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U.S. State Department: Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks next to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on economic assistance to Ukraine in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington on March 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks next to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on economic assistance to Ukraine in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington on March 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo

March 23 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. government "assesses that members of Russia's armed forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine."

In a press statement, Blinken said since launching "his unprovoked and unjust war of choice" Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed unrelenting violence that has caused death and destruction across Ukraine.

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"Last week," Blinken said, "I echoed President Biden's statement, based on the countless accounts and images of destruction and suffering we have all seen, that war crimes had been committed by Putin's forces in Ukraine.

"I noted then that the deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime. I emphasized that Department of State and other U.S. government experts were documenting and assessing potential war crimes in Ukraine."

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The U.S. government statement said as with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining guilt in specific cases.

Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court announced it would open a war crimes investigation in Ukraine that spans the current war all the way back to 2013.

During a press conference in Washington, D.C., Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. ambassador at large for Global Criminal Justice, said there are several options before them to seek accountability, including domestic Ukrainian courts, those in third states within the region who may gain custody of perpetrators or potentially through absentia trails that have jurisdiction over war crimes committed within the Eastern European country.

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"There are options for accountability even absent a dedicated tribunal," she said.

Van Schaack, who was confirmed by Congress earlier this month, said she wouldn't get into specific charges they allege nor how they came to them but said they are looking at "a broad range of activities" the Russian forces have committed in Ukraine.

Whether Putin can personally held responsible for these crimes, she said that would be up to a court of law "that has appropriate jurisdiction" to decide.

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"There are doctrines under international law and domestic law that are able to reach all the way up the chain of command," she said.

Blinken said the U.S. government will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share information with allies and partners, as well as with international organizations and institutions "as appropriate."

The state department said examples of Russian war crimes in Ukraine include attacks on hospitals, schools, ambulances, critical civilian infrastructure "and other atrocities."

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Those, the state department said, include the Mariupol maternity hospital and strikes on a Mariupol theater, clearly marked with the word "дети" -- Russian for "children" -- in huge letters visible from the sky.

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