Natalia Bogdanova inspects the bodybag containing her decomposed husband, Eugene Bogdanov, 35, at his funeral in Bucha, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Bogdanova's husband went missing two months ago and she has been searching for him in morgues across the Bucha area since. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
May 13 (UPI) -- High-ranking House Democrats have called on the four major social media companies of Meta, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok to preserve and archive content shared on their platforms that could be used as evidence of Russian war crimes committed against Ukraine.
The Democratic chairs of two House committees and two subcommittees made the appeal in a letter sent to each of the social media behemoths as the U.S. government, Ukraine, the International Criminal Court and various human rights monitors and organizations investigate possible violations of human rights and war crimes committed by Russia during its invasion of its Eastern European neighbor.
The lawmakers made the appeal over worries that the companies' automated systems and policies concerning the removal of graphic content from their platforms may result in the unintentional deletion of potential evidence of human rights violations, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, human rights experts and various government authorities have raised concerns over potential war crimes being committed against Ukraine, pointing to evidence of hundreds of civilians killed by retreating Russian troops in the city of Bucha, a city that has come to represent the brutality of the Kremlin's invasion.
"Often, images and videos of these despicable acts and their aftermath have been recorded and shared on social media platforms," the lawmakers said. "If verified as authentic, this content could provide the U.S. government and international human rights investigators with a trove of evidence that would help to substantiate allegations of war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russian forces against the people of Ukraine."
The lawmakers said they are concerned that the companies do not have adequate procedures in place to archive this content in a way that makes it available to governments and organizations investigating the allegations, calling on the platforms to preserve all content related to the war in Ukraine.
They also asked them to engage and cooperate with international human rights monitors and other such groups to create "a viable and lawful mechanism" for archiving such material as well as be transparent about their automated flagging systems and implement a method for its users to mark content as containing potential war crime evidence.
The letters were signed by House oversight committee chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; national security subcommittee chair Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.; House foreign affairs committee chair Gregory Meets, D-N.Y.; and Bill Keating, D-Mass., chair of the subcommittee on Europe, energy, the environment and cyber.
They were sent as Michele Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief, said during a U.N. meeting Thursday that her offices have been verifying allegations of violations against international human rights law, many of which may amount to war crimes.
She told the meeting that they have information about 300 civilians who were killed by summary execution, but her office expects that number to increase as more information becomes available.
"The scale of unlawful killings ... is shocking," she said. "These killings of civilians often appeared to be intentional, carried out by snipers and soldiers. Civilians were killed when crossing the road of leaving their shelters to seek food and water. Others were killed as they fled in their vehicles."
They are also looking into the 204 documented cases of enforced disappearances, the majority of which were committed by Russian forces, as well as investigating allegations of sexual violence, including repots from victims in formerly Russian-held regions of Ukraine.
"There were instances of rape and murder of victims or their relatives," she said, adding that survivors are often unwilling to talk due to fear and stigma. "Women and girls are the most frequently cited victims; however, reports of men and boys being affected are starting to emerge."
The letters were sent to the media platforms more than a month after the House passed a resolution directing the White House with collecting and preserving evidence of Russian war crimes. The resolution has been received by the Senate, but has yet to make it to the floor.
Priest Andrii Gavalin presides over the funeral of Eugene Bogdanov, 35, in Bucha, Ukraine, on May 10. Bogdanov went missing two months ago. His wife, Natalia Bogdanova, was searching for him throughout the Kyiv and Bucha regions when his body was found at a morgue in Belaya Tserkov on May 9. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo