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Brussels wants EU judicial agency to take greater role in Ukraine war crimes probe

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By Alice Tidey
Soldiers walk amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 3, 2022.
Soldiers walk amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 3, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd   -  

The European Commission on Monday called for Eurojust's mandate to be strengthened to facilitate investigations into possible war crimes in Ukraine.

The European Union's executive branch wants the agency — which coordinates judicial cooperation between member states' national authorities to prosecute transnational criminal activities including human trafficking, smuggling, terrorism and cybercrime — to be able to collect and store evidence of alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

It would also be able to process the data including videos, audio recordings and satellite images, and share the evidence with the relevant national and international authorities, including the International Criminal Court.

"Since the start of the Russian invasion, the world has been witnessing the atrocities committed in Bucha, Kramatorsk and other Ukrainian cities. Those responsible for the war crimes in Ukraine must be held accountable," Didier Reynders, EU Commissioner for Justice, said in a statement.

"To this end, we must ensure that evidence is safely preserved, analysed and exchanged with national and international authorities, including the International Criminal Court," he added.

Marialena Pantazi, research assistant at the European Policy Centre at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre think tank, explained to Euronews that Eurojust's general mandate "adapts accordingly to ongoing crises" with the agency cracking down on a migrant smuggling network in 2020 or on crimes including fraud and smuggling during the pandemic.

The Commission's proposal to extend its mandate over its work pertaining to alleged crimes in Ukraine "would enable Eurojust to collect and store evidence on the crimes committed by Russia and share this information with other authorities."

"Evidence is already being gathered by national authorities but the situation will not allow their safe storage in Ukraine, therefore, here is where the Eurojust's mandate changes. Although they can provide support to the investigation and prosecution of crimes initiated by other member states, up to now, Eurojust was not able to preserve and analyse such evidence. Another innovation proposed is that the Agency would probably be able to directly cooperate with the International Criminal Court," she underlined.

The head of the agency, Ladislav Hamran, welcomed the proposal in a statement, arguing that "the mandate to store and preserve evidence related to war crimes and other core international crimes will further bear witness to the European Union's commitment to the rule of law, including in war situations, and to Eurojust's mission of getting justice done across borders."

The Commission's proposal will need approval from the Parliament and European Council.

Eurojust supported the creation on 25 march of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) into international crimes committed in Ukraine under the impulsion of Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine.

The JIT was joined on Monday by the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan QC, in what he described as a "landmark step".

"The JIT aims to facilitate investigations and prosecutions in the concerned states as well as those that could be taken forward before the International Criminal Court. Through its participation in the JIT, my Office will significantly enhance its ability to access and collect information relevant to our independent investigations," he said.

"Critically, we will be able to conduct rapid and real-time coordination and cooperation with the JIT partner countries," he added in a statement.