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House passes legislation to preserve evidence of Russian war crimes

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House passes legislation to preserve evidence of Russian war crimes
A Ukrainian woman cries near destroyed buildings in Borodianka, located northwest of Kyiv, on Tuesday. Photo by Vladyslav Musienko/UPI | License Photo

April 6 (UPI) -- House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation Wednesday to task the White House with detailing to Congress its efforts to collect and preserve evidence of Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine in order to hold those responsible to account in court.

House Resolution 7276, or the Ukraine Invasion War Crimes Deterrence and Accountability Act, passed the House by a vote of 418-7, with all seven votes against cast by Republicans.

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The vote was held amid growing anger against Russia after Ukrainian officials said that over the weekend they found hundreds of bodies belonging to civilians who were killed by Russian troops retreating from cities and suburbs around the capital Kyiv.

Officials posted gruesome photos and videos online of bloodied bodies littering roads and of dead civilians on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Bucha, one of the cities where dead bodies were found, and accused the Russian troops of committing war crimes and genocide.

"No soul. No heart. They killed deliberately and with pleasure," he said earlier this week in a recorded address. "I want all Russian leaders to see how their orders are being fulfilled. Such orders. Such a fulfillment. And joint responsibility."

In response, world leaders have increased calls for Russian leadership to be held to account, with President Biden on Monday renewing his assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal.

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Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, introduced H.R. 7276 late last week with the committee's ranking Republican member Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas after the visited Poland earlier this month.

From the floor Thursday, the New York Democrat detailed seeing Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war to Poland "not knowing if they'd see their husbands or fathers or uncles every again, not knowing what their tomorrow would be."

He said the recent revelations of the massacres was nothing short of chilling and was likely the tip of the iceberg of war crimes that Russia is committing in Ukraine.

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"I fear what we've seen in Bucha is what is happening throughout Ukraine right now and it will only get worse," he said, blaming the killings on Putin's efforts to dehumanize the enemy in the eyes of his troops. Meeks this is the same tactic "that has led to every genocide before."

"Nothing we do on this floor today will erase the generational trauma that Putin's forces have inflicted on Ukraine, but we can and we must ensure that the United States of America is doing everything in its power to collect evidence that can be used to prosecute Russian war crimes and other atrocities and hopefully that will deter further systemic human rights abuses in this conflict," he said.

The bill specifically directs the Biden administration to submit a report to Congress no later than 60 days after its enactment detailing efforts to collect analyze and preserve evidence related to war crimes and other atrocities for use in domestic, foreign and international courts and tribunals.

The effort is also to help deter further war crimes from being committed by publicizing efforts to identify and prosecute those responsible.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, told her colleagues that it is important to make pronounced accusations of war crimes and that she supports the bill because Putin should pay a heavy price for his actions.

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"Most importantly I rise to support this resolution because I believe America is right to insist on Mr. Putin being tried for war crimes," she said.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague early last month announced that it has opened an investigation into accusations of Russia committing war crimes in Ukraine going as far back as 2013.

Earlier this week, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that they are monitoring the situation for evidence in Ukraine and that there are several venues in which Putin could be tried fro war crimes, including at The Hague.

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