of war crimes allegations against Russia, which is also not a signatory and has rejected the authority of the court’s arrest warrant.

The senators, in their letter to Biden, urged action.

“The United States is on the right side of this war, and we must do everything possible to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Tags Department of Defense Dick Durbin ICC Joe Biden Lindsey Graham President Joe Biden russia ukraine Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin

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