A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Wednesday that would broaden the United States's power to investigate war crimes.
The new legislation, which Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced, would enable the U.S. to prosecute alleged war criminals regardless of the location and targets of their alleged actions.
Current law only allows for the prosecution of people who are accused of committing war crimes in the U.S. or against Americans abroad. Should an accused war criminal travel to the U.S. afterward, they still would not be subject to prosecution under current law.
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The bill's introduction comes as Ukraine and other countries investigate alleged war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in their nearly three-month-long military operation.
“The United States must not be a safe haven for war criminals looking to escape justice in their home country,” Grassley said. “While laws on the books hold war criminals accountable for acts against Americans, war criminals who enter the United States shouldn't get a free pass just because they haven’t targeted Americans. This bill sends a strong message that people who commit war crimes are not welcome here and should be punished, regardless of where their offense was committed or who they victimized.”
A 21-year-old Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian in Ukraine pleaded guilty Wednesday in the first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the invasion in late February.
Vadim Shishimarin appeared before a full courthouse in Kyiv, telling the judge he was “fully” guilty and declining to speak further.
The soldier is accused of killing an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian man in late February by shooting at him as he rode his bicycle in a village in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine.
“We still have no information about this case. And the ability to provide assistance is also very limited due to the absence of our diplomatic mission [in Ukraine]. But, once again, I repeat: I do not have any information on this case,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
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A day earlier, the State Department announced the Conflict Observatory, which will work to “capture, analyze, and make widely available evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine,” according to a statement from the department.
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova has said her office has opened more than 10,000 investigations into individual acts of alleged war crimes. Criminal charges have been filed against at least 10 Russian soldiers for human rights abuses connected to reports that soldiers “captured unarmed civilians hostage, killed them with hunger and thirst, held them on their knees with tied hands and closed eyes, mocked and beaten."